'Come, there's no use in crying like that!' said Alice to herself, rather sharply; 'I advise you to leave off this minute!' She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; and once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet she was playing against herself, for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people. 'But it's no use now,' thought poor Alice, 'to pretend to be two people! Why, there's hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!'
Walking into Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour is like coming home. A blast of air scented with freshly baked waffle cones and coffee brewing washes over Harry's face, tantalising his senses with a friendly warmth.
"I want chocolate with rainbow sprinkles!" James says, tugging on Harry's trouser leg from under where he's got Lily propped on his hip.
"That sounds brilliant. What do you want, Albus?" he asks, craning his neck to locate his other son while being held in place by Lily and James.
Albus stands off a ways, staring at the glass display case that houses the bins of colourful flavours. He's not looking at the ice cream, but at his reflection, and doesn't seem to hear Harry.
Harry orders for James and Lily, then sets Lily down, and she and James toddle over to a table with their cones. Freed of his burden, Harry squats beside Albus and studies him a moment. The past year and a half – since Lily was born, really – Al's closed off more and more. He doesn't laugh and play like he used to; he stopped using the toilet regularly and talks a lot less. Harry and Ginny have spent many a long night worrying together, speculating about what they are doing wrong, devising strategies to help him grow beyond this phase, but it's becoming apparent that they need outside help.
"Al?" Harry asks again.
Albus looks over at him; his green eyes large in his small face, fringed with the long black lashes that Ginny has always said she'd kill to have. Al shrugs, the weight of the world too heavy for his four year old shoulders. "Plain."
Harry frowns, but catches himself. The latest strategy is to encourage, to promote happy times. He smiles instead, though it feels forced. Parenting is hard. He stands back up and orders a vanilla scoop in a dish for Albus and coffee for himself, then pays and leads Albus to the table, a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
Al tries to climb onto his chair holding his dish, and the chair moves one way, his body the other, and the ice cream hits the floor in a smear of dripping white. Al bursts into tears while Harry shifts into problem-solving mode. He sets the chair upright, helps Al into it, and Vanishes the mess before ordering a replacement.
James and Lily chatter at each other in what Harry can only describe as a secret language intended to confuse their parents. He glances at his middle child from behind his newspaper. Al's stopped crying, but isn't eating his ice cream so much as he's turning it into ice cream soup with his spoon.
The Daily Prophet's headlines are as sensationalised as ever.
Last Orphan Finds a Home!
The War Orphan League announces the adoption of the final child left parentless in the great war. 7 Year Anniversary Gala announced to celebrate!
Harry frowns. There's something about showcasing this child as Orphan in the paper that rubs him up the wrong way. The child in the photograph doesn't look very pleased with the attention. He guesses she's about twelve, maybe fourteen tops. He scrubs his hand over his face, displacing his glasses. There's no excuse for there to have been any children left unadopted seven years later. The baby boom that happened after Voldemort's defeat seems counterproductive to Harry when there were children that still needed homes, but who is he to judge? He's as guilty as the next person at falling into line with the urge to marry and reproduce, playing on the mass hysteria that the magical community could become extinct if the losses the war brought weren't replenished. Maybe if he had fought harder with Ginny on the idea of adopting he wouldn't feel so bound up reading this headline.
He looks again at his children, hit as always with the pleasurable flurry in his heart at seeing them. He doesn't regret them at all, never will.
The sound of another customer ordering at the front brings him out of his introspection. The overly excited voice of a child fawning over all the colours – unable to make up his mind which he wants – makes Harry's lips turn up. He keeps his eyes on his paper – never very comfortable in public – always afraid he'll create a scene from simply being who he is. Though the sound of another man's voice, joining in on the heels of the child's father, draws his eyes upwards. They settle on a perfectly rounded arse filling a pair of slate grey trousers, and then the other man's hand slips down to cup a firm cheek with his palm.
Harry swallows hard and tries to look away, but his Auror instinct picks up dodgy behaviour when the first man shifts out of the other man's reach and huffs in annoyance. Harry looks at his face. The perfect arse belongs to Draco Malfoy. Of course it does.
Harry deliberately turns back to his children, pleased to see that Al is enjoying his ice cream soup, slurping it from his spoon and even chatting a bit with his siblings.
"Scorpius, why don't we order one scoop rainbow sherbet and one scoop vanilla, then you can have both of your favourites at the same time?" Malfoy's voice is edged with annoyance, though his fondness for his child is evident.
"You just want to steal my rainbow!" Scorpius accuses and manages to convince his father he needs two rainbow scoops and one vanilla.
There's a rumble of laughter from the other man as the three of them find a table towards the back and take a seat. Malfoy's eyes meet Harry's, and he feels like his skin is peeling back and he's naked before his former nemesis. Malfoy's lips turn up at the corners and he offers Harry a small wave, nearly a salute, that Harry takes to mean, Just having some ice cream, Auror Potter. There's no funny business going on here.
How does he do that? Harry wonders if somehow Malfoy and he have unwittingly developed their own secret language in order to avoid confrontation. Harry nods at him and turns back to his children, urging them to finish up so they can head home, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling.
Harry opens the new book James convinced him to buy at Flourish and Blotts because – There's a smiling cat on it – and according to James, anything with a cat on it has to be good.
They're piled on James's twin bed, the children in their pyjamas, teeth freshly brushed and faces scrubbed. Harry's in the middle with James on his left, Lily propped in his right arm, and Albus scooped up along his side behind her. "Down the Rabbit Hole," Harry reads, and then begins the tale of Alice's long fall, during which she has a long conversation with herself and devours a cake labeled eat me.
By the end of the chapter, James and Lily are fast asleep as they always are when Harry does the bedtime story. He's not sure if his reading voice is just too boring to hold their interest or if it's as Ginny claims, that the sound of his voice is comforting and they love falling asleep to it. Whatever it is doesn't work for her and whenever she finishes a chapter, they're awake and begging for more, and the whole bedtime routine takes ages. Albus, however, is still awake this time. Harry looks down at him, meeting his wide eyes. "But what happened?" Albus asks in a whisper. "She's two people at the same time?"
Harry's right arm is going numb, but this is more than Al has spoken in one go than he has in a long time.
"I dunno. We'll have to wait for tomorrow to find out what the cake did."
Albus nods and climbs backward off the bed. "Okay." He crawls into his own twin bed on the other side of the room. Harry puts the book on James's bedside table and gets to his feet, propping Lily on his shoulder. "I like Alice," Al tells him. "That's my name."
Harry ruffles Albus's hair and tucks him in with his free hand. "It is very similar. Sleep well, son."
Albus sighs and turns on his side towards the wall. He's done talking for the night.
Once he's put Lily into her cot and covered her with a blanket, Harry heads downstairs. Each step he takes feels like he's coming closer and closer to a ticking bomb. He shakes himself. He needs to stop thinking that way. Just because he and Ginny haven't been close for a while doesn't mean it's a gap they can't cross. It happens with all couples, Molly had said in the past. When you're meant to be together you face a lot of rifts and divides, but eventually they even out and become easier to traverse. Young children tend to put a strain on even the most solid relationships.
That all sounded well and good to him at the time, but now … This feels different. The skin crawling sensation – like his insides are too big for him – keeps cropping up. Now that Gin's gone back to work after having Lily and is engrossed with Quidditch and her colleagues, it seems like they just take turns watching the children and aren't ever together in the same head space anymore. He wonders if they ever were.
He reaches the bottom of the stairs and pokes his head into the living room. Ginny's curled up on the sofa; her hair is piled in a loose bun, a pencil sticking out of it, and she's engrossed in a playbook propped on the armrest.
"Hey," he says. She looks up, slightly dazed, then to the hallway behind him.
He nods. "Yeah. I'm going to turn in, too. I've got work in the morning and …" He clears his throat. "I've got a session with Rolf after that."
Ginny nods and glances back at the playbook. "That's fine. I'll meet the Magpies for an interview when you get home from Rolf's. Shouldn't take long."
"G'night." Harry pauses a moment, then breathes. Apparently the playbook is more interesting than he is. He turns back towards the stairs.
"Night, Harry. I'll be up in a few minutes. I just want to finish this section."
Harry nods at the stairs and makes his way back up. She'll be up in about an hour. He should be able to fall asleep by then.
Paperwork. Harry hates it. Why didn't anybody mention the amount of paperwork that was involved in being an Auror before he signed up?
His arse is asleep in his chair and his chair is too hard. He signs his name at the bottom of the last report and stands up – arms over his head – and stretches.
"Hey there, partner." McLaggen's voice makes him jump and fuck, now he's got a kink in his back. He turns. Cormac McLaggen is standing in the doorway, leaning against the jamb, too tall to be allowed and shirtsleeves fit to burst over his biceps.
"Hey," Harry says. He feels like he's shrunk in size in Cormac's presence. Sort of like Alice in the chapter from last night. I must be shutting up like a telescope. Still, as far as partners go, Cormac and he seem to work well together. Cormac's muscle and schmoozing charm when talking with people complement Harry's agility and quick thinking, but he's never really liked his partner's personality.
"We've got a new case. Dealer of potions, dark stuff. Got a tip from our man on the ground. Specs are in here." He hands Harry a folder full of scrolls. Great. Just what he needs. More paperwork and a bit of light reading before bed. "The plan is to go in undercover tomorrow, take the whole thing down from the inside."
Harry grunts, nods, rolls his shoulder.
"Got a sore muscle?" Cormac asks. "There's a place on Diagon Alley. I've heard the massages are killer, but I've never been in."
Harry closes his eyes, opens them. "Yeah? Well, I'm not much of one for that. I'll soak in the tub tonight. It'll be fine by tomorrow."
"Right you are. All right, I'm off now. Sluggy is having a get together later on. Just a few close people … Gawain, Dawlish, Kingsley … play some poker. You want to come along? I'm sure you'd be welcome."
Harry grimaces and swallows the bitter taste filling his mouth. Cormac knows how much he loathes the back slapping sessions 'everybody who's anybody' attends. He's actually curious why Kingsley would be playing poker with those losers when the gala is being organised. "Nah, thanks anyway." He rubs at his shoulder, the folder tucked under his arm. "I'm a family man. I've got nappies to change and dinner to fix. Have a good time and say hi for me."
Cormac booms a laugh. "Will do. See you tomorrow."
Rolf Scamander's office sits across the street from the Leaky Cauldron on the Diagon Alley side. Luna and he live in the flat above it and Luna's personality is present in the decor, from the squashy purple and orange poufs, to the bright yellow sun painted on the wall opposite the windows.
Rolf is a short man – about Harry's height – slightly on the heavier side. But his short grey-flecked goatee, smiling blue eyes bespectacled with small round wire-rims – his head bearing a crazy mop of hair dyed with streaks of purple, green, and orange on top of the original black – makes him very easy to get on with.
"Have a seat, Harry." Rolf gestures to the poufs and the Victorian style pink sofa in front of the sun painting. Harry takes the sofa. His back isn't in a pouf sort of mood. Rolf sits in his office chair, a leather number on wheels, covered with a sheepskin.
"How's Luna?" Harry asks, feeling awkward despite Rolf's comforting presence.
"Oh, she's great! The babies will be here any day. We're over the moon."
"Brilliant." Harry had somehow entirely forgotten they were expecting twins. "You know what they're going to be? Have names picked out and such?" He's so fucking pants at talking to people lately. He feels like cringing and yes, closing up like a telescope.
"Never can tell until they get here and tell us who they are." Rolf strokes his goatee thoughtfully, then smiles. "I can't wait to meet them though. We'll call them Lorcan and Lysander."
Harry frowns, pensive. "What if they're girls?"
Rolf shakes his head, smiling. "Luna and I think those names will work either way. We're not fussed. But let's talk about you, Harry. What's on your mind?"
Harry shifts in his seat. He's tired. Tired and stretched thin, but Rolf is waiting for him to talk and they've only got an hour. "I hate my job. I'm tired of dealing with stuck up prigs every day. My partner dropped a case on me at the last minute; I swear he always does that. He gets the information and hides away in his office, studying it all day, and only after he's got it all figured out does he bother to share it with me, so I'm the one who looks underprepared. But when I suggest that we might do well to switch partners, he gets chummy and repentant, goes on and on about how well we work together, how disappointed everybody would be to split up the 'dream team.’ It's maddening."
He takes a breath and lets it out. It feels good to get it off his chest. To just tell it like it is instead of having to tiptoe on eggshells to avoid narking people off.
Rolf nods and offers him a cup of tea, then takes one himself. He rocks back in his chair, replaces the teapot, and wheels back in front of Harry. "Go on. Anything else about work? How are things at home?"
Harry sips his tea. It's good. Something herbal, natural, a bit slick. "This is good. What's in it?" He's stalling and he knows it. And he knows Rolf knows he knows it, too.
"Bit of slippery elm. Tell me about home, Harry."
Harry sighs and starts talking, knowing that if he just starts it will all come out. It always does with Rolf. He'll feel better afterwards.
"James is great. He's starting primary school in a couple of weeks. He's excited about it, already showing off all he knows as far as his letters and numbers, naming colours and shapes, doing simple maths. He's insisting that he'll be so well prepared that he'll be the top kid in the class. We've tried to tell him that there's really not a 'top' kid in the early years, but he's got his goal in sight and won't hear otherwise. He's great with Lily. Those two … They speak their own language. It's amazing how close they are. I guess I always thought the boys would be closer, you know, and that Lily would be the hanger-on and trying to get their attention. It used to be like that, back before she was born. Albus …" Harry sighs. He doesn't know how else to say it, but feels horrible for even thinking it. "Albus is more our problem child right now. He doesn't talk as much as he used to. He just seems unhappy all the time. I mean, not all the time, but still … I was a miserable child growing up, I know misery when I see it. And I'm arsed to know how to make it better." He rakes his hand through his hair, sloshing tea down the side of his cup onto his lap.
Rolf pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and hands it over. Still quiet. Still waiting for Harry to get it all out. Not judging. Harry's beyond thankful for the lack of judgment he feels here.
"I started a new book last night. I read to them before bed. Alice in Wonderland … It's a Muggle book." Rolf nods. Of course he's heard of it. It's popular in the Muggle world, but apparently Flourish and Blotts stocks it, so it's not unfamiliar to the wizarding public. "He seems to be interested in it. More than I've seen him interested in anything lately."
His thoughts swim to the ice cream mishap, and then the ice cream soup, and then, inevitably, to Draco sodding Malfoy. He grips his teacup harder, hoping his hand doesn't start to shake. Malfoy's arse in those trousers … Where is it coming from? Why now? After all the years he's tamped it down, shouldn't he have moved on with his life? Grown out of the phase? Grown up?
Rolf clears his throat, and Harry looks up, realising he's gone silent. Damn. "When we first started, Harry, you told me that you were seeking therapy to help you improve your marriage. You told me you felt you should be happy and were ashamed that you weren't. We've met for several sessions now, and each time – now I'm not judging, please understand that." Harry nods. He feels like Rolf has called him out. He must be so fucking obvious. "When I ask about home, you talk of your children. You seem to be a very loving and attentive father. I just wonder, why the avoidance of talking about your wife, your marriage?"
Harry sets his teacup on the coffee table and sits back. He puts his face in his hands. He's hot, uncomfortable, on the spot. "I don't know what to do. I feel so buried I can't breathe …" The words come unbidden. He hears himself say them, hears the unrepentant truth in them. "Fuck…" He looks up. "I've got to deal with this, haven't I?"
Rolf nods, lips turned down at the corners, concern written clearly across his face. "I really think you ought to, yes. Unfortunately our time's up for today. Are you going to be okay to wait a week before we speak again?"
Harry shrugs, his eyes burning. He's still got Rolf's handkerchief in his lap, and discreetly dabs at his eyes when Rolf wheels to the desk to check his schedule. Way to go to pieces at the tail end of the session. "Yeah." He's lying. But what else can he say? He thinks longingly of the take-down tomorrow. A bit of real heart-racing danger will take his mind off of his problems.
"All right," Rolf says kindly. "Let's meet next Wednesday. And you agree to talk about your marriage at the start? We'll get right down to the heart of the matter?"
Harry nods numbly. "Yeah. Okay." He stands up when Rolf does and shakes his hand.
"I'm proud of you, Harry. It takes a brave man to face his fears."
Harry feels so phony when he accepts the praise. But he does it. It's expected. He's used to doing what's expected. His eyes ache. There are tears that want to spill out. He doesn't let them.
Settled on James's bed, Harry opens the book and reads the chapter's title: "The Pool of Tears." Bloody brilliant. It's like fate knows what his plans are as soon as the children fall asleep. Hopefully he can get them all out before Ginny gets home and then can push all his feelings back down long enough to get through the brief waiting for him on his bedside table.
He's partway through the chapter, and James and Lily have already fallen asleep. Lightweights Harry thinks, shaking his head. "Who am I then? Tell me that first, and then, if I like being that person, I'll come up: if not, I'll stay down here till I'm somebody else – but, oh dear!" Albus grips Harry's sleeve and pulls.
Harry looks down, stopping a moment. Al nods furiously. "That's it!" he says, and looks back at the book. "Where are the words?"
Harry wrinkles his forehead and points at where he's at on the page. Albus studies the words so hard it looks like his face is straining, trying to make sense of the jumbled letters on the page so he can devour them. It's wonderful to see Albus so enthusiastic about the story, about anything. He's been too apathetic for a four year old. "Ready for me to read some more?" Al nods, not looking away from the page.
Harry continues telling Alice's tale of shrinking down to the point where she's swimming in her own tears and attempting to make friends with a mouse.
After finishing the chapter, Albus is pensive. "It's good that she's not alone anymore," he says. Then looks up at Harry. "One more chapter?"
His eyes are so earnest, but Harry really must get all his adult shit worked out. "Tomorrow night, little man."
Albus scrunches up his face and pouts.
"Hey, if we read all the chapters then the book will be over and we'll have to read something else. It's better to draw it out and really enjoy it, right?"
Al considers this and sighs. He climbs off James's bed and nods. "Okay, Dad."
Harry tucks him in, kisses him goodnight and puts out the light, then carries Lily to her room. He then fills the bath and sinks into it, his own tears feeding the tub, making him feel as foolish as Alice in the story for falling into and nearly drowning in his own tears. The idea that he's relating to a children's story lights a small flame of hilarity inside him. "Oh, Potter. You've really lost the plot, haven't you?"
He's asleep; he's got to be asleep. There's no other explanation for how he's got to this point – stripped bare, covered in slick sweat, oil, musk – surrounded by men, equally naked, faceless; yes, that proves it's a dream, but it feels like heaven. There's a man on either side of him, one wrapped around each leg, rubbing their erections against his oily thighs; their chests puffed up with muscles, pushing against him like he is the filling to their sandwich, and when he looks down, his cock, full and thick, slips in and out of another man's mouth. The man's lips are taut, his throat relaxed, taking it all the way to the back and looking up, meeting Harry's eyes with eyes that are shockingly grey. Come bursts from his cock, feeding the man's throat; he pulls back, and paints the man's face with another spurt and then another. He rubs his cockhead through the mess, spreading it over swollen lips, shuddering, gasping.
His eyes fly open. They meet darkness. He's in bed; he's gasping, panting to catch his breath and Ginny's chuckling beside him as he realises he fucking came in his sleep. And Ginny witnessed it, and it was incredible, and very much not a dream about her. He cheated on her in his dreams – again.
Humiliation washes over his skin as he swears, pulling back the sheets to assess the damage, memories of past discovered wet dreams earning him a week in his cupboard flooding his mind.
Ginny must sense his mortification. "Hey, it's all right. Let me take care of it." She gets up, fetches new sheets, swaps them for the others using her wand and some fancy charm work. She crawls back in bed and cuddles up beside him. He's clean and dry and as wrung out as a wash rag.
"It's okay, Harry. It's been a while."
Oh god, must she remind him of how long it's been? Hasn't he suffered enough? But then, the guilt brings perspective. It's been just as long for her. She's wrapped up alongside him, clinging to him; these are signs she wants sex.
"I can't get it up again," he admits.
Her thighs tighten around his leg, her groin hot and damp. "Would you be willing to help me out? I have a rubber cock you can use instead. Just help me get to where you are?
A rubber cock! Harry swallows, arousal stirring inside him again, practically against his will, but fuck. He nods. She kisses him and Summons the dildo from her drawer, puts it in his hand. A shudder runs up his arm. It's not the same as the real deal, obviously, but it's cock shaped and flesh coloured, and has a hefty set of rubber bollocks to hold onto. He wonders how it would feel to rub it against his own hardened cock – to penetrate his arse – though he imagines that would hurt, but fuck it all that he wants to do it anyway.
A quiet plea from Ginny draws him back to the present. She needs this now, needs to orgasm, to have her husband show her she's as important to him as his own needs. He shakes himself, and smiles as Ginny rubs her clit, her legs trembling. He loves her. He wants to please her, doesn't want to disappoint or to hurt her.
He touches her cunt with the rubber tip, watching her shudder and buck her hips forward, begging for more contact. He runs it up and down, and then zeroes in, and pushes it inside an inch.
"Yeah … like that. Deeper," Ginny calls, her right hand rubs her clit in bursts of frenzied circles and slower strokes, while she pinches her nipples and squeezes her breasts. First one, then the other, her breath hitching as he pushes forward and draws back, changing the angle, watching her reaction. "Right there! Fuck! Keep it there, but pound it!"
The sweet smell of sex, arousal, and the sounds of her desperate rise to orgasm begin to get him hard again. It's not the same as it was in his dream – the masculine builds and drives, the power dynamic that sends his mind soaring – but arousal is contagious and if he were in his old headspace of going through the motions and paying no mind to what he could be if he let himself, he'd fuck her with his own cock. He pushes in and out, finding the rhythm she needs, feeling the slick sweat building behind her knee as he uses her leg to leverage himself, and knows, just fucking knows he's going to hurt her one way or another. Better to not get off on that.
Ginny's legs tighten as she bucks her hips and comes, nearly sobbing with relief and pleasure, and he's happy he could give her that much, even though really all he did is man the dildo. She brought herself off. He pulls it out, runs his hands over the outsides of her thighs and up over her hips. "Feel good?"
Ginny laughs. It's a real laugh. "Fucking brilliant." And for some reason, hearing that feels like a hammer has driven another nail into his coffin. He can't live like this anymore. Can't keep lying.
He says nothing, realising too late that Ginny's moved on, taken the dildo from him, used the loo, and come back to bed while he'd stared off into space.
"You're so far away, Harry." Ginny's voice is little more than a whisper in the dark. "Where are you right now?"
Hating himself further, he covers their bed with another lie. She's just had a brilliant orgasm, it would be cruel to tear her to pieces right now. "There's a sting happening tomorrow at work. Dangerous people. I'm … I'm sort of scared." His lie is heavy in his heart. He's longing for tomorrow to come, for the danger to take over, to rely on his instincts, to face evil head on and take his mind far away from the things he needs to address.
She buys it, and pulls him down beside her, then spoons up around his back, holding him close. The comfort she offers is genuine, as is her love for him, and he can't even tell her the truth. He closes his eyes tight, ignoring the tears leaking from the corners.
"Get down!" Cormac's voice breaks through the ringing in his ears, the atmospheric curse smoke filling the warehouse.
Harry flattens himself against the concrete floor, breathes the sulphuric air through tight lungs. It's quiet. If he could only manage to crawl to the other side of the stack of crates he's hidden behind, he could send his Patronus to Kingsley for backup. He mentally curses himself for not being prepared. He usually triple checks his backup is standing ready before even setting out on assignment, but this morning his mind was in a fog of self-loathing. He deliberately sabotaged the sting by not performing the check and not encouraging McLaggen to ask, instead distracting him with small talk about his poker game. Instead of his life flashing before his eyes, his mind spins through each and every one of his failures.
There's a shout from the Potions dealers, followed by another volley of Curses. There's no time to think about the past. He's got to survive today and he can deal with thinking afterwards. Harry gets to his knees and jump-rolls to the opposite side of the crates, his wand in hand. "Expecto Patronum!" he shouts. Nothing happens, not even a wisp of vapour. He stares dumbly at his wand, realising too late that he's exposed on his left side.
A red Curse blasts towards him and he freezes. Time slows down. He closes his eyes, makes his peace, welcomes the end of his life. And then he's knocked aside by a brute force, far too solid for a Curse. His arm burns with a searing pain, and his head strikes the tower of crates. The world goes dark.
When he opens his eyes again, his vision is blurry and the scent of eucalyptus assaults his nose and throat. He knows where he is, closes his eyes again, and wishes he was still passed out.
"Potter!" Kingsley's deep voice is gruff and jarring, nothing like his usual tone.
He cringes, but opens his eyes. There's no sense in feigning sleep when the Minister for Magic is breathing down his neck. "Hey," he croaks, swallows. Damn smoke must have singed his throat. He'd kill for a glass of water.
"What are you playing at?" Kingsley demands, suddenly looming over him, a formidable dark shadow, blurred by his poor eyesight. "McLaggen only just managed to knock you out of the way of the Curse that could have killed you! And you gave away your position! If he wasn't built like a bloody ox, you'd both be dead, and I'd be left to carry the news to your grieving families and the whole wizarding world!"
Harry grimaces. He's got no excuse. If that had happened … Ginny, the children … His heart speeds up; he's hyperventilating. Spots fly in his vision. "I didn't …" He can't make anymore words come out. He's having a heart attack; that's got to be what this is.
Kingsley seems to realise he's not all right. His tone changes. His hand is warm and heavy on Harry's shoulder. "Breathe it out, nice and slow. You're still in shock – I didn't realise." Harry struggles to slow his breathing, forcing long blows out, even as his lungs attempt to fill themselves against his efforts. Can I get a Healer in here? is the last thing he hears, succumbing again to darkness.
"Harry?" Ginny's voice. Something cool and damp brushes his lightning bolt scar, sends a jolt of cold through his head, shocks his brain back into awareness.
He lifts his hand and stops her, holding onto her wrist. He opens his eyes. There's no more physical pain; the Healers have done their jobs well again. He doesn't want to lift the floodgates to his emotions right now. He's not strong enough.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, moistens his lips with his tongue, though even his tongue is dry. "Water?"
He groans as he sits up, but it's not real discomfort. He feels as limber as ever, just utterly spent.
Ginny hands him a glass of water and remains silent while he drinks. He can practically hear her thinking, her brain working hard.
More guilt. She wouldn't be this tightly wound if he'd been honest, if he'd said something ever, dropped any hints. He swallows. She's just heard the news her husband nearly got himself and his partner killed; now's not a good time to tell her he thinks they're not working, that they've been living in a jury-rigged marriage these past six years. He finishes the water and now has to piss something fierce.
"You're on administrative leave, Harry," Ginny says finally. “Kingsley told me before he left. After whatever investigation they do to wrap that up, he's putting you on a mandatory personal leave to get your head on straight."
Harry's stomach drops. He should have expected it, but hearing it is a whole other experience. He nods. "Okay."
"What were you thinking?" she says, then stops. She knows this sort of questioning backfires with him; it chases him further away until she backs off and he doesn't feel he's being attacked.
He sighs. He hates that she has got to the point that she checks her fierceness – her bright and independent personality – so as not to chase him away. How can he have let it come to this, to burning so hot and cold that she alters herself to reach him, and he doesn't even bother to try to meet her halfway?
"I wasn't," he lies. Another plaster on top of a dozen others, while the wound underneath festers from lack of air. "I'll talk to Rolf about it." That is a truth. It feels like magic in his mouth. He clings to it, hoping Rolf will provide the answer – a way out of the hole he's dug for himself – with as little reciprocal damage as possible.
She nods. "The children are at the Burrow. They're anxious. Albus, especially …" His heart, which he'd thought was squeezed dry, aches and bleeds all over again. Heat floods his body. What the fuck was he thinking? "They'll be happy to see you again, and to have you home for a while."
Harry nods, then blinks. His eyes are wet.
"I love you," she says at the same time he sticks salt in the wound and says, "I need to piss."
She shakes her head at him, though she's smiling. Thank fuck she has a sense of humour. She's too good a person to be with him. He wishes he could tell her that and not have her hate him.
"Go on." She stands up, swinging her hair out of the way so it lies flat down her back. "I'll get your clothes ready. The Healers have cleared you to come home."
Harry sips his coffee and fiddles with a toast triangle.
The children make a mess at their small play table, sloshing milk and cereal over their bowls and drawing faces and shapes in the spills. Albus looks up at him and meets his eyes. His disappointment in not having had a chapter read to him last night hangs unspoken in his gaze.
Harry gives in under it. "How about we read a chapter before my appointment?"
Al jumps up so quickly he unseats himself and sends his bowl of cereal spinning across the kitchen floor. Harry can't help but smile. There aren't any tears this time or self reproach. Al's so fixated on getting the book, he runs out of the room leaving milky footprints down the hall.
Harry points his wand and Vanishes the mess with a quick wave. He loves magic. If only all his problems could be solved so easily.
Albus returns with the book a minute later and Harry scoops him up despite his frequent protests he's too big to be carried. He's not complaining now; he's grinning. "You two want to listen to the story, too?"
James and Lily wipe their hands on their laps and follow him and Albus, Lily hanging onto James's hand, down the hall to the living room.
Harry opens the book to chapter three and begins reading. "A Caucus Race and a Long Tale." The chapter is about Alice attempting to make sense of the strange new world she's found herself in, and, unfortunately, none of the rules she's learned to live by seem to apply here. She's left feeling lost.
By the time he finishes the chapter, Lily and James have scarpered, leaving him with Al on the sofa.
Albus looks up at him, confused. "I don't get it."
Harry shrugs. "I think it's just showing how unpredictable all the creatures in Wonderland can be. And Alice is trying to figure out how to make friends and get along with them, but she doesn't know their rules, so she says the wrong things and they get upset and leave."
Al quirks his head to the side, considering. He's really too young to understand this book, but Harry can't help but love to see him try. "I do that sometimes."
"What?" Harry presses. "What do you say that makes people upset?"
Al shrugs and sighs. He's wearing his frown again. "Everything." He closes the book and carries it out of the room, leaving Harry staring after him. What was that all about? Harry is the king of putting his foot in his mouth, and he's had a lifetime of practice learning how not to do it, but Al is so young, so innocent still. Has he passed on his affliction through his genes? Turned his son into a hot mess without meaning to?
Ginny slams the front door, coming in from an early morning interview. Her arms are full of groceries. "Shit!" she swears, then sees Harry. "Sorry 'bout that. Didn't mean to slam the door."
Harry jumps up and relieves her of her burden. He carries the groceries into the kitchen while she chatters at him about work. He's not listening. It's not that he's trying to be obtuse, but the more he tries to focus on what she's saying, the more his mind wanders, and he can't make any sense of it.
"You're not hearing a word I'm saying," Ginny says, though she's smiling.
Harry shakes his head side to side, like he's trying to clear water from his ears. "I think I've got a case of Wrackspurts."
She laughs. "Yeah, I've heard that one before. You'd best get dressed and be on your way. Your appointment's in half an hour."
Shit. Time flies. He kisses her quickly when she puckers her lips at him, and then she slaps his arse as he hurries out of the room. If she only knew what was on the discussion table with Rolf, she'd not be so playful. He represses a shiver and decides not to think about it until he has to – he looks at the clock – in twenty minutes.
Rolf is as wonderful as ever when Harry stumbles into his office a few minutes late. He gestures to the sofa, a teapot waiting on the coffee table.
Harry sinks onto the pink cushioned sofa and Rolf takes a seat in his wheeled chair, scoots over to his desk, pulls a stack of handkerchiefs from a drawer and rolls back over, setting them on the table within easy reach, somehow without making Harry feel worse. How does he do that? He's grateful and blinks back the prickling in his eyes, not quite ready to let it go, but the gesture has his emotions primed and ready to pour out.
"I wasn't expecting to see you back so soon," Rolf says, watching as Harry takes his tea, doctoring it with a bit of milk and sugar cubes. He's in the mood for something sweet to counteract the bitter taste in his mouth. "Ginny arranged this appointment for you, but I want you to know that she didn't ask any questions about what we talk about. It's still a safe place to say all you need to, and everything we discuss will remain confidential unless you give permission otherwise."
Harry nods. He doesn't really need the reassurance; he's never suspected Rolf would break confidentiality, but it's nice to be reminded that he's got an ally or, at least, an objective ear. "Okay. I don't know where to start. Can you ask me a couple questions first, and I'll answer, see if that gets me talking?"
Rolf holds his teacup and saucer on top of his belly. He's reclining in his chair, and the crazy hairdo and goatee, with his small round glasses pinched on the end of his nose, make Harry think of a badger. He almost asks which house Rolf was sorted in at Hogwarts, but realises that's stalling and would waste their time.
"All right." Rolf sips from his cup. "According to your wife, you're on leave because you almost got yourself killed. Was this a deliberate act, Harry?"
Oh shit. He'd not planned on being called out so early. He has to set his tea down to arm himself with a handkerchief. He never used to be such a bucket of tears, but then, he's never really let himself feel like he has the past few days. Tamping it down doesn't seem to work any more.
The tears start to fall. He thinks about how miserable he's been, senselessly so, how hurt his family was from his foolishness, how much more hurt they'd be if he'd died. "Sort of," he manages, and then can't manage anything else for a few minutes.
Rolf waits patiently.
Harry looks up at last and meets the kindly blue eyes. "I'm a fraud." More tears fall.
"Tell me about it," Rolf says when it's clear he needs prodding.
Harry doesn't know what's happening; it feels like his head's caught in a whirlwind. His answer to Rolf comes out in a hoarse whisper he can't even hear over the roaring in his ears. "I'm gay."
But the minute the words are out of his mouth it's as if a hundred pounds he'd not been aware of carrying vanish all at once. The light sensation floods his body – from his scalp, down his torso, into his fingers and toes – and he feels like he's just lit up like a Christmas tree in the dark. And then, his stomach bottoms out and dread threatens to sink him again.
Rolf clears his throat. "There's nothing wrong with being gay, Harry. I think you're starting to realise that. Admitting it aloud after repressing it for years can manifest as a rather shocking sensation, almost like walking through a ghost, but don't let your past fears be shackles anymore. Let them go. Tell me more. You can put them back on later if you need them. Now, though, here – this is the place where they can come off."
It's like magic. The dread recoils. He pictures it like creeping shadowy hands with long clawed fingers shrinking back before a bright light. He breathes. It feels good to breathe. His lungs prove he's alive, his senses razor sharp, heightened. "How do you do that?"
Rolf's forehead creases between his eyebrows. "Do what?"
"Just …" He gestures absently, not really sure what he's even trying to say. His tears have dried. "…make me talk, tell the truth and then I feel better. How do you do it?"
Rolf's face softens. He smiles, though it's sort of a sad smile. "It's rather amazing isn't it? How freeing it is when you're not hiding, not trying to protect yourself from hurting?"
The truth of his words smacks Harry across the face. It really feels like a slap. Then he realises he's just slapped himself. He looks at his hand, lips turning up. "Fuck. I've wasted a lot of time, haven't I?"
Rolf shifts in his chair, sets his tea on his desk, and crosses one ankle over his knee. "Let's not worry about that right now. Tell me about what it feels like to say you're gay, and to mean it."
Harry attempts to blow his fringe out of his eyes though it's a lost cause. "It feels good. Like I'm just Harry again, like I'm not playing at being the Chosen One. All the old expectations don't apply anymore. They just don't fit me right."
Rolf nods. "Have you been noticing men more frequently lately? I know many men and women who have come out later in life, and a lot of them tell me they manage to live in hiding by ignoring it, but one day, something happens, and they can't anymore, and everywhere they look they notice what they want is all around them where they couldn't see it before. Like they take off their blinders."
Harry nods. "Yeah. I've been noticing other blokes a lot. I used to just tell myself it was a phase I'd grow out of, but I'm starting to realise it doesn't work like that." He pauses. "Then I've realised I'm pulling away from Ginny a lot more. I've always done it, so I thought it was normal to sort of, you know, go through phases where we aren't close. But when I look at her parents and the rest of the family, and how they all seem to know what their partner is thinking without saying anything – it's not like how it is with me and Gin." He chokes up again, scarcely believing he said that aloud. "What am I supposed to do next?"
Rolf sits forward and puts both feet on the floor. He rests his arms on his knees, hands clasped in front of them. "That depends on what you and Ginny want. Some people decide that staying married works for them; they choose to appear as a married couple in public, and are best friends and partners in everything but the bedroom. They satisfy that part with outside arrangements they're both aware of. But that's not the right path for everybody, and unless it's really what you both want, it can breed more resentment."
Harry ponders a bit. He thinks of Draco Malfoy in Fortescue's, the dodgy bloke cupping his arse in public, and Malfoy acting just as annoyed and embarrassed as Harry would be if Ginny did that to him. No. If he's going to do this – drop this bomb on her – he wants her to be able to find a husband that can be everything she needs, and he wants to be able to do the same.
"I don't think that will work for us, for me, anyway. I can't speak for Ginny, but I can't live like this another day." His words come tumbling out. He's thinking aloud; more than talking to Rolf, he's talking to himself. "In the warehouse, when the Curse was coming at me, I thought I was going to die and I was okay with it because it meant I didn't need to face the truth. I never want to feel like that again. I don't want to teach my children it's normal to do that either. Albus especially, he's so much like me in some ways … I'm going to tell Ginny when I get home."
Rolf nods and glances at his watch. Harry's not feeling the weight of the fear-shackles coming back. The shadow seems to have retreated for good; he can't even sense its presence anymore, not even at the fringes of his awareness.
"I want to see you again tomorrow, Harry. It's likely that you're up against a real shit storm, and it will be good to know that I'm waiting to hear all about it. Help keep the intrusive thoughts from bogging you down again."
Harry stands and Rolf does too. He reaches to shake Rolf's hand, and then pulls him into a hug instead. They pat each other with some manly backslaps and Harry steps away, grinning. How can he be grinning? He's going home to have his arse handed to him. "Thanks … For everything."
He's walking home. He leaves the Leaky Cauldron on the Muggle side with a wave to Hannah Abbott. The friendly pub seems somewhat brighter than it had when he passed through earlier. How has he never noticed how beautiful it is to be alive? Well, not since walking to his death with the shades of his parents for company, but even then, it wasn't like this. The future seems open before him now, anything is possible. Before, it was ending.
He stops abruptly after walking several blocks, not realising until he's there that he's just walked to the Muggle gay club that he'd always known about, but pretended not to see. It's a nondescript looking place: a simple door painted black, and windows tinted so you can't see inside with green and grey striped awnings overhanging them. He hesitates on the pavement. He should turn around and go home. He has to do things in the right order. But, maybe just a peek inside wouldn't hurt. Perhaps to find out if this truth he's feeling is real, to test it. There's no sense in destroying his marriage only to find that, when he happens upon a group of potential partners, he's made a horrible mistake.
He moves forward, as if convincing himself to give it a go. He stares at his shoes, not watching where he's going when he walks into a solid mass. A solid mass with a deep chuckle and an enticing scent. "Sorry," he says, and looks up, meeting the bloke's eyes. They're right outside the club. Harry's so far into his own headspace, he doesn't realise what he's doing as he closes his eyes and breathes in the man's scent – leather, a mild cologne, and stale cigarette smoke, topping off a clean manly smell.
The bloke clears his throat, and Harry starts, eyes wide, and then he's backed against the wall – in broad daylight – and the man fits a muscular knee and thigh between his legs. The man looms over him, presses them chest to chest. He doesn't feel attacked, rather more than aroused, and he gasps, unable to say anything. The bloke smirks, seeming to take his silence as permission, and Harry's lost – wrapped up in a pair of hungry lips, having the daylights snogged out of him and he may even be kissing back, he's not sure. He's not really aware of what he's doing until the man palms his tenting trousers. He opens his eyes, awareness dawning. He can't do this – not now – not before telling Ginny. He pushes the man's hand away, stammering.
"I'm sorry, I'm not … I don't …" And then he really looks at the man's face. It's the dodgy bloke he'd seen Malfoy with. He widens his eyes.
The man steps back, hands up in a sign of surrender. "No worries, mate. I'm always up for a nice anonymous snog, though." Harry doesn't miss the bloke eying his lightning bolt scar. He gathers his wits and rushes past the man, then turns the corner, and Disapparates.
He opens the front door in a daze. Can this possibly be the last time he'll enter this house as a man with a wife who thinks he's somebody he's not? Maybe it will be the last time he'll even be allowed in. The sense of dread begins tickling the back of his neck, trying to pull him under, like a maddening Grindylow made of shadows. He shores himself up, and knocks the sensation aside. He's going to just come out and say it. He's going to tell the truth. The back of his hand itches with phantom pains ... How long had it been since the scars faded? I must not tell lies. Apparently they hadn't made as deep an impression on him as he'd thought.
"Is that you, Harry?" Ginny calls from the kitchen.
Harry starts, resolve crumbling. He shuffles his feet, tempted to take off his shoes as usual, but fearful of being tossed outside without them.
He steps into the the kitchen. Ginny sits at the table by herself, drinking tea and reading over some reports from work. The sight breaks his heart.
She looks up and smiles. "You look about ten years younger. I take it the session went well?"
He nods slowly, feeling every joint in his neck, like his head is heavy and his neck weak. "Where are the kids?" His voice comes out sounding perfectly normal. He doesn't know how he managed that. He thought it'd sound as broken as his heart feels.
Ginny fiddles with her fingernails, plucking them against each other so they make clacking sounds throughout the kitchen. Yeah. Ginny's not stupid. He wonders sometimes why he seems to act like she is. He feels worth less than dirt for that.
"They're staying with Ron and Hermione for the night. It's been a while since the cousins had a sleepover." What she's not saying lingers in the air, hiding in plain sight like a Lethifold blending in with the curtains. "I thought we could talk a bit."
Harry sits down. He puts his hands on the table, clasped and sweaty-palmed. He's just snogged a bloke in the street. This isn't going away. It's time.
"There's something …" Harry looks up. Her eyes are shattered. He thinks she senses what's coming. Can he actually get it out? Now's the last chance he has to turn around and change his mind, to go back to the way things were. He's not stupid either. He knows they've already crossed that point. He takes a deep breath. "I'm gay, Gin."
