Chapter 1: The Terrible World Beyond
In the mornings, when the flat was still quiet and sunlight filled the room with a hazy golden-yellow glow, Harry would roll over in bed and smile at the sight of Draco. Days would beat him down and working would weary him, but in the mornings, before anything could touch him, he looked fresh and bright and beautiful.
Harry liked to lie next to him and stare at his platinum hair, admiring the way the sunlight set it on fire. He listened to the steady rhythm of his breathing, studied the elegant lines of his throat, and fell in love with him again and again and again.
Draco would wake up eventually, of course, but Harry never minded, because Harry would be the first thing he saw and he would always smile and bite his lip and arc his back in a stretch and say, “Good morning.”
And Harry would tell him good morning and how lovely he looked and they would kiss and have breakfast.
Harry would go to work and put in his eight hours – no overtime, not anymore, not when he had someone to come home to – and when he came back sometimes Draco would be shut up in his office working or sometimes he would be helping Dolly make dinner.
Either way, he’d always get a long and generous kiss hello, and more often than not he’d get a fair bit more than a kiss as well. Harry would press him into his desk and fuck him long and slow on his papers until Draco was shuddering and screaming and coming around his cock, or Draco would pin him to the bedroom wall and suck him until Harry couldn’t see straight and could barely stand for how how hard he was coming. They’d catch their breaths, kiss again, then have dinner and discuss their days and it was perfect.
Well, nearly perfect. There was still the rest of the world, obstinately refusing to go completely ignored, the shadow at the edge of their sunshine.
“They’re saying you ensnared me,” Harry said, frowning over his tea as he read the Prophet morning edition.
“You shouldn’t read it,” Draco answered tepidly as he buttered his toast.
“Ensnared me,” he continued, “like you’re some kind of siren-devil-tempress.”
“Don’t read it,” Draco repeated.
“Where do they get off, editorializing peoples’ relationships?” Harry folded the paper up and tossed it onto the nearby counter. “It’s not any of their business.”
“It’s a hazard that comes with being in the limelight,” said Draco as he added raspberry jam to his toast. “You know that better than I do.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s not awful.”
Draco smiled. “Indeed not,” he said. “Terrible things become acceptable the moment good people stop being outraged.”
Harry smiled back, anger momentarily abated. “You’re way too smart for me,” he said. “How’d I get so lucky?”
“Low standards, mostly,” Draco said, grinning. “Also, you’re excellent in bed.”
Harry laughed. One of the better things about getting to know Draco again had been discovering that the biting, witty, sarcastic streak in him had never actually gone away. It was a good thing that they both had a sort of self-effacing sense of humor, otherwise it would have felt a lot like insults.
But Harry knew better. And frankly, the wit was what got him interested in the first place.
“I should try to get in early,” Harry said reluctantly. “There are probably a few fires to put out from last night’s raid.”
“It’s fine,” Draco returned. “Eric is coming round soon anyway.”
Harry was surprised. “Did you actually finish something?”
“No,” he said thoughtfully. Draco had called it a mental block, and it had been going on for weeks now. His last book, Lighthouse on the Severn, had come out last month to mixed reviews, and since then he’d been trying, to little success, to start his next project. “I suppose my art is fueled by pain, and I’ve had a suspicious lack of it lately.”
“Sorry about that,” Harry said with a grin.
“No, you’re not, you dirty liar.”
“You’re right, I’m not even a little sorry.” Harry finished off his tea, stood, and bent down to kiss Draco lingeringly. “I’ll see you at dinner.”
“Have a good day,” Draco said as he went down the hallway to grab his cloak and leave the flat to Disapparate.
When Eric arrived, the tea was already out and nearly finished steeping. Draco had known the man for eight years, and he was nothing if not a creature of habit and punctuality.
“You look good,” Eric commented from the foyer as Dolly took his coat.
Draco smiled. “How are you, Eric?”
“Lovely, thanks,” he said, heading through to the sitting room and taking the armchair opposite Draco. “Maria learned her first word. She’s been repeating it nonstop.”
“I’ve been told that getting them to talk is easy,” Draco said. “It’s getting them to shut up that’s the trick.”
“And how’s Harry?”
“Fine. Wonderful, actually. Our relationship is astonishingly healthy, given that he’s a recently recovered workaholic and I’m a social recluse.”
“Yeah?” Eric took a cup of tea.
“I suppose we make up for each other’s shortcomings,” he mused, taking a sip from his own cup, eyeing Eric as a lapse of silence passed between them. This was all meaningless smalltalk and they both knew it. Draco decided to cut through the remaining bullshit. “So. A new edition of Gloaming over Edinburgh is to be released, is it?”
“No,” Eric said, looking guilty. “Sorry, that was a lie.”
“I worked that out on my own, funnily enough. You knew I wouldn’t want to talk about it otherwise. You’re here about the papers.”
“You know I’m happy for you,” he said. “You know I don’t care that you… well.”
“Is a lesbian, yes,” Draco finished, “I remember. You’ve told me several times.” That had always been Eric’s defense. His wife’s sister was a lesbian, of course it was fine. Draco would have rather liked for it to be fine because why on earth wouldn’t it be fine, but perhaps that was a bit of a stretch for Eric (and society in general).
“It’s just that people aren’t taking it very well. Sales have dropped since the article.”
“Anything but the sales,” Draco said. “I suppose we’ll have to cancel Christmas.”
“I’d be less concerned if you were working on something,” Eric reminded him waspishly.
Despite himself, Draco flinched.
“I don’t have a press-here-to-make-novel button, you know,” he answered, trying his best to sound angry and not doing a very good job of it. “What do you want from me? I’ve no ideas. My muse is on holiday.”
Eric sat back with a sigh like Draco was being a petulant child about everything and Draco wanted to hit him in the head with the teapot.
“You’re going to have to do a press conference,” he said.
Draco did his best to look as if the idea didn’t terrify him. “Are you sure that’s wise?”
“Neither of you are saying anything,” Eric told him emphatically. “You did that ridiculous stunt, snogging in front of the cameras, and they’ve been stewing in their own shit ever since. I’ve done what I can, Draco, but without a new project to distract them with, they’re not going to just drop it.”
Draco took a too-long sip of tea before saying, “It’s not any of their damned business.”
“No,” Eric sighed, “it isn’t.”
“In a perfect world, that would make a difference.”
“And back here on earth, we do what we have to.”
Draco finished off his tea, set the cup back in its saucer on the coffee table, and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
After a moment, Draco nodded. On Fridays he met with Dr. Twine. After nearly two months of therapy with her, he trusted her to be able to help him through this.
He dreaded the idea of telling Harry.
It was always pandemonium in the auror department after a big raid like the one they’d done yesterday, but by noon things had calmed down. They’d finished their interrogations and had moved on to the paperwork. As he usually did, Harry nipped out to the nearby coffee shop for some tea and a sandwich and took them back to his office for lunch.
He stopped short when he saw—
He was standing at his desk, perusing a copy of The Daily Prophet, and when he heard Harry he looked up. Harry could tell by the expression on his face that all was not well.
“Hi,” he said, heading across his office to set his lunch down on his desk. “When did you get back?”
“Two days ago,” Ron answered. Now that he was closer Harry could see the thinly-veiled look of suspicion on his face, and despite himself, Harry felt nervous.
“How was it?”
“Good,” he said. “Yeah, it was fine. Harry…”
He looked down at the paper in Ron’s hands. The headline sneered back at him – POTTER AND MALFOY: A SORDID HISTORY. Harry flinched. It was the same article he’d read that morning.
“Ron—” he began.
“Is it true?”
“I guess that sort of depends on what you consider truthful,” Harry admitted.
Ron threw the newspaper at his chest. “Oh, great,” he snapped. “Perfect! I’m gone for three months and when I come back, the world has stopped making sense!”
“Ron—” Harry tried again.
“I mean it’s bad enough that you’re bent – and blimey, mate, really? Of all people, you?”
Harry squashed down the desire to tell him off. This wasn’t the time to escalate. Harry gave his wand a flick and closed his office door.
“But Malfoy? That’s even worse!”
“He’s not the person he was in Hogwarts, Ron,” Harry said, doing his best to keep his voice measured and calm. “None of us are.”
“Not the person he—!” He set his face, crossed his arms. “Am I going to have to be the one to say it?”
Harry shut his mouth tightly. He had a feeling he knew what was coming.
“He’s a Death Eater.”
“He was a Death Eater,” Harry said, voice taut. “The War is over, Ron; it’s been over for fifteen years.”
“My wife – your best friend is a Muggle-Born.”
“I’m not exactly pureblood myself, Ron, and somehow he’s in love with me!”
Ron stilled, stared at him with eyes full of betrayal. Harry didn’t realize what he said until it was too late.
“Love?” He didn’t so much say the word as snarl it.
“He’s a writer now,” Harry said, doing everything in his power to defuse the mounting anger he could see in Ron’s face. “He’s brilliant, and he’s not the git you remember him as. He’s – he’s gentle and dynamic and, God, he’s smart—”
“Love?” Ron looked like he was about to punch him. “After what his father did? After what he did? After he tried to kill Dumbledore, after—?”
“For God’s sake, Ron, he’s not that person anymore!”
“Malfoy doesn’t even have the capacity to love, there’s not a loving bone in his body! He’s a bloody damn coward and a bigot and he’ll never crawl out of that hole!”
Harry suddenly felt very cold. It spread out through his veins, turning his blood to a net of ice beneath his skin.
“Ron,” Harry said, as calmly as he could manage, “you’re my best mate and I love you, but if you keep talking about him like this, I’m going to punch your fucking teeth in.”
Ron laughed callously. “So that’s it? You’re choosing a Death Eater over me?”
“I’m not choosing anyone, I’m telling my best friend to stop shit-talking my boyfriend before I get arrested for assault.”
“He’s Draco Malfoy!”
“He’s also my partner now, and I’m not going to stand here and listen to you talk about him like this! You don’t have to like it, but I don’t have to listen to your prejudiced horseshit!”
“I’m prejudiced?” Ron sputtered. His fists were clenched, his face red with fury. “He’s the one that fought for the Dark Lord!”
“He’s changed, Ron! He’s moved on! Clearly the same can’t be said of you!”
The silence that followed was deafening. Harry thought for a few moments that Ron really was going to punch him, and for those same moments Harry would have swung right back.
Abruptly, Ron turned on a heel and stormed out of his office, slamming through the door and stalking from the department.
It was probably for the best.
Harry stood at his desk, hands braced on the edge of the polished wood, stooped his shoulders and took a few deep, centering breaths.
Stupid, thickheaded git.
Why was it so hard for people to accept this? Why couldn’t one person, once, anywhere, just congratulate him on finding someone Harry loved so much, and who loved him in return?
It didn’t help that everyone else in his life had reacted more or less the same way. With the exception of Hermione (bless her, and hopefully she’d be able to talk some sense into her husband) and Felicia, everyone who’d read the article revealing Draco as J. William Cross, and later as Harry’s lover, had sent him owls begging him to tell them that it wasn’t true. He never got responses when he wrote back and told them that it was.
He’d wanted to tell Draco, in the sense that he’d wanted to sob into his hair in impotent rage and heartbreak, but he hadn’t – wouldn’t. Harry couldn’t bear the thought of telling him how everyone in his life was abandoning him, now even his best friend of over twenty years. He could barely even make himself think about it, let alone say it out loud.
And in any case, he had a sneaking suspicion that Draco had already worked it out, and didn’t bring it up for no other reason that Harry hadn’t, either.
To hell with Ron, Harry thought bitterly. And to hell with Skeeter. To hell with all of it; he didn’t need it. All he needed was Draco, and no one could take him away.
Chapter 2: Choice and Merit
“Are you nervous?”
“How nervous? One to ten.”
Draco considered it a moment. His foot, he noticed, was tapping on the hardwood floor of Dr. Twine’s office prestissimo. He consciously stopped himself.
“That’s pretty nervous. It’s today, you said?”
“At eleven. I have to go straight there after we’re done.”
Dr. Twine hummed thoughtfully. “Well-timed.”
“I thought you might be able to offer some last-minute tips.”
“Have you told Harry?”
“No,” Draco said at once. “Merlin, no.”
“Wouldn’t do any good. All it might do is make him want to punch Eric for cajoling me into it.”
“You think Harry resents Eric?” she asked. “Do you resent Eric?”
“Constantly. But not for this, I suppose. He’s right; it needs to be done.”
Dr. Twine leaned back in her chair. Her long ginger hair was pulled into a loose braid that fell down her chest. She regarded him carefully.
“Am I in over my head?” Draco asked.
“Not easy to say,” Dr. Twine answered slowly. “Too many factors. It might have been a good idea to tell Harry.”
“What makes you say that?”
“He calms you down,” she said.
She’d had Draco made a list of things that always calmed him down when he was nervous. Harry was at the top of the list, followed by Dr. Twine’s breathing exercises, tea, and reading.
“It might be in bad taste to have Harry there during a press conference to de-stress me,” Draco said. “Especially since most of the things he does to calm me down are sexual in nature.”
Dr. Twine smirked. “I’d pictured more of a supportive presence in the crowd, but I’m glad to hear you’re being intimate physically as well as emotionally.”
“Probably a bit too much,” Draco admitted. Thank Merlin Harry had a healthy sex drive; fifteen years of celibacy had really done a number on Draco’s libido.
