With Your Green Mantle
The first time Draco saw the vision of Harry Potter, it was early morning and he was stumbling through the rose garden after a party that had lasted all night and been—well, it had been some party, that was all Draco could really say. He was never sure if the ones that left a musty taste of vomit in his mouth and the overwhelming urge to produce more of it were fun or not.
Draco couldn’t remember how he’d got into the rose garden, either. He had been chasing Pansy, who wore a green dress—or no, wait, that was that friend of hers. Nicola. Or something. His memory really wasn’t clear.
But Pansy, or Nicola, or maybe it was Astoria, hadn’t actually run into the rose garden. Draco remembered that much. He had stumbled into it somehow later, then. Perhaps that was when he was wrapped around Blaise and kissing him for all he was worth. Or maybe not. Draco had the hazy impression that he’d left Blaise behind, entangled on a bench with Daphne, and then stumbled about with Theo for a while.
Automatically, Draco checked his penis. He smiled in satisfaction when he saw it was still attached and looked normal. Being with Theo could shrivel one’s cock something fierce.
He looked up from his penis, and that was when he saw the vision of Harry Potter.
It was an unpleasant combination of sights, as he told the house-elves later.
For the moment, Draco just stood there with his pants pulled down, the urge to piss and the one to vomit both gone, and stared with his mouth open as Harry Potter stood gazing at his rosebushes. He had a wistful smile on his face; he was turned to Draco in profile, but Draco could see that much. He reached out a hand that hovered over the nearest rose, and he sighed. Someone could break their heart over that sigh, Draco thought. If someone was a fool, of course, and hadn’t known handsomer people.
Somehow, he forgot right then that no one had seen Harry Potter for seven years. So he stupidly shouted, “Oi! What do you think you’re doing?”
Potter whirled around and stared at him, his green eyes so wide that they looked unnatural. For a moment, his gaze flickered down to Draco’s penis and stayed there, and Draco felt absurdly gratified even though this had to be a ghost or a vision, which meant Draco couldn’t have sex with it, which meant that the compliment was wasted.
Then Potter stared into Draco’s face and shook his head. His long black hair, shoulder-length, a wild mass of curls, flew around his features.
That was the point when Draco noticed that Potter was dressed, as Draco eloquently put it to the house-elves later, “in a really fucking poncey way.”
His shirt had some sort of ruffled lace collar, and it was made of a silky green fabric that Draco had imagined no Gryffindor would be caught dead wearing, because of its similarity to Slytherin colors. His trousers, honest-to-Merlin, were ruffled, too, and made of the same silky cloth, although this was dark blue. The trousers led straight to big pointy shoes, with curled golden tips. Draco had to wonder exactly what he’d allowed Astoria to put in his wine last night.
“This is a dream,” Draco said loudly, because Potter just stood there staring at him with his lips parted—intense red lips, Draco had to note, as though he had smeared makeup over them—and didn’t seem to understand that it was his duty to vanish so Draco didn’t have to doubt his sanity any longer. “You’re not real. You would be naked if you were.”
Then he shut his mouth, and shut his eyes in horror, too. He couldn’t believe that he’d admitted that aloud, that he sometimes had fantasies about Harry Potter.
Then he remembered this was just a dream—or a hallucination; Draco wasn’t picky and they were both welcome—and he didn’t have to worry. It wouldn’t be reporting anything about his predilections to anyone. (Predilections, that was a nice big word for ten-o’clock in the morning). Besides, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to fantasize about sleeping with someone else. The stable of Slytherins who regularly associated with him was large, but it couldn’t provide an infinite variety. There was no one with green eyes, for one.
“It’s not a dream,” the ghost of Potter said, and his voice was echoingly deep and seemed to bounce off the rosebushes and the benches. Stupid benches; Draco didn’t know why Great-Grandfather Octavius had installed them. All they did was bang Draco’s shins or injure his head when he was stumbling through the gardens at night, trying to find a quiet place to sleep. “You’re the first one to see me since I vanished.” Some kind of weird smile was on Potter’s lips when Draco looked again. “And probably the last,” he added cryptically.
“I hate riddles in the morning,” Draco said pitifully.
The vision didn’t respond. Draco looked up again and found that it had vanished.
He finished pissing as soon as he could, vomited into the pot of a sickly-looking fern that he had never liked anyway, and then staggered into the house. He needed a bath and a Hangover Potion. Then he needed some food, and some wine. And then he needed the house-elves to comb his hair and tidy him up so that he could go over to Blaise’s house. Blaise had said he had something important and special that he wanted to show Draco today.
Normally, Draco would have discounted anything like that that Blaise said at one of these parties, but he’d said it before they started drinking, so he thought it was worth taking a look at.
“Not Potter,” Blaise said, shaking his head and managing to look sober despite the fact that Draco personally knew he had swallowed at least six pints this evening. “You couldn’t have seen Potter.”
“Why not?” Draco took another sip of the sweet, pale wine that he’d been drinking most of the evening. Blaise had told him the name, but he’d forgotten. But since the wine was the important, special thing he had wanted to show Draco and it was good enough, Draco figured he could forgive that. “Do you mean that the combination of drinks I had couldn’t possibly have caused hallucinations?” He would do a lot to be able to ignore the implication that he was getting too old to hold his drink at the age of twenty-five.
“Because.” Blaise leaned close to him and held out one finger as if he meant to jab Draco in the nose. Draco watched its flight in fascination, but it settled to the table instead of poking him in the face. Draco was a bit disappointed. If Blaise had touched him, Draco could have grabbed the finger and sucked on it. “Because,” Blaise finished in a triumphant tone, “Potter’s vanished.”
“Oh.” Losing interest, Draco took another gulp of wine, then put the glass down and snatched at the plate of biscuits in the middle of the table. Blaise’s mother made them. They were covered with a delicious, flaking white icing and filled with some sort of cream, and Draco had only checked them for poison once or twice. “I knew that. But why did I see him, then?”
Theo leaned in from the side. They were all seated around the large table in the middle of the dining room at Blaise’s house, which meant it was polished enough by house-elves that Draco could see Theo’s reflection in the smooth dark wood. “Because you were drunk,” Theo said. “Of course.” And then he frowned and rubbed a hand across his forehead as if to check for fever. “Or were you busy fucking Pansy instead of drinking? I can’t remember.”
“Nicola, not Pansy,” Draco said, and slid back in his seat with pleasure as he bit into the biscuit. His mouth filled with a melting ecstasy that had him decide it was almost worthwhile to die from eating food that Belladonna Zabini had prepared if this was the result. “I was trying to fuck Nicola.”
“Who?” Pansy leaned against the table in return, but she almost lost her balance and had to prop herself up with a hand on the pot of flowers between them. It wobbled and probably would have fallen, except that a well-trained house-elf appeared under the table, captured the large pot in loving arms, and Apparated away. Draco didn’t think Pansy noticed. She kept her vacant gaze on his face. “What? Who’s that?”
Draco frowned at her. “Your friend from Paris,” he said. “You should know. You were the one who brought her.”
“I don’t know anyone named Nicola, darling,” Pansy said, with a shrug that made her breasts bounce, and fell back in her chair again. Then she giggled. “Imagine if we had someone we didn’t know at one of our parties? Wouldn’t that be exciting?”
They all considered this in silence for a while. Theo was the one who said what Draco, at least, was thinking. “No,” he said decisively. “It’s better when it’s just the six of us.” He gave Draco a bright, hopeful smile that said where he wanted the evening to lead and reached out to squeeze his hand under the table. “Who else could understand us like one of us? Who could drink like one of us, or fuck like one of us?”
“Millicent?” Pansy asked, but not in the sense of someone offering up a serious alternative. The discussion of the rest of their group seemed to have reminded her that Daphne and Astoria weren’t here tonight, and she was the only woman. She sat up taller and gave all of them a secretive smile. Draco removed his hand from Theo’s. When Pansy looked like that, she was inevitably exciting, and Draco was in the mood for exciting.
“She’s gone all…” Blaise searched for a sufficiently horrifying adjective, and in the end came back to the only one that any of them had been able to use to describe Millicent since the war. “Gryffindor.”
Draco shuddered and took another biscuit. “How did she ever get Sorted into Slytherin anyway?” he demanded. “Did she somehow fool the Hat?”
“You can’t do that,” Pansy said, with the disagreeable habit she had of being reasonable in drunken discussions. Draco changed his mind about whether he wanted to sleep with her tonight. “It sees straight into your head, darling.”
“I don’t remember that,” Draco muttered. And he didn’t. The Hat had seen that he was meant for Slytherin right away, so it hadn’t had to do anything like peer into his head and read his every thought. Blaise said it had happened to him, and Pansy to her, but Draco wasn’t sure about that. They could be misremembering.
“Yes, well, you don’t recall much on the best of nights,” Theo said. Draco scowled at him and decided that he didn’t want to sleep with him tonight, either.
“I was younger then,” Draco said haughtily, and then clapped a hand over his mouth. Why in the world had he wanted to remind them of his age? He wasn’t the oldest of the group—that was Theo—but he didn’t want them comparing him to the way he had acted years or months ago. The present was the most important.
“Anyway,” said Blaise, leaning over and pouring out more of the wine, “Millicent has a shop in Diagon Alley and sells robes like it’s something she trained to do. She doesn’t seem to have sex at all. I don’t think she drinks much, either.”
“It’s worse than that,” Pansy whispered. “She pays her taxes.”
All of them shuddered, and Draco felt pity congeal in his stomach. He had half-thought sometimes of calling on Millicent and asking why she was so different now, but it was obvious that would never happen.
“How the mighty do fall,” said Blaise, with a sigh and a world-weary shake of his head that Draco knew would have done credit to his mother. “Who would have thought she would end up that way?” He grinned suddenly. “Who would have thought that Weasley would end up the way he did?”
Draco didn’t have to ask which Weasley he meant; the only one of interest to his little circle of friends was the one who had been in their year, after all. “What do you mean?” he demanded. “I know that he stopped his Auror training when Potter disappeared, but what’s happened since then?”
Theo and Pansy looked as bewildered, which meant Blaise took his time about telling them. He leaned back in his chair and sipped his wine, then ate a biscuit delicately piece by piece, flicking the icing from his fingers. Draco tried not to roll his eyes. He knew he would have done the same if he had the rare good fortune to be in sole possession of such a delicious piece of news.
“He’s in prison,” Blaise said. “Not Azkaban, not yet, but it might end up that way when they finish sentencing him.”
Pansy squealed and clutched at Blaise’s arm. “For what, Blaise, darling? You can’t leave it at that! You have to tell us!”
Theo nodded. Draco picked up a biscuit of his own and bit off the top to avoid looking too excited. He did have to maintain a certain standard, especially after his inadvertent reminder of his age and the fact that he had admitted seeing a hallucination of Potter last night.
“It seems that he started to distrust the Ministry after Potter’s disappearance,” Blaise said, and finished the last of his biscuit. “Thought they had something to do with it. He demanded an investigation, which they refused to perform. They had evidence that Potter had fled the wizarding world, and it was probably bloody convincing evidence. After all, with everyone claiming to see Potter around every corner, they would only accept a solid story.”
Draco nodded. He remembered Weasley’s demands, if vaguely, before he had grown disgusted with the ill-trained way the post-owls landed on their perches and canceled his subscription to the Daily Prophet.
“So he got caught breaking into the offices of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement last night,” Blaise said, and his voice sparkled with delighted malice. “He wanted the records of the time that Potter vanished, and the reports of the Aurors they sent to the scene, if one can believe his claims. Of course he was arrested. He admitted that he’d done it, and practically dared them to condemn him.”
“I wonder what it would be like to fuck a war hero,” Pansy said dreamily.
Draco nearly dropped his biscuit. “Pansy!” he said. “The thought of you and the Weasel in an intimate embrace is going to turn my stomach and make me vomit in your lap.”
Pansy drew her chair away from him. “Don’t you dare, Draco!” she said, sternly if unsteadily. “This dress is new.”
“And so is the image that you just introduced into my head,” Draco retorted. “That doesn’t make it valuable.”
Blaise snickered, and Theo clapped Draco on the back. Pansy chose to win by ignoring them all and sighing again. “I wondered what it would be like to fuck Potter when we were still at school,” she admitted. “And even Weasley, sometimes. But those dreadful freckles were too much for me. Potter, though, had a certain je ne sais quoi about him even before he defeated the Dark Lord.”
