Title: The Business of Saving Souls – Part 3/3
Part One | Part Two
The Business of Saving Souls Part Three
Granger tapped the open file with her quill. “This week marks the conclusion of your professional probation. Yesterday, actually. But if I remember, you were unavailable for an appointment.”
Draco frowned. He was well aware of the faint but distasteful grimace lining Granger’s face. She glanced at him briefly and he just lifted an eyebrow at her. She knew very well who he’d been with yesterday, otherwise she wouldn’t be two seconds from scowling like she was.
Draco wondered if she knew he was shagging Harry. And then decided that her reaction when she did find out would be well worth witnessing.
“In light of your current situation,” she went on, pulling two crisp sheets of parchment out of one of her drawers and smoothing them down on the desktop, “I think it best to expedite the paperwork. You’ll need to confirm your understanding of your changing legal status. I’m required to verbally inform you of each section of this form. Are you ready?”
“For months, Granger,” he answered dryly.
Her eyes narrowed. She cleared her throat pointedly. “Do you acknowledge the termination of your probationary period as concerns Spiritus, Incorporated?” she read.
Draco nodded. “Yes.”
She noted his response with three taps of her wand on the parchment. Text bloomed across the blank parchment with a sputter of golden motes, revealing the following question.
“Do you acknowledge that this form is in no way inclusive of any other forms or periods of probation?”
Three taps. “Have you been in the custody of Ministry officials for any reason or at any time during your probationary period as concerns Spiritus, Incorporated?”
Four taps. “Have you been in trouble with any legal association and/or recognised peace-keeping agency, either Wizard or Muggle, during your probationary period as concerns Spiritus, Incorporated?”
Draco pursed his lips. “No.”
“Have you exited the country of England at any time during your probationary period as concerns Spiritus, Incorporated?”
“Can you legally account for any and all balances, withholdings, interest, and/or debts accrued during your probationary period as concerns Spiritus, Incorporated?”
Draco smiled thinly and prodded his file with one stiff finger. “Only if you can, Granger.”
She sneered back sarcastically. Three taps with her wand.
And the questions went on. Two pages’ worth, past his intentions for his business, whether or not he meant to sell within one fiscal year of the end of probation, how he would be utilising his revenue. Finally Granger asked him to recognise her as his personal reclamations agent— such a quaint little term— and set down her wand.
“Read the document,” she said, passing it to him. “If you concur with what is recorded here, sign at the bottom.”
Draco took the papers. He read them carefully, attentive to the slightest possibility of error and subsequent loopholes, and signed his signature to the second page with relish. Granger took them back without a word, duplicated them with a wave of her wand, then stuck the original into an official-looking envelope and sealed it. She summoned her owl from the perch by the window and sent the document out into the afternoon air.
“That’s over, then,” she murmured, and straightened his file with prim fingers. Snapped it shut. “You’re aware that you’ve three months left on your personal probation, correct?”
“Would it be possible to forget?” Draco drawled. Granger glared at him, lips pursed into a little moue.
“You do understand that I’ve specific questions and phrases I’m required to use? It’s not all just to get under your skin.”
Draco thought about taking it to the next step for kicks, but ultimately let it go. He nodded grudgingly. “Yes, Granger. And I do appreciate your efforts.”
Her gaze became a little penetrating. She rolled her shoulders back, staring at him all the while, and Draco fought against fidgeting. He wasn’t about to wiggle around like a young child in front of her. He could feel his irritation rising.
“Yes?” he said caustically, at last. Her eyes narrowed.
“You can be so—” She stopped and gave a soft sigh.
“It hardly matters anymore. It’s not as if I have a say in anything outside this office.”
Draco opened his mouth to demand an explanation, but she shook her head briskly and changed the subject. “Well. I don’t suppose I’ll need to see you for another month. Your accounts are in order, I assume.”
Draco cocked his head, unwilling to jump topics without gaining satisfaction, but enjoying the new outlet for his irritation. “As in order as they can be, considering the Ministry has given itself a permanent back door into my vaults.”
Her chin lowered. “This closes them out of your accounts completely. They won’t be able to borrow from your vaults anymore.”
“I think I’ll be taking my own precautions on that front, if it’s all the same to you,” he shot back, and watched her expression darken.
“You really enjoy being difficult, don’t you?” she said in a clipped tone.
He sneered at her. “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been told I’m not such an annoyance when you’ve spent the proper amount of time with me.”