“No such thing,” Dr. Twine assured him. “I think your best bet for the conference is to do your breathing exercises as often as you can.”
“And hope they don’t notice?”
“I don’t think they’ll pay much attention to breathing.”
“They might notice the fact that I look like I’m about to burst into tears.”
“Are you afraid of looking vulnerable?”
Draco opened his mouth, shut it. It was a good question. “I suppose I’m afraid of being vulnerable. That’s the cardinal trait of the Malfoy family.”
“It’s not an unreasonable fear,” Dr. Twine said. “When you get nervous, when they ask you something that triggers anxiety, just take a few deep breaths before you respond. Just think about the question and nothing besides and do your best to answer.”
“You make it sound almost easy.”
“I’m sure it won’t be easy, but hopefully it won’t be insurmountable. If the worst does happen, please fire-call me. My schedule’s open this afternoon, so it won’t be a bother.”
Draco sat back in his chair and sighed. “I don’t pay you nearly enough,” he decided.
“Be thankful, then, that I have a flat rate,” Dr. Twine replied, smiling.
Before Apparating into the thick of things, Draco stopped at a shop near Dr. Twine’s office and bought a cup of tea. He doubted the calming properties of tea when staring down a dozen reporters, but it did have the advantage of making him late. The less time he had to spend there the better.
When he pushed open the doors of the small lecture hall, the questions came all at once from every direction, and Draco nearly lost his footing.
There were at least three dozen, and Draco made a mental note to tell Eric off when he next saw him. He took a sip of his tea and, as he suspected, it didn’t help.
He pushed through their cameras and flashpots and shouts and made his way up to the podium. He already felt dizzy and weak, like the room was spinning around him, like he might pass out or vomit at any moment.
He stood at the podium, set his tea down, and took a few very long, very deep breathes. Breathe in, one, two, three, breathe out.
It didn’t fix everything, but it helped more than the tea.
“I can’t answer anything with you all shouting over each other,” he said, and the reporters quieted.
Merlin, there were so many of them. His hands tightened around the edge of the podium. Breathe in, one, two, three, breathe out.
He could do this. He didn’t have a choice, in any case.
“Right,” he said. “Let’s get this over with. Whoever’s with the Quibbler can ask the first question.” He took another sip of tea.
“Mr. Malfoy,” said a young woman in the back, “can you formally confirm or deny the fact that you and Harry Potter are in a romantic relationship?”
Well, that wasn’t the worst question to open with. “I can confirm it, yes.”
“Follow-up question,” she said. “Can you also confirm that you are, indeed, the author J. William Cross?”
Hands went back up. Draco chose one at random.
“Mr. Malfoy, Horatio Sinclair, Wizarding World Weekly – how do you respond to criticisms from your detractors who say that you should be in Azkaban for war crimes, and not writing novels?”
Breathe in, one, two, three, breathe out. He held onto the podium because he was sure he’d lose balance if he didn’t.
“I don’t have any response,” he answered, doing his best to keep his voice from trembling.
“Do you think you’re guilty of war crimes?” asked Horatio Sinclair.
Yes, Draco wanted to say, but he didn’t. He was having trouble saying anything. His chest was tight, crushing his lungs. He tried to do a breathing exercise and didn’t do a very good job of it.
“I made terrible mistakes during the War,” Draco said, and despite his best efforts his voice still trembled. “Mistakes for which I can never truly repent. I’ve spent many years trying to move past them. Harry has given me the second chance I’ve been waiting for.”
“You’re a murderer!” shrieked someone from the back, and the words lanced straight through Draco’s heart. “Death Eater vermin! Torturer! Muggle-hating scum! My sister’s dead because of you and your lot! She’s dead!”
Draco felt like he was being torn in two. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see. He was only standing because of his iron grip on the podium.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
The woman who’d screamed was being pulled out by both arms, kicking and thrashing and shrieking bloody murder, and Draco was collapsing in on himself. Merlin, why had he even dared to show his face in public? He was a war criminal, a filthy Death Eater dog.
“Mr. Malfoy, Evangeline White, The Daily Prophet.”
He could hear the question, but he didn’t really understand it. It was something about his relationship with Harry. When he didn’t answer—
“I’m so sorry…”
Breathe. Breathe, damn you.
“I’m so sorry.”
Just breathe, breathe for Merlin’s sake, you have to breathe.
It had only just started. He had to get through this. He trembled and wheezed, and he could only manage to scrape in ragged pieces of air. It wasn’t enough to calm him down, but it was enough to keep him conscious.
“I… could you repeat the question?”
“Would you describe your relationship with Mr. Potter as long-term?”
He nodded. When he remembered a nod wouldn’t be enough, he said, “Yes. I – I’m his for as long as he’ll have me.”
“Follow-up question – do you worry at all about sullying his good name with your history?”
He couldn’t do his breathing exercises anymore. It was like his ribs had become three sizes too small.
“That raises the question, then, why you haven’t left him for his own good.”
“He loves me, for some reason I can’t quite understand.” Some part of Draco’s conscious mind told him what a rubbish answer that was. “I know I don’t…”
The sentence withered and died. “Deserve him?” The Prophet reporter finished harshly.
You don’t deserve him, you coward, you waste of flesh, you filthy bigoted traitor, you don’t deserve Harry, you don’t deserve anything, you’re worthless.
He was blinded with tears, dizzy from lack of air, shredded.
Out get out get out get out get out.
When Harry got back to his office, his hearth was full of bright green flames and whistling. He crouched down in front of it.
“This is Potter.”
He recognized the voice at once, of course. “Dolly? What’s wrong?”
“Master Draco – he returned from his press conference—”
“He is inconsolable! He won’t even speak to Dolly!”
“Stand back from the hearth,” he said, rising and grabbing a handful of Floo powder from the pot on the mantelpiece. In a few moments he was dusting off his robes and staring around the flat. “Where is he?”
Dolly, wide-eyed and teary, pointed towards the ajar bedroom door. Harry hurried past her.
Draco was against the bedroom wall, knees pulled to his chest, hands knotted in his hair. He was shaking and wheezing and sobbing and Harry wasn’t sure what he wanted more: to go and calm him down, or to beat the shit out of Eric Weston.
He looked up at Harry and sobbed something incoherent. Harry hurried forward, fell to his knees, and gathered him into his arms. Draco grabbed hold of his robes and buried his face in his chest.
“Jesus, Draco, you shouldn’t have let him talk you into a press conference,” Harry said, shifting to a sit, holding him as tight as he could without strangling him.
Draco was trying to respond, Harry could tell, but he was too inarticulate. Harry kissed the side of his head and sat with him. When it was bad like this, there was nothing to do except wait it out.
It felt like ages before Draco began to calm down. At some point his head had fallen into Harry’s lap, and Harry had started stroking his hair. Harry’s foot was asleep, but he dared not move.
Eventually, when Draco’s breathing had evened and he stopped trembling, he said, “I’m keeping you from work.”
Harry smiled. “It’s my lunch hour,” he said. He gripped Draco’s hand and lifted it up to kiss the palm. “And, more relevantly, you’re much more important than work.”
Draco shifted slightly so he could stare up at Harry. The expression on his face was one of awestruck confusion.
“Knut for your thoughts,” Harry said.
“I’m just trying to figure out what I did to deserve you.”
Harry would have liked to respond with something clever, but Draco had the market cornered on cleverness in their relationship, so instead he just smiled. “Want to talk about what happened?”
“No,” Draco said miserably. “I’d rather just wipe it from my memory altogether.”
Harry’s smile tripped and fell into a frown. “It went that badly?”
Harry sighed and went back to stroking a hand through Draco’s hair. “Should we fire-call Dr. Twine?”
Draco shook his head. “Later,” he said. “Can we just – could we keep doing this for a little while?”
“If it were up to me, I’d never move again,” Harry said.
Draco managed a sad smile. “You really are far more than I deserve.”
“It’s not about what you deserve. I chose you, and you chose me, and that’s what matters.”
The lines of Draco’s throat rolled as he swallowed. The words seemed to hit him hard, and Harry found himself wondering what exactly had happened at the press conference that had shaken him so profoundly.
“We chose each other,” Draco repeated, and it sounded like he was trying to convince himself of its veracity.
“That’s what matters.”
“The only thing in the world.”
“I love you.”
Harry bent down with some difficulty and caught Draco’s lips in a kiss. It was soft and slow and warm, and Harry lost himself in the familiar scent of tea and cigarettes.
“I love you,” he said against his mouth, “and no one can take that away.”
The evening edition of The Daily Prophet arrived on his doorstep just in time. Vincent Vaughn tipped the owl three knuts and flipped it open.
DRACO MALFOY’S “SECOND CHANCE” IN HARRY POTTER went the headline, just above an ashen, trembling, teary-eyed photo of him at a podium. Vincent’s eyes trailed down to the article.
Earlier today, Draco Malfoy, son of Death Eater Lucius Malfoy and noted blood purist during the War, who recently made headlines by being revealed as the Silver Quill Award-winning author J. William Cross, gave a press conference in which he discussed his relationship with Harry Potter and his involvement in the War.
“I made terrible mistakes … for which I can never truly repent,” he told reporters. “I’ve spent many years trying to move past them. Harry has given me the second chance I’ve been waiting for.”
For many, the words rang of insincerity, or are too little and far too late. Malfoy, now 32, refused to answer follow-up questions…
The rest of the article was profoundly unimportant.
Draco Malfoy. Vincent had been hoping all the rumors would be confirmed.
He looked at the picture again. He seemed petrified, lost, but it meant nothing.
Despite Vincent’s best efforts, he’d evaded his grasp for fifteen years, hidden by anonymity. There had been others to occupy his time, of course – many of them, Vincent was sure, who’d known him, who’d fought with him – but never him, never Draco Malfoy.
When Malfoy Sr. had killed himself all those years ago, Vincent had taken it as a personal insult, a slap in the face. Lesser Death Eaters were consolation prizes, but Lucius Malfoy had been a kingpin – one who’d bribed his way out of any consequence, no less. Vincent had been so close to filing that suit, to dispensing the necessary and long-overdue justice, and then Malfoy had taken it away from him.
And now here was his son, out of hiding at last. Just as guilty, just as deserving.
Neatly, Vincent folded up the Prophet evening edition, set it aside, and pulled a quill from its inkwell. He had arrangements to make.
Chapter 3: Ignite
There were a lot of great things about sex with Draco: the delightful little sounds he made when Harry had him in his mouth, his incredible ability to come hands-free when Harry was fucking him, the way his voice got higher and higher the closer he was to orgasm – the list was a long one.
But after some consideration, Harry decided that his favorite thing about sex with Draco was turning him – Draco Malfoy, award-winning author, master wordsmith, known for biting sarcasm and brilliant wordplay – slowly but surely, into an incoherent, gibbering mess. It was possible that Harry took a little too much joy in it.
“How does it feel, love?” Harry rasped into his ear, hands gripping his hips, cock slamming into him. “Tell me exactly how it feels.”
Draco, bent over the foot of the bed and gripping the covers with both hands, was already halfway to completely inarticulate.
“I – it’s incredible – Merlin, it f-feels so good, I c-can’t gggjjhhaaaaahhnnnnn—!”
He must have found just the right angle. Harry’s cock twitched appreciatively and he moaned lowly into the flushed, sweat-slicked skin of Draco’s back.
“I love the feeling of you coming around my cock,” Harry whispered heatedly into his shoulder. “The way you tense up and jerk. Do you like being fucked right into coming?”
“H-Harry,” he stammered, “it… I… nnnnmerlinsoclosesocloseharderpleaseharderohmerlin…”
That was another great thing about sex with Draco – he loved it when Harry was rough. Harry didn’t even know he’d liked rough sex until he’d slept with Draco and heard his first strangled cries for more, harder, faster, deeper.
Harry pulled out (and God, that gorgeous little whine Draco made when he pulled out, that was also a great thing about sex with Draco) just long enough to flip him onto his back, and then pushed right back in, pinning him to the bed and doubling his pace.
“Come for me, Draco,” he muttered, feeling sweat bead on his back, feeling his heart thunder in the side of his throat. “Come for me. I want to see it.”
It wouldn’t be long now; Harry knew the signs. Draco’s voice was getting higher, his hips were starting to rock against him, and he wasn’t so much speaking as he was inventing noises that sounded a bit like swear words.
When Draco came it looked like his soul was trying to escape out his cock. He jerked and convulsed, scrabbled at Harry’s chest with his fingernails, and his come landed in shiny stripes across his chest and stomach.
The sight of it alone nearly did Harry in.
“God,” he gasped, bending down and burying his face in Draco’s hair. His hips were now moving on their own accord, and his gut was twisting in impending climax. “D-Draco, inside?”
He felt Draco nod. “I-inside,” he stammered. “Come inside me.”
Harry held tightly onto Draco, sank his teeth into his shoulder to stifle a too-loud moan, and a surge of pleasure rocked the length of his body, blinding him for a few seconds. He emptied into him, shuddering and panting, hips finally stilling.
He heard Draco purr appreciatively underneath him, felt him ghost his fingertips down his spine.
Harry pulled out of him, weakly, with a soft, wet pop and collapsed next to him on the bed. He took a few moments to catch his breath. Draco rolled closer and curled against him.
He smiled and traced his fingertips on Draco’s shoulder absently.
“How’s that for taking the edge off a bad day?”