“You were the one who suggested sacrificing him to the Dark Lord,” Draco pointed out. He had spent a few months envious that he didn’t think of that suggestion first. It might have meant that he had some distinction in the heated discussion that followed the war, instead of being dismissed in the papers as “Lucius Malfoy’s son.”
Now they presumably said something different about him, with his father in prison and his mother traveling, but Draco didn’t know what, since he didn’t read the papers. He frowned and considered renewing his subscription.
Pansy still had the wistful smile on her face. “Yes, but I would have made sure his last moments were happy ones,” she said. “That’s more than you could say, Draco.”
“I don’t know,” Draco said slowly, forced to consider it by the amount of wine he’d drunk. “I reckon I could fancy Potter, under the right circumstances. The vision I had of him last night was intense.”
“Well, if you find him in the solid form, maybe you can ask him to put his cock in you before you turn him over to the Ministry and claim the ten thousand Galleon reward,” Blaise said cheerfully, pouring himself another glass.
“Ten thousand Galleons?” Draco asked, snapping to attention. That was something he was sure he hadn’t heard about in the papers. “The Ministry’s offering that?”
“Something called The Organization for Finding Harry Potter is,” Pansy said. “With contributions from the Ministry and Potter’s friends and ‘the good people of Britain.’” She rolled her eyes and played with the stem of her glass. “These were the same good people who thought he was insane when alive. I doubt they would actually raise the money if someone brought him back.”
“Ten thousand Galleons,” Draco murmured. He had a fortune, of course, but there were certain things that he couldn’t do with it, including purchase the tame dragons he’d always wanted. The asking prices on the black market for domesticated Chinese Fireballs ran at least twenty thousand Galleons, and Draco had never wanted to spend that much money on an uncertain prospect. “I wonder…”
“Oh, don’t go and tell them about your hallucinations,” Theo said impatiently. “Otherwise it’ll be like that time at St. Mungo’s with your supposed Ghostly Spattergroit all over again.”
Draco turned on him, wounded. “You said that you were never going to mention that again!”
“Yes, but I made that vow when I was sober,” Theo said, and drank some more wine.
Draco closed his eyes, doing his best to ignore the treachery of his friends, and sank back into thought. Yes, he could use the ten thousand Galleons towards the purchase of the dragon. Or he could throw the kind of party that would make him famous among his friends for weeks. Or he could plant more roses in the Manor gardens so that they would become the kind of living, growing, changing place his mother had always wanted.
Draco carefully steered his mind away from thoughts of his parents and opened one eye to look around the table. Everyone else was flirting or staring into their wine or thinking with dreams in their expression.
None of them, like Draco, was actually making the kind of plans that would make those dreams come true.
It was time to lay a little trap for his hallucination.
The second time Draco saw the vision of Harry Potter, it was again in the rose garden, this time in the middle of the night. It wasn’t a problem for Draco to sit up and drink by the light of his wand, but it had meant that he had to refuse an invitation to Astoria and Daphne’s latest party, and he was a bit irritated at that.
Also bored. He wouldn’t have thought confronting an image of his childhood best enemy would involve so much waiting.
But there was Potter, standing among the roses again and bowing his head as if to sniff them. Draco studied him carefully. Potter didn’t look transparent, actually. And he wore different clothes than he last time: a rose-colored tunic, a long green cloak, and trousers of a slightly different shade of blue. His feet were bare, and he carried a golden ring on one hand with a ruby that made Draco contemplate the finer points of trying to steal from someone who wasn’t really there.
He wasn’t sure what the different clothes meant. Perhaps that his brain had grown weary of the simpler tricks it could play on him.
(Draco had no difficulty in believing that this was a hallucination and so not really there and that he had a chance to find the lost Potter and bring him home at the same time. His brain was special like that).
He cleared his throat. Potter whirled around, and he had a rose in one hand. He dropped it when he saw Draco staring at him and shook his head.
“I don’t understand,” he said, voice faint and far off. Draco cocked his head. Was it his imagination, or was Potter’s voice more musical than it used to be? Certainly his imagination, since he didn’t really remember what Potter’s voice sounded like. “You can see me?”
“I’m drunk, but yes, I can,” Draco said, and set down his glass of brandy carefully. “What I want to know is why you’re coming here, and where you’ve been, and why you’re wearing those poncey clothes.” Maybe, he thought, astonished at the freshness and brilliancy of his theory, Potter has been kidnapped by people obsessed with costume balls. Has The Organization for Finding Harry Potter looked into that, I wonder?
“I don’t understand,” Potter muttered, his brow furrowing. “The reason I haven’t been able to find someone to rescue me before this is that no one could see me.” He looked around as though he assumed he would find some huge magnifying lens crouching in the corner of the gardens. “Why should you be able to do it?” His gaze as he turned it on Draco was hostile and hopeful both at once.
Draco wagged his finger. “I know how this works,” he said. “And I’m the one asking the questions. You’re not going to refuse to answer in case you should run away the next moment and leave me here with a hat full of sorrow.”
Potter’s mouth drooped open. “What? Are you in league with them?”
“Um—” Draco pulled himself together. Truth to tell, he wasn’t sure what had made him say those words. They had made sense in his head, but they sure didn’t when they emerged from his mouth. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said loftily. “Because I don’t know who captured you.” There. That was a subtle psychological maneuver that asked Potter the question without actually asking it. Surely he wouldn’t be able to resist.
Potter licked his lips. “I’m not sure how to say this without making you laugh,” he said. “But I’ve been taken by fairies.”
Potter backed up and looked as if he would depart in offended pride. Draco hastily waved a hand. Either this was a very interesting hallucination or he was about to find out that Potter also hallucinated—or else his costume-obsessed captors had been very successful in never letting him see their faces. “It just sounds ridiculous,” he said. “The little fairies we hang up in our lights when we need them? Those fairies?”
“These are much taller,” Potter said with some dignity. “They can change shape. They’re immortal. They—” He closed his eyes and shuddered.
“Did they try to prick you to death with pins?” Draco asked, knowing he probably shouldn’t, but unable to stop.
Potter’s eyes popped open, and he glared. “They’re beautiful,” he said. “You don’t understand. I’ve seen them kill someone with a glance because that person couldn’t stand their beauty. Well, only she can do that, but it doesn’t really matter. She’s the one who took me, after all. Chose me. Because I was like a diamond lying in the grass, she said, and she couldn’t stand to see me lose my luster.” He closed his eyes again. “I was a fool ever to believe that. She took me because I was payment.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Draco cautioned him. He always appreciated it when people said things like that to him.
“The fairies make some sort of payment to Hell every seven years,” Potter said. “I don’t know why. But, naturally, they don’t want to sell a soul that belongs to them.” He took a deep breath. “This year, my soul’s the payment.”
Draco shook his head slowly, once and then again. He was trying, he really was, but he simply couldn’t imagine why in the world Potter expected him to believe this.
Then he remembered the way Potter had vanished the first time, instead of trying to tell Draco this mad story then, and frowned thoughtfully. Maybe Potter believed it, and the problem was that his craziness would set up a barrier when Draco tried to rescue him. Maybe that was the real problem.
“What, like Muggle Hell?” he asked, deciding to play along for the moment. He’d got vague notions of what Muggles thought this place called Hell was like from books that Pansy had stolen for him. Draco hadn’t been able to make much sense of it. It was a hot place, and they believed they lived forever in pain and torment there, but they also talked about how their God was full of peace and love. Draco thought one could be true or the other, but not both at once.
Potter shuddered. “I don’t know. I don’t know enough about the legends of Muggle Hell to be certain of that.” He licked his lips. “But there’s something there, something that frightens them. I’ve felt it myself.”
“What did it feel like?” Draco thought there probably was some sort of threat, something sufficient to keep Potter caged, or he would have come back on his own. If he could get Potter to talk through this, then he might find the truth behind his delusions, and with it the way to coax him back.
“Like a rain of fire against my skin,” Potter said. “But an invisible one. My skin didn’t char.” He wrapped his arms around himself as if he was feeling it right now.
“Ah,” Draco said, contented because he understood what was happening now. “That’s a common type of Dark Arts. They’re probably using it, and you don’t notice because you’re bewildered by glamours.”
Potter stared at him. “Fairies can use glamours,” he said slowly. “That’s how she got me to go with her in the first place. But that doesn’t apply here, Malfoy. I know what I felt, and it wasn’t the fault of any bloody glamour.”
“Of course it wasn’t,” Draco said soothingly, while he thought about it. His brain stirred dimly with memories of Dark Arts that could cause invisible rains of fire, but he would have to look up the spells again to be sure. He made a face. He hated research.
“You’ve got to rescue me before the sacrifice,” Potter said, which interrupted Draco’s thoughts, and which he hated.
“Why can’t you leave on your own?” Draco demanded. He was proud of himself for thinking of the question when he was distracted with all this thinking and when Potter wasn’t making any sense because he was mad. “Glamours shouldn’t be enough to keep you in place.”
Potter closed his eyes and laid his hand over his heart, which was so ridiculous that Draco wanted to snicker. He didn’t think that was allowed when he was trying to come up with a way to bring a hero home, though. At least, not if he wanted the hero’s cooperation.
“It’s her beauty,” Potter whispered. “I told you. No one could walk away from her willingly. I told you.” Draco thought of pointing out that he had repeated himself, but Potter was going on, and his words rushed and hissed in an oddly compelling fashion, like the first tumble of new wine into a glass. “She has a hook in my heart, and the hook is her beauty. As long as she wants me, she can have me.”
“Well, then you can’t be that worried about this trip to Hell,” Draco pointed out.
Potter glared at him. “Why did I ever think that you would be able to help me?” He turned away and took a step forwards into the rosebushes, and Draco had the distinct impression that he was about to vanish behind a door.
“Wait!” Draco yelped, scrambling to his feet. If Potter left, then so would Draco’s chances for a tame dragon. “I’m sorry,” he added soothingly, when Potter turned and scowled over his shoulder at him. “I just really don’t understand. What—how could just beauty keep you captive? How could you know that glamours were holding you and not be able to break free?”
Potter gave him a small, bitter smile. “That’s the worst of it, Malfoy,” he said. “Knowing what she’s going to do to me, knowing that the glamours are false and that some small and petty reality lies beneath, and yet not being able to break free.”
Draco nodded. “That would be pretty awful. Like knowing that you’re drinking awful wine but having to keep going because it’s polite.”
Potter peered at him with a puzzled expression on his face, but kept silent. Draco took that as encouragement to go on.
“If you have to be rescued, you have to be rescued,” Draco said. “Though I’m not really a hero.”
He’d meant it as modest self-deprecation. There was no reason for Potter to flicker a glance over him and mutter in an insulting tone, “No, you’re not.”
Draco glared. “Maybe I should leave you there with these glamours and this fairy woman that you obviously love so much,” he said. “And you can say hello to the devil for me.” He remembered that devils lived in the Muggle Hell, though like lots of other things about the books that Pansy had showed him, it didn’t make sense. The devils all looked unhappy. They could just leave if it was so bad. Draco wondered that no one had ever suggested it to them.
Potter laughed without humor. “It looks like I’ll going to anyway,” he muttered, and then he turned and flickered as if someone had passed a thick pane of not-quite-transparent glass over him. A moment later, he had disappeared.
Draco tapped suspiciously on the sides of his skull. It wasn’t like him to think of similes and metaphors like that. He really would have to see about stocking his cellars with different kinds of wine, if this was what resulted.
“This is The Organization for Finding Harry Potter, right?”
The tired-looking woman sitting behind the desk glanced up at him and blinked. Draco could see why she did. She must never have seen anyone who looked as clean and well-dressed as Draco did in her office before. She herself wore a brown jumper with a large red H on it that had seen better days—probably when it was thread—and her hair straggled over her shoulders. Draco eyed it sternly, to convey the silent message that it needed a comb, and started to say that he knew where she could find one, but she spoke first.
“Why, yes,” Draco said, and smiled at her, glad for her sake that she had at least the rudiments of taste. “I’m sure that you recognized me from my appearances in the society pages, yes?”
“I recognize you from the arse you were at school.” The woman rose to her feet and reached beneath the desk she sat at. Draco had the uncomfortable impression she was pointing a wand at him. “Is this a joke of yours? You have to have seen the organization name over the door. Decided to have a bit of fun, have you?” Her voice thickened with bitterness and exhaustion.