The words are out. He can scarcely believe he said them.
She's not reacting yet. He watches, trying not to cringe, standing by the truth he's finally ready to share. Without changing her expression she asks, "How long?"
He pauses, not sure what she means, but senses a coming storm depending on his answer. He tells himself he won't lie this time. When she clarifies he swears to his parents' memory that he will tell the truth. "How long what?"
She purses her lips, her eyes flashing dangerously. The fire in them, back in full force. It's fantastic to know it's still there, but not so great to have its fury aimed at him. "How long have you been lying to me?"
Ouch. That hurts. That's going to be really hard to answer truthfully. He takes another deep breath and lets it out, then looks into her eyes, knowing the hurt in his own has to be apparent, despite not doing a damn thing to soften her anger.
"The whole time," he says, his voice hoarse. "But, I didn't mean to hurt you; you have to know that," he blurts out at the end before she can cut him off. "I thought it would go away, that I'd grow out of it, but …" She's breathing out through her nose now, nostrils flaring. "… it didn't work out that way."
"I've always known you're a bit daft, Harry, but this is too much." She stops and stares at him harder. He can't help but feel her response is a low blow, but then, the memory of where he's just come from surfaces and he accepts it without resisting. "Get out."
She stares back. She's serious.
He stands up.
"For how long?" he asks, resigned.
"Just OUT! Don't come back until I contact you."
"The kids –"
She cuts him off with a slash of her hand. He's glad she's not holding her wand.
"Oh, don't even go there. We will talk later. I can't be in the same room as you right now. Just go!"
He takes a couple more breaths. This hurts. It hurts bad. But it doesn't hurt nearly as much as it had before; was it only last night? That was worse. He's doing the right thing. This pain is bearable.
He leaves the room and goes to their bedroom, taking a good long last look. The bed will never be the same marriage bed it was. He almost smiles. Maybe it's a good thing. He tosses a few changes of clothes into his suitcase and Disapparates. He can't make the trek back down the stairs, the sounds of Ginny's sobs already carry through the floorboards.
He heads to the Leaky Cauldron, pointedly not taking the route near the club. He's not going to fuck himself up while he's hurting, while Ginny's hurting. But when he arrives, he remembers notable names frequent the Leaky: reporters for the Daily Prophet, and Ministry personnel. He uses the Fire to travel to the Hog's Head. It's been ages since he's been in, and last he heard Aberforth had sold the place, but he figures he's less likely to be spotted there at least by anybody who'd admit to frequenting it themselves.
He dusts his clothes off after he stops spinning on the hearth. The small pub is dark, lit only by a few oil lamps that illuminate a small circle of light on tables scattered here and there. The bar is lit at the bottom where the foot bar sits beneath the barstools and from behind by a floating lantern of bluebell flames. He makes his way carefully to the bar and takes a seat, watching the light from below lick up his legs and illuminate him to his torso, leaving his chest and face in shadow.
A tall man with bright eyes and teeth that seem to glow in the dark approaches him from the barman's side. "What can I get for you?" he asks. His voice is poised, refined, deep, and it's at the point when he's face to face with Harry that the bluebell flames illuminate them so they can see each other. The man is Blaise Zabini, one of Malfoy's old crowd at Hogwarts. Sort of. Though, Blaise was never a Death Eater. He and Parkinson stayed safe on the fringes, never throwing their lots one way or the other. Blaise grins when he recognises Harry and holds out his hand to shake.
Harry's not sure what's going on here, but he doesn't sense anything shady. They shake hands. "I believe you and your friends knew my wife at school. Padma?"
Harry widens his eyes in surprise. He releases Blaise's hand. "Yes. Her sister was in Gryffindor."
Blaise nods. "She's around here somewhere. We bought this place off Aberforth a couple of years ago."
Harry's not sure what else to say. He's never quite got over the socially awkward stage of his youth, and tonight, yeah. He doesn't say anything more, and Blaise doesn't seem to mind. Instead he levels his gaze. "Let me guess. You'd like a Firewhisky and a room for the night? I promise we've scaled up on our rooms. They're nothing like they used to be."
Harry's glad to hear that. He thanks Blaise, accepts his key and drink and passes a couple Galleons across the the shrouded bar counter. Blaise must be able to see in the dark and has no trouble locating the gold and backing away, disappearing into the shadows, the bluebell flame lantern following him.
"That's your last one, Draco." Harry catches from the other side. He splutters on his drink, throat and tongue burning with heat. He coughs a couple of times, throws back the rest of the drink – hoping the alcohol will help him relax enough to sleep – and then feels his way through the darkness to the rooms at the back, his suitcase smacking him in the shin as he goes. He has the strangest sensation Malfoy's eyes follow him.
What the everloving fuck is Draco Malfoy doing in here of all places? On the same night Harry's just … His stomach sinks again. It feels like he's trying to digest a bludger. He can't deal with this now. He locates the hallway where the rooms are kept; thankfully it's lit enough he can make out the numbers on the doors and the matching one on his key. He's in room 2. He unlocks the door and closes it behind himself, then sinks onto the bed, his bones turned to mush.
He can't sleep. Every time he closes his eyes, he hears Ginny's sobs through the floorboards of their bedroom. He wonders how she's coping, hopes she's not torn apart as much as he was when he'd made the stupid decision to step in front of a Curse and not arrange back up.
"Fuck!" His voice bounces off the walls. It's too damn quiet in here. He throws his pillow at the wall. It hits with a thump, the feathers heavier than he'd thought. "Gin, I'm sorry," he calls to the quiet of the night. He's got to sound delirious, but is too fucked to care. "I didn't want to hurt you. That's why I never said anything. Can't you see how my messed up brain would figure that? You don't understand what it was like living with the Dursleys. The first time I ever showed a sign of being even remotely 'gay'…" He makes finger quotes. Who cares. Nobody can see him, nobody can hear him. "They starved it out of me. I learned real quick that I wasn't acceptable, that I had to alter myself – hide who I am deep down inside, become as invisible as possible so I would at least have food to live on – just to survive." Tears pour down the sides of his face, pooling in his ears. He's tired and just plain wrecked. "I don't mean to be like this. I turned out just like Dumbledore: all secrets and lies. I'm such a fucking hypocrite I couldn't even look myself in the eye when I brushed my teeth in front of the mirror. I found a family with you, something I thought was everything I ever wanted, and I couldn't even show you the decency of telling you who I really am! I'm pathetic, it's true. You're so right! I am daft!"
He's so far gone in his tantrum, his inner child coming out and taking over, but it's facing up and owning the faults his adult self never could. It takes a while before he notices the tapping sound of an owl at his window. He sniffs, wipes his nose with his sleeve and crawls out of bed to let it in.
It's not from Ginny, or if it is, she'd borrowed an owl from somebody else. There's a thick roll tied to the owl's foot. He takes it off with fumbling fingers, not even caring the owl is staring down its beak at him as if calling him out as a pathetic excuse for a human. He unrolls a pile of parchment, all blank, but tucked in the middle, he finds a quill, a phial of ink, and a torn scrap with a note scratched on it in sharp letters.
Take this quill and ink and write her a fucking letter. Confess everything you've done wrong and beg for forgiveness. Just get it all out on paper, send it, and go the fuck to sleep so your room neighbours may have a chance of finding some sleep too.
Okay, that's embarrassing. He realises how loud he must have been. But all the ranting has left him feeling a bit less blocked up. He yawns. He's too exhausted to think about why Draco Malfoy telling him to apologise to his wife is bizarre. Why the fuck shouldn't he do it? He feels so much better following Rolf's advice. Ginny can't yell at him when reading his words in a letter. Well, not immediately anyway. He can at least get his side of the story out. Try to explain his messed up mentality. He misses her and the children fiercely. He needs to be allowed to see them again.
He sits down at the desk in the corner and writes until the pages are filled, the phial empty, and his hand feels like it's falling off. He doesn't bother cleaning up the tear stains or the smudges, doesn't trust himself to reread his words for fear he'll edit them and make them sound worse rather than from the heart.
He rolls the parchments back into a thick scroll, seals it with his wand, and ties it to the grumpy owl's leg. The owl seems to roll his eyes at Harry as he takes off from the window and flies away into the night.
Harry climbs back into bed. He's calm. His heart isn't racing anymore. He should thank Malfoy when he sees him again and then cringes at the thought. He promises himself if this works – if Ginny responds and is ready to talk again, to try to fix things so he can see the kids again – he will say thank you.
An hour passes and Harry props himself up on his pillows, staring at the ceiling and praying to a god he doesn't believe in that he'll hear back from Ginny soon when his owl, Archimedes, swoops in the open window and alights on the headboard. He removes the small note tied to the owl's leg with shaky hands, unrolls it.
Thank you for writing. I think I needed to read what you wrote in order to understand where you're coming from. Your words felt more intimate in that letter than any conversation we've ever had in person. I realise how sad that is. We've both really been walking around in the dark, haven't we? I need some time to process it all. Hermione's here with Hugo and Lily, and Al and James are still staying with Ron and Rose for tonight. I hope you don't mind, but I've told Hermione what's happening. I needed someone we both trust to confide in. She says she won't tell Ron about why we're splitting up, but you need to tell him soon because she doesn't want that secret coming between them.
Funny, isn't it? You and me wouldn't have thought twice about keeping things from each other, never realising it widens the divide between us. Don't shake your head. You know it's true. I'm equally guilty there. I think we both have some more growing up to do, more counseling to seek out, and really, we can't do it together anymore. I know you know that. I want you to know I do, too.
I don't hate you, Harry. You've been my best friend these past six years and I don't want us splitting up to hurt our individual relationships with the children. They need you. You need them, and I need you to help me with them. We're partners for life when it comes to the kids, no matter what. I won't destroy that, even when I'm furious with you. Come over tomorrow evening. Albus wants you to read him another chapter of that book and he won't hear of me doing it in your place. I think James and Lily just want to hear your voice as they fall asleep. Lily took two full hours to fall asleep tonight. I'm wiped out. I'm sure you are too.
Take care, and please find some arrangements for sleeping at night, because as much as I love you, I really don't like you right now.
Harry could kiss Draco Malfoy on the lips. He flushes. That's not the image he meant to draw when the thought crossed his mind. He puts out the light, strokes Archimedes's feathers where he's tucked his head under his wing – apparently deciding to stand guard over Harry for the night – and draws his sheet up under his chin. At the very least, he owes Malfoy a thank you.
Harry scrubs his face in the small loo down the hall from his room. He looks himself in the eye in the mirror over the sink. He looks tired, but less stressed than he has in ages. There's no self-reproach in his face, no carefully concealed shame. He sighs and dries his face on his towel, then returns to fetch his things from his room and lock up.
He finds Padma behind the bar polishing freshly washed glasses with a clean white rag. She looks up as he approaches. It's no longer dark in the pub. She'd opened the door and windows, letting in sunlight and fresh air. The floor has been redone with polished black tiles, no longer the hard packed dirt trod upon by a hundred years worth of ne'er do wells.
She smiles. "Morning, Harry. Do you want breakfast?"
Harry shakes his head. "Thanks, no. I could go for a quick cup of coffee, though." She nods and fetches it for him while he kicks lightly against the foot bar under his stool. "I'd like to pay up for the next week for the room, if it's available," he tells her when she comes back.
She holds out her hand and accepts his handful of Galleons without question or comment. He likes that about this place. Footsteps on the tiles behind him draw his attention. Malfoy nods to Harry and hands Padma his room key. He turns to leave without a word, falling back into their customary routine of avoiding each other when Harry calls after him.
Malfoy turns, raises an eyebrow.
Harry feels stupid, but he promised himself he'd follow through. "Thanks for last night. The owl, the letter idea."
Malfoy's lips twitch at the corners, threatening a smirk that never quite materialises. "Don't mention it." He turns and sweeps out of the pub.
Padma hums quietly to herself while Harry finishes his coffee. He can tell she's itching to ask him what he's talking about with owls and letters, but a little bit of minding-your-own-business never hurt anybody.
Rolf opens his office door when Harry arrives and invites him in.
"You're not looking nearly as torn up as you could be, Harry," he says, his small mouth twitching in amusement framed by his goatee.
Harry exhales. "Yeah. It went badly, but not so badly as to destroy my life." He takes his seat on the sofa, almost feeling the warmth of the enormous sun mural on the wall behind him on his back. Luna's presence is always warming even when she's not in the room.
"How's Luna?" Harry asks. He's genuinely interested this time, not stalling for time like before.
Rolf chuckles and pours himself a cup of tea, then carries the pot over to the coffee table to allow Harry to help himself. He sits in his wheeled chair. "She's coping admirably. She insists the twins will be trapeze artists and claims they're practicing now, that her womb is certainly large enough for a miniature circus."
Harry laughs. He recalls Ginny's complaints about her size during late pregnancy and is hit with a twinge of remorse. It must show on his face.
"You know, Harry. It's all right to celebrate the wonderful times you had with Ginny, and to treasure them. Just because you've realised you're not right married to each other doesn't cancel out the good things you've managed despite it."
Harry nods. That makes sense. He's a bit wistful as he pours his tea and decides to just come out and start talking rather than waiting for Rolf to coax it out of him.
"So yeah. I messed up yesterday on my way home." Rolf raises an eyebrow and adjusts his glasses, but doesn't interrupt. "I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going, not consciously anyway. There's this gay club in Muggle London. It's not exactly on my way home, but it's not far off. I found myself standing outside it, wrapped up in my thoughts. There was this bloke." He stops, not sure how honest he wants to be. There must be a limit to Rolf's lack of judgement. He doesn't want to cross it.
"Yes?" Rolf says, gesturing for him to go on.
He takes a deep breath and releases it. "I suppose I was wanting to – subconsciously, at least – make sure I was really as drawn to men as I thought I was. I've never, ever, made a move on a man, never let them get closer to me than friendship. I thought that, perhaps I was really only moved by the idea of it, that if I faced it in person it might repulse me? I dunno. It sounds really stupid now, but it made sense at the time."
Rolf nods, rocking gently against his seat back.
"The bloke must have thought I was there to hook up. I dunno; I was walking around in a cloud. Before I knew what had happened he was snogging me up against the wall, and … and I didn't put a stop to it right away. I got a bit swept up in it actually. But then I did stop it, because I didn't want to be more of a bastard to Gin than I already have been. I didn't want to cheat on her before even telling her…" He sighs, then remembers the strangest thing about the man. "Oh, but the most curious part of it – I recognised him. I don't know his name or really anything about his identity, but I first saw him in Fortescue's. He was feeling up Draco Malfoy's arse. I thought he seemed a bit dodgy." His face flushes when he looks up and notices Luna, heavily pregnant in flowing orange robes. The sheer fabric clinging to her belly makes her look as though she's carrying a large pumpkin in through the door.
Rolf follows his eyes and stands. "Luna. Everything okay?" She nods, smiling softly, and steps into the room. She's barefoot, and crosses the room slowly, and then sits down on the sofa beside Harry.
Rolf looks torn. "I'm sorry, Harry." He turns to Luna. "Love, we're having a session, not a simple teatime."
Luna's eyes are bright, her expression serene. Pregnancy seems to make her glow, her blond hair shiny and healthy rather than the dishwater blond it normally is, or maybe it's all the yellow and orange that's doing it. "Yes, I understand. But Harry doesn't mind." She pats his thigh and turns to Harry. "The more friends you share your burdens with, the less heavy they are on everybody. You are my friend, Harry, and I'm yours, and there's no other way to look at it." She blinks her protuberant eyes with such earnest, such commitment, Harry can't help but smile at her. He puts his hand on top of hers.
"Thanks, Luna." He squeezes her hand and turns back to Rolf. "It's okay, Rolf."
Luna settles back and makes herself comfortable. "So, tell me all about Draco Malfoy. You were staring at his arse? I admit I see the appeal."
Harry's face grows hot. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea.
He stands outside his house, staring up the walk. It's not really his house anymore. He feels the divide keenly. It's amazing how quickly his perspective has changed. He walks up the front steps and hesitates at the door. Is it right that he enter as usual or is he supposed to knock?
He knocks. He doesn't want to risk overstepping when he's not even sure what the boundaries are.
Ginny opens the door. She looks tired, but not overly so, more like when she comes home after a long day of post-game Quidditch player interviews.
"Come on in." She steps back to make room for him, not at all like her usual stepping closer for a kiss or a touch. It's going to take some getting used to. "The children are waiting for you. They've been bathed and brushed, all ready for bed."
Harry nods, then reaches for her hand. She hesitates, and then takes his. "Come and join us. It's only one chapter."
She nods, pulls her hand back, and they climb the stairs together, their purpose – getting the children to sleep and supporting them – uniting them.
Harry lies down on Albus's bed, Lily tucked in the crook of his arm and Al on his other side while Ginny and James cuddle on James's bed to hear the story.
"The Rabbit Sends in Little Bill," Harry reads and there's quiet all around but for his voice. The children don't ask about where he's been. He figures they've either already been told by Ginny or, more likely, they're used to him being gone for occasional nights and aren't fussed as long as he comes back.
At the end of the chapter James and Lily are fast asleep, Harry, treasuring the quiet snores and baby heat against his shoulder. He looks down as Albus turns the pages back to study the pictures. He stops at an illustration of Alice, too large for a small cottage, her arm sticking out the window because there's no room for it.
"Alice is pretty," Al says, touching her face. "She's sad."
Harry squints at the page and frowns. "I guess she does look a little sad. Do you think she'll find her way into the garden?"
Al nods decidedly. "Yeah. It's in the pictures." He turns the book over and shows Harry the back cover. It has a smaller illustration on it from elsewhere in the story. Alice stands in the garden, surrounded by larger characters, the queen pointing sharply at her and looking down her nose.
"That's kind of a scary picture," Harry observes.
Al smirks up at him. "It's a scary world."
Harry chuckles and sits up, propping Lily higher on his shoulder. "Time to sleep. I'll be back ... sometime soon …" He looks at Ginny, hoping she'll help him out with what to say so as not to disillusion their child before bed when he discovers Harry's not downstairs making breakfast in the morning, but he's also not sure when he will be welcomed back in.
"Tomorrow for lunch," Ginny says and Harry nods, looking back to Al. He stands up.
"Okay. Goodnight, Dad."
Harry and Ginny put out the lights and leave the room together. He puts Lily in her cot and meets Ginny in the kitchen afterwards. Now for the hard part.
"Tea?" she asks as he enters. He takes a seat at the table.
The conversation they're meant to be having looms over them, but it seems neither of them know quite how to start it. After minutes pass, the only sounds filling the kitchen are the ticking of the clock on the wall, teaspoons plinking against cups and saucers, and the quiet sipping of tea. Harry decides to start.
"Hermione left this morning?"
Ginny sighs, and nods. "We had a good talk. She helped me straighten out my thoughts a bit, tamp down my instinct to go on a rampage and toss all your stuff out on the street."
He swallows, then puts his cup down. "I ought to thank her for that." He clears his throat, nervous. "I, er – I'll talk to Ron tomorrow before I come over at lunch time." He shakes his head a moment, trying to make sense of what he wants to say, starting and stopping a couple of times. "Look. I'm on leave from work, yes? So if I can help out with watching the kids, I'd like that. Give you some time to work and to do other things if you want. I dunno … I want to do whatever it is that will help you out the most. What do you think?"
She digests his words as she finishes her tea. "I think that sounds great actually. I've been wanting to try my hand at playing Quidditch again, not just writing about it. Now that the kids are here, no longer nursing, and we're obviously not going to have any more, I'll be able to commit to a team. I might try out for the Harpies; they've got a Chaser position open."
It nearly bowls Harry over to see her light up so much when she talks about Quidditch. It was her real passion before they married and had kids, but with the rest of the wizarding world pushing for a new generation of magic, they'd fallen right into it along with the rest. She continues.
"I need you to start looking at buying another house. I want you to spend a lot of time with the children and have them for overnights, but I can't …" She stops, licks her lips nervously, continues again. "I need for my home to be mine. We'll divorce, and then you'll have a place that's yours and the kids can go back and forth."
Harry holds the sting in his eyes at bay. She's entirely right in saying it, but the changes are so great, so much – it hurts. "All right. I'll ask Hermione to recommend a good, discreet, divorce attorney and make an appointment. I don't want to start shopping for a house until after we announce the divorce, otherwise people will notice and we'll be in the gossip pages."
Ginny snorts. He looks at her. "Harry, you're always in the gossip pages."
He wrinkles his brow. "Still?" He's always hated being in the paper. Reporters know enough not to ask for interviews any more. He reads the Prophet only when he happens on a copy, but never looks at the back pages, figuring it's better to not know what they're saying about him.
She smiles and pours herself another cup of tea from the pot on the table. "You think you can just go on leave from your job and nobody would notice? Yeah, I have a feeling you're going to have an interesting few months ahead of you."
"Great." He swears under his breath. Nothing quite like being under public scrutiny when you're just getting ready to start embracing your gayness.
He shifts his weight in his chair, tries crossing his legs, bumps his knee on the table and spills his tea. He gives up trying to get comfortable. "Al seemed to be doing okay tonight." He sees Ginny's forehead crease, the worry line deep between her eyebrows. "Not so much, huh?"
She shakes her head, sighsing. "I don't know what to tell you, Harry. I gave the children baths tonight. Had the boys together while Lily played with blocks and James kept trying to play with him, but he just sort of curled up and wouldn't look at anybody. I had to wash his hair and his body for him – not easy when he's holding himself so stiff, wrapping his arms around his legs. The only way I could get him out of the tub was to empty it, wrap a towel around him and pick him up in a big Albus ball. He's not using the toilet at all anymore. I mean ... Mum tells me it's normal child behaviour to regress on toilet training when a new baby comes, but Lily's well over a year old now, and instead of resolving after a month or two, it keeps getting worse."
Her words come out all in a rush, like she's been holding them in so long that they just pour out.
Harry rubs his face with his hand, lifting his glasses to pinch the sleep from his eyes. He rakes his fringe back with his fingers. "I've noticed too. I thought that not making an issue of it was the best approach, but you're right; it's getting worse instead of better." He meets her eyes again. "Think it's time to talk to a Healer about it?"
"Yeah." Ginny's voice cracks. She clears her throat and blinks a couple of times, holding back the tears brimming in her eyes. "The divorce isn't going to be easy on any of them, but I worry about him most." Her chin trembles. "I think it's time to call it a night. I'll see you around noon tomorrow." She turns and looks out the window.
He knows he's just been dismissed, but it can't be helped. They've communicated more in the past half hour than they have in months.
"Take care," he says, feeling dumb, but needing to say something. He stands up and Disapparates from the living room.
There's no sign of Malfoy at the Hog's Head that night. Harry's not sure if he's relieved or disappointed. He climbs under his sheets and Malfoy swims in his mind's eye. It's like he's overloaded with thinking about all his personal shit, whereas Malfoy-watching was always his fallback back at school. He wonders what his teenage self would think about where he's ended up. He hated Malfoy in school, but now … Now he's got a raging hard on and is considering wanking to the memory of watching Malfoy's not-quite-smirk before he turned and left that morning, his trousers showcasing his arse perfectly. Malfoy's out as a gay man; he's figured that much out. Harry wonders if he's wrapped up and having sweaty gay sex with that dodgy bloke right now. He frowns, but it doesn't stop his cock from leaking a wet spot on the sheet.
Bugger it all. Harry throws back his sheet, grabs his cock, and chases the fantasy, putting himself in the dodgy bloke's place.
"I – I don't know what to say, Harry." Ron frowns, his face going red. Harry's not sure if it's anger, embarrassment, or just Ron being flustered. He hopes it's the latter.
Harry rubs the back of his neck. They're sitting side by side on the back steps of Ron and Hermione's cottage in Ottery St Catchpole. "I was in a bad place, Ron," he says, staring straight ahead at the grass. "I love Gin, I really do, but … it wasn't ever quite right for either of us." He sighs. "You notice how quiet she gets lately? Like how she doesn't stand up and fight to get her way with things like she used to? I think I did that to her. I didn't mean to, but it's like she was changing to try to reach me and I was just not getting it. I'm such a fuck up."
The step they're sitting on shifts as Ron turns to look at him. Harry turns his head, not sure if he should prepare to duck a coming blow or what. Ron puts his hand on Harry's shoulder.
"Remember how it happened with Charlie?" he says. "He was so fucking scared he'd lose his family coming out that he ran off to live with dragons? He'd rather take a risk of being barbequed alive than tell us? And then he broke down after Fred died, crying like a blubbering baby all over Bill because he'd missed really getting to know Fred? I don't want you to suffer like that, mate."
Harry watches as Ron shrugs and drops his hand back to his lap.
"It's tricky with you coming out after being with my sister, but … Gin's strong. She'll get by, find her feet, and figure herself out all right. You though ... You gonna be all right?"
Harry nods. He's impressed with how well Ron seems to be taking the news. And then Ron's expression darkens. He stands up, and puts his hands in his pockets.
"Good," Ron tells him. "I'm gonna take a short walk. Just need some time to think."
"Okay. See you later."
He watches his best friend walk away, taking the long way around the house through the back garden. He stares at the spot where he'd disappeared behind the side of the house.
The back door creaks open. Hermione comes out. She takes Ron's place on the step next to him. "He'll be back. Thanks for telling him. It hasn't been easy for me to not say anything."
"Thanks, Hermione." He takes a deep breath and plunges ahead, asking about divorce lawyers.
Fortunately, she's got the perfect person in mind to help him get his divorce moving forward and promises her colleague is discreet and efficient. He leaves, feeling like there's a bone wedged in his throat. Still, it's a real relief to know that he's taking the painful first steps to an uncertain, but hopefully happier future.
He makes it out of the house with the children in tow with some effort. Albus had complained that his clothes weren't comfortable, that the tags hurt his skin, then after they were removed, that the seams on his trousers make his skin itch, and can't he just wear his playrobes?
Harry'd managed to coax him out of the house with trousers in place – they'd be shopping in Muggle London – by promising a trip to the toy store and then visiting the park.
They walk out of the Leaky Cauldron, Harry holding James's hand, Lily on his hip, and Albus clutching the pocket of his jeans. It's slow going, but they make it to the toy store and push the door open, tinkling the bell. The boys release him and take off to look at toys, and he sets Lily down, flexing his arm in relief. She runs to follow James to the train table.
Trips to the toy store aren't a regular occurrence for them, but Harry'd been at a loss of what he could do to get the kids out of the house, and hopefully keep them from misbehaving. He's not keen on being spotted in the wizarding areas of town ever since Ginny had brought up his increasing appearances in the gossip pages of the Prophet. He wants to avoid drawing more attention to himself whenever possible.
He wanders the aisles of toys. The shelves are packed nearly to the ceiling on the side of the shop not open with play areas, beanbags, enormous stuffed animals, riding toys and a huge television set playing some animated movie.
He takes in everything. There are so many cool things that he'd have loved to have had as a child. After James came along, Ginny had sat him down to have a talk about not spoiling the children unintentionally by giving them more than they needed to make up for what he had missed. He'd seen her point, but that'd never stopped him from doing it a little bit behind her back.
He chuckles lightly at the memory and turns into the next aisle, the pink aisle.
Albus stands before a section of shelves that are crammed with Alice in Wonderland merchandise. Most are licensed Disney versions of the characters, but there are a few classic Alice toys as well.
Harry whistles softly. "Look at this, Al. You found the jackpot."
Al glances at him briefly and turns back to what has captured his attention. He rubs the fabric of an Alice costume at the hem, taking it in with wide, longing eyes. It's a cute little blue dress, with short puffed sleeves and a white lace-trimmed apron. "I want this." Al's voice is awestruck and determined. He looks up at Harry. Harry glances at the price tag. The price isn't really the issue and he knows it. It's that this is a costume intended for girls, and as much as it really wouldn't bother him to let Albus wear it for pretend play, he's not sure how Ginny would take it, or if it would set Albus up for being mocked by his peers.
"It's very pretty, Al," Harry says at last. "But I'm not sure how your mum would feel if I bought you a costume when it's not for a birthday or Christmas."
Al furrows his eyebrows. "It doesn't matter. It's my dress. I am Alice!"
Harry senses the tantrum before it comes. He feels the pressure building at his own temples. He's nearly ready to just buy the damned thing to prevent the headache, but Al starts to cry and then to wail, and before he knows it, his child is thrashing his legs and arms and lying flat across the floor of the aisle. He can't reward a tantrum.
It takes half an hour and numerous apologies to the shop employee – though she reassures him it happens at least once a day and it's all right – to get Albus to calm down and to tempt Lily and James out of the shop with the reminder they'd be able to play in the park next.
They reach the park another half an hour later, peppered with Al's sniffles and James's endless stream of "How much longer?" Lily's crashed out on his shoulder when they reach the top of the hill, and Harry makes his way carefully down it, his goal – the park bench that looks like heaven right about now, while the boys make a mad dash for the play equipment.
He sits with Lily sleeping on his chest, her chubby legs straddling his waist, and he watches James attempt to tackle the monkey bars while Al pumps furiously on the swingset, finally managing to get his momentum up. Harry hopes Lily wakes soon; there's a nap for himself in his future plans, hopefully right after lunch.
His attention turns from his boys to another little boy, about Al's age, with a shock of white blond hair, racing down the hill as fast as his legs will carry him. His father follows, calling after him, "Take it easy, Scorpius! I'm not as fast as you!"
Of course, it's Draco Malfoy. The dodgy bloke appears behind him and follows his path down the hill. Malfoy spots Harry, and seems to freeze mid-step, then turns and walks toward him, gesturing to the dodgy bloke to keep an eye on Scorpius. "Fancy meeting you here," Malfoy says and takes a seat beside Harry on the bench.
Harry's mind immediately returns to his midnight fantasy. He hopes the redness in his face can be explained away by the heat of the day and worsened by the human space heater in his lap. He gives his brain a mental shake, longing to ask Malfoy who the dodgy bloke is and why he's always around, but then not really wanting to hear the answer. He doesn't ask.
"Yours?" he asks, feeling a bit stupid as he nods to Scorpius – Draco in miniature.
Malfoy smiles easily, raising an eyebrow. "See the resemblance?"
Harry snorts. He deserves that, but it's the strangest sensation ever to be sharing a laugh with Draco sodding Malfoy, let alone talking to him about parenthood.
Malfoy shades his eyes from the sun and studies Harry's other kids. "These your other two? Son and daughter?"
Harry frowns, then follows where Malfoy's looking. Albus had refused to have his hair cut the past couple of times Ginny had pulled out the shears, but he doesn't think that makes him look like a girl. He shakes his head. "No, both boys there, this is my girl." He points his chin at Lily, and rubs his hand over her back.
Malfoy takes the correction without embarrassment and clears his throat. Harry looks at him. "May I ask you a question?"
Harry shrugs. "Sure. Don't see why not."
"I've been seeing your name in the Prophet a lot recently. This administrative leave they've got you on, the accident, was it related to the potions trade at all?"
Harry starts, then furrows his brow. How does Malfoy know that? But then, he's not been following the papers at all, hasn't got a clue what they're saying about him.
"Why do you ask?" he manages, attempting to shift his position to relieve his legs from the beginnings of pins and needles.
Malfoy shrugs. "Just curious." He frowns. There's something he's not saying. Harry can't let that go.
"Come on, you can trust me." He realises how ridiculous that sounds after the words come out. When has he ever given Malfoy any sign that he'd be willing to act as a confidante? He hasn't.
Malfoy lets out a short bark of laughter, then sizes Harry up. "You're serious?" Harry nods. He can't help feeling a bit put out at the laughter, though he should have expected it. "Yes, I suppose I can." Malfoy sighs, and stretches his legs out straight, crossed at the ankles. "I've noticed some odd behaviour in the men who deliver my potions, sort of dodgy looks, you know? I've not found any evidence they're doing anything wrong, but … it's just a feeling something's off."
Harry furrows his brows, not quite following. "What sort of potions are we talking?"
Malfoy raises his hands like he's backing off. "Nothing illicit. Just massage oils, shampoos, lotions." He pauses, perhaps gauging Harry's lack of understanding. "I own and operate a massage parlour in Diagon Alley. Feel free to drop in sometime." He fishes a business card out of his pocket and hands it to Harry. "My partner, David," he gestures to the dodgy bloke. "We're joint owners. Set up shop about six months ago."
Harry looks at the card. Dynamic Massage and Wellness. The address is listed underneath. He looks back up.
"Might do you some good to have your muscles worked on, all the stress from being on leave, you know?"
Harry thanks him, and slips the card into his pocket. Lily wakes up. She shakes the sleep from her eyes and takes in her surroundings, then points at the play structure. Harry sets her down and follows her to the equipment. He's got a name now for the dodgy bloke. David. And an answer to his relation to Malfoy. Partner. The title leaves an unpleasant sensation in his gut.
Harry steps out of the Ministry's front doors, glad he's not been spotted by any of his colleagues, but at least his divorce papers are in the works. He and Ginny will receive copies to sign by owl in a few days. It's moving faster than he expected it to but, apparently amicable divorces can be processed without much fuss.
"Harry! Hold up!" Kingsley's deep voice booms after him as the door swings shut. He waits on the steps, hands clammy. The last time Kingsley and he had talked, he'd passed out from shock, not such a good memory.
"Come with me?" Kingsley asks, holding out his elbow in an offer to side-along.
Harry takes the proffered arm not seeing he has any other choice.
They Apparate inside Kingsley's sitting room. His flat is small, a regular bachelor pad made up of four rooms: sitting room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. He's only been invited over a handful of times.
"Have time for tea?" Kingsley asks and gestures to the sofa. Harry takes a seat.
"I'm free for a couple of hours. I'm heading over to see the kids after that."
Kingsley's expression is serious, but not unfriendly as he leaves to put the kettle on. Harry's not sure what sort of bomb's going to hit him next. A couple of weeks ago he'd not have been able to handle the stress, he's sure he'd have had to be checked into the locked ward at St Mungo's for his own safety, but since telling the truth to Rolf and Ginny – beginning to face up to his problems and deal with them – he's sure he can handle it.
Kingsley returns after a few minutes with two cups, the kettle, and a hot pad for the coffee table. He pours the tea. "I'm out of milk, but I think I have some sugar cubes if you need them."
"I want to apologise for flying off the handle while you were still in shock, Harry." Kingsley's voice has returned to its usual low rumble, all traces of the anger he'd shown at St Mungo's, vanished. It's a relief.
"It's all right. I was in a bad way, but I'm doing much better now."
Kingsley grunts in affirmation and makes himself comfortable in the chair opposite the sofa. "What's changed?"
Harry can't help the small spike of pleasure at the can of worms that question opens. He's got this talking things out thing down pat. He takes a sip from his tea and then his story comes out in a flood.
Kingsley's quiet for a long moment. Harry hopes he hasn't just shot himself in the foot for being so candid, but the story gets easier to tell the more times he does it.
Kingsley clears his throat and shifts in his chair, sets his teacup on the coffee table, and leans forward with his forearms resting on his knees. "You're very brave, Harry." He's goes quiet again. Harry can see him thinking, watching his eyes. "It's a different world than it used to be. There was a time …" Kingsley pauses as if changing tack. "The wizarding world is ahead of the Muggles in a lot of ways and horribly behind them in others. Look at plumbing, for instance – Muggles had that down centuries before us. We're so wrapped up in keeping with tradition that even when a change comes along that makes life easier and cleaner, we resist it." He shrugs.
"Why are you telling me this?" It's disconcerting to hear Kingsley rambling.
"You're not alone, Harry. Back in the sixties there was a real danger in coming out as gay. And you want to talk difficulty, try coming out as gay, black, and interested in a white boy."
Harry nearly drops his teacup. He steadies it with his other hand. "You?"
Kingsley nods. "It would have ended my ambitions to join the Aurors if we'd come out. Hell, it would have ended any chance he had at living a 'normal' life. It wasn't meant to be. At least, not then. If we'd been born in the same time as you, who knows."
"I'm sorry. What ended up happening to him?"
Kingsley's face is hard to read on the best days; the man's poker face is solid, but now, his bittersweet feelings are on display. It's jarring. Harry's never thought of Kingsley as a sexual being before. It's weird, like being in primary school and finding out your teacher has a life outside of the classroom and doesn't really live there.
"He got on with his life. I got on with mine. He's married to a woman he loves, has a family, a career – a good life. I threw myself into the job, and hey, I'm the bleeding Minister for Magic. But sometimes, I do wonder what life would have been like – if we could have made it work."
Kingsley sighs deeply and sits back up in his chair. Harry wants to ask him about whether he finds any time for companionship, but thinks that's too personal. "So, you're not out, then?" he asks instead. The last thing he wants to do is put his foot in his mouth and out the Minister for Magic by accident.
"I'm not really open about it, but then, I don't have any reason to be. I don't have a partner, nor do I have any plans for finding one. The job's my life. I get by – play cards on occasion, hang out – I manage. But I'm looking at the clock behind you, and you've probably got to go soon. This wasn't what I was planning to discuss when I brought you here. It threw me for a bit of a loop."
"Yeah. Sorry 'bout that."
"There's a gala happening next week. The War Orphan League's last big to-do. I want you to speak at it." He holds his hand up to still Harry's instinct to protest. "It's a big deal, Harry. The war's been over seven years; the last of the children left without parents have found homes. You're a beacon of hope to these people, coming from where you did. Do I really need to explain it to you?"
Harry forces down his displeasure, recalling Ginny's exclamation the other night, I've always known you're a bit daft, Harry, but this is too much! "No," he says, resigning himself. The idea of telling Kingsley that he's considering leaving the Aurors crosses his mind, but he decides he's dropped enough surprises on the man for one day. "Yeah, all right. I'll do it. I'll work on writing a speech."
Kingsley smiles and claps his hands together once, then stands up. He shakes Harry's hand. "Good man."
Harry doesn't feel quite so bad about accepting a compliment this time.
On his way to see the kids, he stops by the toy shop and buys Albus the Alice dress and the matching black mary jane shoes that go with it. He finds a cat puzzle made of wood for James and picks up a squeaky ball for Lily, sure he'll regret the incessant noise that will result from her playing with it, but she'll like it. He shrinks his purchases when he's safely on what was formerly his porch, and slips them in his pocket. He'd better clear the gifts with Ginny first.
She greets him at the door and there's another awkward moment where they'd normally have embraced but don't. He follows her to the kitchen where her shoulder bag is packed, and her Firebolt resting against a chair ready for her to leave.
"Try outs?" Harry asks.
"Yeah." She quickly ties her hair up in a bun. "Wish me luck?"
"Always," Harry says without thinking. The stupid word has carried a lot more meaning ever since he'd seen Snape's gift of his memories. She seems to let the slip slide, picks up her cup of tea, rests against the counter and stares at him. Oh … that's his cue to say something. "I visited the divorce lawyer today. Papers will be ready to sign in a couple of days as long as we're both okay with how things are divvied up."
"Good," she says. She smacks her lips as she finishes her cup, and then puts it in the sink.
"And I bought Albus the Alice dress he was pining for the other day. I want to make sure it's all right with you if I give it to him." The reminder that they still need to make an appointment with a Healer about Albus's regression tinges the air, but neither of them mention it. "I got James and Lily a couple of baubles, too, so they don't feel left out."
Ginny sighs and shrugs. "It's all right with me. Just make it clear to him that it's for at home play and he's not to expect to be able to wear it all over town."
She leaves, and Harry realises he's just locked himself and the kids in the house for the day if he gives Albus the dress. Well, as long as he's not forcing his presence in the house on her while she's in it, Harry supposes Ginny won't mind too much.
Al doesn't take his Alice dress off all day. Being in his old house where he doesn't quite fit any longer, gives Harry cabin fever in only a couple of hours, and despite offering incentives – or okay, he'll admit that they're actually bribes – Al refuses to budge on the dress.
"But, I'm Alice in this dress. You can see me." It's statements like this that leave him scratching his head.
"Al, I can see you no matter what you're wearing."
At which point, Al throws up his hands and gives up talking. Harry caves.
"Fine, all right. You can wear it out. Let's just go for a walk around the neighbourhood, stretch our legs and shake off the lethargy."
"What's lethargy?" James asks, while Al stops and freezes in place, eyes wide.
"Lethargy is when you get really tired and it's hard to move your arms and legs. What's the problem, Al?" he asks, turning to look at his son's seemingly startled face.
"Be right back, potty," Al says, and races to the bathroom.
Harry's caught off guard, but tries to not show any reaction. Al hasn't used the toilet in ages, let alone without coaxing or supervision. Maybe it's true that some children just need to come to terms with potty training on their own, or … His mind spins. Maybe it has something to do with the dress. He tries to push that idea down because it makes no sense, but it hangs out in the back of his mind the rest of the day, tickling his brain.
Ginny comes back after the kids are fast asleep and Harry's read them the 'Caterpillar Chapter' as Al now refers to it. He'd read it to Al three times before he'd finally succumbed to sleep, still wearing his dress.
"How'd it go today?" Ginny asks as Harry gathers his coat and wallet, and puts on his shoes.
He turns to her, smiling bemusedly. "It's been a bit of an adventure, but before you chastise me for letting Al wear his dress while we took a walk around the block or because he's still got it on, he used the toilet on his own. All day. I didn't help at all."
Ginny's face is gobsmacked, and then she breaks into a wide smile. "That's fantastic!" Then her frown starts to come back. "But how is this going to go tomorrow? I think I'll try to wrestle him out of it without waking him up. I don't want this dress to turn into a crutch."
Harry blows out a long breath. Al doesn't have anybody else to advocate for him, and it seems to Harry that he's failed at it for long enough. "You know, Gin, with all the changes happening, and he really seems like he's the old Al again, just today – just while he's wearing the dress, don't you think that maybe letting him use a crutch for a while might not be such a bad thing?"
She pauses in the middle of preparing to retort, and seems to process what he said. She throws up her hands like she's just not going to worry about it anymore because there's no point. "I think you might be spot on with that." She crosses the room and holds out her arms. "Quick hug? As friends?"
Harry's heart feels like it's just grown twice its size. "Definitely."