Draco hummed in soft, distant confusion. “Did I have a bad day? I’m having trouble remembering anything that happened before you made me come just now.”
Harry grinned sleepily and shut his eyes.
“I got an owl from Hermione,” he said, and Harry opened his eyes again.
“She invited me out for coffee.”
Draco shifted so he was looking up at Harry. “She said something about you and Ron being stupefyingly incapable of settling your differences, and apparently she wants me to help her come up with a plan.”
Harry’s mind flashed back to the argument he’d had a few days ago, and he flinched.
“Why didn’t you tell me you got into a fight with him?”
He opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. He would have liked to respond – really, he would have – but something was holding him back.
“I’m not made of glass, Harry.”
“The fight was about me, wasn’t it?”
Harry didn’t answer, but his face was answer enough. Draco sighed and sat up; he reached for his wand and it flew off the nightstand into his hand. He cast a few quick charms to clean himself and the bed of signs of their recent sex.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said, because he was sorry. “It’s not that I was scared of telling you, it… Ron’s just been the worst in a long line of people not handling it well. I suppose I really just didn’t want to acknowledge…”
Draco looked down at him, expression soft. “I’m your partner,” Draco said gently. “Helping you through bad times is part of the job description.”
Harry sighed and threaded his fingers absently through Draco’s sweat-streaked hair. “I know,” he said. “The fight was – it was bad. But I don’t need you and Hermione to fix it. We’re both adults; we’ll resolve it on our own.”
“Then send him an owl,” Draco suggested.
“I’m not sending him a thing until he apologizes.”
“Yeah, see, this is probably why Hermione went to me and not you two.” He pushed himself off the bed and went toward the bathroom.
Harry sat up. “I’m not apologizing; he was the one that was being a pillock!”
The water started running. “He’s your best friend,” came Draco’s answer through the open door, “I’m sure he’ll come around.”
Harry sighed and fell back on the bed, hoping Draco was right. He could certainly use some good news.
When Hermione saw him in the corner of the cafe, fidgeting with his sleeves and looking around nervously, her first thought was, Oh, shit, I forgot about his anxiety.
“I’m sorry,” she said as soon as she came to his table. “Should we go somewhere else?”
He looked up at her. He seemed uncomfortable and jittery, but he forced a smile.
“No,” he said, his voice just a bit too tight. “No, it’s fine. I’ve – my therapist and I have been working on this. Hello.”
She smiled wanly. “Hello.” She looked down at the table and saw he’d already got the tea. “Oh, you didn’t have to buy.”
“I’ll forgive you fifty knuts for a cup of tea,” he said. “I left room for milk just in case.”
“Thank you.” She sat down across from him and gave him a measuring look. He seemed so different – thinner, paler, pointier than her memories of him.
“I was surprised to get your owl,” he said. “Or rather, I was surprised that you wanted anything to do with me at all.”
“Well, Harry said you’d changed, and I had no reason to think otherwise. Besides, I suppose I was…” She hunted for the right words. “I suppose I wanted to see the change for myself.”
“I’m sorry,” he said suddenly, apropos of nothing.
“I – what?”
“I’m sorry. I am. I just – goodness, that was a bit too abrupt, wasn’t it? You must have no idea what I’m talking about.”
“None at all.”
He took a sip of tea before he tried again. “I know it must feel like too little, too late – but I am very sorry for everything. I was awful to you – to all of you, for so long.” He stared for a moment into his cup. “I’d very much like to give you an excuse, but there is none, not really. At any point I could have just stopped, but I never did, and I—”
“Malfoy,” she interjected gently, “I’ve read Tragedy of the Narcissist.”
He looked up at her, face inscrutable.
“Damn,” he said after a moment. “That’s embarrassing for me.”
She laughed. “It was good,” she assured him. “I liked it. I understand what you’re trying to say. And I accept your apology.”
He paused, and then the ghost of a smile hesitated onto his face. “You’re sure? You can yell at me for a bit if you want, throw a hex or two at me.”
She laughed a second time. “No, I think I’m all right.”
He smiled and shook his head. “Gryffindors.”
“Don’t act like you’re not pleased,” she countered. “You fell in love with one, after all.”
“I know. I must have been out of my mind.”
This time they both laughed, and any remaining tension deflated.
“So, listen,” Hermione said as she stirred a packet of sugar into her tea, “about this fight our significant others seem to be having…”
“Oh, yes. Harry’s being incredibly stubborn – I can only imagine what your husband must be like. Do you have a plan?”
She smiled. “I do, indeed. How do you feel about dinner parties?”
“I’m not apologizing,” Harry said as Draco adjusted his shirt collar.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Draco returned. “It’s a dinner party, not a court date.”
“Good, because I don’t have anything to apologize for.”
“He’s the one that called you all sorts of vile things.”
“And thank Merlin you were there to defend my honor. Who knows what would have happened if Weasley hated me slightly more than he already did?”
Harry frowned at him, largely, Draco assumed, because he wasn’t quite sure how to refute his point.
“You’re doing that thing again,” Harry said after a moment.
“That being a smartass thing.”
“Apologies, my love,” said Draco with a winning smile, “but there’s no amount of therapy that will fix that.”
Harry couldn’t keep up the frown and it eventually turned into a grin. “I know.” He bent down and stole a kiss just as there came a rush from the fireplace.
“That will be them,” Draco said, extricating himself from Harry’s arms and heading through to the sitting room.
Draco had to admit that when he first rounded the corner and saw them, the scene told him everything he needed to know about how the night would go. Hermione was looking lovely in a simple, stylish, casual blue dress, and smiling in a manic, over-the-top way – likely, Draco surmised, to balance the fact that her husband looked like he was about to murder someone. Weasley’s clean, pressed dress robes (very nice ones, and almost certainly chosen by his wife) could do nothing to mask the fact that he was staring at Draco as if trying to set his head on fire through sheer force of will.
“Hermione,” he said. “You look lovely.”
“Hello, Draco,” she returned. Her voice was strained.
“Ronald,” Draco continued. “How are you?”
He didn’t answer. Draco hadn’t really expected him to.
“Make yourselves at home. Wine?”
“That would be lovely,” Hermione said with perhaps too much enthusiasm, though Draco couldn’t really blame her. After putting up with Harry’s stubborn insistence that he wasn’t going to apologize all day, Draco was itching for a drink as well.
“Harry, could you bring out—?”
But Harry was already coming around the corner with the bottle Draco’d brought out of storage and four wine glasses floating along behind him.
“Got it,” he said. “I don’t know much about wine, but Draco assures me that this is a good vintage.”
“It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon from Tuscany,” Draco explained. “1998. Aged in oak.”
“I’ve just sort of learned to trust Draco’s taste,” Harry said with a self-effacing smile as he bent to pour the wine.
Ron made a sound like he was coughing up a hairball. When Draco looked, he was sneering, head turned away, arms crossed over his chest.
“Problem, Ron?” Harry asked tightly, but en lieu of answering, Ron just glared at Harry in furious silence.
Draco and Hermione shared a long-suffering sigh and were the first to take their glasses.
“Something smells delicious,” Hermione remarked.
“Stuffed leg of lamb,” Draco said. “Balsalmic reduction, garlic, rosemary – I haven’t cooked in ages, so you’ll have to forgive me if it’s not up to snuff.”
“I didn’t know you could cook!” Hermione said with a smile.
“It’s little more than applied chemistry,” he laughed. “And potions always was my strong suit.”
Ron made another hairball sound. Draco was reminded of the Siamese cat he’d had when he was young.
“Ron,” Harry said suddenly, sharply, “if you’ve got something to say, how about you just say it?”
A few seconds of dangerous silence passed.
“I’m not sure how else to react, frankly,” Ron answered after a moment. “What are you supposed to say when you’re the only person in the room who’s not crazy?”
Draco emptied his glass of red wine with one large, fast swallow, and in his mind the ghost of his mother scolded him for not letting it rest on his palate.
“Ron,” Hermione said quietly.
“No,” Ron said, “I’m sorry, but no. Are we really doing this? Are we just going to have dinner here in Draco-bloody-Malfoy’s flat like it’s normal?”
“Ron,” Harry said, not quite so quietly and with a hard edge to his voice.
“And oh, it’s bloody Cabernet Sauvignon and stuffed leg of lamb with balsalmic reduction and aren’t we grand. I’m glad to see all the war crimes didn’t humble him at all!”
“You have no idea what he’s been through,” Harry said through his teeth.
“I know he’s not rotting somewhere in Azkaban, which is what he bloody well should be doing!”
Harry jerked as if to move forward, and Draco grabbed him sharply by one arm. Harry looked back at him, eyes burning green fire.
“You expect me to just take this?” Harry snarled.
“I’m asking you to remember that he’s been your best friend since you were eleven and that maybe your anger is pushing you toward something you’ll regret.”
“And now Malfoy’s defending me!” Ron cried. “There’s nothing left in this world that makes sense!”
“You two are behaving like children,” Hermione scolded. “Draco and I brought you both here so you could talk out your differences like civilized adults!”
“Civilized!” Ron said, volume abruptly jumping to a boom. “I don’t owe Draco fucking Malfoy anything, least of all civilized talk! When was he civilized, between the torturing and the conspiracy and helping the Dark Lord?”
Draco hoped that the sharp jolt of emotional pain didn’t register on his face.
“You think he doesn’t regret what he did?” Harry snapped, matching Ron’s volume. “You think he doesn’t live with that guilt every day?”
“I think people are dead because of him and I don’t give a damn what guilt he has!”
The front door slammed open, and bitter November wind came howling into the flat. Draco jumped and spun in time to see black-robed, hooded aurors flooding into the flat, wands out.
“What—!” Harry began, but with one quick spell, he, Hermione, and Ron all fell back at once, and the aurors descended on Draco like a swarm. Two of them grabbed him tight by either arm.
Terror rose hot and thick in his throat and his old wartime instincts kicked in. He struggled and thrashed and screamed to no avail. His wand was ripped from his sleeve and thrown across the room.
“Let me go!” Draco cried. “Let me go!”
A third auror came forward while the others fanned out around the flat. He was tall, angular, stubble-faced and dour, looking down at Draco as though he were a distasteful-looking insect.
“Draco Malfoy,” he said, “you are under arrest for treason and crimes against the Ministry.”
“Grimmond!” came Harry’s voice from behind him. “What are you doing? Let him go!”
“Harry!” Draco half-screamed, half-sobbed.
“The suspect is being belligerent,” the auror – Grimmond – said, and he extended his wand toward Draco’s nose.
There was a tremendous jolt of pain that shot through Draco’s head, and then nothing but blackness.
Chapter 4: Dark Tower on the Sea
Every auror in the common area flinched. Harry would have been pleased by the sight if he weren’t so furious.
He stormed right to the back of the department, into the hallway where the offices of the higher-ups were lined up. Grimmond’s was just down the hall from his, and the door was ajar when he pushed his way in.
“What the fuck was that?”
Grimmond and Felicia were standing by his desk, and they both turned when he entered. Felicia wore a look of pain, but Grimmond looked absolutely murderous.
“Bursting in on my friends and my partner, wands blazing, arresting him—!”
“You sound so surprised, Potter,” Grimmond said tautly. “Shacking up with a war criminal, did you expect him to keep breathing free air?”
Harry lunged, every muscle in his body whipcord-tight and ready to attack. Felicia threw herself in front of him and grabbed him by both shoulders.
“Stop! Harry, stop!”
“Grimmond, you treacherous piece of shit!”
“I’m treacherous? I’m treacherous, Potter? You’re fucking a Death Eater and I’m treacherous?”
“He’s my lover!” Harry roared, clenching his wand. “He’s my partner, you knew he was, you knew and you did nothing!”
“Harry, stop!” Felicia entreated. She was strong on her own right but Harry was several inches taller and half-again her weight.
“You’re right, Potter,” Grimmond said, his voice low and dangerous. “I did nothing. And do you know what? I’d do nothing again. Bottom-feeding, Muggle-hating, purist scum like him deserve Azkaban.”
Harry was shaking with rage. He could barely see through the red that had flooded his vision. “Grimmond, you son of a bitch—”
“And however many times he’s sucked your cock won’t make a bit of difference, Potter, not even you can protect him, not anymore. Justice is bloody well coming.”
“Do you think you’re frightening?” Harry hissed. “Do you think you make me nervous? Do you think I’ll bow and break just because you’re making empty threats?”
“Harry,” Felicia begged, but Harry couldn’t hear her.
“Draco Malfoy is my partner and I will do anything, kill anyone it takes to protect him,” he continued. “I killed Voldemort, Grimmond, the most powerful dark wizard of our time. I cast the spell that stopped his heart. Imagine what I could do to a petty little back-stabbing rat like you.”
Grimmond’s nostrils were flared, his face set. But underneath the veneer of impassiveness, Harry could see traces – just traces – of a lingering, growing fear, and Harry took a deep, profoundly dark satisfaction in seeing it.
“Is that a threat?” Grimmond said.
“That, Grimmond, is a fucking guarantee,” Harry snarled. “And if you dare to fucking show your face to me again, you’ll find out for yourself why exactly the Dark Lord feared me so much.”
Grimmond bared his teeth. “I don’t have time for this,” he said, and he shoved past Harry and Felicia both, leaving his office with a rustling of his robes.
“Harry,” Felicia whispered, “you shouldn’t have done that.”