“I suppose Harry told you that,” she answered. Her lips twitched downward sharply. “I don’t understand why he always feels the need to—”
Draco sat forward, finally interested. “Perhaps he enjoys my company,” he volleyed gamely. “If you can even consider such a possibility.”
A troubled look passed through her eyes and vanished. “It’s not that,” she muttered. “He acts strangely. When it concerns you. He’s just…” Again, she noticeably stopped herself. When she continued, her manner was much more dismissive. “I don’t understand him.”
Draco studied her keenly, working his thoughts around. So maybe she did know more than he’d thought. Or maybe it was all just guesswork. He was just pondering how to wheedle it out of her— or maybe just needle her with it— when she cleared her throat.
“There are other documents concerning your personal probation that we’ll need to get started. They take time to process. You’ll have to get two letters of commendation. Your therapist can provide one, and the other will need to come from an outside source. We’ll meet again same time next month and you can show me what you’ve—”
A knock sounded on the door to her office, and Granger’s assistant stuck her head in. “Pardon me, Hermione, I’m sorry, but Mr Hornsby is here again, and I’ve told him you’re in a meeting, but he’s very insistent on speaking to you.”
Granger huffed exasperatedly. “What could he possibly want, Amelia? I’ve been over his case until I’m blue in the face!”
“He says there are more papers that need sending. He’s off his bloody rocker, Hermione, but he won’t listen to me.” Amelia was interrupted by a man’s raised, indignant voice from one of the other offices. The girl winced and left the doorway, gesturing furiously for silence as she went.
“Oh, for the love of Athena—” Granger shoved her chair back and stood, eyes sparking. “Excuse me, Malfoy. Amelia! Amelia, tell him I have concluded all outstanding paperwork. He’s nothing that needs doing! No, don’t let him in here, he can very well—”
Her office door clicked shut behind her.
Draco rolled his eyes and sat back. Of all the incompetent, lackadaisical— He had a headache. He had places to be, namely that bloody excuse for a bank before the Ministry managed to find another method of getting its claws on his business funds. And they would, he was sure of it.
They probably paid snot-nosed interns chosen specifically for the amount of acne they had to sit around all day figuring out how to screw one Draco Malfoy over.
And speaking of.
Perhaps there were reasons for this continual account mix-up. He had no idea what Granger’s filing methods were doing to his reputation with the Ministry. Wouldn’t it be just like her to make exceptions for him in her perfectly obsessive habits?
“It’s my bloody file,” Draco muttered.
He reached, grabbed the file off of Granger’s desk, and began to flip through it. Pending realty on the manor… Payment stubs for his parents’ continued existence on— or in, rather— English soil. Records upon records of office visits summarised in Granger’s antish writing. “Oh, bloody hell, Granger.”
But it was actually a fairly pristine file. Draco sniffed, leafing through failed Wizarding lawsuits against him— Really, was an accusation of disturbing the peace truly necessary, merely on the grounds that he existed?— and his own signed statements documenting continued good behaviour. Duplicates of his business’ charter and licenses. A few rather unimaginative photographs of himself glaring at the camera and grinding his teeth. Draco smirked. Bet Granger loves these.
There were, surprisingly, several gold-embossed letters on his behalf to the Ministry, invoking chapter and section of violated regulations concerning their tampering with his Gringott’s accounts. All signed by Hermione J. Granger. Draco snorted, grudgingly allowing gratitude the tiniest of footholds. “Well. Seems you can do your job,” he muttered. “In one respect.”
Toward the back of the file, Draco discovered an orderly packet of his monetary statements, attached directly to the file itself with some sort of sticking spell. He loosened the spell with his wand and flipped through the papers with darting eyes. Nothing in particular looked to be out of order.
He shuffled a few pages further and came across several older documents. One bore the old letterhead of Granger’s office. Draco frowned. It was some sort of financial document he’d never seen before. Copies like it, perhaps, but this one was different.
Payments he’d made, the deposit on his shabby little office, the dates of sole ownership… Proprietor: Draco Ignatius Malfoy. Reclamation agent/agency: Hermione Jane Granger.
Primary Benefactor: Harry James Potter, 2500.00 Galleons (as anon. donation).
Draco’s pulse beat strangely in his ears. He stared down at the parchment, at the three names on it.
Governmentally allocated, she’d said. The only good thing to come out of the half-arsed effort by the Ministry to rehabilitate the war’s “lost souls.” But it wasn’t from the government.
