Title: The Importance of Blood
Pairing(s): Harry/Draco, Ron/Hermione
Summary: Watching Harry Potter die was a lot less dramatic than he’d imagined.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): Dub-con, veela!Harry, and a dash of violence
Epilogue compliant? Not at all.
Word Count: 10, 750
Author's Notes: Happy Holidays, nursedarry! I admit, I struggled with finding an idea I liked for this story, but I finally settled on one that I hope you enjoy. :) And thanks to my beta for her patience and last minute cooperation!
Watching Harry Potter die was a lot less dramatic than he’d imagined.
The boy hero was lying on his operating table, his own guts visible and protruding from the ragged gash than ran diagonally from his left shoulder to his right hip. He’d been torn wide open by a cutting curse. The irony was not lost on Draco.
As he stood over him, preparing to save his life, he thought dryly that while he’d always wanted to see what Potter was really made of, this was taking things just a little too far. Aside from that, everything was business as usual in the St. Mungo’s emergency ward. The mediwizards had already returned to the battle site to retrieve more injured Aurors who had been attacked by a group of vengeful ex-Death Eaters and the assistant healers were methodically preparing Potter for what would be a very long and very invasive surgery.
Someone else would have to see to the other Aurors. Potter was going to keep him busy for the rest of the night.
Under any other circumstances, Draco might have laughed at the thought.
As he sat next to Potter’s bed, Draco studied the dressings the assistant healer had wrapped around his wounds. They were quite a bit messier than he would have liked, but it would do until the next morning, and then he’d dress it himself. He always did.
Potter had a long recovery time ahead of him. He’d be in the hospital for a week at the very least, and Draco had never been in the habit of letting his patients leave until he was absolutely sure they were no longer at risk for further complications. But beyond the inevitable bed sores and the ugly scar on his chest that looked alarmingly similar to Draco’s, Harry Potter was going to live. The bastard had come up against death three times and had won three times.
Draco wasn’t sure whether he ought to feel impressed or disgusted at his good fortune.
As he sat, finishing up his paperwork on a clipboard on his lap, his gaze flicked over the Potter’s prone form. He looked relatively peaceful, actually, despite the ordeal he’d just been through. His hair was just as messy as ever, and Draco had already had to force down the urge to run a comb through it quite a few times. He’d yet to wake up, of course. In fact, he hadn’t moved at all since the assistant healers had moved him to the bed.
As Potter had only had a few visitors so far, it would seem that news about the attack hadn’t gone public just yet. Only Granger had been by to see him and her visit had been just long enough to make sure Draco wasn’t making things worse before she’d returned to her unconscious husband’s bedside a few doors down.
But even she’d been forced to admit that Potter was in capable hands before she’d left. The surgery, while messy, had been fairly routine, although he’d needed a few blood transfusions to make up for all that he had lost.
Reminded of this, Draco stood and summoned a glass vial from the bedside drawer to draw some blood. Mixing magical blood was always something of a risk. Occasionally the patient’s own blood would revolt against the donor’s, believing it to be a threat, even if it was actually saving the patient’s life. But Draco’d had no other alternative. Potter had been close to death already when he’d been brought in. His heart had barely enough blood to pump through his body as most of it seemed to have wound up on the floor.
Draco didn’t envy the janitor who had the task of cleaning it up.
Once done, he capped the vial and slid it into his robe pocket before signing off on one more bit of the paperwork on his clipboard. That done, he slid it neatly into the pouch at the end of Potter’s bed and left the room.
He had tests to run before he could sleep.
It was a strange thing, saving Potter’s life. He’d imagined his death quite creatively as a student and he’d spent much of his free time thinking about it in detail. The problem was, of course, that if he ever did die, Draco would have a great big gaping hole where his daily dose of morbid and slightly violent thoughts about Potter belonged, and he imagined that would be rather depressing.
So he didn’t feel nearly as conflicted about keeping him alive as most people might have expected him to.
Draco studied the blood work up in front of him and frowned, because the numbers weren’t adding up. Nothing made sense. None of them were what they should have been. “What-”
He pulled a research book of numbers and lists in front of him and began methodically thumbing through the pages. It wasn’t that Potter’s blood was contaminated, or that it was taking some time for his body to adjust. It was that his blood wasn’t even human.
So was he really alive?
Draco shot to his feet with his hands fisted in his hair and paced before stopping in front of the rain-streaked window. He brought his fingers down to his mouth, his eyes wide and afraid.
No, it wasn’t human blood at all.
It was veela blood.
Granger had taken it upon herself to outstay her welcome in Draco’s office after he’d asked her in to discuss Harry’s case. The reason he’d done so was simply because he knew she was Harry’s attorney but, unfortunately, it was for that same reason she’d decided it was her right to know everything about his medical case. Or perhaps she was just nosey. Draco frowned at his notes while Granger peered over his shoulder, jabbering on about the legal ramifications of the assistant healer’s mistake and how she would be proposing new legislation on the matter as soon as she could get back into work once Harry and Ron were healed
But now the question was, could Harry be healed?
“His human blood is contaminated. We can’t extract the veela blood without extracting the healthy blood as well, which is a problem, obviously, because then he wouldn’t have any blood at all,” Draco said, pressing his fingers into his temples. He’d already explained this five times that day to various healers in the hospital, including the director who had not been pleased that Potter, their most important patient, had fallen victim to a very grave, very terrible human error in her hospital.
Draco couldn’t really blame her.
“Let me talk to the assistant who was supposed to have made sure the blood was clean before the transfusion,” Granger said. “Maybe they know something about it that we don’t. Maybe it simply didn’t behave properly during their tests…”
“You can’t. She was fired.”
“By whose authority?”
Draco glanced up at her grimly. “Mine.”
Granger stared at him, her face an empty canvas, apparently too preoccupied with the cacophony in her own mind to grant him even the smallest tick of an expression. “When do you suppose he’ll wake up?”
Draco leaned back in his chair, which squeaked, and steepled his fingers in front of him. “That’s an interesting question. Normally I’d say he’d wake up when his body was ready for him to, but given the circumstances, I’m not sure it ever will be. I suppose I may have to induce… consciousness.” It was a bit of paradox, really, given that healers were accustomed to inducing unconsciousness, but this was a rare case. In fact, he wasn’t sure there had ever been a case like it before. Ever.
