Heart’s Desire 3/3

Title: Heart’s Desire
Series: Heart & Soul
Series Order: 1
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy
Genre:  Fantasy, Romance, First Time, Soulmates, Alternate Universe
Warnings:  Explicit Sex, Explicit Language, Discussion-Murder, Discussion-Child Abuse
Word Count: 82,200
Summary:  Two years after the war, Harry is heartsore and lonely. Agreeing to marry Ginny Weasley just seemed like the thing to do, but their marriage application is rejected by the ministry because he has an active soulmate record in the Book of Souls.

* * * *

Chapter 11

“So,” Draco said as he settled on the sofa with a second glass of wine. “You’ve fed me the best meal I’ve had in ages—which means you’re probably going to lay something ridiculous on me.” He waved a hand. “So just get it over with.”

“I’ve…always been the Master of Death,” Harry said quietly, and Draco paled. “I feel as if I turned from the duty more than once and paid an unspeakable price for doing so. In this life, Magic has run out of patience with me, and she forced the physical reunion of the Hallows to prove her point.”

“What do you mean physical reunion?”

“The Hallows have never truly been parted, and there is no force on this earth that could accomplish such a thing,” Harry said quietly. “They are connected through death magic, and they’re connected to me in much the same way. The Master of Death doesn’t equal mastery of the entity known as Death as many erroneously believed.”

“What does it mean then?”

“Death is a duality—much like life. Death exists in the afterlife, and it is mirrored here in our physical reality,” Harry said. “I’m the mirror, Draco, and that’s why, ultimately, death magic can’t be used against me. Each time I’m born, magic calls upon my one or both of my parents to sacrifice themselves in my defense—thus igniting the death magic that I carry in my core.”

“How do you know this?” Draco asked.

“I told you that the Resurrection Stone was torturing me. Well, it was doing so with visions of one sacrifice of another—mother for a child, father for a child, sometimes both. I realized after the first week that in each vision that I was that child. It wanted me to understand, you see.”

“Understand what?”

“That I have no choice but to accept my magical circumstances. As much as the Hallows are connected to each other, they are also connected to me,” Harry said quietly. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been the Earl of Braemar, and it won’t be the last. Periodically, I return to my line of origin—Peverell.”

“Which of the three brothers were you?” Draco asked quietly.

“Cadmus,” Harry said and watched Draco nod slowly as if he understood. He knew he wasn’t going to elaborate, so he took a sip of his own wine and turned slightly, so they were face to face on the sofa. “Tell me more about your studies into the Dark Mark and magical bonds.”

“The betrothal contract embedded in my Dark Mark is designed to keep me magically faithful,” Draco said. “The physical component disintegrated with his death, so at least I’m not required to be celibate. My own magic feeds it.” He wet his lips. “I have about 40 years to live, and that’s an optimistic estimate.”

Harry already knew that the mark was taking too much magic from Draco, but hearing it aloud was a special kind of terror that he’d never wanted to experience again. “Do you think he knew?”

“That you were my soulmate?” Draco questioned and shook his head when Harry nodded. “No, my mother wasn’t even certain I had a record.”

“What if you’d been taken there, by a parent, as an infant?” Harry questioned. “Would the book have opened for you?”

“You must be at least 16 to take the walk,” Draco said. “And you must do it alone. There is no way my father could’ve done it. Moreover, if I’d been to the Book of Souls before, the Eternal Knight would’ve certainly told me and probably you as well.”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry said and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m just looking for more reasons to hate him, I guess, and I already have plenty of reason.”

“My father or Riddle?” Draco asked curiously.

“Sometimes, in my head, they’re one and the same,” Harry confessed and took a deep breath. “Dumbledore, too. In one way or another, they all played a part in the worst experiences I’ve ever had in my life.”

“I don’t know how you can look at me and not see my father,” Draco admitted.

“He’s vicious, dark, and disgusting,” Harry said plainly. “And you’re beautiful.”

Draco huffed and averted his gaze. “Shut up.”

Harry pulled the Elder Wand and placed it on the sofa between them. Then Resurrection Stone and Draco took in a shaky breath. Finally, he retrieved the cloak and draped it across the back of the sofa between them. With the Hallows placed between them, Harry felt like he was on the cusp of something terrible.

Draco’s fingers glanced briefly over the wand, and he plucked gently at the material of the invisibility cloak, rubbing the material between his fingers. “I’d wish such a thing on no one.”

“Dumbledore sought it—eagerly. He wanted to master the Hallows, and I’m not sure exactly why. I asked his portrait, but it was evasive and smugly relieved when I lied and told him that I’d never managed to have all three at once,” Harry said. “I broke the Elder Wand after the war and destroyed the pieces. A few months later, it appeared in front of me out of thin air and slapped against my chest with so much force it left a bruise.”

“That must be have been scary as fuck,” Draco admitted. “What did Granger think of it?”

“I didn’t tell her,” Harry admitted. “She was already in Italy, and at the time, I was convinced that she deserved a life entirely separate from me. She was so happy in Rome, and she’d just met Quinn, whom she was following around the place like a lovesick puppy. It was adorable. So, I tried to put the Elder Wand away and go on, but it didn’t allow it.”

“Then you started having nightmare visions about your past lives,” Draco said and frowned at the Resurrection Stone. “I thought I would be tempted by it—but it’s revolting.”

“I don’t know if it’s because of Riddle or because of Dumbledore,” Harry admitted as he picked up the stone and stored it. He allowed the cloak to be drawn back into the pocket as well, leaving just the wand on the sofa between them. “Dumbledore took the wand from Grindelwald, who stole it from the previous owner. You took it from him, and I took it from you, but it’s been mine since my birth.”

“Do you think that played a role in Dumbledore’s actions as well?”

“I considered it because the cloak is a family heirloom, and he borrowed it from my father shortly before they went to Godric’s Hollow. At the base of it, I think I was in his way, and the prophecy ruined his plans. Probably plans he’d had in the making for decades.” Harry picked up the Elder Wand, and sparks danced along the wood before he flicked it back into the holster. “It’s a lot, I know.”

“You’ve always been more…than anyone else,” Draco said and took a sip of wine. “You keep bringing it up, and you’re right, I haven’t asked. What do you want?”

Harry’s gut clenched, and he looked away from Draco as worry and frustration swirled around inside him. “No one ever really asks me what I want,” he admitted. “So you’re not exactly special in that regard. Everyone has these expectations for me, and I’m just supposed to go along with it.”

“I get it.”

“I want….” Harry trailed off and gently plucked Draco’s wine glass from his hand. He placed it beside the one he’d abandoned and moved closer. “I want more than I feel I have the right to.” He caught Draco’s hand in his and gently laced their fingers together. “Were you anyone else, I’d have already done everything I could to seduce you.”

“You think you could?” Draco questioned.

“I think we both know I could,” Harry murmured.

“Then why I haven’t you?”

“Because you don’t allow yourself to want me.” He watched shock drift over his partner’s face. “I’d be insulted if you didn’t restrict and punish yourself in every single way imaginable.” He clenched their hands together when Draco tried to pull away. “What happened in the war was not your fault.”

“I did things….”

“Didn’t we all?” Harry questioned. “I killed dozens of people, Draco. I couldn’t give you an accurate number, and most of them weren’t even marked followers. I made a fucking hobby of killing snatchers, and none of them were true believers. They were just going along with the crowd, trying to live and stay off the radar as much as they could. I knew that, even then, and I still killed them to keep people out of Umbridge’s hands. I decided that their lives were worth less than the ones that they were, apparently, legally allowed to hunt and capture.”

Draco made a face. “You weren’t wrong, though. They were pieces of shite for going along with all of that crap. You might have killed dozens, but those assholes facilitated the murders of over 200 Muggle-born and half-blood witches and wizards.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know how to be what you want.”

“What do you think I want you to be?” Harry questioned.

“You clearly want a family,” Draco snapped and pulled his hand free of Harry’s. “You were willing to endure marriage to that wretched harpy to live out some kind of fantasy. I can’t give you that!”

“Is this about the baby thing?” Harry asked in confusion.

“I can’t…the Dark Mark…there’s no telling what would happen or if it would even allow me to carry to term,” Draco said. “Don’t you get it? I can’t give you anything, Harry. No marriage bond, no soulmate bond, no children. I have nothing to give.”

Harry would’ve been furious if Draco didn’t sound utterly broken by the admission. To have his own desires distilled down to something so shallow was terrible, but he pushed that aside because the situation wasn’t entirely about him, and he couldn’t allow Draco to continue to focus the entire conversation on him.

“What do you want?” Harry asked. “How do you want to spend the next 40 years?”

Draco blinked in surprise. “What?”

“You’ve given yourself about 40 years to live,” Harry said patiently. “How do you want to live those years because they are yours, and you have the right to live every single minute of those days exactly as you wish to. Do you have the job you want? Do you want to pursue another mastery? Would you like to eventually work for the ICW? Do you want to marry? Do you want kids? Because there’s more than one way to get fuck trophies, you know.”

“Fuck trophies,” Draco repeated aghast. “Harry Potter.”

He just grinned and shrugged. “Can you answer any of those questions, or have you spent the years since you visited the Book of Souls living in some sort of limbo waiting for me to reject you?” He watched a blush settle on Draco’s cheeks. “That is both tragic and kind of weirdly charming in a way I feel I should be ashamed of.”

“You’re not responsible for me,” Draco said.

“That doesn’t feel true at all,” Harry admitted and cupped Draco’s face with one hand. “Has it crossed your mind, at all, that I could and certainly would carry a child?”

“I…” Draco blinked in surprise as Harry released him. “It would require ritual magic and a lot of power.”

“I’m an archmagus,” Harry pointed out unnecessarily and raised an eyebrow when Draco huffed. “I wouldn’t even need a conclave to build a circle for that sort of ritual, and you know it. Plus, there’s adoption, and I could accomplish that tomorrow if I wanted. Let’s take kids off the table, okay? That can be managed in a variety of ways.”

“Okay,” Draco said and cleared his throat.

“I visited the Eternal Knight yesterday.”

“Did you learn more about his tragic love life?” Draco asked.

“I knew enough already to know that he could answer my question,” Harry said casually. “I wanted to know if he and his soulmate had a bond of any sort. They didn’t—a decision made for the sake of honor. I’ve been thinking about the life they had, their deaths, and how they’ve existed together for over 1500 years within the magic of Avalon. They never had a bond of any sort. There were oaths of service from one to another because of their social positions, but no bond of any sort.”

Draco’s gaze narrowed. “He told you who he is, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, but I swore I wouldn’t reveal it,” Harry said, and Draco nodded. “I know who his soulmate was as well.”

“Well, I can make an educated guess regarding the other spirit anchoring the magic of Avalon,” Draco said. “But I won’t. It’s their story, and I respect that.” He glanced toward his wine but didn’t reach for it. “I thought, once, that I might like to take on a mastery in spell craft. I’ve no real interest in working for the ICW as I appreciate the obscurity of working for the DOM, and I coveted the hood from the moment I heard about it. I often wear it when I’m out—whether I’m working or not. I’ve used the glamour a lot as well.”

“I’ve had a number of glamours over the years, but I like this new one best. It feels very secure.”

“It can’t be taken from you,” Draco said. “Or removed without your permission, and that’s so valuable that I can’t measure it.” He exhaled sharply. “Is there too much ugly between us?”

“You tell me,” Harry said and pressed two fingers against Draco’s chest briefly. “I’m the one that nearly murdered you.”

Draco’s eyes widened in shock. “I started that fight.”

“Looking back on it, your desperation was clear, and I ignored it,” Harry murmured. “I’m ashamed of myself.” His fingers drifted over the place where Draco must still carry a scar and cleared his throat as he pulled back. “Sorry. I hope the scar isn’t sensitive.”

“No, it’s fine,” Draco said. “There’s no scar.”

“What?” Harry questioned. “I thought curse scars couldn’t be…” He rubbed his arm with a frown.

Draco frowned and averted his gaze. “It was removed in ritual. Riddle was furious that you’d marked me. Thankfully, it required a coven of three, so he wasn’t personally involved. My mother, Bellatrix, and Pansy did it.”

Harry didn’t know if he felt better or worse. “It makes me furious that Riddle believed he had the right to you.” He cleared his throat. “Do you want to be alone? Is that how you want your life to be? Will that give you peace?”

“If I said yes?” Draco asked quietly.

“Then I would do for you what you can’t seem to do for yourself,” Harry said and tried to ignore the way his heart thundered in his chest. “I already told you that.” He took a deep breath. “I just…once…let me….” He slid his fingers into his Draco’s hair with a wounded sound that he couldn’t contain. “Please.”

In the end, he wasn’t sure which one of them closed the small distance between them, but suddenly Draco’s mouth was pressed against his. Harry fell into the kiss, a desperate feeling of starvation snaking through him as Draco’s hand curled around his neck. He deepened the kiss because it might be the only one he ever got from his soulmate, and the need to know what Draco tasted like was overwhelming.

Between one breath and another, Draco pulled free from the kiss. He let his forehead rest against Harry’s. “I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t know how we can…go forward.”

“So the lack of a bond is a deal-breaker for you,” Harry said neutrally as they separated. “That’s not particularly fair, Draco.” He paused. “To either of us.”

“Neither is leaving you a widower with half your fucking life left to live!” Draco launched off the sofa, chest heaving.

“You say that like it won’t destroy me when it happens no matter what our circumstances are,” Harry said quietly, and Draco turned to face him. “It won’t matter if I haven’t seen you in decades; it’s still going to be…life-ruining.” He ran a shaking hand through his hair as he stood. “Don’t you get it? I’ve been in love with you for years! It doesn’t matter how much you ignore me or how much you pretend to hate me! It doesn’t matter if we have a soulmate bond because I didn’t even know it was possible when I stupidly fell in love with you.”

Harry watched the color drain out of Draco’s face and tears well in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…said anything. My feelings aren’t yours to manage or whatever.” He exhaled. “Just know that I’d rather have 40 years than the nothing you’re currently offering me.”

Draco watched Harry gather up their wine glasses and leave the makeshift living room and closed his eyes as he tried to gather his thoughts. A part of him wanted to run long and far from everything to do with Harry, but it wasn’t right, and the thought was just as agonizing as his current circumstances. He took in a ragged breath then another because he felt like he was coming apart at the seams.

