"Did you know swans mate for life?" someone at their table asked. Harry had no idea who she was. She was just another one of Draco's co-workers who liked to stare at Harry dreamily until she realized that being a hero made him neither fascinating nor enlightened.
"Do they really?" Draco asked, perking up.
"Yes. I just read about it the other day. Their little ducklings, or eggs—Bernard, what do they call swan offspring?"
"No, good gods, man. That's not even a word," someone else said.
"Cygnets. They call them cygnets," Harry said quietly.
Conversation at the table stopped as everyone in the party stared at Harry, likely surprised that he'd uttered anything, much less the right answer.
Harry tended to avoid conversation at Draco's soirees. That's what Draco called them—soirees. Harry called them pretentious and boring. That had earned him a week on the couch in the downstairs lounge.
"Er, yes. That's right, I think," the woman who'd started the swan conversation said. "Anyway, the little cygnets are apparently much better off when cared for by two male swans."
That earned a low whistle from around the table.
Harry closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable. Draco didn't keep him in suspense for long.
"You know, my Animagus form is that of a black swan," he boasted, craning his neck around so that he made sure everyone had heard him and understood how important a fact this was.
"I imagine you're beautiful!" a blonde woman giggled.
"I am rather handsome. Aren't I, Harry?"
"Of course you are."
"And Harry, what's yours?"
Harry opened his mouth to respond, but Draco—as Draco always did—beat him to it. "Poor Harry here hasn't yet mastered the art of the Animagus transformation." Draco leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial whisper, "It's a little too advanced for him."
Titters of laugher rang out.
"That's okay, though," Draco continued, "There has to be something Potter's not good at, eh?"
Harry said nothing.
"Perhaps you should take him to Madam Zorra," Bernard said with a nod towards Harry.
"Madam Zorra? She sounds like a Muggle fortune teller," Harry said with a scoff.
Gasps went around the table.
"She's no fortune teller," the giggly blonde said with great affront. "She's simply the best at Animagus alignment."
"Animagus alignment?" Harry said with a laugh. "You're having us on."
"I most certainly am not," she replied with an icy stare. "Oh, Draco," she said, turning to him, "you simply must go. Madam Zorra's so good, that you don't even have to know what your Animagus form is—she Divines it for those who haven't mastered the transformation."
Harry snorted. "I'm sure she does. I bet her alignment becomes more enlightened with each Galleon."
"No, it's true! It's all the rage. It's proven to be one of the best ways to determine whether you and your partner are well suited to each other. I mean, it simply wouldn't do to have a cat and a canary together, now would it?" Bernard said with a loud chuckle, which encouraged everyone else at the table to chuckle as well.
"But that's—that's ridiculous. You can't actually believe in that rubbish," Harry said. "Tell them, Draco. Tell them that it's rubbish."
But Draco was looking at Harry with a speculative gleam in his eyes.
"Oh for—you don't actually believe in that, do you?"
Draco shrugged. "We could find out what your Animagus form is if we did it."
Harry took a large gulp of wine, not caring a whit about whether he was embarrassing Draco with boorish table manners. "Absolutely not," he said in a low voice. "It's preposterous, and I won't be a part of it."
"Well," Bernard said with a cough, clearly grappling with trying to find a less controversial topic. "Say, Jayne, how are your Wysappberry plants doing?"
And from there the conversation flowed away from Harry. He was grateful to be thrust back into the shadows.
The wind was cold along the river. Harry shoved his hands into his coat pockets wishing he hadn't forgotten his gloves.
"I think we should go to Madam Zorra. You never know what we'd learn."
Harry knew too well what he'd learn and he wasn't having a bit of it. He made a non-committal grunt. When Draco replied with a dramatic sigh, he pursed his lips, careful not to say anything.
"You don't want to go just because Marigold suggested it."
"That's her name? Marigold? You're wrong, by the way. I don't want to go because it's a ridiculous way to determine whether people are suited for each other. Honestly, whether your Animagus forms are aligned? This is how you suggest one should determine whom they should spend their life with? That's utter rot. Sorry. Not interested. And by the way, Marigold is a ridiculous twit who spent the entire night starting at the front of your trousers."
Draco chuckled low and dark, which was almost enough to make Harry turn around and slam him against the nearest tree with a bruising kiss. Almost.
