The Daily Prophet
Friday, June 2023
The Daily Tattle by Rita Skeeter
I must admit, darlings, I haven't been shocked by anything in DECADES. What a DIVINE week! If you've been under some enormous rock or locked in a dungeon somewhere, you've missed the publication of Draco Malfoy's roman a clef, Diary of a Death Eater. Just try to get a copy now. It's sold out in every book store from Dover to the Hebrides! Released twenty-five years to the day after Harry Potter defeated He Who Must Not Be Named, I stayed up ALL night and read it. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Bonus excitement, kittens! There was the simultaneous reveal in that book that HE is the NOM, as in nom de plume, of those romantic blockbusters that the public's been gobbling up these last twenty years. How could we NOT have known that the delightful Destinee de Malfoi was none other than Draco Malfoy? And then. Then! If all this wasn't enough, the rumblings that the magic had gone POOF in the Malfoy's marriage AGES ago all of a sudden weren't rumblings but shouting and yelling from the roof tops. I tell you, all that surprise had me ditching my morning pot of tea and reaching for the Old Ogden's for a bit of kick with my toast and jam! Draco Malfoy gay? I had my suspicions, mind you. The man's robes are to DIE for…
"Rumblings about our marriage, were there?" Astoria rattled the paper a bit. "And here I thought you were the soul of discretion," she mocked.
I ignored her jibe about my indiscriminate catting around. True, those first years after my initial "aha!" were slutty in the extreme, but I'd never trolled for hook-ups among the wizarding community, and I was never anything but consideration itself when we appeared in public. And in private for that matter. As Astoria well knew.
"I can't think of a single person who that bitch Skeeter hasn't mentioned as having marital woes. Only Potter and the She-Weasel have been exempt. " I left it at that. "Anything else? The dedication to Potter?"
I didn't want it to seem like I was fishing for compliments, but after years of writing absolute tripe, I'd finally written something that actually mattered to me. Frankly, I was hoping for a soupcon of praise for the actual writing. Yes, yes, I know, expecting anything except salacious gossip from Skeeter was ridiculous, but I was nothing if not optimistic.
"It's 'whom that bitch,' by the way. More nonsense about the cut of your robes. Hmmm, speculation about who cuts your hair. Oh, here we go. Something about burying hatchets, how you two hated each other at school. Time heals all wounds. Potter's brilliance as Head Auror. More questions regarding our marriage, which she's put in quotes. Who does your manicures. Speculation if you write your sex scenes from personal experience. More gushing. More nonsense. More about your robes."
"That's it?" I tried not to whine.
Too nervous to eat breakfast, in a fit of nerves I'd been shredding my toast into little bits. Our house-elves thoughtfully kept supplying me with more toast as I whittled away, trying to stanch the nerves. By this point I'd gone through what must have been an entire loaf of bread, and a mountain of crumbs was spilling over my plate and onto the tablecloth.
"I suppose it's better to be praised for my fashion sense as opposed to getting lambasted for lusting after other men," I remarked with a saucy smirk in my voice, but Astoria wasn't fooled.
She lowered the paper so that I could see her face or more importantly so that she could see mine.
"It's a marvelous book and you know it. Don't let that cow ruin what is a fantastic read."
"Thanks, my dear. I can always count on you." I leaned over to kiss her knuckle, at which point she kissed me on the top of the head, and raised the paper again to read the rest of the article.
This, this is why we were still married, my sexual orientation nothing more than a blip in the overall scheme of things. And, yes, in most people's eyes I would probably win the "Worst Husband Award" twenty years in a row. Although I found Astoria absolutely stellar as a wife and mother, she was rather a failure as a sexual partner. As in she didn't have the proper equipment and far too much of the wrong equipment. But we managed. Much better than most people.
I looked at the mound of toast crumbs. The untouched cup of tea. With a quick flick of my wand, I banished both and stood up.
"I'm going for my run," I announced.
She lowered the paper again. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," I assured her.
She scrutinized my face and saw that I was indeed fine, and went back to reading the Prophet. Had I been merely posing and trying to hide my sulk, she would have said something that would have righted me back into my usual state of dramatic serenity. Some days it's serene drama; I usually veer between the two. I needed someone to ground me, and Astoria had been doing a splendid job for twenty-three years now. Left to my own devices I do insane things. Like get myself branded in the service of megalomaniacs. I kissed her head as I exited into the garden. Spelling on my running clothes, I eschewed my usual stretching routine and just began running. I needed to move.
It had taken me many years of writing utter garbage to afford this place. In homage to the fact that every single inch had been paid for by the insatiable thirst of the public for lurid romance novels, I'd name it "Bookend." Once the war reparations had been paid off and my parents secured with a decent annuity, I had began hunting throughout Wiltshire for the perfect house. You'd think with my background I'd want something with thirty bedrooms and a drawing room the size of a Quidditch pitch. Even Astoria was surprised when I dragged her to this place. Before we had even Apparated I'd told her, "This is it. I don't care if you hate it. Pretend you love it. You can decorate it anyway you like, but the garden is mine."
First it wasn't magical, and the amount of time and Galleons it took to make it unplottable was so outlandish that I had toyed with the idea of writing up my nightmarish experience in the name of exposing the sheer incompetence of the Ministry. Ultimately Astoria convinced me to chalk it up to experience because no one in their right mind would believe me. My trials and tribulations at the hands of the bureaucrats running the Office of Land and Magical Reapportionment had been a gigantic clusterfuck from day one to day two hundred and ninety two. If any group of good-for-nothing Ministry lay abouts needed Granger's uber efficient hand, it was that lot.
Second, it wasn't a particularly grand house. A modest home by Georgian standards, its genius was the series of French doors along the entire back side of the house, so that from any room on the ground floor you could walk into the garden. And what a garden. Of course, when I'd bought it the grounds held only the barest hint of their former greatness, but I could see that this had once been a magnificent garden, just waiting to be unearthed again. Bonus, there were umpteen acres of wild that I hacked a running trail through.
When Scorpius went to Hogwarts--and there was some trepidation that he would not get a letter; I suspect that Potter had something to do with him receiving one, although there was no way to prove it--I spent my mornings writing and my afternoons wrestling this place into shape. A garden should always be a work in progress and this was no different. It would never be done, but I could now revel in its triumphant return to what it once was and joyfully anticipate what it will be. Yes, I had an army of garden-elves to help, but I was out there toiling with them. The men that I pulled in bars in those years assumed that I'd spent three hours a day at the gym. Little did they know that it was three hours a day with a hoe, a pick-axe, and a wheelbarrow. My pecs were amazing. And six pack? Darling, I had a twelve-pack. I mentally heave-hoed in the morning and physically exhausted myself in the afternoon. Even though I missed Scorpius dreadfully, especially those first three years, it was a happy life. I was rich. I lived in a house I adored. I had reached the point where I could write trashy best sellers in my sleep. And I had the most fabulous garden to muck about in. It really didn't get much better.
And then my past caught up with me, as Astoria and I knew it would.
Fortunately for me, Scorpius hadn't inherited any of my tendency to drama. Except for my coloring and an inner steel that I attribute to my mother, in all ways he was Astoria's child--thoughtful and circumspect. Unlike his father, who often put his foot in it, he was one of those rare children who always waited a second before opening his mouth. Even though he had been born "old," it would have taken a fucking saint not to react to other children taunting him about his grandfather and father's less than illustrious past. He didn't throw tantrums and there weren't any hellacious scenes, as I would have done in his shoes. As this was Scorpius, he just withdrew from me. It was as if I were in quarantine. He didn't quite know what to do with me. Love me? Hate me? Yes, I understood the twin impulses far too well. As it was, he did neither. He went into emotional exile.
Dropping him off at King's Cross the fall of his fourth year, he'd refused our hugs and didn't bother to look back or wave when he'd boarded the train. That summer had been two and a half months of monosyllabic responses. And that was when he was home. I tallied it up one night and he'd spent a total of thirteen nights in his own bed, and aside from a vacation to Florence, the rest of the summer had been spent at this friend's house, another week at that friend's house, all in a deliberate effort to escape from us. Well, me, really. I might as well own it. Astoria only came in for it as a result of friendly fire. After all, you can't marry a man and not adopt his history to some extent. Eventually he would forgive her. Me, I wasn't so sure.
I came home from King's Cross in the blackest of depressions.
There is nothing more vulnerable than a parent. Losing my child's love would probably, in many people's eyes, be justified given my "service" to Voldemort. But I wasn't going to go down with a fight. Based on our ever-deteriorating relationship, I assumed that Scorpius had been told numerous versions of what had happened those two decades ago. I realize now that I should have told him sooner, but I hadn't, and now it was a very real possibility that we were permanently broken.
Scorpius was, fortunately, miles more mature than I'd been at that age. Of course that wouldn't have been hard. Circe, I'd been such an effing brat. But then my role models were Death Eaters. I was immune to my mother's not-so-veiled words of wisdom that I needed to be careful, that perhaps my father's view of politics was little more than self-serving. The day I got my Mark broke her heart. Mind you, she wasn't blunt enough, but then I don't think it would have mattered how blunt she had been.
As if I didn't hate Potter enough, due to him and his little band of Gryffindors, my father was incarcerated in Azkaban. Naturally, there was my father's version of events and the real version, and I chose to believe my father. I think most children would have done the same. For years I'd only had half of the story, and the half I had had told me that Potter could do no wrong in Dumbledore's eyes. Had I had any doubts, which, well, I didn't, then there was that business of Potter slicing me open from naval to chin and getting nothing more than a "Now, now, Harry."
I have to admit that my hatred of Potter had a huge hand in my wishing for Voldemort's success. Having said that, I might have broken the bastard's nose, but I never came close to nearly killing him. He can't say the same.
Although the storm clouds of doubt were beginning to gather my sixth year, the last year was nothing more than sheer hell. No doubts then remained. It's all there in the book. The ever-increasing reality that Voldemort was a complete and utter psychopath. That all his bleating about pure-blood hegemony was really nothing more than so-much bollocks in his quest for immortality. I saw people tortured. I saw people begging for their lives. I saw people killed just for the sheer joy of killing them.
At one point, right after a truly sickening display of cruelty--I had my hand on my stomach to stop myself from throwing up--I happened to catch my mother's eye. In that brief glance we exchanged volumes of information that all boiled down to, "Yes, I get it now." I'm sure Potter will go to his grave wondering why I didn't shout from the rooftops his identity to Bellatrix, but it was our only chance out.
Self-serving? Yes and no. It was as much for my family as it was for everyone else. I saw people that I thought I loved become monsters. My father and Vince to name just two. People like Yaxley and the Carrows were now sitting at our dinner table. These weren't the cream of wizarding society. This wasn't the vision of wizarding elite that my father had held forth on year after year at that very dinner table. No, these were thugs, and no amount of "talk" could conceal that. Voldemort's army was composed of nothing but thieves, murderers, and criminals.
This book was to tell Scorpius about that stupid young man. That as much as a good man may become bad, a bad man may become good. That at that age you can make horrible, life-changing mistakes. And if you're lucky, that you can survive, maybe, and if you do, learn from them. That his father wasn't a bad man. He might not been a particularly good man, certainly not like Potter--who'd I'd come to believe was truly unique--in fact, and you may laugh at this, but I was fairly average. I had been incredibly stupid, like many young men, and I had had the good fortune, when given the opportunity--after years of making the stupidest choices imaginable--to make the right choice. No one in their right mind, even with his face destroyed by that curse, wouldn't know that was Potter; the eyes gave him away. Even as I said it, I was praying to Merlin that he would take this chance I'd given him and make the best of it, because it was doubtful I'd have another. Ironically, it was also my last chance. I couldn't hope to repudiate everything I'd done in the last two years by one act, but it was a step.
I hadn't written the book for money. I wrote it so that my son would understand why I had become a Death Eater. The gay part was part of the whole. I wanted him to know me. All of me. All of his father in his very imperfect glory.
How does one come out to one's son? Not something that most parenting manuals ever discuss. I assume he knew on one level. But there's knowing and there's knowing. Of course, being honest about one's preferences in the confines of one's home and baring your soul on page two-hundred and fifty-six is quite different. No teenager wants to confront his parents' sexuality. I certainly couldn't imagine my parents between the sheets. Merlin's balls, nausea-inducing doesn't even begin to cover it. If imagining your parents to be asexual is probably status quo, it's a completely different kettle of flobberworms to learn that your father is resolutely gay and that your mother is, well, Merlin, I really had no idea what Astoria was. I always assumed she had lovers. Maybe not. Frankly, I didn't really care, and I had no intention of asking.
