AN: Written for the Two Broomsticks Fall Fic-a-Thon, Prompt No. 8. HP/DM. "I'm not used to being loved, it's hard for me to accept it and believe it." Harry and Draco meet 10 years after leaving Hogwarts, Harry has defeated Voldemort and is living his life quietly and lonely, but his whole world is about to get turned upside down when he runs into Draco at the local market. Draco is quite the flirt. Intense and passionate requested.
Jerome Bingbrush had always thought his commitment to his Healing Oath above reproach. How wrong he'd been. It had taken little more than an unpleasant visit from a rather large Ministry Special Services Wizard and Scrimgeour's officious assistant to make Jerome forget he'd ever pledged to put his patients' physical and mental wellbeing above all else. They'd convinced him that he had to do what they requested, otherwise he'd never work as a Healer again. As Scrimgeour's assistant had put it, what was one life in the face of the thousands of others he'd save over his career, even if the life he sacrificed was Harry Potter's? Promises had been made—of both the painful and pleasant sort—and Jerome had agreed. He would convince Harry Potter that he was a hairbreadth's away from becoming a Dark Lord, and that he had to leave Britain and never return.
Jerome shook his head and stared into the mirror. The harsh lighting of the washroom made the angles of his face appear cruel and hollow. His hand jerked and shook with pain. He stared at the amber ring on his fourth finger, his face twisting in disgust, remembering all too well the moment he'd traded his life for that of another. The Ministry's little gift reminded him that he had a job to do, or he would lose everything. Jerome splashed his face with water and straightened his robes.
Harry Potter lay on his hospital bed in a secure area of St. Mungo's. Still weak from magical exhaustion and disoriented, he looked like a child, shattered by a war in which he'd been unwittingly caught. His room was dark, save the small lamp by his bed and the hovering blue board that displayed his heart rate and magic levels, both manipulated for the ruse.
Jerome stood at the edge of Harry Potter's bed and leafed through the Ministry file once more. It was all there. Psychological profiles yielding Potter's worst fears, his instinctive responses, and the names of the people he desired to protect the most. Had he not sensed it himself, Jerome would have thought the Ministry insane for putting Draco Malfoy at the top of the list. Sighing, he closed the file and cleared his throat. He waited. All Jerome had to do was plant the seeds. The Ministry assured him it would take care of the rest.
Jerome cleared his throat. "Mr. Potter?"
Potter stirred, his movements sluggish from exhaustion and the multiple pain and calming draughts coursing through him. He opened sleepy eyes.
"Mr. Potter? Are you awake?"
Potter struggled to sit up, blinking away the sleep in his eyes as he did so. His nod was slow and unsure.
"I—I needed to talk with you."
"Am I okay?"
Jerome hesitated. A sharp pain to his hand from that damn ring reminded him of what he was supposed to be doing. "We've discovered something, something that must be addressed straight away."
Potter bit his lip, looking impossibly young. "What's wrong?"
"It's your magic, Mr. Potter. It seems to have increased tenfold. We believe that you've absorbed all of the Dark Lord's power."
Potter blinked. "What?"
"You've absorbed his magic. You are, in effect, the Dark Lord."
What little color had been in Potter's face drained away. The Ministry had been right on this score. Potter was terrified of becoming a Dark Lord.
"That's—that's impossible. I don't understand. I… I need Mr. Weasley, or Hermione."
"They don't want to see you. They're afraid of you. Everyone is."
Potter's shoulders hunched and he curled his thin arms around his body. "Draco, then."
Jerome winced. Draco Malfoy was the worst of the lot about demanding to see Potter—even more than that annoying Hermione Granger and cloying Molly Weasley. "Dead."
Potter gasped. "What?"
Jerome closed his eyes. He couldn't stand to see the shock on Potter's face, the tears gathering at the corner of Potter's eyes, or the way his hands gnarled and clutched at the sheets. He cursed Scrimgeour's insistence on this particular facet of the ruse. "I'm sorry, that was cruel of me. He died in the final battle."
"That–that's a lie."
"It's the truth. I am sorry. I've got an official Ministry document listing the dead and wounded. Draco Malfoy's name is at the top, along with Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape."
Potter closed his eyes. "I saw Professor Snape die. He… he shielded me from McNair and paid with his life for his trouble. Draco's dead? He's really dead?"
"I'm sorry. Truly."
Jerome looked through the file again, trying to give Potter time to collect himself. A small voice, roughened with anguish caught his attention.
"But the Weasleys didn't die. Surely they've been 'round, asking for me?"
Jerome shook his head. "Haven't you noticed that you haven't had a single visitor? You've been here for weeks. No one has come to see you. No one wants to."
"But that… Hermione said…." Potter ran his hands through his hair, pulling at it. "This doesn't make sense."
Jerome pulled out his wand and flicked it at the blue display so that it turned and faced Potter. "Look at your magic levels, Mr. Potter. You don't need your glasses, the numbers are large enough."
Potter leaned forward and squinted. He gasped. "That can't be right."
"It is right. I told you your magic had increased. See how the numbers are a darker blue than the others?"
"I don't believe you," Potter said as he stared at the numbers, obviously willing them to lighten in shade or decrease in integer.
Pain struck Jerome again, though this time at his heart and gut. "I'm your Healer, Mr. Potter. Why would I lie to you?"
"I—I don't know. This… this doesn't make sense."
"I understand. I know how terrifying this must be, but I'm telling the truth."
Potter looked away. Jerome did, too. Watching Potter fall apart was more difficult than he'd imagined. Another sharp pain in his hand reminded him he still had much further to go.
"The Ministry wants to send you to Azkaban. In the wake of the final battle, Britain is understandably twitchy. They've had their fill of Lord level wizards. You've proven in the past that you're a bit, uh, unstable. The Ministry is concerned. Wouldn't you be?"
"But—but I haven't done anything. I won't do anything. I don't… I want… please, I don't understand."
"They're right outside the door. Been trying to get at you all night. Surely you heard all of the feet shuffling and muffled cursing?" Jerome asked, as if Potter had never said a word to interrupt him.
Potter inhaled sharply.
Jerome thanked Malfoy and those ginger-haired apes for causing such a ruckus earlier. He was sure Potter had heard it—the entire hospital had. "I talked them out of it. I've convinced them to let you go. There are a number of conditions, of course."
"You'll need to move away from England. For your own protection, you'll need to change your name. Once we correct your vision, Charm your hair a bit lighter, and remove the remnant of your scar, all anyone will see is a young man with green eyes and dark colored hair."
"What about people who know me?"
"We've covered that, Mr. Potter. They don't want to see you again. Remember? And the Ministry is considering Obliviating them. It won't matter in any event. You're not allowed to return to England. The public will be told that you've left the British Wizarding World of your own accord."
Potter stared at the white sheets on his bed.
"I also suggest avoiding any kind of magic stronger than a Levitation Charm or simple defensive charms. We don't want you to fall into temptation, now do we?" Or for people to recognize you or find you.
Potter bit his lip. He hugged himself tighter and shook his head.
"And finally, whenever you're feeling overly emotional, you'll need to take a special calming draught. Your file indicates that your magic is tied directly to your emotions. Don't want you getting upset with the market woman and blowing up the entire area." Jerome chuckled, as if making a joke.
Potter only nodded, drawing his knees up and resting his head against them.
"Yes, well then, here is a list of places I suggest. You'll want to work, though your vaults are still available to you." Jerome hesitated, his desire for adulation making a fleeting return. "I fought hard for you on that point."
Potter said nothing.
"I suggest a night job, or something with few people around. The less contact you have, the better your chances for avoiding any sort of strong emotions."
"What will happen to me if my magic does something?"
The words were so quiet, Jerome almost didn't hear them. He wished he hadn't. "Hard to say. The Ministry could come after you, lock you away. But we're going to do everything we can to avoid that, aren't we?"
"Because you don't want to be a Dark Lord, do you?"
"No—no I don't."
"And you'll do anything to keep that from happening, won't you?"
Potter looked away. He nodded. Jerome could feel the bile rising in his throat.
"And you'd do anything to protect the people you love, wouldn't you?"
Potter nodded again. Jerome closed his eyes, willing the image of the broken young man to leave him. The silence stretched for some time before both regained their composure.
"I'm going to release you tonight. I've got a Portkey ready for you along with a trunk of necessities generously provided by the Ministry to help you get started. Just pick a place on that list and I'll set the Portkey. It will take you to a safe house of sorts—somewhere where you can continue recuperating on your own, a place where you can get your bearings."
Potter looked down at the list for a long while, not moving, or making any indication that he was considering any of the choices. He flung the list away and sighed. He reached out for his glasses on the bedside table and tucked them into the pocket his pyjama top. "Are any of them near the sea?"
Jerome retrieved the list, startled by Potter's passivity. "Er, yes. Ayr is a nicely sized city on the southwest coast of Scotland, near the Isle of Arran."
"Are you sure? Have you been there? If not, you could get lost."
Potter smirked–a strange sight, Jerome thought. "I imagine I'm allowed a Point Me spell or two."
"Yes, I suppose that's all right."
"If you would, I'd appreciate if you'd Transfigure my pyjamas into robes. I imagine I'm not allowed to do such advanced Transfiguration."