“Yeah, well, he shouldn’t have fucking arrested my boyfriend, so let’s just call it even.”
He looked down at her. Her face spoke of fear, alarm, worry – her hands were still on Harry’s shoulders, as though she was scared that he might snap at any moment and she’d have to hold him down.
“I know you’re angry, but that wasn’t the way to handle it.”
Harry realized belatedly that he was still trembling with anger. He clenched and unclenched his hands, willing himself to calm down.
“Did you know?” he asked her.
“Not until the eleventh hour,” she sighed. “I think they knew we were friends and went out of their way to hide it from me.”
“They must have known you had a conscience and would try to do something. Who even cleared this? How did it happen?”
Felicia hesitated a moment and Harry frowned.
“Have you heard of Vincent Vaughn?” she asked
“No. Who’s that?”
“He’s a member of the Wizengamot. He has a kind of – a sort of speciality.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He hunts down former Death Eaters,” she explained reluctantly. “The ones that managed to avoid conviction one way or another. Then he brings them to trial for war crimes.”
Harry felt very cold, and it was a terrible sensation after so much white-hot rage. “What’s his track record like?”
“I looked into it,” she said, “when I found out. It’s – Harry, it’s not good. So far as I can tell, everyone he’s gone after was found guilty, save for one.”
She looked at him sadly a moment.
“Lucius Malfoy,” she answered. “He killed himself before Vaughn could file the arrest warrant.”
Harry gnawed and worried his bottom lip, rubbed his hands together. His heart was starting to beat in the side of his throat. He wondered how many of the Death Eaters Vaughn had put away had been given the Dementor’s Kiss, and at once he pictured Draco, supine and limp, his soul being drawn through his mouth, the light in his eyes fading—
He shivered and banished the image from his mind. That would not happen. Harry would not let it.
“I have to go,” Harry said. “I have to see him.”
Felicia nodded gravely. “Be careful, Harry,” she said, but he was already leaving.
Draco awoke when a bucket of cold water was thrown on him. He inhaled too quickly, choked, coughed, doubled over, and immediately began to shake from the cold.
“There he is. Good morning, sunshine.”
When he’d expelled the last of the water from his lungs, Draco looked up. He was on his hands and knees in a nine-by-nine-by-nine stone cell, and staring down at him through an open barred door was a man in tough, magic-resistant leathers. His skin was yellowing and papery, and the expression on his face as he regarded Draco could only accurately be described as contemptuous.
“My name’s Corbin. I’m going to be your new best friend.”
Draco was freezing. The air was cold enough, but now that he was drenched with water he could already feel creeping numbness in his fingers.
Corbin crossed his cell and crouched down in front of Draco, staring at him with a penetrating black gaze.
“So,” he said. “Draco Malfoy. What a crazy coincidence.”
He dared not speak, which turned out not to matter because Corbin went right on talking:
“Say, I don’t suppose you remember meeting my wife, do you? Annabelle, her name was. Prettiest thing under the sun. Loved to sing and watch Quidditch. Long brown hair, blue eyes. Ringing any bells?”
“No? None at all? Well, that is odd. Because as I recall, Annabelle was tortured to death by you and your father.”
“I – I didn’t have a choice—”
Abruptly, Corbin seized Draco by the hair and slammed his head against the back wall of his cell. Pain blinded him and he screamed. Hot blood pooled at the back of his head and ran down his neck.
“Don’t lie to me, now,” Corbin hissed into Draco’s ear. “Standing rule with prisoners. You lie, you get pain.”
Now that he was closer, Draco could smell the bitterness of his breath, see the blue veins along his neck. He grit his teeth and willed his mind to overcome the pain.
“You could have stopped. You could have just stopped. Done something. Anything. Left. Maybe if you had, my wife would still be alive.”
His chest was hurting more than his head wound. Draco’s eyes burned with shame.
“I’m sorry,” he choked.
Corbin’s knee jerked up and landed against Draco’s jaw. At once, his mouth filled with blood and he collapsed on the stone floor.
“Annabelle is dead because of you and your father, may he rot in the foulest pits of hell,” Corbin said, standing over him. Draco’s vision was blurred, but he could see his outline, fists clenched, shoulders shaking. “That’s what I want you to think about, scum. I want you to think about Annabelle.”
And he did. He thought of nothing but Annabelle, with every kick to his ribcage, every punch, every slam into the wall and floor, he thought of Annabelle, thought of her screaming and writhing under his cruciatus curse, thought of her dying.
He thought about Annabelle, and it hurt more than wounds ever could.
When Abigail Twine left her office and set out for Azkaban, she had not been sure what to expect – but somehow, the sight of it ground what little expectations she had into the dirt.
In a tower on a rock in the middle of the frigid, windswept sea, it stood like a terrible dark sentinel against a gray overcast. She felt at once chilled to the bone at the sight of it, and the thick woolen cloak she’d brought to fight the November wind felt no thicker than tissue paper.
When she trudged up the steps – rough and uneven things carved from the rock – she passed through a layer of warding so thick the magic crackled against her skin and she shuddered. The heavy iron doors were almost too big for her to open, and she needed both hands to open them wide enough to let her inside.
The main foyer, though she could hardly call it a foyer in good conscience, had three doors on each wall and a single desk in the center, where a young man sat arguing with Harry Potter.
“—he is family, damn it, he’s my partner.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Potter,” the man said, his patience straining, “but under wizarding law, you are not his family, and only family are allowed to visit.”
“You don’t think I’d marry him if I could? The only reason he’s not legally my family is because marrying him is against the law!”
“Be that as it may—”
Abigail cleared her throat. The man at the desk didn’t seem interested, until he saw that her presence made Harry doubletake.
“It’s actually not just family that’s allowed to visit,” she said, approaching the desk and fishing through her small messenger bag for the right roll of parchment. “My name is Dr. Abigail Twine, and I am Mr. Malfoy’s physician.”
She handed him the papers she’d brought with her – signed, sealed, and notarized paperwork proving that he was under her care. The man at the desk frowned when he saw it.
“It is my professional opinion that his mental state will deteriorate to dangerous levels if his sessions with me are discontinued.”
Harry stared at her like he wanted to kiss her.
“We can’t just let him out so you can continue your sessions—”
“I would not expect you to,” Abigail said shortly. “However, I would expect that you would reasonably accommodate for his mental wellbeing. After all, in the history of this establishment, Azkaban has never legally driven anyone insane. And wouldn’t it be a shame if I were forced to report otherwise, when my patient inevitably deteriorates?”
The man at the desk flinched.
“Dr. Twine,” Harry said, “when this is over, I’m going to have to come up with a good way to thank you.”
She turned to him and softened when she saw he was on the verge of tears.
“I’ll arrange to have you escorted in,” the man at the desk said reluctantly, rising and heading through the door to the right.
“Thank you,” Harry said. “Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” she answered. “He’s my patient, and I swore to do everything within my power to help him.”
To her surprise, he pulled her into a tight, crushing hug.
“Tell him—” he began, voice thick, close to cracking, “—tell him that I love him.”
“I’m sure he knows,” she returned, “but I’ll tell him.”
“Tell him that I’m going to get him out of here,” he continued. “One way or another, I’ll get him out. If I have to rip down the walls of Azkaban, I swear I’ll get him out.”
“I’ll tell him,” she repeated.
“I’ll owl you when I’m done.”
“This way, Doctor,” came the voice from the man at the desk.
She extricated herself from Harry’s grip, gave him a reassuring smile, and followed him through the door into an adjoining corridor with several layers of doors and a long row of lockers.
“You have to leave your things here,” he said.
“Not even paper to take notes?”
“You’ll have to use ours. Your wand, please, Doctor.”
She handed over her wand and bag and personal possessions and he stored them in one of the lockers. She was given a magical search, declared clear, and was escorted by a guard further into the tower.
Even between layers of heavy gray stone, the screaming was still audible – vacant, horrifying shrieks of agony and madness. Abigail had spent her entire professional life working with the mentally unstable, and she was used to hearing screams, but this was different. There was a tenor to the shrieks that spoke of a more terrible darkness and pain, one that chilled her.
She was shown through to a small, cramped room – one door, one table, two chairs, and a single candle, which her escort lit with a spell.
“Sit,” he said. “I’ll bring the prisoner.”
She sat. The room was dirty and cold and spartan, and far too small. Her old case of claustrophobia clawed at the edges of her mind, but she shoved it down. There was no time for old fears. She had a patient who needed her.
When her escort returned, he was dragging Draco – shackled with irons, clothed in a ragged uniform that was far too large – by one shoulder, and unceremoniously threw him into the chair opposite her.
She stood up abruptly. “What the hell is this?” she demanded.
“Your patient,” her escort said sourly. His skin was yellowing and his eyes were dark and angry.
She hurried to Draco’s side and rolled him over. He was bleeding from a head wound, and there were bruises on his shoulders and arms. Rage flared in her gut and she briefly considered hexing the man until she remembered she didn’t have her wand.
“What in God’s name happened to him?”
“He tripped and fell,” came his cruel, casual response.
“Into your fists?”
He smirked, and Abigail’s anger only intensified.
“You’ve got half an hour with him,” he said. “Good luck.”
The door closed and the lock clicked decisively. Abigail bit her lip to keep herself from screaming in frustration and looked down at Draco. He was unconscious and the chances of waking him were low.
She pushed aside the chair and table and arranged him carefully on the floor. Her skill with wandless magic was better than most – as a mediwitch, she was expected to be able to heal even when she was otherwise disarmed – but she doubted her ability to repair all the damage in half an hour.
Still, there was nothing else for her to do. She couldn’t very well have a therapy session with an unconscious patient. And even if she could, physical wounds took preference.
She closed her eyes, pressed her hands to his chest, and gathered her energy.
Chapter 5: Staring into the Abyss
For no particular reason and entirely against his will, Draco woke up.
The first thing of which he became aware was the fact that his back was sore, both in a few specific spots as well as the general fell-asleep-in-the-wrong-position way. The first, his addled mind recalled, he could attribute to the beating he’d been given. The second he could attribute to the fact that he had been sleeping on sheet rock. His cell, after all, did not have a bed.
He sat up with no small amount of difficulty, and the muscles in his back screamed in protest. When he took stock of the state of his body, however, he realized that it wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d expected it to be. Draco inhaled deeply – healing magic. He could smell it settled into the muscles of his arms and chest. Had he been healed while unconscious? It seemed counterintuitive to beat him within an inch of his life and then heal him halfway.
From somewhere else in the prison, there was a terrible scream that was abruptly cut short. Draco shivered and drew his legs up to his chest. Night, he could tell by the ambient light of the hall, was falling, and the cold was settling into the stone.
For some time Draco sat in the corner of his cell, curled around himself to conserve heat, staring ahead, thinking.
There was something in his mind. Itching, scratching at the walls. The coalescence of a thousand terrible thoughts and feelings and memories. They warped and flexed in his mind, taking new form. The guilt and sadness and heartache merged together into words.
His hand searched the floor. The edges of the room were dusty and littered with detritus, and it took him a while to find what he was looking for:
A tiny rock, no longer than his thumb nail, jagged and sharp at one end and sturdy throughout. He palmed it in his hand. The words were coming faster now, and Draco was frantic. If he didn’t get them out they would grow in his mind like a rot, festering, infecting.
He turned to face the wall. With the tiny, jagged rock, he started to carve.
The wall of his cell was tough and unyielding, but the stone was sharp, and if he pressed hard enough, went over it enough, he could scratch out lines. Words. It was exhausting – every stroke of every letter was time-consuming and torturous, and it wasn’t long before the muscles of his arm ached. The only thing that kept him going was the unwavering certainty that he would die if he didn’t get the words out.
When Draco finished the first sentence, he allowed his arm a break. He flexed his hand and reread it, the product of nearly a half-hour of work:
Caroline could find no point to her agony beyond the fact that she deserved nothing less.
To those not used to it, the Ministry of Magic was an impenetrable labyrinth of criss-crossing, serpentine, circuitous hallways – this was, of course, an intentional feature of its design, with the purpose of keeping out those who didn’t belong. But Harry was an auror, and he knew the layout of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement wing with great acuity. Granted, he’d never been to the judicial side of it, but all he had to do was take a left where he would normally take a right.
The Wizengamot’s administrative headquarters were much larger than Harry expected, though; the main room was broad and long, with six columns of desks, each with someone bent over a stack of parchment. On the far side there was a doorway with a sign that said “OFFICES”, and Harry set off down the center aisle towards it.
When he rounded the first corner he saw, to his surprise, Hermione, leaning against the wall near one of the doors.
“I knew it,” she said.
“I knew you’d be here.”
Harry frowned. “You’re here to stop me.”
“Of course I’m here to stop you, idiot,” she snapped, straightening and adjusting her work robes. “You can’t just barge in on Vincent Vaughn.”
“And why the hell can’t I?”
“Because he’s a very powerful, very noteworthy member of the Wizengamot with a lot of money and influence and you’re an unstable mess.”
“I’m not unstable.”
“When was the last time you slept?”
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but shut it again when he realized he didn’t know.
“Not since before Draco was arrested, I’d bet,” she said. “And you haven’t shaved in as long, which means you probably also haven’t showered or eaten or even been home.”
“Fine, yes. I’m a mess. I’m upset. The man I love is in Azkaban awaiting trial. Of course I’m a little high strung; can you blame me?”