I hadn't been a complete troll. I did ask Astoria's permission to write the book. When she asked why now, which of course was her right, I said, "Part of it relates to my father's death. Part of it is Scorpius. I'm at a point where I need to drop all of my masks. Lay bare that year before Voldemort's defeat. Lay bare my years of hiding who I am sexually. I'm forty years old, darling. I've restored the Malfoy bank account at Gringotts to its pre-war magnificence vis a vis the royalties from all those crappy novels I've written, and I want to write something true. At least true to me."
We had been sitting in the garden sharing a post-dinner drink, enjoying that stillness right before dusk. The scent of roses about to bloom filled the air as spring was impatiently sitting on winter's coattails, just waiting for the right moment. Her silence gave me no indication of "yay" or "nay." This is one of the things I appreciate about her. She never wastes or minces words.
"I have no intention of slandering you in this book," I had insisted. "You have been a fabulous wife and a stellar mother, and I happen to think we are partners in nearly all senses of the word. I mean to express that the best way I know how. If public opinion turns against me, I'll divorce you so that you can slander me in the press to your heart's content. But I need to write this. I need to explain to Scorpius and to publically own this so that he understands that I am still the man who loves him. Who is imperfect in a million ways, but is also not a bad man and a good father, if albeit a very stupid one. And the gay business? Well, it's part of who I am. If I'm dropping masks, then all of them must go."
She sloshed the cognac around in her glass for a few seconds and then said, "Then write it."
What a magnificent woman.
There was a side of me that rebelled against all this asking of permission. Because I'd reached a point where the burden of juggling all of my worlds had become, in a word, untenable. Draco Malfoy and writer of trashy romantic novels and decent parent meet the former Death Eater, that extremely supremely stupid young man you used to be. Meet your older big bad boy self. Who is as gay as a bent Knut and who is and was thoroughly ashamed of his role in the last two years of the war. I didn't want sympathy so much as understanding. I was a good father and a fairly decent husband in the sense that I treated my wife with utmost respect, the two of us partners in all senses of the word except the sexual one, so why would it matter?
But it did matter. One is not an island. My writing this "tell all" would affect the two of them, aside from my mother, the people I loved best on this Earth, and I couldn't proceed without their understanding and blessing. Scorpius had said yes, well, it was more of a shrug than anything else, as if he truly didn't care. And with Scorpius' tacit approval, Astoria didn't object. I wouldn't say she exactly approved, but she didn't oppose me.
Years five, six, and seven were repeats. Scorpius eventually warmed up to Astoria; me, he more or less ignored. I spent those years writing this book. After the Leaving Feast he announced to us that he was decamping in two days for an internship in New Zealand at some dragon breeding compound in the wilds of the North Island. Hiding our shock, we gripped each other's hand tightly as we congratulated him. Before he Portkeyed away, I slipped an Advanced Reading copy of the book into his shirt pocket with the whisper that I loved him. I didn't get a response back. Then he was gone with a whoosh. I assume he's read it by now, but I really don't know. Astoria receives owls every now and then, but they are all about breeding dragons and how he'd give his right arm to have a decent cup of espresso.
Oddly enough the one person I had been afraid of approaching was my mother. Her permission I did need. After all, my story was also her story. That last year when Voldemort began amassing more and more power, and his insanity become more and more manifest, I watched my father mentally disintegrate and my mother only become stronger. With a detachment that was frankly terrifying, she watched my father's repeated debasement with a cold eye. But for her, I doubt we'd have survived the year. No one could predict Voldemort's moods or whims, but she marginalized the influence of Aunt Bellatrix when she could--because Voldemort might be crazy but he also recognized that Bellatrix's strength and weakness was her mental volatility--put the Carrows in their place more than once--Voldemort needed thugs like the Carrows but he hated stupid people and the Carrows were as thick as two planks--and conveyed with a flick of her eyebrow what she thought of people like Yaxley and Mulciber. I think she amused Voldemort. He knew that she knew that she was powerless, but more often than not, Voldemort shared her contempt. He needed thugs and ruffians and sociopaths like Dolohov to crush the Order and defeat Potter, but he didn't like them.
Finally I mustered up the courage to tell her my plans. We had tea once a week at the house she shared with my Aunt Andromeda. When my father died, she immediately closed up the Manor and moved in with her sister, who always seemed to be on her way out the door whenever I appeared.
"Does she hate me?" I had asked one day.
"Don't be silly, Draco, You're a Black."
Which I suppose went a long way toward explaining how the two of them could come to terms given the death of her daughter and husband at the hands of Death Eaters.
My father's death had freed both of us, I suppose. I do know that I had woken up the day after my father's funeral feeling strangely free. Astoria was still asleep, her dark hair splayed across the pillow, her hand flung over my pillow in a graceful arc. We were back in Malfoy Manor, having buried my father in the family vault the day before. My mother had basically stopped sleeping after the events twenty years ago, so even though the thin lip of dawn was just peeking up over the horizon, she would, no doubt, be working on her second cup of tea by now. I needed to join her. Raising my wand to cast a shaving charm--one did not appear in front of my mother for breakfast without having performed one's basic morning ablutions and even though I was blond, I had a ridiculous problem with facial hair; twice-daily shaves were de rigueur--I stared in the mirror as a magical razor exorcized the night's fuzz from my face. I forced myself to finally admit the receding hairline. The simple acceptance that I would be as bald as a house-elf by the time I hit fifty began a very real reckoning of a number of unpleasant physical realities. Being young and gay can be marvelous. Being old and gay, perhaps not so much? Well, I would just have to deal. That my father had to die for me to finally become an adult? Par for the course, really.
My father's last years had been grim. The post-Azkaban years were characterized by, basically, Firewhiskey. He drank himself to death. My mother lived in one half of the Manor, spending an inordinate amount of time with us in Italy, two months here, four months there, always, I think with the hope that he'd be dead by the time she'd returned. It takes a lot longer than you think to kill yourself with booze. It wasn't until the Christmas of Scorpius' third year at Hogwarts that his liver finally said enough. His death sparked a resurgence of copy in the Prophet on his role in Voldemort's rise. All former Death Eater's and their roles were rehashed. I wasn't mentioned that much, but then even a brief mention would be horrifying for a young man. Scorpius's withdrawal the following summer made perfect sense. Of course, that meant that I could hate my father all over again. Even dead he was still capable of ruining my life.
When I told my mother that I had intended to write this book she stopped mid-pour. "You wouldn't have written this when he was alive, would you?"
No need to define who he was.
At some point I hoped that she would tell me her story with my father. There was a part of me that yearned for it to be a love story. There was an equally strong part of me that wished it was nothing more than a marriage between two families for political and economic gain.
"It will not make your father a better man," she had warned and then filled the rest of my cup.
"Of course not," I had replied. "The book isn't for me. It's for Scorpius."
She had put a hand on my cheek and said, "It might not make you a better man in his eyes."
To which I had no reply.
Sometimes magic surprises even me. Potter's owl had sought me out in the greenhouse while all the other owls were depositing the fanmail (or hatemail) down the chimney. I knew it was Potter's bird because he seems to have a lock on those snowy owls, and the pecking on the greenhouse window was extremely polite. As if I needed any more evidence that this was from Potter, the writing was basically illegible. There were several somethings scrawled, Merlin knows what, then a "meet me," another scrawl of several words, something that looked like "tomorrow", more scrawl, and then the word "drinks," which was the only truly legible word in the whole note. At least I think it was from Potter. The first letter of the name at the bottom vaguely looked like a "P." I guess I'd find out tomorrow night.
In my perfect cursive--my mother had been an utter tyrant about handwriting, something I railed against as a child but appreciated most assiduously as an adult--I wrote, "I assume this is you, Potter. Meet me at 7:00 pm at the American Bar in the Savoy (which is on the Strand near Waterloo Bridge in Muggle London). DM."
I normally loathe everything American. It seems to be a country that is socially bipolar. An obsession with straight, ultra white teeth and rigid, over-styled hair is combined with a tendency to wear shorts for all occasions, not even weddings are sacrosanct, and a fervent hatred of proper shoes. What is one to do with a shoe called Crocs? Burn every single one of them is my answer. I don't care how comfortable they are. But the American Bar at the Savoy, which has the plus of being a British interpretation of things American, is about as decadent and fine a bar as I've ever had to privilege to get stinking drunk at. In my trolling years, it used to be a favorite. I've always kept my lusting confined to the Muggle world. Astoria has had enough to deal with without me rubbing my love for dick in her face. So to speak. I'm not as randy as I had been, so the cruising of bars for equally randy young men has tapered off considerably. I hadn't been there in a couple of years, but I had every confidence that the martinis would still be as stellar.
The avalanche of mail regarding the book had shocked even me. The house-elves were working night and day to clean up the owl shit dotting my roof and windows. A small price to pay for fame. My publisher, who irritatingly didn't even bother to hide his surprise at its phenomenal reception, gleefully began putting together a last-minute, massive book tour of the U.K. and the States. I had insisted that he include New Zealand so that I could get paid for the pleasure of visiting Scorpius, which given the sales, he agreed to in a blink of an eye. Time to finally face each other and have this out.
Half the mail was laudatory and half was hate mail. The hate mail was equally divided between those who equated homosexuality with the slaughter of innocent children and those poor people who'd been Voldemort's victims. Piss on those homophobes. I consigned all those letters into the fire. They didn't deserve a response. The others I felt compelled to answer.
Naturally, since that psychopathic bastard been defeated or died or killed or whatever in the hell had happened in that final battle between him and Potter, there wasn't a focus for their understandable grief and accompanying rage. Twenty-five years wasn't that long ago. Plus, most of the Death Eaters were either dead or had been given life sentences and therefore locked away from the public's ire. That I, apparently, got off scot-free rankled. Potter's testimony had been public, and his insistence that I had lied to Bellatrix to protect him seems to have been conveniently forgotten now that they had a "someone" on whom to vent their rage, a reaction I understood. Hell, I wish I had someone I could vent my rage on. Plus, there was that ever constant, inevitable backlash against anything Malfoy, which is why I wrote my pot-boilers under a pseudonym all those years. My father had been a first-class SOB his entire life. I couldn't blame them. I hated him, too. And if he had had enemies before the second coming of Voldemort, it was nothing compared to post-Voldemort years. Now that my father was dead, why not shift all of that justifiable animosity onto his son?
Not that I publicized it because there was no way that it wouldn't be interpreted as anything more than an extravagant publicity ploy, but half of my royalties from the book were being donated to St. Mungo's and the other half to Hogwarts for scholarships. I had no intention of profiting off of this book. For one thing, I didn't need the money, and for another thing, even though my standards are pretty damn low, they aren't that low. I considered it blood money, frankly. This was a cleaning of the personal slate, not a means of adding to my ever-growing pile of filthy lucre in at Gringotts. At a certain point, money just makes money. The sales from my second novel had paid off the war reparations, and after that it was like I had my own personal mint, churning out Galleons with almost no effort. The public's appetite for trashy novels had surpassed even my expectations. Sex sells very well. Who knew?
I'd always assumed that Potter was one of those perpetually late buggers, whereas I was one of those nauseatingly early types. If I've learned anything in my forty-three years, it's that sloppy grooming and an oh-so-casual approach to time seem to go hand in hand. So it was with some surprise that as I crossed the room, I saw that Potter was already parked in a banquette. Even more surprising, not only had he arrived early, but he had nearly finished his second martini. Wearing his standard boring gray flannels and white button down with a grey vee-neck sweater that looked disturbingly Hogwarts'-era-ish, he'd chosen a booth at the far end of the room, away from the few early birds who were working on their gin-for-dinner drinks.
Catching the eye of the bartender, I pointed at Potter's glass and held up two fingers. I had some catching up to do. I slid into the booth. "Sorry, did I say six? I apologize. I thought we were meeting at seven."
"No, you're on time, actually. I knocked off early." He looked around the room and gave me a small smile. "This is a great place."
Based on that weak smile, this wasn't going to be fun times.
"One of my favorites," I said in all honesty. "Good choice on the martinis. Not even my house-elves can rival them. I think they must spit in them or something. I've thought about using a spell to find out what makes them so marvelous, but that would destroy the magic, now wouldn't it? Thank you, Charles. Nice to see you, too. Yes, it's been a while." I didn't exactly down the first glass in one gulp, but I came close.
