Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, they belong to J.K. Rowling and those she chooses to share them with. Im just borrowing them for a short time.
Notes: Thanks everyone for your reviews, I really appreciate them so much. I'm glad you're enjoying this story, it's great fun to write. Now, I've been agonizing a bit over this part, because I don't want to send it up here until all the details are right .and I think now they're as right as they're going to be. Or, at least, I have to just give up and send it. I'm a bit scared of what's coming up next myself
By Ivy Blossom
Harry peered into the mirror, adjusting his tie. No matter how carefully he tidied up his hair, it still had a wild look to it. He wore deep blue robes now, rather than school black. He found himself increasingly disliking black these days. It reminded him of evil work, stealth, dangerous nights and secrets. It reminded him of Death Eaters.
It had been a tremendous victory. The Death Eaters had planned a massive raid on Bishops Stortford, a primarily muggle area. Clearly they were aiming to make a point, but Ministry intelligence had tipped them off, and a large army of Ministry witches and wizards, along with a special muggle military unit established by the British government to aid the Ministry, were there to pre-empt them. They caught twenty-seven Death Eaters, fourteen of them powerful, prominent wizards, who were now safely contained in various secret locations around the country. Hermione, who worked in Muggle relations, radiated glee. The greatest victory the Ministry had seen to date had been accomplished in co-operation with the muggle government, and with a large group of intelligent, brave, and kind muggles who were neither scornful nor afraid of their wizarding counterparts. Harry and Rons apartment, which had been a gathering spot for all kinds of young, earnest, and interesting wizarding folk over the year, had now begun to see more and more muggle faces, and certainly more muggle beverages. Ron had balked a bit at the concept of muggle beer, but had developed a liking for it.
Harry had finally got a bit of news he had been searching for. There was a vague rumour, piggybacked with other information, that Draco had long been absent from Malfoy manor, that Lucius Malfoy had given up on bringing his son to Voldemort. There were no serious details, but there had been some hints about Lucius discovering inclinations in Draco that were suspect, and some shame and disgrace that had or would have fallen on his family because of it. It was said that Lucius simply didnt acknowledge his son any longer. Harry wondered. Why has he not come to me? Is he too proud? Harry wasnt sure whether to believe the rumour or not; it hadnt come from the most secure of sources. But it was the first scrap of news he had heard, and he clung to it. He had considered sending an owl; he had even written the letter. Draco, Im still waiting. Harry. But he hadnt sent it.
With this great victory under their belt, Dumbledore had announced that a bit of celebrating was in order; he sent out invitations far and wide to a feast at Hogwarts, where they would toast to their victories and their alliances.
"Are you ready?" Ron wore green robes, which complimented his red hair. "I dont think that tie is going to get any straighter." He saw a pensive look on Harrys face. He slapped him on the back. "Buck up, chum! Were winning now, cant you feel it? Lets have a good time tonight, shall we?"
Harry smiled widely at him. "Youre right, of course." He ran his fingers through his hair, watching it completely return to its standard disheveled look. "Do me a favour?" He asked. Ron looked at him quizzically in the mirror. "Dont let me talk business?"
Ron laughed. "You got it." They apparated to Hogsmede, meeting a group of muggle friends who had just gotten off the train, and they walked the short distance up the familiar hill to Hogwarts, laughing and talking as if all was well with the world.
Nearly everyone was there. Prominent members of the Ministry, some of the greatest wizarding minds and new, innovative spell inventors, the front line wizards and witches; even a handful muggle allies, ministers, and academics were there. Everyone was all smiles, but Harry felt a tug on his heart. Dont think about it. Harry told himself. Enjoy yourself.
Dumbledore spotted Harry entering the great hall, and moved over to see him. "Harry!" He said warmly, while Ron explained the enchanted ceiling and the house banners to their muggle friends. "There are people here who would enjoy meeting you." It had been some time since Harry had felt like a celebrity; at the Ministry, he was just a worker, highly-skilled and valued, just like Ron and the rest of his team. But here he was reminded that he had once been The Boy Who Lived, and his scar, the mark that he had survived Adava Kadavera, was of keen interest to these learned men and women. Many were members of the think tanks, experts in curses and potions and charms and even divination. They were all most excited to see him.