"No, I'm bored and irritated. You'll find there's a distinct difference."
"When did you get so fussy?"
"When I had to start spending my evenings with those ridiculous people you call friends."
"They're not bad people," Draco said.
Harry walked on for a minute before finally saying, "I know that." It had been hard for Draco to find friends who truly cared about him and didn't just hang around him for the notoriety of it. Or to laugh at him. As ridiculous as Marigold and Jayne and Bernard and the rest of them were, they seemed genuinely fond of Draco. That was enough for Harry.
"Then why do you have to sit there and brood all night? Looking like a hulking glob of clay?"
Harry stopped and turned. "I was there. That should count for something." He turned back and began walking again. "Besides, I talked."
"No. You argued."
"Fine. I argued. But I also got that question right."
"Oh yes, the one about the cygnets. I'd forgot. How'd you know that, anyway? You've never been one for trivia."
They walked in silence for a while, their feet clacking against the stones.
"Bloody hell, it's cold," Draco muttered. "Why are we walking again?"
"It's a nice night. I wanted to see the stars."
"Of course you did. You enjoy your stars. I'm going home."
Harry shrugged. "Suit yourself."
"God, you make things hard," Draco said under his breath, but Harry still heard him. "Fine," he said aloud.
He clasped Harry's shoulder and squeezed, bringing Harry to a halt. A bit of warmth curled in Harry's belly. For a moment, it was like it had been before there was so much tension between them, so many secrets. Harry was loath to let the feeling go.
"I'll see you at home?" Draco asked.
"Yes. Be there in a jiff."
Draco's face softened and he smiled. He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped and shook his head. "It's cold. Cast a bloody Warming Charm, at least. I refuse to share my bed with a ice lorry."
Harry chuckled. "It's ice lolly, and I promise I won't come to bed ice-cold."
"Well… See that you don't."
Harry nodded, an easy smile coming to his lips.
Draco raised his hand in goodbye and Disapparated.
Harry stared at the spot Draco had just left for a long moment before turning and walking on. The world was silent and cold. Harry continued his journey.
Harry crushed the parchment in his fist until he'd compressed it into a small, dense ball.
"What are you doing?" Draco asked. He looked at Harry's fist. "What have you got there? Is that the parchment from—?"
Harry turned, his fist still curled around the parchment. "Damn it, Draco, I told you I wasn't doing this. I’m not going to that Madam Zorro or Zorina or whoever she is. How dare you—How could you—" Harry threw the balled up parchment onto the floor.
Draco rolled his eyes. "It's just—"
"I'm not talking about this. I'm not going."
Draco sighed and sat heavily on the small sofa. He stretched out his legs and crossed them at the ankles. His right hand was in his trouser pocket and his head was tilted slightly. He looked as if they were about to discuss what to have for tea. "It's not going to determine anything, it's just a helpful guide. That's all."
"If it's not to determine anything, then why do it? Why?"
Draco shrugged as he moved his hand through his trouser pocket. Harry heard the distinct clang of Goblin silver. Goblin Familial Rite Silver, more specifically. Not that Harry knew what it sounded like in the normal course of events, but he knew what was in Draco's pocket, which only spurred his anger to greater heights.
"You're really being annoying about this," Draco said. "I get that you haven't managed the transformation, yet, but that doesn't matter. Madam Zorra can read your Animagus form—that's all that matters, so if this is point of pride—"
Harry sprang to his feet. "Pride? You think this is about pride?" His gaze fell to Draco's trouser pocket. He shook his head. "You don't know me at all."
"You're a bloody coward, I know that much."
"Oh, I think you'll find I'm far braver than you could ever imagine."
Draco narrowed his eyes and stared at Harry the way he stared at suspicious looking Muggle appliances.
Harry wouldn't give him the satisfaction of explaining what he'd meant, of what it meant to leap into something without assurances, without guarantees of success. And that's what Draco was after. He wouldn't do a damn thing about the rings in his pocket until he had a guarantee that he was making the right decision. Harry shook his head and huffed. Draco was the bloody coward. Not him.
"What?" Draco snapped.