He stumbled back to the sofa and sat down, then covered his face both with hands as he tried to make sense of what Harry had told him.

“Here.”

Draco looked up and found Potter holding a glass of what looked like water. “I…”

“Just drink it,” Harry said shortly. “Though you hardly deserve it—I made dessert.”

“Some fancy gourmet thing, I assume,” Draco said hoarsely and took a sip of water.

“Crème brûlée.”

Draco huffed. “I totally deserve crème brûlée.”

“It’s a salted caramel—first time I’ve made it. I usually do a lemon one.” Harry shrugged when Draco focused on him. “It might suck.”

“You were going to marry Ginny Weasley.”

“Yeah, well, you’ve hardly given me the time of day in years, and I know you asked Croaker to avoid assigning us to work together when I joined the DOM,” Harry snapped. “He gave me a whole damn lecture about respecting your space and not giving you shite about the war or Hogwarts.”

Draco knew he should apologize. “I was just trying to protect myself, Harry. I’ve been doing that most of my life because no one else ever bothered to unless it served them.”

“That’s one more fucked up thing we have in common,” Harry said and walked away. “I only serve food at the table.”

Draco took his water and followed Harry back to the kitchen. The table was clear and had been set for dessert and coffee. “I have stupidly complicated feelings for you—I always have. It was almost a relief to find out you were my soulmate because it explained my bizarre and deeply uncomfortable attachment to you.”

Harry sent him a dark look. “I read the book, Draco. Cover to cover—twice. I know you love me as much as I love you. Bond or not, I’d know if you didn’t feel the same. You’d know it, too! Because that’s how soulmate magic works. That’s why you can’t reject me.”

Draco huffed. “I hate Gryffindors. Why can’t you be stoic? Why can’t you just…”

“Wallow in self-pity until I just give up?” Harry supplied. “If I were that sort—I’d have died when I was 14.”

Draco sat down and picked up his spoon because he loved crème brûlée, and he figured Potter knew it, which was irritating. “I’m selfish.”

“I know,” Harry said shortly.

“I want more than I’ll ever be allowed, and it makes me furious. It also—feels hateful.”

“It is hateful, and I feel the same,” Harry admitted.

Draco nodded and dipped his spoon into the dessert. It all but melted on his tongue. “This is perfect.”

“Thanks.”

“Look, Harry.” Draco put his hand on the table palm up, and Harry’s gaze narrowed briefly before took his hand. He watched the curl of their fingers. “You were right, before, when you said that it was foolish to try to make some sort of decision about any of this without you. Knowing what I know now about my mother and Kingsley Shacklebolt—it’s even more clear that making a decision by myself is the worst possible thing I could do to either one of us.”

Harry dragged his thumb across Draco’s, and the intimacy was so startling that he could barely breathe for it. “I need to say it, and I need you to believe it, Draco.”

“Okay.” Draco forced himself to meet Harry’s gaze.

“I want you with me—every single day as long as you live, but not at the sacrifice of your own peace of mind. I’ve watched you struggle over the years to be comfortable even in your own skin, and I know that feeling intimately. People expect the worst from you as much as they expect the best from me. I’ve found that no one reacts well when their expectations aren’t met. We can’t keep our soulmate status a secret indefinitely unless one rejects the other and we move on separately. It’s going to come out, and I suspect most won’t be kind to either of us. Even people we think we should be able to trust and work with will be disgusted by our circumstances.”

“The Boy-Who-Lived and Death Eater’s son,” Draco murmured.

“The Boy-Who-Lived and Voldemort’s betrothed,” Harry corrected. “Your father won’t keep his mouth shut. You can expect that news to be flung all over the place in pure-blood circles once our mutual fate is revealed. Your connection to your father will pale in comparison. I know you know that.”

“You deserve better.”

“So do you, love,” Harry said gently.

“I need to go,” Draco said hoarsely, and Harry immediately released his hand. “I’m sorry.”

“You owe me no apologies.”

He could only nod, so he stood up and left the room without another word.

Draco stumbled through the floo into Grimmauld Place moments later and tossed his coat away from him. He stalked straight to the office and smacked his hand against his mother’s portrait to wake her.

“You!” He wiped away angry tears. “Would it please you to know that your soulmate is living a half-life, wasting away as he mourns you?”

“No.”

“Well, he does! And he doesn’t even know why!” He walked away from her. “I don’t want to see you anymore, Mother. I won’t make you return to the manor, but I’m going to store your portrait upstairs with the others I pulled off the walls.”

“Draco.”

He turned to face her. “You let them ruin me. I’m so damaged I can barely think sometimes, and it’s your fucking fault. My survival was not worth the cost of my own freedom. I vowed on my life to never marry that bastard, by the way,” Draco glared when the portrait gasped in shock. “Don’t be surprised by the wizard you raised, Mother. You didn’t honestly think I was going to allow that thing to touch me, right? I’m standing here in this terrible old house while my soulmate is making a lovely home for himself in Scotland. He’ll fill that home with beautiful things and children. Children that could’ve been mine.”

“He rejected you then,” Narcissa said sadly. “I’m so sorry, darling. Please believe me.”

Draco started to correct her but then realized she didn’t deserve to know the truth of the situation. She didn’t deserve to know anything about his life or Harry. “Did you love him?”

“Kingsley?” Narcissa questioned. “Not at first—I just wanted to know him, to see him….”

“To touch him,” Draco finished for her. “You wanted to know what it was like to be loved because you knew how much he already loved you. Bond or not, rejection or not—you felt it. Soulmate magic isn’t dependent on a bond or acceptance. Harry knows that now. He knows that no matter how we live that we’re connected in a very magical way that transcends our current physical reality. I wonder how it will go for you—when you and Kingsley are reincarnated and the complete rejection you forced on your eternal soul starts to seep into his. He won’t even know why he hates you.” He paused. “But you’ll know—Fate will never allow your soul to forget what you did in this life.”

She started to cry, and as much as he hated himself for it—he pulled the portrait from the wall, and she immediately went to sleep. He carried the portrait all the way up the attic, leaned it against a trunk to avoid it being reactivated, and left.

In his bedroom, a miniature Peruvian Vipertooth Patronus flitted around him as he walked.

Try to get some sleep—we have a long workday tomorrow.”

Harry’s voice faded, and with it the Patronus, leaving Draco standing there in shock.

He didn’t know that it was possible to make a Patronus any size but the one they automatically took. “Fucking show off.”

 

* * * *

Harry watched Hermione’s image form in the floo with a small smile. “Hey.”

“Hey yourself,” she responded. “How are you? How goes the Slytherin Seduction of 2006?”

“About as well as it’s ever gone,” Harry said wryly. “You know how they are.”

“Stubborn, conniving, brilliant, and utterly shite at emotions,” Hermione said and nodded. “Right, well, you’ll just have to dig in and do the work.”

“Did you get the package I sent?” Harry questioned.

“Yeah, I’ve updated our floo information to reflect the new connection.” She flicked a hand. “Obviously. We weren’t scheduled to floo call for another few days.”

“I need a favor if you have time.”

“I have time,” she said. “My boss is making me take a vacation.”

“How dare that bastard,” Harry said dryly.

“Right!” Hermione pointed her finger at him. “So, what’s the favor?”

“A few years ago, I sent you some information on Draco’s mark—everything I knew about it when I was trying to remove it.”

“I put it all aside when you told me that he didn’t want to continue. You said it hurt him a lot physically.”

“Yeah, well, it’s fucking killing him,” Harry said and took a deep breath when her mouth dropped open. “Right? He thinks he has about 40 years which would be almost normal for a Muggle, but that’s straight-up middle-aged for a magical. I don’t know if there are other side effects. He’s done a lot of research but hasn’t shared it with me.”

“Have him send me every single bit of it as soon as he can,” Hermione ordered. “I’ll start pulling resources. Go to Flourish & Blotts and get anything published on soulmate magic in the last 200 years and go to Paris and do the same at Bertrand’s Nook. I’ll check resources here. I’ll just throw any duplicate resources we end up with at the magical school here. Their day school is profoundly underfunded. Also, ask for recent diagnostics.”

“He might fight me on it.”

She shrugged. “Scan him while he’s asleep.”

“We’re not even living in the same house, and that’s unethical as hell, Hermione.”

“So, ask him like a proper adult and if that doesn’t work—give him some dick for his own damn good and scan him while he’s too fucked out to care.”

“You’re the worst lesbian, Granger,” Quinn said in the background even as Harry protested the plan.

“You say that like we don’t have a whole collection of dildos,” she muttered and rolled her eyes.

“I’m delicate,” Harry told her. “Don’t discuss your dildo habits with me.”

“What? You’d like pensieve memories instead?”

He laughed. “No, I’ve seen enough of you naked to last a lifetime.”

Quinn scoffed in the background. “You damned liar, Potter, there’s no such thing as enough naked Hermione Granger.”

Hermione laughed but then sobered. “Hey, how are you? That must’ve been quite a blow.”

“I suspected it was damaging his life span,” Harry admitted. “I’m honestly surprised any of the marked Death Eaters survived Riddle’s death. The most difficult part was his utter acceptance. He’s clearly given up trying to find a solution, and I can’t…tolerate that, Mi.”

“Well, I’m not gonna tolerate it, either,” she declared.

“Thanks. I don’t know how I made and kept you as a friend,” Harry said quietly. “I told him that I’m in love with him. The ponce looked at me like I’d ruined all of his plans.”

Hermione laughed. “Oh, Harry, of course you did.”

 

 

Chapter 12

The last thing Harry wanted or needed was a letter from Remus Lupin in his inbox when he sat down at this desk. He hadn’t much to say to the only living Marauder since the war. Lupin, who’d always been a bit of a disappointment, had proven to be absolutely faithless. He’d barely stayed around long enough for his wife to be buried and hadn’t set eyes on his own child in more than six years.

Harry had set Andromeda Tonks and Teddy up in Italy—where he attended school in a small magical enclave just outside of Tuscany. Andi hadn’t been able to stomach staying in Britain after the murders of her husband and daughter. Harry didn’t blame her, so he’d made sure to give her and his godson as much peace as he could.

He turned the letter over in his hands without opening it, at first. The last time they’d spoken—Lupin had been furious because he’d learned that Harry had made Teddy the Black heir in magic and name. Teddy didn’t remember his own father and hadn’t been upset at all to be called Theodore Black. The family magic had embraced the kid eagerly, so Harry knew that the Blackmoor title would be in the best of hands in the future. He didn’t know how Draco felt about the whole thing, but he figured that was a conversation they should have at some point.

“What’s up with your face?”

Harry leaned back in his chair. “I didn’t feel like doing the maintenance charm.” He rubbed his beard with one hand. “Is it terrible?”

Draco laughed a little. “I didn’t notice that, and no, you appear fine, but you’re making a terrible face like someone just set your little peel on fire.”

“Well, first of all—I’ve got that whole thing warded against fire.” He used the letter to point at Draco when he laughed. “And second, I’m making a terrible face because Remus Lupin sent me a letter. It’s probably about that op-ed I sent to the Prophet. He’s obscenely invested in Dumbledore’s reputation and practically stalked Rita over that book, trying to make her retract it. It was a dumb thing for a known werewolf to do.”

“Why did you write that letter to the Prophet?”

“It’s my goal to dismantle the whole Boy-Who-Lived thing,” Harry said. “The next one is going to be called—How Voldemort Taught Me First Year DADA.

Draco laughed. “It’s a good thing your robe has built-in defenses.”

Harry shrugged and opened the letter. He scanned the contents with a frown and tossed it aside.

“What?”

“He’s invited me to lunch in Hogsmeade—at the Hog’s Head. Maybe he thinks Dumbledore’s brother would agree with him or something, but Aberforth hates Albus. He’ll probably hate him for eternity because of their sister’s death.” Harry rubbed his face with one hand. “Right. Well.”

“You can ignore him,” Draco pointed out.

“My father considered him a dear friend.”

“A dear friend? What would your father think of Lupin today? A man who did nothing while you were living with abusive Muggles? And we both know he knew about it. The man who abandoned his own child and barely acknowledged his mother-in-law on the day he buried his wife. The man who doesn’t even know where his son lives?” Draco rolled his eyes. “I’d set such a friend on fire, Harry. Come on. It’s beyond the goddamned pale to abandon your own child. Lupin is the scum of the earth.”

Harry couldn’t disagree. Lupin had been problematic from the start, really, and he’d been too desperate for connections to his parents to see it as a kid. Also, Harry knew his emotional intelligence had been practically zero for most of his teenage years.

“I’ll meet with him…” Harry trailed off and focused on Draco. “But it won’t be pleasant, and it’ll probably be the last time because he won’t like anything I have to say.” He cleared his throat and picked up a quill. He confirmed the time on Lupin’s original note, refolded it, and vanished his own name before addressing it to return to Lupin and dropped it in his out tray. “We’re due in Croaker’s office, right?”

“Ten minutes,” Draco confirmed. “Enough time to get coffee.”

That was a plan he could get behind, so he followed his partner out of the office and down the hall to the kitchen area. He drank it black, so he poured for himself and watched Draco make himself a latte before they headed for Croaker’s office. They were motioned in by the admin, who was in the midst of organizing several transcription quills.

“I don’t know her name,” Harry murmured as he pulled the door shut.

“No one does,” Draco said with a grin. “It’s literally a secret. I don’t even think Croaker knows her real identity or if she’s actually a witch at all.”

“I don’t know,” Croaker agreed. “Her code name is Polestar, and when she’s ready to retire—she’ll pick out her replacement. Whoever is in my position will oversee the oath but will never be told the name. She’s not an Unspeakable and not subject to the code set down by the Wizengamot that we follow to receive funding.” He motioned them to sit. “We have a multi-layered problem, and it’s crossing lines into the Muggle world.”

Harry grimaced. “How?”

“We now have a body,” Croaker said. “A young witch, Soja Dario, came here on holiday from Spain. She was left in Hyde Park several months ago. We weren’t informed until after her body had already been returned, through Muggle channels, to Madrid.”

“Muggle-born then,” Harry said as he picked up the parchment that Croaker offered. “22, newly engaged, and halfway through her potion’s mastery. Any leads?” He passed the parchment to Draco.