Draco felt an aching sensation in his knuckles and realised he was crumpling the loose stack of his bank statements in his hand. He let go slowly, raised his head. Stared for a long time at the cheery flowered wallpaper on the far wall.
Government allocations… They’d already taken so much from him. That money might as well been his family’s appropriated funds. His money. He’d raised the rest, sold his flat into emptiness, skimped on clothing, furniture, even food until he could afford to call the business his.
Draco stood with a jerk. His chair teetered and, as if moving through a haze, he reached back and caught it, set it to rights. The file lay open and scattered across Granger’s desk. Hands moving slowly at first, and then quickening, Draco replaced the statements, fastened them back to the inside of the file with an adhesive spell, and shut the file gently. He turned, gathered his cloak, and walked out of the office, shutting the door behind him.
* * *
His hands felt clammy at his sides. He could still hear the sound of his own knocking, echoing through the hall beyond the closed front door. It was getting dark, the lamps just beginning to flicker on down the street. Draco stared at the heavy wooden door before him.
He hadn’t been by in two days. Hadn’t been able to consider it without plunging into a black, black mood.
Footsteps inside, then the lock clicked back. A shimmer tangled through the air, vibrating lightly against his nerves as the wards were lowered. The door creaked open to reveal Harry, backed by a dark hallway.
“Draco.” Harry raised a hand and ran it through his hair, scruffing once or twice over the back of his head. He had on a deep blue shirt, hanging loose and unbuttoned; it parted right down his front, revealing creamy skin to the lingering daylight. Draco could see water droplets amongst the strands of Harry’s black tangle of hair. The clean scent of soap drifted on the air and Draco’s heart jerked at the memory of bared skin slick with water, the muscles of Harry’s back straining, the perfect slope of shoulder under his own chin. The tremble of a hand threading through his own wet hair.
Draco looked away. His body felt like it was hovering, neither floating nor wallowing, but somewhere uneasily in between.
Harry pushed the door open wider. “Didn’t see you yesterday. I was beginning to wonder.”
The hug of Harry’s trousers against his hips hung in Draco’s view. He looked away again, looked up, in time to see a vague frown darken green eyes. “Draco. You alright?”
“Fine,” he said and stepped forward into the dim front hall. Harry moved aside and shut the door behind him. Draco made it all the way into the sitting room before the room’s unusual warmth registered. Harry walked past him into the newly tidied space and waved his hand. A third lamp flickered to life, adding its glow to that of the other two. The dust had disappeared and the room, though still dark, had gone from smothering to cosy.
“I cleaned it,” Harry said. He gestured around aimlessly. “Just… looking for something to do. Thought your idea of using it more had merit.”
Draco blinked, unsure of the tumble in his chest. He shook his head. “A lot of my ideas do, it seems,” he said dully.
Harry’s brow furrowed. “Well, yeah.” He smiled, a small, tender smile, and gestured toward the hallway, shoving his other hand into his pocket. “Do you want dinner? I’ve made a curry. There’s plenty for two.”
Draco said nothing. He studied the immaculate shelves, now filled with brightly bound books, at the parted window drapes now film-free and revealing purple dusk. He heard Harry shift his weight, but he didn’t look.
“Actually, I made more than usual. Sort of hoping to see you.” The sound of Harry’s sigh came on the tail of his words. Draco turned and found a rose flush over the other man’s cheeks. Harry’s face looked full and healthy, mouth curved almost shyly, and eyes alert and luminous-green. Draco suddenly found himself in pain, wanting to… So badly to touch that bare, golden forearm.
He clenched his fingers into a fist.
“Curry, then?” He met Harry’s gaze at last and was gratified to feel the sensation fade. “Sounds fantastic. I’m in the mood to celebrate a bit.”
Harry’s smile slid easily into a smirk. “Don’t know if it’s celebratory, exactly. But I’ve some very old wine I can open.”
Draco nodded. He took several paces around the sitting room’s circumference, glancing over various titles as he passed the bookshelves. “My business is no longer under probation.”
He felt rather than saw Harry go still. And then that wide, open grin that usually shook Draco’s core was there. “Congratulations.”
Tonight, Draco felt nothing stirring within himself. Just a strange vacancy. He smirked back. Winked. Turned to the windows filled with the ash blues and lilacs of settling night. “I don’t really feel it,” he said indifferently.
Harry snorted. “That’ll come later.”