He shrugged. “He’s healthy. The wound is healing nicely and he’ll be fine once he wakes up. At least at first.” He glanced away distractedly toward the glass and the city beyond. Each of those buildings contained hurting, broken people, but none more than the one he was currently sitting in. It was a wonder any of the healers stayed sane. Some of them didn’t.
“At first?” Granger brought her own hand up to her face and tapped her fingers against her cheek.
“His healthy human blood will want to fight off the considerably more aggressive veela blood and in turn, the veela blood will want to destroy the human blood. It will see it as a weakness.” He rubbed his jaw tiredly. “It will take some time but if we don’t stop it… if I don’t stop it… then…” He trailed off uselessly.
“Then we will stop it,” she said with that daft Gryffindor bravery that Draco had always hated and envied in equal parts.
He stood and stretched. “Right, well before we do that, I’ve got to sleep lest I accidentally saw someone in half,” which was a magic trick that, despite all Muggle notions, could not be undone.
He grimaced and glanced at her blearily. “And then,” he headed toward the door, his hand resting on the doorknob, “we’ll wake him up.”
The next day, Draco walked into Potter’s room. A single ball of light pulsed gently above his bed, humming a gentle warning that he was not quite out of the woods yet. Draco watched it irritably for a few moments before resting his palms against Potter’s mattress, his hands pressing deep imprints into the thin blanket.
Harsh white light from the charms overhead casted strange shadows over the man’s face, making him seem ethereal and otherworldly. At least, Draco told himself it was the lights.
He wondered when he’d started lying to himself. In the end, he decided it had probably been a long time ago.
Draco prodded the ball of light gently and murmured the incantation, watching Potter’s face quietly. Words seemed superfluous at a time like this, but he knew Potter would need them when he woke up. He also knew that no matter how long he waited, he’d never really find the right ones to say.
Dark eyelashes fluttered against his pale cheeks before green irises peeked out from underneath them. Draco tried to smile, but it felt more like a grimace. He couldn’t imagine what it looked like.
“Malfoy… what-” Potter tried to sit up and hissed in pain. “Did you… God, I thought I was dead.”
“Almost. But at this point, I’m not sure you can die.” And wouldn’t that be convenient. Potter laughed hoarsely and reached a hand up to touch his chest.
“How bad was it?”
Draco plucked at the blanket. “How bad is it,” he corrected mildly.
Harry drew his eyebrows together and slowly seemed to shrink within himself as Draco told him everything.
“How is he?”
Granger was sitting across from him, her forehead creased with worry. Draco pulled back and shot another balled up piece of paper into the rubbish bin. “Better than I expected. And I expected a lot from him to begin with, I admit.”
She smiled a little. “He’d like to hear you say that.” Draco pursed his lips and peered over the desk at her. She wasn’t so bad to have around, really. She was logical to a fault, of course, but that was exactly the sort of person that a healer needed to bounce ideas off of. If her emotions started to get involved, she was likely to simply push them aside impatiently, labeling them a chemical imbalance in her brain. And that was exactly what emotions were, actually, but most people didn’t choose to see it that way.
It was sort of depressing for them to reduce affections to numbers and chemicals, he supposed.
“I’m his healer. I’ll be supportive when I need to be,” Draco said in the same clipped and professional tone he had needed to develop when he’d taken up his post as head healer at St. Mungo’s. Fake it until you make it was an apt description of the process he’d undergone to make his civility believable.
Granger raised an eyebrow, but shrugged. “I should like to see him before I go back to Ron’s room.”
“Of course,” Draco replied automatically. “It’d be good for him to see a familiar face. But I should warn you… the veela blood may have already begun to manifest itself in his physical attributes.” He flipped through the charts to see if he could estimate a time when they would take full effect. “By this time tomorrow, he’ll look and, in some ways, act like a veela.”
She held a hand up to her mouth and laughed. “I’m sure I’ll manage. But surely he won’t develop all of the physical attributes of a veela. Their appearance is altered severely when angered and I’m not certain a human body could withstand that amount of stress, even if it is Harry that we’re talking about…”
Draco grimaced. “The wings themselves are rooted in a veela’s bloodstream. They emerge from the veins themselves rather than the bone structure, which is preferable in our case, because no, a human spine could not withstand that amount of pressure. The veela blood, however, can. I’m hoping if I can control their release and time them to emerge during certain parts of the day, then it will keep them at bay during any… hysterical spats Potter might see fit to have.”
Granger nodded. If they were allowed to emerge only while Harry was agitated, it could be very damaging to his body. Strong peaks of magic like that were extremely detrimental to a wizard and could weaken him for the rest of his life.
“Go have your visit. Tomorrow I’ll begin his first round of physical therapy so his body can start to adjust. I need to buy us some time.” He pressed his fingers into his eyes and looked up blearily as Granger’s hand came to rest on his shoulder.
Ordinarily, he’d not have stood for it, but he was too tired to put up a fight. “Rest, Draco. You’re no good to him if you can’t keep your eyes open.” Draco made a noncommittal noise of agreement as she made her way out of his office, the door clicking quietly shut behind her.
Draco studied the flat plane of Potter’s back as he stood in the isolated room in the physical therapy ward. Draco had thought it unadvisable to attempt these exercised in front of the ruthless, prying eyes of Potter’s public, which could be found everywhere.
But it had been as much for Potter’s safety as it had been for theirs. Even Draco was forced to admit that Potter’s veela blood was already manifesting itself in his physical appearance and Draco found himself inexplicably drawn to the man, regardless of any disdain he still harbored for him. It was distracting and most unprofessional, and thus Draco tried to ignore it as much as he was able. He told himself that he was only affected as much as any other healer would be, male or female.
Be that as it may, when Potter’s shoulders flexed as he tested out his muscles for the first time since he’d been injured, Draco’s throat went dry.
Potter turned to face him, his eyes bright and wary of his own body. The gash across his chest, though healed, still looked livid and would remain an angry snarl from his hip to his shoulder for the rest of his life. Draco thought that if Potter had learned to live with one other disfiguring scar for most of his life, he could learn to live with another.
And besides, it didn’t look half bad.
“How do you feel?” Draco asked in a polished, unruffled voice.
Potter grinned. “Awful.”
Well you certainly don’t look it, Draco thought to himself with his mouth set in a grim line. “Anything strange or unusual you’ve noticed about your body today?”