It was the bitterness that made Draco peer more closely, subtract seven years—or fourteen—from her face and decide that he knew her after all. “Granger?”
“Who else would be at the desk, now that Ron’s been arrested?” Granger took a large, deep breath and straightened up. The wand in her hand was no longer a hidden threat. “I don’t care why you’re here, actually, Malfoy. You can just go away again. It’s not like you would be anxious to see Harry returned.”
“I came to check on the amount of the reward,” Draco said, graciously willing to overlook the insults she’d offered him because he knew that she was mourning her lost friend. “Ten thousand Galleons, I believe? And is that for information leading to the recovery of Potter, or for Potter himself?” He hoped it was the former. Then he could just tell the story of Potter’s delusion that he’d been taken by fairies, claim the money, and free himself of the whole absurd business.
“You would,” Granger said softly. “You would be the sort of person who’d come here and act as if you could make fun of our grief by pretending you have information.” She gestured towards the door with her wand. “Get out!”
“There’s no need to be like that,” Draco said, wounded and irritated both at once. “It’s for the information, then? That’s all I want to know. I think Potter is being held—”
“It’s for him, or for his body, and honestly,” Granger said, with a sneer that shocked Draco. She had to have picked it up from a Slytherin, which made him wonder who had been slumming. Probably Millicent, with her disgusting tax-paying ways. “As if you would ever know anything like that. Leave now.”
Draco did, somewhat disconcerted both by the pity he felt for Granger and the fact that he was going to have work harder than he’d expected to get the reward. He asked himself seriously, as he Apparated back to the Manor, whether a tame dragon and the trouble of having to drag Potter out of this fairy realm, or wherever he really was, was worth all this.
He decided, reluctantly, that it was, if only so that he could have his rose garden to himself again, free of visions.
The third time Draco saw Potter, he was unfortunately sober, even though it was dawn. Pansy had come over last night, before Draco had even started drinking, to sob on his shoulder and say that she wanted to marry Blaise but was afraid it would break up the friendship of their little group. Or maybe it was Theo she’d wanted to marry. It wasn’t as though Draco had bothered to listen, once he had worked out that she didn’t expect him to settle down.
So he was grouchy, and in no mood to entertain a half-imaginary madman. When he saw Potter wandering soulfully about among the bushes, once again wearing the green cloak, and with his back to Draco so that he couldn’t make out the shocking colors of his clothes, he called out a question he’d been wondering about.
“Why my rose gardens?”
Potter started and turned around, as though he had the right to be surprised about someone else being in the house. He stared at Draco so hard and so long that Draco glared and waved a hand to shoo him away. Ten thousand Galleons weren’t worth this aggravation after all, he’d decided.
“I still don’t know why you can see me,” Potter whispered. “So few people can. As for roses, they’re one of the few mortal flowers that still smells sweet to me after the bowers of Fairyland.” His eyes were bright with yearning and doom, but then, Draco considered, they had always been like that.
“Well, then,” Draco said, giving in to the inevitable, “tell me how to rescue you so that you can come back to the mortal world.”
Potter stared up at him with big, hopeful eyes. They made him a little more attractive, Draco thought. In fact, Potter did himself no favors in general with his brooding hero shtick. He would be much more handsome if his eyes occasionally looked as though he wasn’t about to start crying.
“Really?” he whispered. “You would do that?” Suddenly he stopped and bit his lip. “But in the other versions of the legend that I’ve heard, the one who rescued the sacrifice had to be a pregnant woman.”
“I’m not taking a Gender-Reversal Potion for your sake,” Draco said crossly. “They’re notoriously hard to brew, and then half the time they don’t work right and you’re stuck as the wrong sex for the rest of your life. Hearing Pansy bitch about her menstrual cycle is quite enough without experiencing it myself.”
Potter buried his head in his arms and kept it there. Draco frowned and leaned closer. He hoped that Potter wasn’t about to expire in visionary form in his rose garden. It would make a bother to try and take that body to Granger.
Then he realized Potter was laughing, great whoops of laughter that surged through him and looked as if they ought to make his lungs burn. Draco raised his nose and did his best to look calm and unconcerned, while his heart leaped with curiosity. Potter went on laughing for a long time, and Draco didn’t think his words had been that funny.
Then he reconsidered. If he could amuse Potter like this, then perhaps he would consent to make sure that the ten thousand Galleons was given to Draco when he came back to the world.
“Well,” Potter said, lifting his head and shaking it. He looked much better when he had laughed, Draco thought with grudging admiration. His cheeks were bright now, and his eyes had a spark in them that Draco remembered from school. “I don’t think that will be necessary. When they told the legends to me, never dreaming that I would want to make use of them, they emphasized that desire was enough. If you feel a deep desire to rescue me, then it should work.” He looked dubiously at Draco, as if was reconsidering whether Draco could feel such desire.
“I can do that,” Draco reassured him, and fixed his mind on the heap of Galleons. “But why would they tell you the legends? Didn’t they think you would try to use them to escape?” He didn’t really believe it was fairies that had taken Potter, but whoever it was had to be capable of keeping a powerful wizard imprisoned against his will. Draco thought it was only right to feel a bit of wariness about that.
Potter gave him an odd, bitter smile. “I didn’t tell you why they grabbed me in the first place, did I?”
Draco shook his head and leaned against the balcony’s railings. He thought Potter would probably take a lot of time to recite his sob story. Draco might as well be comfortable while he did so.
“Because I was tired of life,” Potter said simply. His eyes were enormous, and he looked as if he could start crying at any moment out of sheer self-pity. Draco considered him critically and retracted his opinion about laughter improving Potter’s appearance. It did that less than self-pity destroyed it. “Because I thought that I could go away and no one would miss me—or, well, that the people who missed me would only be served right. I’d quarreled with my friends, no one seemed to love me for me instead of for the fame or the money, and I wanted to punish them a little.”
“Ah,” Draco said, recognizing the motivation from when he was sixteen. “Your own funeral delusion.”
Potter raised his eyebrows. They were exquisitely shaped, Draco had to admit, if too bushy and dark in places. “The what?”
“The idea that if you could die, everyone would see how wonderful you were and then they would feel sorry for you,” Draco said. “Most people forget that they can’t actually attend their own funeral and see everyone mourning and sobbing.” He thought a moment, then added, “But I did see Granger today. She heads up an organization to find you, and is offering quite a large reward. She looks miserable. Perhaps you’ve succeeded in punishing her, at least.”
Potter bowed his head. “I didn’t mean to,” he whispered. “It was just the impulse of an afternoon. It wouldn’t have lasted even a day. But she found me, and offered what seemed to be beauty and peace and—and revenge. I took it, and by the time I realized what she was, it was too late.” Then he blinked and looked up. “A reward?”
“Yes,” Draco said.
“That’s why you’re doing this?” Potter asked, leaning forwards and studying him so intently that Draco would have been abashed about it if he could have been abashed about anything.
“Yes,” Draco said, and matched Potter stare for stare. What did Potter want, one of his friends to rescue him and do it for unselfish and heroic reasons? He should have chosen to appear in one of their rose gardens.
Potter looked bemused. “And you think that desire is going to be enough to make you hold on to me against all the illusions that they can inflict on your senses?”
“You have no idea how much I care about money,” Draco said haughtily. “But tell me what I’ll have to do. You talk about illusions. I can take a potion that will keep me safe from the effects of glamours.”
“That won’t do anything,” Potter said, with a negligent wave of his hand. He appeared to be thinking deeply now, and Draco was relieved, since deep thinking was incompatible with a moral lecture about the evils of money. “The fairy illusions are stronger than anything mortal potions are meant to contend with. The legends say that the Queen’s lover who tried to escape was changed into many different shapes in the arms of the woman who rescued him, but I’ve never seen a real change here.” His eyes were deep and bitter, and Draco thought his words had some profound significance that Draco was missing utterly. Not that he cared. “I’m sure it’ll only be illusions. But some of them could be very convincing. You might think you were holding a burning brand.”
Draco shuddered fastidiously, but said, “I could put up with that as long as it didn’t actually burn my hair or skin.”
“It couldn’t,” Potter said. “Though the effects are stronger the more belief you give to the glamour.”
“What a charming troop of creatures you chose to let yourself be captured by,” Draco said dryly, and then saw Potter flicker. “It looks as though you’re going. Will you be able to return here?”
Potter stared down at himself, and then suddenly said, “Yes. I’ll come back. I’ll grow stronger, too, as the sacrifice approaches. It’ll be on the first day of autumn. Stronger, and more solid, and able to stay in the real world for longer periods—” He abruptly tore the green cloak from his shoulders and tossed it at Draco. Draco reached out automatically and found his arms full of warmth and finery. “I—”
Then he was gone.
Blinking, Draco shook the cloak out and stared at it. The material was the brilliant, true green of leaves in sunlight, the kind of green that Draco had seen many times almost achieved in robes but never naturally; there was always some glamour that the robe-maker had to add. Whoever Potter was staying with, Draco admitted grudgingly, they knew something about materials and dyes.
The lacy edging along the hem and collar of the cloak was a brilliant silver, though the material was so silky that Draco nearly dropped the garment when he tried to pick it up by one end. He wondered if Potter ever found it annoying, rubbing against his skin.
He hesitated for long moments, waiting for any hint that Potter was coming back. Then he shrugged and draped the cloak around himself.
The cloak settled with a heavy swing, and then Draco smelled a strong scent rising from it, the odor of chestnuts and wild spring. He gasped, and the odor swirled into his lungs, making him want to dance until his feet bled, to run through the woods until he could catch deer with his bare hands, to spend the rest of his life learning to play the harp and sing—
Draco tore the cloak off his shoulders and stared at it suspiciously.
Those are powerful glamours that these people have Potter under, yes. It’s no wonder that he thinks they’re fairies.
“Draco, darling, whatever are you doing over here this early?” Pansy’s voice was languid, and she didn’t raise her head from the couch where she was lying when Draco stepped into the room. “It won’t be time for the first drink until at least one. I have some standards to maintain, you know.”
“You only maintain them because you have that tradition of sobriety for a few hours each day, and you don’t wake up until ten,” Draco responded smartly. He walked past the couch, pausing to smooth his hand over Pansy’s hair, and then stopped next to the bookshelf. “I’m here to consult your library, actually.”
“My library?” Pansy raised herself on her elbow and stared at him with such open astonishment that Draco bit his lip. Though he admitted to himself that that was less for her expression and more for the crushed tuft of dark hair that projected out from beside her ear. “Draco, when was the last time you read a book?”
“Two years ago,” Draco said. “When I wanted to make sure that ordinary hangover potions didn’t contain the ingredients of the one that Blaise sold me, remember? I wanted to see if I had grounds to sue him.”
“Oh, yes,” Pansy said, and dropped back onto the couch, tilting her head back and closing her eyes. “Well, wake me if you find something interesting.”
Draco drew out several books and went to sit down on the couch that faced Pansy’s, wondering which was the sign of a true friend—offering you whatever you wanted to drink without lecturing you about the cost or letting you near their priceless books, many of them first editions, without wanting to know what you were looking up.
Pansy’s library was a pleasant place (though, Draco thought, more when you hadn’t drunk yourself to sleep the night before) because it was so bright. The sunlight entered through several large windows that looked out on the gardens, a balcony, and a terrace where the flowers grew in such abundance that one couldn’t actually see the terrace itself. The walls were a bright blue, decorated with carved flowers, sapphires, and the Parkinson family crest, repeating itself over and over again. Draco could have wished that the crest was a little smaller, only for the sake of good taste, but then again, one didn’t have to look at it if one would rather look at something else.
He occupied himself with staring at the library walls or out the windows half the time, and looking at the books half the time. It seemed productive.
The books insisted that fairies were small, harmless creatures, and Draco nodded with a smile. That was exactly what he had told Potter, and Potter was either fooled by the glamours himself or would have to come up with a more convincing lie if he wanted Draco to believe that he was actually held captive by fairies.
On the other hand, there were tall, beautiful, deadly creatures called faeries that were decidedly different. No one had seen them in the wizarding world in generations—probably because British magic had proven too strong for them—but there were plenty of tales. They sacrificed one man or woman, an ornament of their court, to a “force of great darkness,” probably some long-dead Dark wizard they’d mistakenly deified, every seven years. They preferred mortal men and women so that no faerie had to die.