I could only imagine that Potter had invited me out to basically ream me one. There was the possibility that he had appreciated the dedication, but I rather doubt that. It was much more likely that he'd read the book, and that in his eyes all my explanations of what happened was nothing more than a coward's attempt to justify his role in those years. Over the years, I hadn't felt the need to justify my behavior to anyone, not even the Wizengamot. Except two people. My son and him. A man saves you from being incinerated alive, you owe him one.
I couldn't deny that on one level the book probably read like a massive justification. But on another, how do you expect a sixteen-year-old boy to have the wisdom of a man of forty-three? And with my upbringing? I tried not to be bitter about it, but basically my father, who should have saved me, threw me to the wolves. Well, the wolf.
Yet, even though I look back on my father with a clear eye, there is a part of me that still yearned for those days when I had respected and, yes, even revered him. I had mentioned this to my mother one day, shortly after he'd died, and she said in the saddest voice imaginable, "Yes, we all would like to chase that innocence once again." His death by alcohol was a blessing in more ways than one. I was allowed to fully hate him for his crimes and how his unbridled arrogance had destroyed my family, and I was, conversely, also allowed to love him again. And still hate him. It was complicated.
I might as well get this reaming over with. I took another gulp of the most perfect marriage of gin and chill imaginable, and then said, "First of all, I'm twenty-five years late but I do want to thank you for saving my life. Somehow it's never been the right time to say thank you, but the tardiness of that thank you is in no way a commentary. It's a heartfelt thank you." I said this in a rush because if he were going to tear strips off of me, at the very least I wanted to get that out. "Second--;"
"No, listen. I know that my book seems nothing more than a massive justification for my--
He cut me off again, but this time he held up a hand.
"I haven't read your book, Malfoy. Not the first half, anyway. Can't. Too close to the anniversary, and, well, too close, period. I'm trying to forget those years, not remember them." He said all this into his now-empty martini glass. "I've managed to whittle it down to nightmares only three nights a week. Reading your book would probably bounce me back up to five nightmares a week, maybe even seven. So with all due respect, I'm going to have to give it a pass." He motioned the waiter for another round.
I hiked an eyebrow.
"Far be it from me to give you advice, but three of those will put you over the moon and not in the way that you want. I suggest a water back--a very large water back--if you don't want the hangover from hell tomorrow. I'm down to two, sometimes one hellish night a week, but then you had a much more horrific time than I did. Writing the book actually helped a bit. Put some ghosts to rest." I raised my glass in salute, finished it off, and took a big swill off of my second. "So, if it's not the book, then…" my voice trailed off.
I'd been avoiding looking at him directly because I never liked the taste of crow, and in writing my book I'd forced myself to eat a fucking ton of it. Most of it a la Potter. Had Dumbledore basically given him a pass his entire six years at Hogwarts? Damn straight. How many years had I had to listen to the murmurings of what a fantastic wizard Potter was, and then the stupid bastard nearly kills me with a spell he had no idea what it did and then to compound his initial stupidity, didn't even know the counterspell. Thank Merlin's balls for Snape. I still had that scar, and whenever I was nearly paralyzed with self-loathing, I ran a finger over it to remind myself. What I hadn't known was colossal and from my limited POV, it seemed that Potter had got away with murder. Nearly literally. There were good reasons for that, but we truly didn't know. Which doesn't excuse my perfectly nasty behavior, but it does give it some context.
Right. Draco, grow a pair. Face him and get whatever you've got coming. Someone who risks his own life to save that of one of his greatest enemies might actually have something to say to you that you want to hear.
The drink arrived and Potter's hand made a frantic grab for it. Hello, what was going on here? I looked at him, really looked at him. He'd kept his Seeker's build, much as I'd kept mine. I ran three miles a day, partly to combat depression and partly because I was a vain bugger; I wonder what Potter did to stay fit. Whatever it was, Weasley didn't follow suit. The last time I saw the Weasel, he'd put on a good four stone. If I was going bald, Potter was going gray. It was hard to tell in the light, but it looked like his eyes had deteriorated even more over time; the lenses on his glasses were hellishly thick. Dark circles the width of my finger lay heavy beneath his eyes, and if I didn't know better, I'd swear he'd been crying.
Before I could self-censure, I blurted out, "Potter, you look like utter shite. Back off on those martinis, man. They don't agree with you. Been known to have a few crying jags on these things myself." That got a strangled bark of what sounded like ironic amusement and he proceeded to down his whole goddamn drink in one go. "Potter?"
"How did you know," he growled out, in a very good imitation of the hostility with which he'd regarded me at fifteen.
"Know? Know what?" I demanded, trying to keep my voice even. Potter and I never been able to communicate in anything but snarls, but I'd hoped we were beyond that now. Christ, we were in our forties.
Then he began that stupid hair carding that had always driven me mad.
"Stop with the hair business or I'll smack your hand, and I swear it will hurt like a motherfucker. What's going on?"
Taking a big breath before lowering his eyes, he began talking as if to the tabletop. He'd never had had any trouble confronting me before. What in the hell was going on?
"Okay, I read some of your book; I skipped to the second half. Ron. He. He hated the whole book by the way. Said you were nothing more than a stupid evil git."
"The Weasel hated my book. Surprise, surprise." Ugh, that sounded unbearably snide. "Potter, why do you always bring out the worst in me? So Ron Weasley didn't like my book. If he'd been responsible for maiming my brother, assuming I had one, I wouldn't like his book either. So?"
Potter is famous for his bravery. While at Hogwarts I'd personally never witnessed it and pooh-poohed such tall tales as nothing but spin from his fawning acolytes until he swopped down and grabbed my hand to save me from the Fiendfyre. And then the word "brave" didn't quite cover it. He began folding his cocktail napkin into squares over and over again until he couldn't fold it anymore, and then he looked up.
"How did you know you were gay?" It wasn't condemnation, but a plea.
"It wasn't rocket science. I mean, some fit young man grabbed me by the tie and--"
"But you were married! And you had children!" Potter said all this is a voice that was far too loud and far too revealing. He wasn't talking about me. He might as well have said, "I'm married, and I have children, so why am I having these doubts. Why did you have doubts?"
"We're not talking about this here," I said in a low voice. I extracted forty pounds from my money clip, threw the bills on the table, led him into men's, grabbed his wrist, and we Apparated to our flat off of Diagon Alley.
While I fussed with the tea pot, Potter shuffled back and forth in front of the fireplace, warming his arse on the fire. The days were still warm, but the nights had that characteristic bite of early fall.
I handed him his cup, assuming he liked lots of milk and three lumps of sugar. He seemed that sort. I took mine black.
I waited for him to speak.
"Nice flat," he noted, cupping the tea cup in his palms.
I'd let Astoria have free rein, and fortunately her decorating sensibilities dove-tailed with mine, as in lots of leather and mahogany, with not a hint of chintz. The formal French furniture that I'd been surrounded by as a child now seemed ridiculously overwrought. Those years we spent in Italy had left their mark. Not that she went berserk and went all Milan-inspired black leather and chrome. No, it was resolutely English--albeit colorful in a nod to Florence--with modern art on the walls, extremely comfy chairs, and an overblown sofa that I could cheerfully sleep on every night of the year. Our flat resembled a high-end men's club. The only thing missing was a billiards table.
"Yes, Astoria's blessed with exquisite taste. The Greengrasses own the building. The flat was a wedding present. We lived here for years before we bought the place in the country. Daphne lives across the hall. She and Astoria are especially close."
"Yeah, I know where Daphne lives," he said with irritation. "She works for me, remember?"
That's right. I always conveniently forget that she works in the Auror's office. One of those Ministry brides who works for pittance and is married to her job, they'll have to cart her out feet first.
"Yes, of course. Silly me. It's a blessing that she lives across the hall. I'm not here that much, and Astoria can't play bridge day and night." Privately, I worried constantly about Astoria getting lonely. But if I stay too long in town I become insufferable and manic, and she inevitably ends up banning me to the country for two weeks. "She's not that keen on the country. Raging hay fever and the potions to combat it make her too drowsy. But I'm something of a country boy, still, I'm afraid. You can take the boy out of the country, but not the country out of the boy. More tea?" He shook his head. "I have become the sort of man who goes into hysterics if he spies a snail or sees so much as a spot of rust on his roses. Wiltshire's home. Always has been. Even with…" I waved a tired hand. This is what life has been like since the end of the war, a lot of half-finished sentences. As if it were just too awful to complete them. "When Scorpius left for Hogwarts, she slowly began to spend more and more time here. I stay here during opera season. Other than that?" I shrugged.
His shoulders began to curve inward. Like it was going to hurt to talk, and maybe it would.
"Is that how it works? She lives here, you live there. Will she, you know, be home soon?"
How to explain my marriage? I had glossed over it in the book mostly in deference to Astoria's privacy. How much do I reveal?
"No, on a shopping spree in Paris for a couple of days. Kitting up the upcoming book tour. Potter, do sit down. This is going to take a bit and having you looming over me like some Dementor is a little disconcerting."
He plopped down in Astoria's club chair, the one opposite mine.
"Potter, were you a virgin when you got married?"
"Yes," he replied with an overtone of belligerence.
"So was I, so lose that tone. Contrary to rumor, Pansy and I were not boinking each other in our fifth year. I--"
"Everyone thought fourth year, actually," Potter murmured.
"Merlin, I don't know whether that's a compliment on my alleged sexual prowess or you're insinuating that everyone thought I was a total slag."
"What do you think, Malfoy?" Potter was grinning.
"Moving on," I glared at him, "in our sixth year, when I nearly killed everyone but the one person I was tasked to kill, I stopped having erections. And I didn't start getting them again until I was nineteen. My father was back in Azkaban, and my mother and I were living on the proceeds of her pawned jewelry."
I will never forget that afternoon.
"You don't know my mother, but the woman has brass balls. I had been sleeping twenty hours a day, only getting up to eat meals. I wasn't exactly catatonic with depression, but pretty damn close. She marched into my room, shoved me off of my bed and onto the floor, and ordered me to get up. 'We are Flooing to the Greengrasses in an hour. Shower, shave, and brush your teeth,' she demanded, and then began rummaging around in my closet before throwing a set of robes on the bed with a, 'These aren't too old-fashioned, and they compliment your eyes.' Then she pointed to the bathroom and said, 'Get moving, Draco.'"
"Did you get up?" Potter was rolling his empty tea cup back and forth in the hollow of his cheek. It was, inexplicably, quite sexy.
"Hardly," I scoffed. "I lay on the floor in a massive sulk and said, 'No' in the most ferocious pout I could manage. My mother never yells, her voice actually drops an octave when she's furious. So low I could barely hear her, she said to me, 'Do you like being poor? Astoria Greengrass has specifically asked that you come. She's pretty, she's intelligent, and she's rich. She's our ticket back into the wizarding world, my dear. And if you don't get up this very instant, I'm going to hex you.'"
"You got up," Potter said, clearly amused.
"I got up. And it turns out that those three things were true. One of those girls who are lumpy and hideous at fifteen and then explode into their beauty at seventeen, Astoria was pretty, she was intelligent, and she was stinking rich to boot. Sadly, Daphne never got beyond the lumpy stage; however, I must say that she has a very wicked, ribald sense of humor that sort of smoothes over the lumps."
"She's pretty funny, especially when lit," Potter admitted.
"Holidays are never the boring affairs that they were in my youth. She and I have contests on exactly how raunchy we can get before my mother raises a condemning eyebrow. She always wins. Predictably, I go too far. Anyway, Astoria and I were married three months later, the day she turned eighteen."
"But the, you know…" Potter blushed.
"Gay part? That little epiphany didn't happen right away. If you read that part of the book, then you know we were living in Florence at the time, some years later. You were twenty. By the time my dick had recovered, I was desperate to fuck pretty much anything." I looked up for confirmation that Potter hadn't been any different.
"The same for me," he admitted.
Although I'm positive that my face didn't betray me, I was not a little shocked that Potter was willing to admit that he and I had shared, well, any common experiences. It's not so much an issue now, but the taboo against homosexuality was still in force when we were in school. The only person I knew who never gave a toss what people thought of him was Blaise Zabini, and that was because Zabini wasn't gay so much as he wasn't particular. He'd even fuck McGonagall. In my case, the glory of continuing the Malfoy line meant that my orientation was never in question. I often wonder if my father suspected that my true orientation was anything but hetero. It might explain his constant harping on potential wives among our pure-blood friends. It also might explain my mother's silence. Potter? It was fairly clear that he'd been earmarked for the She-Weasel from day one. Her infatuation with him was obvious, despite that pathetic attempt to make him jealous by dating that Corner fellow. Plus, I would imagine that trying to survive Voldemort took precedence over any other burning questions, like whether or not he preferred dick.