The raven-haired man shrugged, his eyes faraway. “The assistants won’t stop staring. Is the scar really so ugly?” He looked down at his pale chest and the ragged line that had nearly torn him in half. “And Ron’s family couldn’t bear to be in the same room as me. Hermione can, but even she seems… unsettled whenever she comes to visit.”
Draco wrote something on his clipboard, mostly in an attempt to look absolutely unperturbed, even though there was a veela standing shirtless a few feet away from him. A very clueless veela at that. “Potter, have you looked in the mirror since you got here? I mean, really looked.” He looked at the state of the man’s hair, which was just as messy as ever, if not worse. “In fact, have you ever looked in the mirror…?”
Potter scowled. “Malfoy.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Your hair is absolutely wretched.”
“Yes, I know. I don’t do it on purpose.”
“Really? Because I could go days without brushing my hair and not have that situation…” He waved a hand at the unruly state of Potter’s dark locks. Potter merely grinned.
He shrugged. “You’re the only one who’s treated me the same since I woke up and this whole veela thing started.” Draco resisted the urge to laugh.
It’s certainly not without effort, he thought, because oh, the things he would do to Potter if he was not his patient, and not recovering from an injury, and not… well… Potter. The latter was possibly the most inconvenient factor of all.
“Just look in the mirror, Potter. If you like, you can pretend like it was your idea. You never could take directions from other people well…”
“Shut it, Malfoy.” But to his credit, Potter did cross the room to peer at his reflection in the large double-glass next to the weights and yoga mats. “Fuck me…”
Draco laughed. “Poor choice in words, Potter. But yes, you seem to be getting the idea.”
He touched the glass where his face was reflected in the smooth, crystalline surface. He looked out of place in the stark white room, surrounded with the flotsam and jetsam of other people’s healing tools. It was hard to believe he was injured at all. In fact, it was difficult to understand why he was in a hospital to begin with. He looked other worldly, as though he belonged in a time period none of them could imagine. Perhaps Ancient Rome or Greece, when the gods reigned supreme. Not even the most beautiful prose could do justice to them, and the same could be said of Potter.
He was absolutely breathtaking.
Draco wanted to run his fingertips over that skin, which looked just as flawless and seamless as marble, marred only by the large jagged scar running over his chest.
He found himself taking a step forward before he even realized what he was doing. It was as though something intangible pulsed from Potter and drew him closer.
It was a bizarre sensation. Logic told him he was being absurd, but his basest, most animalistic instincts told him that he needed to be closer. Something horrible would happen if he didn’t close the gap between them.
“Malfoy.” Potter was looking in the mirror at him quizzically, and Draco flushed.
He turned and took a few steps toward him, still bare-chested with a wild look in his green eyes. Veela were feral creatures at their core, Draco reminded himself. Harry wouldn’t be any different while he was one. “How long am I going to be like this?” he asked in a voice that seemed full of steel.
Draco licked his lips. “It could be anywhere from a week to a few months. I need time. This has never happened before.”
“And what will I do in the mean time? No one can look at me, and now I understand why. I’m one of them. A creature. An animal.”
Draco held out his hand, his palm flat as though pressing against the air between them. “Potter, I must advise you to stay calm.”
“You will turn into an animal.” Draco met his gaze. “You will destroy yourself if you allow yourself to indulge in this selfish anger for even a second. Do you understand?” Potter glared at him then nodded stiffly, his fingers relaxing at his sides. “You have to want to get better and focus all of your energy on it… not the demons in your chest. If you don’t, there is nothing I can do to help you.”
Potter studied him inscrutably for a moment or two. “Is it difficult for you to look at me, too?”
“No. Not at all,” Draco lied.
Potter nodded. “Tell me what I have to do.”
“Shirt and trousers off, Potter.”
It was two days into his treatment, but Potter still raised an eyebrow at Draco’s directness. He certainly should have been used to it by then. “Well usually I like to wait until the second or third date, but…”
“So I’m guessing someone hasn’t gotten laid in a while…?”
He scowled, but acquiesced, tossing both articles of clothing on the hospital bed. Though he was still in his pants, he blushed nonetheless. “A shy veela… now I really have seen everything.”
“Fuck off,” Potter instructed tersely, then… “How much have you seen?”
Draco snorted. “Blaise likes the clubs in Soho, so… anything you can imagine. But since it’s you, probably more than that.”
Potter glanced at him curiously. “I didn’t know that you and Blaise…”
“Arms out,” Draco interrupted smoothly. He and Blaise weren’t anything except mates, but it was worth letting Potter think otherwise just to see the look on his face. Still Slytherin at his core, Draco took the opportunity to appreciate the pale, flawless skin in front of him, his eyes raking along the contours of the man’s back and arse…
Harry glanced over his shoulder to check on his progress and gaped. “Were you just…”
“You were! You were staring at my-”
“Don’t be absurd,” he interrupted coolly. The healer rested the tip of his wand at the base of Potter’s spine. “This is going to hurt like hell,” he informed him callously, before murmuring the incantation.
He’d already given the other wizard the potion which would awaken his veela blood. The spell would merely activate it and make his wings break through the surface of his skin. For a moment, Potter looked relieved, as though the initial pain wasn’t as great as he’d though it’d be. But then he doubled over, nearly pitching forward into the floor. He would have too, had Draco not caught his elbows just as his knees crumpled underneath him.
“Easy, Potter…” He looked up into Potter’s pale, pinched face and noted that his eyes were screwed shut – the perfect picture of pain.
He made a low keening sound, and Draco lowered both of them to the ground until Potter was safely seated and Draco was kneeling in front of him. Veela though he was, Potter was no wilting flower and weighed quite a bit more than Draco did. Had he tried to keep him standing any longer, they’d have both collapsed.
“All right.” He peered over Potter’s shoulder, his hands still holding his forearms in a vice-like grip. Blood ran in rivulets down his spine as the first tendrils of smoke-colored wings emerged from his shoulders. Potter hissed between clenched teeth and knotted his fingers into Draco’s healer’s robes, his hair limp and damp as it fell over his forehead. “All right, now… we’re almost done.” Had he been anyone else, his voice might have been considered soothing.
“Fuck…” His head fell to rest on Draco’s shoulder as the wings spread above his head. Their feathers faded to black as his gaze roamed toward their ends.
They were beautiful.