The hug is big and cuddly and not weird like he thought it might be. It's the sort of hug he'd share with Luna, and it feels brilliant to be able to share it with Ginny. "Goodnight. Tell me about tryouts tomorrow?"
She nods. There's a small smirk on her lips. She totally made the team. He can read it plain as day. But that conversation will require some celebrating and more time than they have right now. He retreats.
He doesn't feel the sadness pulling at him when he walks away from his children tonight. He knows he'll be back, knows they'll be happy to see him, and he can't expect things to be any better than that.
Padma tends the bar when Harry arrives at the Hog's Head. He's not tired, not ready to go to sleep in his lonely room. He sits at the bar instead and marvels at the odd play of light and dark atmosphere in the place.
She pours him a Firewhisky without his needing to ask. "You read my mind."
She simply smiles at him as if she's heard this same line from a million other lonely blokes – she probably has.
After his second or third drink he feels loose and eager to talk to somebody. As he's the only patron in the bar that he can see anyway, he talks to Padma.
"Why are the lights like this at night?"
She approaches him on her side of the bar, the bluebell flame lantern following her, floating over her head, and finally providing enough light for them to see each other. "I would have thought you'd guess why, Harry. It's so people can come in and have some privacy. Not be at the beck and call of other people or have to worry about being found by those they're trying to hide from. That's what drew you in here, right?"
He nods slowly. That explanation seems to take on deep meaning under the influence of Firewhisky. "Yeah, but, can you turn it up a bit, give a little more light? I mean, if you wanted to."
She looks confused a moment. "Yes, of course."
"Would you? Just for a little while? I mean, not if there are other people in here that don't want to be seen right now, but I'm sensing I'm the only one here, right?"
She shrugs and points her wand at the ceiling. Half a dozen more bluebell flame lanterns pepper the length of the bar, floating midair, and illuminating the empty bar stools. It's much cozier than before, less isolating.
He stays and chats a while longer, and hears her story of how she and Blaise got together. It happened after the war – they'd recognised each other in Italy after their families fled there, seeking a more peaceful life. They'd clicked and decided to move back after they married.
It's a nice story. Good to hear that two people who never really got on or even acknowledged each other at school could use that same divide to bring them together.
He's drunk and he knows it. He should really get to bed soon. "What time is it?" It's still dark enough that he can't make out the clock he knows is the wall on the other side of the room.
Padma looks at her watch. "It's about three-thirty. Blaise should be up soon to relieve me."
Harry shakes his head, likely to tell her he doesn't know how she can pull such long nights, but forgets to say anything because Draco Malfoy spins out of the fireplace just then, and Harry's eyes, mind, and entire attention are on him immediately.
He watches Malfoy dust the soot from his traveling cloak and then look around. "It's awfully bright in here tonight." And then he sees Harry and waves a hand at him in what Harry can only describe as a rather flirty gesture. But that isn't worth pondering right now, because there's something different about Malfoy. His eyes stand out. Like really pop in the light of the bluebell flames.
Malfoy walks to the bar, swaying more than Harry's used to seeing. He must have been drinking, too. Harry can't fault him there, not considering the – he tries to recall – well, the numerous shots of Firewhisky he's downed.
Blaise enters from the door behind the bar and looks around at all the extra light, as if he's not quite understanding why it's so bright. He looks like he's just woke up. He's wearing a simple black robe tied with a satin sash and blinking blearily. "Hey, Draco," he says with a yawn and then seems to do a double take, and for some reason hurries forward and stands blocking Harry's view, making him annoyed.
Malfoy gets unsteadily to his feet and follows Blaise through the door he'd just come in from.
"What's that about?" Harry says aloud, not really intending it to be a question Padma would answer, but she does all the same.
"I think he pointed out something on Draco's face, and you know him; he'd be horrified to know Blaise noticed and didn't tell him."
Harry ponders this. He'd been gazing at Malfoy's face for several minutes, trying to figure out what was different about him, but hadn't noticed any blemishes. Padma pushes another shot of Firewhisky at him, and he accepts it without considering he's already had enough and doesn't really want another.
Malfoy and Blaise emerge again after about a minute and Malfoy's giggling – yes, giggling – but he looks back to normal again. It doesn't make any sense. Harry's lost the plot. He finishes his last shot and puts the glass back on the bar. "I think I'd better call it a night."
"Hold up, there, Potter," Malfoy calls. "You look like you're about ready to swim to your room. Let Blaise guide you."
Harry's not sure why that makes perfect sense, but he nods in appreciation of Malfoy's thoughtfulness and obediently waits for Blaise to round the bar, take his arm, and lead him to bed. He's snoring a minute later.
Malfoy greets Harry with a wave. His hair is flat on one side and ruffled up like the feathers of an owl with a bent wing on the other. His eyes are shadowed. More than tired circles, but like actual bruise marks, like he's been punched in the nose and has black eyes.
"Morning," Harry says and sits down at the table across from him. "You all right? You look tired."
Malfoy starts at that and, to Harry's surprise, whips a compact mirror out from goodness knows where and studies his eyes in it. "Oh, that's nothing. I was performing last night. I have to line my eyes with a little kohl so people can see them from a distance. I just need to have a shower."
Harry's interest is immediately piqued. "Performing?"
Malfoy seems to realise he'd said more than he meant to in front of Harry. His cheeks show with pink spots. He narrows his eyes, as if sizing Harry's trustworthiness up. Harry seems to pass the examination. "Er – All right, I'll tell you, but don't laugh."
Harry grins. He wouldn't miss hearing this for the world, even if he has to stifle his chuckles and have them out later. "Promise," he says as solemnly as he can manage.
Malfoy rolls his eyes at Harry. "I dance on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I'm a performance artist, and no I'm not telling you where because you're not invited." He purses his lips, as if he's waiting for Harry to make fun of him.
Harry keeps grinning, but doesn't laugh. "I wouldn't dream of intruding where I'm not welcome." Though that is a lie. He's going to definitely have dancing-Malfoy-wearing-eyeliner in his dreams tonight.
When Ginny welcomes him into the house, Harry's greeted by four very happy faces.
"So – what's the verdict?" he asks, forcing his expression to remain impassive, more for entertainment than because he's really clueless.
Ginny stands proudly with her hands on her hips. "In a few days, Harry you will officially be able to tell people your ex-wife is a Harpy, and not get punched in the face when I hear about it."
He breaks his mask and grins. "That's bloody brilliant, Gin! Congratulations." He has the urge to hug her again, but reins it in. He doesn't want to push his luck. His dreams have been a mixed up mess – from Malfoy getting him worked up only to walk away, leaving him in the dust when David arrives, to him taking Ginny's newfound 'friends hugs' for granted and having her accuse him of playing with her emotions. He's not going there in real life if he can help it.
"Thanks!" she says while the children dance around their feet, each trying to tell Harry how much they knew mummy would be picked because she's the best – even Lily, who doesn't seem to understand what the fuss is about, but wants in on it anyway.
Albus is still wearing his Alice dress, though Harry notices Ginny did manage to pry the matching shoes off his feet.
"Looking good, Albus," Harry tells him, and ruffles his too-long hair. It's not so bad though, not nearly as long as Dumbledore's was.
Al stamps his foot. "Dad," he complains. "I'm in my Alice dress, you're s'posed to call me Alice!"
Harry huffs. "Give your old man a break. It's hard for someone as ancient as me to learn new things."
Al and James laugh delightedly. They seem to find his attempt at humour a success, but Lily laughs loudest of all, convincing nobody. Harry scoops her up and smacks a kiss on her cheek.
"All right, all of you," Ginny interrupts, "Mummy's got to train. I'll be home after dinner, Harry. Can you get them bathed before then?"
"Sure," Harry tells her. He watches as she says goodbye to each child in turn, and then swoops out the front door, broomstick over her shoulder like a rifle and a hand gesture like a salute.
Albus has Lily and James wrapped up in his playacting. He's assigned James the part of the white rabbit, and Lily, the caterpillar – his favourite Wonderland characters – and they're running up and down the stairs, looking for gloves and fans, and apparently, Lily, huffing and puffing to keep up with the boys equates to her smoking a hookah.
The doorbell rings. Harry chuckles at their antics and steps over Lily for the third time, dodges Al as he contemplates taking a bite out of one of Lily's blocks to see it'll make him grow up or down, and finally reaches the door.
Cormac McLaggen stands on the porch, a hulking mass of gym-enhanced muscle, his crooked smile turned down a notch, apparently in an effort to be sympathetic.
"Hey," Harry says, and stumbles when James bumps his hip, hopping past as a boy-sized rabbit. "Come on in. You'll have to watch where you step. We seem to be lost in Wonderland at the moment."
McLaggen raises an eyebrow, not cottoning on, but also too proud to admit he has no idea what Harry's talking about. "How are you coping there, partner?" he asks after taking a seat on the sofa Harry's gestured him towards.
"Not so bad. Having fun being a full time dad." He's not in the mood to share the news of his divorce or really anything else of his personal life with his overbearing and too-openly-sharing-of-other-people's-business partner. It will feel so good to tell him to get stuffed when he leaves his job, not with words – he may be a bit daft, but not so much as to risk a ham-sized fist to the face – but through the act of resigning. He'd realised that being an Auror is not what he wants to do for life, especially if, rather when – considering his reputation – he's pressured into running for Minister. Kingsley may be willing to fully commit his life to the job; Harry's not.
"I can see that," McLaggen says, attempting to disguise his lip-curling in distaste as a smile. "Is your son wearing a dress?"
Harry looks to Al, who's just run past again, wondering aloud if he's two different people or if he'll ever find his way home – just as Alice does in the book.
Harry wrinkles his brow. If McLaggen says anything disparaging and Al overhears him, he doesn't care if it's not a good idea; he'll hogtie him with a binding spell before he knows what hit him. "You ever been around children before? They're all under five. Playing out stories regardless of what sex the character is, is part of how they figure out how the world works."
McLaggen throws his hands up in defence. "Hey, I'm not judging, just observing."
Harry sighs, and lowers his voice a fraction. "Just don't even think about embarrassing him. He's having a rough time."
McLaggen's widens his eyes in surprise. "Yeah? What's going on?"
Damn it. He always does this, speaks before thinking. "Nothing important," he lies. "Kid stuff. What are you here about?" There, nothing quite like getting down to brass tacks.
"Really just checking in on you. Last I saw you they were wrapping up your bleeding arm and transporting your unconscious body to St Mungo's."
Harry frowns. "Yes. That wasn't my greatest moment. I meant to ask how you managed to take out all those men after I went down, but then I got hit with administrative leave and lost track of things."
McLaggen shrugs. "I'm not sure myself. It's like, after seeing you go down..."
More like after you pushed me across the room and knocked me out against the wall of crates, Harry doesn't add.
"...I got this surge of adrenaline. I didn't know if you were even still alive. I just went a bit like an animal. Took two of them down with a curse, ducked a couple more shots they fired at me and when I looked back up, they'd grabbed their fallen and Disapparated."
"What?" Harry exclaims. "They all got away? Merlin! Why can't I hear anything about what's going on while I'm on leave?"
McLaggen shifts uneasily, looking at him like he's a loose cannon. "Er, I think because you'd work yourself up in a frenzy that doesn't do anything except get you narked."
Harry doesn't have a response for that. It's an uncomfortable truth, but he's been learning to digest uncomfortable truths a lot lately. McLaggen's right. There's no sense in flying off the handle about it now. He doesn't even plan on returning.
"Yeah, I get that," he says, calm as anything.
"You're not at all curious about what's going on now?" McLaggen's leading him by the nose. He senses it, and tries to resist the bait. There's a burst of sobbing from the next room.
He stands up. "Excuse me a moment," he says, then returns a minute later, shaking his head with quiet laughter. "Apparently Al is crying up a pool of tears so he can swim in them when he shrinks back down. They're using blankets for the pool."
McLaggen doesn't even blink, not a flicker of amusement shows in his face. Harry doesn't like the guy. He'd grown to tolerate him before, but that was back when he was walking around playacting as a living, breathing, feeling person. Now he that actually is one, he doesn't have time for anymore nonsense.
"Look. If you have something to tell me, spit it out, then get on back to wherever you're headed."
McLaggen lifts his eyebrows. "Merlin, Harry. I don't mean to ruffle your feathers. Just thought you'd be chomping at the bit to hear about what's going on."
"All right, I'm game. What's going on?" Harry demands, retakes his seat, crosses his legs and arms. Best to just get it over with, hear McLaggen out, then show him the door, and attempt to bleach the memory from his mind.
"There's a big corruption case we're working on. Special unit stuff."
Harry holds up his hand. "If it's special unit, I really shouldn't be hearing about it."
"There's kids involved, Harry," McLaggen says over his protests. "Sex trafficking of minors."
Harry freezes in place, horrified, followed shortly by a burning anger so fierce he's about ready to start putting some of Uncle Vernon's choicest curse words to some good use. Fortunately, the explosion of laughing children reminds him why that wouldn't be wise. "What?" he hisses. "Who're you investigating? Tell me you have suspects, or at least people preparing a take-down."
McLaggen shakes his head. Though he's frowning, he looks far from sad. Fucker's gloating! "Can't tell you more than that. Kingsley's orders. Not til you're back from leave."
Harry wants to shout at McLaggen, to rant and rave and go off on him for telling him that much, especially if he's not supposed to know about it, and more so when he's powerless to do anything about it. He holds onto his composure – with difficulty. "All right. Thanks for stopping by. The door's there." He points at the front door, and keeps his mouth shut.
McLaggen stands up and stretches languidly. "Guess they were right about you, Harry. I thought they had to be exaggerating, but you really can't take the heat enough to pass the aptitude tests for reinstatement yet."
Harry refuses to take the bait. "They are absolutely right. And if you don't want to go about with mad people, you'd best take your normal arse in your hands and run before I show you what mad looks like."
McLaggen shrugs, walks to the door, and opens it. As he always needs to have the last word, he tosses a "Take care of yourself, partner, you'll need it," over his shoulder and shuts the door behind himself.
It takes all of Harry's self restraint to pull himself back together enough to not scare the kids, and after a long and drawn out argument from Al about why he's not sharing his bath with James, as he's Alice and therefore, a girl, Harry gives in, lets him bathe with Lily and manages to get the Alice dress in the wash with the promise it'll be clean by morning. He reads the kids a chapter from the book right afterwards, as he's not going to be able to stick around until bedtime. The chapter titled Pig and Pepper does nothing to calm his tumultuous emotions. He feels like nominating himself to playact the cook from the chapter and break every dish in the house.
Ginny comes home in time for dinner. He made spaghetti because it's easy and served the kids. He's ready to bolt out the door when it opens. "Hey, I've gotta run," he says, rushing. "Kids are bathed, happy, eating, Al's dress is in the wash. I promised we'd have it clean and dry by morning, so can you make sure it gets dry tonight?"
"Whoa," Ginny says. "I'll say you're in a rush. Go on. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Bye," Harry says, waving to the children. They wave back, unconcerned, and he's happy they don't make a fuss. He hasn't got the patience for it right now.
Heading back through the Leaky, he stops before taking the fire to the Hog's Head. It's Thursday. Malfoy had said he's only there on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so if he returns with all this agitation churning his guts, he'll likely end up drunk and belligerent until Blaise knocks him out and throws him away in his room. Not that he'd blame him for it. He doesn't want to be an arsehole, but McLaggen just knows all his buttons and pretty much pushed every single one of them today. His neck cramps, feels tight all the way to the top of his spine. McLaggen's going to have a field day when his personal business hits the papers.
He makes a split second decision and turns to head out into Diagon Alley in search of Malfoy's massage parlour. Fuck it all. If he'd ever needed a massage, it's now.
The lights are off in Rolf and Luna's place. He hopes they're getting in some rest before the babies arrive. He doesn't envy them their coming sleep deprivation, even though having a newborn is a wonderful experience. As he walks, people watch him. He's always known they do it, but for some reason he really notices now. He feels their eyes follow him from all directions, waiting to see how long it takes him to crack under the pressure. He's not going to give them the satisfaction – if, that is in fact what's happening – ten to one he's just being paranoid because his nerves are feeling exposed.
He pulls the card Malfoy had given him out of his pocket. Yes, he's been carrying it this whole time, just in case, but tells himself he doesn't need to justify it to anybody, not even himself. And there he goes, just like Alice in the book, having an internal debate about things he shouldn't even bother worrying about. He finds the address. The sign above the shop window spells out Dynamic Massage and Wellness in bold silver lettering on top of a black backdrop. Harry snorts softly. Silver is a really good colour on Malfoy. Harry shakes his head and reminds himself he's chasing a fantasy; he'd have better luck catching smoke with a butterfly net.
The receptionist at the counter is a pretty young woman with golden blond hair, long false eyelashes and sharp nails she clacks on the counter as if bored out of her mind. She brightens when she sees Harry approach, putting on a sales face and greeting him.
"Mr Potter. It's an honour to have you in."
"Er, thanks," Harry says, and his neck pinches again. He grimaces. "Is Malfoy in? He told me to drop by if I needed help, and after the day I've had – I really do."
She nods cheerily. "He's in the gym at the moment." She lowers her voice and makes a gonna share a secret motion with her hand, loudly whispering, "got to maintain his figure." She ends with a wink.
Harry mentally chastises himself for flushing. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that the idea of Malfoy's figure should fluster him. Who's he kidding. The very idea of Malfoy working his muscles and dripping sweat from exertion in the same building he's standing in has him halfway to a hard-on in an instant.
"Mr David can show you to the back and get you started."
Before Harry has time to protest, to tell her he's fine with waiting for Malfoy to finish, she dings a small silver bell on the counter and the dodgy bloke comes in from the back. His eyes widen when he sees it's Harry, but then they smile as brightly as his mouth does.
Unable to find a reason to resist, Harry follows him back into the parlour. The room he's led into is on the smaller side, rather intimate, a moderate temperature. The walls are painted pale green with beige trim around the edges. There are a couple of potted plants by the window. He's pleased to see the window is fitted with thick wooden blinds that should keep anybody passing on the other side from looking in. A small fountain bubbles in the corner; it makes a tinkling sound, not quite the sort that makes one need the loo, rather, a sort of musical sound. It's pleasant.
The massage table takes up the majority of the small space. It's padded and covered with a thin cotton sheet, and the walls on either side are lined with shelves holding a variety of potion bottles. Massage oils, shampoos, and lotions, if Harry remembers what Malfoy had told him correctly.
The dodgy bloke, oh hell, Harry ought to think of him as David now that he knows his name. He's tempted not to, out of jealousy? Spite? This is the same bloke that saw him walking down the street in Muggle London and thought it was perfectly acceptable to push him up against the wall and snog him senseless. He wonders if Malfoy is aware of that. Perhaps they have one of those relationships Rolf mentioned, together in all ways except the bedroom, but then, would David constantly touch Malfoy's arse in public? Well, maybe. He tells his brain to shut up already when David draws his attention with a slap to the massage table.
"Go on and take off your clothes. All of them. Then lie face down, I'll cover you with a towel and we'll get cracking."
Harry stands still a moment, searching his face for any more dodgy signs. Is he planning to watch while Harry strips? Is that really such a big deal? If Harry makes himself vulnerable, is this guy going to take that as an open invitation?
And Damn. His cock's half stiff again. One of these days he really needs to find a single bloke to mess around with – after his divorce is final, of course. He exhales heavily and strips off, not making eye contact, and trying not to pay any attention to the eyes on his body. Judging him? Appraising him? He's not very good at not paying attention right now.
He lies on the table face down, turns his head to the left, his arms along his sides, and cock tucked down along his left thigh – it can't be helped – swelling with arousal. He closes his eyes and sighs with relief when David drapes the towel across his bum and hips, affording him a small amount of privacy.
David's hands are on his shoulders before he realises; it makes him jump, but they stop, pause, palms pressing against his skin until he settles back down. They're firm, large, dry, warm. He sighs again as they work down his back, touching full palmed everywhere, back up to his shoulders, squeezing them, and then down each of his arms, one at time. David works gently at his biceps, triceps, and whatever else arm muscles are called. Harry doesn't worry about it. It feels good.
After finishing his arms, David moves to Harry's neck, having him turn his head so he's looking down through the cushioned donut-shaped headrest, and works at his upper spine with his thumbs. Harry flinches. The muscles there are tight.
"You're really tense," David says. "You ought to ask Draco to give you the full body treatment – it would help with that – good for men's health maintenance."
Harry doesn't have a clue what he's talking about, but whatever a full body treatment is, if it's as relaxing as this is, he wants it. "Mmm-hmm."
The sound of a throat clearing makes the hands stop. They lift off his back. He frowns. It was just getting good.
"Excuse me, Harry," David says. Harry frowns again. He's never heard this bloke call him by his name before, then reminds himself that obviously people recognise him and know his name – that of course, despite his being secretly jealous of David for being in a relationship with Malfoy – he'd be called by name on occasion.
He hears David and Malfoy exchange a few whispered words just outside the open door, and the thought of what McLaggen had said about corruption and possible sex trafficking flits through his mind. His neck hair bristles. He wonders if Malfoy really knows this bloke well, or if he's found himself in a position he can't get out from under. It's not like it would be all that easy to break it off with the bloke when he's part owner of their business. But Malfoy's got a small child, and the way David seems to just push even Harry to doing things he's not sure of, but not feeling the urgent need to say no to, rankles him. Harry's never been one to just let anybody push him up against a wall or order him to strip and he'd do it, fully aware there are full eyes on him. That's so out of his comfort zone. What if Malfoy's under the same sway?
He turns his head as Malfoy gives an irritated huff and enters the room, only to flinch and close his eyes when David smacks his arse as he takes his leave, and closes the door. He takes a deep breath and opens his eyes again, looking a little strained, but composed. He approaches Harry and smirks down at him. "So, I managed to convince you to give me a try, did I?" He's talking easily again. Harry's comfort with being alone with Malfoy feels like it ought to shock him, but it doesn't. He's tempted to ask about David's behaviour, but doesn't want to put his toe in another unintended mess. Instead, he makes small talk.
"Have a good workout?"
Malfoy washes his hands in a small sink behind the fountain in the corner, then dries them on a hand towel, and picks up a potion bottle from the shelf to Harry's left.
"I did," he answers belatedly, and then Harry closes his eyes because Malfoy's hands are on his back, warm, and slick, and scented with something rich and herby. "It's important that I maintain my figure." His voice drops in volume, sounding more breathy and almost seductive. "I love to eat my fair share of chocolate and sweets. My mother's fault, really. She's always plied them on me. But it wouldn't do at all if I had Honeydukes-induced bulges poking out and making it hard for me to get around."
Harry smiles against the headrest. He feels so fucking good, relaxed, while Malfoy paints his back, arms, and neck with oil – layer after layer of warmth and good feelings. Malfoy could probably talk about something as mundane as what he shopped for at the cauldron shop and Harry would find it soothing.
Malfoy stops, his palms firm on either side of Harry's spine at the small of his back. And then he lifts them up. A moment later the lights dim a shade, and there's some sort of instrumental music playing from an unseen source. It's a mix of percussion and strings, and Harry feels his heart fall into rhythm along with it.
"I'm going to step it up a notch," Malfoy tells him. His hands are back, and this time they're firmer, pressing harder, finding all the funny little tight spots in his muscles, and working them loose with small jolts of pain-pleasure that Harry just goes with, falling into the music and the waking up to how brilliant it feels to be touched by another person.
He's so far gone in sensation that he doesn't even think before his thoughts come rushing out of his mouth without a filter. "Mmmm – What's the full body treatment?" he asks, because if it's as good as this feels right now, he wants it. "David? Is that his name? He said I should ask you about it."
Malfoy chuckles, but doesn't let up on the massage, instead finding a tight knot under Harry's shoulder blade and focussing on it, working it with the side of his hand, or maybe his knuckles. Harry doesn't really care which. It feels good to be pressed hard against the table with the force of Malfoy's body weight. "I doubt you'd be up for it, Potter. It's rather intense."
Harry scoffs, but he's still smiling – he can't help it with the sensation of released tension floating off him. Malfoy moves his hands to Harry's shoulders and works them under his gripping palms. "I can handle intense," Harry says – groans, really.
Malfoy doesn't respond for a while, instead focussing on Harry's right arm next, moving his oil-slick hands over it, then supporting it with his own arm, and finding all the tight spots with his nimble fingers. He sets it back down and crosses round the front of the table, crouching so Harry can see his face. He's holding his hand up, wiggling his index finger in a manner Harry finds intensely suggestive. "How about invasive?" Malfoy says, face splitting into a grin as Harry's expression must reflect whatever he's expecting it to.
Harry's cock twitches, trapped against his thigh under the towel, he just leaked precome at the thought of "invasive" and Malfoy's fingers. But what he's thinking can't be what Malfoy means, can it? That's practically sex, isn't it? His face goes hot, and Malfoy stands back up and moves to working on his left arm. He wonders if the the whole body massage includes a hand job. He's so fucking fucked. He wants all of it, whatever he can get, and he doesn't even care if it's under the guise of 'men’s health maintenance' that he gets it, or even that he's paying for it. "I'm willing to find out what invasive feels like."
Malfoy stops his hands. He gently places Harry's left arm back down, and then starts at his feet. He's reapplied the oil to his hands at some point, and the sensation of his feet getting the royal treatment translates directly to Harry's cock, as if there was a nerve traveling the length of his leg, connecting them. He thinks he can feel the wet spot by his thigh spreading, but it feels too good to think about being embarrassed.
Malfoy moves to his other foot, finishes with it, and rubs his hands, stroking up Harry's calves. When his left hand comes close to Harry's knee, closer than ever to Harry’s leaking cock – he swears he feels another bubble, or even stream, of precome leak from his trapped cockhead. He moans into the sheet, tucking his head down, unable to hold it in.
"Are you familiar with your prostate, Potter? Harry?" Malfoy amends. That right there, the concession and meeting Harry halfway, just makes Harry want even more.
"No," Harry admits. He's never even heard the term before. He knows his life has been pretty sheltered sexually. He's always focussed on anything else to distract and side-step his same-sex leanings. The guys at school never talked about prostates in the dormitory, not that he'd heard anyway.
Malfoy sighs, and continues his focussed massage of Harry's calves, both hands on one, moving up and down the length, sliding easily with the oil and tickling Harry's leg hair when he rubs it the wrong way, then smoothing it back in the right direction.
"The prostate is a very wonderful gland that men have. It triggers the ejaculatory process and can be reached a few inches inside the rectum." Malfoy's words are clinical, measured, but Harry swears he detects an underlying arousal in Malfoy's voice. He could just be imagining it's there because he wants it to be. "When a finger, or thumb, or cock, or toy is inserted in the rectum, it reaches the prostate and makes for a very good whole body feeling. The prostate can be massaged directly and the cock milked, even not fully hard, emptying the built up ejaculate, and really just giving a hell of an orgasm."
Harry moans louder. Malfoy chuckles. "Think you're pretty full up? Need a little help emptying your balls, do you?"
Harry's face burns, blazes. He nods frantically as Malfoy's hands work up the backs of his thighs, under the towel, not moving to where they can reach his cock, but the expectation that they might has his heart racing – longing.
"For a straight man, you're pretty open to the idea of another man feeling up in your arse."
Malfoy says it as if he's making an observation, not passing judgement. Harry doesn't correct him. He's not out yet, doesn't want Malfoy to think he's here for nefarious purposes, trying to tempt him away from his partner.
He simply closes his eyes and gasps out a "yeah." It may have sounded like begging, he's not sure; he doesn't fucking care. But he wants to find out about this all over good feeling, wants to empty his balls, and he wants Malfoy to be the one who does it.
Malfoy massages oil into Harry's arse cheeks, then, with cupped palms, loosens his glutes, making Harry's face flush hotter as he feels them relax and jiggle. Then Malfoy's hands change position, almost like making a cross, one resting on top of his tail bone, the other slanted, pressing sideways between his cheeks, opening him up and touching him in a manner he's never been touched before.
Malfoy stops, and adjusts Harry's towel, then walks around to crouch at his eye level again. Harry looks at him. His eyes are surprisingly warm despite their cool grey colour. He fumbles with his hands then shows them to Harry. He's wearing what look like miniature white condoms on his thumbs and forefingers. They reach the second knuckle – showing he's not going in too deep. Harry shudders a breath. Malfoy's voice is soft and gentle. "If it hurts or if you feel weirded out in any way, tell me to stop. I will. If you want me to slow down, say so. I will."
Harry nods. He's not used to this kinder, gentler – considerate Malfoy. But he's grateful for it.
Malfoy meets his eyes with a measured gaze, seems to see what he needs to see, and then stands back up. He walks back to Harry's right side. Harry watches the flash of white fitted trousers out of sight. How can anybody look that good in white?
Malfoy pushes Harry's towel up so it drapes across his lower back, and starts working his arse cheeks again. Harry's arms are so heavy where they lie at his sides, his full attention on the sensations Malfoy coaxes from his body, bringing his tension to the surface and wiping it away with a swipe of his oiled hands, leaving Harry feeling as thinly spread and light as butter on warm bread. His cock leaks more. He feels the wet spot under his thigh spread under his leg, knows Malfoy can see it, and that thought makes him leak even more.
Malfoy moves his hands back into their cross position, one at the top of his crack, the other sweeping sideways down the cleft of his arse, parting his cheeks, and exposing him fully. The top hand holds his cheeks apart with a firm grip, while he moves the other, running his thumb over the top of Harry's hole in gently teasing circles, his fingers splayed across the side of Harry's right buttock, his thumb massaging Harry's hole until it relaxes.
Harry wonders why nobody ever told him arseholes were so sensitive. He'd slipped a fingertip up it in the past, more out of curiosity than anything. He'd been in the shower, lubed with soap, and it had burned to the point of putting him off the idea. His arse is alive right now, his rim trembling with a want he can't explain. Perhaps it's only because he's as relaxed as the massage has made him that he's able to focus on the pleasure of these touches. Harry can't wait to find out what this prostate thing feels like, and reflexively pushes his hips back as Malfoy rests his thumb at his hole's centre. It slips inside. His arse just swallowed Malfoy's thumb. He takes a deep breath, preparing to have his mind blown, and then releases it, disappointed. There's nothing special about this feeling. He wonders briefly if he's defective, born without a prostate. This just feels like he's got a thumb up his arse. He's about to say something when Malfoy crooks his thumb and touches him – fucking flips his on switch. He shudders, moaning softly with each exhalation, gasping "Yeah, yeah," with each exhalation. And all the while, Malfoy touches that spot, caresses it.
Malfoy's humming, he realises. He's humming along with the background music. Harry swears it makes his thumb vibrate, and the idea of Malfoy's thumb in vibration mode brings up a joyful sensation inside him. He'd dissolve into undignified giggles if he weren't so fucking turned on. He's so fucking turned on and he's not even fully hard! But the wet spot reaches his hip now. He hopes it's only precome, it'd be humiliating to relax to the point he pisses the massage table without noticing, but no. There's no piss smell. There is a heavy and thick smell of come – his arousal washes across his face, into his nose in invisible waves of ohfuckyes. Malfoy is relentless at maintaining his focus, keeping the pressure from going too hard. Harry barely realises Malfoy's softly rocking his hips until he curls the fingers of his left hand, making sure his hand still works, and inadvertently touches Malfoy's half-hard cock through the tent in his trousers. He doesn't curl his fingers again, afraid of chasing Malfoy off, of making him stop, but knowing Malfoy's affected builds his desire to even greater heights.
And then the thumb is gone from inside him. It's still between his cheeks, rubbing over his open rim, brushing the ridges and teasing him to the point he's choking back a sob. Malfoy doesn't remove his hands from Harry's body, though he does move them away from where Harry wants them, kneading his buttocks with gripping palms and that, too, feels brilliant, but he longs to return to the previous intensity.
"I need you on your hands and knees." Malfoy's voice sounds rough, aroused, or it could just be Harry's brain projecting his arousal. He hopes Malfoy doesn't finish him off fast, and then make a mad dash to the next room to jump his partner's bones, leaving Harry used up and discarded on the table, but even if he does, it's not really Harry's business. He swallows his jealousy, and focusses on what's happening now, instead.
His joints feel like jelly as he climbs onto his hands and knees, staring down at his cock, amazed by what he sees. A long strand of clear precome drips from his tip, feeding the enormous wet spot on the sheet, and it almost looks as if it's just a single strand that hasn't broken free until he realises that it's actually a slow and constant drip, a flow. His mind's blown. His cock's not hard at all, though it is swollen with arousal, it could easily harden up with hardly a thought. He's produced more precome here than he thinks he ever has before. He'd never thought it was possible to draw out an orgasm like this before, rather than just force it out in a quick toss, figuring that's all there was to it. The position has him trembling all over, feeling the moderate air cool against his hot skin. He's never – not in a million years – thought that he'd be so willing to put himself at another person's mercy, and he's not even dating Malfoy!
In this position, Harry realises the extent of Malfoy's power over him. He could ask anything of Harry with the threat of withholding what's coming next, and Harry would agree to it. The old Malfoy, the one at school, wouldn't have hesitated to take full advantage of the situation. He half expects to hear that old snide voice whispering in his ear, even as he runs his thumbs down on either side of Harry's crease. Bet you loved that, didn't you, Potter? or I always knew you were a fraud, the chosen captain prefers broomsticks to Snitches. He tells his brain to shut the fuck up and let him enjoy reality for once.
Instead, what Malfoy does say sends him to a place he can only compare to flying. "You're doing brilliantly. Almost ready. I'll make it good for you."
He shudders and shakes, arms trembling so he's afraid they'll give out and he'll fall on his face, but Malfoy lifts him up from underneath, supporting his cock and balls and even supporting the part of his cock that's tucked away inside his pelvis – if that makes any sense – it makes perfect sense to Harry right now.
Malfoy moves one hand up and down the insides of his thighs, each in turn, while the other splays four fingers over the top of his crease, the thumb working its magic to tease his hole open again. And then, the lower hand supports his sac, moves back to hold his cock in a loose grip, and pulls it back, pointing down, while the thumb against his hole slips inside and finds his prostate again.
Harry watches the precome pulse out of his cock, his balls tucked up and tight against the bottom of his crack. His cock grows hard in Malfoy's hand, his eyes move from watching the milking in progress to the side, catching Malfoy's subtly rocking hips, his erection growing in his trousers, tenting them even more, pressing against his tight flies. Malfoy speeds his thumb, brushing Harry's prostate in short strokes of pleasure that have him reeling, and his other hand pulls Harry's cock even further back from his face, so his foreskin slips over the cockhead, while the thumb on his prostate vibrates hard, Malfoy shakes his whole hand with the effort of bringing Harry off.
He's gasping, panting, groaning, pleading, his cock continuing to drip thin streams even as his orgasm is building up inside. Malfoy lets out a sharp huff that sounds a lot like, fuck, yeah, and then Harry's cresting, coming, shuddering, held up by Malfoy's grip on his cock and the thumb up his bum. He's running on pure fumes to keep his arms from giving out under him. The trickle turns to thick white, and he rides it out, pushing his hips back as much as he's able, meeting Malfoy's brilliant thumb until he's milked dry.
Malfoy pumps his cock a few more times, squeezing off the last drips from the tip, and then releases it, his thumb slowly retreating, but not leaving his rim, instead, tracing it with its pad, brushing it down into a relaxed calm. Harry stares down at himself from his hands and knees position, his cock hanging heavy between his thighs, slowly returning to normal, his balls swinging slightly as he comes back to earth.
Malfoy moves his hands again, rubbing them up and down the backs of Harry's thighs, up over his arse cheeks, and over his hips, and then he slowly backs away. The music changes from percussions to winds.
"How the fuck did I have that much come inside of me?" Harry asks, staring at the sheet that's more wet spot than dry in sleepy astonishment.
Malfoy chuckles. "Done staring? I'll dry it off and have you turn over onto your back. We're not quite finished."
Harry nods. What can possibly be left to the whole body treatment? He's been touched everywhere the air can reach, and even places where it can't. He's boneless, exhausted, spent, and yet, glancing again to the side, catching Malfoy subtly adjusting himself, his fully erect cock now clearly trapped sideways in his tailored trousers. Harry thinks he could get hard and come again without much effort.
Malfoy Vanishes the wet spot with a nifty spell that leaves the sheet clean and dry, but as Harry turns over to sit, he realises it still bears his scent. He feels woozy, dizzy, as Malfoy helps him lie down. He shivers, almost violently. Is this supposed to happen? A small inkling of panic tickles his mind, but then Malfoy lifts a heated cotton blanket from under the table and drapes it over Harry's body from the neck down, covering him in warmth. It's brilliant.
"I told you it could get intense." Malfoy's voice isn't chastising, it's validating what he's feeling.
Malfoy moves to the top of the massage table, above Harry's head. His hands no longer wearing the funny little condoms. They're dry and free of oil, still warm when he rests them on Harry's cheeks. "Close your eyes," he whispers, and Harry obeys without a thought. "After an experience like you've just had, it takes some time to fully come back to yourself. It's perfectly natural, and there's nothing wrong or weak about it."
Harry can't even say what a relief it is to hear those words. He relaxes his face and lets Malfoy wash the stress away from all the small hiding places he'd never realised had carried it. Malfoy moves his hands to Harry's scalp next, massaging under his hair – it's impressive. The whole body treatment really lives up to its name. He tries not to wonder how many 'customers' Malfoy offers this service to – tries not to think about how fucking lucky David is to have this man as his partner, and if Malfoy isn't aware of David's fucking around activities, Harry'd like to be the one to teach David a lesson in what's important.
"What are you thinking?" Malfoy asks, combing back Harry's fringe and running his fingertips down the back of his head to the nape of his neck, then starting over in another place.
Harry's not even thinking, he's just answering, obeying, telling the truth. "I'm thinking about how jealous I am."
Malfoy's stops his fingers. Harry opens his eyes, and meets Malfoy's confused expression. "Jealous of what?" he asks, resuming the scalp massage.
Harry sighs, breathes, and closes his eyes again. "You must be a heavenly lover. I'm jealous it's not me who has you."
Malfoy's hands seem to shake, and Harry realises what he'd just said. He snaps his eyes open ready to backtrack, but Malfoy smiles at him. It's a sad little smile.
"I didn't mean … I shouldn't have said that. Can you pretend I didn't say that?"
Malfoy nods, still looking a little sad. How does David treat him to make him look like this? Harry silently vows to keep an eye open for any evidence of David mistreating Malfoy, despite his leave status.
"It's okay. I'm not offended. It's a natural thought progression; hell, I've just had my hands all up in your bits." He's diffusing with humour. Harry recognises it. He hopes to hell Malfoy doesn't think he'd only said what he did because of post-orgasmic bliss, that he's ashamed of desiring Malfoy as a lover. He's not, not in that way. He's ashamed of wanting Malfoy as a lover when he's not even officially divorced and when Malfoy already has a partner. He wishes he could clarify that, but he'd probably only make the sticky situation worse.
The music comes to an end and the lights brighten again. Malfoy removes his hands and helps Harry to sit up on the table.
"Feeling less dizzy? You'll be all right to dress on your own?"
Harry nods again. Malfoy smirks. "All right. I'll leave you to it then. I'm sure I'll see you around. Seems like you're out about town more than you used to be."
Harry catches the reference to them being frequent room neighbours at the Hog's Head, but doesn't say anything. It's possible that David doesn't know where Malfoy stays on those nights, that it's a safe place for Malfoy. He's not even going to risk revealing anything if that is the case. His need to investigate and solve mysteries is newly inspired.
Malfoy turns to leave. "Wait," Harry calls. He turns back. "How much do I owe you?"
Malfoy's lips twitch with unconcealed amusement. "Services like this aren't sold for money, Potter. It's a gift." He winks and leaves Harry stunned, the door closing with a loud click.
As Harry walks back up Diagon Alley, noticing the shops putting out their lights and closing for the day. It's only nine o'clock, but it feels like an entire day has passed since he first entered the massage parlour.
Harry blinks his eyes open against the dark. He hears voices through the thin walls of his room. They're rushed, panicked, sounding like the speaker is trying to whisper, but forgetting how. He climbs out of bed and tiptoes to the door, opening it the slightest crack. It's Blaise escorting Malfoy to his room, but Malfoy's so upset he stops and leans against the wall of the narrow hallway. Harry can only make out snippets of their conversation.
"Imposter … trying to ruin me, take me for all I'm worth … smear campaign … make my child a laughingstock."
Blaise's voice is low and Harry has to strain his ears to catch his response. "But it didn't go down like that, right?"
"No," Malfoy heaves a deep sigh. "But I could sense that was the intention!" His voice is louder, sharper. He seems to catch himself and lowers it again. "If he hadn't been caught and chucked out, he would have seen … he'd have solid evidence to use against me."
"Calm down now," Blaise soothes. "Let's get you in bed and I'll fetch you a Sleeping Draught. You'll feel better in the morning. Scorpius is with your mother?"
"Yes, thank fuck." Malfoy sounds bitter, but relieved.
Blaise opens the door to the next room and Harry backs away from his, not wanting to reveal his position. The only sounds that follow are the click of Malfoy's door closing and Blaise's retreating footsteps.
Harry pulls his door shut without making any noise, his brain buzzing with what he overheard. He climbs back into bed, casts a quick Tempus. It's three in the morning. He pulls his sheet up to his neck and gazes at the shadowy ceiling. He wonders how much involvement David has in this turn of events, wonders how he can get to the bottom of the mystery – preferably without making the situation worse for Malfoy. There's one thing that's certain – Malfoy is in some sort of trouble.
It takes ages for sleep to find him again.
Malfoy munches on a toast triangle, reading the Daily Prophet at his table when Harry walks in. He's on his way to watch the kids for the day. Malfoy doesn't look as ruffled as he had yesterday morning, but he scowls at the paper until he looks up and meets Harry's eyes.
Harry's surprised he doesn't feel embarrassed considering yesterday's massage. Yesterday. "Hey, I thought you only came in on Wednesday and Saturday nights."
Malfoy scowls again, and sets his paper down. He gestures to the empty chair opposite him and Harry takes it. He needs to rush, but not before he hears whatever Malfoy wants to tell him.