"That's two things we have in common. There is nothing more driven than a young man with a dick. It's something of a curse," I said, trying to inject some humor into this conversation. "Anyway, nature is a ruthless task master at that age, and I thought that my compulsion to fuck was evidence enough of my heterosexuality. Fortunately, I did fall in love with her, and I love her to this day. We are partners. She is my editor, a fantastic mother, and my best friend. So yes, I love her." Potter had a confused scrunch to his forehead. "Let's put it this way. I wanted to fuck her because I had to fuck something or I'd have gone mad. What I didn't understand at that age is that there's a big difference between a banquet and a snack."
Potter closed his eyes, tight, like he was trying not to cry. Which I ignored.
"Since I assumed that my raging need to put my dick in a hole meant that it wanted a female hole, we married as one does when one is supposedly heterosexual. Right after Scorpius was born, we emigrated to Italy. I wanted to write, Astoria had a cough that just wouldn't clear up, and being cut in public was really starting to become ridiculously boring. We hightailed it to Florence with the thought of staying a few years and then come back when people's memories were a little dimmer."
Marrying into the Greengrass family hadn't assured our re-entrance into wizarding society. One of the few times my mother has been wrong. Despite marrying Astoria with the Greengrasses' blessing, people still cut me. Although the Greengrasses had been on the right side, it wasn't enough to erase my sins of decidedly being on the wrong side. Italy was the answer to a number of our problems.
"It was there… Florence…" Potter's voice trailed off yet again.
"I changed some of the details in the book because Ralph is now the dean at the Hogwarts equivalent in the States. Stories of him trolling for tricks in cafes when he was supposedly doing research for his Ph.D. wouldn't go over very well with those parents he extorts money from on a frequent basis. It wasn't at a museum, like I wrote in the book. I was sitting in a cafe, trying to finish up a truly execrable novel, which went on to become a best seller by the way. An American with the finest arse I have ever seen came up to me and said, 'If your dick is as delectable as your bottom lip, we are going to have a fine time.' He wrote the address of his flat on a napkin."
"Just like that?" Potter's eyes were as big as saucers.
"More or less. In a voice so frosty that I'm sure there were icicles dripping from my chin, I had replied, 'I'm waiting for my wife.' He leaned over the table, stroked the line of my chin, and said, 'Sure you are.' I told myself that I went to his flat just to tell him how wrong he was. No sooner had I knocked on the door than it flung open, he grabbed me by the tie, yanked me into the room, shoved me back against the door, and kissed me so hard that I busted my top lip against my teeth. It was like I had died and gone to heaven."
Oh, that afternoon had been fun. What a delight Ralph had been. We were friends with benefits for years until Scorpius started to speak only in Italian, and it was then that we knew we had to return home. We were English. We wanted Scorpius to be English.
"And that, you know, the s-s-s-s-sex..."
"Not the sex per se, Potter. Notwithstanding the fact that Ralph was especially gifted at giving blow jobs, it was that it felt right."
Rubbing his lips back and forth with the flat of his hand, Potter mulled this over for a few seconds, and then begged in a voice raw with desperation, "But how did you know?"
How had I known? It was more a case of how could I not know. Would that all the epiphanies in my life had been that simple.
"Touching another man felt true, Potter, and in an inexplicable way, correct. I can't put it any other way. Like that part of myself had been wandering in the desert and then found home."
I left it at that. Potter stared into the fire.
"More tea? Or something stronger."
He shook his head.
"And Astoria?" he asked, still not looking at me.
"All of a sudden, our lackluster sex life made sense. I went home from that rather delicious tryst and told her that I loved her, that I had no intention of leaving her, but that I'd had a motherfucking epiphany regarding my sexuality. The ball was in her court. Fortunately, she decided to stay with me."
One of the most painful conversations of my life. I think what finally convinced her to at least attempt to stay married was my insistence that although Scorpius was and would always be first in my life, she was second, and I would never humiliate her or betray her outside of the bedroom. She had loved me, had wrapped her arms around me, when no one else but my mother could stand to be in the same room with me, and that counted for a lot in my book; I never let myself forget it. I wanted to stay married to her; I just didn't want to sleep with her. It took nearly two years, but at some point she realized that I meant every word, and we went forward. I kept my sex life completely divorced from our relationship. Indeed, nothing changed except that we stopped having sex. Which didn't seem to be a deal breaker as far as she was concerned. Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm was more evident than I realized.
"I don't think it was merely for Scorpius' sake. I believe she loved me enough to have an imperfect life together. I respect her. I love her. I assume she has lovers. I don't ask. I have lovers. Nothing permanent you understand. Lots of hook-ups with men who understand that I have a wife, and I have every intention of staying with my wife." Hmmm, that sounded a little bleak. I'd never voiced my love life like that before, which when put like that was nothing more than a bunch of one-offs and the occasional repeat. But then I had Astoria, who filled in all the gaps except those that were sexual. "It happens more than you think." Did that sound defensive? "We're not that unusual." Ugh, that sounded even more defensive. "The decent men don't hang around because who wants to play second fiddle to some man's wife, and the bastards eventually get bored and want a new mouth sucking their dick."
Where was I going with this? And why was I blathering on and on, telling Potter things that I hadn't revealed in the book, indeed, hadn't ever voiced, period. I'd been talking about me for the last hour. It was time to turn the tables a bit.
"Are you happily married, Potter?"
He didn't answer me but got up and began slowly pacing in front of the fire again. The room was now fair to roasting so I can only imagine that he just couldn't sit still any longer.
"She really doesn't mind?"
Hmmm, so it was back to me again.
"She doesn't mention it if she does. We lead rather traditional lives, believe it or not. We buy each other Christmas and birthday presents just like all married couples. We both love the opera, espresso, Quidditch, and Thai food. We fight over the stupid minutia other couples fight over, like her obsession with bridge, and my compulsion to buy new shoes every other minute. Our son. I'm too lenient with Scorpius. She's too strict. We even sleep together when we're in the same house. Not," I began to qualify--
Potter waved his hand to indicate, that, yes, he got it.
"I would say that on balance, my marriage is stronger than most of the other marriages I see around me."
I was tempted to bring up Weasley's marriage as a counterpoint but thought that might be pushing it. Every time I have the misfortune of running into those two, they have painful forced smiles on their faces, like they've just had a mother of a fight and are pasting on bonhomie for appearances' sake. It doesn't matter where I see them. Train stations, Diagon Alley, in Hogsmeade, at Hogwarts. If that marriage wasn't in a heap of trouble, I'd eat my wand. Granger's brains had insured that her rise in the Ministry was meteoric, however, just like at Hogwarts, I'd heard that she wasn't that well liked. Weasley was still an Auror, under Potter, and I can't think of anything more pathetic than to still be nothing more than your best friend's sidekick twenty-five years later. No wonder he was so heavy. He probably drank himself to sleep every night.
That Skeeter cow had been silent on the subject of the Potters' marriage, so if there were cracks, then they'd done a damn good job of hiding it from everyone. She would have to have pretty solid evidence that there were problems, because Potter's halo in defeating Voldemort continued to burn bright, even twenty-five years later.
"And yours? Are you happy? I seem to remember your wife being wild about Quidditch. It's more than what a lot of married couples have in common."
Potter threw himself back into his chair, propping his elbows on his knees, and hid his face in his hands.
"I'll take that as a no."
He looked up at that, his face filled with all familiar loathing that he'd directed at me for many years.
"I don't know," he shouted and then went back to hiding his face.
I gave him a couple of minutes and then said in the least threatening voice I could manage, "Why are you here, Potter?"
It was another couple of minutes before he pulled his hands away and in the gleam from the fire I could see he'd been crying.
"I just want to be normal. I didn't ask for this fucking scar. I didn't ask for some psychotic wizard to kill my parents and then spend years trying to kill me. I just want normal. I want a wife, my kids, a house where we grow old together. You know, like everyone else. Is that too much to ask?"
I should have been sympathetic because, really, if anyone had been dealt a shitty hand in life, it was Potter. But that continued harping on "normal." Like I wasn't normal. That no gay man was normal. That if Potter was actually gay, he wasn't normal. Well, I would tell him exactly what normal was or wasn't.
I stood up and walked over to the cabinet where we kept the liquor. Willing my hands to stop shaking in rage, I poured myself a large cognac. I didn't offer him one. For one thing, he was going to have a wing ding of a hangover as it was, and for another, I didn't want his homophobic arse drinking my booze. I leaned against the cabinet.
"Potter, I was sympathetic up until just about one minute ago. I don't know if you've convinced yourself that you're gay or that you're afraid you're gay because you and Weasley tied one on and did each other in a gin-inspired love fest. I truly don't care. But where in the fuck do you get off by saying that you just want to be normal. Your gay-loving arse is normal. It's who you are. Or aren't. I don't really know, and quite frankly, I don't give a loving fuck. You are what you are. You can come to terms with your sexuality or not. You know, seeing a man and then thinking he's attractive isn't tantamount to turning gay. Maybe you're not gay. Maybe you just saw someone who happens to turn your crank. It happens."
Potter began to physically turn inward again, his shoulders folding into a parentheses, like every word I said was a mental blow. Did I care? No. Did I understand his anguish? Of course, I did, but never did I come close to hating myself because I was homosexual. Maybe I was going out on a limb here, maybe I was looking for something to tarnish that halo, but Potter was indulging in some righteous self-loathing right now, in front of a man who has just published a biography where he categorically admitted he was gay and proud of it. So Potter could just fuck himself seven ways to Sunday.
"Maybe something happened and you're like I was. All of a sudden, things make sense. It took you a lot longer than it took me, but then I decamped to Florence and that freed me from being English for a bit. You have no idea how repressive British culture is. Anyway, you can continue to live a lie with your wife, or maybe she's made of better stuff than I think she is, and you two come to terms like Astoria and I have. Or not. But do not"--I put down my glass because I was so angry that my hands were slick with sweat and I was afraid I was going to drop it, and those snifters had cost an arm and a leg--"ever again say to me that my desire for men is not normal. That I'm some freak, some deviant. I have done things in my life that are worthy of self-loathing. We both know that. But my sexuality is not one of them. The day I realized I was gay was just like I realized that I was going bald. It's there. It's part of who I am. It's as motherfucking normal as it gets. Now Floo out of here, because I'm about three seconds away from hauling back and breaking your nose for the second time in my life."
I waited for Potter to get up and leave in a huff. Because it seemed that we were destined to hate each other. Because I really did hate him once again. Blinking rapidly with his mouth hanging open just a little, he gaped at me like I had belted him across the chops. With the exception of perhaps his wife, I doubt any one ever called him on his shit. Yes, I imagine his wife ripped him a new one now and then. She always struck me as someone with a rather vile temper. Her mother is a bit of a tartar; I didn't imagine the daughter was much different. I've got a rotten temper myself, and I can easily spot it in others.
Right about the time I was going to demand that he leave, he shut his mouth, stood up, and held out his hand. "Sorry. That was awful of me. Sorry."
I didn't feel like taking it, but the man had saved my life. I took a deep breath and tried to mentally shake away all that rage. Taking his hand, I noted that it was as clammy and damp as my own. God, we were both emotional wrecks.
"Do you want a cognac? I advise against it, but it's your hangover," I grumbled.
"Please," he replied and sat down again.
I'd been telling myself that all the piles of anti-homosexual screeds that arrived daily and were not worth the parchment they were written on hadn't bothered me. Apparently I was wrong. Perhaps I owed Potter a bit of an explanation. I poured him a snifter rather full of cognac, handed it to him, and sat down and took a restoring sip from my own glass.
"I've been getting a lot of mail in the last couple of weeks. Some of it fanmail, as you might expect, but about half of it is hate mail of the very worst sort. The letters that condemn me for being a Death Eater I understand. I actually answer those with as much courtesy as I can. I do not answer the ones that accuse me of polluting decent society with my unnatural urges, and that I should be flogged to death or killed in some equally violent way to repent for all those awful gay things I've done. Clearly it's made me a wee bit sensitive. Apology accepted."