"Mr. Potter, it's not that you're not allowed to do magic, only that—" The look on Potter's face struck Jerome dumb. It wasn't one of anger, but of bitterness and sorrow. "Yes. Yes, of course." He withdrew his wand and made a delicate arc, whispering the incantation as he did so. If nothing else, he would send Potter away with fine robes—sturdy, warm, and soft. "That should do you."
Potter climbed out of bed, his legs shaking, looking for the world like a newborn colt as he staggered towards the end of the bed. "Thank you." He looked up at Jerome, staring at him as if trying to puzzle him out. "You don't seem afraid of me."
Jerome swallowed. "Terrified, actually, but you have promised to do everything the Ministry asked. You strike me as the sort that keeps his promises."
Potter looked away. "Just do what needs doing and I'll be on my way."
Jerome pulled the vision correction wand from the pocket of his robe and stepped back. "Hold still and try not to blink." He cast the diagnostic charm, followed by the appropriate vision correction spell. "Hold still, just a few things more," he said as he charmed Potter's hair brown and removed what was left of the scar on Potter's forehead. "All done." He held out the Portkey.
Potter pocketed the small trunk and stared at the Portkey for a long moment. Jerome held his breath in expectation. Without another word or glance, Potter reached for it and he dissolved into the night.
The ring on Jerome's finger sizzled before falling off and dropping with a clang to the floor. Done. Mission accomplished.
All because Scrimgeour was afraid Harry Potter might run for Minister. A boy's life destroyed for political ambition. As Jerome sagged against the bed and prepared himself to look suitably hysterical over the sudden disappearance of Harry Potter, he supposed other lives had been destroyed for far less.
July 25, 1999
I'm not sure that this is what I'm meant to do with this little book, but I'm tired of talking to walls. The Special Services Wizard has just left the Ministry safe house where I've been staying, trying to recuperate. I didn't mean to make all of the windows explode—I really didn't! I just saw someone through the window that looked like Draco. It wasn't him, but it hurt so much to hope like that, only to have it snatched away. How I wish I'd let him kiss me that night before the Final Battle. Now I'll never know what it would have been like. We talked about a future, about a relationship. But now he's dead and I have no family. I don't know how I'll bear life here. I suppose the same way I did as a child. Even the cupboard under the stairs wasn't so bad once you got used to it.
Minutes after the glass exploded, an agent from the Ministry Apparated into the safe house and held me at wand point. After realizing what had happened, he repaired the glass and checked my magic levels. The way he looked at me and shook his head—it made me feel awful. I tried to shake his hand, but he wouldn't touch me—like I was evil personified, or something. He told me that I had better be careful, or they would take me away. I can't go to Azkaban, I can't. So I just have to stick to the plan, stay away from all temptation, and take the calming draught when I feel like I did before. I can do it. I will. I'm worried about my magic. I don't feel any different, but how can I deny the test results? The Ministry is not the most trustworthy sort, but… they wouldn't lie about something like this. No one would.
I can't believe he's dead. I still didn't believe the Healer, but the Ministry agent showed me the confidential files. I saw the pictures from Draco's funeral. It's true. I'll never see him again, unless he's the one to take me into death. It's funny. We finally worked out our differences, became friends, and then… we were so close, and now it's all gone. Now I have to make a new life, an inconspicuous one, I suppose. I've got a job at least. I'm reshelving books at night at the local library. I've found a nice little flat close by. It's little more than one room, but it's cozy, has a nice kitchen, a good window, and very few neighbors. I think I'm really going to like this place. I miss my friends, but I don't miss England, or Hogwarts—too many sad memories. Here I have a chance to make my own memories, my own life, free of anyone else. I've waited my whole life for that. Maybe things won't be so bad.
The life of Evan James has begun. Goodbye, Harry Potter. Goodbye, Draco Malfoy.
Draco Malfoy had fantasized about this moment for a very long time. It's what had got him through the infuriating Ministry smoke screens, the quiet dinners at the Burrow on Harry's birthday, the visit to those disgusting Muggles, the Dursleys. Harry had been Draco's lover for ten years, though only in half-remembered dreams and fantasies. Ten years he'd been gone; seven years Draco had been searching.
In his dreams, he finds Harry on an overcast autumn day and saves him from stumbling off the curb when the sight of Draco sends him reeling. Pressed against Harry's lean form, Draco feels him shiver, and offers his cloak. Harry accepts, longing in his eyes. Then, with a soft kiss to his cheek, Draco whisks him back to the comforting arms of those who miss and love him.
Other time he imagines a crowded dance floor. Both hands gripping his cock, he imagines, no he feels bodies grinding against each other, his and another, hands roaming over the planes of his chest, his hands cupping the curve of a perfect ass. The lights are low, the music loud and thumping. Draco leans in, the rapture of the dance leaving him thoughtless, and swipes his tongue across the bottom lip of his dance partner. A familiar scent assaults him. The deep rumble in the chest pressed against him evokes a forgotten memory. He looks into startling green eyes and realizes he's found him. Harry. Harry gasps, but before he can say anything, Draco captures his lips, kisses him hard, and they melt against each other in a tight embrace.
But in all the variations of his fantasies, his dreams, he'd never imagined it would happen like this—in a Muggle produce market, while Harry fondled pomegranates with deft fingers and half-lidded eyes. Gods, he was still as beautiful and fierce and vulnerable as Draco remembered. He took a step forward, his lips curving into a smile.
They'd finally discovered that Harry was living on the outskirts of Ayr. The Weasel and Granger had overheard a disgraced Healer named Bottlebrush, or Brushbroom, or something equally appalling, drunkenly rave about how he'd known The Chosen One. He claimed to know what had really happened to Harry. The other patrons wrote him off as mad, because everyone knew that Harry Potter had left England for a quiet, solitary life. It was as he wished. Where others saw a drunken Healer who had nothing of consequence to say, though, Granger and the Weasel saw the first break they'd had in years. They'd talked to him, told him they believed him, and now Draco was in Ayr, searching for Harry.
Harry had done something to his hair. It was no longer a shock of wild black, but a soft brown instead. Oddly, it suited him. He no longer wore glasses, either. A vast improvement, in Draco's estimation. Draco took another step forward, narrowly avoiding an out-of-control shopping trolley driven by a toothless slip of a girl.
Harry, he noticed, hadn't noticed him. He hadn't noticed anything, really, so intent was his gaze on the pomegranates, his fingers skimming across the knobby ends. Draco wondered what it was about the fruit that captivated Harry so.
He made it to the opposite fruit bin. Draco reached across for a pomegranate, hoping to catch Harry's notice. Harry didn't look up.
"Harry?" Draco asked, finally. No response. Draco leaned over further, his hand lightly touching Harry's. "Harry?"
Harry's eyes snapped open. He looked up and stared into Draco's eyes. The color drained from his face. He stepped backwards, dropping the pomegranate.
Draco moved around the bin. "Harry. It's me, Draco. It's okay. I've come to take you home."
Harry shook his head, continuing to back away. "No. Not real. You're not real," he mumbled. Harry backed into a bin of lemons, sending them careening onto the polished floor. He jumped in fright and stared at the lemons as if they could leap up and hex him. The sound of breaking glass echoed through the small market.
"Harry? What's wrong? It's me, Draco. I promise."
"You're not real. You're not. This isn't supposed to happen. I've done what they said. I promise. I PROMISE!" Harry gasped as his voice echoed around the small market. Everyone was staring at him. Draco opened his mouth to snap at them all and tell them to mind their own business, but before he could, Harry had darted from the market, leaving only a small half-empty potion vial on the ground.
August 15, 2009
I did accidental magic again today, but it really wasn't my fault. I was at the market and all of a sudden I started hallucinating. There, by the bin of apples, stood Draco. He looked so real. So beautiful. He touched me and then he spoke to me. Told me that he was there to take me away. I thought he was Death, come to claim me. I knocked over lemons and then everyone was staring at me—seeing me—it was too much. I heard glass exploding and knew I'd caused it. I fumbled for my potion, hoping that once I took it, Draco would disappear, that the people would stop staring at me. That I would disappear. He didn't go away, so I left, as fast as I could. I don't understand. Why is this happening to me? I doubt the Ministry will come. They didn't when I warded my flat, or the time that I vanished the glass storefront at that awful pet shop.
I sometimes wonder if maybe No. It's too dangerous to think such things.
Draco. It hurt so much to see him, even if was only his ghost, or some weird hallucination. I've nearly forgotten the others, but him I can't seem to let go. I think of him all of the time, what could have been, what was. Stupid schoolboys obsessed with each other, angry and mean. Passionate. And then we grew up, didn't we? That time with the singing tea cozy at Grimmauld Place and Draco's embarrassment—it was like the first time I saw him as someone other than Malfoy. I remember the way he looked at me, when he'd finally started laughing with the rest of us. I knew, then, that things would never be the same between us. I can't believe I stopped him from kissing me before the final battle. Stupid. Now I'll never know, except the way I dream it might be.
I imagine he'd
He's dead. I can't forget that. He's dead.
"Draco! Did you find him? Did you?"