“None. The case stayed in Muggle hands for several weeks before her parents were able to contact the Département de la Police Magique for assistance. Eventually, the ICW sent a war mage to investigate, but the circumstances had degraded so much that there was very little magical evidence to be found.”

“What about DNA or fingerprints?” Harry questioned.

“Nothing,” Croaker said. “She’s the only body that has surfaced, but the war mage, code name Damysus, believes that there are at least three more based on a brief review of the ley lines in Britain, which our research agrees in regards to destroyed ritual circles.”

“Destroyed?” Harry questioned.

“Most ritual circles couldn’t survive such a ritual intact,” Draco murmured as he read through the report. “I hate to say it, but we might need a fresh body in order to get a good handle on the actual ritual being done.”

“Resurrection?”

“A simple resurrection doesn’t require a circle or altar,” Draco said and glanced his way. “As you know, on an intimate level.”

“Granted,” Harry admitted with a frown and stood. He walked to the bookshelf that covered one wall of Croaker’s office and pulled out an atlas. “The destruction would be more magical than physical, right?”

“Right.”

Harry spread the book out on the conference table as Croaker and Draco joined him. “So, we’re looking at broken notice-me-not charms, broken wards, and the remnants of dark magic leaking all over the place. Why didn’t the war mage investigate the circles? They wouldn’t be hard to locate if they’re noticeable in the ley matrix for the country. Plus, we have the reports regarding the corrupted circles already.”

“Jurisdiction,” Croaker said. “They passed the whole thing to us, and we have a standing offer to consult as needed.” He offered Draco a piece of parchment, who took it.

“Does the ICW recycle codenames the way we do?” Harry asked curiously.

“Not for war mages,” Croaker said. “Damysus could be your age, or they could be over a thousand years old. The War Mage Division is run by Hiro Ito, and he owns a bloodstone that he’s used for several thousand years. It is a unique sacrifice—giving up one’s mortality to protect our world. I suspect you’ll be both be offered the opportunity.”

Harry wondered if a bloodstone would circumvent the damage being done to Draco, but one glance at his partner told him that it was an avenue he’d already investigated.

“I’m proud to serve Magic, Croaker, but I have no interest in living for thousands of years,” Harry said shortly, and he meant it. He didn’t know how he was going to live even a year without Draco, much less hundreds or thousands of years. The very idea was appalling. “That being said, I’ve known since I mastered the Hallows that Lady Magic will take me from this life when she wishes, and I have no say in the matter.” He focused on the atlas and flipped through the pages until he found one displaying the ley matrix. “Do the circles line up with what you’ve been researching?”

“Yes, down the line,” Draco agreed as he set aside the parchment. “The reports from the DMLE didn’t go into detail beyond defilement. We’ll have to do our own physical investigation.”

They all watched the page activate and start to glow. The ripple of dark magic was clear as day, so Draco made a list of locations to investigate. There were more than four places being tainted by dark magic. He considered the locations and cleared his throat as he settled one finger on the Forest of Dean.

“We destroyed a horcrux here—the locket.” His hand drifted to Hogwarts, where there was a taint. “Diary, cup, diadem, ring, Nagini and the one I carried were destroyed on the school grounds. This looks wretched and needs to be cleaned. No wonder the wards are falling apart on Minerva.”

“You’ve spoken with her recently?” Croaker asked.

“I gave her your regards, and she threatened me with detention,” Harry said wryly, and Croaker laughed. “The wards are a problem, and she has an appointment with Ragnok to investigate the situation in the summer. Hogwarts isn’t very patient about it, and, honestly, sir, she’s clearly exhausted trying to manage the mess that Dumbledore and Death Eaters left behind. I’ll be visiting more—to lighten the burden between her and the school. Hogwarts suffered a lot during the years that Dumbledore was headmaster. She’s furious.”

“Do you think the castle has achieved sapience?” Croaker questioned.

“I think she’s been on the cusp for over a hundred years, and Dumbledore did everything he could to prevent it as it would’ve made it difficult to do some of the things that he did. For one, Hogwarts would’ve never allowed my return to Privet Drive. She could and certainly would’ve held me basically hostage on school grounds due to the abuse I suffered at home. There’s a child there now—emotionally destroyed by his stepfather. The school made it clear that if he was sent back to that home that there would be hell to pay. Dumbledore’s behavior also allowed for the corruption of the basilisk that was left in place to protect her and the children she housed. He was interfering with the wards while he was just a professor, and Dippet allowed it.”

Harry cleared his throat when both men just stared at him in shock and focused on the map. He put a finger on Little Hangleton. “This is where Voldemort was resurrected.” He took a deep breath. “Do you think someone is trying to bring him back?”

“Not with adult female victims,” Draco said. “Because he’d split his soul, there were specific circumstances that had to be met in ritual for him to regain a body. The details are horrific, and you were, honestly, just part of the final step. There’s no need to delve too deeply into that at the moment.”

Harry nodded and enlarged the map a bit with a flick of his fingers. “This kind of ritual craft isn’t taught much out of pure-blood circles in Britain.”

“It’s also outside the wheelhouse of most of our peers,” Draco said. “Only ten people under the age of 30 have even earned a NEWT in runic magic in this country in the last two decades. Two are in this room, one is in Australia, and the rest…will have to be investigated.”

“For verification purposes, yes,” Croaker said. “But this is the work of wizard who has gone through his second maturation.”

“40 or older,” Harry said. “Give or take a year or two.” He watched Croaker shift the map around a bit to center on the most damaged ritual circle showing up on the map. “Familiar?”

Croaker frowned and traced a finger around the line that indicated the ward boundary for the circle. “Unfortunately.”

“What do you mean?” Draco asked.

“It’s where Dorcas Meadowes was taken and tortured. I traced her portkey travel back to this circle. It was used heavily by Death Eaters in the 70s and heavily warded against intrusion. I had to call in some heavy hitters from the ICW to break them down. Dorcas had already been returned to me, but that didn’t mean I was going to let them get away with killing her. I destroyed the wards protecting this circle, and sometime in the last ten years or so—someone rebuilt them.”

“So we can add advanced warding, an education in arcane rituals and rune construction,” Harry said. “That definitely knocks nearly all of our peers out of the running unless they’ve had private instruction.” He focused on Draco and raised an eyebrow.

Draco frowned but then shook his head. “The only one that I’m aware of would come close is Daphne Greengrass, but this is the work of a wizard. Daphne does have an extensive education in rituals because her mother is the high witch of a very large coven. Very nearly on par with the Rowen Circle in scope and power level. The taint is weird—we need to get out there and check it out, but I’d say this is the work of an individual.”

“Why?” Croaker asked though Harry could tell that he already knew the answer to his own question.

“It’s intimate,” Draco said quietly and enlarged the image again. “Personally wrought and a bit sloppy—look at the way the magic is leaking. This is a desperate wizard, and whatever he’s seeking is fueled emotionally more than it is magically. He’s dangerous and on the road to self-destruction. There’s no coming back from this shite. This is…the road to a dark lord.”

“Well, that’s the last damn thing we need,” Harry said hotly, and Croaker snorted. “Seriously. I insist we be dark lord free for at least another decade.”

“Just a decade?” Draco asked in amusement.

“I can’t honestly expect more from the arseholes in this country,” Harry said darkly.

* * * *

The most damaged circle was outside of Manchester—tucked in a hidden forest that hadn’t seen non-magical occupation in over 500 years. A small herd of centaur lived in the forest, but Harry didn’t expect any of them to approach them as they worked. Still, they were both hooded, and it was odd to finally be in the field working as an Unspeakable.

Draco had conjured a work table so they could build a diagnostic report with a transcription quill. It was working away, and Harry was on the other side of the circle prodding the eroded rune work that served to create the magical space. He’d never done it in his life and yet had hundreds of legacy memories showing him the way of it.

“You okay?”

Harry looked up and found Draco standing a yard or so away. He pressed the toe of his boot against a rune stone and frowned. “Yes, and no. I have memories of doing this despite the fact that this is the first ritual circle I’ve ever seen. I thought it might remind me of the cemetery, but it doesn’t, so that’s a relief. Additionally, I think I might get a better feel for the circle if I took off my boots.”

Draco inclined his head and nodded. “Yeah, you probably would, but I don’t recommend it considering how much dark magic is seeping into the ground. Your magic rebounded well, but there’s no need to purposefully expose yourself.”

Harry nodded and started to move to the next runestone as Draco returned to the table to supervise the diagnostic. There was a shift in the magic around them, and he looked up in time to see Draco holstering his wand.

“Privacy charm,” Draco said. “We have an audience.” He inclined his head to the left, and Harry noticed a pair of juvenile centaur not far from them. “No need to get accused of corrupting them—the adults are hypervigilant regarding their children. I’m surprised the two of them got this close without being guided away.”

Harry allowed his mage site to shift, and he looked around. “Well, they aren’t alone. There four adults here as well. Perhaps guards? The two young ones might be in training.”

Draco nodded. “Yeah, probably. Still, they don’t need to hear our findings, and that goes double for their foals.”

“What do you see?” Harry questioned as runes started to glow in the air around them.

“Soul retrieval,” Draco said quietly. “Destruction, murder, and unfortunately a very small bit of veela magic.”

“So the victim of this ritual was of veela descent?” Harry winced. “We have to report that to the Veela Triumvirate, right?”

“Ha, Croaker has to report that,” Draco said and laughed when Harry slouched in relief. “But you needn’t worry—they’d probably try to adopt you and keep you.”

Harry huffed. “I don’t need a repeat of what happened when I had to address the Witch’s Council. I received 51 marriage contract offers and got propositioned by a witch twice my age.”

Draco grinned. “Did you sleep with her?”

Harry flushed. “Hmmm, well, yes actually. She was gorgeous, brilliant…all icy blonde disdain. I’ve got a type that’s for certain.” He sent Draco a look when his partner burst out laughing.

“Who?”

“Berdine Delacour.”

Draco’s mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah, why?”

Draco huffed. “I can’t believe you! Berdine Delacour is three times your age, you tosser, and my paternal great-aunt!”

 “She was fantastic in bed.” Harry shrugged when Draco glared at him. “I was single. I’m still single.” He waved both hands. “Free agent over here—free to fuck whomever I like. And to be frank, I’d hit it again.”

Draco glared at him. “She’s 91!”

“She looks about 40,” Harry said. “And she wore me out.” He grinned when Draco’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Don’t be a prude. If you’re not going to sit on my dick, then you have no business telling me who can do it instead.”

“I swear to fucking Merlin, Potter,” Draco began hotly. “I will…”

Harry raised an eyebrow and drew his wand to reposition the rune stone in front of him that had tipped over. “I’m not afraid of you, Malfoy.”

“I’m making a list of people who absolutely cannot get anywhere near your dick,” Draco hissed. “And everyone I’m related to is on it!”

“Well, that’s not fair,” Harry pointed out mildly. “You’re related to most of the pure-blood magicals in Britain because they can’t stop marrying their own cousins.”

Draco laughed. “For fuck’s sake.”

“I’m serious—you just cut my arse supply by 75%, and that’s just rude. I’m gonna tell Hermione.”

“Did you tell her you fucked a nonagenarian?” Draco demanded.

“Yeah, she and Quinn were mad jealous because, in case you missed it, Berdine is hot.

“I don’t look at family members as sexual options, so, yes, I failed to notice!”

“Well, you’d be the first the House of Black to draw that line,” Harry responded and smirked when Draco huffed like his world was ending. “Relax, love, I won’t bang your great-aunt again.”

“The fact that you can even say that whole sentence is appalling,” Draco said and focused on his diagnostics.

An hour later, they were finished with the circle, and the results were wretched. Harry threw a finite at the table, and it popped away as Draco shouldered the satchel they’d brought to carry their tools.

He checked his watch. “It’s almost time for me to meet Lupin for lunch.”

“I’d like to come along—disillusioned, of course,” Draco said. “You’ve made assumptions about Aberforth Dumbledore, but he could be furious with you about what you’ve put in the Prophet.”

Harry quirked an eyebrow at his partner. “Aberforth is Rita Skeeter’s so-called anonymous source for all three books she’s written on Dumbledore since the war. But, sure, you can come along and watch Lupin try to boss me around in the place of my parents.”

“He’s lucky I’m magically compelled to obey the law,” Draco muttered.

* * * *

The magic of his hood folded away as he left the apparition point in Hogsmeade and headed for the Hog’s Head pub. He hadn’t spent much time in the little village next to Hogwarts, but his new home was closer to it than it was Diagon Alley, so he figured he might do some shopping in the area soon enough. He made a note of stores he’d need to visit as he walked toward the pub.

Draco brushed past him as he opened the door, and he paused long enough to let his invisible partner get well ahead of him as he surveiled the room. Lupin was seated in a booth at the very back of the building. Harry shed his cloak and dropped it on the bench seat as he slid in.

“It’s good to see you, Harry. I was worried you’d say no to a meeting.”

Lupin looked old. It was disconcerting since the man wasn’t even 50, and he looked like a 90-year-old Muggle. He’d seen werewolves twice Lupin’s age who still appeared young and fit, but they didn’t wallow in their curse, and Harry knew that made a difference.

“Remus.” He shook his head when a server caught his attention. “I can’t stay long—I’m in the middle of an assignment.” He drew his wand, cast a privacy charm, and holstered it again in just a few seconds.

Remus frowned. “Can’t stop long enough for lunch?”

“Not really; it’s a fluid assignment that could see rapid advancement any moment,” Harry said. “I can’t discuss it—it’s for the DOM.”

“Yes, I heard from Arthur that you’d fallen in with that lot and that you’d already taken the oath. I hope that’s a mistake you can work your way free of at some point.”

“Swearing myself to the protection of Avalon is not a mistake,” Harry said and sat back. “What did you want to talk about? I told you last year that Teddy doesn’t want any contact with you, so I hope you aren’t wasting my time with that shite again.”

Lupin’s face darkened. “You let Dora’s mother turn my own son against me.”

“Andi’s never said a single word against you—not to Teddy or me because she understands such a thing would be considered abusive,” Harry said. “You abandoned your own son, Remus, twice. He’s not going to forgive you, and I certainly won’t try to talk him into it. He deserves better than you.”

Remus looked away from him. “I read what you sent to the Prophet. I can’t believe they published it.”

“They eagerly await my next installment,” Harry said. “You know everything I put in that letter was the truth, so I don’t know why you’d be upset by it. I’m allowed my own history. I’m allowed to speak my own truth, and I don’t care how you feel about it.”