“No, I don’t think it will,” Draco muttered to the window. Things began tensing inside, muscles, little stretches of himself. He felt his breathing speed up.
“You’ve plenty to be proud of,” Harry responded. Draco could hear him approaching. Gradual steps. “Give it a couple days. It’ll hit you when you least expect it.”
“Of course.” Draco let out a short breath. “Why shouldn’t it? All my disappointments do.”
Harry’s footsteps halted behind him. There was a brief silence, and then Harry spoke. “You shouldn’t be disappointed by this.”
Draco turned to stare at him. Harry smiled back, a small lift of the corners of his mouth. He cocked his head toward the stairs. “Come on. Curry’s on the stove upstairs. You can tell me how it feels to be able to snub the Ministry again.”
Harry turned and headed for the hallway. Draco watched the lean lines of his back, the way his shirt creased at his hips, and the strong slope of his shoulders beneath deep indigo fabric.
“You paid for my business.” His own voice sounded so tight.
Harry turned, very slowly. His eyes widened, awareness solidifying in their depths. He swallowed once visibly. Draco held his stare, was locked by it, and then something shot through Harry’s face and he turned his head with a jerk. “She wasn’t supposed to tell you.”
Fire flared quick and hot through Draco. He clenched his jaw. “Keeping it from me then, is that it?”
Harry’s head shot up and he pointed one finger at Draco. “That is not what I meant.”
“What did you mean, then?” he snapped. “That you were going to tell me? When the time was right, I suppose. Whenever that was. Or maybe you were just going to keep quiet and gloat behind my back for the rest of your life.”
“For fuck’s sake, Draco.” Harry’s teeth ground together audibly. He kneaded the back of his neck. “Don’t start. When have you seen me gloating about anything like that? If I wanted to make your life miserable, don’t you think I’d make it more obvious to you?”
“Perhaps you enjoy incurring debts,” Draco hissed.
Harry stared at him, mouth open a little way, looking completely astounded and at a loss for words. Draco grimaced, suddenly feeling sure that his face would never form another expression.
“Is this about guilt, Potter?” His voice had gone flat. He could feel his entire body quaking. Struggling to burst free and lunge. “One more act of repentance?”
“Draco, no. That’s not what I…” Harry wiped his hand over his mouth. He stared at Draco, wide-eyed, breathing in uneven, shaking exhalations. “It wasn’t— isn’t about that. I mean, it might have been, in the beginning, but even then I—”
“Spare me,” Draco hissed, snapping Harry’s words off. “Spare me you altruism, and your pity, and your compassion.”
Harry’s jaw tightened, and his eyes darted to the side briefly. When he looked back, there was a new grimness to his face, but a wild flicker struggled somewhere underneath it. “You needed help, Draco. The Ministry was never going to let you keep your business!”
It took Draco a few seconds to draw himself together. Every word Harry said took him apart, piece by piece. “So you stepped in. So graciously,” he bit out. “A little deposit here, a tug of a string there, and suddenly my problems are all over.”
“Stop it,” Harry muttered.
“And the Mudblood was just a stroke of good luck. Or did you engineer that, too?”
“No!” Harry nearly stepped forward, but pulled himself up. “Don’t call her that. She’s trying to help you!”
“A fact she never lets me forget,” Draco countered. It wasn’t exactly true. But he could never, ever forget anyway. There were a lot of things he could now never forget. A new heaviness settled in his stomach and lolled there. “I’ll bet it felt good. Such a long time to wait.”
Harry’s face was dark and cloudy. “What are you talking about?”
“Was it nice?” he said, and hated the way his voice wavered. “Fucking me through my own couch, into my own bed? You finally got some payback for your efforts.”
Harry’s eyes blazed. “No. You know damn well it wasn’t about payback!”
“I don’t know anything,” Draco snapped. Gods, his… his whole body hurt. Because it remembered, and it remembered liking it. Liking everything. For once.
It made perfect, fateful sense to him.
“I helped you,” Harry muttered. “That’s all it was, I swear. I didn’t have any expectations, and I didn’t do it to hold something over you. You needed help, and I had the means!”
“I’m sorry if I can’t justify it that way,” Draco spat. “I don’t need to be beholden to anyone, don’t you get it? I don’t need it, and I don’t want it! And I thought that finally… finally I… I should have known it would never be so easy.”
Harry’s breathing changed, quickening, getting just a little harsher. “Draco,” he managed in a low voice, “it’s alright to ask for help. To have someone help you.”