Draco shifted his knees. He hated Firecalling to begin with, and he especially hated Firecalling Granger. "Granger—"
"Does he look well? What did he say? Does he look the same?"
"When are you two coming back? Do you think he's up for visitors? What—"
"Shut up, Granger, or I'll hex you straight through the bloody fire." Draco thought he heard Granger's jaw snap closed in surprise. He sighed and dropped his head.
"Draco? Did you… is he… sorry, I'll shut up."
"Yes, I saw him. At a Muggle produce market, if you can believe it. I went in for some supplies and he was just… he was just there, like he'd been waiting for me to find him for ten years."
"God. I can't believe you found him. I didn't want to hope."
The fire snapped and sizzled in the ensuing silence. "He's… there's something off about him. He looked at me like I was a ghost, or something. He was terrified, absolutely terrified. And then all of the glass broke out of the windows."
Granger snorted. "Sounds like Harry."
"I turned for just a second—not even—and then… I turned back and he was gone. All that was left behind was a small potions vial."
"A potions vial? Did you figure out what it was?"
"No. It reminded me of a calming potion, but not like one I'd ever seen. I've sent it to you via Owl so that you can take a look at it, figure out what it is. Maybe it'll explain his behavior."
"I'll work on it straightaway."
"What did that Butterbush bloke tell you and Weasley about Harry's condition when he left? Anything?"
"Butterbush? I don't know a Butterbush… wait! He wasn't that creepy chap from the Ministry archives, was he?"
Draco felt a nasty headache coming on. "No, you vapid cow! The useless Healer. Jerry or Jeffrey Butterbush, or Bingbroom, or something."
"Who are you—-oh! Jerome, Draco. Jerome Bingbrush. And stop calling me a vapid cow, it's not my fault you can't see fit to remember the name of the man who's given us the most important break we've gotten in seven years."
Draco's gaze narrowed.
Hermione clucked her tongue. "You're so prickly. Even after all this time. Yes I know, on with it, you're saying with those squinty little eyes of yours."
Before Draco could riposte with uncharitable comments about the ridiculous size of Granger's teeth, she pressed forward.
"Bingbrush didn't say anything, other than that Harry was grateful for his help. But we know where he is and Ron's been aching to, er, try out some of those interrogation techniques he's been learning. Perhaps I'll set him the task?"
"At least there's something the Weasel is good for."
Draco pursed his lips and looked away. It was the closest he'd come to apologizing.
"What did he look like?"
The words were so soft, Draco almost missed them. He closed his eyes and remembered every detail of seeing Harry for the first time in ten years. "A little different—he's charmed his hair, I think, and he wasn't wearing glasses-but exactly the same, too. Better. Perfect."
Hermione nodded. "What's next?"
"I'm going to go back to the Muggle market and wait him out—he'll come back, I'm sure of it. Follow him for a bit. Find out everything I can about him before approaching him again. Something's got him scared, and we need to know what it is before bringing him back."
"Good luck." Hermione paused. "And Draco—"
"Stop right there. I know what you want to say—you've been trying to say it for years. I don't do sentimentality. You know that."
"Just bring him home."
Draco nodded and watched as Granger's face withdrew from the small fire in the grate. "Where are you, Harry? What's got you so spooked?" he whispered to himself, as he began his planning.
Draco had learned two very important skills in the seven years he'd been searching for Harry: patience and observation. He'd employed those skills to great effect while interviewing those worthless Muggle lumps five years ago. He'd learned terrible things about Harry's young life as he'd pressed through Dursley's bluster with a flat persistence while watching his wife's nervous eyes dart to the cupboard under the stairs.
He was using those same skills now as he sat in a dark corner of a library, watching Harry—the lone employee on the night shift—re-shelve books. It was such a lonely job; Draco couldn't imagine how anyone could stand to do it. Except for Harry, it seemed, no one could. In that oppressively silent building—where others would go mad—Harry came alive.
Sometimes Harry stroked the books' spines with the same light touch he employed with those damn pomegranates, looking off into the distance as if remembering something wonderful. Other times he'd pause before re-shelving a book, opening it and reading through a few pages before putting it away. Harry smiled on occasion at what he read. Once he even snickered. But there had been one book that had made him nibble his bottom lip as he read for almost half an hour, his gaze impassioned and alert. In those unguarded moments, Draco saw the Harry he remembered—not the skittish, depressed man he'd been following all week who fondled fruit, avoided contact of any kind with other people, and stared longingly at the small playground half-way between the library and his small flat.
Harry ducked into one of the stacks. Draco resumed his perusal of Harry's employment file. He'd nicked it from the administrator's office the night before, hoping to gain insight into Harry's bizarre behavior.
For ten years of employment, the file was quite thin. He was using an alias, Draco discovered. The Ayr Central Library was employing a young man by the name of Evan James who had passable grades from his secondary school, a small flat on the south side of the town, and a rail pass. He received small pay increases each year. Evan James had no insurance beneficiaries, and no one to call in case of emergency. He had never told a fellow co-worker to sod off or missed a night of work because he was hung-over from a night of friendly revelry. He'd never even made a request for time off.
The way Draco saw it, it wasn't what was in the file that spoke of the quiet desperation of Harry's life; rather, it was what was missing.
Draco put the file down and checked his watch. The first snatches of daylight filtered through the high transoms. Harry's shift would be over soon. Then, just like the four days prior, he would put away his book cart, pull on his coat, nod at the employees coming in for the morning, and fade into the morning light as if he were a ghost.
"Any luck with the potions vial?" Draco shifted his knees again, wincing. The floor was bloody hard. Tomorrow he was buying a cushion if these twice-weekly Firecalls were going to become routine.
"Yes. It's amazingly complex, took me the better part of week to distill it, but it turns out it's a special calming potion like you thought, only this one is keyed to the drinker."
There was a long silence. "In this case, blood. Harry's blood."
"Who? Who would have access to that?"
"St. Mungo's… the Ministry."
Draco swore under his breath. "And Weasley? He learn anything new?"
Hermione nodded. "With some, er, persuasion, Bingbrush was only too happy to talk."
"I don't even know where to start. It's so… it's just so awful."
"Tell me. Now."
"After the final battle, Scrimgeor was convinced Harry would try and unseat him as Minister of Magic. So his assistant and a Special Services Wizard forced Bingbrush to—"
Draco huffed. "To what, Granger? To what?"
"To convince him that he had absorbed Voldemort's powers—that he was, in effect, the Dark Lord. That no one wanted him. That we were afraid of him. That he'd go to Azkaban if he didn't leave straight away."
"How can there be more?"
"He told Harry that you were dead."
"He… what? You're not serious?"
"I am. I'm sorry, I knew the Ministry was cruel, but—why would they do that? Why would they need to do that?"
"I don't know." Draco sighed as his thoughts trailed to realization. "His reaction, at the market. It makes better sense now. He must have thought he was seeing things, hallucinating. I can't believe it. I just can't. What have they done to him?"
"If he thought he was hallucinating, that's probably the potion, as well. With the addition of Harry's blood, it reinforces his worst fears. It's… it's a nasty bit of potion making. Could only have come from the Ministry."
"This doesn't make any sense, though. Scrimgeour's been out of office for seven years."
"Yes, well, someone forgot to mention that to Harry. You've got to tell him."
"He's not going to believe me out of hand, you know."
"I'd thought of that. Ron went back to that skittish Ministry Archivist. Bingbrush gave him the files that he'd kept—in one of his reports, there was a reference to a file drawer on the lower level. Ron terrified that creepy Ministry Archivist, got all of the files, and then Obliviated him. We have it all now. All of the memorandums, the tests, the investigations."
"Of course it is. Political ambition is never pretty."
"What are you going to do now?"
"Tell Harry the truth, that's what. Convince him to come home. Convince him he's got something to come home to."
Draco waited until the following evening to reveal himself. Harry was just putting away Sea Life of the Great Barrier Reef on a high shelf when Draco muttered the counter-charm to his Invisibility spell.
Draco held his breath as Harry dropped his hand, his fingers trailing along the spines of the shelved books, and turned. Harry's eyes widened. He gasped. They stared at each other for a long moment before Harry fell backwards, landing on his bottom, and shook his head violently.
"Harry, it's me, it's really me. I'm not dead, I swear it," Draco said in a breathless tumble as he raced after Harry's retreating form.
"You're not real. You're not real. Draco's dead, he's dead, he's dead," Harry chanted, his back bumping into the wall.
Draco dropped to his knees. "I'm not dead. I promise you." He reached out to touch Harry, ignoring Harry's hiss as his fingers brushed against Harry's knee. "Do you feel that? Do you? I'm real, Harry. I'm not dead. The Ministry—they lied to you. We've been searching for you for seven years. I'm not dead."
Harry's jaw worked up and down, but no sound came out. The lights flickered. Draco heard the thump of falling books. Harry paled and his hands scrabbled for his pockets, the left one fishing out a vial of potion. Before he could uncork it, Draco lunged forward with a growl and knocked the potion away. "You don't need that."
Harry pushed at Draco's shoulders, knocking him backward. "The hell I don't," Harry said as he scuttled away from Draco's grasp.