“Albus deserves better from you,” Lupin said shortly. “He sacrificed everything, including his own life, to help you defeat Riddle, and you repay him by revealing…” He shook his head. “It’s awful what you’ve done—what you’ve allowed Rita Skeeter to do. You could’ve prevented those books from being published. You have money to burn.”

“Why on earth would I waste my money doing that?” Harry asked mildly. “He left me to be abused for ten years. He left Sirius to rot in Azkaban when he knew that Pettigrew was the Secret Keeper, and he knew that Pettigrew was a fucking Death Eater.” He waved a hand when Lupin started to protest. “Sirius was a boy, Remus. You all were boys, and he should’ve been able to trust the system to be fair to him, but it wasn’t, and Azkaban destroyed him. No one helped him in that prison, and no one helped him when he escaped that prison. His entire life was a tragedy—built on one abuse after another.”

“You act like he suffered more than….”

“You? My father? Pettigrew?” Harry questioned. “Snape? I suspect that he and Snape grew up in very similar circumstances, actually, but Sirius didn’t bow down to familial pressure and take the Dark Mark. Sirius didn’t wallow in self-pity because his parents abused and disowned him. So what if he survived the first war? He spent a decade after it in prison for something he didn’t do, being tortured by dementors.

“You were free to build a life for yourself. You were free to manage your circumstances and make the most of your magical abilities, but you didn’t. You were free to check on me, but you didn’t. You were free. Not even Peter could say that because he was trapped in his disgusting circumstances from the moment he took the Dark Mark until the day he dropped dead.”

“Until the day you killed him,” Lupin corrected. “He could’ve been redeemed, Harry. Albus believed that.”

“Peter Pettigrew betrayed me. He betrayed my parents,” Harry said flatly. “And that kind of betrayal is unforgivable. He should’ve died rather than reveal the secret. I deeply regret the fact that I stopped Sirius from killing him.” He watched Lupin’s mouth drop open. “Maybe Cedric Diggory would be alive today because that innocent, earnest, and gentle boy did not deserve what was done to him. I still dream about bringing his dead body back to Hogwarts, so don’t fucking sit there and tell me that Pettigrew could’ve been redeemed. I hope he’s burning in hell.”

Lupin made a face. “Magicals don’t go to Muggle hell.”

Harry laughed then, sincerely startled. “You think hell is a Muggle concept? What is the embrace of Lady Magic if not heaven incarnate? Neither exists as a physical place, Remus, but let me assure you that Pettigrew suffers for his betrayal. To defy the will of Magic is to be damned, and this I know for a fact.” He gestured to himself. “Master of Death, at your service.”

“Ron told his parents that you destroyed the Elder Wand,” Lupin said neutrally.

“And I did—Ron and Hermione witnessed it,” Harry murmured. “But all that did was ensure that no one could ever take my place as the master of the Hallows.” He watched the color drain from Lupin’s face. “Not my intent, mind you. I didn’t know a damn thing about magical theory at the time. The wand is destroyed, and the stone is lost to…a different place and time. I was the only one to ever own all three Hallows at the same time. Thus, I’m the Master of Death. There will never be another. Perhaps I’m the only one, ever.” Harry shrugged. “But you know this already—because I told Arthur, who certainly told you.”

“You should retrieve the stone and destroy it. The cloak, too,” Remus said. “I don’t know what kind of power it’s giving you, but you don’t need it, Harry.”

“You’re a smart man, Lupin, and you know damn well that what’s been done can’t be undone. This is what Dumbledore wanted for me, you know. He gave me the Resurrection Stone—I inherited it from him after he died. He gave me the cloak as well—something he’d borrowed from my father. As for the wand, he made sure I knew exactly where it was when he died so I could take it. And I did take it.” Harry shrugged. “If you don’t like the results of that old bastard’s machinations—take it up with his portrait. But I warn you, he’s just as frustrating and fucked up as a painting as he was as a person.”

“You were like a grandson to him,” Lupin said. “He had such high hopes for you.”

“He hoped I’d die,” Harry said flatly. “But made plans to control me and present me as his legacy just in case I managed to survive. I’m not his grandson, I’m not his legacy, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone try to make any of that happen.”

“You’re making reckless decisions that are extremely selfish, Harry. You’ve destroyed Ginny—she can’t even sleep at night because of the vow you made. The healers want to put her in St. Mungo’s to protect her pregnancy.”

“Frankly, she should’ve been put in St. Mungo’s years ago,” Harry said. “She’s not my responsibility, and I’ve made that clear to her and her family. I’m just really glad that I got some sense knocked into me by the Book of Souls.”

“Soul magic…it’s been corrupted over the years,” Remus said quietly. “You can’t trust it, Harry, and everyone knows that.”

“It’s hardly any of your business,” Harry said with a sigh. “Is this all you wanted to talk about because I’ve had this ridiculous conversation several times this week, and I’m pretty tired of it. The whole soulmate thing is my personal business. What I do with it—good or bad—is for me to decide.”

“Who is it?” Lupin questioned. “Someone you’re clearly ashamed of, or you’d have already announced it. You don’t keep things like this to yourself, Harry, and you never have.”

Smoke coiled out of Harry’s nose before he could get control of himself, and scales started to flick out of his skin rapidly. Lupin reared back in shock.

“You don’t know a fucking thing about me, Lupin,” Harry hissed and reined in his temper as much as he could, considering the dragon in him was doing its best to claw through his skin. “Never contact me again.”

“You’re the only method of contact for my son!” Remus protested.

“I don’t give a fuck, and neither does he.” Harry slid out of the booth, dragging his cloak with him. He pulled it over his robe. “I mean it—I don’t want to hear from you again as long as I live, you foul son of a bitch.”

An invisible hand clenched around his wrist, and Harry let Draco pull him from the pub. Shortly, he was enveloped in the magic of side-along apparition. They appeared in the center of the room the DOM used for apparition arrivals. He’d never used it because access was tied to the medallion, and he hadn’t had it long enough to consider all the privileges attached.

Draco appeared in front of him and released his wrist.

“I’m not ashamed of you,” Harry said tightly.

“I know.”

Harry relaxed a little, and his scales started to retreat. “He makes me so mad. I can’t stand to look at him. He threw away his own child because he’s fucking weak. I don’t see how my father was his friend.”

“The friendship might not have survived into adulthood,” Draco said. “Or Lupin would’ve been a very different man if he’d kept his friends.”

“I can’t imagine it,” Harry admitted. “Also, fuck him.” He rubbed his face and came away with soot on his fingers. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Draco said with a laugh as Harry pulled his wand and cleaned his face and hand. “I figure half the patrons of that pub pissed themselves. You should probably send Aberforth an apology. He laughed his arse off, by the way, when Remus tried to berate you for the letter to the Prophet, so he has listening charms embedded in his booths that your privacy spell didn’t make a dent in. You were right—he finds the whole thing highly entertaining.”

Harry let Draco drag him to their office and order lunch through the floo. It only took Croaker 20 minutes to find out about his display at Hog’s Head. He was munching on a chicken salad sandwich when the older man appeared in the doorway.

“Potter! Heard you turned into half a bloody dragon in the middle of Hog’s Head.”

“Bah, it was less than a third!” Harry retorted. “People are always exaggerating and shite.” He flung his free hand around. “I didn’t even sprout wings, so fuck all of them very much.”

“He did keep his wings to himself,” Draco confirmed. “And Lupin was a complete bastard, so…” He shrugged and picked up his own sandwich. “I have a report almost ready for the first circle. It’s not great, and we can expect it to get worse if we don’t get this wizard into custody.”

“A single practitioner is confirmed?” McGregor questioned as he came into the room, shut the door, and snagged a sandwich off the tray.

“Definitely one wizard,” Draco confirmed. “The only other magical presence in the ritual is the victim.” He paused. “And the victim was a veela. I can’t confirm anything beyond the fact that they had veela magic in their core.”

Croaker made a face at that. “We’d know if a woman of veela heritage had disappeared or been killed. It’s considered a hate crime in France due to their history with the magical species, and the Veela Triumvirate is a very active and powerful body in their ministry government.”

“Granted,” Draco said. “But there’s no mistaking the magic. I ran those diagnostics several times to make sure it was accurate. The wizard is masking his magical signature.”

“Or he has the Dark Mark,” Harry said. “Which obscures the magical signature by its very nature.” He shrugged when they both look at him. “A dark wizard over the age of 40 practically screams Death Eater. That could be a bias on my part; it seems like the most obvious suspect pool.”

“You are biased,” Croaker agreed. “But you’re also not wrong to believe that we should start to look through the surviving Death Eaters who managed to escape incarceration after the war.”

“I often wonder if Rufus Scrimgeour did it on purpose—declaring war on the Death Eaters so they would be considered enemy combatants and not terrorists,” Harry said. “He made it damn near impossible to charge some of those arseholes with a damn thing—plus all the laws the Wizengamot ratified out of fear. Sometimes, I want to set this whole place on fire, and it should worry you because it doesn’t feel like that would be a violation of my oath.”

Croaker snorted. “I noticed that myself when I ruminated on killing several people and didn’t even get a little poke from my magic concerning an oath violation. Avalon and Lady Magic, herself, clearly has problems with a lot of people in Britain.”

“I like to plan Dolores Umbridge’s murder as a hobby,” Harry admitted and shrugged when Draco sent him a shocked look. “What? She’s a hell beast and needs it!”

“She is a hell beast,” Draco agreed. “It’s just there are better hobbies to be had, Potter.”

“Oh, speaking of better things,” Harry said happily and pulled Anwen out of the interior pocket of his robe. “Croaker, meet Anwen.”

Croaker blinked and leaned forward slightly as Anwen’s wings flicked out in a display. “What the fuck…how the…where did you get her?”

“She was buried in the cellar of my new peel.” He sent Draco a pointed look. “And we’re started building a familiar bond as soon as I touched her.”

“I’ve never seen a solid color coatl of any sort,” Croaker admitted. “Fascinating—you should take her to Paris and introduce her to Armand. He’d be thrilled to meet her.”

“I will,” Harry said. “I have to make a run to Bertrand’s book store for Hermione, and I wanted to get Armand to check Anwen over for health purposes. She feels healthy both physically and magically, but it’s better to be sure.” He offered her, and Croaker grinned as he carefully took the snake. “She doesn’t mind being handled.”

Croaker focused on Anwen for a few moments in silence, rubbing his thumb over the top of her plump diamond-shaped head. “Introduce her around—you’ll have to make a choice.”

“A choice?” Harry questioned.

“Well, honestly, that’s not true.” Croaker sighed. “There’s no real choice to be made. She must be Harry Potter’s familiar due to your parselmouth status being so well known. Which means Leviathan can’t be seen with her.”

Harry made a face because he didn’t want to leave her at home. In the same moment, magic shimmered over Anwen, and she faded from view.

“Ah, you clever lass,” Croaker said admiringly. “Very good solution—we trust you’ll keep your wizard’s secrets as much as you can, and we’ll manage any fall out as needed.”

Despite being invisible, Harry had no issues with retrieving her from Croaker’s hands. “Manage?”

“Code names have been revealed in less-than-ideal situations in the past,” Croaker said. “We’ve required memory charms or secrecy oaths on those cases. We do give the option if it’s at all possible. But the secrets of our work protect Avalon, and sometimes our personal ethics pay the price when it comes to the defense of magic.”

“Yes, well, getting burned at the stake for a few hundred years can make some people paranoid about security,” Draco said dryly and shrugged when they looked his way.

Harry figured that was a fair statement, so he just gently pushed his magic against Anwen, and she reappeared.

Chapter 13

Saturday morning found Harry sitting on the ledge of his family vault petting a Chinese Fireball named Marigold. Her large head was on his thigh, and she was rambling through a list of complaints in a smooth melodic manner that Harry found more soothing than he’d ever want to admit. She’d been with the bank for decades, so she had a lot to complain about. Chiefly, though, she was seriously bent about the dragons that Harry had purchased abroad and brought back to the bank because she felt like they got better assignments.

I know you want to come guard my home, but I don’t need that sort of security,” he said as he patted her face. “It’s unplottable and warded very well.

I would be a very good guard for your little tower,” Marigold decided. “I’m ready to retire from banking.”

Harry laughed and relaxed against the vault door. “I’ll not be your mid-life crisis, lass. Besides, did you not specifically ask me to set up a courting situation for you last month? Was he a disappointment? Shall I complain on your behalf?” He paused. “I could transform and kick his arse if needed.

She blew out a few smoke circles rather than answer.

Boring, huh? Well, he’s a hundred or more years older than you, so that could be the problem. Maybe we should get you some young dragon who isn’t jaded,” Harry suggested. “I have to go to France today. Did you wish to pass along a message to Armand?

Marigold chuffed. “I saved him some scales during my last shedding. Razel has them set aside. I wouldn’t set any of your neighbors on fire if you let me come live with you.”

Now we both know that’s a lie,” Harry retorted, and Marigold nudged him so hard he almost fell off the ledge. “Did you at least get eggs out of your terrible date?”

No. He’s lucky to have survived the encounter,” Marigold declared.

Harry was sure if a dragon could roll their eyes, she would’ve. He continued to pet her head until she got so sleepy that she left him in favor of her nest. Part of him was glad that the horcrux had tied so much of his parselmagic up when he was younger. He had no idea how the first task would’ve gone if the dragon had been more interested in making friends than guarding her egg. Well, certainly it would’ve gone better, but he didn’t think he would’ve handled a dragon having a crush on him well when he was 14.

He retrieved the scales from Razel and accepted a portkey to France. He could’ve apparated but several countries in Europe, France included, had yet to relax their travel restrictions from the blood war. Additionally, he was now required to register all of his travel going into the country because of his new position in the DOM. He landed in the Paris branch of Gringotts, surrendered the portkey with the promise it would be remade for his return to London, and went in search of the bookstore that Hermione had sent a letter to regarding her research demands.

Louis Bertrand had retired from public service sometime in the mid-80s, but Harry wasn’t certain of the date. He figured Dumbledore was to blame in some fashion or another, but he’d never asked. Harry entered the book store, and wards drifted around him—assessing in a way he hadn’t noticed before. Surely some sort of innate ability he’d gained from the legacy orb. He paused and waited for Bertrand to come to him.