By the time they’d finished growing, they would have filled the room from one wall to the other had Potter stretched them out completely. “A veela’s wingspan directly corresponds with their power,” Draco murmured distractedly. Potter, of course, was too immersed in his own pain to hear him.
Draco sighed and pulled back, lifting Potter’s chin with his fingers. He flexed his wings experimentally and pulled them around his body, until Draco too was surrounded by charcoal feathers. “Better?” Potter nodded.
“How often do we have to do this?” he asked with a low groan.
“Every day. Just for a few minutes,” Draco hastened to add the latter as Potter made a sound of alarm. His fingers loosened their hold on Draco’s healer’s robes with an embarrassed look on his face and flexed his wings experimentally.
“This is ridiculous.”
“It’s necessary,” Draco corrected.
“I have wings. I look like a bloody chicken.”
“Well, actually, by controlling the appearance of your wings, we’re able to avoid the appearance of a beak…”
“Wonderful,” Potter replied dryly. “Positively spiffing.”
Draco raised an eyebrow. “You just said spiffing.”
“When can they go away?”
“I don’t think anyone’s actually used the word spiffing in centuries…” Draco mused.
“All right. Hold still.” His fingers moved reverently over the soft feathers, because no matter what the circumstances were, the fact that this had worked was nothing short of miraculous. He’d be the first healer in the world to ever have recorded data on it.
Draco pressed his wand against his spine and watched the wings retract into his spine.
“Get into bed. Sleep. The Weasley clan will be here soon for visiting hours, and god knows you’ll need your energy for that.” He stood and looked down at Potter still kneeling on the ground and sighed. Draco extended his hand and Harry took it to pull himself up. He was reminded of a time a decade before when Potter had refused to take it.
“Thank you,” Potter said. Draco nodded, grabbed his clipboard and walked toward the door with his eyes lowered to the data in front of him.
“Malfoy?” He hesitated at the door and glanced back at the man. “You were looking at my arse.” Potter grinned wickedly.
Draco felt his lips twitch in spite of himself. “Tosser.” He let the door close behind him with a metallic click.
Draco was on his way up for another chat with his overlord, also known as hospital director, also known as Queen of Everything, when he ran… literally… into the youngest Weasley. She’d just burst out of Potter’s room in a flurry of fiery red hair, green eyes shining with tears which had apparently rendered her incapable of watching where she was going.
That, or maybe it was just her Weasley genes that rendered her incompetent. Draco tried to be lenient because he knew that either way, it probably wasn’t her fault that she was the product of ill breeding. “Malfoy,” she said tiredly, apparently too exhausted to even bother injecting a hint of malice in his name.
“Weasley,” he said in return. “I suppose you’re regretting letting him leave now.” He jerked his chin toward the closed door.
She sighed. “I just want everything to go back to normal. You can fix him, can’t you? He seems to think you can.”
“Oh? Did he say…”
She laughed, and the sound of it was silver and cold. “Oh yes. He can’t stop talking about you. He trusts you. And so help me, Malfoy… if you fuck this up, I will carve you open myself and stir your innards with a hot poker while you watch.” She approached slowly, her steps snake-like and deceptively graceful.
“Look, Weasley… I understand that your family are a highly emotional, bordering on hysterical, lot, but I know how to do my job, so if you’ll just-”
“And I know how to do mine. My job is to make sure that none of my family winds up hurt, and Harry is my family.”
Draco had had quite enough, and all professional pretenses dropped away. “He left you,” he said callously, “or had you forgotten? He’s not anything to you now except for a good fuck and your brother’s best friend.”
Weasley seemed on the verge of hitting him and to be fair, Draco wouldn’t have blamed her if she had. Instead, she left him with one more parting shot that he couldn’t disagree with either. “Harry is the best man in the whole entire world and I’ll be damned if I let you give anything less than your best in order to save him. I don’t care if he never looks at me again. The world would be a far worse place without him in it.”
Draco sighed and dropped his hands to his sides. “I believe we’re in agreement, Weasley. Neither of us would even be here to have this conversation if it weren’t for him. Now if you’re quite finished spilling your bleeding heart all over the floor, I’d very much like to make it to my next appointment on time.”
He turned away from Weasley, certain that they were both sharing thoughts about the man who had saved both of their lives and how neither of them stood a chance at capturing his attention.
“I’m sorry, Healer Malfoy… he won’t listen!” Draco shot the assistant a withering look and watched him wilt under his steady gaze.
“How shocking. Potter won’t listen,” he murmured dryly, already heading toward Potter’s room.
Draco opened the door and stood, watching with amusement as Potter continued to try to throw off the glowing ball of light above his head that was tuned in to all of his vitals. He seemed to be alternating between swiping at it and ignoring it as he pulled on his street clothes. “Potter, I’ll thank you to please stop harassing my staff.”
He froze and peered up at Draco dolefully. “I have to get out of this hospital. The only thing worse than being a chicken is being a caged chicken.”
Draco snorted. “Be that as it may, you don’t have clearance to leave.”
Potter looked miserable. “Who do I have to ask?”
“Me.” Draco grinned cheerfully. “And the answer is no, obviously. You can’t wander the streets on your own, where anything could happen. Other people are as much a danger to you as you are to them right now. Surely you can understand that.” Potter looked crestfallen. “Potter, I said you can’t wander the streets on your own. Do try to keep up.”
He blinked at Draco. “So… I just need a chaperone.” Draco nodded. “Who…?”
Draco scrawled a note across the bottom of Potter’s chart and left it in the pouch at the foot of his bed. “I need a break anyway. Please do run a comb through your hair though, Potter. I cannot be seen with someone who looks like they just rolled out of bed, no matter how impressive it may be that your hair seems capable of defying the laws of gravity.”
“…and then she ended up burying her jewelry in the backyard next to her hyacinths.”
Potter laughed at Draco’s story about his mother and shoved his hands deeper into his jeans. The crimson sweater he’d thrown on complemented his lithe form, and Draco knew he was not the only one who had noticed judging by the interested glances the passersby paid them as they walked past. Draco himself had donned a pair of trousers and a white oxford shirt. Though he was considerably better dressed than him, Draco felt, not for the first time in his life, that he was being overshadowed by Potter.
He supposed, though, that everyone felt a little small walking in Potter’s shadow.
“Why weren’t you this funny in school?”
“I was. You were just too busy saving the world to notice, I think. But surely you remember the badges I made for the Triwizard Tournament. Classic.”