Draco snorted. “No one only helps others. Even the best of intentions…” His chin was trembling. Just a tiny bit, but it was enough; he could feel it coming. “Everyone helps themselves. I was helping myself. I was making something out of this fuck of a mess. It was my business, my life.”
Harry’s head shook, a tiny twitch. His gaze was fixed on Draco, the anger being visibly overrun by something else.
“What have I done with myself? With my life?” Draco stepped back. “I’ve done nothing. You’ve done it all. You’ve even done me.”
“Draco,” Harry said helplessly. Weak, no power behind it. One of Harry’s hands lifted toward him as if reaching. An uneven shake of Harry’s head. “No.”
Something about the single word told Draco he should agree. Fall back and… It was plainly a plea, and Harry’s eyes were lit with it. One last flame, burning desperately until finally snuffed.
Draco turned away from the other man. “It turns out I’ve nothing to celebrate.”
“Where are you going?” Harry said hurriedly, and Draco sucked in his cheeks to keep himself from losing control over his voice, his words and his body.
“Does it matter?” he said softly. And headed for the door.
”Don’t do this, Draco, please. Please—” He could hear the tremble in Harry’s voice, contained only by the frail barrier of his very words.
He looked. Couldn’t help himself. Saw Harry’s face crumbling, jaw too tight and eyes glimmering and desolate.
Something swelled within him, to the point of bursting. Draco couldn’t breathe. “No,” he managed. It was all he could manage.
He shook his head, turned away, and heard Harry let out a tiny, torn sound behind him, there in the sitting room.
Draco tried not to name it. But it was a sob.
* * *
He didn’t know how long he sat, staring at the wall. Only that it had been a long time. He hadn’t eaten, but he wasn’t hungry. His couch was a strange lump beneath him and the shadows had long gone still. It was late. Some bottomless hour in the middle stretches of the night.
His father’s liquor cabinet was a dark hulk across the room. Draco watched it silently, and it sat there, immovable. Unmoving.
It looked like his insides felt: locked and full of the unattainable.
* * *
“I’m glad you came today.” A short silence. “Draco?”
He didn’t answer. He could feel her waiting, watching him. He didn’t mind. For once, he couldn’t mind. He couldn’t do much of anything.
“Would you like to talk about what happened?”
Draco thought seriously about not answering. Or answering no. He could hear the clock ticking, ticking his life away steadily and calmly. “Nothing of consequence. Potter isn’t the person I thought he was.”
He saw her fingers twitch where they were interlaced over her knee. “He’s disappointed you?”
“He’s insulted me,” Draco said, jerking his chin.
She looked at him thoughtfully. “He’s disappointed you,” she repeated in a low voice.
Draco swallowed. His throat felt swollen and dry. “Everyone does. Why should he be…” Why should he be any different? But he didn’t have the energy required to commit to that sentence.
When he looked up at her again, he was vaguely startled to see sadness in her features. Her mouth pressed into a thin line, her brow wrinkled. He noticed it, but the effect was… Well. Nothing seemed to be able to quicken him anymore.
“But he is different, Draco,” she urged after a moment. “He is the first person you’ve slept with seriously since before the war.”
“He doesn’t matter,” Draco snapped, but even that sounded lifeless to him, and her mouth grew even thinner.
“You need to admit that he does matter, Draco,” she said gently. “The first step toward healing is acceptance. It’s not bad, or shameful. It just is. As soon as you know it, realise it, it becomes less of a threat. Then you can deal with it at your leisure.”
Draco shrugged listlessly. He stared at the carpet, the same carpet that had bolstered several of the most emotional moments he could recall having. It seemed a cruel joke that the same carpet should be witness to two sessions with such opposing outcomes.
She hesitated. Draco saw her eyes shift to the side and settle there as she thought. When she looked back at him, he could see she’d decided on something. “There are people who are concerned about you.”
Draco opened his mouth, shut it, then opened it again. “Who?”
“Ms Granger came to see me yesterday.”
Draco shut his eyes. “She’s not concerned about me. She’s concerned about her record.”
His therapist’s brow furrowed. “She seemed very worried from my point of view. It was she who pressed that I Owl you immediately for an appointment.”
Draco studied his fingers. He’d begun to think them capable. Now he just couldn’t think. “Why would she come here?”
“It may have had something to do with the tall redhead with her.”
Draco snorted dully. “Weasley.”