Draco scrambled to his feet and took off after Harry, who was running through the library, heedless of the books tumbling to the floor and the glass desk lamps exploding in his wake. "Harry, stop! I'm not going to hurt you. Oh, for fuck's sake." Draco whipped out his wand. "Stupefy," he murmured, racing forward and catching Harry before he could fall to the ground. "I've got you. You're safe. I've got you," Draco whispered as he pulled Harry to him and breathed in the scent of him. "Sorry about that, but I can't risk losing you again."
With Harry immobile in his arms, Draco's breath evened and he spared a glance around at the disarray. It wouldn't do to leave things as they were. He waved his wand and with a non-verbal spell sent all of the books flying to their proper places. Another wave and the desk lamps were repaired. He cast a Featherweight Charm on Harry and stood, clutching Harry to him. "Time to see your flat, I reckon." He cast the Invisibility Charm over both of them, directed Harry's book cart to its small corral, and left.
Three things struck Draco about Harry's flat. There were cushions and blankets and throws everywhere. It was as if Harry suffered from some sort of strange sleeping sickness, causing him to collapse without warning onto one of the myriad cushions. Draco could almost imagine Harry curled up on the large, squashy paisley one, wrapped in the soft blue knit blanket nestled next to it.
Then there were the bowls scattered about the room filled with the oddest assortment of things Draco had ever seen. There was the bowl by the sofa chair filled with dried kidney beans, one on the coffee table filled with river stones and another beside it filled with small shells. All looked as though they'd been well rifled by nimble fingers.
But by far the strangest thing—in Draco's opinion, of course—was the kitchen. It was filled to the brim with expensive cooking equipment, exotic ingredients, top-drawer spices, the finest oils, and of course, plump fruits and gorgeous vegetables. It appeared that somewhere along the way Harry had become a foodie, and a rather snobby one at that.
Draco wondered what all of this meant in the context of Harry's ghost-like existence and Evan James's thin personnel file. There was only one way to find out. Draco withdrew his wand. "Ennervate," he said, while at the same time taking hold of Harry's hand.
Harry jerked at the pull of the spell. He moaned in the back of his throat and tried to open his eyes.
Draco squeezed Harry's hand, letting him know he wasn't alone.
At last, Harry's eyes opened and fixed on Draco.
"I'm real. I'm not a ghost or a hallucination or anything else."
Harry looked down at his hand entwined with Draco's and then back up at Draco. "I'm beginning to see that." He tried to sit up, wincing as he did so. "Ghosts and hallucinations don't tend to knock people unconscious with spells—God I hate Stunning Charms."
Draco used his other hand to press him back. "Not just yet. Being roused by a spell always leaves a nasty headache for a bit. Do you have a mild pain potion?"
Harry shook his head.
"Ah. It should pass in a few minutes."
Harry nodded and looked down at his hand again. "You're supposed to be dead, you know."
"Rumor. As you can see, I'm very much alive."
"But… they said… and the pictures… you're dead, Draco. I—I mean, you're supposed to be. Not like the Ministry to cock something like that up. How they missed that you were still alive, I'll never know. What happened? Why in the world would the Ministry think you're dead?"
Draco debated whether to say anything about the Ministry just yet. "You're, uh, being rather calm about all of this, given, well, given my previous receptions."
"Still the spell, I think. Feel a bit muddled. Shock too, I suspect. I never thought—" Harry shook his head. "Doesn't matter what I thought. So. You're here. In my flat. After having knocked me out. Why are you here, then? Are you in trouble? Because if you are, I'm sorry but I won't be much help to you. I don't really know anyone here and I don't have tremendous resources."
There was an edge of panic in Harry's voice that made Draco nervous. "I rather think the set of Calabrid knives in your kitchen trounces your resource argument, but that doesn't matter. I'm not in trouble. I'm here for you."
The temperature in the room dropped as Harry's body tensed. He tried to pull away. "Here for me? What are you talking about? How did you even know I was here?"
"Yeah. It does. How did you know where I lived?" Harry took a look around his flat. "How did you know about the knives? Hang on, have you been going through my things?"
"Bloody hell. Still the same Malfoy, then. Always sticking your nose where it doesn't belong."
"No, that's your territory, if you'll recall," Draco said, angry that Harry had managed to irritate him in less than ten minutes. He'd withstood the Dursleys for hours before getting to the same point. "Still not why I'm here. Come on. Let's get you up and packed."
Harry didn't move. "Packed? For what? I'm not going anywhere."
"Home. I'm taking you home."
"No? No? Perhaps you didn't understand, I'm here to take you home, back to the people who love you."
The color drained from Harry's face. He tried to pull away again, but Draco just held on tighter. "This is my home."
"No. It's not. Don't you want to go home?"
"I told you, I am home," Harry snapped, successfully dislodging his hand from Draco's grasp. "Besides, I can't go back. It's… I can't go back. I'm happy here."
"Is this about… what that Healer said?"
Harry stiffened. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Granger and Weasley heard some Healer raving in a pub one night about knowing where you'd got to. They talked to him. He said all sorts of strange things, insinuated the Ministry was somehow involved. I came to find you—to bring you home. The Weasleys and Granger have been beside themselves. They feel terrible that they couldn't protect you and they want to do it now. We've been looking a long time, you know."
Something odd flickered in Harry's eyes. "Why would you do that?"
"Because, once we realized that you didn't just run away, we wanted to find you—find who sent you away."
"Thought I ran away, did you? The lot of you thought I'd just leave, without word? And now you claim to want me to come home? That you've been searching for me? Please. I'm not nearly as stupid as any of you think."
Draco gaped. When had this conversation gone so horribly wrong? "We don't think you're stupid. The Weasleys—they always thought you'd gone missing, but the Ministry and the papers… it was all very convincing, Harry. That didn't stop any of us from missing you, or wanting you to come back."
Harry stood up and started pacing, eventually retreating to the far corner. "You really shouldn't be here. I think it's time you left."
Draco scrambled to his feet. Everything was going wrong. Harry was supposed to smile and agree to go home with Draco, perhaps even let Draco kiss him. "We think it was a Ministry plot."
"We think it was a plot, to send you away. What did the Healer say to you? Before you left?"
That same odd flicker passed through Harry's eyes again. "None of your business. I'm serious, Malfoy. You need to leave."
"Malfoy? Since when have I been Malfoy?"
"Since you started showing up, spying on me, wrecking my life, spelling me unconscious, and going through my things, that's when."
"Wrecking your life? What life?"
"Sod off and get out."
Draco pressed forward, his hands outstretched in conciliation. "Harry, listen to me. Please. Let me help you."
"I don't need your help. What I need is for you to leave. Besides, how do I know you're not really here to take me away to your new Master? Huh? How do I know you haven't switched sides, again?"
Draco knew it was the potion, and that one of Harry's deepest fears was that he couldn't trust him, but it didn't make it any easier to hear. "Granger still bites those ridiculous Muggle pencils in her teeth and her hair is as wild now as it was in school. Weasley became an Auror. He towers over everyone and still eats every ounce of chocolate in sight. He gets jealous easily. He still hasn't worked up the courage to tell Granger he fancies her. Arthur—Mr. Weasley's rubber duck collection takes up most of the attic at the Burrow—the banshee is most displeased. Charlie still works at the Dragon Reserve—met a nice girl, got married last year."
Harry gasped. "How—How do you know all of that?"
"Like I said, we've been looking for you for a long time. I'm not here to hurt you, Harry. I—I… I want you to come home. We all do. Everyone's waiting for you—ready to welcome you home."
Harry's eyes held a longing that Draco was sure meant that he'd be bringing Harry home straight away. He was just about to suggest they start packing when Harry's breathing turned into short, desperate pants.
"I told you. I can't go home." Harry started patting his pockets before dashing over to a small set of drawers, searching for something.
"What are you looking for?"
"God, Malfoy! What part of 'get out' didn't you hear?"
Draco reeled from the abrupt emotional shift. He noticed that bowls full of odd items were rattling. Harry's magic swirled around the flat, tightly coiled, begging for release.
"Fuck, where is it? I know I had more," Harry muttered to himself as he turned out drawers and sifted through bowls.
Draco realized what Harry was looking for. He walked over and pulled Harry away, grasping his elbows to keep him from lashing out. "You don't need that stuff. I sent it to Hermione to study. You left a vial at the produce market. Harry—trust me you don't need it."
"Let me go! I do need it. You don't know what will happen if I don't have it. Let me go!"
"No! Nothing bad will happen, I promise. Let your magic go. Do something for once. Get angry. Scream, yell, kick the furniture, let your magic go wild. Just do something! I've been following you around for days, and it's like you're a ghost. You're just drifting through life, afraid. You're not a real person."
Harry cried out and slipped from Draco's grasp. He turned around and rushed Draco, knocking him into the wall. "Don't you fucking tell me what to do. I am a real person. This is my life. Mine. You might not think much of it, but I do. I want to be here, I like what I do. Why is that so hard for you to understand?" he asked, emphasizing his words by pushing himself against Draco, and pressing him closer to the wall.
"Because you're not real. You're masquerading as Evan James, a nobody with a miserable, nothing life."