“Wanker,” Potter replied, though he was smiling. “I probably have irreparable psychological damage because of you. I’m sure the memories of it go against your moral code as a healer now. How ever do you manage to sleep at night?”
“Forgive me for being crass but a good wank does wonders.”
Draco laughed. “Such a prude, Potter. I’ve always wondered how patients manage in the hospital.”
Potter glanced at him warily. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, how do you get your rocks off when an assistant could walk in at any time?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea, Malfoy.” Draco watched as his cheeks tinged a delicious shade of pink.
“You’ve done it, haven’t you? You have! Oh, Potter, you dirty boy. The Weasley girl stops by once and you lose all self-control…”
He looked at Draco evenly. “Ginny’s a sweet girl, but I don’t think about her like that.”
Draco was, admittedly, a bit thrown at Potter’s candid answer. He was curious to know just what the Chosen One did fantasize about when the lights were off and his hand slid beneath the sheets, but this was neither the time nor place. He was still Potter’s healer after all. “Well, no matter. An increase in libido comes with the territory, I suppose. Veelas are naturally more hormonal than humans.”
“Oh good, as long as there’s a science behind it, I feel so much better.”
Draco laughed. “So there has been an increase…?”
Harry gave a long sigh in reply and ran a hand through his untidy hair which Draco was certain he had not run a comb through as he’d been instructed. “Draco, I didn’t want to get out of the hospital just so we could talk some more about what happens while I’m in it.”
“I’m sorry, I-” Draco stopped and turned to look at him, his hands deep in his pockets. “Draco now, is it?”
He was given an exasperated look in return. “I figured it was overdue. And I’d very much like it if you called me Harry.”
The healer considered this for a second, his brow furrowed in thought. “I suppose that would be acceptable. Harry.”
Harry smiled. Draco looked away. “You shouldn’t do that.”
“Smile. It’s distracting. For everyone.” He looked around pointedly at the people who had stopped to gawk at the beautiful man in their midst.
Potter groaned. “This is absurd.”
“And here I thought you always liked the attention.”
“Shut it.” Draco grinned. They walked in silence for a few moments, but surprisingly, it wasn’t the uncomfortable sort of silence that one felt desperate to fill with empty words that didn’t really mean anything. Draco was grateful for it. The hospital had always felt so stifling with the expectations people had of him to always keep those silences at bay when sometimes, he felt desperate for them.
“So… why a healer?”
Draco had never known how to answer that question, but somehow, suddenly he did. “I needed to do something no one thought I could do, but this time, I needed to do it because it would make things better.” He grinned sardonically. “I seem to have lost my desire for destruction at some point.”
“I’m not sure you ever had it.” Harry’s eyes glimmered faintly with something Draco couldn’t quite determine.
Draco shrugged. “I’ve heard that it’s an acquired taste.” Harry laughed. Draco wanted to make him do it again. “And you? Surely if you end up in a hospital bed every other month after a bust, being an Auror can’t be all you dreamed it was.”
“This was a one-off. Usually we can handle it, because usually, criminals are incredibly predictable and… unprepared. But we were sent to this warehouse in the middle of London on a false lead, so this time, we were the ones who were unprepared. We’d been set up. They’d known we were coming, obviously, and they seemed to have a personal vendetta against Ron and I.”
“What ever for?”
“Perhaps we got some of their friends sent to Azkaban. Who knows. They caught all but one after Ron and I got knocked out, so we’ll find out in questioning. I thought I recognized the one that got away, but I-”
Draco frowned. He didn’t really want to know who Harry had thought he’d seen, in case it was someone Draco knew. “Do you want to sit? Let’s sit.”
Harry’s lips twitched. “All right.” He slid onto one of the many benches lining the bath next to the Serpentine. “I never thought I’d take a walk with you that didn’t involve a steep cliff.”
“Likewise,” Draco said cheerfully, his grey eyes taking in the glittering water of the river before them. “So you and Weasley… what happened there? I know it isn’t my business, but quite frankly, I don’t really give a damn.”
Harry smiled again and then seemed to remember that he shouldn’t. Draco berated himself for chastising him earlier. “She didn’t really end up being my type.”
“The Savior has a type? Oh, do tell.”
He blushed, and Draco could feel his own heart beat a little faster. He reminded himself quickly that the reason was a chemical imbalance in his brain. Nothing more.
“It had more to do with her being a woman.”
Draco, for once in life, was shocked. “You’re kidding.” Harry shook his head and looked coyly in his direction, dark lashes brushing against his cheeks as Draco drank him in.
“Does that disgust you?”
“Not at all.”
“It did Ron.”
“He’s an idiot.”
Harry snorted. “Oi, that’s my best mate you’re talking about.”
“Yes, well, that doesn’t make him any less of an idiot. It just makes you more of one.”
Harry laughed and looked down at his fingers which he had knotted nervously together. “Look, Potter… Harry… I know this must be a stressful time for you, but it’s going to work out. All modesty aside, I’ve always been able to find a cure. Always.”
Harry looked down, the crimson stain still present on his cheeks. “That’s not it.”
“It’s just that…” Harry looked at Draco, his eyes full of uncertainty, and it was then that he finally noticed he was trembling. “I really want to do something right now, but I’m afraid to.”
Draco tried to look encouraging. “Harry, if there was ever a time to do something you wanted to do… now is that time.”
He nodded and, with shaking fingers, reached out to brush a strand of white-blond hair away from Draco’s forehead. They skated down his temple and slid along his cheek before Harry leaned in and brushed his lips against Draco’s.
It was soft and feather light, but it was also the most fierce, desperate thing Draco had ever tasted. Harry’s lips barely touched his, but he could feel the restraint in that simple slight action, and the fact that Harry was holding himself back only made Draco think about what might happen if he didn’t.
He pulled back and placed a hand against Harry’s chest. “Harry… please…”
To his credit, Harry looked crestfallen. “I’m sorry, I thought… I don’t know. I see the way you look at me sometimes, and I just-” Harry’s voice caught in his throat. “I’m sorry.”
Draco pulled his hand away and ran it through his hair, letting his breath ghost past his lips as though he’d been holding it a little too long. “I’m your Healer, Harry. And more importantly, you’re a veela.”
“Oh. I see.”
“No, it’s not- Harry, think. Your hormones are basically that of a teenage boy’s right now, only worse. You’re confused…”
“I want you,” he said firmly. “I know I do.”