“I’m not blaming you, Harry, I’m pointing out that you’re angry and hurt and that if you’re left alone in a room with Vincent Vaughn, you’ll probably hex him and get arrested, yourself!”
“My ears are burning,” came a voice from Harry’s left.
Vincent Vaughn – Harry knew at once that it was him. He was tall, spindly, knobbly, as though he’d been assembled with tinker-toys. His hair was short and slicked back, a bit more salt than pepper, and a pair of shiny round spectacles sat on the very end of his long, hawkish nose.
Harry disliked him at once.
“Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived,” he said, moving out from what must have been his office in slow, short, deliberate steps. “What a pleasure it is to meet you, though I admit the circumstances could be better.”
It was all Harry could say. Hermione, as usual, hadn’t been wrong – the mere sight of him, coupled with the knowing that he was the reason Draco was wasting away in Azkaban, made Harry hot with rage and and uncontrollable urge to break his nose.
Vincent Vaughn tilted his head down and leaned forward to peer at Harry over the tops of his spectacles. His eyes were abyssal black, shiny like obsidian and, to Harry’s gaze, entirely soulless.
“I presume you’re asking why I signed Mr. Malfoy’s arrest warrant.”
“Of course that’s what I’m asking,” Harry hissed.
“Harry,” Hermione said in a warning tone.
“If you’re looking for some grand, convoluted plot or personal vendetta, Mr. Potter, you will not find one,” Vincent Vaughn said in a way that was entirely too professorial. “I’m like you. I’m a man of moral principle.”
“If you’d done any research at all, you’d know that Draco gave that up – all of it,” he said. “He hates himself for what he did – for what Voldemort forced him to do – he’s so heavy with guilt he spent fifteen years in self-imposed exile.”
Vincent Vaughn’s face was inscrutable. “And that exonerates him in your eyes, does it?”
“He’s changed,” Harry said. “He’s a good person, he’s never even been able to forgive himself—”
“I’m not questioning his guilty conscience, Mr. Potter,” Vincent Vaughn interjected coolly. “I do not know the man and never have. You tell me he’s changed and I take your word for it – you would know, after all.”
“Because a guilty conscience is not justice, Mr. Potter,” he continued. “Because it is not a fair trial; it’s not penance and it’s not forgiveness. It’s just guilt. Mr. Malfoy is a war criminal, do you understand that? He made an attempt on the life of Albus Dumbledore—”
“Which Voldemort forced him—”
“—and he has on several occasions used the cruciatus curse.”
“Perhaps,” Vincent Vaughn said, though he didn’t sound convinced. “I suppose the trial will decide that.”
“Why are you so set on punishing him?” Harry said, his hands shaking. “There’s no punishment you could give him that would be worse than the way he’s punished himself.”
“I sincerely doubt that,” Vincent Vaughn said, turning on a heel and striding down the hallway. “There are few punishments worse than a Kiss.”
Dread was not quite a strong enough word to express the convulsion of abject, soul-chilling terror that Harry felt at his words.
“Is that what he’s going to propose as Draco’s punishment?” Harry asked. “Is he going to try to sentence him to a Dementor’s Kiss?”
Hermione’s answer was nonverbal. Instead of speaking, she put her hand on his arm. Harry felt absolutely sick.
“We need to get you home,” she said. “We need to get some food into you, get you into the shower, have a good night’s sleep. Then we’ll come up with a plan.”
“I can’t let that happen to him,” Harry said. His voice was cracking under the strain. “I can’t let Draco have the Kiss. God – Hermione, I would die without him.”
“I can’t. I can’t – I have to – Hermione, I have to—”
Hermione hugged him, and all the rage that had been building up in Harry gave way into loss and heartbreak and fear. Draco had become his bedrock, and without him, everything was crumbling around him.
Eric decided quickly that he did not like Azkaban.
He’d heard stories, of course – there wasn’t an English-born wizard in the world who hadn’t heard of Azkaban – but he was surprised to find that all the stories were woefully inadequate. It was dark and cold and empty and absolutely terrifying, and the deeper he strayed into the heart of the tower, the worse it got.
Draco’s cell, number 217, was unremarkable insofar as it was in the middle of a hallway that was very much like all the others, but its unique feature was not so much its location as it was the state of it.
The walls were covered in words. Words, carved into the stone, rows and rows of words in great wide columns, starting in one corner and wrapping all the way around to the adjacent side.
Draco was standing near the barred doors, his fingers bloody, a tiny shard of rock gripped between his thumb and index finger, frantically carving the line of a lower case p. His eyes were frantic but the rest of his face was set.
He turned. His face was pale, cadaverous – his eyes were underlined with dark circles and there were ugly, darkening bruises on his arms. He looked like death warmed over.
“Eric,” he said, and his voice was hoarse. “What… how did you get in?”
Eric could barely answer. He walked towards the barred door of his cell and stared at the words, muttering, “I’m your legal counsel.”
Caroline. The word was used several times, he could see. Eric’s stomach felt very tight.
“I’m your agent, so yes, technically,” he said. “I – Merlin, Draco, you’re writing a sequel to The Tragedy of the Narcissist?”
Draco stared at him, looking dazed, looking like the question didn’t quite register.
“Yes,” he said after a minute. He looked back at the wall covered in carved words. “I started. I – most of chapter one is done. It’s slow… my hands…”
Eric’s eyes refocused. Draco was rubbing his bloodied hands together.
“I brought you paper,” Eric said.
Draco released a breath and his eyes suddenly became glossy with tears.
“And soft charcoal,” he continued. “I didn’t – I sort of had to nick it from their supply, so don’t let on you have it.”
“Eric Weston, I could kiss you,” Draco sobbed, walking towards him, the iron shackles on his ankles dragging on the stone.
“I’ve known you for nearly ten years,” Eric said, reaching into his robe and producing the large stack of parchment he’d grabbed from the cupboard in the room where he’d had to wait. “I knew you’d need…”
Draco took the ream of papers into his arms and hugged it to his chest. Tears were streaming down his face. “Thank you.”
“Your court date has been scheduled,” Eric said, finding it suddenly hard to keep his composure. “You’ll be going before the Wizengamot on Friday.”
The concept of ‘Friday’ seemed meaningless to Draco. “What day is it?”
Now that Eric thought about it, he supposed Draco would have no way to judge the passage of time. “Monday.”
“I’ll be done by then.”
“Done? Done with what?”
“With the book.”
Eric could hardly believe what he was hearing. “Draco – for Merlin’s sake, Draco, sod the bloody book!”
“I have to write it, Eric,” Draco said. “I have to. Not writing it will kill me faster than the Wizengamot could.”
“Come back on Wednesday,” he said. “I’ll have it for you.”
Eric’s throat was tight. He’d known Draco for nearly a decade, and the man was his friend. Seeing him like this – bloody, beaten, dying for his art, away from the only person who’d managed to put him back together again – was harder than Eric could have possibly thought it would be.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” Eric asked, trying to blink the tears out of his eyes.
“I don’t care,” Draco answered. “Publish it, don’t publish it, lock it away somewhere – but if the trial goes badly—”
“Draco, for Merlin’s sake—”
“—if the trial goes badly and the worst happens, you have to promise me that you’ll get a copy of it to Harry.”
Eric scrubbed a hand across his face and tried to center himself.
“Promise me,” Draco begged when he didn’t answer. “Please, Eric, promise you’ll do this for me.”
“Yes – of course. I promise, Draco.”
Draco swallowed. “Come back on Wednesday.”
“Thank you, Eric. For everything.”
“You should know that you were always a good friend to me, even when I was difficult.”
“Don’t talk like this.” Eric wasn’t sure he could take it.
“You should know that I always respected you. You always tried to improve me. Not just as a writer, but as a person, and even when I complained, I was always grateful.”
The words were a blow to the stomach. When Eric left Azkaban and went home, he hugged his wife and daughter and cried without telling them why.
Chapter 6: Cruel Muse
“Do you feel it?”
Caroline lifted her head, and though the movement sent waves of pain radiating in all directions across the battered skin of her back, she held firm and squinted through the darkness.
Old Davis was staring at her, his thin hands gripping the bars of his cell, his face caught in a shaft of moonlight. He was wild, bedraggled, but more lucid than Caroline had ever seen him. He was staring at the lash marks on her back.
“I feel pain,” Caroline answered.
“It’s easy to mistake for pain,” Old Davis said, “but it’s more than that. Do you feel it? The ache that runs bone deep? The hurt that goes to the very core of you? A pain so profound that your very soul cries in anguish?”
She had felt it every day since Vienna. Every time she thought of home, of her mistakes, of her sins and scars and all the lives she’d shattered.
“That’s what penance feels like,” Old Davis whispered. “That’s the sound a soul makes when it cries out for forgiveness. You have to embrace it, sweet girl. It’s the only way to repent.”
It was in the lash wounds, in her spine, in her heart. The terrible cleansing fire of penance. It was the worst thing Caroline had ever felt.
She shut her eyes and relished it.
“But, I mean,” Ron said, “he’ll be okay eventually. Right? Of course he will. I mean, why wouldn’t he bounce back?”
Hermione was glaring at him.
“Ron, you are my husband and I love you, but you are being a colossal idiot.”
“Well, it’s not like anyone’s going out of their way to explain it!”
“I’ve been explaining it to you every day for a week! You’ve just dismissed it at every turn!”
Ron frowned. “There’s no way he and Malfoy are that—”
“He’s right there, Ron,” Hermione said, pointing through to the sitting room, where Harry had been sitting for the past half-hour in silence, staring into his cup of tea. “If you won’t accept my explanations, go and talk to him and see for yourself.”
Ron did not want to talk to him, and he was sure Hermione knew it. Unfortunately, he recognized the tone in his wife’s voice that said she was done with him until he did what she wanted.
He allowed himself one last, dramatic sigh before he stood up. Just to make it clear to her that he was definitely sure it wasn’t as big a deal as she wanted him to think it was.
He walked into the kitchen and sat down across from Harry. He didn’t look up from his tea.
“I’d like to say for the record that I’m here because Hermione is convinced you’re falling apart.”
Harry didn’t answer.
“Look, mate, I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Ron said, because he really was sorry about the yelling. “Best mates shouldn’t yell at each other. How about we just admit that we were both pillocks and move on?”
Harry still didn’t answer. He didn’t even move.
“Come on,” he said. “Look, I get that you and Malfoy were – were close, or whatever, but you’ll bounce back! You’re Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived! Girls fall at your feet! And, well, blokes too, I guess, if you’re really more into blokes now…”
Nothing, still. This was beginning to get frustrating.
“Harry, this all just seems ridiculous. Why in Merlin’s name—”
Quite abruptly, Harry slammed his open palm down on the kitchen table, making the wood rattle threateningly. Ron sprung back in surprise.
“Because I am in love with him, that’s why!” Harry thundered. Ron had never seen him so furious in his life. “That’s all that matters! That’s all that should matter, especially to someone who claims to be my best friend!”
Ron stared at him in open-mouthed silence.
“I am in love with him!” Harry continued, the anger in his voice only intensifying. “I love him so much I sometimes feel like I’m crazy. I love him and he’s in Azkaban! He’s in Azkaban for crimes he committed when he was a stupid kid, living in a stupid family that never gave him the chance to be anything else!”
“Harry—” Ron began.
“Why does anything else matter to you? Why does my being gay matter? Why does the fact that it’s Draco matter? Why do your stupid, petty, fifteen-year-old vendettas matter? I am your best friend, and the man I love is in Azkaban! Is it so impossible for you to just get over yourself and help me?”
Ron didn’t know what to say. He doubted he could say anything.
Harry’s anger had tempered with anguish. His eyes were shiny with tears. “The man I love is being imprisoned and abused and I can’t do anything about it and I feel like I’m dying, Ron, I feel like I’m falling apart! Why do you – why does everyone – why can’t I just—!”
His head fell to his chest. Harry was gripping the edge of the table as though it was the only thing keeping him anchored.
“Harry,” Ron said, “I… I didn’t…”
Hermione came in from the sitting room – she’d been listening, of course, how could she not have heard – and bent down to give Harry a reassuring hug.
“You’re okay, Harry,” she whispered. “We’ll do everything we can.”
Harry was right, Ron realized, with a steadily sinking sense of dread. It was all so stupefyingly simple, which of course made it worse – all this time, his friend was falling apart, and he’d been so caught up with things that didn’t matter that he hadn’t even cared.
“We’ll find a way,” Hermione whispered as Harry bent forward and put his head in his hands. “We’ll find a way.”
“Thirty-four!” Crack. Old Davis cried out. The sound of it got worse with every stroke. “Thirty-five!” Crack. He screamed, went limp. The guard straightened, pulled his fingertips along the bloody streaks on his whip. “What do you say, old man? Bit of a break, then we’ll do the last fifteen?”
At first opportunity, as soon as the guard turned and left the courtyard, Caroline scrambled toward him where he was bound to the whipping post. He was shaking and wheezing. That he was even still conscious seemed impossible with all the blood running down his back.
“Davis,” she choked, blind and incoherent with tears. “Merlin, Davis…”
“Ssh,” Old Davis managed through his labored breathing. “Hush, sweet girl. I feel it now, stronger than ever.”
“You’ll die,” Caroline sobbed. “You’ll die if he finishes his lashes, Davis.”
“The fire’s burning strong,” he wheezed. “It’s burning it all away.”