Harry didn't respond. He left the room and walked to the front hall. Draco didn't follow. Harry stood there for a long moment, hoping to hear the patter of Draco's steps. None came. He sighed, grabbed his coat, and slammed the door behind him.
Harry stirred the sugar in his tea. The spoon dragged across the bottom of his teacup with each turn, making a sound akin to fingernails scratching down a blackboard.
After ten more turns or so, Draco slammed the paper down on the breakfast table. "Must you do that?"
Harry dragged the spoon with even more force. "What? I don't know what you're talking about."
Draco narrowed his eyes and stared at the spoon for a moment before lunging across the table and grabbing it from Harry's hand, knocking over the teacup in the process.
"Hey, that's my tea!"
Draco slammed the spoon down on the table and stood. "You've been a right git for the last two weeks, and I'm sick of it. I don't know what your problem is, but if—" Draco swallowed. "If you've decided that you're done with me, just fucking say it. Have the fucking balls to just say it."
Harry stared at Draco, gobsmacked. How could Draco think that he wanted to leave him? Harry stared long enough that it seemed Draco took it quite the wrong way.
"Fine. I'll have your things packed by the afternoon. Naturally, as the wronged party, I'll be keeping the flat."
What a complete and utter prat. Harry grinned despite himself. Wasn't it amazing that at fifteen, such a dismissive pronouncement would have made Harry want to punch Draco. Now it fascinated him and made him want to subdue Draco in a far more pleasurable way.
So lost in fantasies of tackling Draco to the ground and smothering him with bruising kisses and bites, he was quite unprepared to find himself tipping over, then flat on his back, then pinned by a furious Draco.
"What is your fucking problem?" Draco yelled.
"I love you, that's the problem."
Draco opened his mouth, ready to spit out his next insult no doubt, but stopped and stared stupidly at Harry for a long moment. "What did you just say?"
"I said, I love you. Why isn't that enough?"
Draco scrambled off of Harry and got to his feet. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"What?" Harry said with a surprised laugh. "It means that I love you, that I think you love me, that—Fuck, Draco, what do you want from me?"
"To go to Madam Zorra's with me. Today."
Draco shook his head and looked away. "Then you don't really mean it, then."
"What? What don't I mean?"
"Figure it out," Draco said before abruptly turning and leaving the room.
Harry heard doors slam, drawers open and shut, glass break, the crack of Disapparition, and then the most awful thing of all. Silence.
Draco didn't return that night. When Harry returned to the flat the next day, there wasn't a trace of Draco left. It felt like all of the air in the room had been sucked out in a huge vacuum, along with Draco's books, Draco's clothes. Draco's betrothal rings.
Harry kicked the wall hard and swore under his breath at the throb in his foot, telling himself that the tears stinging his eyes were because of the pain.
He slid down the wall and stared at the empty bookcase.
"So, Harry, how are things in the Aurors' Office," Hermione said brightly.
Harry shrugged. "I'm on leave."
"Oh. That's right. I'd forgot—I mean—How long is your leave?" Hermione asked even more brightly. The false cheeriness of her voice was giving Harry had a headache.
"Dunno. Two months, I think? Too much accrued vacation time, or some such rot."
"Well that's great. Isn't that great? That gives you loads of time to travel or to write or take that class in advanced curse breaking you were considering."
Harry pushed his plate of curry away. "Please, Hermione. Please don't do this. I'm fine. Everything's fine. We clearly weren't meant to last. That's all there is to it, nothing more." Harry tossed his paper serviette on the table and stood. "Thanks for lunch."
Hermione grabbed Harry's hand and yanked him down, causing him to fall back into his seat. "What do you think—?" he began.
Gone was Hermione's false cheeriness. A shrewd, dangerous woman sat in her place. Harry moved his chair back as far as her grip would allow.
"You listen to me, Harry James Potter, we're sick to death of your attitude, your moping, your everything. You clearly love that pointy, poncy prat, so—so go after him, or something. Stop making our lives miserable, or I'll send Molly after you."
"Mrs. Weasley? You'd send her after me? That's playing dirty!"
Hermione sniffed. "It's completely justified."
Harry sagged back into his seat, grateful when Hermione loosened her grip. "He left me, Hermione. I don't think he's that interested if he can't even be arsed to come sniffing around for free sex."
Hermione choked on her water. "It's only been a few weeks. Surely he can go that long."