"I had an extra engagement last night. Had to fill in for a sick performer." He doesn't say anything about how things had gone to pot, or anything about how panicked he'd been at three o'clock.
Harry studies Malfoy's face. He's wearing a bemused sort of expression that Harry can't quite read. And then he realises he's likely been staring a little too long, and that his time is short. "Well, I've got to run. Ginny's got plans for the day and I'm supposed to be watching the kids."
Malfoy points at the newspaper. "You're divorcing. I just read it in the paper. I'm sorry I didn't ask; I guess I should've realised – why else would you be in here all the time?"
Harry's jaw drops. He reaches for the paper, and stares at the front page, then looks back up. "Fuck. I have no idea how it got in the papers. We weren't planning to announce it until it's finalised." He furrows his brow, studying the headline and accompanying article.
A source close to the family has let it slip the Chosen One and his wife are divorcing after six years of marriage. No word on what brought such a seemingly perfect family to a breaking point. Our investigative reporters are eager to uncover the truth and bring it to the public. When a symbol of hope – like Harry Potter has always been to the wizarding world – shows that even he has cracks under the surface – it's everybody's business. Is this a sign of bad times ahead for all of us?
– Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent
Harry folds the paper, trapping the offensive words in on themselves. "Well, shit." It's all he can think of to say.
Malfoy grunts. "I think you win the worst morning competition today. I thought I had it in the bag, but, yeah. Sorry about that."
Harry shrugs. There's really no use working himself up over the article. It would've come out soon enough anyway. "I suppose we're all entitled to have a bad day on occasion."
Malfoy picks up the paper and opens it, folding the front page to the back. "I'd swap my wand to never have another if I could."
Harry stands up, thinking that statement over. He frowns, then remembers the kids. "I'll see you around," he says and uses the fireplace to travel directly into his former living room. He's got to give Ginny a heads up before she leaves for the day.
Ginny's still wearing her dressing gown when he stops spinning, and then Vanishes the soot from his clothes and the hearth rug.
She's curled up on the sofa, propped up on the armrest, reading a book. She raises her eyebrows at his thoughtless entrance.
"Sorry to burst in on you," he says, collecting himself. "I will always knock at the door in future, but I've just seen that the Prophet got wind of the divorce – wanted to give you time to prepare yourself before heading out today."
"What?" She's not looking at him accusingly anymore, and it's a relief that her anger is focussed on the unknown 'source' rather than on him. "How?"
He shrugs, and takes a seat in one of the armchairs. "I don't know. I don't have a copy of the paper, but I read the article. Skeeter dug it up. She only said it was a 'source close to the family' that 'let the news slip', so I think that means she was buzzing around our family and friends, eavesdropping. I don't think anybody betrayed us."
Ginny frowns, but as Harry had earlier, she seems to deflate under the news. "Well, it would've come out in a few days anyway. Have you received your papers yet?"
He shakes his head. "Next day or two, I reckon." He looks around the quiet room. "Kids still asleep?"
"Let them sleep in a bit. I'll get them up and feed them, figure out someplace we can go where we won't be accosted."
"Harry," her voice is soft, gentle again. "Stay here today. Tell me you'll start looking at houses tomorrow. It's in the papers now, there's no sense in waiting. I don't want the children finding out about what divorce means from curious passers-by or nosy reporters. We'll tell them when I get home tonight?"
The gravity of that conversation seems to pull him down; he feels heavy in his chair. "Yeah, that sounds good." His voice cracks. "I'm going to use the loo, then I'll get out of your way while you get ready."
She smiles. "Thanks."
The children seem to sense the coming change that's going to alter their perspective on what a family looks like, and it's like pulling teeth to get them up, changed – thankfully Al uses the toilet as long as he's allowed to wear his dress – and fed. Albus's Alice dress is starting to show signs of wear already. Stupid cheap Muggle costume quality sewing. Harry wonders if he'll need to go back and buy a replacement, or if the phase will pass before the dress is worn to threads. Maybe he'll have a better quality one made by a magical seamstress, one that can withstand Al's antics.
For lack of a better idea, Harry fills the kids' paddling pool in the back garden and herds them outside. He sets up a folding chair and table for himself, makes a pot of tea, and sits down to observe their play.
James and Lily have burnt out at playacting Alice in Wonderland with Al. They splash about in their pants, Lily's cloth swim diaper sagging low, while Al sets up a miniature tea for his stuffed animals, using Lily's oft ignored play tea set.
"Hello there," a friendly and familiar voice says, and Harry turns to see Arthur walking down the back stairs. "I didn't see anybody in front, and figured you must all be back here."
Harry flicks his wand and another chair pops up beside the table. The kids run over to greet their grandpa, Lily clinging to Arthur's leg, soaking his trousers. He pats her head and sits down, then whips his hat off and puts it on the table.
"Did you find anything else out about microwaves, Grandpa?" James asks, barely concealing his humour. Harry finds it amusing how much the kids get a kick out of how little Arthur seems to know about Muggle technology when he loves it so much. Albus stands back a ways, listening in.
"I couldn't make heads or tails of the manual," Arthur admits, shaking his head sadly. "One of these days you'll have to write me a new one in plain English that even an old codger like me can understand."
James agrees enthusiastically.
"Go on back to the pool for a bit," Harry tells him. "I want a chat."
"Come on, Lils," James says, and holds his hand out to his sister. She toddles off with him, her butt crack on display above her drooping nappy.
Al approaches his grandpa after the other two are back at the pool. "Like my Alice dress, Grandpa?"
Arthur raises his eyebrows and adjusts his glasses as if trying to get a better look at his grandson. "It's wonderful. Are you the Alice from Wonderland then?" He leans over to Harry and says affectionately. "Marvelous Muggle story. I have a copy at home."
"That's right!" Al says, warming up and not standing so stiffly. "See, Dad, Grandpa knows!"
Harry nods and Arthur turns back to Al, leaning toward him now, arms resting on his knees, beckoning him closer. "And did you know there's another book after Wonderland?"
Al's jaw drops and Harry has the urge to try to tell Arthur that he and Ginny are trying to figure out how to discourage this fantasy rather than grow it, but his son's beaming interest makes him bite his tongue.
Arthur laughs heartily. "I'll lend you my copy next time I stop by. It's called Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass and it's marvellous too! You can have your mum read it to you."
Al shakes his head, but is still smiling. "No. Dad reads better."
Arthur accepts that. "Right you are. I'll remember, and if I don't, you can remind me. Agreed?"
Al rushes forward and hugs him around the waist, knocking him back in his chair. Then he returns to his blanket and tells his animals the news about another book.
Harry grins, then sighs. "I hope I'll be able to be as good with my grandchildren as you are with yours."
They settle into a comfortable quiet, watching the kids play as the sun shines a bit higher in the sky. "I don't think you need to worry about that, Harry. You're doing a fine job with these children." He lets out a sigh. "Ginny mentioned the reason you and she are divorcing the other day."
Harry's heart swoops lower as Arthur continues.
"I saw the divorce mentioned in the paper this morning. It's going to be a busy time at the office, with people badgering me for information and such, but you have my word I won't speak against you in any way. You and Ginny have Molly's and my full support." He scratches at his bald patch a moment and looks with shifty eyes at Harry. "She's having a little more of a struggle handling the news. She's always been a little more traditionally minded when it comes to marriage and …" He gestures as if searching for the right word. "… and orientation." He rests his palms on his lap and sits up, back straight. "But not to worry. She's adaptable. She asked Charlie to bring his boyfriend around, but he swears he hasn't got one currently, so instead, know what she's doing?"
Harry shakes his head, marvelling at Arthur's eccentricities.
"Any time she catches a hint of another gay young man, she tries to get him round for tea when Charlie's visiting." Arthur bursts out laughing. "She's such a wonderful mother, doesn't want to see any of her young ones live a lonely life."
He seems to crumple slightly again and Harry has the sense that there's something more Arthur wants to say, but is holding back for whatever reason. Harry clears his throat. "I want to apologise to you, Arthur."
Arthur looks at him, a crease between his eyebrows. "Whatever for?"
Harry takes a deep breath and releases it. "I've already apologised to Ginny, but I'm still carrying a lot of guilt. I have a feeling I'll have even more apologies to offer up as time goes on, and I don't know, I end up pouring salt in the wound, I suppose."
Arthur nods. "There's nothing shameful about being gay, Harry. It's taken years and years – for the world to advance its views – to see that clearly."
"Yeah," Harry says, remembering the story Kingsley had told him. "But I really needed to apologise for lying to her – to you all, all the people I love – for so long. My upbringing …"
Arthur's expression darkens as it always does at the mention of Harry's relatives. "Is it really lying though, Harry, when you hadn't come to terms with it yourself – until you did?"
Harry's surprised by the question. He hadn't mentioned that to Arthur. Perhaps Ginny had shared it.
"Ginny said it was. I was aware of my attractions. I just hoped they'd pass if I ignored them, or replaced them with, well, her."
"I understand," Arthur's face is kindly and his balding head beaded with sweat from being out in the sun."
"Shall we head inside?" Harry offers, preparing to stand.
"Wait a moment. There's something else I should … rather, something else that comes to mind after talking about the subject, that I want to say."
Harry relaxes back in his chair, watching the kids, making sure they're all still occupied and not getting into trouble. "Sure."
"I knew somebody, a young man, back at school who struggled with his sexuality. Back then, it was different than it is today. The world, I mean. It has grown, changed for the better. But I've always wondered about him, what sort of life he would have had if the pressures of society were different, and, of course, if the coming of the first war with Voldemort wasn't looming over everybody's head." He shakes his head sadly. "No. It doesn't do to dwell on what-ifs now." He wipes the top of his head with his handkerchief and stuffs it in his pocket. "The point is, Harry. You came out. You took a stand that the generation before you didn't. You're showing this new generation that change is happening and you're helping make it happen. With your name – forgive me, I know how much you dislike being thought of as a figurehead – but just think about how much hope you will inspire when you stand tall and proud of accepting yourself as you are. I think you're a hero still, to those who are still living in the closet."
Harry's never thought about it like that before. He thinks of how much he detests public speaking and being lauded as a hero, when he's just doing what, in his mind, any decent person should do. But who is he to say what's decent and what's not? Those who are afraid of losing their loved ones, of disappointing other people, they aren't not decent. Hell, he was one of them. It takes a huge amount of courage to take the step he did, and, he recalls, he only managed to find the courage after nearly succumbing to the shame. If his coming out could ease that strain – offer that much more encouragement to another person, or even a child who finds themselves in the same boat – It wouldn't be decent to not give that to them.
"So you think I should come out to the public in a memorable way?"
Arthur grins mischievously, the Fred and George part of him showing on his face. "Definitely. Shock them out of their socks."
Thoughts of the coming gala and the speech Kingsley asked him to give rise fully formed in his mind's eye as if he's had a plan to use that speech to do exactly this the entire time, but hadn't realised it until it was triggered by their conversation.
"All right then," Arthur says. He gets to his feet and pats his pockets. "I think I'll be off, I'll just say goodbye to the grandkids first."
"Just a minute," Harry says, thinking about Kingsley's story and the similarities to Arthur's. "This person back at school. He wasn't Kingsley Shacklebolt, was he?"
Arthur's hat falls out of his hands and hits the grass. "Whoops," he says, and bends to retrieve it. He slaps it on his head and adjusts his glasses. "No, not him." He smiles and sighs. "He told you about his past, did he?"
"Yeah, just a little bit. He sounded a lot like you, talking about times changing. He said he always wondered if it had been different, if he wouldn't have missed out on the love of his life." He shrugs. "He didn't name names, but it's a real shame when I think about it. Lost love, you know?"
Arthur sighs again, looking down at his shoes, frowns. "That it is. Very sad to consider. He's done well for himself, though, made his way all the way to the top job. I'll see you soon, Harry. Don't be a stranger."
Arthur Disapparates, forgetting his farewell to the grandkids.
Harry turns to his little ones. Lily's nappy is off and discarded in the grass beside the pool. James looks over at the crack of Arthur's Disapparation. "I'm hungry!"
Albus perks up at the mention of food. "Me too!"
Lily shivers and holds her arms out for Harry to pick her up. "Brrrr!"
He whips up a towel with his wand and lifts her out of the pool with it. "Lunch time it is."
James starts shivering next. "Where's my towel?"
Al is delighted when Harry opens the book to the newest chapter and reads the title aloud. "A Mad Tea Party".
"Wow! I had a tea party today!"
Harry savours having his children piled all around him. He really is the luckiest father in the world.
By the time Ginny gets home the children are fast asleep and Harry paces the living room, his shoes on, his coat over his arm. He loves being here with the kids, but the house feels like a bad fit when he's by himself in it. It oughtn't feel that way, but after packing the last of his clothes and a few odds and ends that are useless to Ginny, he feels like he's ready to strike out and make his own place, and leave this one to become hers.
She tosses her equipment bag on the floor and sinks onto the sofa. "I had a day." Her voice drips sarcasm. "Every reporter for the Daily Prophet was buzzing around the practice field – complete ruckus. You'd think there's more going on in the world than our divorce, wouldn't you?" She kicks her shoes off and rests her feet on the coffee table.
"Yeah, I can imagine," Harry says. He's anxious to get out the door, but knows he needs to talk to her first. "The kids are out cold so we'll have to tell them about it tomorrow."
She looks startled. "Oh shit. I'm sorry, Harry. It completely slipped my mind."
Harry nods, shrugs. "It's all right. Look, I just want you to know, as much as I can, I'll help out, make this easier to bear. We're okay money-wise, and with me off work I really do enjoy being with the kids. I'm actually …" He pauses, considers. He's already decided it; it's time to share his decision with her. "…I'm going to leave the force."
Her eyes go wide. "Really?"
"It's not good for me. Too much …" He can't quite find the words he needs. "It's all too much." Figures that says it just as well.
"Tomorrow's my off day, Harry," Ginny reminds him as he's about ready to open the door, his suitcase and knick knacks shrunk and tucked away in his pockets. "Come by and we'll tell the kids, but then…"
She doesn't finish. She doesn't need to.
"I'll be out of your hair. I'm planning to start house shopping in earnest. It'll be my turn to deal with the reporters. Oh, and your dad stopped by. We had a good chat."
"He say anything embarrassing?" Ginny asks. She massages one of her feet.
"Not really. Good night," he says and leaves.
Harry follows the Muggle realtor into the third house for sale on her list, then pulls his watch out of his pocket and checks the time. He's torn between wanting to get the divorce talk with the kids over and done with, and with wanting to put it off as long as he possibly can.
The house is a simple up and down connected to half a dozen others on the street, reminiscent of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, but in a much more well kept area. It's close enough he can walk to see the kids without putting himself out and, he can't help but notice, is also only a few blocks from the gay club he's itching to visit. The divorce papers had arrived earlier and he'd signed them and returned them with the Ministry owl. After the paperwork is processed he'll officially be single again. It's a bittersweet notion.
He realises the realtor has been trying to get his attention and apologises for letting his mind wander. "I'll take it," he tells her. "Where do I sign?"
She gapes at him like he's off his nut. "Well, the process takes…" He stops listening. He kicks himself for doing it afterwards, but puts his hand in his pocket and grips his wand. All it takes is a quick Confundus Charm and a couple of suggestions, and he pays the full amount the buyers have listed and she hands over the keys. He's now a homeowner again, having forfeited ownership of his former house to Ginny as part of their divorce agreement.
The realtor leaves and he makes quick work of installing anti-intruder wards. He walks down his new front steps and starts walking toward the Leaky Cauldron, making a quick detour to check the hours the club is open. He's single. He's gay. He needs to find a man willing to show him how good it feels to mess around in all the ways he's dreamed about, hoping it will help put him off his inconvenient feelings for Draco. After that massage, he doubts they will go away without a fight.
The club entrance is a tall wooden door, painted black, and set into an alcove in a solid brick building. Its windows are coated with reflective paint, so people can look out, but nobody can see in. He likes the concept. There's a notice pinned to the door under a sign made of light bulbs that spell out Dancing Divas in capital letters. The bulbs aren't lit and Harry wonders at the name. He'd always thought of the diva title as relating to women. But over the past couple years of distance watching, he's noticed the vast majority of the club's patrons are men.
He reads the pinned-up notice.
Opening tonight at 9 PM!
Drizella will be dancing!
Pay at the door
And written in purple ink beneath the typeset notice reads a handwritten addition:
We reserve the right to turn any person away for any reason. Don't Push Your Luck.
Hell, in for a knut, in for a galleon. He's going to go in tonight. The time is right. He has a spring in his step and a song in his heart and is feeling just about as awesome as the first time he held his wand, bringing his magic into focus – until he reaches the walk leading to Ginny's front steps. The good feelings fly away, as if his body knows that appearing too chipper when pulling the rug from under his children's feet isn't such a great idea.
Molly and Arthur are in the kitchen when Ginny invites him in. He can hear them bickering. He swallows around a lump in his throat.
"Did you get your papers this morning?" Ginny asks in a low voice as he kicks off his shoes.
"Yes. I signed them and sent them off."
She nods grimly. Her face looks set in stone. His heart hurts.
"I did too."
He follows her into the kitchen wondering where the children are.
Molly stands up as soon as she sees him and pulls him into a breath-stealing hug. She seems to be simultaneously sobbing and chuckling. He pokes her gently in the ribs when he can't hold his breath any longer and she loosens her tight hold, but doesn't release him. She stands with her hands on his cheeks smiling up at him with tears tracking her face. She has more wrinkles than she used to, but she still bears the shining beauty of a woman full to the top with love, and it seems to make her glow.
"Harry, dear." She seems to realise she may be making him uncomfortable, but he's not. He feels extremely blessed to be counted as one of her own. She drops her hands and steps back a pace. "How are you holding up?"
He tells the truth. "It's not been easy." He looks to Ginny where she's standing with her back to the counter and watching her mother fawn over her ex-husband. "But Ginny and I have been making it work the best we can. Where are the kids?"
Ginny snorts, then smirks. "I'm about to go up and check on them again. I'll call you up in a few minutes." She leaves.
Molly takes her seat again and motions that Harry should sit too. He does. Arthur sips his tea. "We've talked to Ginny, Harry … about how it was with Charlie. He took about as long as you did to come out. I do wish he'd have done it sooner ... that I would have known … that you would have felt comfortable telling us before …" She dabs at her eyes using the handkerchief Arthur passes her. "But that's neither here nor there. Your children are precious and I'd not change circumstances if it meant they'd never been born."
Arthur stands up. "I'll be in the loo." He pats Molly's shoulder, a sad sort of shadow crossing his face, but disappearing just as quickly when she looks up at him. He smiles and kisses her soundly on the lips before swooping out of the room, leaving her flustered.
"I don't know what's got into that man lately," she says, dabbing at her pinked cheeks with the handkerchief. "He's all over me like bowtruckles on woodlice." Harry grimaces. He doesn't need that image, but what strikes him is how these two have made their marriage work for so long. They've grown together. He hopes that one day he will find a partner he can have that with, and then guilt rises in him again, followed by shame at having failed to find it with Ginny.
"The point I was making," Molly continues and Harry listens bemusedly. He'd not realised she'd been trying to make a point. "We love you no matter what and are thankful you'll always be a part of our family. Your children are wonderful people. Considering what's going on with Albus right now ... We've talked to Ginny and think you're making the right choice to let him have the comfort this Alice play gives him. I suspect that he'll not need to be Alice as soon as he realises that we'll love him no matter what, that he's safe in trusting us no matter who he is. He'll drop it when he's ready, but it has to be his choice and in his own time, you know?"
Harry agrees. "I'm planning to talk about it with Rolf Scamander. He's my therapist. I hope he can get me in soon, but Luna's going to have her twins any day now."
She claps her hands to her chest. "Twins! How wonderful." And then she sniffles. "Oh, Freddie."
Arthur comes back into the room and stares at his weeping, smiling, confusing-the-hell-out-of-Harry wife and clears his throat. "We'd best be off." He helps Molly to her feet and wraps an arm around her shoulders. "Wish you the best of luck."
They Disapparate, leaving Harry with his thoughts.
"Harry," Ginny calls from upstairs. "You want to come on up?"
He gets to his feet and stares at the table. This is it. The moment of truth. It's either going to be a huge relief to get this conversation over with, or everything's going to explode and they'll be picking up the pieces for the foreseeable future.
"Don't be such a defeatist," he tells himself and walks up the staircase taking turns chastising his mind and embracing it.
He finds the kids sitting on James's bed with Ginny. They seem to know something's about to happen when he walks into the room. Ginny must have prepared them for a 'family meeting'.
"What's going on, Dad?" James asks, his voice tinged with fear.
"Is it bad?" Albus adds.
Lily sits in Ginny's lap and fiddles with the ends of her mother's long hair.
Ginny looks at Harry, and he realises she expects him to start the conversation.
He sits on the side of Al's bed, facing them. "Your mother and I have something to tell you," he starts.
"Like when you were going to have Lily?" James butts in. "You're having another baby?"
"Not quite," Harry says, hating having to crush James's clinging to hopeful news. "We love you all very much and that won't ever change. But …" His words fail him. How can he get through saying it without crushing them?
Ginny saves him. "What Daddy's trying to say is that he and I haven't been happy living with each other for a while. We're splitting up. You know how Daddy's not been sleeping at home, lately? It's just going to be like that from now on. You'll still get to see him and me a lot, just not … together … not all the time."
"So …" Albus hesitates. "Daddy's still going to read Alice in Wonderland?"
"Yes," Harry exclaims. "Absolutely. And now that Mum's playing for the Harpies, I'm going to be watching you kids more than ever. I even bought a new house today. It's just the right size. So instead of only having one bedroom, you'll actually have two."
James seems to chew over that statement for a while. "But we'll still see you a lot, too, Mum … won't we?" He asks Ginny.
"Of course." Ginny seems to brim with the same flicker of nerves and even a bit of hope that Harry's feeling. "It's really not going to change how much we are your mum and dad. We're just not going to be husband and wife anymore. But all of us will always be a family."
Albus nods. "That's good." He looks longingly at the book on James's nightstand.
"I don't get it," James says, and Harry senses his luck running out on this conversation having a happy ending. "How do you just not be married any more? Why?"
Ginny and Harry exchange worried glances. He's going to have to tell them the truth, and hopes they'll understand. "Umm," Harry stammers, then sighs. "Well, it's like this, James." He's not sure what he's going to say next or how to broach the subject of what it means to be gay, or worse still, why he married Ginny when he knew he was gay. "Do you remember how …"
Ginny shakes her head, ending his thought. She's right. Charlie came out three years ago. James probably has no memory of any of the goings-on among the adults at that time. "Let me start?"
He gestures for her to go right ahead, relieved as anything to be able to hand it off until he wraps his head around his words.
"Mummy and Daddy got married right after a bad war. You've heard the stories about all the heroic things Daddy did, yes?"
James and Albus nod. Lily sucks her thumb, her eyelids drooping.
"Wars are scary times. People want to find a safe place to be when they are going on and especially when they're over. Daddy and I wanted that too. We wanted to be with somebody who we trusted and made us feel safe and loved."
Harry's guilt starts rising up again, but it won't do any good to let it turn him into a blubbering idiot at this point – not in front of the children.
"Like a bad dream?" Albus asks. "Then I crawl in bed with you?" He's looking at Ginny. And Harry's heart sinks again. It's true that over the years their sleeping habits haven't queued up very well, and had only been getting worse. Albus only ever seemed to have nightmares when Harry was on a late-night mission. He tells himself he'll make it better, that leaving the force will have him there when the kids are asleep in his new house and they won't feel like he's never around.
"That's right," Ginny says. Her voice is soft, and she puts her arm around her youngest son, the one that's not propping up Lily, who's fallen asleep and is in danger of slipping off her lap to the floor. "Just like that."
"So what's wrong with that?" James asks, drawing them back to his main concern. "I don't get it."
Harry takes over when Ginny looks at him. "The problem, James, is that I was so scared of not feeling safe and loved that I wasn't honest with your mum about what I really needed. That I had doubts I was making the right decision in marrying her, but I didn't tell her about them."
"You lied to mum?" Albus's accusation hits him like a blow to the chest.
"I was scared." Harry repeats. "But that's not a good excuse. I've apologised to her and told her the truth, and thankfully your mum is one of the best people in the world and she's working with me to make this whole thing not hurt you guys."
Ginny sighs. "I'm working on reaching forgiveness, Al. It's important to be able to forgive the people we love when they say they're sorry. But I'm not sorry we did have the time we did together." She looks at Harry while speaking. He feels his eyes getting misty. "I don't regret having any of you, and if Daddy hadn't been scared and had told me before, we might not have had you. So there's a bright side to the way it all happened, right?"
James stares at his feet, just absorbing it all. At least, Harry thinks he is, he hopes he hasn't lost interest. "What was the lie?" He hadn't got bored.
Harry feels his face redden. Then chastises himself for feeling embarrassed. He needs to start not letting the old shame keep him from telling the truth. He should show a good example of how to do it right, starting with his kids.
"I'm gay." There, he said it. That wasn't so bad.
Al cocks his head to the side. "What's that?"
Harry clears his throat, and raises an eyebrow at Ginny. She smirks at him as if to say, oh no, this is all on you to explain and I'm going to enjoy watching you do it. "It's when you're attracted to, in a …" he gestures, searching for age appropriate descriptions. "… in a way that you'd want to marry somebody … I'd likely be happier if I married another man instead of a woman."
He cringes at how stupid that sounds to his own ears, but James seems to get it right away.
"Oh! Like Uncle Charlie. He's always pointing out blokes he thinks are cute!"
Al listens to James. "Oh. Like that, Dad?"
Harry exhales, and nods. "Yeah. Pretty much like that."
Al seems to brighten with understanding. "Oh, good. I won't have to worry about that then when I grow up. I already know I want to marry a man."
Harry and Ginny gape at him. Harry doesn't know why he's surprised, but he is. He's about ready to ask Al if he's sure, then bites his tongue. Perhaps, he too, had known he was gay at age four. He can't recall; he'd tamped those memories down deep.
"Yeah, and since I'm a girl, I don't have to lie about being gay."
There's so much his son has just misunderstood, Harry doesn't know where to begin. Then he relaxes a bit. Al is still wearing his Alice dress, so he must be still playacting as Alice. And then what he said makes sense.
"But if you were gay," Harry says, turning to James, and nodding toward Lily, “any of you, we hope that you'd be comfortable and safe with us enough to not feel like you need to lie about it. I came from a very different situation growing up than you kids."
Al nods. Then changes the subject. "Will you read Alice now? I want to know what happens next."
And like that, the conversation is over, and without tears or fears of abandonment. He should be happy about it, but Al's insistence on being Alice still has him concerned. Ginny stands up, and lifts Lily up to her shoulder.
"I'll put her in her cot and let you get on with the story."
Harry lies back on Al's bed and accepts the book as Al puts it in his hand. He's not going to stir up emotions any more tonight by asking Al to take off his dress for washing. James crawls into his own bed and turns on his side under his blankets.
"I love you even when you're gay, Dad," he says. It's such a weird statement to hear from his son, but it lightens his soul a bit and he's grateful for it.
"Me too," Al says and opens the book to the right page, and points at the title. "Now read."
Harry chuckles as he reads, "The Queen's Croquet Ground".
After the kids have fallen asleep, Harry and Ginny have a rushed whispered conversation. She's more disturbed by Al's earlier insistence that he is a girl and planning to marry a man when he grows up than Harry is, though Harry does admit the statement, along with the playacting as Alice, has been tickling the back of his brain for a while.
"I need a day or two to myself," Ginny tells him. "Work some of my feelings out, you know?" He nods. "Go on and use the fire to see about getting an appointment to talk to Rolf about Albus. We need help before we decide on a plan, and he's worn his poor dress to the point it needs replacing."
"All right. If you want to go on upstairs, I'll finish up with the fire and be out of your way."
"Thanks," she says, and he hears the crack in her voice that tells him she's barely holding it together. She leaves the room and he can hear her rushed footsteps all the way up the stairs.
He tosses Floo powder into the fire, and sticks his head in. When his head stops spinning, he calls Rolf's name.
Rolf appears after about a minute, rushing into his and Luna's living room. "Harry, this is it. The babies are on their way!" He beams, his pride radiating off him.
"Congratulations!" Harry says, but realises the plan is a bust. "I need to see you as soon as I can to talk about my middle child, Albus. But I see you've got your hands full."
"I'll let you know when I have an hour, Harry. I can't promise anything right now, but as soon as things calm down, I will fit you in."
"Thanks. I really appreciate it. Tell Luna I'm cheering for her."
He pulls his head out of the fireplace and feels very out of place. He tosses more Floo-powder into the flames and returns to the Leaky Cauldron. He dusts the soot from his clothes, and imagines his worries are falling from his body along with the ashes.
He leaves through the back door and steps into Diagon Alley. It's only a quarter til eight; the kids went down earlier than usual, but Harry supposes Ginny planned it that way in case the conversation carried on later, or to give herself some quiet time if it went well. He's happy it did.
He stops short when he spots Malfoy about a block ahead of him, carrying Scorpius on his shoulders as they look in the shop windows before they close. Narcissa Malfoy walks beside them and Harry has the strangest instinct to not be noticed. He ducks down and sits on an empty bench outside the apothecary, mostly hidden by a tall potted plant. He can hear Malfoy and Scorpius's happy banter.
"But I neeeed to see it now. David says it's the fastest broom ever made!"
"And it will be there tomorrow. Look they're sweeping up inside, it's nearly closing time."
"Pleeeease, Dad," Scorpius insists. "Just a quick look?"
Narcissa pats Malfoy on the shoulder. "I think you ought to, Draco. You wouldn't want David to be the one who ends up taking him to see it, would you?"
"Not at all," Malfoy says, chuckling. He sweeps Scorpius off his shoulders and sets him down. "Are you going to come, too?"
"I'll stay out here. I have plans to locate a place to sit and rest while you two have fun looking at broomsticks."
Harry watches Malfoy hold the door to Quality Quidditch Supplies open for his son to enter first, then follows. And then, he knows Narcissa intends to talk to him and deliberately got her son and grandson out of earshot to accomplish it. He's never been very good at stealth.
"Mr Potter," she says as she approaches. She takes a seat beside him, holding her head high, and turns to look down her nose at him. Harry wonders what she could possibly want. "Draco's mentioned you a number of times recently. I've heard you are friendly towards him."
Harry's taken aback a little at that. "I have enjoyed getting to know him a bit, as much as he'll let me, at any rate." He doesn't want to say the wrong thing to Draco's mother, not that he has a chance in hell with Draco, but on the off-chance…
Narcissa's lips twitch, but she doesn't smile. She looks to her left and right as if expecting to be spotted, but the only people nearby are passing them by and paying no notice to either of them.
"What's the matter?" Harry asks, attempting to read her body language and failing.
"Come with me," she says. She stands up faster than he expects a woman of her age to be able to. He follows as she pulls him into a tucked away corner behind the apothecary's rubbish bins. Harry waits, listening. "I have the sense I'm being followed, watched." Her voice is calm and she speaks in low tones he has to concentrate on to hear, but she's got his full attention. "I'm afraid Draco may be in some sort of trouble, Scorpius too, but I can't actually prove it."
Harry wrinkles his forehead, understanding finally. She's asking for help from him as an Auror. "That dodgy bloke, David," he says. "Is he involved at all?"
She shrugs, not making any sudden movements that may draw attention to their position, even her lips seem to not move as much as a person normally would when they speak. "I'm not sure. He seems to be a godsend, but it almost feels like Draco meeting him when he did was a bit too perfect timing. Draco needed help getting his business going, gaining the public's confidence and then David turned up with all these simple solutions to complicated problems. He seems to provide Draco with the …" she lowers her voice even more at the next word, "…companionship he desperately needs, but had all but given up on finding. He'd given up on finding a life partner, and decided to father Scorpius on his own." She stamps her foot so softly Harry's surprised he even caught it. "I wish I knew for certain that Draco is content with David, but my son has always been a little … sharp around the edges."
"What else have you noticed?" Harry asks. He's starting to feel her nervousness creeping down his own spine. "Anything else that strikes you as unusual?"
"Well, David seemed to have taken to Draco from the very start. And then something happened; Draco began receiving threats to his business – some of Lucius's old acquaintances, I'm afraid. Draco won't go into detail with me about his problems. He's worse than his father. But David offered to buy half the business, so Draco would have additional security. Surely they wouldn't be able to touch the business if it was owned jointly by a man who has money and security. The threats did stop for a time after Draco accepted the proposal, but I think they've begun again, and I think whoever is behind them is ramping up their stakes. As I said, I'm feeling watched, too. I didn't have this sense the first time around."
"You trust David with Scorpius?" Harry asks, the case McLaggen mentioned to him sets off his internal alarm bells.
"Draco assures me he's trustworthy and Scorpius seems to take to him, but …" She pulls her cloak a little tighter around herself. "I don't apologise for it, but I set the house-elves to watch him without being seen whenever he's with Scorpius. So far he's done nothing suspicious. While I trust my son with my life, I do admit that Draco's character judgement of some people isn't the best."
"I don't know what to tell you," Harry says, rubbing at the back of his head. "I've seen David around a few times and even in Muggle London, but Malfoy, er – Draco wasn't around." He remembers the way David had seemed to entrance him, and how he'd given into the snog before he even realised what was happening. He wonders if the man may have a nefarious power over people, like the Veela have over people who watch them dance. He doesn't want to alarm her any more than she already is, though, and doesn't mention it. Instead, he settles on a mostly-truth. "From what I've seen, he seems to be not quite … dedicated? I mean when it comes down to companionship."
Narcissa closes her eyes and Harry has the sense that while she's accepted Malfoy and his orientation, she doesn't like to dwell on it. "I feared as much."
"Look," Harry says, and she opens her eyes again to meet his. She's right at his eye level. "I'm afraid I can't do anything in an Auror capacity, Mrs Malfoy, not while I'm on leave. Can I talk to somebody on the force who I trust, who may be able to do more?"
"I'd appreciate it." She shakes his hand. "I have to get back. I'll lead Draco and Scorpius to the Leaky Cauldron if you don't want to be seen by him. That's why you were sitting behind the plant, yes?"
He flushes, and nods, glad of the shadows cast by the overhanging roofs for hiding it. She leaves with a whirl of her cloak. A minute later, Harry hears the Malfoys chatting about the coolest broomstick ever as they pass him by and disappear into the Leaky.
He's not sure what he should do about Narcissa's worries. She's got nothing on David, no proof of wrongdoing other than a hunch. He writes off telling McLaggen about it without a thought, then wonders who on the force he does trust. It's too bad Ron left when he did, then Harry'd never have been paired with McLaggen in the first place. Kingsley's not on the force any longer, but had been for a long time before advancing. And Harry trusts him. He decides to contact him, if only for advice as to who he can trust. His stomach drops again when he thinks about telling Kingsley of his plans to leave.
He dashes to the post office and because he's Harry Potter, they welcome him to take his time despite being ready to close. He's not planning to spending ages, and jots down the key points Narcissa mentioned. The way she carried herself, her fear, the sensation of being followed, the circumstances surrounding Malfoy's business. Then he recalls his bad experience going into a danger zone without back up and decides to come clean about his plans for the night.
I'm telling you about Narcissa Malfoy's concerns because I can't, in good conscience, hear something like this and not pass it on. I promise to not get in the thick of things and to follow the terms of my leave. Also, I want to mention to you my plans for the evening and trust you'll keep them between us. My divorce is final now, and I'm planning to visit a Muggle gay club called Dancing Divas. I wouldn't mention it to you at all, except the man Mrs Malfoy mentioned, this David bloke – I've seen him standing outside the club before. If something strange does happen, if I end up missing or something, that's where I've been. I don't want to end up like I did when I earned my leave of absence because I didn't tell somebody.
He sends the owl, thanks the postmaster, and checks his watch. It's half past eight. He has a half hour to get ready and makes his way down Diagon Alley, thinking he'll Disapparate to his new house until he remembers he hasn't moved anything into it yet. He stops. He catches his reflection in a shop window. He's going to stick out like a sore thumb dressed like he is.
"Hey, are you Harry Potter?"
He looks up to see who's called his name. It's a fit young bloke wearing just the sort of outfit he's seen the people queued up to enter the club wearing. He's carrying a sandwich board advertising for Twilfitt and Tatting under his arm.
"Yeah," he says, thinking fast. "Do you work at the shop?" He gestures to the clothing in the window. The lights are out inside.
"That I do," the bloke tells him. He attempts to hold out a hand, but nearly drops the board. "Name's Roger. It's an honour to meet you."
"Could you possibly help me out of a jam?" Harry asks. "See, there's a club I'm going to tonight. It's … It's in Muggle London, but I am not at all wearing the right clothes and I'd like to …" He gestures at Roger's fitted black trousers and fashionably ripped shirt.
Roger grins broadly. "Please come in. I'll fit you myself."
Harry takes a deep breath and steps over the threshold, putting his trust in Roger not to make him look idiotic.
It's after nine when Roger finishes with him and Harry feels like a twit in the tight black trousers and odd top. It's a mix of what Roger's wearing, ripped T-shirt material, but it's softer than any T-shirt he's ever worn and it tapers around his waist almost giving him the sensation he's wearing a corset, but it doesn't restrict his movement. Roger adds some sort of potion to his hair and manages to make it appear purposefully tousled rather than the absentminded professor-like disaster it normally looks like. Roger straps a couple of leather bands onto Harry's arms and adds a silver belt to 'give some depth to the concept', whatever that means. But when he looks at himself in the mirror after he's been trussed up, he knows he made the right choice letting Roger have at him. He'll blend right in with the crowd in this outfit.
He pays Roger for his trouble and adds a couple of galleons for a tip. Roger winks at him as he leaves and damn it all if that didn't just set his pulse racing.
Harry approaches the entrance to Dancing Divas and finds a queue lined up and around the block. A young man with his hair done up in a purple mohawk checks identification cards and takes entrance fees at the door, and behind him stands David. Only David doesn't have his usual slacks and shirt on anymore. He's decked out in black leather trousers and his dark brown hair is teased into spikes. He's wearing a tight white T-shirt that's stretched so taut over his chest, Harry can see his nipples through it and the definition of his abs. David seems to be overseeing the people as they enter, a name badge hanging round his neck from a lanyard. The name on it reads Gryphon.
Harry blinks, shakes his head, and looks again to make sure he's seeing things right. Then he takes off his glasses and whispers a cleaning spell at them before joining the queue. It could be that he and Narcissa have been reading David all wrong. Perhaps the reason he's here is because he works here. Maybe it's a part-time gig? But that doesn't explain why he'd shoved Harry up against the wall and snogged him senseless … unless he and Malfoy have one of those open relationships Harry's only just learned exist.
"Hey," David calls. Harry looks up as David holds up the admission process and walks over to him. "As I live and breathe, you're back. Come with me, there's no waiting in the queue for you."
Harry follows, not liking being singled out, but the people in front of him don't make a fuss, they hardly seem to notice Harry's being led past them. He pats his trousers for his billfold, but David shakes his head, noticing.
"Don't even worry about it, er – what would you like me to call you? While I'm here, I'm known as Gryphon." He pats his lanyard.
"I'm not sure," Harry says. He really hasn't thought this all out well at all. There are names you use other than your own name at clubs?
They pass the guy with the mohawk. "Spike, this one's a VIP. Give him the stamp."
Spike looks at Harry with a bored expression, digs around in the drawer on his lap, and pulls out a rubber stamp. He stamps Harry's hand so it reads Diva's Choice in shining purple ink, and then Gryphon pushes Harry's through the door.
"I've gotta finish up with this lot, then I'll come and find you," Gryphon tells him and turns back to the queue.
Harry wanders into a large room set with tables and chairs around the edges of a polished wooden floor at the centre. Most of the tables are unoccupied and a good number of men dressed in fashion similar to Harry mill about the open floor.
The lights hang from the ceiling, balls of white, spreading just enough of a soft glow to illuminate about a 3 foot circumference beneath them. They're scattered, throwing some areas into darkness. He understands why when he passes a couple of blokes with their hands down each other's trousers. But nobody seems to find it unusual.
Harry approaches the bar set off to the right. The barman waves his money away when he tries to pay, pointing to Harry's stamp. "VIPs don't pay." Harry hardly thinks that's fair and drops his Muggle bills into a glass bowl with a placard sitting on top that reads Donations go to support the Albert Kennedy Trust. He's not sure what that is, but if it's a charity, he'll feel better about accepting the drink if he donates his money.
He finds a place to stand, out of the way of the dance floor, where several blokes lean up against a long and tall table. They're all drinking and talking, and waiting for something to happen, though whatever it is, Harry's still not sure. He looks around. He doesn't get the same sensation that he does in most public places in wizarding London, like people are watching him and whispering his name. Here, he blends in with the crowd. A few pairs of eyes settle on him occasionally as they also scope out the room, but it feels like they're appreciating his outfit, and not ogling famous Harry Potter. It's a nice feeling.
He vaguely wonders why Gryphon would offer him a VIP pass, but figures it does have to do with his all-too-famous name. His eyes pick out all the blokes with blond hair before he realises he's looking around for Malfoy, and tells himself to knock it off. If Malfoy was here with Gryphon, it would be awkward and make him needlessly jealous. He'd seen Malfoy with his mother and son only an hour ago. It's better that he's not here. Perhaps he'll find somebody who will keep his mind from wandering back to the most amazing fucking massage in the world, but somehow, he doubts that's possible.
After a few more minutes of people watching, he finishes his drink, and starts thinking about fetching another when he realises there are women here, too. They wander through the growing crowd, flirting with the men. It takes another couple of minutes for him to realise they are actually men dressed in women's clothing. Nobody appears to find it at all odd. He really is clueless when it comes to the gay club scene. He's thinking he ought to do some research before coming in again, and then his mind wanders back to the years of repression growing up with the Dursleys.
His bitterness must show on his face because a bloke joins him and nudges him with an elbow. "You, too, eh?" he asks. He sounds miserable. Harry looks at him, surprised. "Broken heart?"
"What?" Harry asks. "No, not really, just lost in thought."