"How dare you! I always knew you were a stupid prat. I can't believe I ever thought I wanted—" Harry hissed, pushing against Draco, his fingers curled around Draco's shoulders. "Bloody hell! You're supposed to be dead!"
Draco wasn't sure what came over him—whether it was the flush of Harry's cheeks, the wild anger in his eyes, or the desire to see at least one part of his fantasy come true—but he leaned forward and nipped at Harry's bottom lip. Harry gasped and tried to pull back. Before he could, Draco cupped Harry's head in his hands and slipped his tongue into Harry's mouth. Harry continued to resist, but Draco refused to let go. He deepened the kiss.
Exultance rushed through him when Harry gave in with soft mews, his body relaxing against Draco's. Draco let Harry take over. He delighted in Harry's enthusiasm and total lack of finesse. It was completely different than anything he'd imagined, and so much better. It went on and on, growing more intense, less controlled as the moments slipped by. Draco moaned and bucked his hips, frantic for more contact.
The enchanting spell broke with the brush of Draco's hips. Harry made an inarticulate cry in the back of his throat, stiffened, and pulled back.
Draco tried to reach out, to lean in for another kiss, but was hit with a nasty shock of magic as Harry scrambled back, terror in his eyes. "What was that for?"
Harry's expression hardened. "For throwing yourself at me. Why would you ever think I'd want that?"
"Because you sure as hell wanted it ten years ago, and I'm pretty sure you wanted it just now. I assumed you were just picking up where we left off."
"Where we left off? You mean, two teenaged boys, controlled by hormones and the thought of impending doom? That's not a place to leave off, really."
"Fine. How do you explain the last few minutes, then? I didn't charm your hand to grope me or your tongue to find its way into my mouth. What do you call that?'
"A mistake. There's nothing there. Not anymore. So you see, your little gamble failed. I'm not going to follow you back to England, dazed by the thought of your amazing kiss—allegedly amazing kiss—or whatever you thought that was supposed to be. There's no reason for me to go back. I'm happy here and I want you to leave."
"Get out. Now. Or I'll make you leave. You felt my magic. There's a lot more where that came from."
"You don't mean that."
"Oh, but I do. I don't ever want to see you again. Get out!"
"Stop this, please!"
Draco could feel the rush of magic in the air. It swirled up his body and carried him away, tossing him out of the door. The door slammed shut, almost coming away from the frame. He felt the thick wards snap into place, shutting him out.
Draco stared into the fire. He'd put off the Firecall as long as possible, but he knew Granger would want a report. With a deep sigh, he initiated the call. "Granger?"
"Draco? Where have you been? I expected a call ages ago. Have you spoken to Harry? When are you coming back?"
"Tomorrow. I'm coming back tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? Holy cricket! That doesn't leave us any time to get ready. I'll set Molly to making all of Harry's favorites, and I'll see if Bill and Charlie can arrange time off. Do you think—"
"—that McGonagall should be invited? Too many people, perhaps. Yes, you're right. Too many people would be a bad idea. But what—"
"Granger, stop. Listen."
"—about Hagrid? Do you think we should invite Ginny and Neville?"
"Granger! Shut up and listen to me!"
Hermione's mouth hung open in surprise, her eyes blinking as if still comprehending what was happening. Draco cursed under his breath. In the space of a day, he'd lost every ounce of self-control he had. Damn Potter to the ninth ring of hell.
"What's wrong? It's been forever since you—God, what have you done now?"
"I haven't done anything. It's that wanker Potter that's made a right mess of things. He refuses to come home. Says he's happy here, in his dingy little flat, with his nothing life, and non-existent friends."
Hermione set her jaw. "Tell me what happened. All of it."
Draco recounted the conversation, ignoring Hermione's attempts to leap in with questions. "I mean, what the bloody hell is wrong with him? I told you he wasn't right in the head. This just proves it. Good riddance."
"Sounds like Harry."
"What? What are you talking about? There's no Harry left in that—that charlatan."
Hermione snorted. "He's embarrassed. He probably thinks he's protecting you—maybe us as well—by throwing you out. He's pushing you away. He's quite skilled at that, actually. He did it to Ron and me all of the time. The trick with Harry is that you have to push back harder and you can't let go."
"You've gone as potty as him. I'm telling you, Granger, he is not the least bit interested in coming back."
"He is. I promise. Besides, I'm sure you can win him over with that fabled Malfoy charm. It's got you that kiss you wanted so badly, hasn't it?"
Draco felt his checks redden. "I don't care about that."
"Right. Of course not. That's why you're so calm, cool, and collected."
Draco swore under his breath. "I thought…"
"I've been thinking of this for seven years. It wasn't anything like I thought it would be. It was awkward and he was angry and I was angry. And… it wasn't what it was supposed to be. I think I've just imagined everything."
"Reality never is the way you think it will be, but that doesn't mean you should give up. Go back to him, catch him unawares. I promise, Draco. He's just… well, he's just being Harry. Two things to remember. Don't let go and, er, appeal to Harry's sense of curiosity."
"What do you mean?"
"Aren't you supposed to be the Slytherin here? I mean, I'd bet my Galleons that he's curious about what you said. The trick is to give him little bits of information at a time. I'll Owl you all of the files and things—you can make it like you're both figuring things out together. While you're doing that you can get to know him better, gain his trust, bring him home."
It was Draco's turn to blink. "That's… don't you think that's a bit dishonest? Aren't you lot known for your goody-goody honesty and such?"
Hermione leaned further into the fire. "There are times when the end justifies the means. I think we all learned that lesson in the war."
"For your sake, you'd better be right."
"I always am."
August 22, 2009
I've been staring at this page, with no idea where to start. My whole life has changed, and it terrifies me. I've got used to Evan James's world. His world is simple, ordered and free of entanglements. Harry Potter's isn't. But I don't know that I can avoid it much longer. Draco's alive. It was really him that I saw at the market last week. I saw him again in the library the other night, and then again in my flat. God! Draco's alive.
I don't know what to think about that. If he's alive, then the Ministry lied to me. I've never liked thinking about that, even though lately it's all I've been able to think about. Draco even said that the Ministry had cooked up some plot all those years ago. He said I could go home, that he was there to take me home. I froze. I can't go back there. I'd just put them in more danger. Besides, I can't face the Weasleys and their pitying looks. I just… I can't.
I don't know what it is—maybe its that a change of season's coming. I feel restless in a way I've not felt in years. It's like I knew somehow that Draco would come back, look breathtaking, and both gut me and thrill me with one look. One kiss. I've waited ten years for that kiss. It was nothing like I thought it would be, but it was as amazing as I always knew it would be. That was more terrifying than the prospect of returning to England. But then I lost control, couldn't think about anything but that kiss and getting closer to Draco and… and doing things with him. I could feel my magic about to burst. I ended things just in time. I told him that I never wanted to see him again. Threw him out of my flat. Told him not to come back. I thought I meant it, but now I can't stop thinking about him, what he said, and fuck, what he did. I'm even dreaming about him, now, waking up like a sodding little boy, all sticky. I've wanked more in the past few days than I have in the better part of a year.
Maybe that means something, though. I mean, what if Draco's right? What if the Ministry played me for the fool? I miss him. Touching him. Hell just seeing him fixed something in me that I hadn't known had gone broken. Part of me hopes every knock at the door is him instead of the post. If he comes back, maybe I'll invite him to that festival I saw a notice about. Maybe it's worth getting to know this Draco Malfoy. Maybe I can convince him that I really am happy here. Maybe if he sees the river with the twinkling lights drifting across, or the shore early in the morning, or walks along High Street on a Sunday afternoon, he'll understand. I'd like him to understand.
Draco knocked politely on Harry's door, armed with test results on the calming draught.
The door opened. Draco heard the faint strains of music in the background. "Yes, can I help—Malfoy? What are you—I told you I didn't want to see you again."
"I know. I just… I just wanted you to know I was telling the truth. About the calming draught, I mean."
Harry cocked his head to the right and bit his bottom lip. Draco quelled the urge to lean forward and lick it. "I'm not going back."
"So you've said. I'm not trying to convince you otherwise. I just want to show you what I'm talking about."
Draco waited as Harry thought it over and masked his relief when Harry said, "Fine. Come in."
Draco sat on one of the squashy cushions, noticing that Harry curled up on the large paisley one next to him. He thought about knocking Harry back and straddling his hips and making Harry writhe under his touch. He thought about desperate kisses and sworn promises of love and eternity. He thought about sex, about Harry begging for it be harder, faster.
Draco started, realizing he'd been caught staring. "Sorry. That's a striking cushion. I—I noticed you have a lot of them."
Harry ducked his head. "I've collected them over the years—bought them when they struck my fancy." Harry's fingers brushed over the cording around the edge of the cushion. "I like them."
"They're nice. I like them too."
The side of Harry's mouth turned up for a moment. "So, I imagine you didn't come to talk about my cushions."
"No, I suppose not. Look at this. It's the report on the tests Granger ran on that potion you've been taking."
Harry's fingers brushed his as he took the file. Draco suppressed the shiver running through him by looking around the flat while Harry read through the report. He noticed a large bowl of Satsumas on the kitchen counter and scowled, remembering a particularly bad experience he'd had with them as a small child.