“Ah, Potter, should’ve known it was you,” Bertrand announced as he came out of a back room. “Your little witch sent me a long, bossy letter about some research she was doing.”

“I got much the same and have already done my shopping with Stowe Flourish,” Harry admitted as he removed his cloak. “Hermione and Quinn are planning a trip here next year, so I suspect you’ll be subjected to their company on the regular during that month-long visit.”

“Consider me lucky then,” Bertrand said cheerfully. “I can’t say I’ve ever turned down such lovely and intelligent guests.” He put a package on the counter and cleared his throat. “Considering the news I’ve heard—this research is for you.”

“Yeah,” Harry admitted. “Turns out getting a soulmate can be kind of complicated magically.”

Bertrand nodded. “So I’ve heard—I was not so gifted magically. Love is a gift in itself, of course. My husband and I enjoyed many years together before he passed. I’d like to speak with you privately if you don’t mind.”

Harry picked up the package. “I don’t mind at all, sir.”

“Fantastic, I have some tea, and my new fellow made some biscuits.”

“New fellow, huh?” Harry questioned with a grin.

“Ah, well, yes,” Louis said. “Perhaps, I should call him my partner? I’m too old for a boyfriend.”

“Well, I think that would depend on how young he is,” Harry admitted and laughed when Bertrand flushed. “That young?”

“50ish,” Louis said and grinned as he used his wand to close his shop and lock the door. “Certainly younger than most would assume proper, but I’m not about to go running around with a young thing like you—I’d not survive it.”

Harry settled in at a table and accepted the tea he was poured. “Is this about Dumbledore?”

Bertrand nodded. “Of course, though I do wish I could think of a better topic of discussion to have with such a lovely young man.”

Harry grinned. “We’ll make a list for the future.” He sat back in his chair and snagged a biscuit. “Albus Dumbledore was a dark wizard.”

Bertrand paused briefly but then nodded. “Not a popular opinion, certainly. I met him in 1983 for the first time—when he was sent to the ICW as a representative for Britain. I believe he served once before, but it was during a time when I was not involved in the body. I ran the field operations for the War Mages Division in the 50s and 60s, but you know that. I eventually turned toward the World Court to better serve justice. I can’t say it was always successful.

“Part of me wishes I’d accepted the position as Supreme Mugwump when it was on the table—it would’ve certainly prevented Dumbledore from ever gaining that job. He did far more harm than good while he was the leader of the confederation.” He frowned into his tea. “I suspect we’ll never know the full measure of the damage he did both in Britain and abroad. I read the letter you wrote to the Daily Prophet about your childhood. If I’d known such a thing—I’d have had him brought before the World Court in chains. It makes me wonder what else I might have missed about that bastard.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure he liked to create dark lords,” Harry said conversationally. “While I can’t prove it—I believe he was directly responsible for how Grindelwald and Riddle ended up. There were some very deep manipulations. And it needs to be said that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were very passionate lovers when they were younger.”

“So Skeeter’s book is accurate?”

“Very much so,” Harry said. “I told her I’d help her as long as she didn’t lie. She was genuinely flummoxed by the fact that she didn’t have to make a damn thing up to write a book that was a full-on scandal.” He took another bite of his biscuit. “These are great—keep this new fellow of yours.”

“I think I will,” Louis agreed. “His biscuit-making skills are the least of it.” He took a deep breath. “I retired from the World Court because the ICW introduced measures regarding international law that largely neutered the body. Conditions and protocols were enacted that sheltered criminals across the planet in their home countries to protect them from prosecution by the court.”

“Dumbledore liked to play at redemption,” Harry said. “But he never understood what genuine atonement meant. It was a game of light and dark for him. Sometimes, I think he created this sort of halo-effect around himself by making everyone else darker than they ever would’ve been on their own. I wasn’t immune to that, considering the man groomed me to commit suicide.”

“Yes, I assumed as much,” Bertrand murmured. “All of the information that has been released over the years led in that direction. He clearly didn’t intend to die when he did, which means you’d have been in his way eventually. Death or the eventual destruction of the persona he created would’ve been required. I suspected that’s why he was never all that fussed to protect you as a student or as a child. He shaped a savior but was prepared to create another dark lord in you.”

“Honestly, it wouldn’t have taken much to meet that burden in Britain if he’d survived,” Harry admitted and shrugged when Bertrand laughed. “He got off easy as far as I’m concerned.” He cleared his throat. “Can I ask for a personal book search? One that will stay between us?”

“Of course,” Bertrand murmured.

“I need…do you think it’s possible to destroy a core-based betrothal bond?” Harry asked.

Bertrand’s gaze widened, and his eyes darkened. “Ah, I see. I wondered why there wasn’t an announcement. I must ask, lad, and I mean no offense. Does your soulmate wish to be freed from their situation?”

“It was forced on him the summer he turned 16,” Harry said. “And he doesn’t want it—fortunately, the other half of that arrangement died in the war, but the bond persists.”

“Done in ritual then,” Bertrand murmured. “Ancient in design and created, originally, to fully subjugate witches. Those sorts of bonds were never common amongst wizards who chose to marry each other.”

“Sexist bastards,” Harry muttered. “It’s about the assumption that a woman might cheat, right? Taint the magical line?”

“Line theft is still considered a felony in most magical justice systems,” Bertrand agreed. “With good reason in some cases considering how much money can change hands through heirs. That’s not even taking into account magical legacies. That being said, I’ve never heard of a bond like that being broken or destroyed without it taking the witch with it. I’ve never known such a thing to be put on a wizard.” He frowned. “I’ll do some research—reach out to a few friends abroad without mentioning your name.”

Harry nodded.

“A legal case could be made against your soulmate’s parents for such a gross violation of his magic,” Bertrand said. “It should’ve never been done at all, but certainly, they should’ve verified he didn’t have a soulmate before agreeing to such a contract term. In this, soulmate magic can be very delicate. You’ll never achieve a bond with him as a result.”

“Worse—we think that the damn thing is slowly dragging him into the grave with his would-be husband,” Harry said darkly and cleared his throat. “Hypothetical—if I resurrected the son of a bitch, could I force him to end the betrothal?”

“Hell, lad, I don’t know,” Louis said and shrugged. “But if you come upon a theory that makes such a solution viable, let me know. I’d love to watch.”

“Resurrection is a crime against magic,” Harry pointed out with a laugh.

“I’m retired,” Bertrand reminded him tartly. “If they didn’t want me indulging in my intellectual curiosity, they should’ve made me keep working.”

“True,” Harry agreed. “Sometimes I think I should write the Australian Ministry for Magic and let the know that it’s best if they keep Hermione Granger employed and under oath. There’s no telling what she’d get up to as a free agent.”

* * * *

“If I’d known what you were, I’d have kidnapped you after your parents were killed,” Armand Deering said as he stared at Harry. “Raised you up in my bastardly image.”

Harry grinned as he stepped through the gate that Deering opened. “Dumbledore would’ve had an international conniption.”

“Dumbledore would’ve gotten himself fucking killed,” Armand muttered. “Come, show me what you’ve found. Your letter was irritatingly brief.”

Harry pulled Anwen gently from the pocket of his robe once he’d shed his cloak, and she coiled around his arm and hand. “She’s been in stasis for several hundred years—feels healthy, but I wanted to make sure.”

Deering blew out a surprised breath. “You’re a lucky man, Potter.” He held out a hand, and Harry gently transferred his familiar into the elderly wizard’s hand.

“How do you feel?” Harry questioned.

“My nephews pester me enough, lad,” Deering murmured as he sat down in a chair on the patio. He stroked Anwen’s head even as her wings unfurled. “I’ve never seen anything like her.”

“I’ve read a few books—no one’s ever mentioned her existence, and surely it would’ve come up in our circles.”

“Hmmm.” Armand focused intently on Anwen, and his skin took on a faint glow. “Has she spoken to you?”

“Yes, but only to me,” Harry said. “She doesn’t appear to mind being held by Croaker or my partner, but she hasn’t attempted to communicate with anyone but me.”

“She probably won’t outside of extreme circumstances,” Armand said. “The bond is very deep despite your short acquittance. She’ll be extremely protective of you, your home, and any family you create for yourself. Magically and physically mature—I’d put her at around 100 when she was put into stasis. She feels sophisticated and highly educated. You couldn’t ask for a better partner as you explore your parselmagic.” He made a face. “You should’ve come here for an education before you threw yourself at the Ministry of Magic.”

“I know,” Harry admitted. “I just…after the war…I needed stability, and honestly, I was afraid they’d find some reason to put me in Azkaban. I figured it was safer if they believed I was going to do what they wanted, sort of.”

“Well, don’t worry about that,” Armand said. “I told my boys to watch your back. They’ll come get you if you end up in Azkaban. I don’t think Croaker would allow it, but power can shift. Quintin and Walker don’t answer to the ministry. They work as contractors for Gringotts, currently.”

Harry tried to imagine Quintin and Walker Deadmarsh laying siege to Azkaban and was so amused he could barely refrain from laughing. “Frankly, sir, your nephews would give even a dementor pause.”

“Yeah, well, I did get to raise them up in my bastardly image,” Armand said with a small smile as he focused on Anwen. “Of course, this lovely lady probably doesn’t need my nephews help to watch your back. She’s capable of teleportation and would certainly take you with her if required. It would be magically taxing for her, so don’t allow it often. No ward can hold her or prevent her entry. She’s an ideal companion for your new job. Croaker is chuffed by your retreat, by the way. He didn’t think he’d be able to talk you into it.”

“I’m relieved to be largely out of the public eye going forward.” Harry cleared his throat and looked around the garden. “Did you need help with anything while I’m here?”

Armand sent him a dirty look. “My body is old, but my magic is fine, lad.”

“I know, sir,” Harry said and smiled when the older man huffed. “But I don’t mind. I know your house elf retired last year, and you didn’t replace her.”

“Well, I barely had any work for her at any rate,” Armand said. “She worked for Patrice…they had many little projects to keep themselves occupied. There wasn’t much to do once she was gone.” He cleared his throat and focused on Anwen. “Heard about the soulmate business. You haven’t announced a name. Is there a problem?”

“Entrenched betrothal bond for him,” Harry said shortly.

“The Malfoy boy then,” Armand said and nodded. “I consulted with Croaker on that matter. I’m sorry to say that I couldn’t do anything about it. I reviewed your work on the Dark Mark. I caution you, Potter, don’t try to remove it again. It may very well kill him, and I can’t imagine what you’d suffer for killing your own soulmate.”

Harry took a deep breath. “I…I wish I was the kind of bastard you’d have raised because there would be a pile of bodies behind me—a few kilometers long and hip-deep.”

Armand snorted. “Those arseholes in Britain are lucky you haven’t lost your mind.”

“I am keeping a list,” Harry admitted. “I won’t bother to check it twice.”

“Everyone should. I’ve been monitoring myself. I figure I have another year to live, and I’m considering darting about the planet and killing a bunch of people who deserve it. Maybe I’ll take a whole month, in the end, to avenge myself properly.” He paused. “I might need two months.”

“Well, I’ll sit out that manhunt,” Harry said, and Armand laughed. “So, Britain is yours for the taking.” He pulled a small pouch from his robe. “Marigold has sent you some scales.”

“I was beginning to think she’d forgotten about me,” Armand said wryly. “Considering how much she reportedly moons around about you.”

* * * *

Harry relaxed back on his hands and resolved to ignore Draco until the man decided to reveal himself. He stared out over the loch and smiled when a plesiosaur surfaced and glided right toward the beach. She didn’t leave the water, but her calf did—shuffling up the beach with adorably small fins. The calf, a female based on the shape of her head, sprawled across Harry’s lap without hesitation.

Greetings, Hadrian, thank you for making your home on the loch. The enclave is very pleased. The merpeople have no issues to speak of currently, but wish to know if you can arrange for travel later in the year—there is a courting event at Black Lake that several would like to attend.

Harry nodded. “Greetings to you as well, Mora. I can arrange a portkey whenever it is needed, so just let me know when. Are the sea serpents still nesting?

Yes, and I suspect they will for another few months. We’ve been providing the mothers with sustenance while their males stand guard. You would be welcome to visit should you wish it. They will also be pleased to show off their offspring once the hatching begins.”

Harry nodded. “Speaking of offspring?” He waved a hand at the calf, which had fallen asleep on his lap. “Is she old enough to even be out of the water?” She was no bigger than a house cat currently, so it was concerning.

Our children may leave the loch once they can breathe outside of the waters,” Mora stated. “Her name is Myalis and will be my successor. It was confirmed magically today as she’s gone through her first maturation.” She inclined her head. “Tell your mate that he cannot hide from me.”

He’s not my mate.” Harry cleared his throat. “You can come out of hiding, Draco. She can sense you.”

Draco ended his disillusionment charm. “She won’t maul me for getting close to her baby?”

“No,” Harry said and gently rubbed Myalis’ head when the calf stirred. “This is the future queen of Loch Ness, officially, as of today.”

“Oh.” Draco exhaled deeply as he sat down carefully beside him. “Seriously?” He focused on the plesiosaur female still in the water. “That’s the pod leader?”

“Her name is Mora, and she’s ruled over the entire enclave of Loch Ness for about 1000 years—every magical creature in the loch defers to her, Draco.” Harry grinned when his partner stared at him in shock. “Did you think the merpeople would be in charge?”

“Yes,” he admitted.

“They had to get Mora’s permission to migrate here from Greenland,” Harry said. “And that process took 20 years because she wasn’t inclined to take them due to bad relations with the merpeople population in Black Lake. She allows them to intermarry, but that’s the only way a merperson from the Hogwarts population can join them here in Loch Ness, and even then, the contract process is extreme.”

“Do you know why?”

“They tried to take over her loch and kick her people out,” Harry said. “So they were punished with isolation in Black Lake by the ICW, but that was over 300 years ago. Mora isn’t angry anymore, but she’s very strict with them.” He focused on the calf. “All the more important now that Myalis has been born. She’s Mora’s second child—she with mated again with the sole purpose to create an heiress.”

“How old is Myalis?” Draco asked.

“50 years—I didn’t expect to meet her for decades,” Harry admitted and looked up to find that Mora had disappeared. “She left her kid with me. I’m not qualified for this.”