“He’ll kill you, Davis. He’ll kill you. How much more penance can you survive? Will it never be enough?”
“Perhaps not, sweet girl,” Davis answered, his voice withering. “Perhaps not.”
“How are you feeling?”
This time, at least, Draco had arrived conscious. He was still battered – the beatings, Abigail inferred, had not stopped – and pale and losing weight rapidly. His eyes seemed almost dead, and his face was cadaverous. He didn’t answer.
“I know it seems like a stupid question,” she said, “but you need to answer it. You need to confront it.”
Draco’s eyes seemed to refocus slightly. He looked up at her with his vacant, dead-eyed stare.
The sentence fell off. He shut his mouth a moment and seemed to consider it, with what little energy he had left.
“I feel like I’m dying,” he eventually decided. “It’s a much slower process than I thought it would be.”
For a psychiatrist, professional decorum was paramount. She had spent years working with patients whose symptoms and situations were dark and terrible, and she’d always been very good at maintaining a certain amount of detachment.
It was getting hard for her to keep it up.
“I miss Harry,” he continued after a moment. “I miss him so much it feels like a physical pain, like I’m walking around with a sucking chest wound that no one can see, that I have to pretend isn’t there.”
“And the worst part is that I know I deserve all of it.”
“Draco,” Abigail said.
“I do, though,” he said. “I mean, I’m legally guilty of war crimes, aren’t I? I took the Mark. I conspired. I – I tortured.”
Abigail leaned forward across the table. “How old were you when your parents first told you about their relationship to Dark Lord?”
He stared at her a moment in silence, as if trying to remember. “Twelve.”
“Did you know anyone who wasn’t tied in some way to the Dark Lord? Who wasn’t a purist?”
It took Draco a moment to answer. “No.”
“So your parents introduced you to this particular way of thinking. Everyone else in your life supported the idea that this way of thinking was correct. At twelve years old, could you really be expected to know better?”
Draco wetted his lips. “It doesn’t matter now anyway,” he said. “I’m going to trial on Friday.”
“I’ll be found guilty. They always are. I’ll be found guilty and I’ll be sentenced to a Kiss.”
“I’ll lose everything that made me human. It’s worse than dying. I’d rather just die. I—” he choked, trembled, “—I’d rather die.”
“Draco, stop,” Abigail said with has much strength as she could manage. “This is suicide ideation. You can’t let yourself go down that road.”
Draco was starting to wheeze. He stared into his lap and did his breathing exercises.
“You have to get through this,” she told him. “You have to get through this because you have friends that care about you, because you have a partner who is devoted to you, because you have a career and a life that is good and fulfilling and worth fighting for.”
He kept doing the breathing exercises. Abigail knew him well enough to know that he was trying to absorb her words as best as he could.
“It’s worth fighting for. You were recovering, Draco. You were overcoming your anxiety. You were happy. Don’t you remember when you came to the session the day after Harry said he loved you?”
The tiniest, weakest, briefest of smiles tugged at Draco’s mouth.
“Your life was wonderful then and it can be again. But you have to be willing to fight for it.”
Draco scraped his hands across his face, the iron chains around his wrists clinking.
“All right?” she asked.
Draco nodded, and Abigail reached across the table to grip his hand reassuringly.
“Besides,” Draco said. “I have a book to finish.”
And then, the guard left. And the courtyard was quiet.
Old Davis’s broken body was splayed across the rock. The pool of blood under his stomach was growing ever wider.
Caroline was the first to move forward, though her legs felt stiff and her feet almost refused to carry her. She dropped to her knees at his side.
She wondered how close he had come. She wondered if the fires of penance had burned away his sins before his body had succumbed to the injuries. She wondered if it had been enough.
Her vision blurred. She was crying.
The other prisoners formed a circle around her. Their faces were white, their mouths open. Criminals, vagabonds, necromancers, murderers, thieves. All of them flawed, all of them uniquely human, all of them mourning, just like her.
Caroline gripped her stomach and thought of everything that had taken her here. She wondered how much of her path had been inevitable and how much had been choice. She thought of everything she’d done wrong, all the sins of her past, all the scars on her body, all the things she’d shattered. The cleansing fire of penance burned the heart out of her. The pain of it was unbearable and she wondered if it would ever be enough.
She had no wand to raise for Old Davis, but she raised her hand and stretched it toward the sky. Wild Magic danced through her fingers, sparked, glittered.
Around her, the prisoners did the same. They raised their hands, their Wild Magic gleamed. Showers of golden and green and crimson and blue launched into the sky for Old Davis, his last tribute, his only tribute, the only dignity a criminal would ever receive.
The flames of penance ate away at her and Caroline knew it would never be enough. It would never, never be enough.
Eric’s hands were shaking.
He set aside the final page of the manuscript and leaned forward on his elbows.
It was the best thing Draco had ever written.
It needed some line editing – changes for grammatical and syntactical correctness – but the story needed no change. Not this time.
Eric took a few shuddering breaths, willing himself to calm down.
The trial was in two days. Eric had to get this to a publisher tonight.
Chapter 7: Abyss Stares Back
“It seems a bit unethical.”
“And when our justice system is no longer broken, I give you leave to let that sway you.”
Harry sat back in his chair and rubbed a hand across his newly smooth face. At Hermione’s insistence, he’d had a shower and shave.
“Harry,” she said, leaning forward across the kitchen table, “your support won him the election. To say that he owes you is a colossal understatement.”
“I get that, Hermione, I do, but it’s just…”
Hermione licked her lips and wondered how best to say what she needed to say.
“I don’t think… Harry, you and I both know that Draco doesn’t deserve Azkaban or a Kiss. But we only know that because we know him. In front of the Wizengamot, to an uninformed observer, he is guilty. And there are a lot of very powerful people who will be at his trial that don’t like him.”
Harry frowned. “So – what is it you’re saying, exactly?”
“I’m saying I think this might be your only option, Harry.”
Harry’s reaction wasn’t immediate. He sat back in his chair and gave the placemat undue scrutiny.
“It’s awful that it’s the only choice you have, but…”
There was a crack of Apparation when Ron appeared in the foyer. “Oy! Harry! You still here?”
“In here, Ron.”
He came around the corner, through the sitting room and into the kitchen. He had a copy of the Prophet in one hand. “You seen the paper?”
Harry frowned. “No – why?”
Ron handed it over. He took it and flipped it open to the front page.
MALFOY RELEASES SURPRISE SEQUEL ON DAY BEFORE WIZENGAMOT TRIAL, ran the headline. Underneath, Follow-up to highly-acclaimed ‘Tragedy of the Narcissist’ hits shelves without warning. It had a large picture of the cover – a trembling woman curled up in the corner of a darkened prison cell, illuminated by a single shaft of sunlight.
Harry’s mouth fell open.
“What is it?” Hermione asked, but because Harry couldn’t answer, he just handed the paper to her. Her reaction was more or less the same.
“When did Malfoy even get the time to write a book?” Ron asked.
“What does the article say?”
Hermione adjusted the paper and read: “‘This morning, bookshops across the British Isles received massive shipments of the latest book by J. William Cross who, it was revealed last month, is the alias of ex-Death Eater and blood purist, Draco Malfoy. Malfoy, 32, was arrested last week after he came into the public sphere due to his romantic relationship with Harry Potter.
“‘Malfoy’s agent, Eric Weston, released the following statement: “Sins and Scars and Shattered Things, my client’s newest work, is a very personal response to his recent incarceration. Beginning after the end of its prequel, Caroline is thrust into a journey of penance and forgiveness as she is subjected to the horrors and brutalities of the Viennese prison. Readers will find the book, if nothing else, highly illuminating, visceral, and profoundly introspective.”
“‘The book came as a complete shock to book shop owners, literary critics, and readers alike, and early reviews of the work have only just been released. Says Marianne Kirkpatrick of the popular magazine Lumos Literary, “Harrowing … a richly meaningful narrative thesis on the nature of guilt and morality and suffering and sin. The sequel puts into perspective just how deeply autobiographical its prequel was, and offers a wrenchingly empathetic glimpse into the mind of a man wracked with doubt and self-loathing.”
“‘Sources have confirmed that the novel was rushed into publication. Pygmy Press bought the manuscript for fifty thousand galleons very late Wednesday evening, and worked through the night to magically produce all fifty million copies that have since been circulated. When asked whether or not this very abrupt release was at all related to his client’s incarceration and upcoming trial, Eric Weston declined to comment.
“‘Tomorrow, Malfoy is set to go before the Wizengamot to be tried for war crimes. It is unlikely that this new development will have any real effect on the trial itself, but it seems to have sparked dissent within the communities of Malfoy’s fans.
“‘“Anyone who’s read Tragedy of the Narcissist can read between the lines and see the author’s own story in it,” says author Ryan Wheeler, who has had a mutual professional admiration for Malfoy for years. “Malfoy has punished himself enough for his crimes, and anything the Wizengamot would further sentence him to is nothing short of cruelty.”’”
Hermione set down the paper and stared at it. She seemed, to Harry’s surprise, impressed.
“That’s brilliant,” she said.
“Is it?” Ron asked.
“Don’t you see what he’s doing?”
“What Draco’s doing?” asked Harry, frowning.
“No, not Draco. His agent. Don’t you see what he’s doing?” When neither Harry nor Ron responded, she continued: “He’s turning the court of public opinion! He’s encouraging people to empathize with Draco. He’s rallying them to his defense!”
“By publishing a book?” Ron said.
“How better?” she returned. “Tragedy of the Narcissist was basically autobiographical; this new one is a reminder of that, and it provides even more insight into his head.”
It took Harry a moment – the subtleties of public relations had never been his strong suit – but the more he thought about it, the more he could see the whole in the parts.
“Harry,” Hermione said, suddenly grabbing his wrist, “this is even more reason to do it. If you ask him while everyone in Britain is crying out in his defense, he’ll have to agree!”
Harry wondered if she was right. He hoped she was, because as usual, Hermione wasn’t wrong – there weren’t a lot of alternatives left.
Early on Friday morning, Draco was awoken with a bucket of cold water and jerked upright with a scream.
Corbin was standing over him. His smile was venom.
“Morning,” he said, peppy, almost manic. “Today’s the big day.”
Draco coughed up a mouthful of water.
“Up you get. You’re to be side-alonged into the Ministry.”
It was a struggle for Draco just to get to his feet, let alone to follow Corbin out. He hadn’t been given anything resembling a proper meal once in the weeks since he’d arrived, and he felt thin and dry, like a breeze would knock him over, like a stumble would break his bones.
His irons were given magical reinforcements and three other guards soon joined Corbin to escort him out of the detention block and then out of the tower to Apparate.
To Draco’s astonishment, the moment they opened the heavy outer doors, there came a volley of shouts. They were surrounded by reporters.
“Mr. Malfoy! How are you feeling about the trial?”
“Mr. Malfoy, do you have any comment on the similarities between the setting of your latest novel and your stay here in Azkaban?”
“Do you have anything to say to those rallying for your support, Mr. Malfoy?”
Draco was overwhelmed – so overwhelmed that he couldn’t even manage to feel anxious. His flank of guards shouted the reporters away, clearing a path for them to move out of the anti-Apparation zone.
The sun was bright and the air was salty with the scent of seawater. Flashpots bursted, questions were shouted, and Draco was lost. He stumbled over his irons and could only manage one last glance at the swarm of reporters before a guard grabbed his arm and he was yanked along.
It turned into a series of secure, gray hallways – somewhere deep under the Ministry, no doubt – and Draco was escorted through them with the reporters’ questions still ringing in his ears. He would have tried to gather his thoughts and make sense of it all, but he had neither the time nor the mental wherewithal. It wasn’t long before he was standing in front of a massive, ornate oak door.
He wanted to ask if this was really it, if he was just going to go before the Wizengamot in the state he was in – bruised and shackled and in his prisoner’s uniform – but it seemed like an unwise question. Corbin pushed open the doors and he was escorted inside.
Draco had never been to the Wizengamot, of course, but the massive dungeon-like room with its vaulted ceiling and rows of witches and wizards in plum-colored robes in tall wooden pews was appropriately intimidating. He made the long walk up to the lone chair in the middle of the semicircle and was sat down, his chains magically fastened to the floor.
Then the guards left. The door from which he’d arrived closed. And Draco was staring into the faces of the people who would decide his fate.
He felt very detached.
“Draco Abraxas Malfoy,” said an aging wizard at the center, higher than the others in a seat of honor, “you stand accused of treason against the Ministry and of war crimes.”
Draco stared up at them silently.
“This court puts to you that you did, knowingly and willfully, aid Tom Marvolo Riddle, the man we know as the Dark Lord. Do you deny this accusation?”
What a peculiar question.
“I do not deny the accusation,” Draco said, and his answer seemed to startle his interrogator. Many of the other members muttered amongst each other.
Regaining his composure quickly, his interrogator continued: “Were you under any spell or enchantment, or under the effect of any magical artifact, that would make you act against your true nature while carrying out your crimes?”
“I was not,” Draco said, and the muttering started up again. “You all seem very surprised.”
“It is unusual for former Death Eaters to admit to these things,” said a lean, horse-like woman off to the right side.
“I see little enough point in lying,” said Draco. “You’ve done your research, I’m sure. The records are there. You know what I did.”
“Have you nothing to say in your defense?” asked a man to his left.