There were other interesting things. Draco read them and nodded thoughtfully. It was no wonder that faeries had been driven away from the islands, as all the books said had happened. They sounded like they would be hard put to it to face a baby with a knitting needle.
Pansy woke up when Draco put the books back on the shelves. “Going, darling?” she asked, with a stretch and a yawn. Then she glanced at the gilded clock on the wall and brightened. “One-o’clock! You’re welcome to stay for a drink, dear.”
“No, thank you,” Draco said with immense dignity. He preferred not to explain that he had an appointment to keep in his rose garden, so he just smiled at Pansy and pressed her hand for a moment instead. “I have to go away and think on my newly-gained knowledge, perhaps write it down, before I blast it out of my head with wine. And I have some purchases to make.”
“Send the house-elves to do it,” Pansy said, staring at him. She had a worried curl to her lip, but Draco didn’t know why until she leaned forwards and whispered, “You’re not—you’re not going to catch Millicent’s disease, are you, Draco?”
Draco paused, struck by that disastrous idea. He didn’t think he was becoming like Millicent, a worshipper of war-heroes and a tax-paying freak, but it might be a good idea to protect himself against the sickness just in case.
“I believe I will have that drink, Pansy,” he said, and sat down on the couch at her feet.
Pansy beamed and patted his hand.
“There should be nothing to it.”
His conclusion, which Draco thought hopeful and the product of more research than the problem of Potter warranted—though there was always the ten thousand Galleons to consider—met with resounding silence. Draco looked up from his notes and found Potter leaning against the nearby tree, staring at him. With difficulty, Draco had lured Potter away from the rosebushes and into a section of the gardens less visible from the house, so that, just in case any of his friends came by and couldn’t see Potter, Draco wouldn’t look ridiculous talking to thin air.
But now Potter stared at him as if all Draco’s efforts had been wasted.
“Well?” Draco tried to cover his confusion by adopting a brisk tone. “There seem to be plenty of vulnerabilities that faeries have. I can defeat them and get you back to the real world as soon as you say the word.”
“You can’t do that until the first day of autumn,” Potter said, voice oddly constricted. “And I think the books have given you a false idea. Battling faeries is not going to be easy, Malfoy.”
“Yes, it will,” Draco said stubbornly. He refused to think that permanent obstacles could get in the way of his pursuit of money. Tame Chinese Fireball, you’re as good as mine. “I’ll make it so.”
Potter gave him the same kind of dismissive look that Draco had received from him during their second meeting. “You’re a very unlikely hero,” he said.
“I know that,” Draco said. “I never signed up to be a hero. I’m a profiteer. Remember, the money and not you is my goal.”
Potter leaned back on the tree, hard enough to make it quiver with his weight—he was becoming more and more solid and real all the time—and then sighed. “Fine. The burden will fall on your head if you fail, and then I’ll be no worse off than before.”
“About to be pointlessly sacrificed to the Dark wizard they worship,” Draco felt compelled to point out.
“That’s what I meant.” Potter passed a hand through his hair and stared off into the distance. “No worse off than before.”
Draco rubbed his forehead. He was sober for the second night in a row—that one drink at Pansy’s hadn’t been enough to make his brain effervesce the way it usually would be doing by now—and irritated at the way Potter was acting. “Would you rather have no hero at all, or me?” he asked. “Try to be a little more grateful.”
Potter started and turned back to look at him. “I am,” he said. “But you must admit that it’s a little strange.” His face darkened. “And I’m not sure that you’ll be able to conjure the necessary desire to win me free of her. I mean, true love was the reason that the last victim escaped, along with the pregnancy. When you see the glamours she can come up with, what’s to keep you from fleeing?”
“The vision of the dragon I’m going to buy with the money,” Draco said firmly. “I don’t need anything else. The strongest love in my life is the love for gold.”
Potter cocked his head in confusion that Draco had to admit was pretty. He was dressed all in shades of green this evening, which he said had something to do with a faerie revel he’d attended. It did more for him than the other outfits had. “That’s interesting. I thought you’d say the strongest force was your reverence for your family and tradition.”
“The traditions that my family brought me up in are stupid,” Draco said. “No. The strongest force in my life is gold. The second’s lust. And then…” He had to pause and think about whether there was a third. He could say that his friends were important to him, but he was only loyal in the sense that he had sex inside that circle most of the time. He didn’t care about paying his taxes or saving the world or all the other shite that Gryffindors believed in. He didn’t mourn the war and the past.
“That’s it,” he said at last.
Potter stared at him again. Draco decided that being among the faeries must have given him permanent expectations of glamours on people. Draco knew he wasn’t as pretty as someone disguised with a glamour would be, but he had his own kind of honesty and dignity, and he held up against Potter’s stare.
“Lust,” Potter said at last.
“Yes,” Draco said, and then took pity. It was highly probable that Potter, virtuous hero that he was, had never heard of the concept. “You see, when you long for someone else’s body and you know that you’re not in love with them, but want to be inside them, or have them inside you, that’s called lust.”
Potter laughed, and the laugh changed his whole face. Draco stared and wondered whether the faeries had taught Potter auditory glamours. When Draco last knew him, he’d been too scrupulously fair-minded to use such things. “I know what lust means, Malfoy. I’ve spent the last seven years in and out of the Faerie Queen’s bed, as she wanted to have me or spurn me. But I didn’t think I would find someone I could do this with.”
And he took a step forwards and bent to place his lips against Draco’s.
Draco gasped. What he felt was a shivering, cool sensation, like a breeze brushing past his face; Potter wasn’t solid enough for it to be anything more than that. But it was a breeze that spoke of great skill, and when Potter darted his tongue out to brush across Draco’s mouth, he could feel an equally distant warmth that made him glad he was sitting down.
Potter a good kisser? Who would have thought? Draco had heard rumors about that, of course, but he’d assumed they were the usual sort of wild stories that collected around anyone with a hint of fame, particularly since Potter disappeared and the lunatics started to claim they were keeping him captive in their bedrooms or secret boudoirs.
“You can feel that?” Potter asked, and his voice was deeper and more distant, as if he was speaking down a tunnel. Draco nodded in a dazed way that he suspected did him no credit as someone with a lot of experience, but Potter didn’t seem inclined to question him on the number of his previous partners. He chuckled instead, whispered, “God, it’s good to kiss a human again,” and then returned his lips to Draco’s. Perhaps the sensation was a bit firmer this time.
Draco felt a brush along his cheek, and started, but, when he squinted to the side, he realized that Potter was simply caressing his face. His hand moved as slowly as his lips, and Draco moaned. He didn’t mean to; it just came out. He could have done without the wicked delight in Potter’s eyes.
On the other hand, he didn’t think that he could have done without the foot that rose and stroked his erection a moment later, and if the price of that was Potter’s laughter, then he could cackle for years as far as Draco was concerned.
Touching Draco seemed to make Potter firmer and more real. He bore Draco backwards without trouble and laid him down on the grass, which Draco felt as cooler and softer than his touch. He pulled Draco’s shirt back with slow, patient hands, and then bent down, hesitated once as if not sure he was going to be able to do it, and fastened his teeth around Draco’s nipple.
Draco raised a hand and locked it behind Potter’s head, holding him in place when he tried to withdraw. “How did you know I liked that?” he whispered.
Potter half-shrugged, as much as he could when he was bending awkwardly over Draco, trying to touch his cock and bite his nipple both at the same time. Potter released his nipple, licked around it, and then whispered, “You just looked like someone who would like to have his nipples sucked.”
Draco accepted that without further question. Blaise always claimed that he could tell random sexual facts like that about people from the way they looked, and there was no reason that he should be the only one in the world with the ability.
Potter sucked at the hollows under Draco’s ribs, too, which even Draco hadn’t known he liked, and gripped his cock in a maddening rhythm, always slowing when Draco started to thrust. Draco whined, his cock heavy and wet in his pants, and reached down to bring himself off. He would do it if Potter wouldn’t.
“Ah, ah,” Potter said, and moved to the side. Draco reckoned he was trying to do something he thought devastatingly clever, but all that happened was that he fell over Draco. But Draco could forgive him that, because his body was much heavier and more solid now, almost real, and because he managed to fall in such a way that he avoided driving a knee into Draco’s groin. He lay like that for a stunned moment, and then laughed and breathed out warm, damp air against his neck.
Draco writhed against him and wrapped his arms around Potter’s shoulders. Potter’s clothes melted off, fading like warm snow at his touch, and Draco blinked. “Were you just dressed in glamours all this time?” he asked.
“Everything is glamour with them,” Potter said, and his voice was so bitter Draco thought he might stop. But then he shifted and his hands sank home, into Draco’s hair, into his flesh, making Draco snap his teeth at the air. “But this—this is real.” His words were soft, reverent.
Draco didn’t know what Potter’s words meant, and he didn’t have to face them, because Potter was moving again. His breath tickled the hairs on Draco’s shoulders and neck and ears as he peeled him out of his shirt, using graceful, economical gestures of his hands all the time, like the steps of a dance. Draco had to thank the faeries for this, because the last time he’d seen Potter try to dance, he’d feared for the safety of everyone in the room. So one good thing had come out of Potter’s imprisonment.
And then his hands knew just how to stroke, how to part Draco’s legs and trace around his hole with touches so light that Draco shoved himself backwards to increase the pressure before he thought about how he would look, how to lick and nip Draco’s inner thighs and his balls and make him feel heavy and swollen, with both semen and desire. He drew Draco’s arms out to the side with liquid lightness, and Draco let himself be so pulled, drunk with delight. Potter kissed him one more time, tongue tapping lightly against his, then pulling back to trace Draco’s lips the way he’d traced his hole.
“Ready?” Potter’s voice whispered. Even the vibrations of the words aroused light shivers in Draco’s body that seemed to break up from his stomach to his skin. He started like a wild deer, and reached for Potter, and only then thought about the words that Potter had spoken.
“Wh-what?” he muttered. His eyelids were heavy. He shifted to the side and opened his legs further. For the first time he could remember, except once or twice with Blaise, he knew what it meant to be empty and aching to be filled. His arse clenched on air.
“Are you ready?” There was a sharp urgency to Potter’s question now, but it was still hard for Draco to open his eyes. He wondered if Potter was using a touch of faerie glamour to bend Draco to his wicked wiles. Draco wondered irritably how he could not have noticed that Draco hardly needed corrupting.
“Yes,” Draco said, and helpfully spread his legs further until his hips ached and the grass blades tickled at his knees. “Are you going to do it or not?”
Potter smiled at something, nothing, and eased forwards. Draco hadn’t felt him put the lube on, but that wasn’t remarkable, with the way that he’d been so drugged. He ended up clutching at Potter again, panting, because his cock was bigger than he had thought and it was a while since he had bottomed with someone new, whose movements he didn’t know and couldn’t anticipate, with whom it wasn’t like moving in a dance.
“Are you sure you’re ready?” Potter gasped above him, and then went still and shook as if he were the one being penetrated.
“Yes,” Draco said. “How many times do I have to say that?” His voice quivered, but still, Potter should trust him. Draco was the one having sex with a hallucination in his rose garden, where there was the possibility of thorn-pricks, and, worse, grass-stains. He was the one making the leap of faith.
Potter stared down at him with deep, soft eyes, and Draco’s breath caught at the look on his face. He didn’t think he’d ever been as important to someone as it seemed he was to Potter right now. Potter seemed on the brink of a revelation, and he continued to move slowly. Not as if Draco was fragile, Draco thought, picking the thoughts slowly out of the rose-scented mist that spread across his brain, but as if he was Potter’s first lover in a while.
Or different lover.
I’m human, Draco thought, and it made him more confident, because it meant that he didn’t have to live up to impossible, faerie-set standards. He lifted his head for a kiss, and Potter obliged.
They rocked on the grass. They danced, or at least it was more like dancing than Draco had known sex with a stranger could be. Potter was inside him, and seemed fully conscious of the privilege, because he frequently tried to put his tongue in Draco’s mouth and his fingers into the hollows of his ribs or his shoulders, as though seeking more and more entrances to him. Draco clamped his legs around Potter’s hips and flanks and held him there, half-closing his eyes, and then fully closing them, whenever he thought he could give up the sight of that brilliant green gaze so near to his.
“Oh,” Potter said once, drawing out the sound in a way that made Draco think it had escaped his lungs on a breath of wonder.
Draco knew exactly how he felt.