The bloke pays him no mind and keeps talking. "Yeah, my Mike ran out on me; s'been about a week now. No love, no cock, no nuffink. Hard life. See, it started way back at school …" And Harry has to tune him out. This isn't what he came in for.
The lights begin to dim and a hush falls over the crowd. Harry looks to the front of the room, only now realising the grand red curtain against the wall is actually a stage curtain. A show is about to start.
"…An' then they tossed me out on my arse; sure, I may have been fryin' balls at the time, I don't really recall…"
"That's enough out of you for now, Pete. Drizella's coming on." Gryphon is back. He grabs the bloke around his arm and leads him to one of the smaller tables, pushes him into a chair, and returns to the table where Harry's standing. "You'll like this," he tells Harry. The lights go out and a pair of spotlights meet at the centre of the curtain. Music begins to play from loudspeakers Harry hadn't noticed mounted in the corners and at the sides of the ceiling.
Harry isn't much of a music fan, but this is lovely. It starts with some sort of drums, playing a slow, almost seductive beat, before a stringed instrument, perhaps a cello, joins in and the curtain lifts.
A woman stands at centre stage, but she's so beautiful he can hardly believe she's real. Her arms are bare, skin smooth and silky white, and she has well defined biceps. She's wearing a red sleeveless dress, and her legs are also bare and pale; she balances in a pair of heels taller than he would think anybody could walk in. Her hair frames her face in thick golden curls, and her eyes are closed above her pointed nose. Her lips are perfectly painted in a red bow. The collective sigh of appreciation lets Harry know he's not alone in recognising true beauty when he sees it.
Then the music changes, the drums increasing in number and rhythm. Her eyes flash open and she begins to dance. Harry loses himself in her movements. He finds a chair and falls into it, unable to keep his eyes off this creature and how she manages to twist her body in such a sinuous and downright seductive way. She moves like a snake, altering her poses as quickly as a serpent can snatch its prey and snap its jaws. He follows her lithe body, twisting and changing poses in a manner that looks like it would be painful, but her face is alight and so damn tempting. There's something not-quite-right with the way she looks. No – that's not it – more like something about her that stokes his longing. And then he realises what it is – she's a man.
Her dress doesn't hide the fact that she doesn't have breasts, instead she has pecs and they're built, firm, strong. This fabulous person is so fucking strong, he realises – watching in awe as she pulls off poses in heels the length of his erect cock, that even if he tried to make a move on her – he would likely be overpowered without much effort. And that does him in. He trembles in his shoes, wanting.
Gryphon slaps him on the back and leans in close, his stubble brushing Harry's cheek and the mixed scents of cologne, leather, and smoke don't even penetrate the spell he's under. "Cleans up pretty nice, eh?"
Harry swats Gryphon's hand off his shoulder as if chasing off a fly, eyes glued on this Drizella. She straightens up and her eyes narrow, glaring daggers at the door to the club. A camera flashes. "Oh, no he didn't," Gryphon mutters before the crack of his Disapparation echos off the walls.
Harry turns to look at whatever is causing the commotion. There's a scuffle, an angry shout, and another loud crack. The crowd doesn't seem to notice the interruption or the fact that Drizella has stopped dancing. Harry wonders what kind of magic this is. It feels like a Muggle Repelling Charm, but he's never seen one used like this before, and wouldn't have expected to find it in a Muggle establishment.
The front door closes and Gryphon holds a camera up for Drizella to see. She nods. Something happened or almost happened, Harry observes, then remembers the sign on the door stating No Photography, followed up with the warning Don't Push Your Luck.
Harry can understand wanting to avoid the press, but as Drizella recommences dancing and the roomful of Muggles seem to awaken from their trance, he wonders at the sinister sensation he'd felt during the pause.
Before Harry knows it, the dance is over. Drizella makes her way off the stage as the lights come on again and mingles with the crowd on the dance floor, talking to people and accepting compliments – fucking glowing. Harry watches her progress, unable to tear his eyes away, and the pathetic bloke, Pete, rejoins him, droning on again even though Harry's not listening to a word he says.
He keeps his eyes on Drizella as she ends up at the entrance and exchanges some sharp words with Gryphon before flashing a winning smile and returning to the stage.
The lights dim once more, and Harry whispers a quiet thank you to whatever deity has blessed him with another performance. Not even Pete's continuing sob story can ruin tonight for Harry. He's in a zone alone with Drizella – the beat of the music matching the beat of his heart – singing to his soul. How can he have never realised such beauty existed? He follows her amazingly long leg as she lifts one high up, and then – hell, how can she even be doing what he's seeing? Practically folding herself in half, standing on one long thin heeled shoe, her thigh muscles rippling.
The music ends again and the lights go up. The crowd erupts in cheers and exclamations, and men stuff Muggle money into three large glass bowls like the one Harry had seen on the bar – mounted in place at the foot of the stage.
Her voice rings out over the chattering crowd, deeper than a woman's, but richly feminine.
"Please remember your donations go to the Albert Kennedy Trust for homeless LGBT teens. Thank you all for coming. We've got Anastasia, Dinah, and Duchess singing later tonight."
She leaves the stage, and a chorus line of male dancers in very little clothing take her place. It's clear to Harry that she is the star most people have come to see, and she's working her way through the crowd, coming ever closer to where he's sitting. He tries to look away, to watch the new line of dancers as they move and shake to some sort of hip-hop music, he thinks.
"Uh-oh," Gryphon says at Harry's shoulder. He turns as Drizella approaches them, her eyes flashing with a fury Harry can't quite comprehend. She stops directly before Harry and glares at him, then looks at Gryphon, who shrugs his shoulders.
"And you find this amusing, do you, Potter?" she spits, and the voice is not Drizella's voice. Harry starts. It's Draco's voice. And he realises only now – performance artist, dancer, Saturday and Wednesday (today is Wednesday), the phrase because you're not invited – that he's stepped in it big time. But fuck it all if Harry can find a fuck to give. Draco's beautiful. Harry can't even see him as Malfoy any longer.
Draco's lips twitch into a smirk – a smirk that looks so much more kissable with bright red lipstick – seemingly without meaning to. He catches himself and frowns, then points at Harry. "You …" then turns to Gryphon, "…and you. Backstage. Now." He turns again, spotting pathetic Pete. "Pete," he snaps, and Pete shuts up and pays full attention. "Fire the ticket taker and stand outside. Do not allow entrance to anybody else, understand? If they try to bribe you, tell me, and I'll double it."
Pete nods stupidly and rushes to the door. There is absolutely no question about it, Drizella is the queen of this castle.
Gryphon takes Harry by the elbow and leads him backstage. They reach a dressing room with a giant silver star set upon the door, and Draco stalks past them, unlocks it, and orders them in with a pointing finger.
They shuffle inside and Draco shuts the door with a little more force than is necessary, then stands with his back to it. "Explain yourselves!" he demands, and Harry can practically see sparks shooting from his eyes.
Harry's still lost in how different his face looks, but how sexy he finds it, until Draco throws up his hands and stalks to the wall length mirror. "Oh, for fuck's sake." He opens a jar of white cream and dabs it on his face, rubbing it in well, and then takes a wet towel and scrubs the lower half of his face until it's free of makeup. Then he pulls off his wig and clip on earrings, and ruffles his hair until it's standing up as crazy as Harry's normally is. "You think you can focus now?" he demands of Harry, and reaches up to pinch his false eyelashes, but Harry stops him.
"No, please don't. Don't take them off because I'm an idiot. I can explain."
Draco narrows his eyes, but leaves the lashes in place. He purses his lips and silences Harry with a finger, then turns to Gryphon. "Gryphon, you left your post? Did that pointy-haired prick take a bribe? I told you he was the weak link! How many times did I remind you not to leave your fucking post?"
Gryphon stares at his shoes, guilt all over his face. "Well, I saw Harry Potter in the queue…" He gestures hopelessly at Harry as if that explains his oversight. "Er … I'm sorry about that. Pete was distracting the show, and Potter … He seemed to want to watch. I assumed he'd come to see you, that you'd invited him."
"Assumptions!" Draco's back to livid.
Harry lifts his hands again. "Hey, I was just walking by …"
Draco shuts him up with a look and takes in his outfit . "Just walking by, dressed like sex on legs? Or is this a clever glamour?" He snatches Harry's shirt and feels the material. Harry's skin burns at the memory of Draco's hands. Draco raises his eyebrows and releases him. "Twilfitt's finest." Harry opens his mouth. "Shut up, I don't want your excuses yet. Let me finish up with Gryphon."
"Wait," Harry insists. He has to explain himself. "I … I'm sorry." He takes a deep breath. "You're right; I don't know your story. I didn't even know it was you on the stage … All I know is when I see something I like … er … damn it." He sighs, and fiddles with his shirt cuff. "I'll go. I know you're partners. I don't want to make this anymore weird than it already is. I'm just not good at all this …" He gestures absently at everything and nothing.
Draco's eyebrows rise higher on his forehead. "All this?" He repeats Harry's gesture, an incredulous look on his face, like he can't believe Harry is as obtuse as he's acting.
Harry snaps back at him. It's his instinct to fight with Draco.
"I've been so fucking far in the closet …" he's shaking, not sure if it's nerves or fury, but all the words he's kept bottled spill out, as if the admission popped the cork and now the pressurised contents can't be stopped, "…for twenty-eight years, Draco! I don't know how to be my fucking self, all right? I'm fucking walking blind!"
Draco starts. "Wait, what?" He wrinkles his forehead. "You mean you're not just …"
Gryphon snorts, and Draco turns on him in ire. "Shut the fuck up." His words aren't angry like they were. They're more sassy than Harry's heard Draco sound before. "You got the camera?"
"Yeah." Gryphon shrugs and swings his arms as if preparing to get back to work. "I got it. The prat Disapparated, but I saw his face. I'm almost certain it's the same bloke as before, unless he's using Polyjuice. I'll keep my eyes open and file a complaint with the Ministry of Magic about keeping their Aurors from sticking their arses outside their jurisdiction if he shows up again."
Draco seems satisfied and shoos him away. Gryphon grabs Draco's hand, pulls it up as if he's preparing to kiss it, and then pulls Draco all the way flush with his own body and smacks their lips together.
Harry feels like chewing gum on the underside of a trainer until he sees Draco stepping on Gryphon's toes with the sharp point of his heel. Gryphon lets him go and grins. He points at his boots. "Steel toes. See, I do learn from my mistakes."
"Out!" Draco demands, but he's flushed.
Gryphon winks at Harry and whispers close to his ear on his way out. "Thought I'd get one last snog in before he declares himself off limits …" He leaves and shuts the door.
"Who is that guy? Seriously! He's not threatening you, is he?"
Draco chuckles under his breath. "No, Potter. He's actually one of the good guys. Now sit down. It's my turn to talk."
Harry has the feeling he's about to have his arse handed to him, lectured like a naughty school boy. And then he curses his brain because according to the tightness of his trousers, that idea has merit.
Draco stares down at him a moment, considering him. "You aren't reacting like I thought you would."
The sudden shift in tone and attitude throws Harry off balance.. He doesn't feel like he's on trial like before. "Ummm … You've thought about how I would react?"
Draco blows his fringe out of his eyes; his cheeks going pink. "Well, maybe. It was only a passing thought. Look …" he draws up the chair Harry hadn't sat in and straddles it, his tight red dress stretching to allow the position heaven knows how. He looks up at Harry, and Harry stares at his legs. "My eyes are up here." There's a trace of pride in his voice underlined with indignation. Harry meets his eyes. "David, or Gryphon when he's here, is not my sexual partner. He's my bodyguard. We are partners in the wizarding world, but only to the extent that he's part owner of the massage parlour. This club …" he waves his hand at the room, "…is mine. It's my safe place. But lately I haven't been feeling very safe even here."
"Safe from what?" Harry asks, mind still reeling at the idea Draco isn't with David. Still, he has to know what kind of trouble Draco is in. It would be so much easier if Draco would tell him.
"Potter. You do realise that dressing in drag isn't what wizarding society deems normal behaviour, yes?"
Harry furrows his eyebrows. "I've never thought about it. But, seeing you … I don't see why not. I mean …" He attempts to backtrack because Draco looks offended. "You look gorgeous. You are gorgeous. Just as you are … no matter how you're dressed." Draco's eyes seem to soften, his posture becoming less rigid. He releases a long and low sigh, and stares at a spot on the floor. "What? Did I say something wrong?"
"No." Draco kicks his shoes off and flexes his bare feet. Harry holds himself in check. "It just fucking figures."
Draco looks back up, and gives up the anger. "It figures that the man I've always hoped I'd meet – who sees me as me despite all this –" He flicks his hand over himself dismissively. "It fucking figures that it would be you."
"Er – I'm not who I was, Draco; you're not either." He stops, and changes tack as Draco turns indignant again. "I mean, we are … but now we're grown up … more in touch … authentic?" He cringes, hating how stupid he's got to sound, but Draco hasn't tossed him out yet.
"I'm out as a gay man in the wizarding world, Potter, but I'm not out as a cross-dresser. If my father…" He shudders. "If word of this made it to the papers, my business would fail; I'd lose everything I've worked to build … I can't … And there's some arsehole out there determined to take me down anyway!" He sounds like he's spitting venom. He grabs the towel he'd used to wash his face and rubs at his left forearm, clearing off the make-up, then throws it across the room and studies his faded Dark Mark. "When I was sixteen, this was supposed to be a mark of pride, of honour, and then I realised it's all bullshit! Always was. That fucker." He breathes heavily, and looks back up at Harry, focussed. "He would have killed me if I'd refused it, but, perhaps if I had refused … then …"
"Stop," Harry says. He rests his hand on top of Draco's messy hair, runs his fingers through the silken strands and massages his scalp. It had felt so good when Draco had done it to him. "Don't finish that sentence," he whispers, and then continues, his voice quiet, calm. "You did what you had to do. I did too. I've been stifled, Draco. I'd never acknowledged the real me, the true me. I'd lived the lie to the point I believed it was true." Draco closes his eyes and it sounds almost as if he's purring. He rubs his soft cheek against Harry's arm. "But the more I pushed my true self down, the more it seemed to fight back. I … uh … I'm on a ... well, you know about the administrative leave?"
"Yeah," Draco says. He nuzzles Harry's arm again as he's stopped rubbing. He starts again. "I heard. I thought it was related to the accident."
"It is, sort of. But … I was taking risks that no father should take. It's almost like I was subconsciously hoping I'd get taken out by a curse … in the line of duty … blaze of glory type thing … and … not have to … face it."
"Some pair we make," Draco says, and looks up. Harry trails his hand down Draco's cheek, over his lips and, not breaking eye contact, Draco sucks his fingertip into his mouth. Harry shudders.
"Do we? Can we?"
Draco's eyes drop. He stares at Harry's crotch and these trousers hide nothing. He's hard as a rock. Draco looks back up, and Harry's never seen a more seductive sight than Draco sucking his finger, and staring up at him with his eyes made up. He pulls his finger free, catches Draco's hand with his own hand and pulls him up from the chair. They stand chest to chest, though Draco has him by a couple of inches. Harry's sort of sad he's not still wearing his heels.
"Come back to mine?" Harry breathes, their lips nearly touching.
"You still married?"
"No. I'm single as of this morning."
Then Draco arches an eyebrow, and bumps his groin to Harry's, making him moan. "You have a place?"
"Yeah," Harry breathes. "I bought it today." They're almost kissing, and then Draco begins to pull away. Harry holds him fast.
"I do need to change."
"No," Harry whispers. He kisses the corner of Draco's mouth, so tempted to take it further. He holds off. "Don't change, never change." At the look Draco gives him, Harry clarifies. The outfit, the makeup, even half removed, it's how Harry wants this first time to go. "Uh … that's not what I mean. I mean … you're comfortable … in this dress?"
"Well, my hair's off, and my face …"
"You look perfect."
"I can't go outside," Draco says. He's trembling. Only it's fear that's doing it, and Harry doesn't want that.
"Let me take you Side-Along. We'll go right in." He recalls the state of his house, but is determined to have Draco as he is right now. "Er … there's no furniture or anything, but it's safe."
Draco nods and Harry clasps Draco's hips, and shudders again at the sensation of Draco's erection hidden under that brilliant red dress as it presses against his. He Apparates them.
They stand in what will eventually be Harry's living room. It's freezing, and the sounds of their breathing echo off the empty walls.
"Okay, when you said no furnishings, I thought you meant only a few pieces. You have nothing in here."
Harry can't wait any longer. He stops Draco's stupid observations with his mouth, finally kissing him deep, close, like he's dreamed of doing. He breaks away long enough to pull his wand out to throw up a Warming Charm, then drops it, and pushes Draco up against the nearest wall, kissing him again. They take it deeper, pressing as close as possible, building the urgency. Draco scratches Harry's shirt with his nails, then growls when he can't get it off in this position, and turns them so Harry's back is to the wall.
"Better," Draco breathes. He finds the hidden clasp the bloke from Twilfitt's showed Harry that releases the close-fitting shirt without ruining the fabric. He works it off Harry's arms and tosses it on the floor, then takes Harry's chin in his hand, and looks him square in the eye.
Harry's wondering how this is supposed to work. As Draco's dressed as a woman, does he want to be fucked like one? Does Harry want that? He doesn't … he wants … "I want you inside me, Draco."
Draco pauses, then smirks, only it's less a Draco smirk and more like a Pansy smirk but, in Harry's opinion, Draco wears it far better than Pansy ever could. "Oh, hell yes. That can be arranged." Harry gasps as Draco finds the release clasp on his trousers and pulls them down a second later, holding them in place with his foot for Harry to step out of, and then he kicks them over to join Harry's shirt.
Harry's more than willing to follow Draco's lead. He goes with it as Draco turns him to face the wall, pushing him up against it. Draco keeps him in place with a hand at the nape of his neck, his body pressing against Harry's back, pushing Harry's cheek to the plaster. "These windows charmed?" Harry shakes his head; he's trembling all over.
Draco pulls his wand from the bust of his dress, and Harry watches from his peripheral vision as Draco throws up a massive Imperturbable Charm that covers the windows and front door. He yanks Harry's pants down. They're new too. Small knicker-like things the bloke at the shop told him were necessary to keep the fit of his new trousers. He feels odd standing in only his socks, with his face to the wall, but he doesn't dwell on the idea for long because Draco drops kisses behind his ears, the back of his neck, and down his spine. Draco's moves his hands everywhere, raising goose bumps over Harry's entire body. And then Draco sinks to his knees.
Harry stares down at his cock dripping all over the floor. He thinks he's never been hotter in his life, and then melts as Draco starts tonguing his rim. His thoughts skip along the lines of, Oh, fucking hell, yes … and Why did I wait so long to do this? and then they fly away altogether as Draco probes deeper, alternating his grip on Harry's arse cheeks between gentle and rough. He works Harry open, but Harry's real readiness comes from the eager sounds Draco makes, licking and sucking at Harry's hole, then turning to bite gently at each cheek. He shakes them and slaps them not-quite-hard-enough to hurt, but enough that each slap steals Harry's breath. And he follows it all kissing Harry's hole, working his rim with his tongue until Harry's so loose and pliant, he's about ready to start sobbing. His prostate hasn't even been touched and yet, he's producing so much precome he'll have to watch where he steps as they go on.
Draco moves one of his hands, and Harry looks backwards and down as much as he can manage and watches Draco, hiking his dress over his hips, pulling his cock free from a pair of small red knickers, tugging at his foreskin and smearing the wetness over the head of his cock. Harry promises himself that one way or another, those knickers are going to end up in his pocket by morning and Draco won't get them back unless he begs – and maybe not even not then. He wants … His thoughts skitter again as Draco slicks his thumb with saliva, and then presses it to Harry's hole. It feels slicker than Harry expects, and then, the idea that Draco lubed it with his own precome, makes Harry's legs nearly go out from under him. He pushes his hips back, begging for that talented thumb to find his prostate again, sobbing when it does. He clenches around the base of Draco's thumb, wanting to keep it there and also, hoping to delay coming a little longer.
Draco chuckles and grips Harry's cock around the base, squeezing gently. It's enough to chase his immediate urge off, but then he looks down again, watches Draco catch the stream of precome dribbling out of him, and uses it to lube his dick.
"Fuck … Fuck … That's so fucking hot!" Harry shouts. He needs …
Draco gets to his feet again, holding Harry's cheeks apart with his hand, smearing slickness over Harry's rim with his thumb, and rubbing himself up and down Harry's bare backside. He fits his cock between Harry's thighs – the head pushing at Harry's sac, making it swing – and he longs for Draco's bollocks to smack against him, fucking him like the fucking animals they are. He's in heaven.
Draco nibbles at his earlobe, and kisses the side of Harry's face as a gentle trace of women's perfume, punctuated with the scent of Draco's arousal fills his nose. He groans. Draco whispers beside his ear, pressing the side of his own face against the back of Harry's head. "This is going to be quick. I can't hold off long … it's been … I've wanted you … so fucking long." His words disappear as he moves, angles his face and pulls Harry into a snog, distracting him, his neck bent at an odd angle that Draco somehow makes work. It must be Draco's own special brand of magic. Draco slides his cock up and down Harry's crease as Harry chases Draco's tongue with his mouth, then gasps at the blunt pressure at his hole. Draco moves his hand down to assist. "Push back, Harry," he whispers. "Take it … accept it."
Harry does. He pushes back as if to expel, but instead grips, and Draco pushes inside an inch at a time, fucking his way into Harry's body. Harry feels himself open up, stretching, but he's so fucking turned on and the slickness between them eases the glide. The idea of how much Draco needs this, how turned on he is – how desperate he is – drives him through the unfamiliar sensation. Draco bumps Harry's prostate, and though Draco's not all the way in, the angle is just right. "There, fuck me right there!" he gasps, and Draco does. Before Harry knows what's happening, Draco's fucking him long and hard, pushing all the way up inside and, it's unfortunate Draco's balls are trapped by his knickers and can't slap Harry's arse the way he'd like them to. The idea of Draco in his knickers, his dress – fucking Harry up against the wall dressed as a woman – it's nearly too hot to handle.
How is he doing this? Harry wonders as Draco holds Harry's cock again, and delays his orgasm only at the very last minute. This will not be a one-off, Harry promises himself. Not if he has anything to say about it. It's what he needs, what he's longed for, even before he knew he was missing anything, longing for anything. It's not just anal sex; it's the feeling of being claimed, of belonging. Draco knows how to own him, how to play his body and coax the music out of him. Draco's a master and Harry's a willing instrument, but even that isn't all of it. It's the fact Draco's fragile too, and a little bit feminine when he lets his guards down, but there are no two ways about it, he's a man and knows how to use his cock.
Harry twists his neck again and Draco crashes their mouths together, somehow establishing a regular pace for his thrusts, carrying them both higher, connected in so many ways, mouths and sex, and spirits. Harry's pleasure rises to the point he's cresting. They're joined, fitting together, filling up the empty spaces, feeling right.
Draco gasps into Harry's mouth, speeding up. He breaks the kiss, brushing his lips against Harry's with every thrust. "Oh, fuck … fuck … yeah."
Harry falls apart at his words. Not even touching his cock, he shoots come all over the wall, spurt after endless spurt. He's a fucking fountain.
Draco's breath is hot on Harry's face. He gasps, stiffens, shudders, and Harry's mind shatters in the best of ways. Draco just came … inside him … fucking inside him. He's full of Draco's come. The ideas, and Draco's prick still inside, pressing his prostate, make him push back for more, and he comes again, painting the wall with another stripe of white.
Draco nearly crumples on top of him, but pulls back, supporting Harry. "Holy shit … Holy fucking shit …" he gasps, losing his breath. He pulls Harry with him as he sinks to the floor, and Harry's grateful – his knees are shaking and weren't going to support him much longer. The floor is cold and hard, but Draco doesn't seem to notice. He wraps Harry in his his arms and stares at him with his beautiful eyes. "Did you just come again? Really?"
Harry pulls Draco's face down and kisses him quiet, then rolls so Draco is on his back and Harry can rest his head on Draco's chest, listening to his heart thundering beneath his ear. Draco's nipples stand erect under the bust of his dress. Harry pushes it a little further down, finding a nipple with his lips, kissing it, licking it, blowing on it, and then suckling, satisfied with the massive shudders wracking Draco's body.
Harry blinks his eyes against the morning light streaming over his face from the window. He feels good, loose, comfortable. Where is he? There's a wonderful smell teasing his nostrils. His eyes finally focus on the familiar ceiling above his bed at the Hog's Head. His glasses are … he looks to the bedside table, there they are, and tucked under the arm he lifts, is Draco's sleeping face. He's peaceful, slack jawed, stress free. There's a faint trace of eyeliner on his eyelids. The lashes had come off when they arrived here. He remembers now, remembers fucking in the new house, Apparating back to the Hog's Head afterwards. After hours in the dark, nobody could see them. It was the perfect place for round two … and three. Was it only three? He's boneless and … his arse twinges but, the memories the twinge inspires make it all the easier to bear. He hopes it lasts the rest of the day.
He tucks his arm around Draco's back. He loves the sensation of waking up with Draco in his bed. He's so beautiful in all his manifestations, and is all man, but hard and soft unite perfectly in Draco. He trails his hand up and down Draco's spine, amazed at the smoothness of his skin. He recalls Draco's knickers hidden in his coat pocket, and chuckles at how Draco would react if he found out Harry had stolen them.
Draco hums and blinks sleepy eyes, then lifts his head to meet Harry's gaze. He smiles, and he has morning breath, and it's got to be the sweetest smelling morning breath in the world. Harry breathes it in, savouring the reality, hoping his own won't offend. He's so fucking lost in this man it's frightening.
Harry huffs a breathy laugh and Draco wrinkles his nose. Well, he never claimed to have sweet smelling morning breath himself. He leans over to the bedside table and checks his watch. "Oh no," he says, sighing. "It's two o'clock." Draco looks confused.
"No," Harry admits, and that wakes Draco up fast. He springs out of bed. Harry follows. They've both got children to tend to. They dress quickly. Draco had brought his suitcase from his own room into Harry's when they'd arrived. They exchange stupid grins as they appreciate each other's bodies as they disappear under clothing. "Uh … There's no time now, but …" Harry starts, not sure what he needs to say.
"Come by the parlour around seven or eight."
Harry agrees. After a quick kiss, Harry leaves first. He uses the fire to travel to the Leaky Cauldron and Apparates from there to Ginny's house.
He knocks on the front door, then puts his hands in his coat pockets, and quickly pulls them back out. Draco's knickers are in there. His face flushes as Ginny opens the door and stares at him, confused. "What are you doing here? I thought you were seeing Rolf today about Albus." Harry blinks. Is he really stretched so thin he's losing track of his days?
"Rolf? I thought he was busy with the babies and wouldn't get back to me for a while."
She shrugs. "I dunno. He fire-called earlier looking for you. Says he can see you in his flat rather than the office. I thought he'd have reached you at wherever you're staying." She frowns. "Where have you been staying? The new house?"
"Er …" Her eyes seem to X-ray him. Her cheeks go pink.
"On second thought, don't answer that question. I don't think I want to know." She looks anxious to close the door on him, but he has to ask after the kids.
"How are the kids after …" The conversation about their divorce looms over them, unspoken.
"They're good. Holding up. I want you to ask Rolf specifically about how we should go about weaning him off the playacting. Let me know what he says, but … please don't stop by again today. I'm … I'm not ready."
"All right," he says softly. "I'll owl you."
She closes the door and he feels as if he's sunk up to his knees in the same bog he'd just climbed out of. He really is pants at relationships.
He arrives at Rolf's, his shoulders sagging as he rings the bell. Things had been working out so well with Ginny. It'd felt like they were finally on the same page, communicating and parenting together better than they'd been doing for years. And she likely saw right through him, maybe even smelled sex and Draco on him. Why hadn't he thought it through, remembered Ginny had asked for time alone? And then he'd gone and turned up practically waving Draco's knickers in her face.
Rolf opens the door. He's cradling a sleeping baby, and invites Harry inside with a tired smile.
"Hello, Harry," Luna calls from an armchair in the corner of the living room. She's nursing the other baby and looks radiant despite her recent labour.
He waves at her and can't help feeling the stirring in his heart at the sight of the babies. The Scamanders make a picture perfect family.
"Let me put little Lorcan down and we can talk in my study." Rolf hands off the sleeping baby to Luna, who now has her hands and arms full. She closes her eyes and smiles. Rolf plants a quick kiss on her lips, and then returns to Harry. "It's through here," he says. Harry follows him down the short hall to a small room with a desk and two comfortable looking chairs. "I hope you don't mind if I keep the door open. I want to be able to hear if Luna calls for me."
"Not at all." Harry takes a seat in the chair nearest the door.
"Tell me what's been happening," Rolf says.
Harry's problems come pouring out as they always do with Rolf. "The kids took the news about the divorce pretty well; we signed and submitted the final papers yesterday. I thought Ginny and I were doing all right and was really feeling good about it, and then … I think I fucked it up."
Rolf waits for him to go on. There aren't any discouraging looks, or judging side-eyes.
"It just … happened." He doesn't want to break Draco's confidence, isn't even sure where they stand. He needs to focus on Albus now. "But that's not my biggest problem right now, Rolf. Ginny and I are in a bit of a panic."
"Over this newfound relationship? I'm assuming it's with a man?"
"Yeah," he says, nearly whispering. "But no. That's not it. It's Albus, our middle child. I think Ginny thinks it's my fault for reading him Alice in Wonderland, but it's been going on longer than that. At least since Lily came along, maybe even before, but we were too busy to notice."
He stops, and tries to focus his thoughts.
"Tell me about how he was before and when it started changing."
Harry rakes his fringe back, then rests his hands on his knees, fingers tapping in a nervous rhythm. "He'd been meeting his milestones, just like James had. Walked at one, was talking by two, and potty trained by two and half. And then he just started going backwards – forgetting how to use the toilet, losing his speech. That was around the time Lily was born. But even more than that, he wasn't happy. I know I've mentioned this before but, lately … lately things have got a lot better. After I started reading Alice in Wonderland, it was like magic how things turned back around. He showed interest in something like he's not done in ages, started talking more, mostly asking questions about the book, and then he convinced me to buy him a costume dress so he could playact at being Alice. When he wears the dress, he's happy, he uses the toilet, talks about a lot of things, and sometimes plays with James and Lily. But the problem is that now he's talking about how he is Alice. He won't answer to Albus, but as long as we call him Al or Alice, he's content as anything. We've tried backing off letting him wear his dress, and then he started backsliding again and we figured it was better to just let him have the fantasy, that it would help him get through the divorce and all. So Ginny and I are wondering what to do next. Are we doing the right thing engaging the fantasy or is it going to backfire and he won't know how the real world works? What if he can't tell the difference between what's real and what's not?" He stops, takes a deep breath, and releases it. "We've let it go on a little more than a week, but how long is it going to last? When should we draw the line and wean him off the fantasy?"
Rolf knits his eyebrows. He looks pensive.
"He tells you his name is Alice and responds to that name?" Harry nods. "He wears the dress to make his outer appearance match his requested name?" Harry nods again. "He's happy when you accept his reality, but not when you deny it?"
"Yeah, wait… what?" Harry's not sure he's following where Rolf is going.
"Have you had him evaluated at St Mungo's?" Rolf looks more tired than he had moments earlier, almost saddened, careworn, and it freaks Harry out.
"No. Why? Do you think it could be something really serious? Will he be okay? We thought it was just a phase, and that he'd outgrow it."
Rolf scrubs a hand over his face, lifting his small round glasses with the other hand and readjusting them. "It is serious, Harry, but not in a dangerous way, not at this point. Listen to me," he says as Harry tries to interrupt. "This is important. I want you and Ginny, together, to take him to a Children's Healer at St Mungo's and ask them to evaluate Al for gender dysphoria. After they determine whether or not it's the correct diagnosis, they'll advise you how to proceed."
"But, what is … why? How serious are we talking?"
Rolf levels his eyes on Harry's. He looks earnest for Harry to take him seriously, but he remains calm. "I can't offer any more advice than that, not until after a Healer has diagnosed him. But please, in the meantime, call him Alice. No, actually call her Alice. Let her be who she wants to be, at least until she's seen by the Healer." Harry's stunned. He's still not sure how changing a few words will help. "Listen to your child, Harry. She's telling you something that you need to hear."
As he wanders the streets of Muggle London on his way to his new house, he feels disengaged. Is this gender dysphoria the same thing that Draco has? Will Al grow up to be a crossdresser? And if he and Ginny try to stop him from doing it, will he be putting Al through the same hell he and Draco went through – repressed to the point they considered ending their lives?
Hell no he tells himself. If his son wants to be a crossdresser and have people call him Alice, that's perfectly fine with him, and he'll stand up to anybody who says otherwise. But convincing Ginny is a whole other challenge. Rolf is right; they do need to get Al seen at St Mungo's as soon as possible. Harry knows he has a lot to learn about how to be a good parent, and hopefully Ginny will look beyond his personal problems, and meet him halfway so they can be a team for Al.
He unlocks his new front door and finds that his request to connect to the Floo network has been approved. He looks at the rest of the post scattered on the floor and sorts it using magic. With the news of his and Ginny's divorce so close on the heels of his administrative leave, he's certain the larger-than-usual pile of post will contain at least a few jinxed letters from 'concerned citizens'. Sure enough, he Banishes a handful of correspondence to be picked over by the MLE; they're used to sorting out malicious death threats from harmless trolling and following up on them for public figures.
One envelope is a letter from Kingsley telling him his administrative leave has been extended, and includes a personal request that Harry pay him a visit tomorrow at his flat. Harry writes back that he'll be there and sends Archimedes off, and then finishes sorting and responding where necessary.
Before he leaves the house, he makes a quick fire-call to St Mungo's, asking to be seen as soon as possible. They tell him they can fit him in tomorrow if he can be there early.
Another fire-call later, this time to Ginny – Harry explains what Rolf had said, and about the Healer appointment – he secures her agreement. His knees are killing him. He's got to find a hearth rug for this house.
He decides to spend the day before meeting Draco, shopping in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, buying something to furnish his house with – hopefully to an extent he'll be able to have the children over – because after their last conversation, he doubts he or Ginny will be comfortable with him in the other house.
He walks into the Hog's Head. The doors and windows are open and Blaise has set a mop to work over the tiled floors. He sits at the table Draco normally takes and shuffles some paperwork, but looks up as Harry's shoes clack on the tiles. Blaise grins broadly. "Welcome back. You want to take out the room for another week?"
Harry shakes his head and fetches his room key from his pocket. "No. I came to gather my things and settle any fees I may have racked up." He rubs the back of his head, thinking. "I'm pretty sure I never paid for the however many Firewhiskies Padma pushed on me the other night."
Blaise barks a laugh. "Right you are. Feel free to gather your stuff. I'll have your bill ready when you're finished."
There's not much in his room. A week's worth of T-shirts and jeans, assorted pairs of pants. He tosses them all in his suitcase and then spots the shrunken box of assorted odds and ends he'd gathered from the old house and stuffs that in too. The bed is still unmade and when he sits on it, he can still smell Draco, and the sex they'd had, clinging to the sheets. He lies down and wraps the sheet around himself, breathing deeply. It calms him, and makes him smile.
When he locks the door for the last time and returns to the bar, Blaise stops the mop and sets up his bluebell flame lantern above the bar, but leaves the door and windows open.
"Can I tell you something I've noticed, Potter? It's a bit personal."
Harry shrugs, and looks around. Nobody's nearby. "Sure, go ahead."
"Draco was happier this morning than I think I've ever seen him." He pauses, and levels his eyes on Harry. "I've known him since we were learning to walk." Harry feels like he's trying to swallow a Snitch, the lump that rises in his throat. "His bed wasn't slept in last night. I take it you two have had a bit of a coming-to-terms?"
Harry nods. He knows he's flushing, but tells himself he has nothing to be ashamed of. He and Draco are adults; they can fuck if they want to. But this feels more friendly than if Blaise was going to threaten to tear his arms off if he breaks Draco's heart.
Blaise looks to the back where Harry can hear Padma shifting pots and pans. "He's not an easy person to get close to … but your spirits seem a little higher lately, too. Strange as it seems that the two of you – with your history – could connect, when I think of how it was for Padma and me, I can see it now. I almost wonder how I never noticed before."
"What do you mean?"
Blaise laughs again. "Draco spent more time bitching about you at school than he did talking about anything else. We all learned to tune-out when he got going on with his Potter freak-outs. It's fascinating how different circumstances, fewer divisions between sides and houses can help people to come together."
Harry agrees. He thinks of Kingsley's story of how it was in the sixties, then of Arthur's similar recollection. "Yeah, time and changing attitudes really do a lot to help make things better." He recalls Rolf's instructions about how, as a parent, he needs to listen to what his child tells him, to respect it. He wonders how much pain and suffering could have been avoided over the centuries if society had cottoned onto that concept.
Blaise clears his throat, and Harry looks up. He's probably just gone into a dumb silence again. "Er, sorry." He looks at the bill Blaise hands him and pays him off.
"You've got people you can trust in me and Padma, Potter," Blaise tells him. "A friend of Draco's, and all that. If you ever need to disappear for a night or two, you know we can do that here."
Harry thanks him and makes his way down the Hogsmeade main street. It's a quiet and laid-back sort of day. With school out for the summer, the community feels sleepy, comfortable. He finds a furniture store and puts in a large order for beds for himself and his children, and a number of dressers, side tables, and a formal dining table and chairs that will seat eight. He figures he can take a leaf or two out to make it smaller for when he doesn't have the kids or … company.
He's walking past Madam Puddifoot's tea shop when he hears a sound that makes his blood run cold. The sound of a throat clearing. Hem-hem,. The sound of Dolores Umbridge's throat clearing. But when he turns to look, it's only David. He's sitting at a small round table in front of the shop window, his left leg crossed over his right knee.
"Hey." He greets Harry with a friendly wave. "Fancy meeting you here."
Harry's heart hammers still. "Did you, er … just clear your throat?"
David looks at him confusedly. "No?" he says, apparently taking in Harry's sense of panic. "Did you hear somebody clear their throat?"
Harry takes the chair opposite David and rests his arms on the table. "I'm having quite a time of it, I'm afraid. Must be my imagination. Life's been pure madness."
David nods knowingly. "I take it you and Draco made it out all right last night? I stayed 'til close but didn't see you reappear."
"Er … yeah. I'm sorry for mistaking …" No. He doesn't owe David an apology. The man is infuriating in how misleading his actions are. "We're meeting again later tonight."
David smiles wide. "You are a brave man, Harry. He's not an easy man, but he's pretty much the nicest person I've met since coming here."
Harry lifts an eyebrow. "How long have you been here? Where did you come from?"
David waves his hand as if gesturing at the world in general. "I've moved from country to country. Mum sent me to different magical schools, said she wanted me to have a well rounded education. Well, I really think it had more to do with whenever she'd hear I was messing around with other boys, she'd try to put a stop to it by transplanting me somewhere else. I'm afraid I proved a disappointment in the department of 'upholding wizarding traditions'." He laughs. "But I came here looking for a business to invest in, met Draco, and things fell into place. I really like it here."
Harry nods, and looks around. None of the passersby seem to take any notice of them. It's an unusual feeling in wizarding villages, that he doesn't draw at least a few looks and whispers. His mind wanders back over all the dodgy things he's thought about David over the past week. "Can I ask you something?"
David pauses, and then refills his cup. "Did you want a cup? I can draw one up."
"Thanks, no," Harry says. "I meant something a little more personal."
David smiles his flirty smile and, despite his better efforts, Harry feels a hint of attraction wash over him. "Please do."
Harry shakes the feeling off. He's being stupid. "Why did you snog me that first time? I was just walking past. I don't even know why I didn't stop you."
David sighs, and frowns. "I don't know. You looked like you were feeling down, like you could use a pick me up. Hell, outside the Dancing Divas, most people who linger are looking to get their cocks sucked or … a handjob behind the bins." He stops and looks at Harry again. "Do I need to apologise for it? I will if you want me to. I'm not very good at reading people in personal ways. It's likely why I can't keep a lover." Harry hears truth in his voice, and can't help but feel a little sorry for him. But then he demonstrates exactly the reason why he likely can't settle down long term. "But if you and Draco ever get a hankering to spice things up, I'm willing do just about anything."
Harry's face goes hot. He may not know Draco as well as Blaise does, but he has a feeling that such a proposition would send him off on a tirade. The look David gives him, makes Harry think David has likely been at the receiving end of just such a tirade from Draco already. "I think I'll pass on that offer."
David shrugs, unconcerned. "Righto. Well it's my day off. I'm going to get back to wasting it doing nothing. Will I see you again Wednesday night?"
Wednesday. Draco's next performance. Harry would kill to see it again, but has no way of knowing if Draco's anti-invitation still stands. "We'll see." He shakes David's hand and walks away, feeling at the last second like somebody else is watching him. He turns back. It's only David.
Gladrags Wizardwear is open and Harry stops in and finds they have a costume department. He purchases two Alice dresses for Al, pleased the quality of the sewing should hold up far better than the flimsy Muggle costume.
Harry travels by Floo from the Hog's Head to the Leaky Cauldron, and steps out into Diagon Alley again. He's got a few more hours to kill before Draco closes the parlour for the night. He spends his time buying sheets and blankets, towels, toiletries, kitchen supplies, and anything else he can think of to make his house feel like home. The shops have all set up an instant Apparition delivery service if Harry keys them into his wards. It's the simplest solution to getting prepared for the kids, so he goes for it.
At the last shop he remembers to purchase a hearth rug.
He walks into Dynamic Massage and Wellness just as the receptionist puts out the lights. She says she's been told to let Harry into the back and insists on escorting him, first giving him a flirty wink. "He's doing his evening workout in the gym. You'll like this."
She isn't kidding. She shuts the door to the gym behind him on her way out, and Harry stands stunned at what he's seeing. Draco's dressed in a full length sapphire-blue leotard, like a male ballet dancer would wear, and he's standing on his hands and doing upside down vertical pushups. Harry can see every muscle in Draco's body working, and he's hard in an instant.