"Save those letters," Potter ordered. "We want to see every single one of them. As it is, your publisher has contacted the Auror's office. You're going to have undercover protection on your tour."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh please. Is that really necessary?"
"Are you telling me how to do my job?"
"God forbid," I mocked. He managed to cobble together a smile. I smiled back and suddenly everything was all right between us again.
"Potter, let's just leave it like this. We seem to have stopped growling at each other, and that's a rare thing. Go home to your wife and talk to her. I was lucky. A brash American pushed me over the edge. I doubt you're going to find any wizard who would ever consider propositioning you, no matter how fetching you are, because of who you are. So yes, I concede your point about wanting normal. Because you aren't normal but not because you might be gay. But because you're Harry Potter."
"Lucky me," he whispered. Still he didn't move, just cradled his glass in his hands, taking little sips now and then. We sat in front of that fire together in a peaceful silence, the most serene moments I have ever experienced with him over the thirty-two years of our odd acquaintance.
When he'd finished his cognac he set the glass down on coffee table with a bit of a drunken lurch and said in a low voice, "I need to know."
"So go back to the bar, it's probably hopping by now, and pull someone. Your clothes screech Marks and Sparks, but you're amazingly fit with a slobbish charm about you. I doubt you'll--"
And then it hit me. Hard. Oh that bastard. That fucking bastard. Yes, I'd salted the book with tales of my sexual exploits, and I suppose to him, imprisoned in his pseudo-hetero middle-class glass castle, that that Malfoy slut would sleep with anyone. I'd even sleep with him. That if I lit him up like fireworks, a man he despised and had no respect for, then he must be gay.
"So you'd thought you'd scrape the bottom of the barrel and come slumming to me. And if that whore Malfoy's hand on your dick felt a bit of all right, then, well, that would be proof enough."
I could feel his blush from across the room. "No, I didn't come here for that. I just wanted... I don't know what I wanted," he confessed.
"Potter, what if I do get down on my knees and put my mouth on your dick and lick the tip very slowly, savoring every single millimeter of what I bet is a very nice dick, and then roll your balls in my mouth, and while I'm doing all this I stick my thumb up your arse. Say I do that." Whether he was aware of it or not, he ran the tip of his tongue over his bottom lip. Something of a tell, wouldn't you say? I went on. "What if the first thing I do the next morning, even before I take my morning piss, is contact Rita Skeeter and give her a lick by lick description of our evening's entertainment schedule. She'd probably wet her knickers at the thought."
Tilting his head to the side, he studied me. Despite our lives intersecting frequently in the most improbable ways, he really didn't know me. He didn't know that I was so furious that even my toe nails were angry. That I only appeared calm because we were in the eye of my fury, and any second now all hell would break loose.
"I don't think you'd do that," he finally said. "She's written some awful things about your family. I imagine you hate her as much I do."
"You don't know me, Potter," I spat out. "What in our acquaintance would make you think--" I stopped because I was about to have a stroke I was so worked up, and what in the holy hell did he...
Then a very evil thought occurred to me. I should have realized that history has a tendency to repeat itself, and throughout all my life, all my less-than-noble schemes have bitten me twice in the arse, especially those involving Potter. Did I have a single second when I thought, oh, Draco, bad idea. Move along. No, I did not.
All right if he wanted to play it that way, I'll play. I'll play so hard and so dirty that Potter will not only become convinced that he was gay, but I'd make sure that if he wasn't gay, that he would wish he were gay. I was going to give him the ride of his fucking life.
"So," I said in a low, throaty purr, running a lazy finger around the rim of my glass. I dipped my fingertip into the remnants of my cognac and then wrapped my lips around my fingertip and sucked it clean. "What if I did exactly that?"
"D-d-d-did what?" Potter stuttered, his eyes fixed on my hand as it moved back and forth from the glass to my mouth, from the glass to my mouth. I happen to have very nice hands, with long, strong, elegant fingers. Even better, I knew how to use them to my advantage.
With one last lingering suck of a fingertip, I set my glass down on the tabletop.
"Oh, you know." I was trying for coy, but somehow it came out far too serious sounding.
He shook his head.
I hadn't faced such innocence in years, and it robbed me a bit of my thunder. Seduction works best if someone knows they are being seduced. And yet the bulge in his pants said that he wasn't exactly immune to my charms. I wasn't young anymore, and, yes, my hairline was receding and that damn pointy chin of mine only got pointier as I aged, but still, in the right light I received my fair share of appreciative glances. And that trick with the cognac and the fingertip had worked like gang busters a time or two before, so...
I dropped to my knees and padded over to where he sat. Laying my head against his knee, I relished the hiss of surprise and the sudden heat emanating from his leg. Oh, this was going to be so easy. At this point I probably could just press my hand against his dick and he'd come just from the weight of my palm on him through the fabric of his trousers. Savoring this moment of pure, unadulterated triumph, I looked up, meaning to flash him a leer of manufactured want.
And then. That bastard, that total fucking bastard. As always, Potter wasn't playing by the rules. Just as I couldn't expose him to Aunt Bella when the green of his eyes had said to me at that moment, "You are better than this, Malfoy," neither could I turn this in to some sort of revenge sex because his eyes were now saying, "I trust you."
Because Potter's face might have been slick with want, his pupils so blown with desire that the infamous green nearly eclipsed, and his teeth cutting into his bottom lip, yes, all of it was there. But there was something else. This was Potter. This was the man who trusted me to help him understand who he was or wasn't. Me! Draco Malfoy. Someone who had stomped on his nose, nearly killed his best friend, and called his other best friend vile names to her face.
It might have been in the hand that cupped my cheek. Or the gaze that refused to break from mine. Or the thumb that swiped the divot of my still-pointy chin. Or the palm damp with sexual heat that stroked the hair back from my forehead. It might have been the fingertip that smoothed an eyebrow and then followed the outer shell of my right ear, ending in a languorous trail down my neck and along the flat plain of my collarbone. Yes, it might have been any one of those gestures. All together? Merlin's balls, I was gone. Over. I lay my forehead against his groin and inhaled the smell of him. A hand cupped the back of my neck and I reached around to cover it with my own.
Potter didn't want a shag. For Potter, sex wasn't the one-off that had defined my sexual experience for the last twenty years. No. He wanted some man to make love to him. A man who you would have thought would have been the last person on the face of this earth to trust with this knowledge, a man who everyone he knew would have thought incapable of such tenderness and gentleness.
Potter had always brought out the worst in me. Conversely, he had always brought out the best as well.
What happened next? Nothing even remotely acrobatic or kinky. Just two men exploring each other, enjoying each other. We lay side by side in front of the fire, our legs entwined. Potter was much shorter than I was, but oddly we seemed to fit. What he lacked in height he made up for in being stupidly long-waisted with a pert arse that he had kept hidden all these years.
Not many people know this, but I have an excellent sense of humor and am rather playful. This surprised Potter, but he played along with the good-natured physical teasing. I undressed him slowly, with a caress here, a tickle there. For his first time out of the gate, I thought that blow jobs might be a little much, but a decent hand job is often very underrated. Potter had a nice fat dick that needed no excuses. He tried to do me at the same time and I batted his hand away. The only one word I said the entire time was when I pushed his hand away and said, "Enjoy," Oh he enjoyed. I played out that hand job for a good fifteen minutes. Ramping it up, slowing it down, then building him up against with a firm hand. And when I thought he couldn't stand it anymore, his mouth against my shoulder and his teeth pressed against skin, I twisted and pulled.
He came without a sound, but bit into my shoulder. It would leave a scar for months.
Before he'd even finished panting, he placed a tentative hand on me. I lay there as he explored and touched. Not surprisingly he was gentle, first smoothing his palms over my torso and back, and then hot, hot hands cupped my backside. Then as I panted and groaned out my approval, his touches became surer and even, yes, a little playful. Then finally, finally, he wrapped a hand around the back of my neck and pulled me to him. In concert with his hand moving up and down me, he began to kiss me. Merlin, Potter could kiss. I let my dick go on autopilot and just savored that mouth. Frankly, I probably could have come from the kissing alone. That mouth demanded, "More, give it up, all of it." It said, "You are mine."
Kissing is something that tends to go out the window after your twenties. You've got some experience under your belt and you know that most men prefer a mouth on their dick to a mouth on their mouth. That's your preference too. When you're young you begin with kissing because you're under the stupid impression that it's much less intimate that a hand on your cock. In truth, it's the most intimate act you can do. Because it's the ultimate barometer. I've found you can't fake a kiss. Either this person wants you or they just want your dick. It's like Veritaserum with lips.
Based on the slow, meandering tasting of my mouth, all those delightful sweeps of his tongue and bites of my lips, Potter wanted me, not just my dick. I gave it up and then some. When a dom meets his dom, there really is nothing to do but roll over. Not that I think Potter would have understood those terms and the sexual politics that can exist between people. Maybe I'm making him too innocent, who knows? What was clear was that I'm the one who usually calls the shots, and that evening I found myself giving instead of taking.
Afterwards we lay in front of the fire, Potter spooning me, our hands and groins sticky from each other. Potter's stealth possessiveness even manifested itself in post-coital bliss as his hand splayed against my stomach. Like I had said to him earlier, it felt oddly right. But when his breathing began to deepen, I realized he was falling asleep. He needed to go home.
"Potter, you should go."
He started and pulled away from me. I could hear him dressing, the sharp metallic sound of a zipper being pulled up and the rustle of a shirt being tucked into his pants. When I thought he was nearly dressed, I said, "Does that answer your question?"
His response? He kissed the back of my head and then Apparated.
I lay there for a couple of hours, with the house-elves thoughtfully restoring the fire every now and then. I felt a little beaten up, frankly. Not physically, no. With the exception of my shoulder, Potter had been gentleness personified. It was more a mental what-the-fuck? I had been with many, many men, and although I had enjoyed many, not enjoyed others, and a few that I would gladly hex if I ran into them on the street, Potter couldn't be categorized. I mulled this over and over, desperately trying to figure out where in the hell to put him when it occurred to me.
I had broken my one cardinal rule. I had brought my sex life into our flat, into my marriage.
Astoria arrived home the next afternoon, with a relaxed glow of satisfaction and the announcement that she'd, "Bought a shitload of new clothes and accessories and all of it looks fabulous on me."
I sat on the bed as she began winging all her purchases into a mountain of suitcases, chattering away about friends she'd seen in Paris and maybe we could take a trip next spring and... Then she stopped talking.
"What's wrong?" she demanded. "You haven't said a single word since I got home, and your face is as gloomy as a house-elf."
I had never lied to her and I wasn't about to begin now.
"I broke my cardinal rule, and I'm horribly sorry."
A black lace bra with matching panties fell on the floor as my announcement broke her concentration.
"Here or in the country?" Her voice was flat, but I knew that it would far worse here, because this was her place as much as the country was mine.
I swallowed and said, "Here."
She threw her wand at me.
"You bastard, how dare you!" she shouted. "How dare you bring some tart you picked up at a Muggle bar into my home!"
"It wasn't some random pick-up," I insisted, steeling myself because I wasn't sure if admitting it was Potter made it worse or better.
She folded her arms and waited.
"It was Potter."
That floored her. Well, if she'd come home and said she'd just had sex with Harry Potter, I think my legs would have given out from under me and I'd have collapsed in a chair, too.
"You're lying," she whispered.
I shook my head.
"That's disgusting, Draco. What was this, some sort of revenge sex on your part? Did you get him drunk and then--"
This was so close enough to the mark that my mortification manifested it in an anger that I rarely turned on her.
"No, he owled me," I snapped back. "He was plowing back the drinks like there was no tomorrow, and I tried to stop him. For your information, he approached me because he thought that I was a total man whore, and if anyone wouldn't mind shagging pretty much anyone, it would be me. Apparently, he's confused. Well, you damn well better believe he's not confused anymore. I regret bringing him here, but I swear to you that I didn't meet him with the intention of seducing him, unlike he did. So fuck off." The minute the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. "Sorry, sorry, love. I didn't..." and for the first time in our entire marriage I burst into tears.
I Apparated to Bookend, threw myself into a chair in the lounge, and sobbed and sobbed. God, was this for my father, my youth, the end of my marriage, the end of my relationship with my son? I didn't know. These felt like old tears and new tears and there were so many of them that I think I sat there sobbing for a good thirty minutes.
When I opened my eyes, Astoria was standing at the door, a cigarette in her hand.