“She was very upset with herself. I got the feeling that he was upset with her as well.”
“What could he possibly be upset with her about?” he snapped.
“He’s quite the vocal one,” she said. “To her. To me. In front of me. He said you didn’t deserve to be kept in the dark.”
He raised his head slowly. “Did you know?”
She looked back at him without flinching. “I didn’t know. She told me all of it.”
Something wasn’t fitting correctly. “All?”
She was staring at him again, he just knew it. This time he couldn’t look. But she spoke anyway. “They were concerned for a mutual friend of theirs as well. I think you know who.”
Draco clenched his hands over his knees, digging with his fingertips until he felt pain. “I don’t care anymore.”
Even he heard the fearsome deadness in his voice. She must have as well; her eyes flickered noticeably. She drew a deep breath. “Draco, I think I’d like you to come in again tomorrow. Just to talk. Or to sit here, if you don’t want to talk. I don’t feel it’s wise for you to be alone just now.”
“Would that be alright with you?” she asked gently. Almost timidly. There was a lisp of hope in her voice.
“I don’t want to talk about him.”
“Draco…” She hesitated again. “Alright. But I think you should know that Ms Granger and Mr Weasley said Harry has been drinking again.”
Draco let the silence fall back into place. For several minutes he sat there, not looking at her. Then, “I’ll come tomorrow.”
He was glad she didn’t pursue it. He didn’t know why he’d decided to come back anyway.
* * *
When his thoughts strayed— when he forgot and let the wall between him and them sag away— he saw Harry in his vast, dark house, with things in it that stole from him, took his face and his shape, but couldn’t capture the essence of him, and so remained flat and horrifying and poisonous, and only the house itself devoured them all.
* * *
Three days later, Draco’s nerves were fraying, one by one by one. He held his head in his hands, heedless of the tangles in his hair, and wallowed in being lonely in a room where he’d never felt lonely before. It didn’t matter that she was there. She wasn’t enough to combat the new empty places that had begun to grow.
They weren’t really new. He’d only managed to ignore them before. And now he couldn’t. Whatever he had left to cover them was stretched too thin over too many holes.
“Draco,” she coaxed. “Have you any new plans for your company now that your probation is over?”
“Haven’t been in,” he muttered.
She didn’t respond for an instant. “Why not?”
He shook his head, grimacing. Too many reasons. Or only one. “It doesn’t change anything.”
“You realize that this might constitute a breach of your agreement with the Ministry,” she said at last.
“What does it matter? They’d like to see me slip anyway.”
“Perhaps,” she conceded. “But your business isn’t for them. Those are your own words, many times.”
“Maybe I’m tired of it.”
“Of working for people who could care less!” he shot back. It was difficult to faze her and he didn’t think he’d done it. That realisation lodged a small ball of anger in his chest. “I don’t need it. And I don’t need to talk about why! It should be obvious to anyone who gives a shit.”
She folded her hands. “I’m here to listen. Sometimes talking can help sort things out in one’s head.”
“Then you haven’t been listening,” he seethed. “I don’t need things sorted! I don’t need to talk, I don’t want to talk. Why should I waste my time on something that does nothing for me? They could care less if I’m helping them. It changes nothing, and I’m done with it!”
“Draco, what is this really about?” she said quietly.
“It’s about me,” Draco spat. His hands hurt, he was gripping them together so tightly. “It’s always been about me. Me, me, me. I’m selfish, remember?”
“It’s alright if it is about you,” she answered in the same unfettered tones. “You know that, don’t you?”
He smacked his hands down on his knees, and for the first time he’d ever seen, she jumped. “Why the fuck do you care if I talk or not? Why does it even matter? No matter how much I ‘sort myself out,’ it makes no difference! It does not matter. I might as well be the same person I was yesterday, the week before, five years ago. I’m not a person, I’m a statue. I don’t change. It’s useless!”
“Do you think you’ve changed?”
“You don’t get it. It’s pointless, what I think. They don’t care, and I think it’s time I gave up on this silly charade and agreed with them. Make it easier for everyone.”
Her eyes were a little wider than usual, and they were staring at him in such an uncomfortable, aware manner— “Why do you insist on disliking yourself, Draco?”
“Look at me!” he shouted at her. “Look at me, I’m not— Everyone sees it! They hate me, I hear them every day. They know I’m not worth it.”
“I know that’s not true,” she said quickly, “and so do you.”