“Pretty sure almost anyone is qualified to let a baby sleep on them,” Draco said with a small laugh.

Harry considered that and nodded. “Why are you here?”

Draco scowled and focused on the water in front of them.

“I’m not complaining,” Harry continued, and Draco exhaled dramatically.

“You were gone all day,” Draco said. “I’ve come by twice.”

“I went to France,” Harry said. “For errands—I visited Armand Deering to make sure that Anwen was in the right place magically and physically. I felt like she was, but it’s nice to be certain.” He paused. “He thinks he has less than a year to live. If he didn’t consider it an offense to Lady Magic, he’d have probably already taken his own life. He only kept drinking from the bloodstone because of his nephews. Quintin recently got married, and Walker is going to work for the ICW next year.”

“So he feels that his duty to his sister’s children is done,” Draco said.

“Yeah, it’s pretty… disheartening to see him brought so low by grief.”

“His wife was a veela—pure-blood in every single way,” Draco murmured. “While he certainly doesn’t consider it fortunate, he’s lucky to have survived her death. And maybe Riddle didn’t intend for him to. They couldn’t get to him, so why not murder his wife in the street on Diagon Alley while she was shopping for a new dress and take him out in the process.”

“A new dress?”

“That’s the story my father told—it deeply amused him. He said that Deering didn’t deserve her anyway and that she was better off dead than to be with a man who didn’t understand his place in the world. I could’ve beaten him to death on the spot. Have you seen her portrait? The one he keeps in his office?”

“The first time she was napping in a bed of pale pink flowers that broke my fucking heart,” Harry said quietly. “The second time she was awake and lecturing him about his eating habits. She made me go fix him dinner, which was no hardship because the kitchen in his house is perfect, and she taught me how to make an amazing risotto.

“The crimes of Riddle’s followers will haunt us for generations. There are probably still some working to undermine the government and create nightmares as an homage to his vision. It’s like he broke the whole world open and…like maybe his mere existence was the real Pandora’s Box.”

“What a fucked up thing to say,” Draco muttered.

Harry laughed, and Myalis made a disgruntled noise as she rolled off his lap. She barked and hissed at his leg as he continued to laugh. “Sorry, sweetheart.” He offered her head a gentle pat, but she nipped at his fingers.

She wakes up poorly.”

Harry looked up and found that Mora had returned. “I hate being woken up as well.

Myalis slid back into the water.

Be well, Hadrian. We’ve chosen to include the shoreline of your property in our security patrols. Thank you for being so gracious in your warding scheme to allow visitation. We are all grateful.”

Harry nodded as Mora disappeared under the water and cleared his throat as he glanced toward Draco. “Dinner?”

“I can’t say I’m opposed to sitting down at your table,” Draco murmured and glanced over the loch. “What did she say before she left?”

“She thanked me for allowing her to enter my wards and told me that they’ll provide security for my property along the shoreline,” Harry stood and offered Draco his hand. It was a relief when Draco accepted it immediately. He pulled his partner off the sand. “I was considering a paella—how do you feel about mussels and squid?”

“I love both,” Draco admitted with a grin. “I’ve never had a paella though—seen it a few times on various menus, but something always distracts me away from it.”

“We can work on it together,” Harry suggested. “There’s just a bit of prep work involved.” He reluctantly released Draco’s hand. “If you’d like, that is?”

“I would like,” Draco said quietly.

* * * *

Harry looked up from the stove tucked in the center island of his kitchen and found Draco browsing through the catalog he’d yet to look through. “I need furniture for four bedrooms, a living space, and an office. I already have a kitchen table picked out to replace that one. Despite the exterior—I’d prefer mid-century modern for the décor. So if that’s hard to come by in the vault, I’ll buy.”

Draco paused briefly, frowned, and turned a page. “Mid-century modern?”

“1930s to 1960s basically,” Harry said. “Comfortable, but defined, not overstuffed or ornate. My bedroom furniture is mid-century modern. The only pieces I actually purchased myself. The rest I just pulled out of the vault as needed without much care as to how it worked together. I think there is a trunk of furniture from my parent’s first flat that will probably fill the need.”

“Right.” He turned another page. “You’re so….”

“What?” Harry prodded as he started to tuck mussels into the bed of rice in the pan.

“You cook, have décor preferences, and probably know the thread count on your sheets. I don’t even know where my sheets come from. I paid Pansy’s house elf to decorate Grimmauld Place. Actually, I ended up paying ten house elves for that work because it was a terrible mess.”

Harry didn’t know what to say, so he focused on cooking for a bit.

“Color preferences?”

“Whites, blues, greens,” Harry murmured. “Nothing stupidly vibrant, though. I’d rather not get assaulted by my own desk chair.”

Draco laughed. “Right. Rugs?”

“Sure, but solid colors over patterns and also avoid the real fur ones—they freak me out even if the providence on each assures me they were humanely harvested after a natural death.”

“Too bad. There is a lovely nundu skin rug here that would go perfectly with the sofa you have currently in the living room.”

“I was going to move that to an office since it’s a single piece. There are several matched sets in the vault.” He made a face. “How perfect is the rug?”

“I’d have to see the office, but it can be resized as needed,” Draco murmured. “But it’s a dark tan with muted brown spots that appear to fade to almost nothing from the outer edges inward. No head or feet, of course, and it says it was taken after the animal was euthanized due to an untreatable illness. Thoroughly cleansed, several hundred years old but near-perfectly preserved. There is an argument to be had, Potter, that using such an item is a way of honoring the creature even in death. You wear dragonhide.”

“Every bit of dragonhide I own was shed naturally from a living animal,” Harry said. “All the meat I buy is ethically sourced, and the animals are treated very well on magical farms. It’s more expensive, but I’d rather not participate financially in an abusive system to satisfy my need for meat—which exploded after I accomplished my animagus transformation.”

“Same,” Draco admitted. “I could eat my weight in beef on a weekly basis. It’s good that you’re not trying to ignore the biological needs that come with our shared form. Some do—especially when it comes to the more exotic forms. Pansy refused to finish the process when she found out her form was an Asian palm civet because apparently, that breed of animal craves snails.”

“Escargot’s not bad,” Harry said. “Not a treat as far as I’m concerned but certainly edible if prepared well. I prefer beef, chicken, and seafood as a rule. Pork is okay, but it’s not…satisfying to my form.”

“No, agreed. The sausage you bought at my house was nice, though.”

“It was a chicken/pork mix,” Harry explained and turned off the stove. “Okay, ready to serve if you’ll set the catalog aside.”

“I made a few suggestions,” Draco said and closed the book. “You’ll want to actually look at the pieces. Probably go to the bank instead of having it delivered. You still have your packing crate, right?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah.” He brought the food to the table then retrieved the Sauvignon Blanc he’d purchased in Paris.

“Hmmm, I haven’t laid eyes on a bottle of Domaine Dagueneau in over a year,” Draco said. “Where did you get it?”

“A specialty shop in the magical district in Paris,” Harry said as he poured for them both. “Armand wanted a few bottles, so I ran that errand for him and bought a few for my own use.” He sat down. “Did you want to discuss the report you generated for the ritual circle?”

“No,” Draco said. “Tell me something I don’t know about you.”

Harry considered that and took a sip of his wine. “I spoke to a snake the first time when I was 11, shortly before I received my letter. I accidentally freed him in a Muggle zoo.”

Draco grinned. “Really?”

Harry shrugged. “It was a very surprising day.”

 

 

Chapter 14

“After I failed to remove your Dark Mark, I sent all the information I had to Hermione in Australia,” Harry said and watched Draco’s darken. “She’s the one that came up with the spell strategy to remove it, to begin with. Of course, she had no idea your mark was different from the rest. She stopped researching when you told me that you didn’t want to try again.”

“Physically, it was agony,” Draco murmured. “But the emotional toll was worse, Harry. I can’t go down that road again. Allowing myself to hope led me to a deeply unhealthy place. I need you to understand that.”

Harry’s gut clenched at that, and he took a sip of wine. “If I asked you to give me all the research you have so Hermione can add it to what she’s already collected?”

Draco shifted until he could tuck against the arm of the sofa and shrugged. “Yeah, she can have it, but I don’t want to hear about any of it, Harry. I’ve learned to live with my circumstances, and I can’t make you accept defeat on practically any topic because you don’t know how to give up, but I need to be done with it.”

“I can try,” Harry said, but it felt wrong to even say aloud, and Draco sent him a look that told him he hadn’t sounded very sincere. “I mean it—I don’t want to be a source of stress for you.”

“You’ve been stressing me out since I set eyes on you,” Draco muttered, and Harry couldn’t help but laugh. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

Harry shrugged and let his head fall back on the sofa as he focused on the ceiling. “Honestly?”

“Honestly,” Draco assured.

“I think—I’ve always wanted more than I was ever going to get. And I feel as if Magic and Fate are punishing me for the mistakes I made in other lifetimes. Maybe I turned my back on the duties given to me one time too many, and I’ll pay for that for eternity. In primary school, I knew this kid who wanted to be rich and famous. It was all he wanted, and I remember thinking it was such an odd thing to want for yourself. Even at eight, it seemed shallow and lonely. I didn’t have much, not even a family that loved me, but I knew that money wouldn’t really solve my problems.

“When I looked in the Mirror of Erised the first time—I saw my parents. I saw a family that would accept me, love me. I think that image has been haunting me since I was 11-years-old and I’ve allowed the people around me to manipulate and control me with that impossible fantasy since I entered the magical world.

“Over the years, I stopped having expectations, and maybe I stopped trying to figure out what I want along the way.” He frowned. “Maybe I never even actually started trying to figure that out. I have an obscene fame that I don’t want and more money than I could spend responsibly in a lifetime. Most of my relationships with people are shallow, unrewarding, and at times deeply toxic.” He turned his head and looked at Draco. “The most interesting thing about you, Draco, is that you don’t even try to pretend you can solve all my problems or make me happy.”

“Manufactured happiness is shallow and deeply unrewarding, Harry. I’ve done my best to be honest with you since the war ended.”

“I noticed,” Harry admitted. “I can’t say it hasn’t hurt sometimes, but I appreciate it.” He cleared his throat. “You haven’t accepted your circumstances.”

“Yes, I have!”

“No, god, Draco, you really haven’t.” He lurched off the sofa to give himself some room. “So stop lying to yourself.”

“Don’t tell me what I’ve…” Draco glared at him as he stood. “I can’t get rid of the Dark Mark. I can’t have a proper marriage. I’ll never have children. I’m going to die young. I can’t have you.”

“I’m right here. I’ve been here for years,” Harry said. “I feel like I’ve been…” He ran a hand through his hair. “Why must every damn thing be so complicated and terrible?”

“You must have been a real bastard in a former life,” Draco muttered. “And apparently karma is a thing.”

Harry walked to stand by the window. He ran his finger along the seam of the window pane. It had surely been added long after the peel had stopped being used for defense, and the construction was magical, so at least the glass wasn’t a security risk.

Draco joined him. “All you’ve done your whole life is sacrifice.”

Harry swallowed hard, and his eyes started to sting with tears he would not shed. He cleared his throat. “I’d like to say it was worth it, but that doesn’t feel right—not in the face of the terrible shite we know. I feel like everything I did was…like throwing a pebble in an ocean.”

“You want to build a home here in this charming little tower. You could find someone else—someone who could give you children and a marriage rich with magic and love. Don’t you think you deserve that, Harry?”

Harry let his head fall to rest against the windowpane as he realized Draco had clearly talked himself into an outright rejection of their soulmate situation. He couldn’t stand it; would do any damn thing to avoid hearing it.

“Do you honestly think I’d let anyone take your place?” Harry questioned, and Draco stiffened beside him. “Because I won’t. If I can’t have a magical marriage with you, then I’ll never have one at all. If I can’t have children with you, then I’ll adopt. I’ll fill this place with children that no one wants for whatever reason, and I’ll be happy enough, and maybe everyone around me will see it as some sort of sacrifice, but it won’t be.”

“What will it be?” Draco demanded. “Because it sounds like you’re just…”

Harry shrugged. “Acceptance.”

“Of what?”

Harry focused on him and realized it was just time to put all out between them. They couldn’t work together or even exist on the same damn continent if they didn’t settle things as much as they could. “I accept that you can’t imagine marriage without a bond. I accept that you can’t imagine having children if you can’t carry them yourself, and that’s probably some sort of veela instinct that you haven’t gotten control of. I accept that you love me, but that’s not enough for you. I accept…that you’re all I want, and you won’t allow yourself to want me back.”

Harry watched shock, fury, and hurt drift over Draco’s face by turns. He waited for acceptance or defeat, but it didn’t come. A strange anticipation started to build between them as Draco’s eyes darkened and Harry recognized it well enough. He reached out and cupped his partner’s jaw, ran his thumb gently over his cheekbone.

“If you let me have you, we’ll never be parted.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Is that a threat?”

“It’s a promise—you could live on the other side of the damn planet, and you’ll still be mine, and you’ll know it. It won’t matter who you take to bed after me, who you try to love…I’ll always be there in your heart and mind, and it has nothing to do with me. Your veela magic might be subdued, but we both know that I’m more than your magical soulmate and veela mate for life.”

“Shut up,” Draco whispered. “I can’t…”

“We can,” Harry argued. “Stop punishing yourself for things you can’t control, Draco.”

Draco moved closer, and Harry wasn’t all that certain that he meant to. He let his hand fall away and swallowed hard.

The first time they kissed, it had felt desperate, but there was none of that as Draco deliberately invaded Harry’s space and pressed their mouths together. It was an exciting mixture of acceptance and the feeling of inevitability. They’d been revolving around each other for so long that crashing into one another was a given. Harry curled his hands into Draco’s clothes as he deepened the kiss. A small part of him was certain they should take their time, but he was really damned tired of not getting what he wanted.

The brush of their bodies together was nothing compared to the way their magic started to touch and blend—a gentle but painless action that spoke to their innate compatibility. Draco shuddered against him, and Harry pulled him closer.

“Harry.”

“I’m here,” he murmured as he pressed against him—just breathing as they stood there, cheek to cheek.

“Veela magic binds the mind and heart—not the core,” Draco whispered hoarsely, and Harry’s eyes closed just briefly as he considered such a thing.

His mind drifted to Armand Deering, who’d lived a half-life since his wife’s murder with only the duty to his nephews keeping him alive. It wasn’t putting him off to see himself in that position at some point decades in the future.