"Don't," I croaked and held up my wand to banish it. We'd stopped smoking after Scorpius was born. I have a smoker's personality, and I thought it a considerable victory that I'd actually quit permanently. To see her puffing away, with a defiant tilt to her chin... A wave of her wand and the cigarette was back in her hand. She took a puff, just to spite me, and then chucked the butt into the fireplace.
"I've never seen you like this," she said, her eyes raking over me. I couldn't even speak. I started crying again, albeit more of a slow trickle down my face. "This was a one-off?"
I nodded, although I suppose I didn't really know. Bollocks, of course I knew. I nodded more forcefully.
"You are never to do anything like that again, do you hear me?"
I nodded again.
"We will go on your book tour and then we will see."
Exhausted beyond belief, it was all I could do to get out a raspy, "Yes. Fine."
"Accio handkerchief," she said. I half expected her to throw it at me. But she came toward me and I steeled myself for a slap across the face. She began wiping the tears off of my cheeks. I grabbed her, held her, and began crying again, my tears soaking her hair.
The book tour was a rousing success. Sell-out crowds wherever I went. Britain, Scotland, and Ireland were a bit of a trial as the audience was split evenly down the middle, populated by those who loved my trashy romances versus those who wanted to kill me for my Death Eater past. The tour of the States went marginally better. All my prejudices regarding the States were happily confirmed, and with the exception of New Orleans and New York City, which I absolutely fell in love with, the rest of the United States seemed relentlessly parochial.
I hadn't realized that my publisher had opted for a publicity strategy that played up my criminal past--the Death Eater that got away sort of nonsense--but I have to admit it sold books. I was bloody grateful for the contingent of Aurors, let me tell you. Plus, at least in the States, I always could snipe back that since the Americans had sat on their isolationist little hands the entire time Voldemort was terrorizing Britain, they could just shut their hypocritical traps.
Astoria and I weren't talking. After over two decades of having plenty to say, we now spent hours without uttering a single word to each other. Some of it was me. When I wasn't in front of a crowd, I basically shut down emotionally. God knows why. And then when I knew why, I really became depressed. Because I waiting for an owl to appear. Everywhere I went, I scanned the skies. Exiting buildings, I looked for owls. I always positioned myself at windows, waiting.
Not that I was aware of this until Astoria yelled at me one day, "His owl isn't going to fly to the United States for fuck's sake!"
I opened my mouth to say, "What in the hell do you mean?" but then closed it. Because I knew exactly what she meant.
On our last night in New York, with the Portkey to New Zealand sitting on the desk in our hotel room, I noticed that Astoria wasn't packing. She was staring off into space at the city lights, the now-constant cigarette in her hand.
"I'm packed," I said as a way of a hint to jumpstart her to get her things in order. I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed.
"I'm staying in New York for a couple of days before Portkeying home," she announced. "You need to come to terms with Scorpius on your own."
Which made sense, but I knew this was also her way of saying we were broken. Irreparably broken.
"I'm sorry." You can say this a million times and it still might never be enough.
She smashed out her cigarette and lit another one.
"I may never forgive you for starting me on these things again. Draco, I know you don't quite understand why I've leaving you, but then you've never really understood us."
"That's not true," I insisted. "We've had a wonderful marriage. Wonderful. We have a fantastic son and a--"
"Better than some, I admit. But Draco, do you know why I stayed with you after Florence?" With her free hand she played with the gold necklace I bought her when Scorpius was born. She's never taken it off. Although I noticed she was no longer wearing her wedding rings; they were sitting on the table next to her wine glass.
"I..." This hurt so much to say. "I thought you loved me." I felt the tears threaten again.
"Don't you dare cry," she ordered and pointed a menacing finger at my face. "If anyone gets to cry, it's me. I did love you. I do love you. But no one touches you, Draco, with the exception of Scorpius. Sometimes I think not even your mother gets all of you. After a year or two I was convinced that this was all you had to give. That I had as much of you as the war had left. And then, then..." She squeezed her eyes tight and then opened again. "Then one night with that Potter, what, maybe three hours, and he cracked you open like a walnut. You've softened finally. There's an easing of your self somehow. Something that I've only seen with Scorpius. You've been biding your time with me."
"I have not," I shouted. "Not true!" I repeated for good measure.
"Which part? The biding my time part or Potter cleaving you open part?" I didn't answer that. "I thought so," she sneered and then took a couple of deep breaths. "I told myself we'd be civil for the sake of our son, and I'm going to keep that vow. Go to New Zealand and speak to him. You have been a wonderful father. He might not recognize it now, but I believe he will eventually."
I hoped so, too. I didn't think I could survive without both of them. "And you?"
She scooped up her wedding rings threw them at me. I caught them. Some skills you never lose.
"Give them to Scorpius. You should know that there'll be someone who's waiting for me when I return. He's rather miserable in his marriage, and he thinks he will be happy with me. I've been putting him off for years. I'm not sure that I want him as much as he wants me, but he's willing to take that chance."
Is this what we've been doing? Biding our time? She was willing to accept my emotional crumbs as long everyone else was getting even fewer crumbs. I was willing to let her metaphorically live on emotional crumbs because it suited me. I had my cake and ate it too. Except that I was also starving. I just didn't know it.
"Anyone I know?" I said in a casual voice that I doubt fooled her one bit.
A wicked smile crossed her face, and for a second there she was impossibly beautiful and the malicious smirk on her face rather sexy. "I just smoke my last cigarette." She smashed the cigarette butt into a used coffee cup and then cast a smoke-be-gone charm. "Yes, you know him. Ron Weasley."
I snorted in disbelief. "Pull the other one. Who is it?"
"Ron Weasley," she repeated. "I met him again at a bridge tournament. His wife loathes bridge as much as you do. Apparently she loathes quite a lot about him."
Weasley? Had she gone mad? I admit that he wasn't the mental lummox that I'd thought he was in school, but nothing in the twenty-five years since had convinced me that that humongous chip on his shoulder had lessened over the years.
"You could do lots better," I said.
It was the wrong thing to say. Her face hardened and I knew without a doubt that my marriage was now over. But like Astoria, I didn't want this to end on a rotten note.
"I want you to be happy. If he makes you happy, then brilliant."
"It's none of your business," she said in a sharp reminder. "Someday, Draco, we may be friends again. Not soon, but for the sake of our son, some day. Now get your arse out of here. I don't care where you spend the night, but you're not spending it here."
I suppose I deserved her fury. I can't imagine anything more galling than loving someone and then realizing that this person only half loved you. And it wasn't just sexual. Astoria had never once made me cry. Some might say that's the hallmark of a good marriage. Sadly, I think I made her cry quite a bit in the beginning, she was just too proud to show me.
Weasley didn't deserve her. But then neither did I.
I Portkeyed into New Zealand the next day, landing at the entrance to the dragon compound where Scorpius was training. Slouched against the iron bars of the gate, he was waiting for us and didn't bother to hide his grimace where he realized that Astoria wasn't alongside me.
I stifled the urge to hug him--I hadn't seen him in five months--and said in what I hoped was a neutral voice, "Your mother isn't coming. Is there some place we can talk? There are things I need to say, and they are private in nature."
As he strode ahead of me, his head down in a bit of a sulk, I noticed that he had my father's walk. Let's hope he hadn't inherited my father's tendency to nurse grudges for decades. The compound was huge, with a number of enormous hangars that I suppose housed dragons. He led me to a smaller building, more of a dragon barn, where several corrals were filled with baby dragons cavorting around their pens. They were too young to fly, but the smell of sulfur in the air told me that they weren't too young to breathe fire. I stood back.
"How do you stop them from setting this whole place on fire?" I pointed at the stalls and ceiling, which were all made of, hello, wood. "Flammable much?"
"What do you think, Dad? Magic much?"
That was said, unfortunately, with the same amount of snide that I might have used. I chose to ignore it.
"Look I need to talk--"
"I heard you. I live in a dormitory, Dad. This is the most private place in my life right now. Most of the other lads are too terrified to get near that nasty bugger," he pointed to a Romanian ridgeback pup with a fierce scowl on its face.
Scorpius shrugged. "I'm good with the difficult ones."
He'd changed since I last saw him in June, having done that inevitable flip from a being a boyish man to now being a man. All the roundness in his cheeks had evaporated, and the sharp angles of his face were only marginally softened by the beard he'd grown. It was red, like mine had been at that age. I ached to reach out and touch him.
"Here," I said and handed him his mother's weddings rings. "She wants you to have these. Your mother and I are most likely getting a divorce. At this point we are technically separated, but I don't see any reconciliation on the horizon. I'm sorry."
He didn't react to that, and I wasn't sure it was because he'd been expecting this for years or whether he was so shocked that it hadn't quite registered. He stashed the rings into the front pockets of his trousers. "The book?"
"No, not directly. There was nothing in that book that surprised her. We didn't have secrets from each other. Were you surprised by the book?"
He shrugged, which had been his default reaction for the last three years. "Some stuff, yeah, some stuff no. The..." he paused, "sexual orientation stuff, no."
"Can we talk about this now, and by that I mean all of it. Please don't shrug at me because I'm on a pretty emotional tightrope right now. I can't guarantee that I won't erupt into some hellacious crying jag as it is."
"I need to feed them," he said by way of evasion, pointing the dragons, who were gnashing their teeth in what I gathered was a bid for food.
"You can feed them and listen. The last time I looked, it didn't take ears to feed dragons."
He glared at me. I held up my hands in apology.
We began walking around the pens as he began to cast a spell so that a gigantic shovel dumped what looked like mountains and mountains of scrambled eggs onto the floors of the pens. If I never hear the sound of hungry dragons gorging themselves on heaps of cold eggs, it will be too soon.
"You didn't really know your grandfather, Scorpius. By the time you came along, he'd degenerated into a raging, bitter drunk. Before the war he was sober and Voldemort's second in command. Indeed, he was one of the most powerful men in wizarding Britain, some say the shadow Prime Minister. Given that Voldemort was a psychopath, I'll leave it to you to make your own conclusions regarding your grandfather's character." How do you explain to a young man the lure of power? I saw my father and how people were so respectful and jumped when he said jump. What I didn't realize is that people didn't so much respect him as fear him. "Unfortunately, my personal epiphany regarding our relationship didn't occur until I was about seventeen. Up until that point, I would and did anything in a bid for his approval. Did you read the book?"
He nodded but didn't look at me, his wand moving in a practiced, graceful arc.
"You look like me at your age, but you're not me at all, thank Merlin's balls. I was a spoiled, arrogant wanker, and it took those two years under Voldemort to shatter all that arrogance and intolerance that your grandfather had been so cheerfully cultivating my entire childhood."
He stopped to look at me, actually look at me. Perhaps the first time we actually locked eyes in years. "You blame him then?"
Scorpius had only known my father as a drunken sot. I hadn't exactly banned Scorpius from seeing him, but it was not a relationship I encouraged. As it turned out, it didn't really matter. By that point in his life, the only entity that Lucius Malfoy had any interest in was eighty proof, the more, the better.
"No," I admitted. "We have to own our choices. What I blame him for is not being a better father. Aside from the fact that he basically put the 'cee' in cruel, he never acknowledged anything I did that he didn't see as a reflection of himself. Good or bad. All roads led to Lucius."
"And Grandmother?" he went back to his shoveling. I had to raise my voice over the gnashing of teeth and snapping shut of jaws.
"Those are the most disgusting noises I've ever heard." It was like sitting next to Greg Goyle at meals.
"This is breakfast. You should hear them at dinner," he said with satisfaction. It was a break in his armor. A first.
"I don't know about your grandmother," I admitted. "We've never talked about it. I largely took her for granted, spending all my energy trying to impress your grandfather. He might have been a good husband, but I doubt it. I don't think she'd tell me if I asked. She might tell you.
"The point is that your grandfather had many opportunities to change his path. He didn't. Your grandmother and I saw the wizarding world that Voldemort envisioned and words can't possibly describe how unspeakably vile that future would have been. Your grandfather... Anyway, this isn't about him. It's about me. I'm not a good man, Scorpius, but I'm not a bad man. I was an arrogant little shit who fortunately did not follow in his father's footsteps. I was the luckiest man in the world when your mother didn't hold my past against me, and I ask that you don't as well. Or at least not judge. I judged a lot of people, and I cannot tell you the amount of grief that I've shouldered because of it."