"Here is Dr. Hemsley, Harry." Dumbledore said, directing him toward a small and rather knobby-looking goblin. "Hes been working on protection charms and such. Look at this, isnt it pretty?" He handed Harry a small circular piece of polished amethyst, with a perfect circle cut out of the centre. Inside the circle was a tiny, clear stone, perhaps a diamond, or simply a bit of quartz made to look like a diamond, floating unsupported, rotating, turning, and bobbing about. He felt a small burst of energy, like an electric shock, travel through him when he touched it.
"Why, yes it is but what does it do?" Harry looked down at Dr. Hemsley. A goblin, making charms? Were the goblins exploiting peoples fear of the war in order to make extraordinary profits? Harry didnt doubt it. He could think of a fair number of people who would buy any charm that hit the pages of The Daily Prophet if they thought it had even a hope of giving them any extra boost at all.
"Oh, Mr. Potter, its actually quite interesting, it oh, excuse me " A large man with a dark face and a voluminous beard shoved the goblin out of the way to grab Harrys hand. "Wonderful to meet you, Mr. Potter, wonderful, wonderful I was hoping to have a word with you about your Patronius " Harry pocketed the charm, smiled at the rush of dignitaries surrounding him, answering as many questions as he could.
He shook many hands, and smiled graciously, allowing them to peer at his scar. One of them even asked to touch it, which Harry graciously allowed. Throughout this skirmish, Harry felt increasingly troubled. In spite of all the joy and laughter around him, even the dedicated enthusiasm and confidence of the magical experts made him feel a deep-seated dread. Their first major victory had been too easy, too pat. He almost felt that this celebratory event was rash, if not downright dangerous. What if Voldemort had learned how to break through Hogwarts famous walls of spells? What if he managed to destroy all these great warriors and wizards, right here, tonight? Their Death Eater hostages would be a minor total indeed in comparison. Harry sighed, shoving such thoughts out of his mind. Underneath all those logical, rational concerns, however, lay his desperate quest for Draco, tugging at him like an anchor. Why has he not come to me? What choices has he made?
After a dozen or so introductions, along with several proddings and cursory examinations (including a magical bubble one of the doctors cast over him, that listed his vital stats and monitored the beating of his heart and his brainwave activity, which, even the other wizards around agreed was a bit much for a party), Harry noticed that Dumbledore was giving him a peculiar look.
"Are you alright, Harry?" He asked quietly.
He smiled at his former headmaster. "Yes, sir. Im fine. I " he hesitated. "I know were doing well in this war, sir, and all the signs are good, but I find myself uneasy, even here, now."
The headmaster nodded. "Yes, Harry, I understand. You are quite perceptive." He stroked his beard thoughtfully. "But you know that we are quite safe here, for the most part. Nothing passes through here that I am unaware of. We have been shifting and changing with the times, and these have been turbulent times." Dumbledore looked at Harry curiously, "Now, and along with this unease, you are concerned about a particular classmate, yes?" Harry shivered. Dumbledore had an uncanny knack for knowing the most unknowable things.
Harry nodded, resignedly. "Its Draco Malfoy, sir. I havent been able to get any solid news about him. Its as if hes just disappeared. I told him well, sir, I told him before graduation .that he should come to me if he didnt join the Death Eaters. But he hasnt been seen with them, and I have had no word from him." He sighed. "I feel as if well, as if his choices are somehow very important, sir, if you get my meaning." Harry wasnt sure he understood exactly what he meant himself.