“I don’t know anything anymore,” he said. He couldn’t control the way his lungs stuttered, or the way his shoulders were beginning to jump. Gods, he couldn’t cry again. Not in front of her.
“You are not worthless,” she responded carefully. “You’ve a successful business, you’ve made a life for yourself out of circumstances that most would balk at. Many have already, but you haven’t. Ask yourself why.”
“I have no idea why,” he whispered, and it was the truth, clear and complete. Its starkness frightened him. “I can’t do this again.”
“I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” she said, and her voice sounded very uncertain for the first time since he’d met her. “But I didn’t want this. Three years ago, I… I didn’t want to counsel you.”
Draco stared at her mutely, shoulders shaking. She looked right into his eyes and did not flinch.
“I was so angry. The first month, I hated it. I thought you were nothing more than a spoiled brat who deserved to be unhappy. But I was wrong, Draco. I was like them, and I was wrong, don’t you see? I didn’t know you at all, because that was easier to live with. And then I sat down and talked to you, and listened, and I realised what a narrow, dark world I’d built around myself. They all have. You’re not selfish, and you’re not evil. You’re human, and you make mistakes, and you’ve paid for them more than I would ever want to see anyone pay.”
Draco shook his head at her, unable to speak without letting it all come out. She reached across the table, squeezing his shoulder tightly, and her grip was warm. “I know you now. I know you deserve to be happy. You’re a deep, complicated, imperfect person, with feelings that… when you let them out, there are so many facets. I’m humbled by it. I’ve never seen you happy, really happy, except for these last few weeks, and I— Draco, you have no idea how you look.”
“I’m not happy,” he managed to get out, and the words broke and cracked and scattered.
She shook her head slowly, so slowly. “Draco… I think for the first time since you can remember, you are.”
And then it broke. Nonsensically, suddenly. Draco’s sobs welled right over the top and gushed down the sides at last. He choked on his words, hiccupped, felt the tears drenching his cheeks. “What if— he doesn’t— love me back?”
She came over and sat beside him on the couch. Her eyes were wide and sad, and not pitying. “Draco, everyone fears this.”
He couldn’t answer her. It was too hard to see past the embarrassment of being caught out. Alone with his feelings for everyone to see.
“This isn’t just you,” she continued softly. “Everyone who has ever loved fears this. He fears this, I promise you. It’s alright to be afraid when you put a piece of yourself out there like you have. You’re falling, and it’s alright to be afraid that you might not be caught.”
Draco could do nothing but wrap his arms around himself and hunch against it, even as it spilled out of him. Weeks of shoving things down, years of it, just trying to exist. Realising it wasn’t enough, and fighting against that knowledge. The world opened like a dark, black hole in front of him, ever swirling, and nothing was stable or stationary.
If he doesn’t love me… He only managed the last half of the sentence. “I couldn’t handle that.”
“Do you want to be with him?”
Draco shrugged wordlessly.
She leaned closer and spoke right into his ear. “Does he make you happy, Draco?”
“Yes,” he gasped. Nodded, until his head hung. “Yes, he does.”
“Even if he doesn’t return your feelings, will that negate how you feel?”
Draco shook his head, one hand over his face. She clasped his hand in one of hers.
“Then enjoy that. Draco, don’t stilt yourself. Enjoy how it feels to be in love. The rest will come, or it won’t, but this is yours. Harry, me, them… None of us can touch that. What we think doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me,” he whispered. He matters.
“Draco, look at me. Please?”
He obeyed without thinking about her motivation. She was gazing back at him, a tiny, genuine smile on her face. “It’s your love. Your esteem. You control it. It doesn’t depend upon anyone else, and you can give it to whomever you want. You’ve chosen him, and that choice makes you happy. Hold on to that.”
They sat for some time, her hand on his arm and his eyes on his shoes. But eventually Draco had to clear his throat as best he could. “But after it all… all of this… he still might not feel the same way.”
She smiled gently. Her eyes flicked over his face. “There’s only one person who can answer that question, and it isn’t me.”
* * *
Harry stood in his doorway, face blank. Empty. One hand poised on the edge of the door, fingers loosely clutching. He had faint circles under his eyes.
Draco stood on the stoop and summoned his voice. “Is it a bad time?”
Harry shook his head and stepped aside. Draco noticed he edged further away than he ever had, as if he were clinging to the darkness inside his house. Draco stepped in out of the morning light. The door closed after him and the scent of Harry in the place startled him so utterly that he had to stop and sway, and breathe. He felt Harry standing behind him, rigid in the shadows.