There wasn't a response to that. He finished up feeding the dragons and then walked slowly up to the ridgeback's corral. He stuck out his hand slowly, and I couldn't help but remember that business with the Hippogriff so many years ago. I still have that scar. How frightened I'd been and to hide my fear I'd antagonized that beast, and it bit me in retaliation. And here was my son, taming a dragon.
"Nobody calls him Voldemort except you. Why?" he asked. The dragon began to purr as he scratched it under the chin. I fought back the urge to pull his hand away. That thing could probably eat his hand whole in one second flat. But he wasn't a child anymore. I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep them from reaching out.
"Potter calls him by his real name, too. When I realized he was bat-shit insane, it was time to call him by his real name. Naming things what they are is halfway to demystifying them, show them as they really are."
"Like being gay?"
The knots in my shoulders eased up a bit. He wasn't angry, merely curious. Now it was my turn to nod.
"Does it bother you, Scorpius? There are many things in that book that should bother you, but on that score I really hope it doesn't."
"Be a bit rich, wouldn't it?" he scoffed.
Oh. And with that went the likely end of the Malfoy line. Perhaps it was best that it ended with this gentle child.
"Someone you met here?"
Before he could answer I heard someone yell, "Scorp, you daft bugger. That ridge's going to take your bloody hand off if you're not careful. Who's that--"
I turned around. It was Charlie Weasley. And the look on my son's face at the sound of his voice was enough to tell me who was Scorpius' someone.
"I've never seen anyone with a touch like his. It's like he speaks dragon to them."
Charlie Weasley and I were sitting side by side, watching Scorpius nurse a newborn dragon whose mother had abandoned it.
"Hurt him and I will rip your balls off and feed them to that ridgeback," I warned.
Amazingly, he didn't take offense but laughed.
"Wouldn't dream of it, Malfoy. I put up a hell of a fuss when I was told my new intern was your son. Was expecting some sort of namby-pamby cry baby if you must know."
"Like me at that age?" Weasley gave me a grin. As much as I hated to admit it, I could see the charm. Plus, his hair wasn't that obnoxious red that so characterized his brother. I prefer brunets when given a choice, but not even I would have turned down this man should I have met him in a bar. "No worries on that score. He's very much his mother's son. He might need your support in the next few months. His mother and I have separated." I imagine he'd hear about Astoria and his brother soon enough.
"The book? That took brass balls. Didn't think you had them, mate."
Scorpius was cradling the dragon and cooing in its ear, much like I used to do with him.
"I'm a man of many surprises. The book? Yes and no. A confluence of unfortunate and fortunate events. Anyway, he's nothing like me."
"Funny, he says differently."
I did the book tour and then stayed in New Zealand for a bit, ostensibly to research a book on dragon tamers gone wild, but in reality I tried to make up for all those years when Scorpius had ignored me. We weren't fixed, but at least we were mending. At least I think we were mending.
Charlie Weasley never let on how he felt about me. He probably hated me--I certainly would have--as being largely responsible for Fenrir maiming his brother, and yet it was also obvious that he adored Scorpius. So how to reconcile these two versions of Draco Malfoy? Toe-rag Death Eater versus decent father of the man he was mad about. Wisely, Weasley remained on the sidelines, figuring out very early on that this was really none of his business. Scorpius and I would have to thrash this out for ourselves. I thanked him one night as we shared a beer waiting for Scorpius to finish feeding the dragons.
"Appreciate your not taking sides. I'm hoping that at some point he and I can have conversations that actually mean something. Not the 'I have to speak ten sentences to Dad today or he will burst into tears' business we're having now. Not that this is a criticism mind you, but he's far too young for you."
"Yeah," he admitted. "But I don't have much choice. Smitten pretty much thirty minutes after I shook his hand. You did a good job with him. You and him? Might take a while," he murmured around the mouth of his beer bottle.
"I've got years."
I returned to Bookend sometime late in November to find that Astoria had already moved out. Sadly, the house barely reflected her absence, and I realized how much of this place was mine, much as the flat was hers, which only amplified the magnitude of my transgression with Potter. Maybe we'd been moving toward this separation for years and we just didn't know it.
While I'd been away, the Prophet had announced the separation of both the Potters and the Weasleys. I didn't get any satisfaction out of either announcement. Potter might have, indeed, discovered his inner homo, but it hadn't meant that he had any further interest in me whatsoever. Which hurt like a motherfucker. I'd assumed his continued silence meant he'd decided that the fallout from being gay was far too horrific to even contemplate. Which meant that my reaction to that evening was completely one-sided and six times as pathetic. Astoria wasn't mentioned as the motivating force behind the Weasley/Granger marriage going pear-shaped, but given that Skeeter's spies were likely working overtime, it would only be a matter of time before all our dirty laundry would be aired for all to sniff and enjoy. The daisy chain of betrayal and misery would then be complete.
As Scorpius stayed in New Zealand for the holidays and Astoria still wasn't speaking to me, Christmas was achingly lonely. I am something of a Christmas whore, normally decorating the house to the nines and hosting at least two or three parties, but this year all I could manage was putting up the tree and even that exhausted me. Mother came over for a few hours and we opened presents. Daphne surprised me by popping in for her usual Christmas toddy, and Pansy and her lay-about husband came by for drinks at some point, but other than that, I was alone. After Pansy left I wrote four chapters of my dragon tamer book and drank far much cognac.
Like most divorced couples, our friends said they wouldn't choose, but they ended up choosing. My "side" ended up, naturally, being most of the older Slytherins (although for some reason Millicent sided with Astoria and I blame Pansy for that) and the author crowd. Astoria's friends were largely made up of the younger Slytherins and, of course, her bridge buddies. As these groups tended to keep to themselves anyway, my social life wasn't that different.
What was different was my emotional life. Astoria had been wrong. She hadn't just been filling in the gaps until someone with the right dick had come along. I truly missed her. I missed her wit, her intelligence, her general no-nonsense view on life. We complimented each other. She had been my ballast, I was her joie de vivre. The person who would whisk her off to Portugal for a glass of wine in Sintra. The person who loved masked balls and Christmas and New Year's Eve parties. The one thing that I was guilty of was that until recently I was oblivious at how unfair it all was. She got much less out of our marriage and I got much more. And why in the seven hells should she put up with that? I didn't begrudge her leaving, but I did mourn her.
I still couldn't wrap my brain around Astoria and Weasley. Even if I stepped back and try to view him dispassionately--a Herculean task, let me tell you--all I could come up with was a middling, limited man, who wasn't stupid, but who struck me as incredibly lazy. And based on Granger's frustrated sneers leveled in his direction every time I saw them together, she'd come to the same conclusion. However, maybe being married to me for over twenty years--a man who basically put the "m" in manic--gave Astoria a real appreciation for someone who could actually sit still for more than two minutes without succumbing to a massive case of the fidgets. Plus, I have heard through the grapevine that he is something of a god at bridge. Being able to bid properly would mitigate a multitude of sins in her eyes. Had I played bridge, we might still be married.
Friends did their best in the beginning, but right around April the invitations began to taper off into their usual once-a-month owl and life began to get very lonely. One can only write so many words a day and only garden so many hours a day.
Just when I had stopped looking for owls, one appeared, swooping through the damp and heavy mist of an early summer storm. I was in the garden, deadheading the roses. Soaked to the skin, with my shirt sticking to my back and rain running off of my bridge of my nose, I wasn't in the mood for Potter's nonsense. Let someone else be his guide to being gay. I'd been in a foul mood for months, but this afternoon I was particularly narked. The Madam Alfred Carriere roses had developed some sort of blight and no amount of magic seemed to ameliorate it. I might have to break down and use Muggle pesticides, which I only did as a last resort. Contrary to what most wizards thought, sometimes you had to pull a "Muggle." Rose blight was definitely one of those times.
"It's too late!" I shouted at the bird, which sneered at me and dropped a roll of parchment at my feet. She didn't wait for my response but flew off, clearly in a snit.
"Blood stupid owl. Bloody stupid Potter. Fucking bastard," I murmured as I stomped my way through garden to the greenhouse.
I unrolled the parchment. He'd written one word. "Drinks?"
No way in fucking hell. I kicked at the gravel on the path as I marched back to the house. I could hear the garden-elves behind me, raking it back into its proper place. The bright sound of all that gravel being restored to its usual manicured perfection, thereby obliterating all the effort I was using in kicking it hither and yon, irritated me even more. Naturally, I could have spelled myself dry at any point, but sometimes you want to wallow in your misery, and I was determined to wallow in mine.
"WANKER!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.
I Apparated into my bedroom and threw my wet clothes out the window. The house-elves would launder them. Scalding myself clean in a hot shower for over thirty minutes, I composed a number of responses, paragraph after paragraph of how he'd ruined my life, what a first-class plonker he'd been, and how I hope that he choked on someone's dick as soon as possible. Like yesterday.
What I wrote was, "My house @ Bookend. 8:00 pm. DM.
He was on time. Which irritated the fuck out of me. Wearing the same white button-down with the same ratty sweater and gray flannels he'd worn that evening at the Savoy, he looked like an aging schoolboy. He was much thinner, as if the last few months had been grim. I suppose they had been.
"You've lost weight. You look like shit," I said when he'd regained his balance.
He gave me the once over. "Pot kettle."
"Well, life has been rather shitty lately. Cognac?"
"Please. And yes it has."
"Here," I handed him a glass with just a sliver of cognac in it. He wasn't staying. I just needed to put all this to bed. Put that evening behind me and move forward. "Sit," I pointed at a chair in front of the fire.
"You're not drinking," he noted before he sat down. Even then he wasn't sitting so much as perched on the end of the chair. He was as wound up as I was, although he seemed to be doing a much better job of hiding it. I threw myself in the chair opposite, which used to be Astoria's chair, and didn't bother to hide my anger. Why should I?
"Potter, the last time you and I shared drinks, it ended up destroying my marriage. I might be jumping to conclusions based on that single experience, but I'm not willing to risk it. Why are you here?"
Typical. He didn't answer my question.
"That's three things we have in common." I don't think he meant it to be humorous, and I did not smile. Neither did he. "I left your flat and told Ginny about, well, you know. Not surprisingly, she went absolutely berserk. We yelled and screamed at each other until five in the morning, at which point we collapsed. She wanted me to stay, to work things out, but I thought it best if I left."
"You were wiser than I was," I said with some irony. Against my judgment I got up, poured myself a drink, and added a little more to his.
"This is marvelous stuff," he commented, raising his glass.
"The last few bottles of my father's cache. He might have been a sociopath, but he really knew his booze. He wasn't a cheap drunk." I sat down again and began warming my glass with my hands. "So you told your wife that dick is now on the menu and then went out and fucked half of Britain?" I tried to sound casual but damn my eyes it sounded bitter.
"No," he said slowly. "I went into marriage counseling, which had the benefit of convincing Ginny that I was indeed gay, and that I still loved her but we needed to separate. That our marriage hadn't been a sham or that I hadn't 'tricked' her. That it was..." he took a large gulp of booze, "a fucked-up situation."
"Yes, well, I commiserate. Because the upshot of that evening was that my wife is now your Weasel's love slave. Or should I say my soon-to-be ex-wife."
"Don't call him that," he warned. "We're not fifteen anymore, Malfoy."
Ugh. Why does this man negate about a thousand of my maturity points every time we meet?
"No, we're not. And he wasn't the reason why my marriage ended," I admitted, but then added, "you were. Now, tell me about fucking half of Britain."
He began to blush and then sidelined the entire issue by saying, "I didn't end your marriage."
"You bloody well did, too," I countered. "I'd made an ironclad rule that I would never bring my sex life into my marriage, and by that I mean our home. Our little dick fest pretty much destroyed whatever trust I'd been building over the last twenty years."
"I'm sorry." Being Potter he didn't leave it at that. "Why me? Why did you break your rule?"
I didn't answer; I glowered at him.
"Why, Malfoy?" he pressed.
Had he cast a Cruciatus on me I still wouldn't have admitted that something had happened that night between us. Something marvelous and strange. Something so foreign that I couldn't even define it.
"Maybe because it was..." he flailed a hand and turned his head to look at the fire. I waited for him to say something awful, something that degraded that evening into a nothing more than a cheap one-off. Part of me wanted that. It would free me. Then, of course, he fucked me over by turning toward me, locking eyes, and finishing his sentence with, "beautiful."
He'd always been a brave motherfucker. Always. I never would have said that, even though it was true. All I could do was nod in agreement.