Harry chuckled low in his throat. "Sure. Yes. Absolutely."
"No need to get shirty with me. Or suggestive. Shall I go into detail about Ron's fascination with my la—"
"You started this."
"No, you and your ridiculous pride started this."
"My pride? This has nothing to do with my pride! I'm sick to death of people thinking this is some pride thing."
"Then what is it? Tell me what's going on in that brain of yours. I know you've got one. Contrary to belief."
"Thanks, Hermione. You always know just the right thing to make me feel brilliant."
Hermione sighed as she always did when Harry slipped from amusing and awkward to maudlin and sarcastic. "It's just a bit of fun, Harry. Madam Zorra—"
"No. It's not. Not to him. He believes it. And he won't—He can't—He won't move forward with me without that. I'm worth more than a cheap parlour trick."
"Not cheap from what I understand," Hermione muttered under her breath.
"I don't care how much it costs!"
"You're worried that you won't align, aren't you? That's what this is all about. I'm sure your Animagus form is perfect for Draco's. And it doesn't matter that you haven't mastered the transfor—"
Harry laughed loud, cutting Hermione off. "That's not what I'm worried about, Hermione. I'm not in the least bit worried about whether my Animagus form is aligned with his or not. What I care about is the fact that he has to know before he'll—he'll—"
"He'll what? He'll what, Harry?"
Harry sighed. "I just want to be wanted for me, Hermione. For no other reason than who I am. Not what I am."
"It's not like that."
Harry stood and moved away from the table. "From where I'm sitting, it's exactly like that. Look, I know you meant well, but this isn't solvable this way. It probably wouldn't have ever worked anyway. I've got to go. My best to Ron and the Weasleys," Harry said before turning and leaving the restaurant.
Harry was going to kill Ron. Just a few things to pick up for dinner, he'd said as he'd pushed Hermione's weird list of fruit into his hands. Oh, and would you mind popping over to the florist and picking up Mum's arrangement, he'd asked. Harry was beginning to wonder if Ron had taken lessons from Draco. Draco was forever asking him to do this and pick up that and wouldn't-you-mind-popping-over-to-Switzerland-for-that-chocolate-I-like?
Harry's chest squeezed painfully at the thought of Draco. He wondered who was fetching chocolates for him now.
Harry shook his head. He wasn't going to think about Draco. He really, really wasn't. His shoulders sagged. Who was he kidding? He couldn't stop thinking about Draco. But that didn't change the fact that if Harry was falling off of a cliff, Draco wouldn't jump with him. Perhaps not the best analogy, when Harry thought about it, but it was an apt one. Draco would never do anything out of instinct, out of emotion. He'd study the issue and figure out the best advantage. All the while, Harry was falling farther and farther off the proverbial cliff. Alone. And that stupid Animagus alignment shite! Harry wanted to scream. It was ridiculous, and he was losing everything because of it. Correction. Harry had already lost everything because of it.
"Prat," Harry said under his breath. He wasn't sure to whom he was referring.
Harry staggered into Ron and Hermione's back garden, his hands full of bizarre fruit and a massive arrangement of mums for Mrs. Weasley. Somehow, Ron thought it both clever and appropriate to give his mother a large arrangement of brassy coloured mums for her birthday dinner.
"Oh, Harry. You're here," he heard Hermione say somewhere to the left the large mum blocking his vision. He nearly dropped the precariously balanced platter of Mojave plums.
"You look like you need help with that," Ron said.
"Brilliant observation, Ron," Harry snarled as he careened across the smooth paving stones.
"Let me help you with that," said a voice that took Harry's breath away and made his heart pound painfully in his chest.
Unable to move, he waited as the mums and platter of fruit were removed from his arms. Like a grand, dramatic curtain rising at the beginning of a play, golden mums retreated, leaving gold-spun hair and grey eyes in their wake.
"Hi," Draco said.
Ron and Hermione hovered in the background.
"How've you been?" Harry asked after an uncomfortably long stretch of silence.
Draco shrugged. "Fine. You?"
It was only then that Harry realized he still had his arms held out as if he was still holding the flowers and plums. He dropped them hastily, running them across the front of his jeans.
"It's been a while," Harry said.