“Of course I do,” Draco said. “Plenty.”
They waited. When Draco didn’t say anything, another woman spoke up:
“Well?” she said impatiently.
“Would it make a difference if I told you?” Draco asked, because he doubted that it would. “Would it change the simple facts of what I’ve done? Would it be enough to sway something so blind and impartial as the law?”
“Mr. Malfoy,” said the man in the seat of honor, “do you think it wise to be so glib before the Wizengamot?”
“I’m not being glib, sir. My questions were honest. I could speak at length about the family that raised me, about the poisonous and hateful environment in which I was brought up. I could tell you all about how I hated Muggles before I even fully understood what a Muggle was because that was what I was told to do, or about how my father made purism seem like an endless and valiant battle of us and them.
“I could explains the tactics the Dark Lord used to keep me and my family under his thumb. The threats, the psychological weaponry. I could tell you how scared I was when I took the Dark Mark at fifteen, how he threatened to kill my parents if I didn’t kill Albus Dumbledore or torture Muggles or do his bidding.
“I could also tell you about how painful it was, learning that everything I had been raised to believe was not only false, but cruel and hateful. I could tell you about the crisis of identity this realization created and how it shook my entire world to its foundations.
“Or I could show you the scars that now cover my Dark Mark. I could tell you about the fifteen years I spent in self-imposed exile, the depression that nearly took my life, the social anxieties that developed from my paralyzing fear of being recognized as a Death Eater. I could tell you about how much I hated myself – how I still do – how I struggle every day to convince myself that I am even worth the effort of getting up in the morning, after everything I did.
“I could tell you all these things. I could write books about them – in fact, I already have. But would they make a difference? Would they change your mind about me? Or more to the point – would they undo all the things I did? Would they make me any less guilty?”
There fell a heavy silence.
“Please tell me,” Draco said, “because I don’t know.”
“Your words are very pretty, Mr. Malfoy,” said a man in the back – hawkish nose, round spectacles, silvering hair – Draco recognized him at once as Vincent Vaughn. “You are very eloquent. But if it’s an answer you want, then you may be disappointed to learn that the answer is no. No, these things do not make you less guilty.”
Draco wanted to point out to him that he was the reason his father killed himself. Not for any particular sense of justice, of course – he just wanted to say it, to bring it up, to remind him. Draco decided against it.
“They don’t change the past,” said the horse-like woman, “but surely they mean something—”
“I’ve read Tragedy of the Narcissist,” said a younger man toward the front. “And I just started Sins and Scars and Shattered Things. Your – Caroline’s story was very moving.”
Draco didn’t quite know what to say to that, so he didn’t say anything.
“This is sentimental poppycock,” said a large, mustached man to the right. “We’re not here to determine whether or not Mr. Malfoy feels bad. We’re here to decide his guilt or innocence!”
“Justice is blind, but she is not cruel,” said the horse-like woman.
“Where is the cruelty in calling a war criminal what he is?” Vincent Vaughn asked, his voice hard. “Mr. Malfoy has already admitted that he denies nothing.”
“Surely this is an extenuating circumstance—!” the young man began.
“Extenuating circumstance!” said an old woman in the back shrilly. “If we start making exceptions to the rule, it will become meaningless!”
“You look at this man, read his words, and tell me he is not a good person!”
“You look at his arm and tell me he is not a Death Eater!”
“Order! We will have order!”
The gavel banged; the arguments settled. Draco sat in silence. He still felt detached, like none of this was really happening – or if it was, it was happening to someone else. The idea that these forty-some people were arguing about whether or not he should live or die seemed too impossible to even consider as true.
“The facts are before us,” said the man in the seat of honor. “Mr. Malfoy stands accused of his crimes and he does not deny them. He is, under the law, guilty. And he should be, therefore, given a proper sentence.”
Something started to thunder in his heart. The wall of detachment began to crumble. He felt dizzy. He wanted to speak, but what would he say? He wanted to run, but where would he go? Was it really going to end like this? After everything?
“Mr. Malfoy, you have plead and been found guilty of treason and war crimes,” said the man above him, his expression set. “This council therefore sentences you to the most grievous punishment allowed in magical law – the Dementor’s Kiss.”
Beneath him, the floor gave way. His world dissolved into dust.
Guilty, he said, and everything changed.
Guilty, he said, and the fires of penance burned him into ash.
Chapter 8: Sins and Scars and Shattered Things
Theophilius Huxley could usually tell within the first few hours of his day how the rest of it would go. He’d reduced it down to a science: certain signals at certain times – a surprise memo in the morning, an exasperated sigh from his assistant as he breakfasts – were unfailing markers of the day to come. Most of them he could recognize, and after three years in office, there was very little left that could surprise him.
So when Harry Potter burst into his office one dreary winter morning, he could only expect the worst.
There were very few people in the world who could really burst in on the Minister of Magic, of course, and most of them were related to him in some way. Harry Potter, as with most things, was the exception to the rule. There was no one who would stop him from doing anything, even barging in on the most powerful man in wizarding Britain.
“Mr. Potter,” he said when he regained himself. “What an unexpected pleasure.”
When he didn’t answer, Huxley realized that he was shaking – though whether from anger or fear or something else entirely, he couldn’t say.
Huxley had a feeling he knew what this was about.
He stalked across his office and stopped when he was on the opposite side of his desk. There was a shuddering stoop to his shoulders.
“You know why I’m here,” he said. HIs voice was hoarse, throaty, wan.
“You owe me, Huxley.”
He took a breath. There was no way this could go well; all he could hope for was to make it slightly less terrible. “You know that I’m grateful for your support—”
“Then pardon him. He deserves it.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“It is that simple,” Harry snapped, his voice suddenly rising in volume. “You can make it that simple.”
“A pardon from a Minister of Magic is more than just an act of mercy,” he said. “It’s a political move, a statement with a thousand meanings and effects. The consequences—”
Abruptly, Harry threw down a copy of the Prophet that he’d had under his arm. Huxley cringed and looked down at it, though he’d already seen the headline.
MALFOY FOUND GUILTY; DISSENT RUMBLES. Author’s sentence sparks controversy in legal, literary, and public spheres. There was a picture of a dazed, dead-eyed Draco Malfoy being escorted through a crowd of very angry onlookers, who were all shaking their fists and screaming at the guards flanking him.
“If the fundamental concepts of humanitarianism and simple decency don’t persuade you, then this should.”
“People are angry, Huxley. Your constituents are angry. If you sit by and do nothing, let Draco take the Kiss, you’ll spark a riot. That is a consequence, Huxley.”
“The media sensationalizes,” Huxley said, as calmly as he could manage. “I have a duty to act on behalf of all witches and wizards in Britain, Mr. Potter, and unless you’ve done extensive sample surveys about popular opinion, I can’t say—”
Harry’s fist thumped against the polished oak of his desk.
“I will make sure everyone knows,” he said. “I will tell the world that I went to you for help and you started talking about sample surveys of public opinion. I will let them know that their Minister of Magic puts public image over saving a man’s life.”
Huxley pressed his lips together, drummed his fingers on his desk, shifted. He could do damage control if he went on a smear mission, of course – but reelection was coming up in a few months, and Huxley wondered if it would be worth the trouble.
“He’s scheduled for the Kiss in three days,” he continued. The edge to his voice was softening under the weight of his emotion. “I can’t… Huxley – please.”
He had to admit, the word surprised him. That he’d gone so quickly from threats to begging surprised him. Huxley realized, perhaps a bit belatedly, that the man before him was desperate.
“Please,” he said again. “He’s the love of my life. I don’t – I couldn’t get by without him. He’s suffered so much already, I can’t…”
“I can’t make any promises,” Huxley said at last. “I… will look into it. But you have my word that whatever decision I come to, I will come to it as soon as I can.”
Harry stared at him, expression broken.
“So that’s it?” Harry said. “I hang my happiness and the life of my lover on your thoughtful possibility?”
Huxley had no response. There was no response to a question like that.
Painful, deafening silence passed between them.
Harry left a moment later, and Huxley stared after him.
There was something nagging in the pit of his stomach, a painful twist. He hadn’t felt it in a while, and it took him a moment to place it—
Oh, he realized, it was guilt. Damn.
He looked down at the paper that Harry had left, sighed, and picked it up. To his surprise, it was heavy – there was something inside of it, resting in the fold. He opened it up, and a book fell out.
It was a slender tome, small and leather. Sins and Scars and Shattered Things, by J. William Cross.
Huxley was absolutely sure that Harry had left it there intentionally. Huxley did not, by any stretch of the imagination, have time for leisure reading. This was a blatant play on his emotions and if Harry thought he wouldn’t have recognized that fact, he was an idiot.
Huxley’s thumb brushed over the cover.
He swore under his breath and opened it.
As soon as the door opened, Draco fell into her arms. Abigail nearly lost her footing as she caught him.
“Doctor—” he said into her ear – his voice was strangled, hoarse – as he gripped her shoulders, “—please, I n-need – I need you t-to—”
“—if I tell them, they’ll do everything th-they can to make sure it doesn’t happen – I know they will, and I can’t—”
She’d spent so much time psyching herself up for this, telling herself she could be strong for him, but when he was breaking down in her arms, it all went out the window.
“Draco, slow down,” she said, voice close to breaking.
“They’re asking me about last requests,” Draco sobbed, face buried in the sleeve of her robe. “They w-want to know what I want on my last d-day – I can’t tell the guards b-because I know they’ll go out of their way t-to make sure they don’t happen – Doctor, please, please, I have to see Harry again, just once more before the Kiss, please—!”
Her eyes burned. “Draco—”
“Please, you have to make sure he’s here, it’s all I want, I don’t care about last meals, I just have to see him again—!”
He descended into inarticulacy, sobbing and trembling in her arms. She wanted to comfort him, but what words could do that? She’d worked so hard to take care of her patient, and in three days there would be nothing left of him but an empty shell.
She hugged him and tried to calm him down, even though she was crying almost as much as he was, even though none of it mattered – or, perhaps, it was the only thing left in the world that mattered at all. She didn’t know.
Harry wasn’t back after an hour, but it wasn’t until the second hour had passed that Hermione felt the first pangs of nervousness.
She took the Floo to the flat he and Draco shared, and it was dark and quiet. A fine layer of dust had accumulated on everything from the weeks that it had been in disuse.
Draco’s office door was open.
Swallowing, Hermione moved forward. She knew that Harry must have heard the hearth, but just in case, she said, “Harry?”
No answer. She rounded the corner into his office.
Harry was sitting with his back to one of the bookshelves, near the large desk with its mountains of papers. He was staring around the office like it was the most beautiful and tragic thing he’d ever laid eyes on.
“It – did it not go well?” she asked.
“He said he’d think about it,” Harry answered. His voice was dead, devoid of any emotion. “You know, I used to tell Draco that he worked too much.”
Hermione hesitated a moment before she crossed the room and sat down next to him.
“When he was finishing Lighthouse on the Severn, he’d lock himself up in here for hours, editing, revising, rewriting. I never really minded, but I liked to tease him, tell him he was married to his work, complain about how he spent more time with his papers than with me.”
Hermione stayed quiet because she knew he wasn’t talking for her benefit.
“Maybe he did,” Harry said. “Maybe he hadn’t quite struck the right balance between professional and personal. I didn’t really mind. I thought – I thought we’d have the rest of our lives to make up for it.”
Hermione leaned on his shoulder.
“I thought we’d get old and fat together,” he said. “Well, I’d get old and fat. He’d get old and stay gorgeous right until the day he died. He would have aged so well, don’t you think?”
“He’s not dead yet,” Hermione said.
“I thought about it a lot. I’d think about how his hair would start to streak with silver, how the skin around his eyes would wrinkle. He’d age like a good wine. And I’d spend the rest of my life telling him so, loving him more every day.”
“And now I won’t ever get that, will I?”
“There’s still a chance,” she said. The words didn’t bring her any comfort, though, and they didn’t seem to affect Harry, either.
He rubbed his knuckles into his eyes. His shoulders were starting to shake.
“I’m so sick of crying,” he said, bitterly. “I’m so sick of feeling powerless, of fighting for something that shouldn’t need to be fought for.”
“Whatever happens,” Hermione said, “he loves you. You love him. Try to focus on that.”
For most of an hour they sat there, silent, still but for the shaking of Harry’s shoulders. Words, tears, emotions – it had all just ran out.
To Huxley’s utter dismay, he finished Sins and Scars and Shattered Things in about two hours and it was one of the best books he’d ever read. Realistically, he shouldn’t have expected anything less – he’d been following the news, same as everyone. He’d read the reviews that sang its praises, he knew about the firestorm it had set off. That, Huxley knew, was the fundamental problem with words: they created ideas, and there was no army in the world strong enough to kill an idea – especially when it had entered the popular consciousness.
But he couldn’t let a book affect his policies, could he? Huxley had spent his entire life building careful walls of cold logic and precise plans. A misplaced jolt of emotion could send it all tumbling down.
He gathered his personal assistant and went to Azkaban.
Not because he’d made up his mind, he told himself, and certainly not because he was softening to it all. He was going to Azkaban because the controversy surrounding it had grown quite large, and because if what he’d read was true, he needed as much information about it as possible, first-hand.
“Minister Huxley!” said the man at the front desk, scrambling to his feet when he entered. “I – we didn’t – you should have sent word!”
Huxley shook his head. “That would have rather defeated the purpose of the visit,” he said. “I want to see the facility.”