"I couldn't come back until I knew what was happening with Ginny. I couldn't come back until I'd fucked half of Britain, because I couldn't believe that what happened had happened because why you? Of all people, you?"
Although simultaneous insulting and gratifying, I knew what he meant. I'd been asking myself that question for months.
"I have no idea. Believe me, I wish I did. So you fucked half of Britain. Any epiphanies?"
He gave a rueful laugh. "Removed any doubts. Discovered that a lot of gay men are wankers. Found anonymous sex really, really boring after a while." And he dropped his bombshell. "I need to know."
I put my glass down because if I gripped it any tighter, I'd shatter it.
"I've heard that phrase before and it resulted in my wife leaving me."
He'd always known how to push my buttons, but as he said, we weren't children anymore.
"That might have worked when I was fifteen; it's not going to work now. What do you want?"
"I... I think I want you." He threw up his hands. "That somehow we worked, and I'd like to know if it was a weird fluke or whether there's something there." Potter's voice was calm, but then I imagine being Head Auror was a lot about cool under fire. This was emotional fire, true, but dangerous enough. Especially with someone like me. I ignored the tone of his voice and watched him destroy the tassels on my favorite pillow with nervous fingers. "Maybe something big," he added.
Neither of us moved. Last time I had been the first to make a move, and I was going to be goddamned if I was going to be first again. I wanted to scream at him, "You utter arse. The ball's in your court. I've been waiting for a fucking owl for nine months, you fucking Gryffindor wanker, and if you fucking well want me, then you're going to have to bloody well come get me."
But I didn't. I waited.
He took a swig of cognac--Dutch courage, I suppose--stood up, crossed the room, gripped my shirt collar, and pulled me up to him. The violence of that act was belied by the soft touch of his mouth on mine. When he was sure that I wasn't going to topple over, he cupped my cheeks with his hands and began to kiss me. These weren't the beautiful, sweet kisses that he'd seduced me with months earlier. These were brutal, hungry, bruising kisses that had some anger at the edges, an anger that I shared. Because as much as I imagine he hated that Draco Malfoy had his dick in knots, Draco Malfoy was just as narked that of all people, Harry Potter had his dick in knots.
Even as I fought for dominance in that kiss, I let him ease a knee between my legs and push up. I let him shove his hands down the back of my pants and squeeze my arse. I shoved my dick against that knee and reveled in the pressure of his fingers digging into the fleshy part of my arse. And although I groaned and bit and matched him nip and swipe for nip and swipe, in my mind I was thinking, Surrender, I surrender, over and over again. There was no doubt who was the dom and who was the sub here. I'd given it up when I'd answered that owl. And maybe that was why this "worked." For both of us. Potter had finally found his sub (in addition to finding his gay), and I had finally found my dom.
Once I realized that, I softened my mouth and arched my back, offering myself to him. He `stopped kissing me. Although he kept me close, his hands still clutching my arse, he whispered in my ear, "Jesus, you taste fantastic!"
"Pot kettle," I whispered back and pushed my dick against his knee.
Although I had been Potter's first male lover, I'm sorry that I hadn't been there for the rest of it. I'd never experienced that sort of innocence for some reason. I think that I never expected the best out of people, even sexually. With Potter, I could have experienced innocence by proxy through his eventual awakening. He'd been fucking his wife for years, so it wasn't like he was a sexual novice. But as much as sex is just sex and the mechanics not that much different, sex with a man has a dimension, a twist to it. Men are violent buggers, and sex between us reflects that. There is much more of a pack animal dynamic lurking in the background. An edge. An energy. In some ways a restrained and sometimes unrestrained violence.
Recreating that scene in the flat so many months ago, I zapped the fire into a raging blaze, and we began to explore each other in front of the hearth. Now as he began to undress me, his hands were sure, practiced, which, yes, I did appreciate, but still fleetingly regretted that lost innocence. Ah well. No sense in crying over spilled milk.
Fucking half of Britain has its own rewards.
Although sex at this age has none of the wild urgency of a man in his twenties, sex at forty is far better. It's less frantic. There's the patience for nuance. You still want to come your effing brains out, but you're willing to wait for it.
Potter's blow job was more than decent. Really, the most successful blow jobs are when the "blower" is totally focused on the "blowee." Given that he was a pleaser at heart, he took me in slowly, had the sexual sense not to ignore my balls, didn't overwhelm me with too much pressure at the beginning, and as he ramped it up, sucking harder and harder, he feathered my arse with the tip of his finger, so that I was torn between thrusting into his mouth and wanting to impale myself on that teasing finger. The phrase heaven and hell took on new meaning.
And when I was about to come, the ultimate, most delicious of all surrenders, I placed two fingers on the side of his neck, to feel his pulse pounding as I hoped he could feel mine. To touch him as he was touching me. God, it was so sweet when I went over. Would it always be like this? Easy and wonderful, with such a sense of completion.
Even before my breathing evened out, I turned over. He covered me, his legs along my legs, his arms over mine. He interlocked our hands. As his dick lay in the valley of my arse, he lay there for a couple of minutes, savoring the feel of me. Then he shifted and there were spells and pressure and a finger and then fingers and then, dear Circe, the gentle push and pull of one man into another. How had I survived over forty years without this level of intimacy? Astoria was right--as she usually is--Potter had softened me, had somehow broken through all that emotional armor that I had so busily erected as a way to stay sane. He laid me open, as if he had ripped off a million plasters in one gigantic gesture, and then left, leaving me one raw sore for months and months.
I don't think it was the same for him. For one thing, I don't think he is an emotional cripple like I obviously am. At this point I didn't know what I answered in him. I hope to know one day, but I was currently happy in my ignorance. I just was grateful that he was honest enough to admit to himself that he needed me, for whatever reason. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. His "beautiful" might be different from my "beautiful," but that didn't make it any less precious.
Potter is an athlete at heart and his fucking didn't disappoint. Long and slow, he slid into me, hunting for my sweet spots--"There, Malfoy? There?" and laughed when I shouted out, "Fuck!" Only when he'd reduced me to nearly sexual incoherence did he rasp out a throaty, "Touch yourself." I did, came again, and then he let himself come.
We lay in front of the fire, him spooning me, his hand once again splayed across my stomach. He'd been brave, now it was my turn. He deserved that.
"You need to read the rest of the book. You need to know who you're fucking." I held up my arm so that he couldn't possible miss seeing my Mark. Even as convinced as I was that this had been as mind-blowing for him as it had been for me, I half expected him to tense up and perhaps even pull away. He did neither.
"Have done. The next day, in fact. Ginny threw the book at my head and said that you'd probably cast an Imperius on me, and that I might want to bathe my dick in bleach." I tensed up, but he didn't let go. "So yeah, I know who you are. Found out some things I didn't know. Found out that you were tasked with killing Dumbledore, with the tacit understanding that if you didn't, Voldemort would kill one of your parents. If you continued to fail, then he'd kill the other one."
"You believed me?" I was shocked.
"Don't be daft, of course not. After all, you and I have a history. Even though that night was pretty effing terrific, I still thought you were a first-class prick and a liar, and to prove you wrong, I went and had tea with your mother and asked her a bunch of questions."
"You what?" You'd better believe that Mother and I were having a little conversation about this at tea this week.
I turned over to stare at him.
"Had tea with your mother. She thanked me for saving your life. Asked me about my kids. It was actually a pretty nice afternoon. She didn't tell you?" He wasn't moving away. Or trying to Apparate. Or spelling on his clothes. He was still here. Shifting us a little, he rolled on top of me and began kissing my ear lobe. Oh, that felt nice. "It's okay," he murmured. "You were dead honest about those years. Sometimes you were a total fucking wanker, which you owned up to, and sometimes you weren't, which I have to own up to. Some choices you made were so stupid it made my eyeballs spin, sometimes you didn't have a choice. If I had to choose between killing Dumbledore and watching my mother be killed by Voldemort, I don't know if my choice wouldn't have been any different. And in the end you couldn't. I was there, Draco. In the tower. I heard you. You couldn't do it."
"No, I couldn't," I admitted. My greatest failure, my greatest triumph.
He pulled back so that I could see his face.
"By the way, I like Thai food as well," he said, tracing the outline of my mouth with the flat of his thumb.
"That's four things."
"And Quidditch, of course."
"Happen to think that Draco Malfoy is rather fit."
"Arrogant sod," he murmured and leaned forward to nip my bottom lip. Then the teasing tone vanished as he said in a quiet voice, "Thank you for saving my life, by the way."
"It's what we do for each other."
Because we are so much older, there is the tacit acknowledgment that at some point our respective histories might overwhelm and we'll have to call it a day. It's early still, so reality hasn't had much of a chance to intrude. The children know. Potter's eldest son isn't speaking to him. Albus is actually friends with Scorpius--not that either of us knew that--so they commiserate on how weird it is. Potter's daughter is coping. Apparently she's close to Charlie Weasley, and Weasley's given me something of a pass.
Both of us have demons that need to be addressed before this relationship can move forward into any sort of permanence. I think we both want that, although it's not something we discuss. Wanting isn't getting, however. Potter's still loves his wife, deeply, in fact, and they slog through weekly therapy sessions. We have a standing date on therapy nights, and inevitably he Floos in with the sniffles and his eyes so red that I can't help cast a healing charm on them. If he returns to her, I will not be surprised. I have to accept that, even as our relationship matures.
I've never had this sort of intimacy with anyone and I still find it overwhelming. Commitment phobic much? The fact that I actively kept my marriage going because it kept me from intimacy with another man doesn't say much for our chances of success. I've let down my emotional barriers as much as I possibly can and still stay sane, because even with my still-limited understanding of his psyche, I know all too well that Potter needs me to be emotionally all his. But how can I do that when I'm terrified he's going to return to his wife? It is, as he has said, a fucked-up situation.
I've been able to restrain myself so far by putting that fear into its proper context and not throwing his divided loyalties in his face. But the reality is that in comparison they have a decent and satisfying history. I don't want to put Potter and me down to merely biology. That's a little insulting. Given that both of us have fucked half of Britain, it's evidence enough that it's something between us. That over-the-top antipathy that characterized our interactions for years and years says something about our chemistry, even apart from the gay business. Of course, I've hated a number of people--the Weasel comes to mind--and I haven't wanted to suck their dicks. Sigh. Why it is all so complicated. The uncertainty of it all makes each hour, each kiss, each smile something to savor. At eighteen I would have had a bunch of hissy fits and tantrums about this. At forty-three I know the impermanence of it all, and I have learned to appreciate the gifts I've been given, even if they are only on loan. I wait and hope.
Because there's the reminder of exactly who he is fucking. Some days I think he sees the deaths of those that he loved in my face. Those days are difficult for both of us. I see those faces, too. Astoria was far removed from the realities of those days. It helped distance me from that obnoxious boy that I once was. Potter's presence brings that horrible child far too close. Plus, I'm not that much different from that boy. Although I had that arrogance pretty much scoured from my psyche, I still have something of a temper and I'm impatient and I tend to judge far too quickly. I'm also playful and rather saucy and intelligent and I make him laugh. One set of traits doesn't cancel the other, however; more is the pity.
Every time we see each other I do the "kiss" test. To date, his mouth is still hungry, open, demanding. I mentally utter a sigh of relief and kiss him back, with kisses that might be just as eager, but are begging for something different. I think that Potter is looking for love. I am looking for forgiveness. To date, I continue to find it.
Despite the weight of all this history and the ephemera of an uncertain future, we are ridiculously happy together. I can't explain it. He answers something in me and I answer something in him, and most days it's so fucking brilliant that I can't stop smiling.
I continue to write. The dragon tamer/sex slave book is currently in the edit state. Potter does whatever Head Aurors do. We have dinner a couple of nights a week. He spends the night. Most weekends we're together. Although not yet public, at some point Skeeter will discover that Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter are a couple. If we're lucky, the news will be so explosive it will cause her to die from a heart attack. Every morning I half-expect to read about us in the Prophet. To date, she's been silent on the subject, but it's only a matter of time, exposure just one edition away. Astoria is pregnant with a Weasel spawn, he's dropped two stone, Granger received another promotion (when Shacklebolt retires she will be the next Minister of Magic--I'll bet my wand on that), and Scorpius is still with Weasley. I have extracted a promise from him that he will come home for the Christmas holidays this year. I have someone who I want him to meet. Or is that 'whom'?
Sequel here: I Have Come to Hate Thursday Nights