"Yes, it has. Couple of months, I think."
Harry nodded. His gaze darted to Hermione and Ron, who were still hovering close by.
Hermione cleared her throat. "Right. We'll just be in the kitchen," she said as she pushed Ron ahead of her and into the cottage.
"So," Draco said once the back door slammed shut.
"So," Harry replied.
Draco glanced around the back garden. "They've done some nice things in the back corner. Is that myrtleberry?"
"No, it's Hockney bush."
"Ah. I should have guessed that. The berries are rather too large to be myrtleberry."
"Why are you here?" Harry asked, not giving a fuck about myrtleberry or Hockney bush or anything else other than why Draco was there, in Hermione and Ron's back garden, looking nervous and more guarded than Harry had ever seen him.
"I'd forgot how amazing your social skills were," Draco snapped.
Harry felt like he'd just been punched in the gut. "Fuck you, Draco. If that's all you have to say to me, you can leave." He turned and stomped away.
"Wait! Don't—Bloody hell, Potter, you make everything so damned difficult."
Harry whirled around, incredulous. "Me? I make things difficult? It's you that made things difficult. You and your ridiculous parties, and ridiculous boasting about your bloody black swan, and your constant haranguing about Madam Zorrita—"
"—Whatever! I don't give a flying fuck about her name. The point is, you made everything difficult. Not me."
"I made things difficult? I did? You've had your head bashed in one too many times. You hate my friends, you sit at our dinner parties making it very clear to anyone in a hundred mile radius that you're there under protest, that you're better than all of us, that we should be grateful that the incredible Harry Potter graced us with his magnificent presence."
"What? It's not like that! I've never—"
"And then you have the gall to chastise me about being proud of my Animagus form when the Daily Prophet extols your heroic deeds on a daily basis. Not all of us have our own dedicated column, you know."
"It's just an Animagus form. It's not—"
"It's all I have. After the war… after… do you have any idea how difficult it is to transform like that? The kind of magic it takes? And to transform into something so unique—do you not understand what that means? It's something that's mine. It's something I can achieve—that I did achieve on my own. Why can't you just be happy for me?"
Harry sighed. He was beginning to feel like the world's biggest prat. He'd never thought there was anything special about the Animagus transformation. If he could do it, anyone could. And in the process of underestimating his own ability, he'd underestimated Draco's. And had come off looking like an arrogant prat. What a fucking cock-up.
"I'm sorry," Harry said. "I didn't… I didn't know it was so difficult. I should never have trivialised it."
"No. You shouldn't have. Do you have any idea how rare the black swan Animagus form is?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't really think about things like that."
It was Draco's turn to sigh. "Yeah, I know. And if you weren't so stubborn about your own inability to transform, then maybe this wouldn't be such an issue."
"This—whatever this is between us, whatever has happened—has nothing to do with my ability, or inability, to transform. It has nothing to do with my Animagus form. It all has to do with your inability to trust what we have. That's the problem."
"Oh, of course. How could I have forgot? Harry Potter is bloody perfect. Harry Potter is confident in every fucking aspect of his life. Harry Potter never makes mistakes, and certainly not in relationships."
"Gods, are we really going to do this? Are we really going to scream at each other and rehash everything that's happened?"
"You seem perfectly content to do it, so why in the bloody hell not? After all, it's what you want that matters."
"For fuck's sake, Draco. Why are you here, then? Did you really come to Ron and Hermione's to tell me what a bloody awful boyfriend I was? Why are you here?"
Draco closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "There's something I wanted to ask you, though I'm seriously beginning to think I'm delusional."
"What? What could you possibly have to ask me? Is this about the flat? I'm not giving you—"
"Gods, it's not about the damn flat!"
Draco's hand went into his left trouser pocket. Harry heard the distinct rattle of the silver betrothal rings. His heart leapt into his throat.
Draco withdrew his hand and slammed it on the small table beside him. Two betrothal rings skittered out from underneath his palm. "Join with me, you bloody prat, so that we can fight with each other for eternity. There, happy?"
Harry stared at the rings. He never thought he'd see them again. He was sure that the one time he'd rifled through Draco's pockets in search of a Knut for the Post-Owl was the only time he'd ever see them.
"A question like that generally requires a verbal response," Draco said tightly.