Inevitably, the spiral began, the spiral that usually led to completion and climax for Draco when he was beneath someone like this. But it brought him deeper instead of higher. More and more pleasure spread across his body, light as the touches of a feather, sharp in random places. He arched his back and spread his arms out, loosening his hold on Potter, feeling as though he needed to offer himself to an otherworldly power, more than he was offering himself to Potter.
Potter croaked above him. Draco turned his head, and the colors of the roses and their perfume blurred in his eyes and nose, and he gasped aloud and noisily, and came.
“Draco,” Potter cried above him.
Draco could feel the muscles of Potter’s hips flexing as he drove himself in. He could feel the wetness spreading across his stomach and the grass scratching at the back of his thighs. He could feel the soil yielding to his scrabbling fingers, and his stomach spun and soared and melted slowly back to earth in an embrace of pleasure.
Potter collapsed, and somehow kept his elbows out of the way, so that only the sleek, warm chest and the smooth body landed on top of Draco. Draco turned his head and lipped at Potter’s ear. He kept his eyes closed. He could be content to stay like this forever, beneath the languid warm weight.
But Potter kissed his ear and pulled back. “I have to go now,” he said, voice a croak. “Don’t forget me.”
“How could I?” Draco murmured, keeping his eyes closed. He would retain the sensations of smell and touch for Potter that he experienced so far, without giving himself a last vision. He thought it better that way, though he didn’t know why. Perhaps watching Potter fade would be too disheartening. “That was the best sex I’ve ever had.”
Though, he had to add conscientiously a moment later, I haven’t had sex with anyone but Blaise, Theo, Pansy, Daphne, and Astoria in years. It’s possible that Potter simply stands out as better by comparison.
“I’m—I’m glad,” Potter said. “Likewise.”
Draco smiled at that. “I’m better by comparison with this Faerie Queen, I suppose,” he murmured. “I also suppose I should be flattered.”
“If you knew how many centuries she had lived and the skills she can bring to her bed and her lovers when she wants to,” Potter said gravely, “you would be flattered, yes.” He hesitated, then added, “I wanted to do this now because I don’t think that I’ll be this solid again before the first day of autumn, and because you said that you needed another motive for rescuing me, but—but I did it because I wanted to, too. Don’t forget that.” He lowered his voice and whispered, “In case she keeps me from escaping again, which she might if she discovers how close I’ve come to a true rescue, look for me on the path that runs through crooked trees behind your house on the first day of autumn. I’ll be riding a white horse.”
Draco still kept his eyes shut, but he listened to Potter depart, too. There was the light crunch of footsteps on grass, and the swish of him brushing past roses, and then nothing.
In the back of his mind, Draco had wondered why he wasn’t getting scratched all over by the grass. Only when he opened his eyes and looked again, after a period of sleep, did he realize that Potter had spread the green cloak he’d given Draco—another thing he hadn’t noticed—beneath them, and that it was glowing with dark splotches of sweat and bright splashes of come against the shining background.
“You can’t be serious, Draco.”
Draco sighed and leaned back in his seat. He had decided that he had to tell one of his friends about what was happening; in case he died in this absurd attempt to win Potter back from the faeries, someone should know what had happened. And he trusted Daphne more than most of the others. She preserved a good balance, he thought, between the world of fantasies that Pansy, Blaise, and Theo sometimes seemed poised to vanish into and the horrifying world of people like that turncoat Millicent had become. Draco could have gone to Astoria, too, but she was a few years younger than her sister and not as wise. Better to speak to someone who could give him as much advice as possible.
“Then tell me where this came from,” he said, and held the cloak out.
Daphne took it with a little sniff, turning it over and staring at the stained side. Draco hadn’t removed the stains for the same reason that he hadn’t healed the ache in his arse. For one thing, he liked them both; for another thing, it proved that that which seemed incredible to him, and which Daphne refused to believe had occurred, really had happened.
But Daphne was an expert in all the kinds of fabric, and the cloak would be a different kind of evidence for her. She ran her fingers over it, stared, and then shook her head at Draco. “I haven’t encountered something this fine that wasn’t silk before,” she said. “And you couldn’t have woven it yourself.”
“Of course not,” Draco said, lounging against the back of her couch. Daphne had the most comfortable furniture. Draco had to admit there was something to be said about choosing to suit your own tastes rather than simply relying on the heirlooms of your ancestors. “Could someone have conjured it?”
“Even then, they would need a model to work from, and what kind of model could it have been?” Daphne murmured, turning the cloak back and forth. She showed no more than a slight grimace of distaste when her fingers slid over the stains, but even that, Draco thought was a little rich. He had seen her rise from a night of sleeping in the wet spot and cast Cleaning Charms on her hair, body, and teeth rather than take the time to shower properly. Showering would take up valuable drinking time, after all. “This is remarkable.” She gave Draco a grudging glance of admiration. “If you did it, it’s a bloody good fabrication. You could earn a little extra money by making more of them.”
“Work?” Draco asked in horrified tones.
Daphne cocked her head. “If your vision of Potter is real and you’re really going to be dragging him back to this world, then he might insist that you work. You know how these Gryffindor types are.” She touched the cloak again, stroking it in a way that made Draco anticipate she would offer to buy it. But her next words were entirely unexpected. “Millicent runs a robe shop, doesn’t she? You could go into partnership with her. I’m sure she would sell robes made of this like they were going out of style.”
Draco stared at her in silent outrage. Never had he thought that Daphne being a bit more practical than the rest would lead to this, or he wouldn’t have come. Draco had standards to maintain and a delicate conscience to protect, after all.
Daphne sighed. “I’m trying to help you, Draco. You act more starry-eyed about this Potter fellow, or this version of him, than I’ve seen you about any of us. And even you must realize that you can’t keep it up forever, all this sex and drinking and dancing until all hours of the night. You’ll want to find someone soon.”
“Why?’ Draco asked in dismay. “Potter was great in bed, yeah, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll want me when he—comes back.” It was still hard to say “gets rescued from being kidnapped by faeries” aloud, even though he’d had to explain it to Daphne twice.
Daphne gave him a heavy-lidded glance. “You don’t usually spend this much time talking about someone outside our group, Draco. We’ve contented you for a long time, but I don’t think we will for much longer.”
Draco sat up and clasped his hand over his heart. “I will never stop being a true Slytherin.”
Daphne raised a skeptical eyebrow. “So you would be content to see Potter thank you, leave you, and marry someone else? Perhaps that Weasley woman he was associated with before he went missing?”
Draco scowled. Daphne snapped her fingers and summoned a house-elf to hold a mirror in front of him. Draco hastily smoothed the lines out of his forehead and smiled the trim, gentle little smile that was the best, since it wouldn’t leave many wrinkles.
“I thought not,” Daphne said with some satisfaction. “Well, I wish you luck, though it rather does destroy the romantic fantasy of our group becoming three old married couples. Then again, I think Astoria has her eyes on someone else, too, and Pansy can’t seem to choose between Blaise and Theo. Perhaps they’ll settle down as a scandalous threesome, and you and Potter can be the obligatory gay couple.”
Draco had to admit that he could all too easily imagine Pansy shocking the wizarding world that way, and enjoying every minute of it. “And what about you?” he had to ask.
Daphne gave him a mysterious smile. “I think I’ll find another revolving quintet of lovers. Or—” She cocked her head. “There ought to be a lesbian couple. Maybe someday I’ll introduce you to whom I have in mind.” She shook the cloak out. “Here you are. But do consider getting in touch with Millicent.”
Draco went home and thought long and hard about what he was potentially going to do. Then he thought of the things he would be giving up. His friends, long drinking, casual fidelity or infidelity as he chose—Potter would probably be tiresome about that—sex with women, his carefree irresponsibility…
He clenched down again on the burn in his arse, and shuddered. Then he Summoned a carafe of wine and a pot of smooth oil he often used for lubricant.
He couldn’t make the decision yet. The best thing to try was drinking and wanking to images of Potter at the same time, and seeing which was better.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to slip away again like this.”
Draco tried to look intelligent and sympathetic. He thought Potter needed someone who could look that way. But the fact was that he was eyeing the fall of the tunic—it was a tunic, it had to be, there was no way a shirt could look that poncey even if it was bright blue and edged with lace—that he thought concealed Potter’s cock, and trying not to leer.
“Are you listening to me?”
Potter sounded irritated. Draco raised his eyebrows, and then his eyes, and then nodded when he realized that Potter was glaring at him. “Absolutely,” he said. “You said that you didn’t think you’d be able to get away again. Is that because the faeries are keeping more of an eye on you?” There. He was participating in the conversation, rather than just dreaming about being shagged again.
“Yes.” Potter pulled his knees in up in front of him, blocking the sight of his groin completely. Draco sighed in loss, but Potter didn’t magically hear, discern what he wanted, and turn around to recompense him. “She let me leave for—all sorts of reasons. A last gift, to taunt me, because she was curious to see what I would do, who knows? But the one thing the Court takes seriously is the tithe. They won’t let me leave again, and they’ll keep an eye out to make sure that I don’t take a lover from among them who might be persuaded to turn traitor and rescue me.”
“Do they suspect me?” Draco asked, a bit nervously. He thought he could deal with faeries when he was conscious, but it would be no good if they started spying on his dreams and trying to get through there.
“Suspect what?” Potter gave him a dour glare. “I doubt that you’re really planning to do anything.”
“If I was,” Draco said loftily, “it would be stupid to tell you. It sounds like this Queen could trick anything she wanted to out of you.”
Potter winced and spread one hand over his face, fingers digging into the ridges above his eyes as if he would pull them out. Draco winced in turn and planned to be elsewhere if that ever happened. “That’s probably true,” Potter whispered. “Oh, God, I wish she had never seen me. She distracted me again last night, and I don’t know what was real and what was dream.”
“Describe it to me.” Draco wasn’t sure why he wanted to know, since Potter’s description would probably be half-glamour and half-madness, but he would hear. When Potter stared at him uncertainly, Draco hunched forwards and nodded as if he were this full of decisive force all the time.
“All right.” Potter licked his lips, and his gaze grew remote. “She brought me to one of her private rooms. Of course, the whole Court belongs to her, in a way, but there are places—spaces—rooms—I don’t know how to describe them—designated for certain individuals. This was one of hers.”
Draco nodded. He could understand that. There were rooms in the Manor that had belonged peculiarly to his parents, and some that had always belonged to him. Of course, now it was all his. He wondered dreamily what Potter would look like spread out on the blankets of the Forest Room, which was decorated all in green, whether his dark hair would be startling against the emerald-colored coverlets or blend in, whether—
“She rode a white horse up to me,” Potter whispered, distracting Draco from daydreams of shagging him, which Draco thought was a much more productive use of his time. “Like she has before. I can’t describe that horse to you. It had ice for legs and swansdown for a mane. She reached out a hand, and I grasped it like someone in a dream, and she pulled me up, and I rode behind her.”
Draco frowned and rubbed his throat. There was an odd burning there. He hoped he wasn’t getting a cold. That was the last thing he needed.
“We soared over these green hills,” Potter whispered, “higher than any hills on earth, and yet they were still hills, not mountains. I’m not sure how I knew that, just that I did. And we ran across the surfaces of streams, which flowed in place. The light shone around us. Once we cantered through a forest where the trees were made of bronze. The sun was changed to blood and ashes as it fell around us.”
“Then what?” Draco demanded. The harshness of his voice startled him, as did his impatience for Potter to get on with the main event rather than babbling about the beautiful details of the Faerie Queen’s realm. Yes, this was most definitely a cold. He would have to take a medicinal potion later.
“Oh. Then. The bed.” Potter smiled, and there was an edge to the smile that Draco hated. For all Potter’s talk of wanting to be with Draco last time, wanting his fuck to be real and human, it was obvious that his sojourn among the faeries had affected him, and he was more than slightly fey. “Made of wood, grown from wood, with ferns enclosing it instead of curtains and grass for the blankets.”
“I’d wager that was scratchy,” Draco muttered.
Potter ignored him, last in some sort of dream. “Or moss. Softest moss, more like that. She laid me down and she was naked. I can’t describe her naked, Malfoy. It’s like being in bed with a storm, a wolf, a force of nature.”
Draco cocked his head to the side and squinted, to see if he could make out scratches on the little of Potter’s shoulders that showed under the tunic. Then he drew back in horror. Squinting would cause lines. He couldn’t believe that he had forgotten that for long enough to do it, even if it was only a moment.