Then Harry moved forward abruptly and came around him, padding on bare feet toward the lit sitting room. “Here, I’ve…”
He let it fall into silence, and Draco had no choice but to follow him, turning the unfinished sentence over in his head. Harry crossed the room to one of the old chairs and pulled his cloak off the back of it. He felt around in one of his pockets. And then his hand stilled and he looked up at Draco.
“I don’t have any money with me. I can transfer it directly from Gringott’s if you… if you don’t mind a short trip.”
Draco stared at Harry’s hand, held slightly out to him, palm up. “This is about paying me?”
“No. I mean— No, I just…” Harry dropped his cloak and brought that hand up to his face. His shoulders shivered. “Don’t want you to leave.”
“I don’t appreciate pity,” Draco said, and heard his own voice waver. Gods, not two minutes in Harry’s presence and he was already brought to this state. He didn’t know what he’d planned to say, but he suspected this wasn’t it.
“I don’t pity you.” Harry was looking at him so plainly, without a wall in the world between Draco and his emotions. It was painful to watch, and Draco wanted to stop it, cut the fountain of that pain off at its source. He couldn’t take the look in Harry’s eyes. As if he’d finally lost what could not be lost.
Draco swallowed. He’d been alright on his own, but now, smelling Harry and knowing how close he was, all the emotions he’d been holding at arm’s length became absolutely fearful and intense, and real all over again. The threat of rejection was still there, hovering over everything. He felt himself becoming mired in them again.
“What do you want from me?” he croaked, abandoning the sense of shame at the way his voice sounded, just needing to get the words out. To know.
Harry stared at him. His body trembled. He shook his head and his eyes dropped.
“I don’t want you to leave,” was all he said.
Draco pressed a hand to his forehead, trying to smooth his emotions into some order. He couldn’t think. All he wanted was to move, to where Harry was, and he couldn’t just walk over there, it was too much of an unknown. Why, why can’t you just risk? Just give up and jump? “Do you think you’re better than me?”
“No,” Harry whispered. “Draco, no. That’s not…” His voice failed, and Harry stood there, eyes unfocussed, looking as if he just couldn’t speak anymore.
“I want to know why,” Draco said unsteadily. “Why you felt the need to do what you did. And then hide it. If it was so pure and so necessary. If it was pity, I want to know.”
“Draco,” Harry said wearily. Sadly. “Whatever you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you about going to the bank two years ago, about keeping Hermione quiet. I’ll tell you why I Flooed your company three months ago. But—” He faltered and swallowed hard. His jaw was so tightly set his lips were pale. “I had my reasons, and they weren’t what you think. Please listen to me. If you listen to no one else, please just listen to me.”
Please trust me.
Do you really need to know why he did it? she’d said. Would that help you understand? Would it change anything?
Draco had no idea. Harry’s plea rang in his head. Draco spoke without thinking. “No.”
Harry let out a very small sound. He pressed the back of one hand against his mouth. Inhaled deeply and shakily. Nodded. “Alright,” he said. “Alright.”
He came back across the room and made to move around Draco, toward the front door, not looking at him. Draco caught his arm and Harry stopped as if struck. His lips were white and bloodless, his whole body was a fitful tremor under Draco’s hand. He smelled clean and sad, and lost. Draco leaned forward as if drawn, pulling Harry to him. He met Harry’s closed mouth with his own and felt it open, felt air rush out in a broken gasp over his lips. Draco touched inside with his tongue and the taste of Harry flooded through his mouth and up into his head, a dizzy mix of memories. He felt something snap off inside him, leaned in, kissed harder, more deeply until he couldn’t breathe. He pulled back.
“No, I don’t need to know,” Draco whispered against Harry’s lips.
Harry’s eyes squeezed shut and two tears rolled down his cheeks, leaving glistening paths behind them. Draco took Harry’s face in both hands, feeling the damp lines and the soft skin and the stubble. Harry’s body sagged against him. Draco felt the firm curve of arms around his back and waist, squeezing the breath out of him, just a little too tight. It didn’t matter. He knew this body so well it was startling. Terrifying, and glorious. He wanted it with everything he was.
Their mouths parted twice for air, breathless and frantic, and artless. The third time, Draco tried to give Harry reasons and assurances. Promises.
“I’m not going to leave,” was all he managed to get out.
Harry’s grip tightened, and he kissed him again.