The headmaster smiled sadly. "Yes, I believe I do understand, Harry. Indeed, everyones choices are very important, Mr. Malfoys included. And of course youve wondered about him. Well, weve all wondered, havent we, after his uncertainty last year." He leaned closer to Harry, and said softly, "Its never really clear until the end, is it, which choices people have made?" Dumbledore took Harrys arm, and lead him to the edge of the crowd. "Harry, I once told you that love leaves a mark, and I was not wrong. But love does not always lead us down paths that are just, or right, or wise, or even ones that make us happy. Sometimes love simply motivates us, but doesnt give us any clear direction for that motivation. But it doesnt mean that love is any less real, any less genuine, or that it leaves any less worthy a mark on us." Harry blushed, looking down at his shoes.
Dumbledore put his arm around Harry, and whispered, "But if you want to know about his choices, you can ask him yourself." Dumbledore pointed through the crowd, where the Slytherin table usually stood. And, shockingly, there he was, leaning against the wall, looking vaguely bored. Draco Malfoy, standing there, just outside the crowd of celebrants, as if this were the most natural and normal thing in the world for him to be doing. "Go on," Dumbledore whispered. Harry blinked at Dumbledore, his eyes wide. Dumbledore smiled.
He ambled over toward Draco, picking up two glasses of pumpkin juice along the way to give him something to do with his hands. His stomach fluttered; he was nervous. His last encounter with Draco had been bittersweet; he had been angry in their last conversation. How should he address him now? Draco was eyeing the crowd languidly, his eyes half-closed. He wore a heavy, gray woolen cloak with silver clasps, and a notable absence of insignia. There against the wall, alone, he looked like a angel, with a blonde halo. He leaned forward, rubbing his temple, looking momentarily tired, and then saw Harry approaching him. He smiled, running his fingers through his hair expectantly.
"Good evening, Harry." He said softly. Harry felt almost overwhelmed, confronting those gray eyes again. Draco looked stunning. It came as no surprise that he was well put-together, of course; Draco had always been careful with his hair and clothing. But tonight his clear, smooth, pale skin seemed visibly soft and healthy rather than sallow and pallid. Harry even saw a bit of pink flush in his cheeks. His soft blonde hair fell perfectly behind his ears, cut smartly and tidily along the back of his neck. He seemed both taller and broader in the shoulders than Harry had remembered. His eyes, looking directly into Harrys, were clean and bright and uncomplicated by the kinds of emotions Harry had last seen in them.
"Let me help you with those," he said, taking the glasses of juice form Harrys hands and turning to place them on the window sill beside him. He faced Harry again, extending a slim hand, and Harry noted the even, well-groomed fingernails as he took it. Draco felt warm, strong, soft, and real, which almost surprised Harry. He had half-expected Draco to be a ghost, an apparition, an astral projection. Draco traced his fingertips delicately along Harrys wrist and smiled, showing, for a moment, his even, gleaming teeth.
Harry almost felt faint. "Youre looking well, Draco." He paused, his entire body tingling from the sensation of those fingertips on that tender flesh. "Where have " Harry stumbled.
"Where have I been?" Draco sighed. "Well. Its a long, convoluted story thats certainly not something anyone at a feast like this would want to hear the details of. But, suffice it to say that Ive been about, and now, Im here. With you." He was still holding Harrys hand, still tracing patterns on his skin, looking intently at him.
"Ive been wonderi"
"Malfoy!" Ron appeared next to Harry, his eyes wide and angry. "What are you doing here?" He snapped, peering suspiciously at Draco. Harry pulled his hand out of Dracos, who released it reluctantly.
"Lovely to see you too, Weasley." Draco drawled, sounding annoyed. "I understand that youre contributing to your family economy these days."
Harry sighed heavily, feeling the weight of the last year on his bones. "Come on now, Ron, Draco, were having a celebration here. Lets not fall into old habits? Ron, You know Dracos not been involved in anything." He said quietly. Ron scowled, looked sharply at Harry, and then grabbed Dracos arm.
"Lets have a look then," he said. Harry saw his arms shoot out to grab Draco, and he spluttered a quick, "Ron! No!" But Ron was too quick, and Draco seemed to have no objections. Ron hauled up Dracos right sleeve, exposing clean, untouched, flawless flesh. Draco grinned playfully at Harry, ignoring Ron and his examinations.