“No, you don’t. When this is all over, you might find yourself disgusted by the mere sight of me once your body’s back to normal. And you also have to remember that you have an incredible draw on anyone right now, and…”
“You only want me back because I’m a veela,” he said wretchedly.
Draco pressed his fingers into his temples to ward off a headache. “No, I don’t…” he hesitated, “I don’t think so. But do you really want that possibility looming over you whenever you touch me? Kiss me?”
Harry leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “What if I never get better? What if I never get another chance to kiss you again?”
Draco grinned – he couldn’t help it – and slipped his hand around the nape of Harry’s neck. To touch Harry was to set himself on fire. The pure want he felt for Harry made him feel filthy, regardless of how many deviancies he had indulged in during his short life. Harry bit his bottom lip and bent his head down, trying to get Harry to look at him. “If it comes to that, then you’ll have another chance. I promise. But you’re going to get better.” And when you do, you’ll forget you ever wanted this.
Harry stood and looked out over the river. Then, he laughed.
“What could possibly be so funny right now?” Draco draped both arms over the back of the bench and watched the Harry with a perplexed look on his face.
“This… is just so absurd,” he choked out. “I’m a fucking veela! With wings! And I have a crush on Draco Malfoy! Oh fuck…” Some of the passersby began giving him a wide berth and a few worried glances.
“All right, let’s just-”
“-get you back.”
Draco glanced around surreptitiously and yanked on Harry’s wrist to get him out of sight before they both found themselves incarcerated by the Muggle authorities for disturbance of the peace.
Draco stared into the depths of the amber liquid swirling lazily in his glass tumbler. His study furniture and the fireplace cast eerie shadows that slipped across the walls like a dark ink wash. He’d been drinking for the better part of the night, feeling very maudlin indeed about the most recent turn of events.
Draco wasn’t keen on the idea of losing any of his patients, but now that it was Harry at risk, the stakes had been raised.
Because now, he stood to lose more than just a patient.
Even worse, he couldn’t get Harry out of his mind.
Draco slid the glass onto the desk in front of him and watched a spider crawl up the far wall. His mother would throw a fit if she knew there was what she would undoubtedly consider a pest in her home.
Like the thin silk strand to which the spider clung, Draco’s thoughts seemed to always be connected to Harry these days. Draco’s slender fingers flipped beneath his jumper and trailed down his pale, smooth stomach with a small shudder. He hissed as they skated below the waistband of his pants and brushed along his length. His fingers moved by memory in slow and languid strokes as his mind wandered.
All coherent thought seemed to be in a fog, but Harry emerged from it like a ghost with his eyes bright. His gaze clung to Dracos’ every movement, moan, and whisper, and Draco didn’t mind, because it was all for him in the first place. His head tilted back exposing his soft throat and the shallow dip of his collarbone.
He closed his eyes, but Harry was still imprinted on the back of his lids, like a bright light he’d looked at a little too long. Draco wanted to reach out and run his hands through that unruly hair, not to fix it, but to know what it felt like.
His fingers moved faster, until he was gulping air into his lungs like a drowning sailor. “Please…”
As he came and shuddered against the chair, he murmured Harry’s name and knew, in a moment of clarity, exactly what he had to do.
“I’m handing over your case to Healer Jacobson, Harry.”
The smile Harry had worn when Draco walked in slowly disappeared. Draco’s heart thrummed against his ribs. “He’s perfectly capable and I will, of course, be researching your condition independently. I still have faith that you will make a complete recovery.”
“But I need you.”
“No.” Draco drew a breath, though he should have been prepared for this, “you need someone who can make sound decisions that aren’t compromised by any personal biases.”
Time slowed down. Sunshine filtered in through the blinds over the window and fell in slanted lines across the bed. “And what exactly does that mean, Draco?”
“It means we can no longer have a professional relationship. Now Healer Jacobson will be in to see you in half an hour. She just wants to meet you and-”
Draco pressed his lips together and shook his head. “We all have your best interests in mind.” Harry stood, his soft cotton pajama pants brushing against the cold hospital floor, and moved toward him. It struck Draco that he was not walking like any human he had ever seen. In fact, his movements seemed more akin to that of a wolf.
“Harry, stop it… don’t allow it to take over. Stay in control.” But Harry didn’t stop, nor did he hesitate. “I told you. ‘If you indulge in this selfish anger’…”
“Then I will become an animal. I think I’m past that point, Draco. Don’t you?” Harry prowled toward him. “Or perhaps I’m just past caring.” He slipped his hand along Draco’s shoulder and smiled before pulling him flush against him. “My, my… how long have you been like this, Draco?” He purred as his hand slipped between them to brush his fingers lightly along his hard flesh straining against his trousers and robes.
The healer groaned. “You’re not in your right mind. You’d never be doing this if you were.”
Harry nipped at his earlobe with his teeth. “Then I don’t want to be in my right mind. You said Healer Jacobson would be here in half an hour? We have plenty of time.” The veela pushed Draco slowly backward until his shoulders hit the wall behind him. “I know you’ve been dreaming of this, Draco. What do you think about when you do?”
Draco stayed resolutely silent. “My mouth around your cock? The Chosen One on his knees in front of you?” Harry leaned forward and kissed his jaw. His lips felt warm and soft. “Or perhaps spread out in your bed, waiting for you to fuck him.” He laughed. “Which is it? Though, I suppose…” he rubbed his palm against Draco’s length more insistently, “all of those options sound pretty good to you now, hm?”
“Please stop…” Draco leaned his head back until it fell against the wall with a soft thud.
“But you’re enjoying it. It’s written all over that pretty face of yours…” His breath ghosted over Draco’s skin. “I bet you touch yourself thinking about this.” He studied Draco’s face and a delighted smile appeared on his lips. “You do! Oh, Draco… you always seem so composed… so professional… and yet you’re hard as a rock, wanting me.”
Harry sank to his knees and unbuttoned Draco’s trousers beneath his robes. “Tell me you want this,” he said. “I want to hear the words.”
Draco bit down hard on his bottom lip. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But this isn’t right.”