The man at the front desk seemed confused. “I – sorry, what do you mean?”
“Precisely what I said. I want to see the facility. Surely the controversy has reached even you by now. The book published on Thursday? A giant, thinly-veiled criticism of, among other things, this very prison?”
The man had at least the decency to look guilty.
“Do I require an escort, or shall I go on in?”
“I… I’m not sure, Minister, I—”
Huxley produced his wand and gave it a flick. One of the many perks to being the Minister of Magic was that any Ministry-run facility was, quite literally, open to him, and the great, heavy doors of Azkaban opened wide.
“By the way,” he said, “which cell belongs to Draco Malfoy?”
He stared guiltily at his feet before answering, “217.”
Huxley nodded his thanks and strode past him, his personal assistant on his tail.
His first impressions were not positive.
He knew at once that the place was soul-haunted – the Dementors had been removed from Azkaban, of course, during his predecessor’s term in office, but after so many years, their presence had left a wound on the building, making it feel unnaturally cold and haunted and almost completely unlivable.
Then there was the state of the cells: barren, unkempt, unventilated. No beds, and only one drain per cell. Many of the prisoners were shackled to the wall. Some of the were screaming and thrashing and twitching frenetically, unhinged past the point of recovery. Others were lying on the floor, broken emotionally if not physically, and staring at the ceiling with dead, vacant expressions.
Huxley had known that it was bad, but he hadn’t expected it to be this bad.
“What number did he say was Malfoy’s cell?” he asked his assistant.
“217, Minister,” she answered. “I think it’s right around that corner.”
“Does this place disgust you, Laurie?” he asked her as they walked.
“Yes,” she said at once, not bothering to mask the contempt in her voice.
“Bearing in mind that these people are criminals, does the state of it give you pause?”
“Criminals are still people, Minister,” she said, “and no person, criminal or otherwise, should live like this.”
He could not fault her for her logic.
217 – and unremarkable cell in an unremarkable wing. At first he thought it empty, until he saw, huddled against the wall, a small, hunched figure.
He stepped closer and saw him – Draco Malfoy – battered and bruised, doubled over himself, scratching furiously at his arm with such intensity that he’d broken the skin, and blood was staining his fingertips. Huxley knew at once what he was scratching and it was not something he wanted to think about too closely.
The scratching stopped. He looked up at Huxley – his expression was haunted, hunted, and empty all at once. It seemed to take him a moment to realize who had addressed him.
“Minister,” he said, like he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. His voice was hoarse, and Huxley wondered how often the prisoners were given water. He struggled to his feet. “I – what are you…?”
What was he doing here? It was a good question. More to the point, why was he here, talking to Draco Malfoy specifically, when he came here telling himself that his primary concern was the state of the prison? Why couldn’t he get the last line of Sins and Scars and Shattered Things out of his head? That was another good question.
“I read your book,” Huxley told him after a moment.
Malfoy stared at him like it was the most bizarre thing he’d heard in his life. And really, given the circumstances, Huxley couldn’t blame him.
After a very long pause, Malfoy said, “Oh.” It was as good a response as any.
Huxley swallowed and wetted his lips. From somewhere in the other wing, a woman screamed and rattled the bars of her cell. Elsewhere, a grown man wept and wailed as he was beaten by a guard. Huxley shivered and pulled his cloak more tightly around him.
After the lapse in the conversation grew too long, his assistant tapped his elbow.
“Minister,” she said, “what are you going to do?”
Chapter 9: Life After
After so many weeks in the rough, oversized prison uniform, caked in dust and grime, a brief shower and a change of clothes was all Draco needed to feel cleaner than he’d ever been in his life. His skin felt fresh and warm, and the smooth silk lining of his robes kissed his skin in a way he’d almost complete forgotten.
He would need more thorough attentions eventually, of course – there were still lingering bruises to tend to, and clean as he felt he was never really comfortable unless he could tend to his near-pathological need for catlike neatness – but those were things he could do once he was home.
Home. He stopped in front of the mirror in the bathroom he’d been given to use and felt warmth spread out under his skin. Despite all the weight he’d lost, despite the beatings he’d been forced to endure, despite the horrors and isolation and inhospitable temperatures and inedible food, he smiled. He was going home.
He picked up his bag and pushed his way out of the outbound wing. Guards stared as he passed and he did not make eye contact. There was nothing they could say that would touch him.
When he made it into the antechamber to sign the last of the paperwork, he was surprised to see a familiar face standing by the desk.
“Mr. Vaughn,” he said.
Vincent Vaughn was peering at him over his shiny, round spectacles. “Mr. Malfoy,” he returned. “I had to see it for myself to believe it.”
“Are you disappointed?” Draco asked, bending over the desk to sign the piece of parchment that was waiting for him.
“Of course I am. And surprised.”
“Not nearly as surprised as I am, I’m sure,” Draco said. He finished his signature, tapped it with his wand to magically seal it, and straightened.
“You weren’t expecting the pardon, then, I take it?” he asked.
“I’d be hard pressed to expect anything in this place. It is its own microcosm of reality, utterly cut off from anything else.”
They spent a while studying each other. Draco took a moment to take in his aspect – in his neatly pressed robes, shiny shoes, and signet ring, he looked inoffensive and professorial. Draco tried his best to feel some amount of anger or resentment – after all, this was the man who’d gone out of his way to ruin Draco’s life – but despite himself, he just couldn’t. The hatred wasn’t there.
“Do you really think you deserve this freedom?” Vincent Vaughn asked after a moment. There was no edge to his voice, just a sort of detached curiosity.
It was a very interesting question. “I don’t know,” Draco answered honestly. “I think if I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that I can’t be the judge of my own guilt or innocence. What do you think, Mr. Vaughn? Do I deserve this freedom?”
A moment of silence lapsed between them. When he didn’t answer, Draco continued:
“I will say that I’m very glad for it. And in a way, I’m even glad that this happened.”
“It’s given me a new perspective on a great many things,” he explained. “On life, on love, on the fleeting and transient nature of consciousness, on the delicate threads that hold everything in place. And perhaps more than anything, it taught me what I value. There’s nothing quite like the threat of imminent death to show you your highest priorities.”
“And what is your highest priority, Mr. Malfoy?” he asked.
Draco smiled. “I’m going home to him now. Have a good day, Mr. Vaughn.”
He pushed open the heavy iron doors and took in a deep breath of sea air. Even the cold and unforgiving ocean seemed brighter somehow.
When he opened his eyes, he realized that he was not alone – in fact, he was surrounded by people.
Not reporters, Draco could tell – they had no cameras, no notebooks, and none of them were speaking. As he stepped out into the sunlight, they watched him in silence, their faces inscrutable, their eyes fixed on him.
Draco felt a twist of uncertainty in the pit of his stomach. He tried to see if they were armed, if their wands were out and in their hands—
One of them near him, a young woman with golden hair, raised her hand silently above her head. Draco stared at her in confusion – and then, someone behind her did the same. Soon, every one of the forty-some people huddled on the rock in the middle of the sea had their hands raised over their heads.
Then, the Wild Magic came.
Twisting, glimmering, glowing brightly, twining through their fingers, sparking blue and gold and scarlet and white and green. The Wild Magic shot into the air and exploded into silent fireworks.
A tribute – straight from the end of his book.
At once, Draco was undone.
He put his hand over his mouth as the Wild Magic sparked brighter. His eyes burned and his vision blurred with tears.
“Welcome back, Mr. Malfoy,” said a man to his left, and softly, all the others echoed the sentiment.
It took everything in him to gather the strength and wherewithal for a response. What could he even say to a gesture like this?
“Thank you,” he choked. “Thank you.”
From the far side of the island, there was a crack – a pause – then—
His breath caught in his throat. The crowd parted, and Harry came running, scrambling toward him.
Under the showering tribute of the Wild Magic, by a tower on a rock in the middle of the sea, they ran toward each other and fell into each other’s arms. Draco gripped him too tightly, kissed him too hard, just to assure himself that it was real, that it was Harry, that it wasn’t some bittersweet dream. He smelled holly, felt his dark hair under his fingertips, tasted his lips, and it was real, it was real, it was Harry, he was going home.
“That was the moment you became the golden couple of Britain, wasn’t it?”
Harry opened the door as quietly as he could and peered through. No one seemed to notice him.
“Not a mantle we took up entirely willingly, I admit, but I suppose that was when it started.”
Under the bright lights, the silver in Draco’s hair was luminously bright. The sharp lines of his face were highlighted, and even at fifty-six, he kept his back straight and his eyes focused. The interviewer opposite him was bent forward, and she had the gait of a woman who was hanging on his every word. The reporters, lined up in a semicircle around them, were taking vigorous notes and occasionally snapping pictures.
“It can be said that you’ve been very good sports about the whole thing. How long has it been now?”
Harry moved toward the back wall of the studio. Draco seemed to catch the movement, smiled, and winked. Harry grinned.
“We’ll be celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary soon,” Draco answered.
“Twenty-five years together,” the interviewer sighed. “That we could all be so lucky! Twenty-five years and still going strong.”
“I am as desperately in love today as I was twenty-five years ago,” he said with a small, dignified smile. “Moreso.”
“And who would have thought that the love between two people could have so shaped the world? It’s like a plot from one of your novels, Mr. Malfoy.”
“I’m happy to say that my life is no longer quite interesting enough for my novels to be semi-autobiographical,” he said, and there was a low laugh from the reporters.
“But you must admit that you two helped to drive a lot of reform,” the interviewer said. “You were both at the forefront of the gendered and sexual minorities rights campaign in wizarding Britain – your partner, especially, used his influence as Head Auror to help spearhead huge legal reforms.”
“Yes, Harry’s never been very good at tolerating injustice, no matter how socially acceptable it may be.”
Harry laughed under his breath.
“And your books have tackled many issues of social justice in the years since your pardon – there are people who credit you for bringing the issues into the mainstream.”
Draco shrugged elegantly. “There’s not much pride to take in being the first snowflake of an avalanche. If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have, surely.”
“Would it be at least fair to say that you’ve had an incredible life?”
Draco smiled, though there was a trace of sadness in it as he considered his answer.
“Incredible? Yes, I suppose so,” he said. “I’ve seen more than my fair share of darkness and loss, but I’ve also had the privilege to love an incredible man and have him return that love. I wish that I could say I don’t regret anything, but that wouldn’t be true. I’ve done plenty in my life worth regretting.”
Draco paused for a moment. He looked up and across at Harry, and Harry gave him an encouraging smile. After a moment, it was returned.
“But when I was pardoned of my crimes, I told myself I would do everything within my power to make up for those regrets. There had never been any point to punishing myself. The best use of my freedom was to do my best to make things better, and try to balance out the ways I’d made them worse in my misguided youth.”
The interviewer gave him a shining smile. “I think it’s fair to say you’ve succeeded in that endeavor.”
“Maybe. But just to be sure, I’ll keep trying.”
The interview wrapped up. The reporters packed their things. The interviewer spent a long moment shaking Draco’s hand and thanking him effusively for his time and for agreeing to speak with her. By the time she was finally done, most of the room had emptied.
Finally, Draco rose from his chair and crossed the room. Harry tangled his fingers in Draco’s hair and kissed him thoroughly. When they parted, they were smiling, and Draco leaned his forehead against Harry’s neck.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” Harry returned, letting his arms slip around his shoulders. “That went well, then?”
“As well as it could have gone, I suppose,” Draco answered. He seemed reluctant to extricate himself from Harry’s arms. “I thought you had that meeting with the Minister.”
Harry hummed. “I did. I ducked out early, though.”
“How rude of you,” Draco teased. “What on earth could possess you to walk out on the Minister of Magic mid-meeting?”
“In my defense, he was being very boring, and I hadn’t snogged you in nearly a full day.”
“Goodness. That is wholly unacceptable.”
Draco leaned up and kissed him again, more lingeringly, and Harry ghosted his fingertips down Draco’s spine, which drew a shudder out of him. It never failed to please Harry that after twenty-five years, he could still set his lover’s nerves on fire.
“Harry James Potter, don’t you dare.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“We are not thirty-two anymore, Harry, we can just have sex in quasi-public spaces in unorthodox positions.”
“Sex! I hadn’t been thinking about sex at all until you mentioned it. What must your mind be like?”
“One of us will surely throw his back out, and then how would you explain it to the mediwizard?”
“If you’re so desperate, I’m sure we could come up with something.”
“I’m not having sex with you in an interview room.”
“We could say that we were moving furniture, or fell down some stairs.”
“I’m not having sex with you in an interview room.”
Harry laughed and kissed him. Tease him though he may, Draco wasn’t wrong – they really weren’t thirty-two anymore, and they certainly couldn’t have sex in an interview room, tempting as the idea was.
“Later,” Draco whispered against Harry’s mouth.
“God, I hope so.”
“Besides,” he continued, “we have dinner plans.”
“Do we?” Harry asked, a split second before he remembered. “Oh, right. The book release party.”
“It’s all right that you don’t remember,” Draco said. “It’s only my magnum opus.”
“It’s always your magnum opus,” Harry reminded him as they started out of the building to Apparate home. Draco smiled because it was true, and because he loved that Harry knew, and because, somewhere along the line, his life had come as close to perfection as was possible to be. And for the first time in so many years, Draco no longer cared about whether or not it was more than he deserved.