"Weasley doesnt seem to trust Dumbledores spellcasting to keep stray Death Eaters out, I see." Ron did look a little surprised. He grabbed Dracos other arm, which he allowed with a vaguely amused look. He pushed back the other sleeve, exposing another pale, immaculate arm. Ron humphed, letting go of Malfoy.
"Satisfied?" Draco asked, brightly. "Or would you like to have another go? Perhaps theyre putting the Dark Mark on peoples backsides now. Shall I strip?"
Ron shot Draco a sour look. "Its hardly funny, Malfoy. You of all people should know how serious this is." He sighed, noting a look of horror on Harrys face. "I had to check, Harry, Im sorry, alright?" He frowned. "What do you want to talk to him for, anyway? I thought we were here to have a good time."
"We have some unfinished business, Ron."
"No business tonight, Harry. Remember? Party? Celebration? Fun? Ring any bells?"
"Perhaps you could go find fun by yourself like the big boy that you are, Weasley, and let your friend and me finish our conversation?" Malfoy spouted impatiently.
Ron eyed Draco coldly. "Since when do you and Harry have convers" Harry grabbed Rons arm.
Ron looked aghast at Harry, but shook his head. "Im going to get more cake." He said stiffly, and walked off toward a groaning table filled with deserts, giving Harry a watch yourself, will you? look.
Draco laughed. "The trusting Gryffindors, suddenly so suspicious."
"Well, war will do that to you. Weve had a tough year, after all." Harry noted, as Draco handed him his drink. He nodded his thanks, and sipped at it.
Draco nodded solemnly. "Yes, it has been rather difficult, hasnt it. I see that youve been very busy. Twenty-six, twenty-seven captured? Quite a coup. I understand youve been working with some of those muggles." He sipped his drink, and waved his glass toward a small crowd of young men who were talking with Hermione, and had just burst into a loud fit of laughter. He didnt want to admit it, but he had seen Harry walk in with them, and was more than a little jealous. But he had managed to keep as much scorn out of the word muggles as possible.
"Yes, thats right." Harry propped himself up against the wall next to Draco, leaning toward him, pointing a few of them out with a wave of his hand and naming them.
"Theyre part of a special muggle military unit linked to the Ministry. Theyre nice lads, Ron and I have been spending a fair bit of time with them." Harry caught himself looking rather hungrily at the nape of Dracos neck, and at the same time waiting for a smart comment about his working with muggles.
"Theyre attractive, do you fancy any of them?" Draco asked, nonchalantly.
Harry blinked. "Uh .well, no, its not like that." He felt himself blushing. He wasnt sure if he was ready for this conversation. A Malfoy commenting on attractive muggles? He took a long drink from his juice, finishing it off. He sighed. He had seen the evidence for himself. Malfoy did not appear to be a Death Eater. Past all the charms and spells cast over Hogwarts, Draco was here, unharmed, not a hair of his head out of place. He had made his choice, and here he was. With him.
Draco moved closer to him, and slid an arm around his waist beneath his robes, brushing his lips against Harrys ear, he said, "Ive missed you." Harry shut his eyes. "I remember what you said. You were right." Draco teased Harrys earlobe with his lips. "I didnt join my father. Its you I want, Im sorry it look me so long " Harry was surprised, and felt his eyes starting to prickle with the threat of tears. Its as though hes reading my mind, Harry thought, and, more cynically, Its as though hes telling me exactly what I want to hear. Harry squelched the cynical voice. Draco took his hand. "You look a little flushed, Harry. Lets get out of here, shall we? A walk in the garden, perhaps?" Harry nodded. He was feeling inordinately warm all of a sudden.
Dumbledore watched the boys leaving the great hall, hand in hand. He shook his head sadly. Professor McGonagall, standing next to him, sighed deeply. "So its begun." She said simply.
Dumbledore nodded. "Good luck, Harry." He said softly.
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