"They're just Satsumas, Draco."
Draco turned, finding himself the subject of Harry's curious gaze. Merlin, he was breathtaking. "What?" Draco managed to croak when he realized Harry was waiting for some sort of response. "Wait, you said my name. You called me Draco."
Harry shrugged. "So… it's your name, isn't it? What's all this mean, then?"
Draco leaned forward. His shoulder brushed Harry's. Harry didn't move away and Draco nearly lost his concentration.
"Draco? You okay?"
"Fine. Just reorienting the analysis. See this here? That means that they've altered the standard calming draught to incorporate your blood. It's muddling your mind—has been for years. You can't take any more of it. Promise me you won't."
"How do we know that's the reason they used it?"
"Do you remember nothing from Potions? Gods, Potter. Blood is only used in certain Necromancy or mind controlling potions. As you're not dead, all evidence to the contrary, then this has to be a mind controlling potion."
"That doesn't make any sense. Why would they do that?"
"To control you. To reinforce whatever you're supposed to be taking the potion for."
"But what? What was it trying to reinforce?"
"I don't know. I mean…what—what did the Healer tell you, Harry? What did he say? Perhaps there's a clue there."
Harry got a faraway look in his eyes. For a long while, Draco didn't think he'd speak. He watched as Harry's fingers drifted through the bowl of dried kidney beans. "He told me that I'd absorbed all of the Dark Lord's magic. He told me that—that I was dangerous, that the Ministry wanted to put me in Azkaban, that… you were dead."
"He lied to you. Don't you see? It was all a ruse."
"But why? Why would he lie to me? And why would the Ministry be involved? It doesn't make any sense."
"I told you that we thought it was a Ministry plot, remember?"
Draco laid his trap. "Well, we're still trying to figure it out. It's—it's been slow going. Lots of Ministry stalling, no records. The Healer was a huge break for us." Draco shifted closer, pleased that Harry didn't move away from him. "I… no. You wouldn't want that."
"What? What are you talking about?"
Draco licked his lips and pretended to struggle to find the right words. "I was thinking… why don't we try and figure it out together? Granger's on the case and is sending me things as she and Weasley come across them. Between that and whatever else you remember, we should be able to figure it out."
An odd smile passed across Harry's face. He looked like he was about to say something, but he stopped.
"Why would you do that for me? I'm not going back there. I'm not leaving, and why would you stay?"
"I want to figure this out and… and I want to get to know you again. Besides, Ayr's not too awful."
"Why on earth would you want to stay here?"
Draco looked Harry up and down and made a decision. Before Harry could object, he trailed his fingers down Harry's face. "I like the view."
"Draco, stop. No more of this."
"Don't you want to figure it out? Together?" "
"That's not what I meant. You know it. I meant stop touching me."
"Why? You said the other day that I didn't affect you at all. Change your mind?"
Harry jerked away. "No. Of course not. I told you. I'm not interested."
Draco marveled at the mulish set of Harry's jaw, they way his eyes dared Draco to try anything else. As if it were a game, Draco pressed his advantage forward.
"So, you wouldn't be interested if I did this?" Draco leaned in and pressed his lips on the side of Harry's jaw.
"No. Not in the least."
Draco pretended not to notice the flush of Harry's cheeks or the slight gasp he made. "Not interested in this either, then?" Draco skimmed his fingers across Harry's chest, delighting in the way Harry's eyes fluttered closed.
"No. Definitely not."
"How about—" Before Draco could go further, Harry leapt to his feet and dashed to the other side of the room. "Thanks for the information on the Calming Draught. I'll be sure to remember that. Perhaps you should leave now."
Draco got to his feet. "Sure. All right to stop by when I get more information?"
Harry bit his lip. "I don't know if that's such a good idea."
"You mean you're not the least bit curious?"
"It's not that… it's—look, Draco, whatever there was between us was a long time ago. I don't want to have to keep fending you off."
"But you said it didn't bother you, that I couldn't affect you."
"Well, yes that's true, but—"
"What does it matter, then?"
"Because, it matters. Because people don't go around touching other people. It's – it's just not done."
"Just because you don't do it, doesn't mean it's not done. Haven't you considered that you're the problem, here?"
"I… you can't… now stop it. You're twisting my words around."
"No. I'm asking reasonable questions and making salient points. You're the one all flustered." Draco cocked his head to the side. "You sure that I don't affect you? In the least?"
"I said so, didn't I?"
Draco sensed Harry's agitation was about to boil over. "Look, I'm not doing it to take the piss out of you. I've missed you. There was a time that we talked about the future—one that involved us being together. What's wrong with seeing whether there's any hope for something like that again?"
Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't do relationships—I've never even had one, not really. You even said that I had a nothing life."
Draco stepped forward and grabbed Harry's hand. "I shouldn't have said that. Just because you haven't had many or—or any—real relationships doesn't mean that we can't talk and flirt and just see what's there. I'm not asking for your hand in marriage, Harry. Just… I just want to get to know you. Everything's different for me too, you know. I've got to get to know you all over again. I'm willing to try. Aren't you?"
"You're not going to leave me alone, even if I say no, are you?"
"Not a chance. Besides, we have a mystery to figure out, you and I. So what do you say?"
Harry sighed. He gave a short nod.
Draco sauntered over and leaned in, kissing Harry on the cheek, smiling as Harry leaned into it, while protesting at the same time. "Next time I'll bring some wine. Maybe you can make dinner?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "These aren't dates. I just want to know what's going on, and… maybe I want to get to know you again, too."
"They can be dates of a sort—investigation dates, or 'make Harry have fun' dates, or 'eat wildly expensive food and gossip about Weasley and Granger dates.'"
Harry closed his eyes and sagged against the wall. "Yeah, okay. Just stop with the Malfoy seduction scene, yeah?"
"Why in Merlin's name would I ever agree to that?"
Harry laughed. It was a beautiful sound—one that Draco hadn't heard in a very long time. "I've missed your laugh."
"Yeah. I suppose I should go."
"Yeah, I suppose you should."
Draco leaned forward and gave Harry a soft kiss. Harry didn't pull away. "I'll stop by when I get something new."
"Okay. Hey, Draco? There's a bazaar Saturday after next. I thought you might want to go—only if you've nothing better to do."
Draco's heart stopped for a moment before beating wildly in his chest. "Sounds fun," he said, keeping his demeanor cool.
"Great. See you, then."
"Yeah, see you," Draco said as he let himself out, feeling giddy from success.
Draco stood in front of Harry's door, getting his libido under control. He'd been back to Harry's flat several times already. In between gourmet dinners, witty repartee—on Draco's part, at least—and enough sexual tension to leave them both reeling, they'd gone over the Prophet reports, tracing them back to letters from Scrimgeour's assistant, and had tackled the magic level reports. It had taken the better part of a weekend for Harry to finally admit that he wasn't a Dark Lord, that the tests had been manipulated. That had started out as a terrible night, which had quickly been rectified with lots of good wine, very little food, and a healthy dose of adolescent groping.
They'd met a few times outside of their investigation, as well. The bazaar had been wonderful. Draco repaid Harry with a visit to the seashore. Now he knew where all of those shells had come from. Another time, Harry gave Draco a tour of his favorite parts of the city. The best part of that day had been sitting in a small park and making up life stories for the people passing by. It had been idyllic in a way that Draco would have scoffed at before. It was true. Love made one sappy and rather soft in the head.
They were falling into a routine and Draco was loath to see it end. Though he and Harry had grown much closer, more intimate, Harry was steadfast that he would not return to England. At first, he even refused to allow anyone to visit. He'd since relented on that point. But soon Draco would run out of files and theories. Soon, they would have to make hard decisions. He put those thoughts away as he knocked on the door.
When it opened he waved a thick file. "Granger unearthed something new. Seems the Ministry took a lot of care in faking my death."
"Oh. It's you."
Draco looked Harry up and down. He was flushed, his hair in greater disarray than normal. His shirt was untucked and his trousers seemed more wrinkled than normal. "What have you been getting up to?"
Harry colored more. Draco resisted the urge to ask if he'd been thinking about Draco while so obviously jerking off.
"Nothing. Just… I was just cleaning."
"Do a lot of cleaning? Often?"
The flush on Harry's cheeks traveled down his neck. He shifted his weight. "Only just recently," he said, his voice sounding a bit strangled.
"Understandable. Is now a bad time, then? Shall I come back when you've finished cleaning up?"
"Erm, no. Now's fine. I was just… um—" Harry rolled his eyes. "Just come in, you stupid prat."
Draco grinned and walked in, brushing up against Harry as he passed him, giving him a kiss on the cheek. Harry smiled and kissed him back.
"Come on, your favorite cushion's waiting for you."
They each took their respective cushions, Draco glancing more than once at the paisley one.
"You know you're welcome to sit on the paisley one."
"No, that one's yours."
Harry laughed. "Okay, I guess. Are you here to admire my cushions, or show me what you've found?"
"Sorry. I, uh, I guess I just like that particular pattern. Very striking," Draco said as he wondered if that was the cushion Harry laid against as he jerked off, Draco's name slipping from his lips as he came.