Stupid bloody Potter and his stupid bloody effect on my bloody brain.
“She was wearing red lips this time,” Potter continued in a trance-like voice, “and bronze hair filled with light like the bronze forest, and pointed ears, and skin so pale you’d stain it by touching it with a finger. She knelt over me, and crushed her breasts down into my chest, and whispered words in her own tongue, in a voice like sharpened steel.”
“I don’t care!” Draco said loudly.
Potter blinked and stared at him. “But you said that you did,” he said. “You were the one who asked about it.”
“I don’t feel very good,” Draco said, retreating in what he knew was a childish direction. He pawed at his throat and squinted at Potter again, then remembered lines and hastily sat up straight. “I mean—I don’t want to hear how you had sex with her. It’s not like I need to know that to rescue you, do I?”
“If you do rescue me,” Potter said, and there was that fey edge to his smile.
“I will,” Draco said, and he knew now that he would. It wasn’t as though he could allow Potter to waste the rest of his life away with the faeries, could he? He had to do something to get him back, little as Potter deserved it.
Potter simply raised his eyebrows and let the moment pass in silence, and Draco made up for it by going to bed that night and wanking as though nothing could stop him, as though his cock would be yanked off his body if he didn’t wank. And then he cried out when he came loudly enough to startle a house-elf into popping into his room and to frighten the owls that had come and perched along the edges of his windows when his friends realized that he was refusing an invitation for the second night in a row.
It wasn’t as though Potter could possibly want the Faerie Queen, Draco thought drowsily as he cleaned up the wet spot and then curled up in his pillows, closing his eyes and rubbing his cheek against the cushiony feel. Not really. Not when he couldn’t know what was real about her and what was illusion.
With Draco, he would never have any doubts about that. Draco had never pretended to be any different than he was.
“And then Millicent said…”
Draco didn’t hear the rest of Pansy’s anecdote. He had paused with his glass of rich amber liquor at his lips and was staring blankly into the distance while Pansy told her story and Blaise and Theo laughed. Astoria was laughing beyond Pansy, too, leaning heavily on her with her hand across her mouth. That was the “tipsy” lean that meant she had chosen her partner for the evening. Daphne hadn’t attended this party.
Draco had discovered something horrifying as he sat there, drinking good wine, in the middle of his friends, in the middle of his life, in the middle of everything.
He was bored.
Draco set down his glass and examined it suspiciously for any trace of different flecks of color swirling in the amber. He wouldn’t have put it past Blaise or Theo to lace his drink with an experimental potion, one that was supposed to suck the life and joy out of everything. Draco had never been bored at a party in his life.
At least, not if the party was worth anything. And if it wasn’t, Draco could always draw a few people to him like a flower drawing bees and create a private celebration in the middle of the unworthy larger one. Or an orgy. He wasn’t picky.
Now, though, he was sitting with his friends, people he didn’t need to do that with because they were always entertaining and knew him well enough to notice when he was bored, and he was still bored.
What was happening?
Draco raised his hand and examined his nails for a moment. There were some diseases that he knew drained the whole world of interest, and if he was suffering from one of them, that meant he should no longer care about his appearance. But when he imagined that his right thumbnail had been broken and was jagged and ugly, he suffered the same stomach-clenching thrill of horror that the thought would always awaken in him. He released a hard breath that finally drew the attention of the others.
“What is it, Draco?” Astoria leaned forwards with a smile that said she could change her mind and include someone in the threesome with Pansy if she wanted to, and the someone might as well be him. Draco gave her a faint smile and then glanced at the others, but they were watching him with concerned expressions. If someone had tried a potion or a charm on him that made him feel this way, it was subtle and they had probably forgotten they had used it by now, given the amount of wine they’d all consumed.
“I’m not feeling well,” he said, which was true if an understatement.
Pansy flinched a little. Since she’d had a cold the year before that had made her nose red for a week, despite all the medicinal potions she could throw at it, she’d been overly anxious about germs. “Perhaps you should go home, then, dear, and recover for a little while,” she suggested. “Just until you feel better.”
Theo gave an exaggerated nod that suggested to Draco that he was hoping to get back into Pansy’s good graces before the end of the night and sleep with her. Ordinarily Draco would have found that amusing when Astoria hadn’t invited Theo, too, but right now his throat burned with confusion.
“Fine,” he said, and stood up.
Blaise pushed his chair back from the table at the same time. “I’ll go with you,” he said.
Draco gave him a level look as they emerged from Pansy’s dining room and into the garden where she kept an Apparition point. “Did you come with me because you wanted to get away from them, or because you want to sleep with me?” he asked. “Because I am feeling bad, Blaise, and I’m not in the mood.”
Blaise smiled at him. “I can change your mind,” he murmured, and suddenly he was pressed against Draco, knocking him into an ornamental sundial as he sought Draco’s mouth with his own.
Draco let Blaise kiss him for a moment, curious. Maybe he’d simply been brooding on Potter for too long, and someone else could give him the jolt of arousal and lust he needed to return to normal.
But it just tasted persistent and rather wet, and in the end Draco pulled away and claimed a friend’s, rather than a lover’s, privilege. “I’m too drunk and I don’t feel good,” he said again. He knew he sounded petulant. He doubted that Blaise would let it bother him for long. “Take me home? And then leave,” he added, just in case Blaise got the wrong idea after all.
“I wish you would let me stay,” Blaise whined, but he did as Draco asked, with nothing more than a second kiss and a lingering grope of his arse when Draco paused inside the door of the Manor and looked expectantly at him. Then Draco was alone in the house, with nothing more than a slight buzz between his ears and a suspicious brain.
He thought—he couldn’t be sure, but he thought—that he might have done this because of Potter.
That was such a horrid thought that he had to go and get drunk on his own wine.
Draco checked his preparations for the thirtieth time, and sighed. There was very little he could do about rescuing Potter until he reached the first day of autumn. And in the meantime, he was bored.
His friends’ parties bored him more and more often now. Oh, they would be fun for a few hours, but then Draco’s mind would wander to Potter or speculation about what would happen if he really rescued him. Or he would clench down to stimulate the memory of the burn in his arse, which didn’t return no matter how much he let Blaise and Theo fuck him.
There was no reason that should be so. Draco was rather indignant about it, and starting to think it was a charm Potter had cast, except that he didn’t think the faeries would be stupid enough to let Potter keep his wand.
He didn’t see Potter again, except in dreams and a few fleeting glimpses of someone among the rosebushes who was gone by the time he got there, which made it worse. And the few times that he went out into the gardens and called for him, or tried to come up with an appropriate summoning ritual, his failure just made him more depressed.
Finally, in desperation one day, he took Daphne’s advice and went to visit Millicent.
Her robe-shop was halfway down Diagon Alley from Madam Malkin’s, which Draco thought was sensible. People wouldn’t have to walk as far to get to hers, and she would sell a lot of robes to pure-bloods who made impulse purchases. Draco stood outside her window and admired some of the colors and fabrics she had on display. He decided that it wouldn’t be a disaster to allow her to make a few of his clothes.
Draco started and turned around. He didn’t know why, but he had imagined that he would hear Millicent coming before he saw her. But she had sneaked up on him. She was wearing a delicious rich purple robe, and he admired it for so long that he missed the way she held out her hand to him until it appeared right in front of his eyes.
Draco shook his head and shook her hand at the same time. Potter had made him into a fool, he thought indignantly. He was going to demand payment for that when he saw Potter again, preferably in the form of one of those lovely long shags.
“Daphne suggested that I come and see you,” he said, when Millicent had given him a look that meant she wanted to know what he was doing there. See, Draco thought to an absent Daphne, I’m not blind to nuance, and my friends aren’t the only ones that I can read. Then he wondered if that didn’t count because Millicent had once been a friend, and still was one, in a way, though she hadn’t attended any of their parties in longer than Draco could remember. “I have a cloak made of unusual cloth that she thought you might be interested in.”
Millicent’s face went polite and distant, and she nodded. “Always glad to acquire unusual materials,” she said.
Draco peered at her. “What’s the matter?”
“What do you mean?” Millicent had started to bustle towards the back of the shop, but she turned around and gave him a bewildered look.
“I said why I was here and you looked as though someone had called you a Gryffindor,” Draco said. He thought she must have heard that insult more than once since she had become one in all but taste, but he reckoned that it might still hurt. “Why?”
Millicent hesitated, then sighed. “I did hope that you had come to visit just because you missed me,” she said quietly. “It seems that no one comes for that reason anymore.”
“Oh.” Draco felt awkward, which was a sensation so strange that he thought he had to thank Millicent for introducing him to a new experience. He studied his feet for a moment, then looked up at her. “I thought you wouldn’t want visitors like us anymore,” he said, as a partial compromise. “Won’t we get you in trouble with the Ministry and all the other good little taxpayers if they see us around here?”
Millicent sighed and rested one elbow on a shelf that was covered with bolts of fine fabric. Draco noticed a shade of green there that matched Potter’s eyes and had to fight the temptation to clench down with his arse again. “It’s not like that, Draco. They’re not as uptight as you might think, the Ministry.”
Draco could only stare at her. “Right,” he said at last, thinking of all the constant raids and the socially sanctioned murmurs and mutters that had made his mother have to leave the country.
“They don’t arrest people merely for associating with Slytherins,” Millicent said. “They went after your parents, yes, but they haven’t gone after you, even though you might think that they’d want to get rid of anyone with a certain last name.”
Draco shuffled, but said nothing. He wanted to say that the Ministry didn’t go after them as long as they were careful, but they hadn’t been particularly careful, had they? He thought they must have broken a few laws in their partying, if only natural ones.
“It seems strange that you out of all of them would be here,” Millicent continued reflectively. “I had thought you would continue partying until you sired some bastard children and had to choose one of them to make legitimate so that they could inherit the Manor.”
“I resent that implication,” Draco said hotly. “The only women I had sex with were Pansy, Daphne, and Astoria, and I always made sure that we used contraception charms.”
Millicent, for some reason, turned around and muffled what had to be laughter against her sleeve. Draco stood by stiffly, and waited for her laughter to stop, while he reconsidered showing her the cloak. But there was always the chance that she could relieve his boredom a little, and what would he have to look forward to if he went home right now? Another party tonight, and another valiant struggle to conceal his yawns.
“Anyway,” Millicent said, facing him again, “why are you here? Apart from Daphne’s suggestion, which I’m grateful to her for making.”
“I don’t know,” Draco said. Honesty was a novelty, and he might as well try a bit of it right now. “But lately, I don’t find as much enjoyment in the parties as I used to. And something strange happened to me, and I thought you might want to hear about it.”
“That thing having to do with Potter?”
Draco stared at her. He wanted to ask if opening a robe shop had granted her some kind of special insight into human character, but then he saw what must have happened. “Daphne’s already told you,” he said flatly.
“Yes,” Millicent said. “But she didn’t show me an image of the cloak that you brought her or anything, so that part would still be a surprise.”
The smile lurking around her lips made Draco step back and fold his arms over his chest. Then he thought he might look petulant and dropped them again. “You’re humoring me,” he said, and turned his head towards the front of the shop, yearning suddenly for the unwashed crowds of Diagon Alley. This was another new experience, but not one that he could particularly thank Millicent for introducing him to. “Perhaps I should just go.”
“Daphne always thought that you would get tired of the parties and the orgies someday,” Millicent said. She made no physical movement to detain him, but her voice flowed over Draco like calm water and was effective in its own way. “She thought you would eventually yearn for something else. I must admit, I never imagined that something else would be Harry Potter, but I can see why the temptation of rescuing him would be interesting. My question is, what will you do after you rescue him?”
Draco turned around and blinked. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t know the answer to that question if Daphne had told her everything, as it seemed she had. “Have great sex, of course,” he said.
“No,” Millicent said. “I mean, what will keep you from getting bored again? I left and opened this shop because I could feel myself becoming numb, and I didn’t want to end by hating anyone simply because I’d forced myself into a certain mold.”
“I don’t know,” Draco said. “I’ll try not to be bored.”
Millicent smiled, and Draco had the impression that she was trying to hold back on a smile of pity rather than one of amusement. He scowled. “I don’t know what else to do,” he said defensively. Then something else occurred to him, and he narrowed his eyes. “Why are you so interested in what I do, anyway?”
Millicent made an apologetic shrugging motion. “It would be nice to have some company,” she said. “In the world of people who have better things to do than party endlessly, I mean. I thought for a long time that Pansy would be the first one to emerge, but Daphne knew better. You could come and speak with me, if you really want to, about cloth, but I’d hope that we could talk just as friends.”