“I thought…that the Dark Mark was subjugating your veela magic.”

Draco took one of his hands and placed it on his chest. “I thought so, too, but I feel something breaking free. Am I going crazy?”

Harry’s fingers curled into the burgundy material of Draco’s jumper, and he took a ragged breath as he considered the magic moving between them. “No, I feel it, too. I might have felt it before if I wasn’t largely immune to veela allure.” He let his forehead rest against Draco’s. “Why now?”

“You acknowledged that I’m your mate, and the veela in me is responding,” Draco whispered. “How dare you, Potter.”

“You’ll find,” Harry murmured as he brushed his mouth against Draco’s, “that I dare a fucking lot.”

Draco laughed and gasped slightly as Harry gathered his magic and apparated them straight to his bedroom.

“I don’t know how soulmate bonds are formed. I stopped reading about that part once I realized we couldn’t have one,” Harry admitted. “I don’t even have a damn clue how marriage bonds work, but years ago, when I discovered you had veela traits, I looked up how veela bond.”

Draco gasped just a little as Harry put him flat on the bed and crawled on top of him. “Well, I’m…yeah…it’s pretty simple. Meet your mate. Fuck your mate.”

“My acknowledgment wouldn’t have worked if you hadn’t already accepted me,” Harry pointed out as he pulled his henley over his head and tossed the shirt aside. “You can go home if you like.”

Draco huffed and shoved one booted foot against Harry’s bare chest. “Take off my boots and stop being an arsehole.”

“I always knew you’d be a demanding bastard in bed,” Harry muttered but activated the rune that would unbuckle the ankle boot and pulled it free. He tossed it in the direction of his shirt, and the wool sock followed. He did the same for the second foot and leveraged himself above Draco. “You don’t want to go home to your big empty bed?”

“I could fill it up, easily.”

Harry quirked an eyebrow. “Just make sure you aren’t overly fond of whoever it is.”

Draco laughed and wiggled out of his jumper and the t-shirt underneath it. “Is it gonna be like that?”

“It’s always been like that,” Harry muttered. “You’re lucky I haven’t straight-up murdered Blaise because I’ve known about that shite for years.” He unbuckled Draco’s belt and pulled the leather free. “And you’ve always driven me crazy.”

Draco’s breath caught as Harry unbuttoned his trousers. “Being a veela’s mate can be seen as a burden. There’s no telling how much of that magic is being suppressed in me and what’s currently seeping out might be the least of it.”

Harry rubbed his beard along Draco’s jawline as he eased down the zipper. “Could you be a full veela magically? Does it feel like that might be true?”

“I…” Draco groaned. “I don’t know—it’s possible. Both lines are lousy with veela and combine that with my ritual conception like I said before.”

“Well, for the record, wings won’t be a turn-off,” Harry murmured and laughed when Draco huffed. “Lift your hips.”

Draco did as instructed and spread his legs casually as he relaxed on the bed.

“Commando?” Harry questioned.

“What?” Draco frowned.

Harry laughed. “No pants—it’s a Muggle thing.”

“Pants are horrible. I never wear them,” Draco declared.

That was information that he probably didn’t need. He ran his hands down Draco’s pale thighs, mouth-watering as he did so. “You’re so pretty.”

Draco’s cheeks grew pink and wet his bottom lip as Harry trailed gentle fingers over his balls. “You…hmm…are you going to keep the jeans on?”

“Do you want me to?” Harry questioned. “You’ve always struck me as the sort that would like a bit of rough.”

Draco laughed. “Take off the jeans.”

Harry reluctantly left the bed, shed his boots and the rest of his clothes. He noted, with some interest, that Draco stayed exactly where he’d been put. Crawling back on the bed, Harry watched in interest as Draco’s body relaxed by degrees under his sole attention.

“Do you like to be held down when you’re being fucked?” he questioned, and Draco’s eyes widened fractionally. “Yes or no will do for an answer.”

“Yes.”

Harry nodded as he knelt once more between Draco’s thighs. He stroked the lean muscle he found there gently and spread his partner’s leg wider. “Can you get off on just a dick in your arse?”

Draco bit down on his bottom lip. “Yes.”

“Is your vaginal slit open?” He questioned even as he slid the tips of two fingers under Draco’s balls to check for himself.

Draco’s breath caught as Harry rubbed the thin seam of his slit. “I keep it closed with a spell.”

Harry nodded. “Have you ever let anyone fuck you there?”

“No, never. I have a contraceptive charm, but it wasn’t worth the risk.”

Harry slid his hand lower and press his dry thumb against Draco’s arsehole. “Do you have penetration prep charms in place? Safety? Lubrication? Health?”

“Yeah—full rune set across my lower back,” Draco shifted and took a deep breath. “Are you always intense like this?”

“The only way to give you exactly what you want is to ask,” Harry told him and watched Draco’s eyes widen. “Do you like to top?”

“No, I…not really.” Draco flushed, and Harry responded by sliding his thumb in just a little. “Is that okay?”

“It’s fine, but we will have to do that eventually if I’m to carry a child for us,” Harry said. “I’d prefer a natural conception over some sort of insemination.”

“I can…that would be okay if you really want it,” Draco said and arched up off the bed with a groan when Harry slid his thumb all the way inside.

“Does this hurt?”

“Just a little burn,” Draco said breathlessly and rocked down into Harry’s hand with a needy sound that made Harry’s cock ache. “I love it.” He spread his legs further. “If you activate my runes—they’ll tailor themselves to your exact needs.”

Harry considered that. It was a rare and expensive arrangement and one his healer had offered. He’d never bothered because he didn’t bottom often and didn’t mind doing the charms on the spot when he did. If he’d had any inkling what kind of greedy little bottom Draco was, he’d have worked his arse off years ago to get a leg over. It must have shown on his face because Draco offered him a small, smug smile.

“You probably should,” Draco continued. “So, I can take that big cock of yours easily.” He wet his lips. “It’ll be like I was made for you.”

“You were made for me,” Harry murmured as he removed his thumb and cupped Draco’s hip with one hand. “Lift up then—small of your back, you said?”

“You’ll feel them,” Draco assured and tilted his hips just so, fully exposing his hole and giving Harry room to slide a hand underneath him.

Harry couldn’t help himself, really, so as his fingers brushed over the runes, he licked up the length of Draco’s cock then sucked him right in. He pushed his magic into the runes. One hand drifted in his hair briefly as Draco gasped in shock. He looked up as he sucked and found that Draco had thrown both hands over his head to fist them in the mess of sheets and blankets underneath them. As much as he enjoyed sucking cock, he realized that Draco was probably not in the right headspace for it but didn’t want to admit it.

He’d have to work something out on that front—so they could both get what they wanted in bed. Harry released Draco’s cock and crawled upward until they were face to face.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” Draco shivered as Harry settled between his thighs.

“Don’t be afraid to tell me what you need or if you don’t want something,” he murmured and brushed his mouth over Draco’s gently in the hopes that his words didn’t feel like a lecture.

“I love getting my dick sucked,” Draco said in a huffy little tone that amused the hell out of Harry. “And you’re far too good at it—I want to curse every single wizard you’ve ever slept with.”

“But?” Harry prodded.

“My magic is putting me on edge—it’s all ramped up and primed for something that I don’t fully understand. I never read much about it because it was subdued, and I didn’t consider it something I’d have to know or manage.” He pressed his legs firmly against Harry’s hips as if to keep him in place. “It wasn’t something I was instructed on either due to how little my parents presented beyond the physical traits.”

Harry responded by rocking gently, rubbing the length of his cock against Draco’s. “Fortunately, for you, I’ve done a little bit of reading about male veela.”

“I figured since you asked about my slit,” Draco said with a huff. “No one asks about that despite how well known it is that veela males have both…” His eyes fluttered shut as Harry shifted, slid a hand between them, and pressed the head of his cock into place. “Oh, yes, that’s…Harry.”

“You need to be claimed,” Harry murmured against Draco’s jaw as he pushed in and filled Draco’s arsehole with a heavy, full-bodied thrust.

He caught both of his mate’s hands, pinned them to the bed above them, and started fuck him with long, deep strokes that quickly robbed them both of actual words. Draco wrapped his legs around Harry as he rocked eagerly and sweetly into every thrust. It was agonizingly good. The hot clench of Draco’s body on his cock was fucking perfect, and, god, he needed it every single day.

“You’re mine,” he whispered fiercely against Draco’s skin.

“Gods, Harry…what are you…” Draco arched under him, his cock spilling messily between them. “Fuck…you just…”

Harry kissed him—it was aggressive, far too demanding, and he felt like his own control was slipping. Dark, primal emotions he’d kept carefully tucked away since he’d achieved his animagus form stirred in him like a storm.

His grip tightened on Draco’s pinned wrists. “Mine.”

“Yes,” Draco agreed breathlessly. “I’m yours.”

He pulled free of Draco’s arse without coming and repositioned him—flipping him over onto his stomach with easy strength and covering him quickly enough that Draco didn’t start complaining. He slid back in—pressing into the tight, wet hole his mate had given him. Harry braced both hands on Draco’s shoulders as he started to move.

“Is this what you want?” Harry questioned. “Come on, Dragon, talk to me.”

Draco groaned into the sheets. “You…yes, fuck, you bastard.”

Harry laughed breathlessly but pounded Draco’s arse until his breathing was labored and his vision blurred with an orgasm so good that his whole body jerked with it. For a few moments, he kept going—slapping his hips hard against Draco. The smack of skin on skin was deliciously obscene.

“That’s it,” Harry murmured as he trailed one hand down the smooth expanse of Draco’s back and settled it on one slim hip. “You’re so sweet like this. I could fuck you all night.”

“I did hear that your stamina is something out of legend,” Draco said with a soft, pleased laugh.

Harry leaned down, pressed a soft kiss to Draco’s shoulder blade. “I love you.” He pulled free and dropped down on the bed beside him. “And your arse is a modern marvel. Whoever did your charm work is a goddamned genius.”

“My arse is perfect without the runes,” Draco muttered. “But I’ll let Pansy know you appreciate her hard work.”

He shifted slowly, and Harry took that as a hint, so he reached out and pulled the other man close. Draco relaxed against his body and hooked one leg over Harry’s thighs.

“We’re a filthy mess,” Harry murmured. “How many times did you come?”

“Three…or four,” Draco said. “I didn’t even get hard that last time so I don’t know if it counts.” He moved closer when Harry ran a hand down his back. “I love you, too. I know you sort of feel it, but you deserve the words.”

“You’ve spent a lot of time bottling up your emotions,” Harry said. “And I’m trying not to resent all the fucking we missed out on because you didn’t tell me as soon as you found out.”

Draco huffed.

“So you owe me a lot of sex, is what I’m saying,” Harry continued as if Draco hadn’t made any noise. “The next free weekend we have, I’m going to tie you to this bed and eat you out until I’m satisfied then I’ll probably fuck you a couple of times.”

Draco laughed. “Who said Gryffindors can’t plan?”

“I excel at sex plans,” Harry murmured. “Stay with me.”

“Tonight?”

“Every night, but definitely tonight to start.” Harry pressed a kiss to Draco’s forehead. “Unless you want to go home, crawl into that permanently empty bed, and have an angst fest.”

“I haven’t had a proper wallow in weeks,” Draco admitted. “But I’d prefer to stay here…you can clean up the bed while I shower.”

“I suppose I could,” Harry murmured. “But you’re the one that made a mess of my sheets.” He let his hand rest on Draco’s arse. “My 600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.”

“I’m a guest,” Draco announced and left the bed. “Hop to it, Potter. I need my beauty sleep.”

Harry laughed. “No, you don’t, Malfoy.”

* * * *

Draco paused in the entryway of the bedroom. The bed had been put back together though the duvet was still folded up on a trunk at the bottom of the bed. The sheets were dark blue now, and the air in the room had been freshened up. He didn’t mind the smell of sex, but he wondered if Harry’s nose was more sensitive.

“Sorry about the shower, by the way,” Harry murmured as he came to stand with him. “I need to have it redone, but I wanted to replace the fixtures before I get a runemaster out here to redo the plumbing.”

“The pressure was just a little off,” Draco said. “Grimmauld Place isn’t much better. The rune work for plumbing isn’t difficult, so we could probably handle it. Empowerment is the problem most people encounter, and that won’t be an issue for you.”

He slid into the bed, and Harry followed. Draco relaxed in his partner’s arms and tried to ignore the voice in the back of his mind that told him he didn’t deserve it. Keeping himself separate from others hadn’t seemed like a punishment, but now that Harry had said it—he realized that’s exactly what he’d been doing to himself. It was very irritating. His magic stirred in him, and Harry pulled him a little closer.

“We should probably do some scans to check your magic,” Harry murmured.

“I’ll make an appointment with Healer Banner,” Draco said around a yawn. “She’ll be in a better position to discuss changes. Something is different.” In the dimly lit room, the Dark Mark seemed to shift on his arm. He frowned and ran his fingers along it in frustration.

“The veela in you would’ve never accepted him as a mate.” Harry tucked his face against the back of Draco’s neck. “Maybe that magic wasn’t being subverted at all.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean—maybe it was sleeping to escape the Dark Mark and maybe Riddle himself because of the betrothal bond,” Harry murmured.

“And you woke it up.”

“Magic is intelligent, right? Maybe it woke up on its own because it felt safe to do so.”

“Or maybe it saw the same thing in you that I always have,” Draco said and closed his eyes.

“What’s that?”

“A refuge.”

Harry’s arms tightened around, and Draco let himself fall asleep.

 

 

Chapter 15

They’d spent a week investigating the circles, and this was the last one. Harry sat down on the stone they’d smoothed out and enlarged as Draco finished setting up the transcription quills at the table they’d transfigured. The last circle they were investigating was clearly the last one that the dark wizard had used.

Draco joined him. “She wasn’t killed here, either.”

“Soja Dario,” Harry murmured. “Four defiled ritual circles with traces of veela magic, a Muggle-born witch without a damn bit of veela heritage, and…we’re missing something.”

“Certainly,” Draco murmured. “At least four more bodies and a fifth circle that isn’t showing up on the map.”

“Which means—warded, unplottable location.”