For a moment, Draco's fantasy superimposed over reality, Harry had said his name so softly. He blinked and realized that Harry was fully clothed and looking only slightly debauched. "Right. Sorry. Here it is. Do these pictures look familiar?"
Harry took the file and stared at the pictures.
"Harry? You okay?"
"Before I saw these, I thought I saw you everywhere. I was convinced that the Ministry had gotten it wrong. But then… I saw these, and read the reports, and—" Harry shook his head. "You were dead, Draco. I don't know if you quite understand what that means, what it meant to me."
"I've a fair idea."
Harry turned to him, his eyes full of questions.
"Those first three years, when we'd thought you'd run away. I… you may as well have been dead. I didn't know where you were, no one did. Not seeing you, not being able to flirt with you, or talk about our shitty lives and shitty choices… let's just say I was a mess. I fucked everything in sight, drank my nights away, gambled away a fair bit of my inheritance. I was completely lost."
"Granger found me… somewhere. I don't even remember where. Told me to get my bloody arse off the floor and come with her. She took me to breakfast, the Weasel—er, Ron—was there. Seems he'd run across some obscure reference to a file with your name, but he couldn't find it. That got them thinking. Then they found me, told me what they thought, asked me to help, and the rest is history in some respects."
Harry shook his head, obviously amused. "I can't imagine you getting along with them. I can't believe you know my friends better than I do."
"I didn't get along with them at first. Molly, Arthur and Granger are about the only ones I can stand. Though I have to hand it to Granger. She's one bossy witch and she certainly knows how to get under your skin. And she's annoyingly concerned—can't even hate her properly."
"Sounds like Hermione. And Ron? Do you get on with him at all?"
"There are times when we see eye to eye, I suppose."
"When you're involved. He's… he never gave up on you, Harry. He was the only one who insisted from the beginning that something had happened to you. You're like some little black—well, brown now—haired brother to him."
"I miss them."
"Then come home. Let's go home. We can pack this stuff up tonight and Apparate to the Burrow."
"I told you, this is my home now. I know you don't understand—"
"That's not true. I do. Or, at least, I'm beginning to. I saw the way your eyes lit up when you showed me around the city. I know you love it here. I just… I miss England, and I don't understand why you don't."
"It's not that I don't miss it… it's just that, here, there aren't such awful memories. Here I get to be someone entirely different, and while you might think Evan James is a boring sod, I quite like him. It may not be the most exciting life here, but it's mine. You can't possibly know how important that is to me."
"I'd like to. I think I'm beginning to, a little bit, at least."
"Even as Evan James? The man you called the most boring person on Earth?"
Draco leaned forward and brushed his lips against Harry's. "Don't mind me, but I'm quite taken with the combative, fiery Harry Potter who kisses like a fiend and steals all of my biscuits without remorse."
"It was just the one time, and you said you were finished with them. Oh… I don't think… oh, all right I suppose you can touch me there."
Draco smiled at the way Harry sucked his bottom lip in between this teeth. He rubbed Harry's cock with more insistence. "You mean here?" Draco said in between soft kisses and nips to Harry's throat. He was tired of talking and that paisley cushion was calling to him. "How about here?" He undid Harry's zip and slipped his hand in, cupping Harry's balls and rolling them back and forth.
"Y–yes that's fine, too."
With little maneuvering, Draco pushed Harry back and straddled his hips. He rocked his hips against Harry's, both reveling in the feel of his cock sliding against Harry's and the sound of Harry's moan as he rocked his hips again. "This okay?"
Harry looked up, his eyes rolling back a few seconds later as Draco rocked yet again. "Yeah. This is okay."
October 15, 2009
Draco came over again last night. I think we're dating. When did we start dating? Bloody hell, that sounds girly—men don't date, do they? They have meetings and things. Oh, what the hell, Draco and I are dating. Have been for a while now, I guess. I never thought it could be like this. My whole life has changed in the space of a few weeks. I've stopped taking that calming draught. It's amazing how much clearer things are. I don't feel paranoid all of the time, like I used to. I realized that the Ministry isn't monitoring my magic like I thought it was—though I think I'd long suspected that. Everything's perfect, which means it's all about to fall apart. I suspect that Draco's known the whole story behind this Ministry plot for a long while. I haven't said anything because, like him, I don't want this to end. It's going to end soon, though. It has to. There's only so much information he can have and then… well, I guess he'll go home and… I'll stay here. I can't go back. I think he understands that. It's painful for us both, I suspect. But… I'm not going to think about it. Not right now. I'm determined to enjoy this while it lasts. I think…I think I love him, which is stupid, because I don't even know what love is. Not really. All I know is that Draco consumes my thoughts every moment of every day and that I'm happiest when he's around—even if he's being a prat, which as it turns out, is most of the time. I think I've started to find it endearing. Perhaps it's not love—perhaps I've just gone insane. Either way, it's brilliant and I… I don't want it to end.
"It's been two months, Draco. Longer, actually."
Draco shifted his knees on the soft velvet cushion Harry had leant him. "I know."
"Haven't you run out of information yet?"
"Almost. I've got one file left—the archive one."
"Ah. Well. It's the end, then. When can we expect you home? Both of you?"
Draco shifted again. He hesitated. "I—I don't know. Harry says he doesn't want to leave. That he genuinely likes Ayr, that he's made a life here. I've done everything I can to convince him to come home. I even told him that ridiculous story about my inauguration into the Weasley sweater tradition."
"He's really not coming home? Even after that?"
"No. He's not."
"Okay. Well that's unexpected. Will he… I mean, can we visit him?"
"You're okay with him not coming home? Seven years, Granger, seven years we've been looking for him with the single goal of brining him home. You're just going to give that up?"
"Maybe… I just mean, maybe he's already home. Maybe you are, too."
"What in the bloody hell are you talking about?"
"We'll get to that in a moment. Now. Can we visit? How many people can come? Is there a chance for him visiting at some point?"
"Er, yes. You can visit. In fact, he's mentioned it a few times—you and Weasley coming—I don't think he's up for the entire Weasley clan."
"Are you sure he'd want us to visit?"
"Yeah. He talks about the two of you all of the time. We were window shopping along High Street the other afternoon and he mentioned how much Weasley would like the food at this small curry place, and how much you'd love the handmade parchment at the local Muggle stationer's. I think he'd very much like you to visit."
"I suppose we can work with that. It's not ideal, but… well, it's better than never seeing him again."
Draco gave a distracted nod.
"And what about you? Are you coming home?"
"I suppose so. Nothing else left for me to do, is there? It's not like… I mean… it's not like there's anything left to do," he finished quietly.
"You sound quite sad about that."
Draco shrugged. There wasn't anything he could say, really.
"You love him, don't you? I mean, you've really fallen in love with him, not just the dream of him."
"What? Where did you—"
"Shut it, Malfoy. You can preen and bluster with everyone else, but I've seen you at your worst. I dragged you out of it, actually. You can't fool me."
Draco's shoulders slumped. "He's nothing like I expected. He surprises me at every turn. Infuriates me daily. There are days I want to kill him and others that I want to spend all day kissing him. He… he intrigues me, I guess. Did you know he has this bowl of beans that he dips his hand in when he's thinking? He just lets his hand rifle through the beans, over and over. Why? It doesn't make any sense and it drives me crazy that I want to know why."
"Doesn't that tell you anything?"
"What? That Harry's certifiable?"
Hermione huffed. "Boys," she muttered. "You do love him. I hear it in your voice every time you recount a story from the time you've spent with him. Like that lamb shank dinner he made for you a fortnight ago, and the crazy next door neighbor Harry didn't know he had, and sitting in the swings at the playground, talking. You don't want to leave him, do you?"
"Gods, you're scary. At least the Weasel was right on that point."
"All right. No. I don't. And that infuriates me, too. I came here with my goal clear in mind—bring Harry home, convince Harry that he wanted to go home, convince him that he had something to go home to. And what's happened? I haven't changed his mind a bit about coming back, but he's—-fuck it all, he's changed me, or made me see things differently, or something. I see what he loves about this place, I see how happy he is—even at the ridiculously boring job sorting books in the dead of night. Do you know what he said when I asked him about that? Do you?"
"No, so why don't you tell me."
"He told me he liked the quiet, he liked that no one was looking over his shoulder, that he could read whenever and whatever he wanted for as little or as long as he liked. He doesn't need any money, so it's not about that. He just likes it. It defies reason, Granger. And the worst part is that—sodding hell, I'm beginning to see what he means."
"You don't have to leave."
"Don't leave. Stay there. With Harry. We'll visit."
"What do you mean stay here? I don't live here. My home is in England, in my manor, in London, even in that claptrap monstrosity the Weasleys call the Burrow. This is not my home."
"Home is where the heart is, you know?"
"Home is where the heart—what? What the hell does that mean? Here I was beginning to think you were half-way intelligent, Granger. Where did you come up with that inane, nonsensical drivel?"
"It's a saying, a Muggle saying—oh never mind. It means that that you're happiest where the person you love is. It means that England is only a place, and that it won't mean much to you without Harry. Is it England you need, or Harry?"
Draco growled. "I told you, I don't need Harry."