Draco catches Harry's reflection in the wall of mirrors opposite the door. He swings his legs down and straightens up, then smiles, and walks towards Harry. Harry can't do anything but stand frozen in place like an idiot, trembling in his shoes. There's no mistaking Draco for a woman dressed as he is. Harry stares at his crotch, cathes himself, and forces his eyes back up to meet Draco's.
Draco chuckles at his reaction, then nods at the tent in Harry's trousers. "Shall I take that as a compliment?"
Harry's lost for words, but that doesn't seem to bother Draco. He slots himself right into Harry's breathing space, almost as if they're going to kiss, but instead brushes their cheeks together. "Scorpius is sleeping in the corner."
Harry exhales as Draco pulls his face back, looking awfully pleased to be able to work Harry up so easily and then tease him with not being allowed to do anything about it. "Damn," Harry says, but he's smiling. He loves that Draco's a father. He imagines a future where their children are friends. His smile slips at the thought of how Draco might react to Albus, but then he kicks himself for being ridiculous. If anybody could understand a child playacting as the opposite sex, wouldn't a man who crossdresses professionally be the best person for it?
"What is it?" Draco asks. He takes Harry's hand and leads him over to a gym mat where he has a towel and bottle of water.
Harry kicks off his shoes and sits on the mat facing Draco. He spots Scorpius sprawled amidst a mess of crayons and papers on another mat in the corner. His shock of blond hair is so like his father's, Harry can't help but smile at him. He doesn't want to unload his burdens on Draco, not the homelife ones at this early stage of whatever-the-fuck-it-is-they're-doing. "I ran into David," he says instead. Then recalls the reason he'd noticed him to begin with. He shivers and the faded scars on the back of his right hand prickle at the thought of Umbridge clearing her throat.
"Yes?" Draco says. He doesn't seem surprised to hear it or troubled by it. "He has the day off today. Probably mucking it up in Muggle London?"
"No, it was Hogsmeade actually. He was having tea at Madam Puddifoots."
Draco frowns. "You sure? He hates that place more than I do."
Harry shrugs. "I don't know what to make of him. I never told you, but the first time I ran into him outside the club, before I knew anything about your involvement in it, he threw me up against the wall and snogged me. I was on my way home to come out to Ginny. It was off-putting, to say the least."
Draco frowns. "Yeah, he does get a bit 'handsie'. But I assume you stopped him before it went further?" Harry can't help it. He spots a trace of jealousy in Draco's expression. Draco's trying to hide it, but it's there. His heart leaps.
"Of course. I'm just thinking about how strange it is that he even got as far as he did. I'm normally pretty quick with my reflexes. I had a lot on my mind then, but that's never slowed me down before, or distracted me to the point I didn't feel in control."
"I'm convinced he has some Veela in his heritage. He's adopted, so he doesn't really know his parentage, but he does have a grasp of magic that I can only describe as a bit of an allure. It comes in handy at the club, though. David sets the wards, so when magic happens in front of the Muggles, they don't notice."
"That … that makes a hell of a lot of sense. I've never heard of male Veela having that power before."
Draco shrugs. "Maybe it's because he's gay. I don't know." He looks at Harry as if he wants to get closer, but doesn't know how to do it without getting carried away in front of his son. "Hey, turn around." Harry wrinkles his forehead. "I'll rub your back. You look like you're carrying a lot more stress than hiding a kiss with David from me."
Harry's lips twitch, but the temptation of Draco's magic touch is too great to resist. He turns around.
Draco grasps his T-shirt at the bottom and pulls it off before Harry can object. Harry twists his arms to help, and then Draco's hands are on his scalp, burning trails of nervous longing into his his skin, spreading like fireworks down the rest of his body. "What are you thinking?"
Harry closes his eyes, relaxing, focussed only on the amazing sensations Draco coaxes out of him. He doesn't even realise he's talking until he's spilling his guts. "Thinking about you – how amazing you look in that outfit. Thinking about how hard it is to not pounce on you right now, but I won't." He releases a happy groan under the assault of Draco's fingers. "I want to ask you to come home with me, but I know what it's like to be a parent to a little one, wouldn't be a good idea for him to wake up in a strange house."
"There is that, but also the fact that you have no furniture." Draco laughs, moves his hands down to work on the muscles in Harry's neck. "What else? What else are you thinking – what else do you want?"
Harry melts under the heat of Draco's hands. Despite the coolness of the air, his skin is on fire. "I did shop for furniture today. Have to get the place livable soon – ready for my kids." Draco finds a knot at the base of his neck and works on it deliberately, almost painfully, but Harry doesn't mind pain if it's Draco giving it to him. "And I'm wondering how to ask you if you want to, you know – give it a go with me. Despite our pasts … See where it takes us, but I'm afraid it'll sound like I'm coming on too strong, too soon, and I … I don't want to scare you off."
The knot's out and Draco moves his hands, rubbing the tops of Harry's shoulders, and then squeezing his biceps. He doesn't seem to be worried about responding to any of Harry's hopes, and Harry supposes that's a better sign than being shut down completely. "You're carrying a lot of tension that wasn't here last night. Tell me where it's coming from. I have a feeling it goes a bit deeper than our dalliance."
Harry groans again as Draco's hands work their way lower, finding all the tight spots on his back and behind his shoulder blades. All the thoughts about Ginny and Albus rise in his mind. He trusts Draco, maybe not so much to discuss his failed marriage. That's still a bit too raw and Ginny'd hate him for telling a new love interest, but Albus – he wants to share that with Draco. "It's my middle child, Albus. He's been having issues … sort of an identity crisis. I've made an appointment with a Healer at St Mungo's tomorrow morning. My therapist suggested we have him examined for something called gender dysphoria. At least, I think that's what it's called."
Draco's hands stop briefly, then start again. He scoots closer behind Harry's crossed legs. Harry watches him spread his leotard clad legs on either side of him, feels Draco's body heat at his back. He remembers last night in the Hog's Head, his body pressed into the mattress, face turned to the side as Draco's covered him with his body – penetrated him with his cock – how close they'd been, like Draco was trying to climb inside him and meld them into one body. He shivers.
"That sounds like way more stress than any sane person could hold without losing the plot a bit."
"Think I have?" Harry asks, and turns his head. Draco hovers his face just behind him, not close enough to kiss … yet.
"I'm undecided," Draco says simply. "This gender dysphoria thing, though. How's it manifesting?"
Harry drops his head to his chest as Draco skirts his fingers over Harry's waist, and to the front, splaying his oh-so-warm hands across Harry's tits. "He insists on wearing this costume dress I bought for him. When he wears it, he insists he really is Alice, from Alice in Wonderland. We thought it was just him latching onto pretend play to help him deal with some stress, but it seems to go a little deeper than that."
Draco's cheek is on Harry's cheek again, his breath sweet, clean, and his voice low and calm. "Just to let you know, in case your brain is making weird connections, I don't have gender dysphoria. Crossdressing for me is part of my identity, but even when I'm wearing the dress and the makeup, I'm still a man."
Harry shudders under the caress in his voice. Draco clings to him almost like he's going to ride piggyback, his arms wrapping Harry in a huge hug, the silky slide of the leotard fabric against his back bringing his longing to touch, to explore, ever closer to the surface. "There's so much I have to learn … about everything."
Draco silences his brain by kissing him. And Harry leans eagerly into it, giving everything he has to Draco. They break apart to breathe, and Draco whispers, still pressed cheek to cheek. "Can I take your mind off it for a little while?"
Harry's cock gives a painful twitch bent sideways in his trousers. "How?"
Draco moves faster than Harry can register, slithering snake-like until he crouches in front of Harry, offering him a hand up. "I'll toss up a Nursery Charm around Scorpius. It'll let me know if he wakes. We can go behind that partition …" He points at a section of wall that juts halfway into the room, dividing the equipment from the rest of the space. "… fool around a bit? A little wandplay?"
Harry's never engaged in 'wandplay', but it sounds right up his alley. He takes Draco's hand and gets to his feet. "Let's go."
Before he can stop to think, Draco pushes him up against the wall of the partition, and holds his arse through his jeans, presses his leotard-clad body up against him, and snogs him senseless. And it's all too good. Harry grips Draco's perfect arse muscles, feeling every flex under his hands, and pulls their groins closer, his arousal soaring higher when he feels Draco's cock grow and harden as they bump against each other, humping through their clothes.
Harry's more than eager to take it further, but the need to stay quiet is its own sort of thrilling. Draco's very much in charge of where they're going and how they'll get there. He holds Harry's hips, gripping with his fingertips – hard enough to bruise – and bumps harder, faster. His kisses move down Harry's jaw line to his neck, and Harry can't help but hold on to the slippery fabric, gasping as Draco clamps his mouth over Harry's pulse point and fucking sucks. He's reduced to little more than being able to gasp an occasional, "fuck," and that only seems to ramp up Draco's drive.
Draco breaks off, swears, and Harry looks down. There's a wet spot on the front of Draco's leotard. He's aware his own pants are likely similarly sticky. Draco's hands are quick. They unfasten Harry's belt and fly in an instant and Harry's about to ask how he's going to manage with his leotard, when Draco finds the catch at his chest and peels it down, slipping his arms free and pulling it down to his thighs. His cock springs free and Harry stares. "Help me out with this." Draco's hands are back on Harry's jeans.
Harry fumbles a bit, it's hard to get his own cock free when Draco's got hold of his trousers and is trying to simultaneously pull them off and hump him because he can't wait. He distracts Draco with a snog and works his jeans off his hips, then pushes the waistband of his briefs down as far as he can. Unfortunately that's not far enough down to free his cock. His pants catch on it and they have to break apart and wait until Harry can fix the situation. He frees his cock and it slaps his stomach with an eager bounce. They have to stifle their laughter for fear of waking Scorpius, but Draco gets them past the hilarity quickly, slotting their erections side by side, his hand wrapped around both in a loose fist.
Harry had been thrilled last night, learning all the wonderful things two men can do to each other with their cocks, but this is his new favourite, at least for the moment. They press their foreheads together, both looking down, watching their cockheads – reddened and swollen – slip in and out of their foreskins, bubbles of precome rising from the tips, and Draco's palm swiping it free and using it to add slick to his grip. "Wait," Harry gasps. He's not sure why, but he feels the urge to take control for a while. "Let me." Draco moves his hand, and Harry swaps their positions – not gracefully – as they have to shuffle with their legs trapped in their clothing, but he manages. "Like this." He slips his cock so it's slotted beside Draco's and holds onto Draco's bum, now wet with perspiration.
He takes Draco's mouth and owns it, kissing so deep they have to breathe through their noses, but Draco catches on, and mirrors Harry's position – hands on arses. They work their hips and rock their cocks against their bellies in slick glides, driving them to climax. Draco moans into Harry's mouth and Harry feels the splash of his orgasm hit his stomach, drip over their cocks and even trickle down their thighs, and that's all it takes. He comes, too, sliding his cock against Draco's tight abs, breaking the kiss to watch it happen, and then they're holding each other, trembling, panting, and shivering. Harry's dizzy when he looks into Draco's eyes. He wants to curl up with Draco in a bed with clean, dry sheets, and just stare into his eyes until he falls asleep.
The sound of Brahms' Lullaby pulls them out of the afterglow. Draco retrieves his wand and spells the mess away, then slips his leotard back on before Harry has a chance to figure out where the music is coming from. It clicks into place – the Nursery Charm. He pulls up his pants and trousers, and fastens them as Draco slips out from behind the partition to check on Scorpius.
Harry's not sure what Draco wants him to do, if he should stay put, or if he's expected to come out and excuse himself. Luckily Draco solves his dilemma.
"Come on out, Harry. Scorpius would like to meet you."
He hopes the four year old Scorpius is equally as clueless as his own children so far about what adults do in the bedroom, and he won't figure anything's amiss when Harry steps out looking just-shagged.
"Hello, Scorpius," Harry says as he approaches. Draco carries Scorpius on his hip, and the little boy rests his sleepy head on Draco's shoulder.
"Hullo," Scorpius says, blinking slowly at him, his eyes the same shade as his father's. "You're Potter?"
Draco's smirk is unapologetic, of course that's how Draco would refer to him in front of his son, at least until recently.
"You can call me, Harry," Harry tells him, then turns to Draco. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
Draco nods. "I'd like that. Send me an owl when your appointment finishes. I'll understand if you need to take a couple of days … depending."
"Thanks," Harry says, and fights the urge to kiss him in front of Scorpius. But Draco solves that, too.
"Do I get a kiss goodbye?"
Harry smiles, gives him a chaste peck on the lips, the touch burning him all over again with longing. Scorpius doesn't seem to care or even notice.
"Goodnight," Harry says, and Disapparates.
Harry wakes in his comfortable new bed. He'd spent several hours the night before setting up the furniture that had been delivered and making his bedroom comfortable. After a quick shower and shave, he pulls on a pair of clean jeans and a T-shirt, and then Apparates to the Leaky Cauldron. He'd thought about taking the fire directly to Ginny's, but after yesterday's disastrous conversation at the door, doesn't want to take any chances at making things worse. He heads out on the Muggle side of the Leaky and makes the short trek to his former house. He carries Al's new dresses in a shopping bag slung over his back.
When he knocks on the door, Ron answers.
"Hey there," Ron says, and steps aside to let him in. "Gin's in a bit of a state. She's really concerned and …"
"Is he here yet?" Ginny's voice calls from upstairs.
"Yeah," Ron calls back, then lowers his voice again. "Just try not to push her buttons."
Harry swallows. "Thanks. Will do."
Albus, James, and Lily run into the room at the sound of his voice, and Rose and Hugo pop up behind them. He almost feels like he's visiting a petting zoo where the children are the hungry animals begging for treats.
"You ready to go, Al?" he asks. Albus pouts. He's wearing one of Ginny's shirts. "Mum didn't get my dress clean. She says I have to wear a robe."
"You're in luck then!" Harry beckons him closer and shows him what's inside his shopping bag. Al lets out an ear-splitting shriek of excitement and latches onto Harry's legs, holding on as tight as he can. "Hey, better let go and put one of them on. We're going to head out the door in a few minutes.
Al nods and releases Harry's legs, but takes him by the hand and pulls him toward the stairs. "Help me."
Harry glances helplessly at Ron, who shrugs and gives him a go on gesture.
Ginny, Harry, and Al stand in the reception area at St Mungo's, waiting for the Welcome Witch to notice them. She's a very old witch and seems to be hard of hearing as they watch her shout back and forth with the person in front of them, finally resorting to pointing at the placard on the wall which labels each department's location by floor.
Fortunately, one of the Healers rushing through spots them and recognises them. "Mr and Mrs Potter, follow me. The children's Healer is on duty in Dai Llewellyn at the moment and she's expecting you. At the sound of Ginny's quick intake of breath, the Healer adds, "Not to worry. She'll be seeing you in a private office, no dangerous bites there."
Al clings to Harry's hand and Harry senses Ginny's eyes on his back as they follow the Healer to the first floor. He wonders if she's jealous of how he seems to connect with Al more than she does, or if she's thinking bitter thoughts about what he might be doing with his newly divorced status, but it could be as simple as her wanting to look to him for comfort as they finally search for answers about Al, and doesn't know how to ask him for it or what would even be considered appropriate. He tells his mind to shut up for the umpteenth time.
The children's Healer is a tall and thin middle aged witch with flyaway grey hair that reminds him of Professor Sprout minus the smudges of earth and bits of plants. She invites them into a nondescript examination room, the other Healer entering behind them and closing the door. One wall of the room is covered with a pull down diagram of the human body, but it doesn't look remotely similar to the ones Harry remembers from his primary school days. Muggle doctors and magical Healers must see the art of Healing from very different perspectives.
Harry, Ginny, and Al are asked to sit on a bench beneath the diagram and the children's Healer shakes each of their hands when they're seated. "My name is Ariana Sprout. I've been working with children here for going on forty years."
Harry starts at her name. "Are you related to Pomona Sprout?" he can't help asking, figuring the hair must be hereditary.
She smiles at him broadly. "No, not related in the biological sense, but you're right that I call her family. She's my wife."
Silence falls over the room. It's discomforting, until Al breaks it. "So, you're gay, right? Just like Daddy?"
Harry didn't think it was possible he'd be outed by his own child, but at least it was done innocently. He really needs to make a public announcement. And then a shiver runs up his spine. The gala is coming up. He reminds himself to double-check the date with Kingsley before he misses it.
Healer Sprout doesn't seem bothered by the announcement, though the other Healer seems to be trying not to meet his eyes. "Let's talk about you," Healer Sprout says to Al. "What would you like me to call you?"
Al grins brightly. "I'm Alice," he says and makes a seated half-curtsy, lifting the hem of his dress.
Sprout nods. "I see that. You look just like Alice from the story. But why don't you tell me if you are Alice from the story or if you're Albus dressed as Alice, or if it's something else."
He scowls and scuffs his mary janes together. "I'm Alice, but it only works when I'm in my Alice dress." He sighs miserably.
Harry can see Ginny trying to keep from crying. He's not sure how to take what Al's saying either, but Rolf's advice rises in his mind. Listen to your child. She's trying to tell you something important.
"Mr and Mrs Potter," Sprout says. "I'm going to take Alice into the next room over. Healer Frisbey will stay with you and explain what we're doing and then we'll check back in."
"You're not going to do a physical examination, are you?" Ginny says, speaking for the first time. "I … I'd rather be present for …"
Sprout shakes her head. "Not at all. If that ever does need to happen, you will be most welcome in the room, but it's not necessary for this diagnosis."
Ginny nods and releases Al's hand Harry hadn't realised she'd been gripping. They watch Al leave with Sprout, chatting at her and asking questions, more vocal than ever. Because she calls him Alice and doesn't question his identity. Harry thinks.
Healer Frisbey waits a moment, and then asks them to stand. She pulls the cord on the bottom of the diagram revealing a window into the next room where they can see Al and Healer Sprout sitting on the floor of a room painted in bright primary colours and occupied by a party of stuffed animals and floor cushions.
Then Healer Frisbey jabs her wand at the window and they can hear the conversation in the next room. "We can hear them, but they can't hear us. The window on the other side is a magical mural that changes based on what makes the child most comfortable."
"Why are we doing it this way?" Ginny asks, and Harry is glad she asked. He wonders the same thing.
Frisbey Transfigures the bench into a sofa facing the window, and Harry and Ginny sit back down. "Honestly, it's because children are hard-wired to want to please their parents. With a potential diagnosis of gender dysphoria, it's important the parents not have that influence during the interview. You may be upset, or even feel like you're being unfairly punished, and neither of those reactions are going to help Alice tell us the truth about what she's feeling."
"But the diagnosis hasn't happened yet," Ginny interjects. "Why are we referring to him as Alice before that's even happened?"
Harry touches her shoulder, relieved she doesn't flinch. Instead, she turns watery eyes on him. "Because," he says, testing the words in his mouth. "She asked us to call her Alice."
Ginny's tears fall freely, and Harry hands her a handkerchief without mentioning them. They watch the interview together without further words.
Healer Frisbey draws up a dictation quill and sets it to take notes. It's a painful and eye-opening fifteen minutes.
After Sprout thanks Alice for the chat, she and Healer Frisbey exchange places. Through the window, Harry watches Frisbey talk to Al about the mural while Al smiles happily, hugging a plush dragon.
Sprout joins them in the office, smiling contentedly. "Your child is truly engaging." She rounds the sofa and leans against the wall beside the window. "It's clear to me that Alice is a transgender child. She may have been born with boy parts, but she knows who she is inside. You mentioned Rolf Scamander recommended you to seek this evaluation?" Harry nods. Ginny wipes her face with the handkerchief, but seems to have run out of tears. "I recommend talking to him together. Take Alice to see him if you'd like. Tell him I've diagnosed Alice as transgender, and I recommend she be allowed to transition immediately."
Ginny sits up straighter, and slips her hand into Harry's. He takes it. "I don't understand what you mean by transition."
"Begin allowing Alice to be herself. Call her Alice, and use female pronouns when you refer to her. Take her shopping for clothes that reflect who she is. Try hard to reconcile with yourselves that you have a daughter in Alice, that you haven't lost a son, you've just had a daughter all along. There's much less collateral damage when the transition is allowed to happen organically – as soon as the child insists, and Alice is more than insisting. I think parental counseling with Rolf or another therapist he recommends will help."
"But what if it is a phase?" Ginny asks. "Won't it cause damage and confusion if he … I mean, she … changes her mind?"
"Allowing her to live as a girl and then allowing her to change her mind is respecting her as an individual. It can happen, but most trans folk know early on what their sex is, and denying it is as damaging as denying them. It can lead to trust problems … problems trusting reality. Their reality is reality. It is real, and denying it …" She sighs, then starts again, voice softer. "The suicide rate among trans people is higher than in any other population. I know you want what's best for Alice, and loving her exactly as she is is the best thing you can possibly do."
"And the gender dysphoria?" Harry asks. "You keep saying transgender, but what's the difference or is there a difference?"
Sprout pulls a couple of books off the bookshelf beside the door. Hands one to each of them. Transparenting – a parent's guide to transexualism in the wizarding world. "You'll find a lot of answers to those questions in here. But right now, I'd say Alice isn't having too much of a hard time with dysphoria. That happens when the way her body looks causes massive amounts of discomfort. It may become more of a problem as she approaches puberty, but there are measures we can take to keep the discomfort minimal. Talk to Rolf about any questions you have and feel free to check back in with me after a while. It's incredibly important for trans people to have a Healer oversee their transitions, and to seek advice when issues crop up."
They leave St Mungo's with Alice holding holding hands with both of them, chatting about how happy she is after talking with Ariana. But, as they make their way back to the Leaky, Harry can see in Ginny's eyes the same relief he knows must be in his own – they have their happy child back, and it doesn't matter that she isn't who they thought she was.
They stop in at a children's clothing shop in Diagon Alley, Bewitching Wraps, and Alice is thrilled when the shop assistant asks how old she is and gets the pronoun right. There's no longer any question in his mind that they're making the right decision by following the Healer's recommendations.
They return to the house where Harry reads two chapter of Alice in Wonderland to the kids, to make up for the days he'd missed. Ginny comes in after the last one and tells him Rolf can fit them in later in the day. He hugs his kids and says goodbye. He's got to meet Kingsley next, and as he leaves the house, finds himself wishing there were more hours in the day so he might be able to stop and catch his breath.
Harry finally arrives at Kingsley's flat, unsure if he feels drained or invigorated. He's a ball of nervous energy, but could drop in a second if he allows himself to slow down.
Kingsley welcomes him in and pours him a cup of tea from the pot waiting on the coffee table. "I take it your night out went all right," he says as Harry adds a sugar cube to his cup.
"Yeah," he rubs the back of his head absently, then realises he's doing it and stops. How much should he tell Kingsley?
"You go home with somebody?" Kingsley asks, reading him like a fucking book.
"Please don't make fun of me. I've had a really rough morning." He explains his statement at Kingsley's concerned eyebrow raise. "Kid stuff. Everything's all right, just exhausting." He shrugs and tries to relax a fraction. "What did you want to talk about?"
Kingsley clears his throat and Harry attempts to focus. "I did a bit of digging about that bloke, David." Harry's attention goes razor sharp in an instant. "Seems he appeared out of nowhere. I couldn't find anything about where he came from before he arrived or where he got the money to start investing in business. The people backing him tell me they were convinced to sponsor him at the urging of a trusted, and unfortunately – unless I have a warrant to investigate – private advisor. I don't know what to tell you. He's out as a gay man, and working with Draco Malfoy in running a massage parlour, yet these people are the same ones pushing for a return to 'traditional wizarding values', the people who are against rights for mixed magical species, like part-giants and Veela … You can imagine how they feel about homosexuality. It's partly because of people like them and their power to buy votes, that keeps me from coming out."
"That's odd," Harry says. "I wonder if this private advisor is the person behind the threats on Draco's business, and who Narcissa Malfoy senses has been following her. What am I supposed to do about David?" Harry asks, not thinking that he hasn't even given Kingsley the whole story.
"What do you mean? I thought you were going to stay out of all this, being on leave."
"Uh – shit." He's really stepped in it up to his eyes. He figures not is as good a time as any to just come clean about everything. "I should tell you … I'm not coming back … to the Department, I mean. And …" he says over Kingsley's attempts to interrupt. "I've sort of fallen – accidentally – right into the middle of the mess. I haven't even told Gin yet. Our divorce was only finalised yesterday." He rubs at the back of his head again, his hair has to look like it's been ravaged by a niffler. "But I think she suspects there's somebody … Fuck. I'm really bollocks at all this … Kingsley, er – I'm actively getting to know Draco in a …" He leaves off with a gesture as Kingsley finally gets his words out.
"Hold up a second. Let's talk this out. The guy I'm currently stirring up dirt on is supposedly Malfoy's partner, and now my Auror on leave is butting in and creating some kind of love triangle? Am I hearing that right?"
Harry takes the blow as best he can. "Yeah, pretty much. But David wasn't actually ever Draco's er – sexual partner. So the triangle's not as messed up as it could be."
Kingsley inhales deeply, and breathes out a low rumbling murmur. "Keep your eyes peeled, Harry. I'm not accepting your resignation until I have it in my hand, but even then, if shit goes south, you'd be better off under Ministry protection with your leave status. Let me know if you start getting threats, too. Do not engage if you spot a threat. If you feel eyes on you, any inkling that something's off, I want to know about it."
"Well … McLaggen stopped by a few days back. He mentioned a corruption case? Something that you were heading and didn't want me to know about? He said it involved sex trafficking of minors."
Kinsley's teacup shatters in his huge hand. He drops the pieces on the coffee table, and Harry can't help but shrink back from the anger growing around him. Kingsley seems to catch himself and force a state of calm.
"Harry, That's news to me. I haven't heard hide nor hair of any such a case. This means something's gone rotten in our own ranks." He takes a few more deep breaths and repairs his cup with a tap of his wand. "I don't know what McLaggen's playing at, if he's part of the shitstorm or if he's being led about by the nose … or even if he's just trying to get you riled up so you break the terms of your leave. Look. I'll get back to you. I need to get some of the Order back together." He breathes through his frustrations again, clenching his teeth. "When I can't trust my own staff, I've got to rely on those who've proved their loyalty. In the meantime, with the gala tonight and…"
"Fuck!" Harry stands up so quickly he drops his cup. Fortunately, it hits the carpeted floor and doesn't break. "I entirely forgot the date. I meant to ask … shit!"
"Well you'd best whip up a speech and dust off your dress robes. I'm counting on you to get us through tonight. We don't want anybody who's trying play us to think we're onto them. That wouldn't end well."
"Yeah, all right. I'll be there."
Fuck his fucking life.
It feels like he has an axe lodged in his head, right down the centre. He's torn in so many different directions.
Harry and Ginny walk up the steps to Rolf's office, leaving the kids once more with Ron and Hermione. He's done what he can to lighten his load, handed off the information he has to Kingsley … He just needs to get through tonight and then let somebody else bear that burden. His family is more important that a corruption case at work, and Draco … All he wants to do is curl up in bed and let Draco's magical fingers work all his stresses out and wipe them away. He wonders if Draco would be up for getting together after the gala. The thought lightens his mood.
Ginny pokes him in the side with her elbow, his headache back in full force. "Can you not think about whatever you're thinking about when you're around me?"
He frowns, and chooses not to answer, then raps on Rolf's office door.
"Harry, welcome," Rolf says, and then amends, "And, Ginny. Come on in."
Harry moves aside to let Ginny go in first, and when she sits in his usual place on the sofa, chooses to sit in one of the poufs by the coffee table.
Rolf seems to notice the tension between Harry and Ginny, but doesn't draw attention to it. He sits his wheeled chair and rubs his hands together, apparently ready to get this over with so he can get back to his babies.
Harry's mind wanders as Ginny explains what the Healers had said about Alice, clasping and unclasping her hands in her lap. She looks as far out of her comfort zone as Harry feels. At least they're on even footing in that regard.
Rolf listens to her intently, and then turns to Harry. "Harry, do you have anything to add?"
He wasn't listening, and flushes with guilt. The door leading to the flat opens and Luna tiptoes in, a baby in her arms and another wrapped around her chest in a long length of fabric.
Rolf closes his eyes for a moment, opens them, and turns to her. "Having trouble?"
She shakes her head and wanders over to the sofa. She sits beside Ginny. Ginny's hand immediately goes out to touch the baby's head peeking out from the top of the wrap. "No. I'm just starved for company. Harry and Ginny don't mind. They're special cases."
Ginny coos at the babies, looking as though she'll take any distraction offered, and Harry doesn't give a damn if Luna sits in at this point. "It's fine with us, Rolf," he says. "I think the only question I have is, what can we expect from now on? How is this going to play out long term? We have no experience and we don't know any transgender people. Is my child going to be …" He can't stop it – his eyes water – his worries about Alice growing up different are too heavy. "Is anybody going to love my child when she grows up?"
Luna interrupts. "But, Harry, you do." She looks to Rolf, and they have one of those silent happy couple conversations that Harry's never been able to manage. Luna turns back to him again."You do know a transgender person."
Harry and Ginny stare at each other, equally baffled. They look back to Luna. "Who?" they ask at the same time.
"I am transgender," Rolf says, and their heads whip in sync towards him. Harry's not sure if Rolf is being serious. He has a beard. He has a wife. They have twin babies. But why would he lie about something like that? He wouldn't.
"How –" Harry looks to Luna and the twins, then feels he's probably just put his foot in his mouth again and shuts up.
Rolf chuckles. "I transitioned later than I hope you'll allow for Alice. It wasn't an easy road and I lost some family and friends, but a few have come around and I've built my real family with Luna." Harry has the sense Rolf is reading the rest of his confusion on his face. "With magic, there's so much we can do to make the process work, Harry. It's not like it used to be, with Healers sticking to the old ways, catering to the people in charge who can't grasp any other existence than the one they've always known."
And, all at once, that makes a hell of a lot of sense to him. It stands to reason that a witch or wizard could change their bodies to their proper sex if they wanted to. After all, Fleur and Hermione temporarily changed into him using Polyjuice Potion, though he hopes, in Rolf's case and perhaps in Alice's future, that the bodies they're altering are their own and not borrowed from others. Though, if that was the case and the donors volunteered their use, then …
"Harry, are you over-thinking things again?" Luna asks pleasantly.
"Er – probably," he admits, scrubbing his hand through his hair. "So the technical details of the transition, er … I can read about them in the book Healer Sprout gave us?"
Rolf nods and takes one of the babies Luna's gets up to offer him. He twists back and forth in his wheeled chair, soothing the snuffling bundle. "Some people choose not to alter their physical bodies at all. That's their prerogative. Others do it as soon as they are legally able to. It's an individual thing. The important thing to remember, Harry," he nods to Ginny, "and Ginny, is that a person isn't what happens to be in their pants. That's nobody's business but the person who owns the parts. Similarly, with your daughter, just let her be who she is. There's no need to bring up her genitals unless she approaches you with concerns about them. If she does start to fixate on them – if they make it unbearable for her, then you need to connect with a Healer again and decide what to do at that point, but follow Alice's lead. It's her body and her decision what's done to it."
"What do we tell other people if they notice she has a penis?" Ginny blurts out, then goes red in the face.
Rolf takes it in stride. "Well, you need to, with all your children, really, just teach them that their bodies are theirs and not to show off their parts to people who have no business seeing them. But if the subject comes up, as it does with children, simply explain that some girls have penises. Alice, will likely back this up, as she clearly identifies as a girl and she has a penis. Kids seem to take the idea in an easier stride than adults do. It's better to educate them about how some people are different, but no less equal than others, before they become jaded adults who have trouble facing a viewpoint they've never considered."
He swivels with his baby in his arms while the room falls quiet, but for the suckling coming from Luna and the baby at her breast. "Harry," Luna says eventually. "Rolf and I have a wonderful marriage. It may not be what others would consider normal, but then … Normal is dreadfully dull. I would just raise Alice as you would any other daughter, and trust that she'll find her way and build her family just the same as your other children."
Rolf grunts as the baby in his arms starts to stir with some telling nappy-filling noises, and then sicks up on his lap. Harry remembers those days too well. He smiles at the baby, and then reflexively at Ginny, though the divide between them makes it awkward. "I'll put you in touch with the Vital Statistics Office at the Ministry when you're ready to have her birth certificate corrected."
They thank Rolf and Luna for getting them in so quickly, despite having their hands full, and walk side by side back to the Leaky Cauldron. They've got a lot to think about, and Harry has a speech to write and dress robes to locate.
Draco answers the bell when Charity rings it at the front desk. They don't get many walk-ins at Dynamic Massage and Wellness, and he feels off his game when he sees the man in Auror robes standing at the counter.
"What can I do for you, Auror?" he asks as pleasantly as he can manage. There have been too many odd things happening lately for him to consider this a random visit. He recalls David had said he thought the bloke he took the camera from at the club was an Auror gone rogue.
"Awww, no need to be so formal there, Malfoy. I remember you from school. Sluggy's said some good things about how you've pulled yourself up by your bootstraps in the past few years." He extends his hand to shake and Draco takes it, not enthusiastically, but he'd rather not ruffle the feathers of anybody in a position of power. "Call me McLaggen or Cormac, if you'd like. I'm Potter's partner on the squad. Harry Potter. You know him, of course?"
Draco nods carefully, liking this bloke less and less with every passing second.
McLaggen – Draco staunchly refuses to think of him on a first name basis – continues jabbering on, not taking the hint that Draco would like to know what business he has coming into the parlour. "Yeah, I saved Potter's life a couple weeks ago. Poor bloke's losing his edge, but you can't expect a man to continue to perform at maximum capacity without breaking down eventually."
"What do you want from me?" Draco interrupts, no longer trying to temper his distaste in the conversation.
"I'll be taking lunch now, Mr Draco, if that's all right," Charity says, standing up and glancing nervously between the two of them. He waves her away. It's probably best that she not witness her boss losing his shit and going off on an Auror. She grabs her purse and scoots out the front door around McLaggen's bulk.
McLaggen doesn't bat an eyelash. He doesn't take Draco's bait. "I'm off-duty," he says, then rolls his shoulders and arms, and Draco doesn't miss the flex of his pecs as a demonstration of his perceived alpha male status. "Just feel like my back's tied up in knots. Like I said, Sluggy's mentioned you run this place. Thought I'd drop in for a massage, if you're up for it?"
Draco is most certainly not up for it, but McLaggen steps into his personal space and it seems smarter to just go along with what he wants, and get him the fuck out as fast as possible. He takes a step backwards, and then turns around. "Follow me."
He leads McLaggen into the small room with the massage table and shelves of potion bottles.
"Whoa," McLaggen exclaims. "Nice set up you've got here, Malfoy. Colour me impressed."
Draco flicks his wand at the fountain in the corner, starting his massage music halfway through. He's not giving this prick a full session, though he may charge him for one – if only to cover his own pain and suffering expenses. "I'll turn around so you can undress, then just lie on the table face down. I'll cover you with a towel and we can begin."
McLaggen's eyes bug out at the suggestion he take off his clothes. He eyes the table suspiciously. "Think I'll leave my trousers on if it's all the same. I only need my upper body worked on."
Draco gives a short nod, wondering how the hell he's going to get out of this situation. He isn't stupid and can see the bumbling idiot's trying to back him into some sort of corner. As McLaggen strips off his robes and shirt, Draco doesn't miss the homophobic reaction McLaggen has to being shirtless in front of Draco.
"Excuse me a moment," Draco says, an idea striking him. "I'll go wash my hands and warm them up while you get comfortable. Try to relax with the music. It'll make the massage more enjoyable."
McLaggen grunts his understanding and Draco steps into the short hallway. He Conjures his Patronus, startled by its altered form. It wasn't a doe previously, and he's not sure how he feels about having his Patronus match up with Harry's stag, but he pushes the intrusive thoughts aside as his fear picks up. He has to let David know what's happening before he gets in too deep. "I'm at the parlour. There's an Auror sniffing around. I need your help." The doe gallops silently through the wall. He throws a Cleansing and Warming Charm on his hands and returns to the room, his wand tucked in his pocket within easy reach.
McLaggen isn't lying on the table when Draco returns, he's rifling through Draco's shelves of potions and entirely messing up the organisation. "There are only oils, shampoos, and lotions there," he says, voice underlined with disapproval. "They're not on public display."
McLaggen lifts his hands. "Hey, no offence. Just wanted to see what sort of scents you have available." He sits on the massage table, as if sizing up the feel of it. "Is it all right if you do my chest first? I'm not very comfortable on my stomach, but if I relax it should be fine when I turn over."
Draco huffs a breath and gestures that it's fine – obviously McLaggen can do whatever the fuck he wants, and is going to do so regardless of anything Draco has to say about it.
"Thanks, mate," McLaggen says and lies back carefully. He shows off his core body strength, tightening his abs. Draco hates shitheads like this. They all think they're so fucking hot that gay men are going to fawn all over them, that they'll be able to turn it around, to rub their supposed masculinity in Draco's face, and try to hold him as far under their boot as they can. He's been through it before.
He covers his palms with a sandalwood potion. As he reaches for McLaggen's chest, McLaggen grabs his hand and stares at it. "Wow. Your nails look really good … healthy. Do you have them manicured?"
Draco huffs again, but he can't exactly get started without the use of his hands. "We do offer manicures here. Pedicures too. Are you interested?"
"Nah," McLaggen says, releasing his hand, and finally allowing Draco to start the massage. "I've got a man's hands. It wouldn't look as good on me as it does on you."
That's taking it too far. Draco stops massassing and puts his hands on his hips. "What exactly is that supposed to imply?"
Harry just wants to sleep when he finally returns to his house. He gazes longingly at his bed, but forces himself to have a quick shower before sitting down and forcing out a speech.
At his desk he scrawls a quick message to Draco, explaining about the gala and asking if he's free afterwards, that he could really use a night in if Draco's up for it. He sends it off with Archimedes, and then starts writing. He pours all the lessons he's learned over the past couple of weeks into the speech. He starts with talking about the definition of family and how the concept extends to those not related by blood, but by togetherness, drawing a connection to the adopted war orphans and his own welcome back to the wizarding world. Then he shifts to the importance of how listening to what the younger generation has to say and allowing them to influence changing times, strengthens society. When he finishes giving his speech, he plans to end it by coming out as gay and hoping to hell the crowd's reaction to the speech will be positive enough to balance the shock that will undoubtedly follow.
He wonders how Draco will react the news making the paper. People will, no doubt, put two and two together when they see him frequenting Draco's massage parlour.
He finds his dress robes and shoots a quick Dry Cleaning Charm at them, figuring it's better than turning up a wrinkled mess. Archimedes returns and flaps his wings to get Harry's attention as he perches on the footboard of Harry's bed. The letter to Draco is still tied to his foot, but the seal has been broken. He takes it up and scans the note – there's no response written on it. It makes him uneasy. Archimedes has never been intercepted, nor failed to complete a delivery in the seven years Harry's had him, and now, apparently, both occasions have come to pass.
He glances at his pocket watch. There's only an hour until he's expected at the Ministry's Atrium where the gala is being held. He takes a few deep breaths and Disapparates to Diagon Alley, materialising outside Draco's massage parlour. There's a notice posted on the front door with a Sticking Charm. Closed Until Further Notice. It's stamped with the Ministry of Magic's official seal.
He quietens the panic rising in his chest, shifting into autopilot, and Disapparates to Wiltshire. He's winded when he looks up at the imposing wrought-iron gates of Malfoy Manor. The trip is a little further than he normally would use Apparition for, but needs must. He rings the bell.
Narcissa answers him in person. She's carrying Scorpius on her hip and Harry's relieved that at least Draco's son is in safe hands. "Have you heard anything from Draco?" Harry wheezes, still catching his breath.
She looks startled. "No, whatever is … Would you like to come inside?"
Harry braces his hands on his knees, his mind spinning, and then straightens up. "Something's happened. I don't know anything about it. His shop's been closed up and there's a Ministry notice on the door." He checks his watch again. He has less than half an hour. "Look, I have to be at the War Orphan gala in a few minutes, but if Draco turns up, or even David, will you tell them I'm at the Ministry? I'll start looking into it myself as soon as I finish my speech."
He's shaking from head to foot and hates the sensation of going in to face an unknown danger. It's a new sensation, hating it. The thrill of the chase used to be the only thing that got his heart pumping.
Narcissa nods at once. "Of course. I'll keep Scorpius inside, and set my house-elves to watch for Draco and David."
Harry nods. He waves back to Scorpius when the little boy lifts his hand and Disapparates again to London.
The gala is as Harry expected. The Atrium has been decked out with decoration likely costing thousands of Galleons that, in his mind, would be better spent if they actually went to the charities being promoted, rather than on making the attendees – wealthy and influential in their own right – feel more so, patting them on the back for their public giving. Really, he's shot of the whole concept. You don't go to prince from pauper and forget what it feels like to suffer.
He's approached and schmoozed left, right, and centre, and does his best to keep a smile on his face, but the worry about finding out what happened to Draco wears his patience thin.
"Ah, there he is; the man of the hour!"
Harry spins around and finds himself trapped in an entirely unwelcome and uncomfortable embrace by his former Potions professor.
"Hello, Horace," he says, having given up the argument a long time ago of trying to maintain a distance. He doesn't dislike Slughorn – the man just reminds him of the fading bureaucracy Harry really wishes would fade faster.
Kingsley is similarly plucked from the crowd by Slughorn's other pudgy hand. It makes Harry feel a little better to know that even the Minister, as a former student, isn't exempt from Slughorn's boisterous clinging.
Kingsley and Harry allow Slughorn to use them as props as he mingles with notable names for a full ten minutes and then Kingsley finally seems to find a solution.
"Excuse us, Horace, I need to prepare Harry for his big speech."
Slughorn releases them as if his hands are on fire. "Oh, by all means, off with you. There's nothing more important, Harry, than preparedness when you represent a symbol of triumph."
Harry's ready to argue that point, to attempt to downplay the grandiose statement so the crowd who has overheard it doesn't think he believes it about himself, but Kingsley grips him by the elbow and escorts him to an empty space beside the lifts.