Harry looked up. "You did it. You really did it."
"Did what?" Draco's gaze narrowed again. "What's got into you?"
"You leapt, Draco. You leapt. Right off of the bloody cliff. You leapt."
Harry stepped forward and took Draco's hands in his.
"What are you—?"
"Did you know that swans were thought to be gods in disguise? Or that a swan represents the union of Garuda and Naga in Indian mythology. They were enemies, see, so swans are symbolic of the union of opposites."
With his head cocked to one side, Draco stared at Harry. "Why are you telling me all of this?"
"Because I—because I want you to know that I understand why the Animagus thing was so important to you."
"And?" Draco said with a calculating gaze.
Harry shrugged. "I just wanted you to know."
"And what's all this got to do with my question? The rather important question that you still haven't answered."
"Oh. Right. Sorry about that. Yes. Yes, I want to join with you so that we can fight with each other for eternity."
"Your enthusiasm overwhelms me."
"Sorry! It's just shock. I've been—I've wanted—" Harry darted in and pulled Draco close to him. He kissed him long and deep, while his hands roved down his back and lingered on the curve of his arse.
"That's better," Draco said in a low voice in between nipping kisses to Harry's throat. "You had me worried there."
"Were you—oh, fuck, that feels brilliant—Were you afraid I'd say no?"
Draco hesitated before pulling back. "We've been apart for a few months. And we just had another row. It doesn't make sense, really. Us. I mean it does and doesn't. Everything's complicated with you. You make me think so much, you get reactions out of me that no one else can, you're under my skin all of the time and I just, bloody hell, I want to fuck you against that wall in our flat. Right now. You know the one. But I also want to do the shopping with you, snicker over Marigold's antics, and just… be with you." Draco pulled out of Harry's embrace and crossed his arms over his chest. "You've turned me into a rambling mess! I've turned into you! You! And I haven't a clue what I'm doing and it's bloody terrifying."
Harry smiled softly. He reached out and trailed his fingers down Draco's cheek. "I know it is. But there are questions in your life that you know the answer as soon as they're put to you. You just… you just go with your heart and leap into the fray and you hope you make it out alive, because it's worth it. Do you know what I mean?"
"No. But I'm beginning to."
"That's a start."
Draco hummed to himself, a ghost of a smile flickering across his face for a moment. He walked over to the small patio table and picked up one of the betrothal rings. He grasped Harry's hand and slipped the ring onto his finger. "No. This is a start."
Harry stared at the shining silver on his finger, refusing to well up or do anything else remotely sappy. "You're a sappy romantic, aren't you?" he said, but unable to quell the brilliant smile on his face.
"I can be. Under the right circumstances."
"Good thing," Harry said as he picked up the other ring and slid it on Draco's finger. "Because I can be too."
"Well of course you can. Why do you think I'm able to do it? It's all to do with your sappy Gryffindor influence. I wasn't like this until we got together. Now I'm spouting ridiculous sentiment that's better suited for one of those horrible greeting cards that have come out. It's all your fault," Draco said, teasing.
"Guilty as charged."
So… how about we go back to the flat? Celebrate our engagement? Wall? Chocolate sauce?"
"What about the party?"
"I think they'll get along without us, don't you? Besides, I think it's time you found out just what I can do with that long, graceful neck of mine. Have you any idea how flexible it is?" Draco asked with a wink.
Harry stopped breathing for a moment. He liked his lips and whimpered just a little bit. "You're the devil."
Draco snickered, but otherwise didn't answer. "Come on, Potter. We've got to get started on spending eternity fighting, and I for one would prefer a tussle in the sheets rather than your friends' back garden. Those stones would be bloody murder digging into your back," he said with a suggestive leer.
Harry smiled and grasped Draco's hand, the gleam of Goblin silver momentarily blinding him as sunlight hit it. "How can I resist?"
"You can't. But neither can I. We make quite a pair, you know. What would your Indian mythology say about that?"
Harry tugged Draco's hand and began walking towards the Disapparition point. "Well, you see, there was the Hindu goddess named Saraswati."
"Sarawhatsee? Sounds like the name of a Muggle appliance."
Harry threw his head back with a laugh, ready to leap into the next phase of his life, knowing Draco was leaping with him.
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