"No. You didn't. In fact, you've made a convincing case for the opposite. You're just afraid he won't love you back and that when you say you're staying, he'll tell you to leave."
"I never said that."
"Once again, it's not in what you said, it's the way you said it."
"You've lost your bloody mind."
"Whatever gets you through the day, Malfoy. So, here's what you'll do. You'll take the file to Harry, go over it with him, and tell him you're staying and that we're visiting. Then you'll kiss and live happily ever after."
"What are you, the bloody Minister of Magic? You can't just tell me that I have to stay here. I'll bloody well go where I bloody well want to, thank you very much."
"I'm just saying that there's no harm in staying there. And I'm telling you Harry won't mind. He'll be thrilled in that vaguely surprised way Harry has about him."
"I—I'll think about it. And I'm only staying if I want to."
"Only if you want to."
At the heart of it, Draco knew he loved Harry, but he didn't know how Harry felt—how Harry really felt and that terrified him. Granger was right, of course. She was rather annoying when she was right.
"Supposing that I did decide to stay. I mean, maybe I could eventually convince Harry to come home."
"Of course, Draco."
"Actually, this makes loads of sense. A couple of months wasn't enough time to convince Harry to come home, but, I mean, it's not like I'm needed elsewhere. Maybe I could even convince him to rent a different flat? Maybe I could find one close to his?"
"You're right, Granger. It makes loads of sense to stay. We've waited a long time for him to come home—what's a few more months, or, you know…"
"Absolutely. And it has nary a thing to do with the fact that you love him. Don't make that face at me. Go on. Go to Harry. Spill your heart like the honorary Gryffindor you are."
"Stop insulting me!"
Hermione continued on as if she hadn't heard Draco. "I'll talk to the Weasleys. We'll arrange something for next month. Molly will send some new sweaters for you both, I'm sure."
Draco snorted. "Harry'll be thrilled. And… so will I, I guess, as long as she sticks to the rule. Only gray, black and white."
Hermione smiled. Her eyes looked a bit watery to Draco, but he thought that might just be the flames. "Tell him I love him. That I miss him. That we'll see him soon—will you?"
"And Draco? Take good care of him."
Draco closed his eyes. "Of course."
Draco waited a long while before knocking on Harry's door. He'd delayed this day as long as possible, but there was nothing for it. He couldn't put it off any longer. He only hoped that once they'd gone through the file, Harry wouldn't stomp on the heart Draco so painfully ripped out and tossed on his sleeve. The door opened, startling him.
"Oh! You're here. I was just going to drop this in the rubbish bin. Go in—I'll be back in a jiff." Harry darted forward and gave pecked Draco on the cheek. "Missed you," he said as he squeezed Draco's hand while nudging past on his way to the rubbish chute.
Draco didn't know when it happened, but he loved that Harry had become so affectionate over the last few weeks.
His mood clouded as he caught sight of the file. This might be the end. This might be the last time he ever entered Harry's little flat. He trudged in, sat on his favorite cushion, and waited.
"So. Is that the last of it, then?"
Draco blinked. He'd been staring at the paisley cushion, daydreaming about kissing Harry and the nights they'd spent pleasuring each other.
"You okay? You seem like you're a million miles away."
"Sorry. It's the file, I guess. Everything we thought was right." Draco gave Harry the file. "This is the file Weasley nicked from the Ministry Archives. The one I told you he'd been trying to find for years. He, er, was just able to get it. It's the last piece of the puzzle. It has psychological profiles of you, lists of names of people you'd most want to protect, and reports on how things went."
Harry read it all, swearing under his breath occasionally. At long last he put it down and closed his eyes. "All of this for a job? He ruined lives for a job he wasn't even able to keep?"
"Lives have been ruined for far less. But now you know. There's nothing holding you back. You don't have to be afraid. Remember a few weeks ago? At the lake? When you let your magic go inside the tent? Those fountains were beautiful. There's nothing keeping you from doing that."
"That was one of the best times I've had in a long time. Thank you for that." Harry looked down at the file again. "God, I've been so stupid."
"No. You haven't. They took advantage of you. They convinced you that you were something you're not. Don't you remember your file from St. Mungo's? You would have believed you were a Dementor with all they drugged you with. And then there was that awful Calming Draught. You never stood a chance. No one would have."
"But it was my fears that made it all happen."
"Yes, that's true. But everyone has fears. You're not the Dark Lord, Harry. You're just… you're just Harry, I reckon."
"What did you say?"
"I said, you're just Harry."
"What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing. It's funny. I've waited a lifetime for someone to say that to me. So. I'm just an ordinary wizard no one cares about, is that it?"
"No, you stupid prat, that's not it! I, Granger, the Weasleys—we all care about you. You know how long we've been looking for you."
Harry bit his lip. "Sorry about that. I'm sure I didn't meet your expectations of what you'd find, did I?"
"Doesn't matter. I just—we just wanted to find you, we wanted you to know that you were lo—cared for."
"Thanks. Um, I thought you might like to stay for dinner. I got some veal chops at the market, some fresh fennel, more of those truffles you like. I even found that wine you've been prattling on about for weeks, now."
"Planning the Last Supper, or something? What? Don't look so shocked. I picked up a few Mugglish things here and there."
"That just… well it surprises me. I thought your resistance might be higher, or something."
"Prat. Into the kitchen with you. I'll even chop the fennel."
Dinner was gorgeous, as it always was when Harry prepared it. But it wasn't just the chef that made that particular night seem more than it was. Everything tasted better, the conversation seemed sharper, the wine more heady. It was as if it were truly the last meal they would share together, and both knew it.
Harry looked away and fiddled with the cording on the paisley cushion. "I suppose that's it, then. I suppose you'll be leaving tomorrow."
"I—no. I think… well, I've really gotten to like it here. You've shown me parts of the city I never would have seen. I thought I'd stay on a bit, actually."
Harry looked up, hope bright in his eyes. "You're not going to convince me to go home."
"Maybe I don't want to anymore. Maybe I want to stay because… because—"
Draco thought of all the times that Weasley had almost worked up the courage to tell Granger he loved him only to chicken out and say something about the pudding. He loathed Weasley in those moments—loathed his lack of conviction. And now he was no better, unless. . .
"Because, maybe I love you."
"You heard me. I don't need to say it again."
Harry laughed, though it sounded nervous and unsure. He shifted away from Draco. "You can't possibly love me. You don't even know what love is."
"Don't you dare say that. I'm perfectly capable of knowing what love is."
"Okay, let's try it this way, then. It's been a long time. I don't—I don't think I really know how to love anyone. I don't even know what it means. I'm not used to being loved. How can I believe that you love me?"
"Can I tell you want it means to me? Will you listen to me?"
"You infuriate me. You make me lose my patience faster than anyone in the world. Sometimes you're like a patch of stinging nettles that I've unwittingly got tangled up in."
"Interesting. I never would have thought to equate love with minor irritants."
"That's not—Gods! You're doing it again! You drive me round the bend and no one—absolutely no one—riles me the way you do."
Harry cocked his head and licked his lips. "Is that a good thing, then?"
"Yeah. A bloody brilliant thing. And then there are all these questions. Things I have to know. Like, why you have a bowl of dried kidney beans on that table over there, or when you realized truffles weren't some gooey confection from Honeydukes. I want to know why you have all of these damn cushions. I—I want to know about that book, the one that made you bite your lip and read for nearly half an hour before you put it away. I want to learn all of your little mysteries. I want to know you. I want to spend years, decades, getting to know you, puzzling out your mysteries, finding new mysteries along the way." Draco held out his hand. "Let me puzzle them out. Please."
Harry bit his lip, his gaze downcast. Draco was just about to retract his hand when Harry started talking.
"I, erm, I want to know why you get that queasy expression on your face when I pull a Satsuma from the fruit bowl." Harry looked up through his fringe. Draco nodded for him to continue, encouraged. "And I want to know what your fascination is with my paisley cushion, and why your eyes go all funny when I say your name. And—I want you to know about the beans and the books and everything else."
Draco cupped Harry's head with both hands and drew him into a soft kiss. He stepped back and held out his hand. "Let's give it a try. We're worth it."
Harry looked at it for a long while before his gaze flitted around his small flat. He bit his lip. Draco held his breath, terrified that Harry would reject him. He closed his eyes, willing his heart rate to slow down. And then he felt it, a warm hand slipping into his. Harry's hand. He opened his eyes and looked down at their entwined fingers.
"I like the way the beans feel, running across my fingers. They… I don't know how else to describe it. I just like it. I like touching things. I like touching you."
"I promise that you can touch me anytime you want. Especially if the touching involves your tongue and my cock."
Harry laughed. "Stupid prat. I'm still not leaving Ayr."
"I know. That's okay. I—it's a nice place and you're here and you say you're not leaving, so I'd rather make the best of it. Can you make the best of it? Will you? With me?"
Harry smiled. "Yeah. Okay." He leaned forward and kissed Draco. It was soft and pleasant and undemanding. Draco could live a lifetime on those soft kisses. And that's when he understood what Granger had been trying to tell him. He finally understood that it didn't matter who came home to whom. No matter where they were, as long as they were together, they would always be home.
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