Draco paused and studied her thoughtfully. He hadn’t expected a response he could understand from her; everyone knew that people who had been infected by Gryffindor disease never expressed themselves clearly again. But he could accept what she’d said, and that was enough to make him reply calmly. “Yes, I do want to talk with you. And maybe later I’ll be more interested in cloth. I reckon even cloth can be interesting.” He glanced at the shimmering colors beside him again.
“Of course it can,” Millicent said. “With the right people.”
Draco nodded approval. It seemed that Millicent hadn’t entirely become a Gryffindor after all. She still remembered the most important lesson Draco himself had picked up in Slytherin: a good conversationalist could accomplish anything.
He actually didn’t recognize the voice at first. For one thing, it had never spoken his first name that he could recall, except in the throes of passion, and for another, it sounded weak and desperate. Draco blinked and turned his head, stretching cramped muscles as he tried to sit up.
“Potter?” he asked groggily, and then spat out the glue that seemed to have invaded his mouth. He had thought that he’d get drunk in the garden one more time for old time’s sake, but he hadn’t realized that it would leave him with such an awful taste behind his teeth and fuzz on his tongue and bleary sight.
“Don’t speak my name. She’ll hear you.”
Finally Draco could see, and he made out a thin and shivering Potter crouched beside the rosebushes, head bowed as though he was trying desperately to suck in the scent of flowers that had vanished. And he really was thin, like a flame. Draco could see through him, but more to the point, he wavered as if he would go out at any moment.
“Who’ll hear?” Draco whispered, trying to make his voice as soothing as possible while he sat up.
“Her.” Potter had the eyes of a hunted animal, and he turned his head and stared into a distance that Draco couldn’t see. Somehow, he doubted that Potter was that afraid of his garden wall.
“Oh,” Draco said. “You mean the—”
The glare Potter shot him convinced that it would be a good idea to shut up, at least. He sat down on the grass next to Potter and shook his head. Then he reached out, though he didn’t know if he would actually manage to touch living flesh.
Potter was solid enough that Draco could feel a muffled sensation of cloth and skin, as though he was touching someone buried under several blankets. And Potter did something he had never done before: burrowed into Draco’s shoulder like a rabbit into the earth, curving his head down so that it rested against Draco’s neck. Draco could feel a faint sensation of breath, too, warm and wet and so distant that he frowned.
“All right,” he said, absurdly protective as he stroked Potter’s hair back and planted a kiss against his temple. It was like kissing glass, but, well, he would make do, particularly when he had Potter so afraid. “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to.” Potter’s voice was soft but definite. “I want you to hold me. Just—sit here and hold me.”
Draco could do that, though it was a skill he hadn’t realized that he possessed before, since there was little call for it in his life (excluding the time that Pansy had sobbed in his arms during fifth year because she’d got a bad mark in Transfiguration, and then he hadn’t exactly been a willing participant). He smoothed his hand up and down Potter’s back and said the kind of soothing nonsense things that he remembered his mother saying to him when he returned to her after his seventh year at Hogwarts, with the Carrows and other Death Eaters “watching” over him. “It’ll be all right. Nothing can ever change the way that you appear to me. You’ll always be Mama’s little boy.”
Potter jerked his head up and stared at him. “What?”
“Look, I don’t have much experience in this sort of thing,” Draco said defensively. “I had limited role models.”
Potter stared a little more, then seemed to decide it wasn’t worth disputing over. He buried his head again, and Draco’s hand rose and fell, and his whispers stirred the air in soothing ripples, and he forgot both time and place as Potter snuggled against him and his breathing slowed.
He wondered what had changed, what had made Potter so fearful instead of nervous or defiant, but—and he was so insightful it amazed him—he didn’t think he could ask because that would mean asking Potter to talk about it. So he was surprised when Potter stirred against him and then began to speak.
“She showed me what I was going to be sacrificed to.” And then Potter stopped, and the sound of the thick choke in his voice told Draco far more about what he’d seen than a detailed description would have.
“Well, you don’t need to worry about that for much longer,” Draco said, and hoped that his voice was strong and cheerful enough. It probably wasn’t, but he would worry about that later. “After all, I’m going to be the one who rescues you from it, remember?”
Potter was quiet for a few minutes, and Draco decided that he was probably constructing hopeful scenarios in his head. But then he gave a disconsolate moan and slumped forwards to bury his head against Draco’s shoulder. Draco frowned and pulled back far enough that he could look into Potter’s eyes. “What?”
“No offense, Malfoy, but the rescue would require a hero,” Potter said gloomily. “I was wrong to involve you. You’re a lot of things—” his eyes flickered appraisingly up and down Draco’s body, but he didn’t give him the chance to preen “—but you’re not one of those.”
“I have the motivation,” Draco said stubbornly. “I know that they’re still offering the Galleons, and you’ve fucked me, and I want to feel that again. That ought to be as good as true love, since I don’t think you love me, either.”
Potter froze. “I—that’s not fair,” he said. “How can I have the chance to fall in love with you when I’ve really only known you for a few months?”
“I don’t understand Gryffindors,” Draco told the sky. “You’re worried about dying, and you’re worried that I’m not enough of a hero to rescue you, and what you want to argue about is whether it’s fair to expect you to be in love with me?”
“I want to talk about this,” Potter said. “You’re acting as though you can play the part of a hero even though you have insufficient motivations. And you’re acting as though I should fall in love with you and be grateful to be rescued by you because of that. I’m playing the part I’m supposed to. You’re the one who can’t be a hero.”
“How do you know that I can’t be a hero?” Draco demanded. “It’s not as though anyone ever asked me to be.”
Potter gave him a scornful glance. “The war,” he said. “That was the environment for heroes, and you sucked at it.”
“So did most other people,” Draco said. He was amazed at how calm he felt, almost smug. Maybe it was because he knew that Potter really didn’t have much choice about who was going to rescue him, and would have to either accept Draco’s inferior skills or die. “But if a hero rescues people, then you’ve sucked at rescuing yourself so far. Seven years, and you couldn’t win free once?”
Potter gritted his teeth. “It’s hard to defeat faeries. That’s the reason that I don’t think you can do it. What do you know about it?”
Draco shook his head. “I’m not going to tell you my plans, just in case a certain someone lies down on top of you again and lets you feel her breasts. You seem to be a fool for that.”
Potter flushed. “I don’t—Malfoy, this is all so stupid. I was stupid to involve you. Can’t you see that? The only thing that will happen is that two people will die instead of one, because I was desperate enough to think I was special and could escape a fate that’s happened to every person they’ve taken away for hundreds of years. Will you please stay away? I don’t want to be responsible for your death.”
Draco had no intention of talking about the melting sensation in his stomach when Potter said that, so instead he raised a malicious eyebrow and mused, “Well, someone could listen to that and say that you are in love with me. It sounds like it, doesn’t it?”
Potter gave him a furious glare, slammed to his feet, and took a few steps sideways. Draco watched him dissolve with a flash into the air and sighed. Maybe he had been foolish to argue with Potter on what could be the last occasion he would see him before the first day of autumn.
On the other hand, he liked a defiant, strong, and angry Potter, not one who had decided that he should make Draco’s choices as well as his own and was about to hypnotize himself into a brooding fit of angst.
Draco squeezed down with his arse and grinned again.
Did he ever like a defiant Potter. In fact, the argument might be a good thing, because that way Potter would be angry when Draco dragged him off the damned horse, and he might fuck Draco right there in the grass after the faeries were defeated. Draco liked the sound of that.
The first day of autumn had come, and Draco started drinking with the dawn.
The thing was, he knew Potter was right and he wasn’t a traditional hero. He wasn’t brave and ready to die at the drop of a hat. But that wouldn’t keep him from coming to heroism in his own way. Drink was one part of that, and so was the stained green cloak that he picked up and draped over his shoulders—he’d been having some interesting talks with Millicent in the past few weeks—and so were the weapons that he poured into his pocket, checking to make sure that none of them would fall out.
And none of the weapons was a sword, either. Draco wasn’t a bloody Longbottom, to cut the heads off enormous serpents with the Sword of Gryffindor. He should find something better, and he had.
He swallowed his last glass of wine sometime around noon, and stood judiciously. Yes, that was enough. The wine had to insulate him from the effects of his fear, but leave him able to walk and fight—well, sort of fight. That was the whole point of the cloak, after all, that he wasn’t using traditional weapons. He patted it and then stepped out his door and Apparated, carefully, to the path through the crooked trees that Potter had told him about.
When he arrived, he wasn’t very impressed. The trees were monstrosities that he knew his father had always meant to cut down, and he had meant to do the same thing but just hadn’t done it yet. The path was a straggling little thing that wandered and kept losing its way despite the fact that the cover wasn’t very dense. Draco thought a bunch of faeries who supposedly valued beauty and grace could have chosen a better place for their manifestation.
After a while standing about, it occurred to Draco that Potter had never told him what time he needed to be there on the first day of autumn. Perhaps they had already ridden by and he had missed them.
But Draco dismissed the thought almost as soon as he had it. He was sure he would have heard someone being sacrificed behind his house, even as drunk as he had been both last night and this morning. If nothing else, all the screaming would have made him reach for a pillow to put over his head.
He checked his pockets again, and then sent his house-elf for a goblet and a bottle. If he was going to wait for Potter, he might as well wait in comfort.
A jingling of harness and a clatter of hooves roused Draco from a deep trance just when he was starting to feel sorry for himself. He blinked, set the goblet and the bottle down in the roots of the tree behind him where they weren’t likely to get broken, and then stood up, wavering. He had to brace himself against the trunk.
He wondered if that was a good sign, and then thought it was stupid to worry. He would have so many other things to worry about in just a minute.
A troop of horses was coming down the path towards him. Draco knew at one glance that the horses had to be illusions, or at least partially covered in illusions; he reckoned even faeries couldn’t sit on just moving air. There was no way that any mortal creatures would look that graceful, that much a sweep of snowy mane and glorious tail and swan-like neck. All the horses had white manes, though most of them were black and brown, with here and there a pale grey.
Potter said that he would be on a white horse. Draco had to smile as he thought about that. Appropriate for a hero.
The lead horses were passing him now. The figures on their back were clad in green cloaks of the sort that Potter had given Draco and some floating white but not transparent material that Draco thought Millicent would have given a lot of Galleons to copy. They never looked at Draco, and Draco wondered whether he should be offended or relieved.
Relieved, he decided, when the second set of horses passed, the greys, and the faeries on their backs did glare at him. They were all taller and paler than Draco, and blonder than Draco, too, with hair of what looked like molten gold or pure sunlight. Their faces were sharp and white, and their eyes were a brilliant green that made Draco’s heart ache. But he thought of what Potter had said about glamours, and smiled at them. They snapped their heads away, one and all, and rode past him, the bells on their horses’ harnesses ringing softly.
Draco saw a flash of pale color through the trees, and his heart leaped up. But it was a palomino mare, and riding on it was the most beautiful woman Draco had ever seen.
It had nothing to do, he thought later, with not finding his female friends attractive, or being attracted to women or men. This was a beauty that was above all those things, the way that the sun was brighter than the moon no matter how much you might personally prefer moonlight.
But Draco couldn’t say what components went into that beauty. The woman had—currently, anyway—red hair with golden streaks and curls in it, and blue eyes, and a face that looked like it was made of brown glass. She wore a silver circlet around her head and a sheer green gown that left her breasts free to swing. But she could have gone dressed in sackcloth with red eyes like the Dark Lord’s and been glorious. It annoyed Draco that he couldn’t say why she was gorgeous, only that she was.
That irritation was what finally freed him to turn his eyes away from her and examine the other figures that were riding towards him. Potter’s beauty was human, and one could point to his eyelashes or his eyes or the way his hair curled and expect other people to understand. Draco might be awed for having seen the Faerie Queen, but he couldn’t show her off to his friends the way he could with Potter.
And really, wasn’t that half of the pleasure of having a handsome lover?
Another phalanx of horses trotted by, this time all strawberry roans with tall, upright faeries on their back beating drums. Draco noted they were wearing green cloaks and had red hair through which fox ears poked, and then dismissed them. They weren’t beautiful enough to look at anyway, in the face of what would be coming when Potter showed up.