His trousers were tugged down around his knees and Harry licked a stripe up his length, ripping a strangled cry from Draco’s throat. “You’re contradicting yourself now, Draco…” He sucked lightly on the tip of his cock, smiling around the hard flesh. “God, I’ve been imagining how this would feel… what you would look like while I sucked you off…”
Draco couldn’t formulate a reply. Harry looked up at him, pausing just long enough to smile. “You look fantastic, in case you were wondering.” Then, he began to suck him in earnest, his head bobbing up and down on Draco’s cock.
And somewhere in the pleasure, was an unimaginable feeling of guilt. He had upset Harry. He should have had Granger there with him to help Harry accept the news. With Harry on his knees in front of him, he was as good as taking advantage of him. He couldn’t help that he was acting like this.
When he noticed that Draco seemed distracted, Harry redoubled his efforts until he filled Draco’s mind like a fog. “Harry…” Harry looked up at him, his eyes full of light and childish schemes.
With one more hoarse shout of his name, Draco shuddered and came, his fingernails scraping at the wall behind him and clutching at Harry’s hair in search of something that would keep him tethered to reality.
Draco groaned as Harry drank every last drop of him and brought his hands up to his face. “Oh…” Harry fell back onto his arse, his face white as a sheet. Perhaps reality wasn’t as preferable as Draco had thought, because it seemed to be washing over both of them like a giant, hungry ocean when neither of them could swim.
“I have to…” Without bothering to leave him with a proper excuse, Draco fled the room leaving Harry in the middle of it. Both of their faces were blank pages in a book that hadn’t been written in quite the way either of them had intended.
An hour later found Draco staring at Harry’s door, equal parts horrified and anxious. He had to be feeling angry. Betrayed. Hurt. And it was all Draco’s fault, because he had taken advantage of his condition. Draco hadn’t even wanted to hurt him, and yet he’d managed to anyway.
Even the things he loved he hurt. He’d come this far to try to redeem himself. He’d thought he’d find forgiveness in this hospital, but instead, he’d found Harry.
Everything always came back to Harry.
Draco pushed open the door, expecting to see the man huddled in bed, but instead, he was met with the sight of a disturbingly empty room. The healer backed out of the room, and into a solid body. “Draco!”
He spun around. “Granger, where’s Harry?”
She blinked at him and shrugged. “I don’t know. Jacobson said he could go home for a few hours to get some extra clothes. He seemed very distraught when he told me… kept saying you’d never forgive him. Ron finally woke up though, thank Merlin, and he-”
Draco held up two fingers. “Jacobson did what?” He pounded his fist against the door frame and groaned. “Harry is a veela. You can’t just let those go wandering around the streets! What was Jacobson thinking?”
“He was thinking that Harry needed some air,” Draco scrubbed at his eyes like a tired child and cursed in a manner that couldn’t be any less like a child.
“I’ve got to go find him.” Granger reached for his arm, resting her hand on his robes.
“What did he do that was so awful, Draco? He was very upset.”
Draco shook his head and backed away, already heading toward the ground floor of the hospital with a lie forming on his lips. “I have no idea, Granger. I just need to find him.”
Harry wasn’t at home.
Draco couldn’t get inside, of course, because Harry Potter was bound to have the kind of wards up around his flat that would sizzle an ex-Death Eater to a crisp. In fact, he could practically smell his eyebrows being singed and he had been careful to keep his distance. “Paranoid bastard,” he muttered. For Draco, cursing seemed to be instinct whilst in a panic.
A breeze ghosted over his skin as he caught a shimmer of something out of the corner of his eye. A clear Patronus sailed through the air like oil in water – unable to really be a part of the thing that surrounded it. It was in the shape of an unfamiliar terrier. Most of the people he associated with had the sort of Patronus that would seem a product of someone’s worst fear rather than their happiest memory.
“Warehouse on Pier Street. They have him.” Weasley’s voice broke off as the terrier began to dissolve, until there was nothing left of it at all.
Draco cursed again and ran.
It struck him, a bit belatedly perhaps, that he had no Auror training and thus had no reason to believe that he wouldn’t just make things worse. As he stood out in the cold, biting air which nipped at his skin like tiny electrical shocks, he placed his hand against the icy metal exterior of the warehouse.
“Shit, fuck, dammit…” He couldn’t go in there and chance making things worse for Harry, but he couldn’t stay out in the cold waiting while Harry suffered either. To add insult to injury, he couldn’t exactly send a message to the Ministry when he had no proof that Harry was actually inside the building to begin with. For all he knew, Weasley had sent him that Patronus in a potion-induced hysteria and this was a lead that led to a brick wall.
Not to mention that Draco was hardly someone the Ministry would take at his word. Draco studied the warehouse with an inscrutable look on his face for a few moments before he squared his shoulders to find a way in. He had no other choice.
The landing dock was on the back side of the building, filled with wooden boxes and inky black shadows that made it impossible to know if he was truly as alone as he felt. Fingers scraped at the rusted edges of the iron railing until he found the stairs which creaked noisily under his feet. His paranoia amplified the sound several times over, he was sure, but logic wasn’t the soothing balm it usually was right then.
Blue light filtered in through the windows overhead as he stepped into the warehouse once he’d covered himself in a disillusionment charm and several untrackable spells in case they had any trespassing wards on the rickety old building. Wooden beams seemed to be holding the place up, but just barely.
And deeper inside the building was Harry, surrounded by dust-streaked windows filtering in the sun like a prison made out of light.
The kidnappers had chained him up by his wrists and, though his wings were spread, they were tied down until they were nearly flush against his naked back. It had to be incredibly painful.
Caution seemed a luxury he simply didn’t have. Draco sprinted forward, his hands grappling with the shackles binding Harry’s wrists. They were warm. Bloody. Slick. Draco had seen blood… was desensitized to the sight of it, but this made his insides run cold. “Harry… please…”
Harry’s eyes fluttered open. “Draco. Run.” His voice sounded gravelly and weak.
“Draco Malfoy.” A voice that sounded like cold steel emerged from the shadows. “What a surprise.”
“Who are you?” Invisible ropes snaked out of the air and twisted around his limbs, sending him toppling to the ground. Draco writhed in protest while Harry howled.
“Let him go!”
The man laughed. “I don’t think so. Two for the price of one! This is fantastic.” His heels clicked against the floor as he moved closer. “I was just halfway through creating the potion that will bring our Master back to us, Malfoy. Doesn’t that excite you? Aren’t you glad you can be a part of it now?” He pulled out a knife and gave him a smile to match the curved blade.