Kingsley's voice is low, troubled. "Harry, I haven't seen McLaggen, Robards or Dawlish yet this evening. They're meant to be overseeing the watch-wizards."
"Er – Do you know anything about the Ministry signing off on closing Draco's massage parlour?" he asks equally quiet. They're shoulder to, well, Harry's face only comes up to Kingsley's shoulders to begin with, but they're standing close, and Harry swears he heard Kingsley whisper a Muffliato before they began speaking.
"This is bad, Potter," Kingsley says. Harry can tell it's bad when Kingsley reverts to using his surname and also whips his hat off and wipes sweat from his bald brow. "I've got Arthur, Bill, and Charlie standing ready. If it all goes to hell, you need to protect the bystanders in your block the best you can, and get down if we call out 'Fawkes'. I have a feeling you're the one they're after."
Harry nods. Before the Order had disbanded after the war, 'Fawkes' was code for 'drop'. He looks around, nobody seems to be looking in their direction which is odd. At a gala, the keynote speaker and the Minister for Magic shouldn't just be able to have a quiet chat without being pointed out. But he's not questioning that now. He needs more information. "Draco didn't receive an owl I sent, but the note had been tampered with when my owl returned. I think he's in trouble."
"Let's just get through tonight with keeping you safe, Harry. I promise to do all in my power to find out what's happening as soon as this thing wraps up." Harry doesn't like the idea, but there's no way around it he can see right now. "Please tell me you have a speech prepared." Kingsley actually rolls his eyes as he says this. Harry wants to stand on his foot, but restrains himself.
"Hey, I'm the Chosen One, right? I've got this."
He'd intended to diffuse his nerves with humour, but it falls flat.
"Mmm-hmm," is all Kingsley has to say in reponse. Harry notices him cancel the Privacy Charm and the full noise of the gala is once more pressing in on his ears. "You have five minutes. Prepare yourself."
Kingsley walks away and signals to the gala's host to call the guests to attention.
"Harry?" He turns. David stands beside one of the lifts and he looks like death warmed over.
Harry goes to him immediately. "What happened? Did Narcissa send you? Draco? Are you all right?"
David seems to be struggling to stand, as if his nerves are recovering post Cruciatus Curse; Harry recognises the symptoms all too well. "No, I haven't heard, but my …" He stops again, squeezes his eyes tightly shut, his lashes wet, and then he seems to relax again. He tilts his head from side to side as if working out a kink in his neck. "Sorry, I'm having muscle cramps like nothing else. Painful bastards." He smiles and winks, then slaps Harry's bum. "I think you're wanted on the stage."
Harry stares at him. Something's not right here, and as he looks to the left and right, nobody seems to have noticed that David just slapped Harry's arse in public. "You're right. Look, just stay out of trouble tonight, yeah? Stay safe."
David offers him his usual charming smile, shooing him away as if Harry's a worried little boy making Giants of Goblins.
He hears his name being announced and walks to the front of the Atrium – the crowd parting to let him through. He can't help feeling, as he approaches the platform, like he had when he'd walked through the forest, escorted by his loved ones' shades, to meet his death.
He climbs the stairs to the platform and the Atrium rings out with applause. It echoes off the marble walls until he holds up his hands. It's so odd – how the entire room goes silent with a simple gesture from him. Who is he, really?
He glances out above the heads of the crowd; it's easier to appear to be making eye contact without actually doing it, and ever since Hermione had offered up that genius piece of advice his stage fright hasn't been much of a problem. There's no need for a Sonorus with the acoustics in the room. With the crowd hushed, his voice rings out clear as day.
"I want to thank you all for coming tonight as we gather to celebrate seven years free from Voldemort. It's an honour to stand before you. I was a war orphan and lived a life I hope no other child who has lost their parents ever has to endure. And thanks to your generous support of the War Orphan League, no parentless child from the war will have to. Please raise your glasses to toast Cordelia Smith, who was adopted a week ago, and, with her adoption, all the children who had no family now do."
He hates this part of the speech, but it's necessary. The people who will be pledging money to furthering Kingsley's vision of a new wizarding world want to be sweet talked. He spots Arthur at the edge of the crowd to his left, his hand in his robe pocket, eyes sweeping the crowd and his block of the perimeter. Harry drifts his gaze to the other blocks, and spies Bill at the edge of his far left, Charlie at the far right, and Kingsley on his right side.
"Family. That's a word I want to stress tonight. The importance of family and what it stands for. Having each other's back, supporting each other during hard times as well as being present to celebrate during the good times. There are many ways families are made." He catches from the corner of his eyes a few disapproving looks from some of the older and outspoken people, famous for touting a return to traditional values, but is pleased to find the majority of the guests are in enthusiastic agreement with him. "I came back to the wizarding world, starved for love as well as acceptance, hardly daring to believe that a family was possible for me. All of you accepted me back and, in a sense, welcomed me home to the wizarding family."
There's a loud explosion of applause at these words and it takes a full minute to quiet the room again. "The Weasleys welcomed me directly into their family so I would never spend another Christmas alone." Less applause follows, but Harry can see Arthur wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, before putting his hand back in his pocket. He swallows. "My children and my now ex-wife are also my family. I know many of you may frown upon the idea of divorce, but Ginny will always be close to my heart. She has been my best friend and is the mother of our children, James, Alice, and Lily." His heart skips a beat as he fears somebody will point out the change in Albus's name, but nobody seems to notice. "And though we now reside in two houses, our children will never want for love."
He takes a deep breath before plunging on with the rest of his speech, falling into his passion for it, and starting to feel stronger, bolstered by the growing support of the majority of those listening.
"Family as it extends to the wizarding world as a whole is also growing stronger the more we accept and support each other. Lifting up a lonely old man with an invitation to dinner, a long-term patient at St Mungo's with a granted Christmas wish, and opening our lives and homes to those who don't have a home, this builds us up. The more respect and inclusion we show to those who are at most risk for exclusion, the stronger our ranks grow. Similarly, my children have taught me a very important lesson lately, and that is that when they are trying to tell me something very important in their world, that I should pay attention and respect what is real for them. I think as a society that same lesson would also build us as stronger, better er – parents, for lack of a better word – the older generation listening to the realities of the younger, and welcoming change and a new vision of what the world could become. We improve over time by building on top of strong foundations, but foundations alone don't make a society. The direct living members that make up the family of wizarding folk are the living representations of a stronghold. It is important to listen to the issues that are important to each generation, and to incorporate them into building the whole stronger and more inclusive than it was previously."
The traditional values supporters are red in the face, but Harry notices a few of them are listening, albeit not happily, but at least they aren't shutting him out entirely … yet. He hasn't told Kingsley his plan for coming out, and hopes to all that he holds dear, that it won't destroy everything he's just said. The rest of the room applauds even more enthusiastically than they had when he mentioned his return to the wizarding world, drowning the naysayers out.
He's brimming with nerves as the applause dies down. This is it. He's going to do it. Silence drapes the room. He braces himself, hoping his hands dangling at his sides don't look as stupid and useless as they feel. He hadn't been aware of them this entire time, and now, what his hands are doing is all he can think about. His fingers twitch and he has to force himself not to grip the edges of his dress robes.
"There's something else I would like to tell you all tonight. It's a secret that, until recently, I'd never shared with a living soul. It was a secret that ate me up from the inside to the point I was ready to die rather than to face it." The crowd is enraptured, practically standing on tiptoe watching him. He refocuses at the place directly above their heads. "Even me, with this title I was given, the Chosen One, even though I love my children and my family, I felt so much shame inside that I thought of leaving them behind rather than facing myself in the mirror. I want to announce this tonight in the hopes that those who also carry this burden on their hearts might know they aren't alone, that they aren't weak. I speak from experience when I say it takes a hell of a lot of strength to keep going day after day while it weighs on you. But after you face it, the change is so significant, it's like gaining sight after being born blind …"
He takes another couple of bracing breaths and then it all goes to pot. He hears Kingsley's call of "Fawkes!" and drops to the floor as a red Stunner races over his head, singeing the ends of his hair. He grips his wand and rolls to the front of the platform, just in time for a second Stunner to miss him and leave a burning hole in the wood. He jumps down into chaos. His instructions from Kingsley were clear; they rise to his mind, and he moves into firing off a round of Shield Charms to cover the people in the front block, maintaining his spells as he instructs them to get out of the way and to escape to the nearest fireplace.
He's so focussed on ensuring every person is safe that he drops a Shield on his left side, takes a Stinging Hex to his arm, and loses control over all but the three Shields directly in front of him. But the people under his protection have all made it safely away. He peers over the rest of the Atrium, assessing the danger. The other members of the Order made fast work of clearing their blocks, but a yelp, followed by a gurgle and stamping boots across the marble tiles, draws his attention to Bill running towards his father. Arthur is down, and a pool of blood under his right shoulder seems to grow in size before Harry's eyes. Kingsley's been restrained on Harry's right with a Binding Spell so tight, he's barely able to open and close his eyes, a helpless log on the floor. The assailants approach. They're led by Robards, the Head of the MLE, and Harry can make out McLaggen and Dawlish in their ranks. There are only half a dozen of them. One from the Department of Mysteries; one, a recent recruit to the Hit Wizards, and the last is David.
Harry can't see any way out of the situation. If he still wielded the Elder Wand, he'd be able to handle them all without any problems, but with Draco missing, likely taken by this same band of militants, and his Father-In-Law, dying on the floor, the fight goes out of him. He lifts his hands in surrender, drops his Shields and his wand, which clatters to the floor, far too loud in his ears.
McLaggen is the one to subdue him. He fastens magical shackles to Harry's wrists and ankles, and three of the others carry Kingsley behind him. David follows meekly at the rear, saying nothing. Harry's relieved Bill and Charlie weren't chained as well, and he holds on to all the hope he has that they are able to get Arthur to St Mungo's in time.
Harry and Kingsley are escorted into the lift to level two, and then down the hall, past the holding cell – where Draco sits fuming inside it, bound to his chair – to Robards office. Harry waits while the militants pile into the small room. David stands at Robards' right side and McLaggen at his left. Harry glares at his former partner, his jaw clenched and brows furrowed. He knows enough about how these big shot types handle difficult prisoners to not speak until after he's heard the charges against him. They'd fired Stunners at him, endangered innocent people, possibly murdered a Ministry employee, who was acting under the Minister's instructions, and hogtied the Minister for Magic himself. Whatever this is, it's rotten, and it goes way deep. They must have massive financial support to think they can overturn the government so easily. He catalogues the offenses he observes, holding onto them in case he has a chance to speak to somebody capable of seeing reason.
They prop Kingsley up against the wall, and Harry can't keep quiet any longer. "You'll want to loosen the Binding Spell on the Minister. If he dies from asphyxiation, that could put a real dent in your plans."
Robards looks up at him, levelling him with his stern brown eyes, then he turns to Kingsley. "Not going to try any funny business, Minister?"
Kingsley closes his eyes, a sign of resignation. Harry hates it. Robards points his wand at Kingsley and loosens his spell. Kingsley gasps for breath and nearly topples over, but David is at his side in a moment, helping him to stay on his feet. Harry's not sure what's going on with David, but it's almost like he's suffering from a personality disorder or … He stops. Blinks. Or he's fighting an Imperius Curse. He keeps his mouth firmly clamped shut and waits, eyes trained on Robards, pleased when Robards looks away first.
Robards clears his throat and begins to read the list of charges they've compiled against Harry. He's barely through his opening statements when Kingsley regains his voice. "Gawain. He has the right to have his attorney present before you list the accusations."
Robards glowers, but doesn't contradict him. "Who's your attorney, Potter?" he asks, his voice gravelly.
"I said, let me through!" Hermione shouts from outside the door. She bangs the door open with a spell, making the Unspeakable jump until he bumps into the Hit Wizard. "What in blazing hell is the meaning of this arrest?" Her voice is pure venom. "You've committed crimes against innocent citizens in order to arrest Harry Potter and you've bound the Minister for Magic! Read the charges this instant and pray to god you have a solid case I can't break!"
Harry sighs in relief at her presence.
Robards clears his throat again and reads from his missive. "As we mentioned earlier in the day when bringing Draco Malfoy in to hear the accusations against him …"
"And has Draco Malfoy heard the accusations while in the presence of his representing attorney, or did that little legal detail escape your notice?" Hermione is so full of fury, her usual bushy hair appears three times as large. Harry wouldn't be surprised if it burst into flames from uncontrolled magic.
Robards snaps back at her, apparently losing his patience with her insistence on following the law to the letter. "Mr Malfoy declined representation. His guilt is clear."
"You mean the legal counsel you offered was worth less than the shit you stepped in on your way to work this morning? He has representation as of right now. I will represent them both."
McLaggen leans in and whispers something in Robards' ear that makes him pause. "Fine. McLaggen, fetch him here at once."
Silence falls, and then the sound of scuffling feet and Draco swearing is heard until McLaggen finally pushes him into the room, held up by the scruff of his shirt. Harry can barely bring himself to look at Draco. He's afraid the reason Draco is even in this mess is his fault. McLaggen roughly pushes Draco into place beside Harry so they stand bound side by side, glaring down at Robards.
Robards seems to feel the combined weight of their glares and chooses to stand up to read the accusations. Harry glances at Draco and sees pink spots rising on his cheeks. He's heard them already, Harry reads in his posture. He's humiliated at the fact that they'll now be read before even more witnesses.
"The accusations stand as thus," Robards barks, looking sharply at Hermione as if daring her to raise another objection. She remains quiet. "Draco Malfoy, through his business, the cover of which is a massage parlour, has been running illegal funds for the underground sale of Class C Non-Tradable Substances in the forms of experimental potions, as well as providing a cover for the exchange of sexual slaves, some reported as minors. The facts are that he himself lives a double life, indulging in questionable practices in the presence of Muggles, impersonating a female prostitute, and exposing his own child to his abnormality. It is further suggested that the birth of said child was against the will of the mother, that she was coerced into carrying the pregnancy, and as such, the child is to be removed from his home and placed in protective services until a suitable home can be established for him." Harry's about ready to blow his top at the outrageous and completely wrong nature of the charges. They're outright lies … he looks back at Draco, and meets his eyes, now wet and filled with rage … some may be misconstrued truths.
"There's also the small matter of his former status as a Death Eater," McLaggen chimes in, entirely inappropriately cheerful. You can disguise a niffler as a badger, but that won't keep your gold safe."
Hermione has been jotting every word down in her own shorthand. She's always said she never trusts the dictation quills. "I counter that Narcissa Malfoy has never maintained Death Eater status, and was acquitted of all charges of harbouring Death Eaters and their prisoners of war by contributing directly to allowing Harry to reach Voldemort and finish him off. Her house-elves have also maintained that it was she who instructed them to keep the prisoners alive through smuggled food, potions, and blankets under the Death Eaters' very noses. I believe, as she stands with a currently clean record and is the patrilineal grandmother, that she should maintain custody of Scorpius Malfoy regardless of the outcome of his father's trial."
"I'll remind you, Mrs Granger, that the testimony of house-elves does not bear weight under the law of the Wizengamot, and that your continued defence of these creatures creates a blot on your standing as a Ministry appointed attorney …" Robards barks gruffly.
"That is not true," Hermione counters. "In 1946, the Wizengamot heard testimony from an aged house-elf by the name of Hokey, which ended in the determination that Hokey, was herself responsible for the death of her mistress, Hepzibah Smith. It was later proven by Albus Dumbledore, that Voldemort, then known as Tom Riddle, had altered Hokey's memory and had himself committed the murder."
Robards blusters back at her. "But the elf was convicted!"
"And her testimony was heard by the Wizengamot and she was sentenced by them."
Robards throws up his hands, and Harry can't quite keep his lips from twitching at the corners. He catches Draco's eyes again. They seem to say: Damn, Granger is good. And then, Harry realises he and Draco are communicating in the very same manner he's always seen his friends and their spouses manage, the manner he never thought himself capable of. Despite the circumstances, a small flicker of hope and even pleasure licks up his insides.
"Very well." Hermione looks up expectantly, not appearing to be phased at all by the charges she'd just agreed to defend against. "What are the accusations against Harry?"
Robards squints his eyes, as if trying to see more than just her standing in front of him. He returns to reading from his paper. "Similarly to Draco Malfoy, Potter has been spotted dressing his son up as a girl, grooming him for the sex trade. He's a homosexual deviant, and has been conspiring with Draco Malfoy in his endeavours while on administrative leave from this very department."
McLaggen interrupts by nudging Robards' side with his elbow, but as McLaggen is so huge and doesn't seem to know his own strength, Robards stumbles. He straightens up, turning to look at where McLaggen is staring at his parchment. "Yes, yes, I'm getting to that. Potter was put upon this same leave for endangering the life of his work partner. As the criminals escaped, and considering Potter's illicit activities occurring in the following week, there is some suspicion that Potter himself may have staged the event in order to get his law-abiding partner out of his way and off his scent."
The accusation is so utterly rubbish, Harry can barely listen to it. If these morons think they have any chance in hell at proving these enormously false claims, he'd like to know how.
Robards takes a moment to find his place again on the parchment. Considering how poorly worded and thought out the last accusation was, Harry doesn't doubt McLaggen himself added it to the bottom of the document at the last minute. He tells himself to remember to bring that suspicion up with Hermione. There has to be a law against just any Auror adding to an official accusation, let alone one who is involved in the same event.
"Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy have been witnessed to have engaged in a lewd liaison under the guise of massage therapy, and Potter has also visited the same sex club where Mr Malfoy performs his unnaturalness. Potter was also seen disappearing back stage with the crossdressing Mr Malfoy, and they did not re-emerge. Before this event occurred, Draco Malfoy attempted to undermine an ongoing Auror investigation by unlawfully confiscating and destroying evidence. And last, and most grievous of all, it is suspected that Potter was involved with the adoption of Cordelia Smith, also referred to as the Last Orphan, who has accused her new parents of planning to sell her in the very same sex trafficking ring Mr Malfoy is accused of laundering money for. We have records in our possession that show the money changing hands and were found in the massage parlour itself!"
Hermione takes notes on everything Robards says, faster than he can read it off. It had almost turned into a race for Robards to attempt to trip her up by reading from his list faster than she could write. He failed at it.
"Where is this supposed evidence?" Hermione asks point blank. "I'd like to see the search warrant for the massage parlour, the paper trail, and documentation of the collection of witnesses to events that took place behind closed doors and occurring between consenting adults. I'll also require proof of Cordelia Smith's accusations against her new parents and, I would hope if these accusations are true, that she has been placed in protective custody."
Robards' face goes blank, his poker face. Not a muscle twitches. It's a crappy poker face. It's clear as day to Harry that most of the 'proof' they have is hearsay and won't stand up under scrutiny. He starts to relax a little, and looks over at Draco. He'd reach out and take his hand if they weren't both bound with magical shackles. Draco seems to understand, though. He cocks his head to the side, and Harry looks at where his attention is directed. David stands beside Kingsley, blinking slow and deliberately.
He can't bring anybody's attention to David right now. He's just got to get through this ridiculous facade of law and order until he can talk to Hermione about his suspicions in private. The whole lot of the men in the room are acting as if they're being controlled by somebody who has no idea how the real world of justice is supposed to work. His right hand throbs under the magic binding him, and he clenches it, certain he can again make out the faint words I shall not tell lies.
"Very well, Granger," Robards says, his moustache bristling. He turns to McLaggen. "McLaggen, escort them to Azkaban until we have a chance to …"
"No." Hermione says, clear and firm. "The detention of accused prisoners in Azkaban was discontinued when Minister Shacklebolt signed it into law in 1997 Dedalus Diggle v Ministry for Magic. They must be detained in the Ministry holding cell for twenty-four hours, at which time, if they are able to post bail, they must be allowed to return to their homes until called upon to face the Wizengamot at a hearing. Also, if you don't want to find yourselves standing trial, I would remind you that you have unlawfully bound the Minister for Magic without cause. I suggest you rectify your oversight immediately."
Harry gives silent thanks that Hermione is on his side. He doesn't envy those who she opposes.
"Come along, Potter, Malfoy," McLaggen sneers, setting a beefy hand on one of Harry and Draco's shoulders. Harry relaxes more as he sees Kingsley being released out of the corner of his eye, and allows himself to be herded to the detention cell.
The Ministry's detention cell is a 12x12 foot room with concrete walls. There's a window in the wall beside the door, though they can't see out of it, so it's impossible to know who may be watching. Harry sits on the low bunk that folds down from the wall and Draco is beside him, rubbing at his wrists. At least they removed the shackles. There's a small toilet, low to the floor with only a half-wall dividing it from the room, so privacy is pretty non-existent.
Harry knocks Draco's foot with his shoe. "Hey. How you holding up?"
Draco heaves a sigh and rolls his head to the left and right as if working a kink from his neck. "I've been better. Granger though …" He turns to Harry, his eyes speaking volumes. Harry reads gratitude in them, and a flicker of warmth runs the length of his body. "I'm so glad she's on our side."
Harry swallows, lost in Draco's eyes. He almost wishes Draco was wearing his eyeliner and false lashes, but then he'd be in trouble trying to keep his hands to himself. He can't help the stupid grin from slipping onto his face.
Draco rolls his eyes and pokes Harry in the side with his elbow. "Behave yourself." Then he scoots back on the bunk, his back to the wall, legs stretched out across it, and looks at the ceiling. He seems to be somewhere far away in his mind. Harry recalls his almost-tears at hearing the accusations against him read again.
"Want to come clean about what's bothering you?" He kicks off his shoes and pulls his dress robes off so he's comfortable in his slacks and plain white vest. He leaves the dress robes in a pile, figuring they will make a decent enough pillow if they succumb to fatigue.
"What do you mean?" Draco asks after a lengthy pause.
Harry shifts, not sure how to say it without offending Draco, but he's got to know. How much of what they said rang true? "There's something about the way your breathing changed when they brought up Scorpius's mum."
Draco drops his head and frowns, not looking at Harry, but glaring at the window. "I didn't coerce her, but I did hire her." He sighs and kicks his own shoes off, then pulls his legs up in a crossed sort of yoga pose. He looks like he's going to start meditating, and Harry has to force himself not to fixate on Draco's well-fitting white trousers, wondering if they are the same ones he'd worn during their infamous massage. "She offered to be a surrogate."
"Who?" Harry asks, hardly daring to speak louder than a whisper.
"Astoria Greengrass. She's the sister of Daphne who was in our year at school. It seemed the perfect solution to my problem. I wanted to father a child – I needed a pure-blood woman to carry him – terms of the Malfoy inheritance, utter rubbish. I was swept up with the idea of a baby to the point I didn't realise she had an ulterior motive. Dropped the ball as a Slytherin there."
"What did you do?" It's so damn fascinating to be hearing about how Draco has spent the past several years, how he's matured into the person he is now, the person Harry's already half-mad about.
Draco turns his head and gives Harry a look. Harry's lips turn up at one corner. That Draco is trusting him with his confidence is amazing, but that he's also able to remind Harry he's not welcome to offer criticism with a simple look, thrills Harry to a point he can barely believe.
"Nothing as nefarious as they're suggesting. I simply reminded her of the terms of the contract she'd signed. She'd tried to make an argument that as she was carrying the next Malfoy heir, I should take her as a wife, even if only in name – that it would legitimise his birth. I'd had my solicitors look into that ahead of time. If that had been a requirement, I wouldn't have considered going down this path. I'm out. I'm free. I'm not tying myself down to a social convention that doesn't respect my right to live without a cover."
Harry nods. Draco's story sounds perfectly reasonable to him, but he wonders how the Aurors could possibly use it to deface his character if there wasn't a hint that he'd harmed Astoria.
"I paid her off to go away after Scorpius was born. I had already paid our agreed upon amount – this was an additional payment to ensure Scorpius was mine. I wouldn't exchange the second amount until she signed an addendum to the contract that said she would not attempt to see him again until he reaches adulthood and can make that decision for himself."
Harry inhales sharply. It seems a terrible choice to be forced to make as a biological parent, but the fact she agreed to it, had changed her mind, and then was convinced again by the promise of more money, perhaps Draco's not entirely in the wrong to not want her around. But then …
"I did what I had to do. I was protecting myself and him."
Draco unfolds his legs and turns so he can see Harry's face, and then crosses them again. "Pure-blood law. She could have pushed it, coerced me into a loveless marriage. She'd have dug up all the things about my life that I've tried to keep out of the press, the things that would lose me any standing I had built. I wanted a son and I took her offer. And now, it looks like I'm paying the price anyway with David's betrayal … " He goes silent.
"I think …" Harry is hesitant to tell Draco his suspicions in case there are Aurors standing outside and listening in. He leans forward, nearly close enough to kiss, and whispers. "I have a theory about David and I don't think he betrayed you of his own will."
After spending her allotted time this morning, talking with Harry and Malfoy, Hermione has written up a list of people to contact to back up their version of events, and hopefully, drum up enough real evidence to blow the false trail that's been laid out of the realm of consideration.
She Apparates before the gates of Malfoy Manor, a chill running down her spine at being here again. She reminds herself she's doing all the right things to protect herself from revisiting the memories this place inspires – she let Ron know where she was headed, she's focussed on the case and as it's Harry who needs her to do this, she will.
Narcissa answers the bell, dressed in elegant flowing blue robes, and holding onto Scorpius's small hand. Narcissa appears to have softened a lot over the years, and Hermione wonders how much of that was brought upon by her becoming a grandmother.
"Mrs Granger," Narcissa says, opening the gates and inviting her inside. They walk together up the long gravel path, veering to the right when it forms a fork. "I thought we could talk in the garden. I have a table and chairs set up beside the pond." The reminder of what had happened to Hermione the last time she was at the manor hangs over them in a semi-formed cloud. "My husband isn't here any longer. He's retired to a family estate in the south of France. I don't know if you are aware his health has been poor."
Hermione nods, but doesn't comment. It is a relief to know that Lucius Malfoy is no longer exercising his misguided rule over the house, but she doesn't think any better of him for running from his past, even if done in the name of health.
"I want to thank you for representing Draco. I've been expecting something like this would happen one of these days. He staunchly refuses to run from his mistakes and has done all in his power to rebuild himself. I'm more proud of him than I ever hoped I could be."
Hermione accepts a smooth flat rock that Scorpius brings her from the side of the pond. "Daddy says it's a worry stone." He blinks bright grey eyes up at her, and then apparently spots something more interesting and runs away a short distance to investigate. Hermione opens her briefcase and takes out a quill and parchment, sitting opposite Narcissa at the small round table.
"You say you expected this to happen or something like it. Tell me why that is."
Narcissa tells her about how Draco had set up his business and then hired a woman to carry a baby for him. How he was full set on not waiting for some perfect match before beginning a family and putting down roots, how he was determined to be a self-made man and not to rely on his inheritance. She talks about how Draco had begun to feel as if he was being watched, and then followed, but could never catch whoever was doing it, and how David came into play and convinced him to create a partnership in exchange for protection.
"Do you know that David was one of the men that arranged the arrest of your son? Did you have any suspicions that he wasn't as trustworthy as your son believed?"
"I didn't know for sure." Narcissa frowns, a crease forming between her eyebrows. "He seemed to come out of nowhere and offered Draco exactly the help he needed at precisely the right moment. He's very charming, and even though I had some doubts, when he's around, it's hard to not go along with whatever he says."
Hermione hums under her breath. Harry had confided in her that morning that he thought David was not acting of his own control, that at brief moments he seemed to be confused or in pain, as if he was fighting an Imperius Curse. Draco had added that David seemed to have a brand of magic he'd never seen before, a power of suggestion over people that made Draco think of the effect Veela women have over men when they turn on their charm. But the biggest clue yet, was when Harry swore he had heard Dolores Umbridge clear her throat in Hogsmeade, even though David had appeared to be alone.
"I understand that, during the war, your house-elves were under your bidding to help Voldemort's prisoners."
Narcissa's face tightens, though Hermione isn't sure if it's more discomfort or embarrassment. She gives a sharp nod. "They are treated much better now than they were in the past. I've come to rely on them to help me keep Scorpius safe."
"Can you tell me about your husband's past dealings with Dolores Umbridge?"
"That woman," Narcissa exclaims, her face falling into the shadow of the poplar tree the table is set beneath. "She claimed she was bringing together a force made up of members of many of the organisations Lucius has supported over the years – those calling for a return to a traditional style of living and rebuilding the power of the magical community, but her tendency to not consider any opposing viewpoint, and her methods of using the backing of others for self promotion, while that, in and of itself, did not inspire Lucius to withdraw his support – her incompetence did. She went abroad to Bulgaria after her release from Azkaban, but then Lucius heard she was asking after him in Paris from some of his past business partners. She seems to have given up on him this past year, though, and he hasn't had any news about her meddling since then." Narcissa furrows her brows, as if she's making a connection, and her face drains of colour. "Oh, but … do you mean to suggest that she's behind the attacks on Draco?"
Hermione nods grimly. "Harry swears he heard her clear her throat in Hogsmeade, but when he turned to look, it was only David."
"Do you mean to say that woman is back in the country? That she is conspiring with David?"
Hermione levels her gaze. "I'm saying that that is my hunch. I'll have to interview a few more people to piece the story together, but …" She takes a deep breath, hating herself a little bit for what she's going to ask. If it were up to her, she'd push legislation through to criminalise the use of house-elves under enslavement. "We need to find her if she is in this country and the best bet we have is house-elf magic. She underestimates it."
Narcissa holds out her hand to Hermione. They shake. "I will set my elves on her immediately. If she is innocent," she clears her throat, "I will extend a formal apology."
"Thank you for seeing me, Mrs Malfoy." Hermione gets to her feet as Narcissa calls Scorpius over.
It seems the pieces are finally starting to fall into place.
Kingsley sits behind his desk, back to the daily grind, and drumming his fingers with a nervous energy he doesn't want to examine. Bill had stopped in earlier to tell him that Arthur was in critical condition at St Mungo's and they don't know if he will pull through. He swears to himself that if Arthur dies, he will personally hold Robards responsible and push for a murder trial, cast him out of his office, and make sure he never holds a position of power again. He drops his head in his hands.
He needs to say his goodbyes, to make his peace. It's beyond time.
He looks up. David, the upstart brat that seems to be cropping up in every bit of shady business lately, stands in his doorway.
He grunts. "Take a seat."
He watches David as he moves, not missing the fact that he is shaking like a leaf and looking like death warmed over.
"Is … is it safe?" David asks, but he does enter, and slowly lowers himself into the chair opposite Kingsley, grimacing. "I'm …" His face scrunches up like he's experiencing a blast of pain, like he's trying to talk through a Cruciatus Curse. "… in trouble." He takes a deep breath and forces his words out between gasps. "Bulgaria … Veela … enslaved … like an elf." Every word seems to hurt him more, and as finishes speaking, he doubles up in agony, tears spilling down his cheeks from his tightly closed eyes.
Kingsley has had a lot of experience with hearing confessions, with people seeking protection and hamming up their level of suffering in the hopes they'll be believed, but this man does not appear to be faking it; he's suffering. Kingsley needs a name, a lead. "Who's behind it?"
David shrieks, eyes squeezing even tighter, and passes out cold, sliding out of his chair, the back of his head striking the floor hard.
Sanctuary is a concept Kingsley takes seriously. He convinces himself he's only visiting St Mungo's because this man needs help, then waves his wand to close his office door. He gathers David in his arms and Disapparates.
Being the Minister for Magic has its perks. Kingsley has David seen by a Spell Damage Healer immediately and wanders the visitor's tea room afterwards, with the promise he'll be informed as soon as a diagnosis is made.
He taps his fingers against his tea cup which he's still holding despite having finished his tea ages ago. All he has to do is say the word and he'll be shown to Arthur's room. But he can't bring himself to do it, except perhaps in a professional capacity. If Arthur really is near death though, he's not sure he can trust his emotions and he swore years ago that that one summer between their sixth and seventh years would be between them alone. He can't risk shattering Molly when her husband is gone. It would ruin her. No. He won't go. He won't betray that trust, but the burden feels ten times heavier right now.
"Minister?" a voice calls from the tea room's entrance. He looks up. The Healer beckoning him isn't the one he'd been told to expect.
He joins her and they take the lift back to David's floor. He follows her into an examination room, but David is nowhere to be seen "Where is he?"
She closes the door and turns around. "My name is Ariana Sprout. I've been following the case against Harry Potter …" Oh great. She's not even involved with David's care. He's just allowed himself to be swept away by a crazy Harry Potter fan.
"I'm not here to discuss …"
"Please, Minister. I have the information you need regarding the young man you brought to us. But I have also worked with the Potter family in the transition of their second child. The papers claim he's accused of deviant behaviour and something about sex trafficking?"
Kingsley swears under his breath. It's hard enough to keep society functioning without Rita Skeeter spreading rumours all across the wizarding world. "He's been falsely accused, we're working on …"
"I know. David is being kept safe. Nobody is allowed near his room while he recovers."
Kingsley turns questioning eyes on her. "What does that have to do with Potter?"
"David has been enslaved," she says, lowering her voice to the point he has to strain his ears to hear her, "using the same spell as is used to keep house-elves. It's not intended for use on other magical creatures. In fact, it's a karmic crime to enslave a Veela, nearly as bad as killing a Unicorn."
Kingsley blinks. "Where do Veela come into any of this?"
"Minister. David is Veela. He's been subjugated for his allure over other people. The woman enslaving him makes him call her his mother, but the Curse has only been in effect for about a year and a half. He won't say her name. The fear of the pain that comes from disobeying her will has him in a state that will take a long time to recover from."
"Mmm-hmm, I see," Kingsley murmurs. "I have to return to the Ministry. If there is any improvement or any issues with security, please send me an owl or a Patronus."
"Thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice, Healer Sprout."
Hermione takes a seat on the low sofa in Sprout's office. She opens her briefcase and withdraws her quill and parchment.
"No trouble at all," Sprout says pleasantly. "You know, Pomona has mentioned your name a number of times over the years. Seems that you're quite the scholar."
Hermione has to fight to tamp down the blush rising in her face. Even now that she's grown, she thrives on praise, though she tries to not let it go to her head. "Thank you. When we communicated by owl earlier, you said you have some news that will help my case?"
"Oh heavens, yes. The Minister was in earlier. He brought in a man named David. We still don't know what his surname is. He's faring well, but has suffered a deep injury." Hermione listens raptly as Sprout recounts what she has learned about David. "It's a shame, but it really is ill-advised to push him for further information before he's ready. A year and a half of suffering the effects of the Cruciatus when he tries to seek help, alternated with bouts of the Imperius Curse. Veela are even more sensitive to the effects of Dark magic than witches and wizards."
"It's all right. I have a very good suspicion of the person responsible. May I see him? Perhaps, if I avoid asking him to say her name, he'll be able to tell me some of what he was compelled to do?"
Healer Sprout frowns as she stares at the full body magical anatomy chart on the wall. "I suppose, but there is something I should tell you first. We've isolated the magic that enabled this person to maintain such a strong hold over David in the past couple of weeks. It was a potion supposedly created for the purpose of enabling a few select Healers working in Janus Thickey to exercise their comatose patients and prevent atrophy from setting in. An experimental potion designed to allow the administrator to effectively act as puppet master and get them up and moving. It's been classified as C non-tradable, but an entire shipment went missing about two weeks ago."
Hermione raises her eyebrows. "A potion with that power shouldn't even be made in quantities that would require a shipment. You say it's experimental? Who headed the experiment and who was in charge of development?"
Healer Sprout stands up straight from where she's been leaning against the door. She brushes the wrinkles from her lime-green robes in a let's-get-down-to-business manner and strides to her desk. She takes a folder out of the top drawer and hands it to Hermione. "I can't let you take that out of the office, but you may look through it. I believe it may have been the interception of this shipment that landed Harry Potter on administrative leave after his accident. Considering the ties to how it was used on David, I wonder if his accident was really an accident."
Hermione frowns, flipping through the documents until she finds what she's looking for. "Ah, let's see, funded by the Parliamentary Union of Respected Elders and developed by Horace E. Slughorn." She looks up, meets Sprout's eyes. "I think I may have to pay a visit to my old Potions professor."
Molly's been to St Mungo's a number of times over the years, and she had thought her husband was finally free of being asked to assist with dangerous missions. He's never been able to turn down a request from Kingsley Shacklebolt though. She stifles her huff of frustration as she mops Arthur's forehead with a cool wet cloth. They've told her he'll pull through. She's so relieved, she can barely acknowledge her emotions. Having been trapped in a state of perpetual numbing fear throughout the previous night and into the morning, it's all just too much.
Arthur's eyes open a crack and her resolve fails. Tears stream down her wrinkled cheeks, splashing his sheets, but he's not looking at her tears, he's looking at her.
"Molly." His voice is weak, weary, ragged.
"Oh, Arthur," she sobs. She grasps his hand and brings it up to her face, pressing her cheek against the now-warm flesh. Thank Merlin Bill and Charlie were there. She can't speak any more for fear of dissolving in a pool of nonsense, so she sniffles and drinks in his blue eyes as they open more fully and focus.
"Harry?" Arthur manages.
She nods, a fresh volley of tears crashing over her, but Arthur doesn't seem to mind that she's using his hand for a handkerchief. She speaks in between broken gasps for breath, the sensation of being pieced back together inside finally returning with pins and needles. "He's safe … he's okay … Hermione's … going to fix it …" She pulls a real handkerchief from her pocket and wipes her face, still pressing her cheek against his hand, though, as she catches her breath, she does pull back and dries it for him.
Arthur seems to breathe a sigh of relief and relaxes back into his pillows still looking at her, a small contented smile on his lips. This man will be the death of her. She remembers the day, so many years ago when she first gathered courage enough to ask him to the Yule ball. He'd been so shy and awkward, Kingsley, his best friend stopping short as he came in through the portrait hole when Arthur's face went pink and he'd agreed. They'd been together since that day, only spent a single summer apart when her parents had dragged her to South America to visit the ancient wizarding ruins with her brothers.
"I remember." Arthur always has been able to practically read her thoughts in her face. Even if he doesn't know which memory she's fixating on, he does remember them all; she knows that.
"Mum?" Bill calls from the doorway. "Oh, Dad – you're awake, brilliant."
"What is it, Bill?" Arthur asks, struggling to sit forward a bit. Molly helps him.
"Kingsley's turned up some new information." He seems to recall his father had missed the fallout of the arrest while he was in hospital. "Oh. They're levelling all these trumped up charges on Harry. Poor bloke's been put through the wringer. But with Hermione representing him and Malfoy, and based on what Kingsley's told me, I think it'll all be straightened out."
"Good." She can feel Arthur's pulse starting to race. He's always been such a caring father, she'd not even needed to push him to take Harry as another son all those years ago. She loves him even more as the years pass.
"Arthur, I really think you ought to rest. You'll have your strength back in no time."
He shakes his head. He looks tired. "I'm afraid this time I'm not going to be so lucky, Molly. I think it's time for me to retire."
She shushes him and swipes her handkerchief over her eyes. "No more talking. Rest."
"Mum," Bill says and she allows him to pull her away from Arthur's bed. Her bones creak. "I think you need to rest too. I'll see her to the Burrow, Dad. Make sure she gets a full eight hours."
Arthur closes his eyes, smiling. "Thank you, Bill. You're a good lad."
Harry spins out of his fireplace with a spray of soot and dusts himself off absently, watching as Draco follows. He's definitely going to add sweeping the chimney to his list of home improvements.
"Mind the boxes. I've not had a chance to unpack all the new stuff I bought to make this place feel a bit more like home."
Draco finishes syphoning the soot from his clothes. His white trousers are tinged grey, but it doesn't bother Harry. His eyes follow Draco's arse as he crosses the room and peers out the window. "Half a dozen reporters out there."
Harry frowns, and then follows. Sure enough, standing outside his new house are about six oddly dressed people. The Muggles passing seem to take turns avoiding looking at them and pointing them out. He steps back and runs his hand over the window's surface. Draco's Imperturbable Charm is still intact. Thank fuck for that.
"We shouldn't stay here tonight, though." Harry allows Draco to drag him by his belt loops and manoeuver him until they're standing face to face. "Hog's Head, you reckon?"
Draco nods and shuts him up with a kiss. He breaks it only after Harry's a panting mess. "You have a working shower in this place?"
"Yeah, but …"
Draco groans, still holding on tight, his sharp nose poking into Harry's shoulder. "But?" His voice is muffled and not happy.
Harry's tempted to tell his brain to fuck off, but the thought of their children coming to visit cools him down. "But your mum and Scorpius are stopping by and so are my kids."
Draco pulls away with a grunt of frustration. "Fine. We'll take separate showers then, but I'm first. Show me where I'm going."
Harry points him down the hall to the bathroom at the end, and shivers, watching him walk away. He glances at his watch. He really ought to just get his shower done at the same time and thanks his own foresight for buying a house with an ensuite in the master bedroom.
The meeting of the families would have been awkward under any circumstances, but considering the charges against him and Draco, and the fact that Ginny's known about Draco for a day, it's beyond awkward and quickly moving toward what Harry considers Hell on Earth.
The children immediately pile around him, clutching at his trouser legs, while Ginny stands stiffly off to the side – Harry cringes – right in front of the wall Draco fucked him up against. Ron paces before the hearth, and Narcissa and Draco, with Scorpius in his lap, are seated at the foot of Harry's new dining table which Draco had suggested they put together.
"So, er – sorry about this," Harry offers Ginny, at a complete loss of what to say.
She looks at him from half-lidded eyes that are clearly unamused, then at Draco. "Malfoy," she says, not answering Harry.
"Weasley," Draco answers, then seems to catch himself, "or what should I call you?" Harry feels sorry for putting him in such a position, but there's not much that can be done at this point.
Ginny's nostrils flare but she seems to attempt to rein in her temper, though her freckles appear to stand out in sharper relief than usual on her face. "You may call me Ginny, but don't even think about being a prat about it."
Draco swallows, and nods. Harry can tell he wasn't expecting permission to use her nickname – Harry wasn't even expecting that.
"Shall we all sit then?" Harry suggests, gesturing helplessly at the table, Lily tucked up on his right hip.