If he did. It would be like Potter, Draco thought crossly, to be late to his own sacrifice.
But no, wait. At the very tail end of the procession—which Potter could have mentioned, so that Draco wouldn’t have hurt his neck craning it down the path the way he had—strode a white horse that looked more normal than the rest. Maybe they hadn’t seen the point of using glamours on it when it was carrying what was essentially a condemned prisoner, Draco thought. Its nostrils were bright pink, its eyes blue, and its hooves clopped on the earth rather than rang. Potter sat half-slumped on its back, his hands linked to the pommel of the saddle with small ropes.
Draco frowned. His plan depended on him being drunk, not Potter. If they had given him some drug to subdue him, then Draco’s plan might not work.
But he would just have to go ahead and hope that it did. He raced forwards, past the drum-playing fox faeries, who never turned to look at him, and swept the stained green cloak from his shoulders, wrapping it around Potter’s. At the same time, he hissed the incantation that he had learned from Blaise one drunken evening long ago. “Imaginor iterum!”
Potter’s wide, glazed eyes blinked, and he looked aware, if confused, for a moment. Then he gasped and tilted his head back, shuddering as the semen stains on the cloak flared and came to life, driving white threads into his body.
Draco smirked. The spell would take advantage of any stain or reminder of sexual activity to make one of the participants relive it.
And with Potter in the throes of orgasm, he was less likely to be affected by the illusions that the Faerie Queen would try to spin.
Draco wrapped his arms more solidly around Potter and began to pull him free. His legs caught in the stirrups, and of course the thread that bound his hands to the pommel of the saddle pulled tight. Draco frowned. He hated himself for forgetting that. He picked up his wand and began to singe the string.
There was a rustle behind him, and a sound like an indrawn breath. Draco was vaguely aware that the drums he had heard the faeries playing and the jangling of the bells on the harnesses had stopped.
Potter, in his arms, body shuddering as though he was the one getting fucked, suddenly changed into a huge and writhing snake. It was green, with shadows of white and black on its belly, and it reminded Draco too much of the Dark Lord’s snake for comfort.
But he couldn’t be afraid of snakes, he thought, not when he had spent the last seven years choosing his friends and lovers from a group of people who were serpents in all but name, and lived in Slytherin House before that. And when the memories of Nagini tried to paralyze them, they fizzed out. Draco’s drunkenness was rescuing him. The way he was rescuing Potter, he thought in triumph, and burned through the string that tied Potter’s hands—because suddenly his hands were tied and he was a human being again, just like that.
Glamour, Draco reminded himself. Glamour is all it is. And you know that you can live with that.
Potter’s body slumped into his arms, the cloak still wrapped firmly around him. And then Draco had to deal with a lunging, thumping shape that pushed a beak into his face and screeched at him. It had wide wings, the cloak seemed to have become obstructing, rustling feathers, and Draco realized that he was holding an eagle.
It’s just Potter, remember that, Draco thought, and managed to stand still when the beak came at his eyes as if it would scoop them out and the talons reached towards his belly. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in the glamour; it was just that the memories of Potter fucking him were stronger than his fear, and he would never get to experience that again if he opened his arms and let Potter go.
The eagle melted, and there was a lion in his arms, breathing its hot breath into his face, stroking downwards with its back legs. Draco thought of being disemboweled. He couldn’t not think of it, when the lion was heaviness and stink of carrion and blood in his embrace and he could experience those things as if they were real.
No. I have to hold him. And he was a lion, of course, because the lion is the symbol of Gryffindor House. I have to remember that. It’s not wrong and unnatural, and think of the way that he would behave if he was a lion in bed!
Draco laughed aloud at the turn his thoughts were taking. He thought the Faerie Queen probably wouldn’t have encountered them before. He tilted his head back and bared his throat to the lion, smiling. He could imagine the great teeth crunching down, and he didn’t mind them. He wondered if he would still feel the same way when the teeth locked, but, well, he was thinking of Potter using his weight to such welcome advantage in bed and wasn’t as afraid as he could have been.
The lion snarled above him as if baffled, and then went quiet, sniffing at the scent between Draco’s neck and shoulder. Then it writhed and kicked as though someone was trying to crawl out from inside its skin. Draco kept his smile and his arms both steady. If Potter was in there and trying to come out, Draco would kiss him when he did.
The lion twisted, and something much smaller and fiercer and with a blunt nose suddenly screamed into Draco’s face and tried to slide out of his hold. It was so much smaller that Draco had to hastily drop to his knees and grip its head so that it wouldn’t slip away from him completely. The Faerie Queen wasn’t going to win, because Draco wanted Potter back and he was going to have him.
It was a badger, the animal he held. Draco frowned. He suspected the Faerie Queen of paying too much attention to Hogwarts and the symbols of the Houses. His books, or rather Pansy’s books, said that faeries tended to indulge in a lot of symbolic thinking.
Then he had other things to worry about, because the badger was trying to dig out his eyes with sharpened claws. The eagle had tried the same thing with its beak, Draco remembered, and decided that the Faerie Queen wasn’t as imaginative as he had thought she was, either.
He wrapped the badger in the cloak so tightly that it would hurt itself if it tried to escape, and held it to his chest. It began to snarl like an annoyed teakettle. Draco smiled. He could picture Potter spluttering like that when Draco introduced him to his friends.
“You’re the same no matter what shape you’re in, aren’t you?” he asked the badger. “She can change your appearance, but she can’t change your essence, and I think that’s what you mean when you say that everything is glamour. You can tell the difference between reality and falsehood after all, even when the glamours are powerful.”
There was a long silence behind him, and then he was once again holding Potter. Potter was gasping and wore a look like an exquisite mingling of pain and pleasure on his face. Guessing the reason, Draco took pity and gestured sharply with his wand, taking away the spell that bound Potter to relive his orgasm.
He waited, but there was no other change. He thought that meant he had won, but he wasn’t sure. He turned around, dragging Potter with him. Potter stumbled, but at least he didn’t fall on the ground, which would probably count as a last-minute letting-go on Draco’s part.
He faced the Faerie Queen, who stared at him with eyes the exact shade of green at Potter’s, blazing with secret fires, and said nothing at all.
“He likes fucking me more than he likes fucking you,” Draco explained kindly.
She turned her head as though her neck was on runners and stared at Potter. Potter looked at her with glazed eyes, but then his body straightened. Perhaps she compelled it to straighten, Draco thought. He wouldn’t know about that. Potter stared back at her, and the virulent loathing in his eyes seemed to answer her silent question.
The Queen turned and lifted her hand, then brought it down like someone pulling a curtain across a window.
And they were all gone: horses, drums, bells, faeries and all. Draco stared at the empty road, and then stared at Potter, who was wobbling on his feet with his eyes closed. “Does she always do that when she’s thwarted?” he asked.
“Not always,” Potter mumbled. He sounded drunk, and, more than that, like someone with no experience in handling his drink. Draco knew he had never sounded that bad. “The last time, she said that it would have been better if she had turned the one who escaped into a tree.” He laughed abruptly, and the sound had tears in the back of it.
“What’s the matter?” Draco asked, and looked around suspiciously for any faeries in the trees. His hand went down to toy with the iron in his pocket, the weapon that the books had said would be effective against faeries. Draco had been able to find so many iron things—nails, coins, bits off pokers—that he wondered why anyone had ever feared the Faerie Queen.
No, he decided then, slowly, thinking about the way her eyes had glowed. I reckon I can still understand that part.
“I’m human again,” Potter said. Tears were streaming down his face, but his voice didn’t sound at all choked. Draco decided that he had a weird voice. Showed his drink too much, didn’t show his tears. Draco would have to check his expression if he wanted to know the truth about him in the future. “And I have you to thank. A hero I didn’t think could do it. My hero.”
He opened his eyes and turned his head.
Draco had the time to gasp before he found himself on the ground again with his pants around his ankles. Potter had his eyes closed as he sucked on Draco’s cock, his throat working so hard that Draco’s erection ached even before he consciously registered the wetness and warmth that surrounded him.
“Potter, you don’t have to—” Draco said, and then wondered why in the world he’d said that. He must be brain-damaged from his last look into the Faerie Queen’s eyes. He spread his legs and closed his eyes, arching his head back, using the solid thump as it connected with the dirt to distract himself from stupid ideas that wanted to parade through his mind. Now was not the time to start being generous. “Oh, yes, Potter, right there!”
Potter swallowed with a grace and speed that made Draco liable to forgive him for the semen-tasting kiss that he received a few minutes later.
And just proving that, when nature decided to gift someone, she really decided to gift him, Potter’s cock was delicious, too.
Potter had insisted on bread and cheese for his first mortal meal in seven years. Draco didn’t understand that. If you hadn’t tasted anything real—or at least anything where you could be sure what you were eating—in seven years, why not at least make honey and chocolate the first taste? But Potter seemed perfectly content to devour the crudest loaf and wedge of cheese that Draco’s house-elves could find, and he only wanted water to drink. When he leaned back in his chair, he shifted a bit, as if the cushioning was too comfortable for him.
“The water in her land ran in streams as bright as mirrors, or as red as blood,” Potter murmured, gazing into his glass.
“It sounds as though you miss it,” Draco muttered. “Or her.” He was feeling strange, sitting there in a chair in his own home, looking at a solid Potter. He didn’t really know what came next. No wonder that all the fairy-stories ended with the hero rescuing the fair maiden, he thought. Or bloke, as it might be. What else was there to say? Was the hero really going to look into the maiden’s eyes and notice that she wasn’t beautiful when she cried? Draco was noticing the weariness in Potter’s eyes now and the way that he refused to sit with his back to a door.
“I don’t,” Potter said. “But it marked me, living in a place of eternal youth and beauty, or at least what they could make appear as youth and beauty. I don’t know how I’ll cope watching people age and die.” He took a drink of the water and set the glass back on the table with a hesitating motion. Draco braced himself. This was the part where Potter said he was very grateful for Draco’s rescue but he couldn’t stay.
“Listen,” Potter said in a restless, blurred voice, staring at the floor, “I know that you probably have someone else, and I was only one fuck, but I’d like to stay with you, make a go of it with you. Can I?”
Draco felt his face trying to ache with his grin. But he didn’t grin like that, because he was a Malfoy and it wouldn’t have been dignified. He held up his hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m afraid that you’re going to have to repeat that, Potter, because I couldn’t have heard what I thought I heard.”
Potter lifted startled eyes. Then he started to grin, but he was disheveled and had just depended on Draco Malfoy, of all people, to get him back to the real world, so that was all right. “You wanker,” he said. “You’re going to let me stay.”
“If you beg nicely,” Draco said, and helpfully opened his legs so that Potter could come nearer and fall on his knees if he wanted to.
Potter did fall on his knees, but it was to take Draco’s hand. Draco found it hard to breathe. He suspected it had something to do with the bread and cheese he’d eaten to keep Potter company—unacceptable food for a Malfoy, for certain. He would remember for the next party he held.
“Malfoy,” Potter whispered. “Beautiful Malfoy. Dearest Draco.” His fingers caressed Draco’s hand, moving up and down in stroking motions that no one else Draco had been with had ever done, not even Blaise. “Will you let me stay here? Will you live with me, and try to love me, and be faithful to me alone? Will you?”
Draco swallowed. “You have to do the same thing,” he said, which was inane. Potter was a hero. What else would he do but be faithful and live with the person he had fallen in love with?
“Agreed,” Potter said in an eager voice, staring at him with shining eyes.
“Then—then—” Draco said. “I mean, you could love me?”
“Yes,” Potter said. “You were there. I looked around, and you were there, and you came through for me. And I do adore the way you come. All the sorts of ways you come.” His eyes were heavy-lidded, and Draco knew that he would never have believed it if he hadn’t seen it for himself, that Harry Potter could flirt.
Draco swallowed. His throat was heavy, too, and clogged with some strange and mysterious substance. He wasn’t going to drink that vintage of wine again. “I’ll try, then,” he said, in a voice that would have been grand and mysterious if not for the wine.
His friends wouldn’t take this well, and there would be a tearful reunion with Granger that might hold Draco back from getting his money, and it seemed that lust more than love held Potter to him, and, and, and—
But at this moment, with Potter reaching out a hand that held a white rosebud—where had he got that?—and placing it in Draco’s hair, above his ear, Draco thought that he deserved all he had and that everything might end happily ever after, after all.
Potter’s had his faerie tale, for seven years. It’s time for me to have mine.