Instead of moving closer to Draco however, he turned toward Harry. “No, no…”
Draco’s body instantly folded in on itself. He was no stranger to Cruciatus but every time felt a little bit different, and you never got use to it. It felt as though his spine was being folded in half. By the time he could focus on anything at all, the masked man had his knife against the crook of Harry’s arm. “I think you’re familiar with the proceedings, aren’t you Harry?”
Harry groaned and his wings twitched feebly against his back as the knife dug into his skin. Crimson blood flowed from the wound and into a cup the man held beneath it. “Who are you?” Draco rasped.
“Don’t you recognize your own uncle?”
Rabastan. “If the state of your hair is any indication, I can understand why you’d want to hide your face.”
“Insolent fool,” he hissed through the iron grating of the mask.
“Your powers of observation are positively astounding, Uncle.” Another Cruciatus wracked his body though he had to admit that he’d sort of deserved that one. Draco’s eyes darted from the goblet in Rabastan’s hand to the iron cauldron under one of the rib-like rafters holding the building up. Distract him.
Harry whimpered as he hung limply from his bonds. “Yes, I suppose given the option between bringing your wife back and the Dark Lord, I’d choose the latter too…”
“You will be silent!”
“I’m a Malfoy. I’m sure I don’t know the meaning of the word.” Draco swore he could taste blood on his tongue as his cheek pressed into the cold, rough cement of the ground beneath him. The ropes dug into his wrists as he scrambled for something more to say.
But it was all for nothing. Lestrange had poured the contents of the goblet into the potion which hissed as the Chosen One’s blood hit its surface.
Two things happened at once. The cauldron exploded in a burst of brilliant flames that caught on the old, dry wood of the building. In the same instant, a wooden beam fell on Lestrange and knocked his wand out of his hand.
The ropes fell away from Draco as the building danced with flames around them. Draco scrambled to his feet and grabbed his wand, loosing Harry from his shackles and catching him before he crumpled to the ground. “Harry…” He reached up and cupped Harry’s face in his hand as the heat from the fire scalded the back of his neck. He knew that the potion hadn’t worked. Harry’s veela blood must have destroyed it. But that was secondary to the fact that Harry’s eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving.
He finally allowed himself to exhale when Harry’s eyes fluttered open for a brief moment and a halfhearted smile appeared on his chapped lips. “How about that kiss, Draco?”
Draco laughed hoarsely as Weasley’s voice rang through the building. He must be hallucinating now, he thought, as dark shapes moved toward them.
At the same time, both men’s eyes drooped closed.
When Draco woke up, he was greeted with the sight of the blinding white hospital lights.
“Harry,” he murmured, his eyes flying open.
“Single-minded bastard, isn’t he?”
“Oh god… the last thing I wanted to see when I woke up was your freckled face, Weasley,” Draco informed him loudly.
“Yeah well, the last thing I wanted to hear you say when you woke up was my best mate’s name so I guess we’re even.”
Draco’s vision swam in and out of focus as though looking at him through a broken microscope. “Where is he?”
Both faces seemed hesitant. “Where. Is. He.”
“In surgery.” Granger’s voice wavered. “His… the stress was too much, and the veela blood began attacking his body. They’re draining him right now and-”
Draco shot up. “He’s too unstable! He’ll never-”
“He’d never have made it if they didn’t, Draco. I wouldn’t have let them do it if there had been any other alternative. Now, I’ve checked the new blood myself. It’s clean this time. I swear it.”
The blond shook his head. “I should’ve known the world was ending the moment I woke up to you two sitting by my sick bed.” He slumped backward again and he felt hands supporting his back before he slipped seamlessly back into unconsciousness.
“It’s going to be fine, Draco.” Draco glanced sideward at the woman sitting next to him and paid her a look of disbelief for her trouble. He didn’t need anyone’s support, least of all now when it sounded more like pity than encouragement. Harry had been in surgery for the better part of the day and halfway through the Auror’s procedure, Draco had woken up again.
He almost wished he’d stayed asleep because there was no worse feeling than sitting in a hospital waiting room.
“How’d you know where they’d taken him, Weasley? Pretty impressive for a man with the observational skills of a goldfish.”
Weasley looked past Granger and brushed his hand distractedly along the white bandage still wrapped around his head. “They put a tracking charm on Harry. It was the last thing I heard before I lost consciousness, so… they’d have known as soon as he left the hospital.”
Draco had to admit, he didn’t really care all that much about all of the tiresome details, but talking was better than simply waiting.
As the healer walked into the room, Draco peered up at him with his eyes as glazed as a pair of frosted windows. Hermione and Ron stood as he approached. “He’s going to be fine. He’s undergone a serious change in his body chemistry however, so he may not perceive things as he did before the surgery…”
Draco shot to his feet and walked toward Harry’s room. He’d already prepared a very dramatic, very theatrical speech by the time he reached the door. How could you forget about the way you felt? You said you’d still want this. You said you’d still want me. He had worked himself up into a frenzy, his usual composed exterior shattered like an icicle hitting the pavement.
“Draco.” The voice called him into the room, its tendrils snaking around his arms and legs and tugging him forward. He wondered if this was a by-product of any lingering veela blood in his veins.
Draco moved Harry’s bedside with his eyes hollow and shuttered. Harry had his eyes closed. Despite his skin’s blueish tint, he looked just as perfect as he had before the surgery.
He could understand if, once he looked at Draco, Harry realized he’d been a fool. He could understand if he never wanted to see or talk to him again. But that didn’t mean he’d ever be the same again.
Harry’s eyes flickered open and he smiled as they roamed freely over Draco’s face. But it wasn’t that which encouraged Draco into moving a little closer and reaching for Draco’s hand that clutched at his sheets. It wasn’t even the way he reached for Draco like a man starved. Instead, it was the words he spoke. They were simple, but in the end, they were all Draco really needed.
“I think you owe me a kiss, Malfoy. Don’t you?”
Draco smiled and brushed his fingertips over Harry’s cheek. “Yes,” he answered, before pressing his lips against Harry’s. In that brief moment, he could believe that Harry wanted him as much as he wanted Harry. He could believe that the surgery had gone as smoothly as the healer said and that there would be no lingering side effects. He could believe that Harry felt the same way about him as a human as he had as a veela. He could believe whatever existed between them could work.
But more importantly, for the first time in a long time, Draco Malfoy allowed himself to believe that he had a reason to hope.