"What's going on, Dad?" James asks as Harry attempts to shuffle towards the table with three children clinging to him. Ron and Ginny take the side nearest the door and Harry and the kids finally make it to the other side. He's separated from Draco by Narcissa, Scorpius, and the table, and that makes it a little easier to manage.
"Well, James. There're some people in the world that aren't all that good. They've told some lies about me and Mr Malfoy, and now we have to count on Aunt Hermione to bring the truth out."
"Is Mr Malfoy your boyfriend?" Alice asks. She looks over at Draco and blushes when Scorpius waves at her.
Ron clears his throat. "Mate …" He stops, and rakes his hand through his hair. "Bloody hell."
Harry closes his eyes and hopes the grimace he suspects he's wearing isn't as bad as he thinks it probably is.
At first, the conversation isn't as bad as it could be. Harry suspects everybody is holding their tongues in front of the children, and then Ginny puts an end to the peace. "Hey, Ron? Would you mind taking the kids for a tour of the upstairs while we talk?"
Narcissa stands before Ron has a chance to answer. "I'll accompany you with Scorpius."
Harry doesn't miss the panic flashing briefly across Draco's face.
"I don't wanna," James pouts.
"It'll be good. You'll have a chance to see your new bedroom for the days you come and stay with me." Harry tries to sound enthusiastic and hopes he remembered to put his newly acquired dildo away, half-suspecting it's still mounted on the wall of his shower.
Harry watches his children follow Ron and Narcissa up the stairs as if his life rope is slipping out of his hands. And then, it's just the three of them on three sides of the table and the silence is thick.
Ginny is the one to cut through it. "As much as I'd like to yell and scream and rant at you about how you could be with Malfoy, Harry, unfortunately, I get it. I would have preferred a few more months to let our sheets cool, but even then …" She exhales, though it comes out more as a huff. "Considering how long you've been keeping this part of yourself a secret, I really do get it."
Harry nearly sighs with relief, until he realises she's not finished.
"But what I don't get is how the bludgering fuck did you wind up in a fucking scandal about child sex slavery? I mean … How does a person even get that charge slapped on them? How do you expect me to react to such a thing?"
"It's not true." Draco's voice rings out. Fortunately, the thundering of small feet over their heads softens the tension that comes with it. "I have had nothing at all to do with any such thing, but apparently my shop partner planted evidence, though he wasn't the mastermind. Harry just got wrapped up in it because of his association with me."
"I'm not stupid, Malfoy," Ginny says, nearly spits, but she doesn't seem to be directing her anger at Draco.
Harry reads the slightest bit of hurt in Draco's eyes at Ginny's choice of continuing to use his surname after giving him permission to use her given name.
"Gin, have you spoken to Hermione about it at all? She knows the truth."
Ginny turns her flashing eyes on him. "No I haven't, not since last night when she came by to tell me you were arrested and why. She's a bit busy at the moment cleaning up after your messes."
That feels a little below the belt, and Ginny seems to realise it. She throws up her hands and lets them fall in her lap. "That was uncalled for. But you don't get to hold it against me. I'm so far beyond slapped in the face. I mean, really? These are not normal post-divorce issues!"
"So … as far as the kids …" Harry knows he's pushing his luck, but he's got to know if she's going to use this fucked up situation to secure full custody. He doesn't want to fight her for joint custody, but he will if she forces it.
"Harry, I'm not a bitch either." She looks hurt. "I wouldn't think of taking our kids away from you. You're a brilliant father and, honestly, I've been looking forward to taking my newfound freedom out for a spin. Just promise me, both of you, don't bad mouth me to the kids." Her eyes are damp, but she's not crying. "Just … let's pull it together and not fuck it up. It's going to take an acquittal before the Ministry allows you have them alone, but I want a promise that I'm not going to be made to look like the bad guy."
Harry could cry he's so relieved to hear her talking sense back into the world. "Gin, I would never put you down in front of the kids, not to the press, not even to Draco. I love you too much and I don't have plans to stop."
She snorts with amusement even as a single tear tracks down her cheek. "Arsehole."
They travel by Floo into the Hog's Head after the goodbyes have finished, and Ron promises to give the letter Harry's written with his and Draco's contact information to Hermione. Narcissa had pretended not to notice the nature of their relationship and carried on as though she was only present to make sure Draco was safe and to reunite Scorpius with his father, however briefly.
Blaise has a room key ready for them and passes it over under the cover of darkness the bar affords. His only words: my lips are sealed.
When Harry finally gets the door shut behind them and Draco hangs up the dress robes his mother brought for him, he can't keep his hands to himself any longer. He drags Draco by his belt loops towards the bed, falls on it backward and pulls Draco on top of himself.
Draco smirks at him, then narrows his eyes as Harry feels up his arse through his lovely white trousers. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Like what?" Harry cocks his head to the side. He's totally been caught in the act of trying to picture Draco in makeup again. Draco slaps his hip. The jig is up. "Will you dress up for me again sometime soon? You look amazing no matter what, but fuck, you're a fucking treasure in make up."
"Ahhh …" Draco smacks him again, which Harry reads as shorthand for move up on the bed, idiot. I want to shag your brains out. They crawl up the bed the rest of the way, kicking their shoes off the side. "You're just being your perverted self and having – what was it? Sexually deviant fantasies."
Harry nods, gasping as Draco palms his cock and bollocks through his trousers. "Yeah, that's right. Got a problem with it?"
Draco shakes his head, takes Harry's glasses off, and drapes his body along Harry's side. Harry yawns, but works his trousers open and kicks them and his pants down to the bottom of the bed. Draco plays with Harry's nipples through his shirt, then sits up and unbuttons it.
As Harry works his way free of his sleeves, Draco pulls his own shirt off, and adjusts himself in his trousers. "You leaving them on?" Harry lazily plays with his cockhead, pushing it out from his foreskin and back.
"Enjoying the show a bit." Draco watches Harry work himself to fully erect before he steals the spotlight. He sits on Harry's calves, his legs folded on either side and pops the button on his trousers. Harry stops stroking, drops his hands at his sides, and watches, enraptured as Draco pulls down his fly. The most tantalising blue Harry's ever seen peeks out from beneath, and he lifts himself up on his elbows when he needs to verify it's a lacy pattern he's seeing.
Draco stands on his knees, traces his hands down his chest, following the ever so scant trail of fine blond hair from his navel until he has his hands on the waistband of his trousers. Harry releases a long hiss as Draco lowers them, half-convinced he's speaking Parseltongue, his cock, as hard as it is, dances snake-like as he takes in the sight of Draco in frilly blue lace knickers.
Draco rolls off him, onto his back and slips his trousers off, then resumes his position, revealing the hard lines of his erection through the fabric by holding on at his balls and stretching the fabric, his other hand nearly at his hip and touching the head of his cock. "Like them?"
"Fuck, you look good in blue."
Draco narrows his eyes, and leans forward with his hands planted on either side of Harry's shoulders bringing them nose to nose. "Well, somebody made off with my red pair."
Harry shudders as Draco rubs his lace-covered cock over Harry's erection, making him leak. He doesn't even try to deny it. Draco smirks and backs off, looking down.
"Ever have your cock sucked?"
Harry pulls a face. He doesn't want to talk about Ginny and his sex life, or what had passed for it. It'd actually been since shortly after Alice was born that it happened last. "Of course." He's going for defiant, but certain he's failed at it.
"By an expert?" Draco insists, pushing his hips forward, increasing the pressure until it's close to pain.
He doesn't answer. Doesn't really need to as Draco ducks down and swallows his cock, nearly all the way. Harry falls back on his pillow uttering the only words he's capable of. "Oh, fuck!"
How is he doing that? Harry wonders, holding onto Draco's hair while Draco works his cock with his fucking throat. He lifts himself back onto his elbows as Draco backs up and starts teasing under his foreskin with his tongue. Then he slips a couple of fingers in alongside as he sinks his mouth around Harry's cock again. He pops off and on Harry's exposed cockhead, making Harry's toes curl. If those fingers are going where he thinks they are, he's in for a real treat.
Then Draco backs up further and Harry can reach his erection with his right foot, while slick fingers slide his crack and poke his rim. Harry arches his foot, giving Draco a surface to rut against, and the nerves he'd discovered connect his feet to his cock seem to jumpstart alive.
Draco works Harry's rim, taking turns loosening it with his tongue and fingers, then rising up to lick his cock like a fucking lolly, and Harry knows what he really wants tonight.
"Stop a sec," he gasps, and watches a heavy dollop of precome forming at his slit and dripping in a long clear strand toward his stomach. Draco stops, looks up, but doesn't move his hands. His expression annoyed. "Let me do you, too?"
Mischief replaces annoyance immediately. Draco removes his hands and scoots to the side, leaving Harry's arse twitching. "You're going to have to get my knickers off first." His eyes dance and Harry can tell this is a pleasure he's going to have to earn; Draco's not planning to make it easy.
But then, Harry isn't known for his reflexes for nothing. He sits up, catches Draco's attempt at feinting left and snatches his arm. Holding tight, he flips himself until he has Draco pinned to the bed, though they're at risk of falling off the end. He slithers backward, plants his feet on the floor, and drags Draco's knickers down his long legs at the same time.
Draco full-on laughs when Harry rises above him with his prize in hand. "That's an interesting Snitch, Potter." He quietens instantly when Harry seizes his legs and pulls his arse to the edge of the bed.
"It's Harry." Harry drops to his knees and buries his face, tonguing Draco's hole. It takes a couple of tries before he finds a good position, leaning the side, his head on Draco's left thigh, so he can breathe through his nose, and dragging his tongue over Draco's furled rim, back and forth, in circles, prodding the centre, teasing the edges, working it until it seems to open like hitting the right brick in Diagon Alley. Draco moans, his legs trembling, and then he supports his right leg with his hand behind his knee, holding himself open for Harry.
Harry grips Draco's cock with his free hand, working out how to best access it from the top, his arm around Draco's left hip. It's slick, dripping, and Harry just eats him up, driving his tongue directly inside Draco, humming at the howl that elicits. He's never really given any thought to the idea of eating out an arse, but recalling how fantastic it felt when Draco did it to him, he's ready to give it the best go he has. And it's not gross. Draco is clean from his shower and fucking delicious, Harry decides.
He's so engrossed with getting inside Draco as far as he can reach, he doesn't realise he's loosened his grip on Draco's cock until Draco starts canting his hips, fucking Harry's loose fist as he makes the prettiest sounds Harry's ever heard.
"Cock, Harry. Fuck me with your cock!"
He hasn't even got his fingers inside Draco yet, but the demand for cock trumps his previous plans. He fucks Draco with his tongue one last time before retreating, slicking his palm with his saliva and, in turn, his cock. Draco grips the backs of his knees, spreading himself open like a dream, his cock reddened with heated arousal, and continues fucking Harry's fist.
Harry positions himself, teasing Draco's hole with his tip, watching it relax and tense, as if trying to pull him in if he'd just fucking get close enough, and then he does. And it's blissful torture – he's being gripped so tight he's afraid he'll empty his balls before getting any fucking done.
"Nice and slow at first."
Draco's hissed command snaps his focus back to attention, wanting to do this right, to not hurt Draco and, from what he's come to understand, Draco seldom gives it up this way. He pushes in again, trying to find that angle he'd liked so much, but then, looking down – Draco's moved his hands from behind his knees, they're gripping the sheets – and up, Draco's chest heaves and the muscles in his abdomen ripple. Harry forgets to think and closes his eyes, finding a rhythm that's good for him, going in deeper and deeper still, until he's propping Draco's legs up, pausing to let Draco settle them over Harry's shoulders. He opens his eyes as the urgency builds, watches his cock – fat with blood – slip in and out of Draco's body and he's … "Close …"
Draco tightens all around him, one hand still gripping the sheet, the other pulling at one of his own nipples, and his cock stiff as a board. Even his thighs tighten, and Harry's coming, fucking into him, hardly aware Draco's cock is also pumping out come until his balls slap Draco's arse with a wet sound and he feels like he's settling back into his body, his scalp tingling.
His orgasm is finished, but Harry doesn't want to stop. He holds the base of his cock, stabilising it, and stabs back inside Draco's dripping hole several more times, just drinking in the sight of Draco's body taking him in. And then he can't anymore, going boneless.
Draco lifts his legs from Harry's shoulders gingerly and breathes deep and steady for several moments.
Fuck. He hadn't thought to have anything at hand to clean up afterwards, finding only the blue knickers that would absorb absolutely nothing even if he tried to use them, and Draco laughs again. It's such a beautiful sound, Harry doesn't even care if it's him being laughed at.
Draco stretches his hand towards the pile of Harry's clothes and Harry's wand shoots into it, without so much of a hint of resistance. He cleans them up with a spell and scoots his way up the bed, apparently too worn out to even attempt to sit up.
Harry climbs into bed beside him, still too hot for covers, but not – he decides – for kisses and cuddles. He doesn't care if Draco's a cuddler or not. He needs closeness and finds it, holding on to Draco's body, inhaling his scent and just relaxing into being.
He's not sure when it happens, but there's a point before the world dissolves that Draco whispers a "Nox," and Harry feels it in his wand arm.
"Professor?" Hermione calls, knocking at the door of a cozy little cottage off Diagon Alley. Slughorn's finally settled in for his retirement, right in the centre of all that happens in the wizarding world. She peeks in at the windows after a couple of minutes pass and the door finally opens a sliver. Apparently, deciding that she's harmless enough, he opens the door wide.
Slughorn fills the doorway with his girth. He's dressed in silk pyjamas and a green velvet dressing gown. It's an odd look, but it seems he's settled into his creature comforts and doesn't care what sort of fashion statement he makes in his own house.
He blinks a few times at her as if only waking up. "Miss Granger? Oh!" He seems to recognise her at last and shoots a pudgy arm out, scooping her close and pulling her inside. "Or I suppose it's Mrs Weasley now, is it?"
She extricates herself as quickly and inoffensively as she can manage. "Mrs Granger, actually. I am married to Ron, but decided to keep my own last name."
Slughorn tucks a hand into the side of his gown, and nods, bobbing his head, making her think of the bobble-headed caricatures that poke fun at public figures that are sold in Muggle novelty shops. She offers him a friendly smile. "Oh, yes! Well that makes sense. There are an awful lot of Weasleys already."
Her smile cools slightly, but she presses on. She needs information and the Wizengamot is meeting today to determine whether a trial will be necessary. She's relieved that the investigations into the reported illicit activities done by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement have turned up very little real evidence of even existing. It's as if the entire case was built on fear turned to rumour, taken as fact, and then piled so high, she's now facing bullshit mountain.
"Professor," she attempts, trying to navigate her way through the sitting room crammed full of more plush sofas and footstools than are necessary for anybody living alone. "I'm here to talk to you about a potion you developed at the request of the Ministry. The experimental one ordered by the Department of Mysteries for use by a chosen few Healers at St Mungo's?"
Slughorn blinks again at her confusedly. "I don't understand. The only brewing I've done for the Ministry was a …" He stops, and thinks, then brushes his walrus moustache. "Unless you mean the one … No. That was only a fluke, a party gag." He seems to be talking more to himself than to Hermione.
Hermione clears her throat, her face heating up. "Please, Professor." She pulls a box of Honeydukes crystallised pineapple from her briefcase. "Can we sit down and talk for a few minutes?"
He gestures for her to take a seat on any of the sofas, eyeing the candy box warily, as if wondering if it's safe for consumption.
She sits on a squashy pink armchair with wooden trim while Slughorn settles himself onto a plum settee, its frame creaking under his bulk.
"I take it this is only a consultation? You're seeking advice?" Slughorn asks, his eyes flicking between her and the box of pineapple on the low coffee table between them.
"Actually, yes," she says, pleased to see his eyes soften at the corners as if he's growing more comfortable. "I assume you've been following the news in the Prophet as you were there the night Harry was arrested."
"Oh, yes," Slughorn nods, frowning. "Nasty bit of business, that was. Never can tell what madness lies beneath even the most accomplished wizard until it all comes crumbling down."
Hermione has to force herself to remain calm. "You don't mean to say you believe what they're saying about Harry?"
Slughorn's moustache twitches as he purses his lips, his chins wobbling. "Well, now …" He meets her eyes and slumps, heaving a sigh, and rubbing the bald patch on his head. "No. I suppose I don't. It's all very upsetting, but I admit I have a hard time believing that Harry could possibly be involved with some of what they're saying about him." He shifts in his seat, resting his hands on top of his belly. "I'm afraid I won't be able to chat long," he lifts his feet and rests them on a small footstool, rotating his ankles, "my lumbago, you see. It's flaring up again. What did you want to ask me?"
Hermione doesn't bother pointing out that complaining of lower back pain by pointing out his ankles isn't selling her on the story, instead, she decides to hit him where it hurts. "Professor, after giving Harry the memory to prove that Lord Voldemort was using Horcruxes, did you suffer any backlash for hiding the truth for so long? Has your lifestyle suffered or improved because of Harry Potter?"
Slughorn's face goes from pale to pink and is creeping up on red by the time he responds. He blinks his eyes, and Hermione is pleased to note they've grown moist. He swallows and takes a few deep breaths. "It … all right. I'll answer your questions truthfully. Let's get on with it."
He pulls a lacy handkerchief from his dressing gown pocket and mops his head with it. He then sits forward, pushing the small stool aside with his feet and reaching for the box of pineapple.
"You mentioned a party trick? A potion that you made and it was a fluke?" she asks as he pops a piece of the candied fruit into his mouth and sucks on it.
He nods, closing his eyes. It must be easier for him to come clean about whatever he's hiding if he's not watching her react. "Yes. It was just a regular poker game night, and there was a newcomer. I'm still not sure who invited him."
Hermione pulls a ledger out of her briefcase and jots down what he says. "Who was there that night?"
Slughorn lifts an eyebrow and peeks at her through half-lidded eyes, then closes them again. "It was the regular group. McLaggen, myself, Fudge, Dawlish … well, Kingsley didn't make it to that one, he was busy with organising the gala, but –"
"How did the subject of this potion come up?" she interrupts.
"Hrm?" He opens his eyes again and sighs, then struggles forward and grabs another piece of pineapple, seemingly talking to it instead of to her. "It was the stranger, a rather handsome young man. He had a pocketful of ingredients and said his mother wanted him to brew her something unusual, but he was useless at brewing without a recipe." He pops the pineapple into his mouth and brushes the sugar off his fingers, then rests his hands on his knees, and savours the taste. When he swallows, he stares at the box on the table, his forehead beading with sweat, and still not meeting Hermione's eyes. "That's really not important. He was charming, and we'd all had a couple of brandies by that point. I said I'd take a look, see what sort of potions were possible with what he had on hand. I'm really not sure why I did it, but it almost …" He stops and fetches his handkerchief again, then mops his face and forehead with it. "I am not usually the sort of person to break confidences, mind you," he says, meeting her eyes at last, "but after all, Harry is … who he is. And Lily was always dear to me."
He seems to be trying to talk himself into confiding in Hermione. She gets it. It's hard to confess that you've been used by somebody and will look like a fool if word gets out, but if Slughorn was involved in developing the potion controlling David, he'll be even worse off if it all comes out.
"What was it almost like, Professor?" Hermione asks, hoping to get him to tell her the rest before he talks himself out of it.
His face looks haunted, almost like he's aged another ten years. He wets his lips. "It's almost like I felt compelled to do what he asked of me."
"When it was finished, what was it? Did you know what the potion would do if ingested?"
Slughorn grips his knees hard, as if trying to keep himself grounded. "It acted to … oh dear. I don't normally experiment with people watching, and never allow untested trials, but … he insisted. At the time, it was all done in jest. The thrill of a party and good company, you know? I don't know what could have made me think it was a good idea. I was just swept up in the heat of the moment." He covers his mouth with his hand a few moments and then lowers it, fingers trembling. "You have to understand, Mrs Granger. He mentioned his sponsor – an old organisation, very traditional, powerful – the Parliamentary Union of Respected Elders. They've had my support over the years, but I never threw in my lots with them entirely …"
Hermione feels like shaking him if it will help get him to stop talking in circles. She glances at her wrist watch. "Please, Professor. Did the potion act in a way a wizard could exert his will over another?"
Slughorn blinks at her a few moments, stunned. His voice is a whisper when he speaks. "How did you know that?"
"I've just come from St Mungo's where they are treating a patient. He's showing signs that he's been under the effects of a potion like this. You said the man at the party suggested you try it on somebody?"
Slughorn scoots back on the settee. The guilty expression he wears makes him look like an aged schoolboy waiting to be reprimanded. He gives a wheezy sigh and wipes his hands on his silk pyjama bottoms. "He drank it himself," he said, his voice small. "I don't know why, but as I couldn't let him leave while under its influence, I set him to work clearing up in here a bit after the party. Had to give him something to do until he was back to himself, and that was that. The others had a good laugh before they left, made a couple of silly requests of him, but nobody was injured. The half-life of the draught occurred at five hours, and was completely out of his system by ten. I supervised him throughout and, afterwards, he apologised for being foolhardy. I saw him out and haven't seen him since."
"So how did the Department of Mysteries and St Mungo's get their hands on it?" Hermione muses to herself, jotting down what Slughorn had told her. She hadn't realised she'd spoken aloud until Slughorn answers her.
"There wasn't any, and I mean any discussion about St Mungo's or the Department of Mysteries that night. I swear it on …" he casts around for something that will measure up "… on the memory of Albus Dumbledore."
Hermione thinks he's telling the truth. He looks like he'd love nothing more than to show her out and never speak a word about their conversation ever again.
"Your guests were …" she checks her notes "… Dawlish, Fudge, and McLaggen? Anybody else? I suppose Fudge may have ties with the Department of Mysteries as a former Minister …"
"Gawain usually comes as well, but he wasn't there that night, nor was Kingsley," Slughorn says. "Fudge has been pretty quiet in the public eye lately, and McLaggen is friendly with one of the Unspeakables, but he told me that in confidence. You're not to speak of them, after all. He's a good lad, though. Saved Harry's life only a fortnight ago. I don't think he would …" He deflates.
Hermione thinks he must be remembering the night of the gala when McLaggen had been among the men firing Stunners into the crowd. She figures now is as good a time as any to take her leave, slips her ledger back into her briefcase, and gets to her feet. "Thank you for speaking to me, Professor Slughorn. I'll show myself out."
He doesn't say a word as she finds her way through the clusters of furniture and opens the door. She closes it behind her and Apparates back to the Ministry.
Harry and Draco are led into one of the old courtrooms in the bowels of the Ministry. They sit side by side in thankfully chain-free chairs.
"The Wizengamot will now come to order," Kingsley's powerful low voice rumbles through the room. Harry swears he can feel its vibrations in the arms of his chair. "We meet to discuss the lists of charges brought upon Auror-on-leave, Harry Potter, and Mr Draco Malfoy by the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Gawain Robards."
Robards shifts in his seat on the long bench in the balcony above the courtroom. Harry wouldn't want to be in his shoes for anything.
"On the accusation of sex trafficking involving a minor, the accusation lists Cordelia Smith, aged fourteen as claiming to be a victim." Kingsley clears his throat and looks to Robards who stands, shuffling his feet and poking at several scrolls.
"Upon investigation by the squad assigned to her case, there is no evidence she is or has ever been in danger. The accusation seems to have been raised by an unnamed member of the Parliamentary Union of Respected Elders when the child was overheard complaining about being asked by her adopted parents to keep her room tidy. We choose to strike this accusation from the list." He sits down again quickly and Harry thinks he's probably wishing he could disappear into the bench.
"Mrs Granger?" Kingsley looks to where Hermione has risen to her feet.
"The evidence of money laundering through my client, Draco Malfoy's business, supposedly found on the premises for the purpose of the nonexistent scandal, this charge is also dropped, I assume?"
Robards nods his head, gesturing at Kingsley with his hand. Kingsley sends a disapproving stare in his direction but says nothing else about it.
"Next," Kingsley reads from his podium, "the charge of lewd conduct between Mr Malfoy and Mr Potter at the massage parlour run by Mr Malfoy and again at a club catering to Muggles, also run by Mr Malfoy. The events in question – how were they breaking the law?"
Robards stands again, as if resigned. He clears his throat. "Again, this charge must be withdrawn. After examining the evidence, it has been determined that Mr Malfoy and Mr Potter acted as consenting adults, away from public eyes, in establishments belonging to Mr Malfoy and while the Department of Magical Law Enforcement does not endorse these acts, as they are contrary to the natural order…"
"Save passing judgment, Gawain. If it's of no concern to you or infringing upon your rights, your opinions are not welcome. Stick to the facts."
The force behind Kingsley's words is so strong Robards is visibly shaken as he continues. "It is determined that no law was broken."
He reclaims his seat and mops at his forehead with his sleeve.
Hermione is already standing when Kingsley turns to her. "The evidence that was gathered to capture these private moments …" She pauses. "What form did it take?"
Robards does not stand. "It took the form of a Muggle device used to record events as they happen. I believe it is called a vid-yo."
Hermione nods. "I'm familiar with video recording devices. Who planted the cameras and collected them afterwards?"
Robards seems to hem and haw for several seconds before deflating. "McLaggen learned about them in Muggle Studies at school and got his hands on one. As we were investigating Mr Malfoy for what we thought was a dangerous and illegal activity, I gave him permission to use them and collect them later."
"Without Mr Malfoy's knowledge or consent?"
"Well you can hardly perform a private investigation if the person being investigated knows about it, Mrs Granger." Robards voice is snappish, about the only bite he has left in him.
Hermione and Kingsley exchange grim expressions.
"What's a vid-yo?" Draco whispers to Harry and Harry shakes his head. There's no way he's going to risk setting Draco off at discovering his and Harry's private moments were recorded and apparently viewed by Harry's coworkers, not while they stand the risk of being charged further for disrupting a Ministry hearing.
Draco shrugs and Harry breathes a sigh of relief, though he knows his face has to be the colour of a beet root.
Kingsley's glaring daggers at his department head to the point Harry almost feels sorry for him. He wonders where David is in all this. Hermione had mentioned to him before the hearing that he was taken to St Mungo's and wasn't in a good way, but she wouldn't go into more detail than that. If Harry had to guess though, he thinks his hunch was correct, that David was being controlled by somebody else, somebody with an annoying habit of clearing her throat and who had a twisted idea of what justice and law look like. He looks around, wondering if she is somewhere in the room right now, perhaps hiding under a Disillusionment Charm.
"The third charge reads that Draco Malfoy has been a financial front for the underground sale of a Class C Non-Tradable Substance in the form of an experimental potion. What evidence do you have supporting this claim?"
Robards finally appears to have found his feet again. He gets to them. "In the course of retrieving the vid-yo device from Mr Malfoy's massage parlour, Auror McLaggen, working in an undercover capacity …" Draco snorts and Harry turns to look at him. He can read in Draco's scoffing that McLaggen pulled off the undercover portion about as well as a troll in a tea shop. "The recipe for the potion was discovered in a drawer of receipts along with a list of people with their names checked off, unfortunately none of whom could be found during the investigation."
Hermione gets to her feet and all eyes follow her except Robards who continues to read.
"And there was the matter of a reported stolen shipment of this potion, during which Harry Potter nearly got himself and McLaggen killed due to lack of preparation. Unfortunately the culprits got away with the goods. It is suspected that Harry Potter had planned for his partner to take a death blow while defending Mr Potter and thus removing the threat of discovery by his partner from his contribution to this illegal activity."
Kingsley coughs. Robards looks up. Hermione speaks. "What proof do you have regarding that final accusation?"
Robards draws his eyebrows close. He looks a little lost. "McLaggen reported Potter acted aggressively toward him during a wellness check after the incident and it was so severe he began to wonder if Potter had had it in for him from the beginning."
"So, you're saying you have no physical evidence to support the accusation." Her voice rings cold and clear through the cavernous room. "Can I assume that as you can't locate the supposed people whose names you found in the desk drawer of a masseur, that you also have no physical evidence to back up the accusation of money laundering related to this potion?"
"Er … physical evidence. No. I mean yes. We do not have physical evidence." Robards cringes. Harry can see he realises his job is crumbling down around him. It's not as satisfying as it should be. It's pathetic.
One of the members of the Wizengamot stands up in the back row. Kingsley turns his attention to him, a little old man who has been a fixture in the Wizengamot ever since Harry can remember. He'd resigned in protest of Umbridge butting in at Hogwarts, but after her sentence in Azkaban had returned to his post. "Yes, Tiberius?"
"I contend that this entire hearing is a farce and a mockery of the Justice system. As Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot for the past seven years, I ask you, Minister – how did this drivel even make it so far as a hearing? Who is responsible for wasting the court's time and efforts?"
His aged voice wobbles throughout the room, but even Harry feels guilty at hearing it, but as it seems the whole plot against him has collapsed in on itself even without hearing what evidence Hermione has gathered, he's feeling pretty grateful.
Narcissa Malfoy sniffs haughtily in the audience booth. Apparently she also has no patience for incompetence. Harry watches her more closely when he sees Draco's looking at her curiously and then a resounding CRACK rings out and bounces off the walls, loud as a Filibuster Firecracker. Two house-elves stand in the middle of the floor, beside where Harry and Draco are seated, and they are restraining a short, squat, toad-faced woman with tight steel grey curls set on her head.
"What is the meaning of this?" Umbridge demands, looking around, finally realising she isn't where she expected to be.
"To answer your question, Elder Ogden, the person responsible for the entire hullabaloo is Dolores Jane Umbridge. And I do have physical evidence to back that accusation." Hermione, at least, holds some satisfaction in her voice.
Kingsley points to the watch-wizards waiting in the wings. They take over the hold on Umbridge from Narcissa's house-elves and the elves shrink back to stand beside their mistress.
"What is the meaning … Who do you think … Get your hands off me!" Umbridge wails, scrabbling and fighting. "Where is David? He's my son. He will set the record straight. Let him tell you …"
Kingsley nods at Hermione and Harry watches her point her wand at the courtroom doors. They fly open. Healer Sprout walks in, leading David by the arm. He's using a cane to keep his balance.
Umbridge's face stretches into her old toad-like grin at the sight of him.
"Mrs Granger. Would you please introduce our visitor to the Wizengamot?" Kingsley's voice is firm, but kind, the way Harry prefers it.
David speaks first, apparently in answer to Umbridge's plea. "You are no mother of mine. I am here to state that now that I am free from your enslavement, I will speak, and it will be at your trial, and it will be on the prosecution's side."
Umbridge's expression morphs into a mask of pure fury as he comes closer.
He begins to lag and Healer Sprout helps him into a chair.
"David is one of the rare male Veela who is born with the classic Veela allure," Hermione explains. "Dolores Umbridge found him in Bulgaria after her sentence in Azkaban ended and enslaved him using the curse that binds house-elves to a family. All of this …" she gestures around the room "…this mockery of law and order, this farce of justice was made possible by David's ability to convince others to do what he suggests, twisted by Dolores's manipulation and cruelty. According to Healer Sprout, who is attending him, such a curse on a Veela translates to unbearable pain both physically and spiritually. He's been under her power for a year and a half."
Umbridge stamps her plump foot. "You … you meddlesome, know-it-all, bushy-haired … Mudblood!"
Kingsley signals the watch-wizards to escort her out, presumably to the detention cell. He raises his hands for silence as the whole assembly has broken into whispered conversation at the revelation of Umbridge's crime.
When the last voices die down, Kingsley smacks his gavel on his podium. "The Wizengamot must vote. All in favour of taking the case of Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter vs the wizarding public to trial please raise your hand." Nobody does. "All in favour of clearing Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter of all charges?" Every hand goes up. "By unanimous vote I pronounce the defendants cleared of all charges." He raises his hands again, showing he's not finished. "I will also, as Minister for Magic, recommend the Wizengamot meet for an additional hearing to examine the character profiles and aptitude scores of Gawain Robards, Cormac McLaggen, John Dawlish and the Unspeakable who participated in detaining myself and Harry Potter, along with the others, as well as injuring a Ministry employee acting under my direction nearly to the point of death. If they are so easily swayed by incompetently cast Imperius Curses and Veela allure to go as far as to plant evidence and engage in espionage, I believe a case could be made that additional training and screening is needed before they are allowed to return to work."
Chapter 15: Epilogue
Narcissa accosts Draco on their way out of the courtroom. "Mr Potter, you will forgive me for taking Draco home to see his son, will you not? There is a matter that requires his presence."
Harry shrugs. It's Draco's life, his mother, his son. Harry doesn't want him to feel boxed in or needing to check with Harry for permission to do anything out of the ordinary. He meets Draco's eyes, sees him pull a face, and knows he'll be all right.
"I'll see you later then. Tonight?"
"In all likelihood," Draco agrees. "At our getaway."
Harry grins. They haven't turned in their key for the Hog's Head yet, and after news of the hearing hits the papers, he supposes the number of oddly dressed reporters outside his new house will increase. Nothing quite like a nice little hole in the wall to take a break from all of that.
Draco leaves with Narcissa.
"Harry." Kingsley's voice is low and close to his ear; it nearly makes him jump.
"I'm still resigning."
Kingsley puts his hands up. "I don't blame you when your boss is an incompetent dolt and a bigot." He clears his throat again. The nervous kind of throat clearing rather than the attention-getting sort. "Can I ask you to come with me? I have a – something – I need to do. And I'm going to need some moral support."
Harry nods and follows the Minister out of the courtroom. He doesn't know where they're going or why, but it feels good to walk again without feeling the weight of enormous judgement clinging to him like his old shame.
Kingsley walks, and Harry follows. They head to the Visitor's entrance and step out of the out-of-service telephone box onto the dingy street in Muggle London. Kingsley casts a Disillusionment Charm on top of Harry's head. It runs down his scalp with the sensation of a smashed egg. Then Kingsley casts another on himself.
Harry wants to ask where they're going, but senses Kingsley's lost in his own thoughts and Harry would be impudent to interrupt. Before long, he finds they're standing outside Purge and Dowse, Ltd. Kingsley removes his own Charm, but gestures to Harry to keep his on. He whispers to the Mannequin in the window and they step through to the reception area of St Mungo's.
"Arthur Weasley's room, please," Kingsley says to the Welcome Witch. She points to her throat and then writes down the room number on a scrap of parchment and hands it to him. He nods and leads Harry to the lift. They get off at the fourth floor and head down the open ward. Harry's relieved to pass the door to the Janus Thickey ward without stopping. Again, he's tempted to ask why they're visiting Arthur and why he needs to stay under the Disillusionment Charm, but gets the feeling he'll find out when they arrive.
Arthur had been given a private room and Kingsley stops outside the open door, peering inside. Harry looks in too, around Kingsley's elbow. It's only Arthur inside; he's reading the Prophet and frowning. "If anybody calls, knock on the door." Kingsley's low whisper is so quiet Harry almost didn't make it out, but Arthur heard him.
"Ah, Kingsley. You just missed the family, they're off running errands." He gestures for Kingsley to come inside and then the door closes most of the way.
Harry assumes Kingsley leaves it open a crack so he can hear if anybody is coming, though it could be that Kingsley intends for Harry to listen. He wishes he would have insisted Kingsley clarify his expectations.
He stands in front of the door, unable to not listen in. He doesn't hear everything but catches snippets.
"… Got to move on. Time to join the world of the living and let go of the past …"
"I'm not dying, you realise? You don't have to do this …" Arthur's voice is slightly higher pitched than usual, like there may be a hint of panic under the surface.
"But I do. Remember the past, so I can let it go."
"I'm sorry …" Arthur's voice trembles. "We were young … in school … I was confused … I needed … I used you, I'm sorry."
"We used each other. It was a wonderful summer, but it was not the end-all, be-all I made it out to be."
"It was a beautiful fantasy."
"It was real to me." Kingsley sounds sad, resigned.
What the hell is he hearing? Harry's brain spins, putting two and two together and it hits him. Arthur hadn't been talking about Kingsley in the garden, he had been talking about himself. And Kingsley had said He's married to a woman, has a family, a career – a good life. and Harry doesn't think he should be listening in on this any longer. He stands further from the door and glances anxiously up and down the corridor. It's surprisingly empty. Until it isn't. The lift opens and Molly steps out, heading straight for him. He raps on the door and the voices stop.
She makes her way to the room and pushes open the door. "Oh, Kingsley! It's wonderful to see you. Arthur had hoped you'd stop by. Did you tell him the news?"
Arthur's voice is suddenly falsely chipper. Harry wouldn't have been able to tell it was false before hearing what he had, but Arthur evidently is well practised at hiding his bisexuality? from his wife.
"I was just on my way out, Molly. Take care of this husband of yours. He's a valuable member of my team." Harry senses Kingsley's deference to Molly, his respect for her.
"Oh, you are a dear! You look peaky, Kingsley. Been getting enough sleep, enough to eat?"
"Molly, don't …" Arthur starts, and then words seem to fail him.
"Goodbye, Arthur." The finality in Kingsley's voice is palpable if you know the context he's speaking in, and unfortunately, Harry now does.
Kingsley walks silently stoic back towards the lift. How long have they been doing this? Harry wonders. Have they ever had an accidental slip? Harry's not sure how he feels about that, but then, they've hardly been mucking about and rubbing it in people's faces. Harry would never have guessed, not in a million years.
The lift doors shut after they get in. "I can hear you thinking, Harry."
"Just a little while longer. Let's get back on the street. Muggle London. Less chance of being recognised."
Kingsley lifts the Disillusionment Charm as they emerge from the reception area back outside Purge and Dowse, Ltd. "I don't understand."
Kingsley raises an eyebrow and fixes his dark brown eyes on Harry. "Don't you?"
"Well, yeah, but Arthur? He's so happy with Molly."
Kingsley nods, clasping his hands behind his back and appearing to be examining the awful fashion from the seventies the mannequin displays. "He is. Very happy. He would have been happy with me too, or I've always felt it. But she captured his heart first and they say that first love beats strong and fierce. They've built the fire between them over many, many years. I never expected or even wanted to split them up. I only wanted … wanted him to acknowledge the other side of him exists and is all right. I needed to validate my feelings in order to let go of them."
"Wow." Harry can't even form a thought more than that. Kingsley starts walking again and Harry follows. "What are you going to do now?"
He watches as Kingsley stops at a corner, sweeps his eyes up and down the street, begins crossing, and Harry has to cross too if he's to keep up. "Want to show me this club that's captured your eyes so effectively?"
Harry stops stock-still in the middle of the street, and then breaks into a jog when he sees the twinkle in Kingsley's eyes. "You had me going there for a moment."
"Who says I was joking?"
"Potter and Malfoy Vindicated
Harry Potter's speech at this week's gala for the seventh anniversary of the founding of the War Orphan's League was rudely interrupted when colleagues of his fired Stunners into the crowd of innocent attendees. Arthur Weasley, trusted longtime associate of Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt was critically injured in the skirmish, but we have learned today that he is on the mend and likely to make a respectable recovery. 'It doesn't matter if I make a full recovery or not, you old bat, I'm still retiring' – Arthur Weasley, when asked about his future plans.
As for Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, the buzz is loud about these two. After Hermione Granger, Potter's one-time love interest, now his former sister-in-law, brought down the scourge that is Dolores Umbridge with good hard facts – a feat a journalist such as myself holds in the highest regard –"
"Bloody get to the point!" Harry calls – his pillow shaking with laughter. He looks up at Draco's face.
"Hey, now. You wouldn't want to miss the juicy bits would you?"
It's four o'clock, and they're lying under an elm tree in a Muggle park beside the play structure. Their children clamber all over the equipment, playing with random children and chasing each around according to rules only they seem to understand. Harry lies perpendicular to Draco, who's propped up with a Cushioning Charm under his neck and back, and rests his head on Draco's stomach.
Draco shakes the paper out and turns the page to skim the rest of the article. "Oh here's the rest of your speech. You're awfully long winded, you know that?"
"Shut it, and read," Harry mumbles. He's comfy and wants Draco to start reading again so he can enjoy the gentle vibrations beneath his head.
"According to Mr Potter, this event just goes to prove the point he would eventually have arrived at were he allowed to finish his speech. That discrimination and fear mongering are the true destroyers of magical might and the magical community's ability to adapt with the times. Says Mr Potter: Ginny and I have divorced, but through the process we've realised we had a treasure we hadn't recognised in our midst all along and are pleased to announce that four years and twenty-nine days ago, a daughter was born to us, though we didn't know it until recently. I'd like you all to welcome Alice Potter to the wizarding community with the same joy and welcome that Ginny and I have for her.
This on top of Mr Potter's shouted outing of himself in the middle of Diagon Alley where he yelled at a group of the soon to be defunct – if Hermione Granger has her way with pushing new anti-hate group legislation through – Parliamentary Union of Respected Elders these words: If it's not your parts, it's not your problem. And If I want to bone Draco Malfoy in my own bed for the rest of my life, that's my prerogative!"
Harry twists on his side. "It does not say that."
Draco chuckles again. "No," he concedes. "But what it does say amounts to the same thing."
Harry settles back into place and pulls Draco's hand onto his face. "Rub?"
"You're a fiend. Making me work my fingers to the bone to keep your stress from showing on your face."
Harry doesn't deign that with a response. "What did your mother want?"
Draco brushes Harry's eyebrows with careful fingers. "Scorpius had been asking about his mum. She wanted to talk to me about taking some of what you said in your gala speech under consideration. Maybe meet her halfway."
"Wow," Harry says, then ruins it by moaning, or rather Draco made him ruin the moment by touching him just right so he couldn't help but moan. "You going for it?"
"Possibly. Tell me something, Harry?"
"You think you're going to keep this up? Changing the world one speech at a time?"
Harry thinks of the book he finished reading earlier in the day, after Alice pestered him a full three hours. He shrugs. "When up is down, right is left, and backwards is forwards, change is the only option that makes any sense. Time to look in the mirror head on, the right way round, yeah?"
Draco snorts. "Have you been reading that dratted book again?"
Harry glances up at him, loving the sparkle that's appearing more and more frequently in his cool grey eyes. "Who, me? Well, actually … Alice reminded me when I finished it that her granddad told her there is a sequel." He flinches as if expecting Draco to smack him, albeit in jest.
Draco busts out laughing. "Of course there is."