“Ancestral circle,” Draco murmured. “Ancient wards. Some manor houses in Britain are built on top of family circles to protect them from outside influence. There’s one in Grimmauld Place, beneath the kitchen.”

“Is the wizard throwing off veela magic?”

“The magic being left behind is certainly female,” Draco said. “I can’t make sense of it. If there are missing witches in Britain, surely we would’ve been told by now. The oldest defilement happened six months ago.”

“We need to send a request to the MET for information on other body dumps or perhaps missing women.”

“Missing Muggle women?” Draco asked in confusion.

“Not every Muggle-born actually agrees to study magic, Draco,” Harry said quietly. “And for this…” He threw out a hand. “Would their knowledge of magic even matter?”

“It wouldn’t, no,” Draco said quietly. “It’s a horrifying thought. But the likelihood of a Muggle-born having veela magic is slim to none, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “What if…” He took a deep breath. “You’re sure it’s some sort of resurrection?”

“Yes.”

“If someone were trying to resurrect someone with veela magic, would that cause the trace we’re picking up?” Harry asked quietly.

“If you thinking Armand….”

“No,” Harry said and shook his head. “No way would his oath allow it, and moreover, he’d never do such a thing to his beloved wife.” He looked around the circle. “He loved her too much. This is the work of a very destructive and selfish man.”

“Why do you say that?” Draco asked.

“Genuine resurrection is torturous,” Harry said quietly. “Because of the horcruxes, what Riddle did can’t really be considered a resurrection. He was never actually dead. But to do what this wizard is doing—means to tear an untethered soul from the embrace of Lady Magic. Every single time he tries and fails, he’s putting whoever he’s trying to resurrect through the worst possible pain.”

Draco frowned and clasped his hands together. “That’s why the Resurrection Stone tortures souls, right?”

“Right,” Harry agreed. “How did you sleep last night?”

“Terribly,” Draco admitted and was blushing when Harry looked his way. “I should’ve gone home with you, but…”

“You just wanted to prove to yourself that you can sleep without me,” Harry said. “It’s not terrible to need someone, you know.”

Draco frowned at his hands. “I know.”

“You can depend on me.”

“I believe you when you say it,” Draco snapped and took a deep breath. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine.” Harry waved a hand. “You were betrayed in the most base way the people you should’ve been able to trust with anything. I can’t see how personal trust would ever be easy for you. I’m not going anywhere, but I am going to start furnishing my home, and I know that bothers the shite out of you.”

Draco huffed.

“It must be weird—having the instinct to nest but zero ability to do so,” Harry said in amusement.

“I fucking knew you bought that stupid peel on purpose to bait me!” Draco glared at him when he laughed.

“Yes and no,” Harry admitted. “I realized pretty quickly that it would probably make you have some emotional response you weren’t prepared for, but I needed to be able to control my space as much as possible, which meant buying. I’ve rented for years and dealt with the fact that I couldn’t even fully close my own floo.”

“There’s really no going back for me—if I make a home with you,” Draco admitted softly. “Piper says my veela magic is basically drowning my core, and she doesn’t know for certain what that means for the Dark Mark or the betrothal bond. She’s monitoring both, but…it doesn’t make any sense.”

“Maybe someone did you a favor,” Harry said, and his gaze flicked upward briefly then paused. “Where do you suppose Lady Magic actually lives?”

“A dimensional space,” Draco speculated. “Where neither time nor space exists.”

“Some Muggle scientists believe that time is an illusionary concept—they believe everything is happening at once, and it is merely our perspective that defines both time and the world around us.”

“I wish I could turn just a little—so I could reach through that illusion and change the things that have hurt us the most.” Draco took a deep breath and rested against Harry briefly.

“Time-turner theory states you can’t change what you know to be true.”

Draco hummed. “There are other theories regarding time-turners and time travel, itself. But it’s not worth the risk. Terrible things happen when you meddle with time which is why it’s a crime against magic.”

“I know,” Harry said. “I took the oath to Avalon, knowing it would prevent me from trying to time travel. I want to believe I would never be that desperate or that I would risk destruction on that scale, but I can’t be certain. Do you suppose it’s been done before? Are we living on an alternate version of Earth than we should’ve because someone destroyed our world of origin with time magic?”

“If it’s been done once, it’s been done several times,” Draco said. “And no, I don’t think it has. I think there would be overt magical scars in whatever world reformed in the wake of such an immense loss of life.” He cleared his throat. “Unless Lady Magic interfered in such a way that she prevented damage to the magic weaved into the fabric of our reality. Did you really think about it?”

“When I was younger, I thought it would be nice to go back and time and save my parents,” Harry admitted. “Hermione told me I’d basically have to kill the whole fucking planet to do it, and I was horrified enough that I pushed it as far from my mind as I possibly could. It is an unspeakable price to pay for the lives of my parents, and there’s no guarantee that I could even save them.” He took a deep breath. “Maybe there will come a time when saving you from your parents’ terrible decisions will consume me. Fortunately, the oath I took to Avalon has no end, and I won’t be able to indulge in such thinking on any serious level.”

Draco nodded and cleared his throat. “Let’s get this finished so we can submit a report to Croaker. Did you want to go ahead and write that request for the MET?”

“Probably should,” Harry said wearily. “It’s going to get really ugly.”

“Yeah, it is.”

* * * *

Harry relaxed just a little as he felt the wards adjust to Draco’s arrival. They’d filed their reports, endured a meeting with a researcher that didn’t work in the field but had opinions about the work they were doing on the circles, and parted ways. He hated that part of the day, and he’d only been enduring it for a week since they’d…come together in what could be called a truce of sorts.

He was taking his time, trying not to be extremely pushy, and he was doing his level best to rock Draco’s world in bed. Maybe it was underhanded, but he was playing for keeps and not remotely ashamed about his methods. Cock-addicted was better than standoffish and offended. He’d honestly met less sensitive hippogriffs. Not that he was going to say such a thing aloud as he was actually not an idiot.

Harry checked the risotto as he pulled the salmon from the grill to be plated.

“No one believes you cook like this. I told Pansy, and she suggested a mind healer,” Draco said as he appeared at his side. “I told her that I didn’t care if you were crazy because the food is amazing.”

“Plenty of people, even in the magical world, cook their own food.” Harry glanced his way as he activated the stasis charms on the plates. “Seriously—my stove is fueled by magic, and it’s not a custom-made appliance, nor is it designed specifically for house elf use. Precious few in this country actually have the magical legacy to support a house elf. I would imagine almost all of the take-away the two of you order is made by people and not elves.”

“Don’t tell me lies, Potter,” Draco said and glanced toward the open bottle of wine. “Is that for dinner?”

“I’ve used all I need for the risotto, so yes.” He paused when Draco peeked at the rice in the pan. “I went with shrimp and mushroom in the risotto—I figured it would go best with the salmon.”

“It smells amazing,” Draco admitted as he poured himself some wine. “I…started the closing process at Grimmauld Place.”

Harry manfully refrained from a celebratory dance. “Sounds good. Need help?”

“No, I’m only brought my personal stuff and the library. The furniture isn’t a fit for what you have in mind, and most of it is only comfortable because of charm work. I didn’t pick out a single piece of furniture in the whole place.” Draco watched Harry work at the stove. “How did you sleep last night?”

“I didn’t,” Harry admitted and shrugged when Draco made a noise of disapproval. “I could lie if you like?”

“I don’t like,” Draco muttered.

“It was difficult because while I know Grimmauld Place is probably one of the most secure homes in Britain on the magical front—your father is in a terrible place right now and has only avoided arrest because he’s a pure-blood. I know he’s tried to enter the house several times to get access to your mother’s portrait.” He paused and shrugged. “Pansy told me. She also said he’d nearly been arrested several times for public drunkenness and what amounted to a pub brawl in the last four days. He’s escalating, and I’m concerned.”

Draco made a face and sipped his wine for a few moments. “He’s sent me a letter demanding a paternity test because he’s thinking about disowning me.” He rolled his eyes. “I was a ritual conception, which is what I wrote on the note when I sent it back.”

“What would happen if he disowned you?” Harry asked curiously.

“I’d lose the right to use the Malfoy name, but that just means I’d be legally and magically Draco Black. The money I have came from my mother, and he has no control over it, much to his fury. If he weren’t an unrepentant Death Eater, being disowned would probably ruin me socially. But at this point, most would probably consider it the only good thing he’s done in decades.”

Harry turned off the stove and added the risotto to their plates before taking them to the table. “Pour me some wine?”

“Sure,” Draco murmured and pulled a glass from the cabinet. “You must be tired.”

“I took a few potions,” Harry said as he sat. “But I should make an early night of it. I have an appointment in the morning with a carpenter and furniture maker in Aberdeen regarding my living room suite. I considered just buying Muggle, but apparently, commercial products from the Muggle work don’t accept charm work all that well. I’d rather not waste my money.” He accepted the wine Draco had poured. “You can come with if you like.”

“I shouldn’t,” Draco said. “Unless you’re prepared for it to get out that we’re buying things for your home together.”

Harry considered that and sat back a little. “Did you want to keep our relationship a secret?”

“Yes.”

“I…” He took a sip of wine. “Why?”

“I can’t expect it to be a secret forever, but we deserve the right to get comfortable with each other and figure out what kind of life we want to build together before we deal with the massive amount of disappointment that is going to be thrown at us. Also, my father is currently focused on murdering Shacklebolt, and I’d rather he not shift that goal to you.”

“That is actually the best reason to take out a front-page ad in the Daily Prophet.” He paused. “I’d be sure to set aside time to pat your feelings daily for as long as you needed to get over it.”

“I don’t need my feelings patted,” Draco informed him dryly. “But I’m sure I can think of something you can do to make me feel better about my sperm donor’s demise when it happens.”

* * * *

Harry watched Draco’s owl glide across the loch toward home with a small smile. She’d been out hunting, which had put Draco on edge since he was convinced his very pampered owl preferred the city and wouldn’t know what to do with herself living out the in middle of nowhere in Scotland.

“What’s her name?” Harry questioned.

Draco held out a hand for the owl as she approached the battlement they were standing on. Harry had turned the small tower house on top of the peel into an owlery though he still wasn’t sure if he’d get one of his own.

“Thicket,” Draco murmured. “Because I found her in one. A few months after I moved into Grimmauld Place, I heard some awful screeching noises in the garden. I went out and found her huddled under a mess of bushes and small trees at the back fence. She was about half the size she is now, so a juvenile. She’d been attacked by another bird—never saw what.”

Harry nodded and watched him settle the bird down on a perch and check out the rest of the room to ensure his owl had all she needed. Then he pulled Anwen from his sleeve where she’d wound herself around his arm so they could introduce the two animals. Once Draco was satisfied that neither considered the other food, they left Thicket to settle in and took Anwen to her basket in the kitchen near the fireplace.

He found Draco in the office casually flicking books out of a trunk and onto shelves. Harry sat down near the fire and watched curiously as his partner worked through the trunk with ease. “This is just the Black library?”

“I cleaned out the Malfoy library before I left,” Draco said. “The house elves still living in the manor keep an illusion up on my behalf, but I don’t care. My father hasn’t tried to pull a book off a shelf in years, so it was just a false display of intellectualism on his part. What are the books on the other side?”

Harry glanced toward the shelves. “My mother’s library—I found it in the Potter vault. The actual Potter library was lost when Voldemort sacked Potter Manor in ’76, which is infuriating since it was believed to be one of the most extensive collections of magical texts in Britain.”

“I wonder if he destroyed it…or stole it,” Draco said. “It’s probably too late to do an entailment spell to find out, so that’s annoying.” He paused and turned to face Harry. “Speaking of, I think you should entail the Hallows to the Peverell title.”

Harry blinked in surprise. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Draco said. “Frankly, I think forced separation from you could actually hurt you in the long term, so we should work to minimize that possibility. Entailment ensures that no one can remove them from you permanently, and you or someone from your direct line could summon them no matter where they’re being held. It feels important.”

“We’ll figure it out then,” Harry promised. “How do you entail a wand?”

“Carefully, in ritual,” Draco said. “Though considering the wand’s behavior, it might have already entailed itself.” He made a face. “But if that’s the case—let’s not ever tell anyone because that’s next level, and that whole Master of Death thing should be made an official secret so no one can discuss it without Croaker’s permission.”

“Good idea,” Harry murmured. “I try not to ask for personal favors, though.”

“That’s not a personal favor, Harry,” Draco said. “If it became known that the Elder Wand returned to you—despite your destruction of it—people would lose their minds, and the fact that you’re the Master of Death would spread like wildfire. I don’t think it would take any time at all for most people to go from Master of Death to the darkest wizard to ever exist.”

“Yeah.” Harry frowned and sighed. “Let’s go to bed.”

“You know I’ve been hearing rumors for years about your seduction abilities,” Draco said dryly. “I’ve yet to see a demonstration.”

“You want to be seduced? After fucking off to that hateful house on Grimmauld Place and keeping me up all night?” Harry questioned.

“You knew what you were getting into when you told me you loved me,” Draco said and waved a hand between them. “This is all on you.”

Harry quirked an eyebrow. “Is that how it’s going to be?”

Draco shrugged, and Harry took that for the challenge it was. He snagged Draco’s wrist in a gentle grip when the other man walked past him, pulled him close, and apparated them both.

Draco huffed a little in shock as they appeared in the bedroom. “I was busy.”

“Get unbusy,” Harry murmured as he clamped his hands on Draco’s hips and backed him up against the wall. He lifted, and Draco’s breath caught, but he wrapped his legs around Harry’s waist immediately. “I want your undivided attention.”

Draco let his head fall back against the stone wall. “Well, you’re certainly going about it the right way.”

“That bed over there is ours,” he murmured. “I’d rather not spend another night alone in it as long as you live.”

Draco’s gaze softened, and he trailed a trembling hand through Harry’s hair. “I wish I could be with you always.”

A part of him wanted to ignore the idea of it completely. There were a lot of years ahead of them, even if it was precious few to a wizard. He’d read through the magical diagnostics that Draco had given him to send to Hermione. The data was clear, and 40 years was actually an optimistic figure.

“If you can’t be with me all of my days,” Harry said and took a deep breath. “Please allow me to be with you all of yours.”

“Take me to bed then,” Draco urged. “And we’ll make the most of the time we’ve been given.”

Harry set him on his feet and pulled off his shirt.

“You’re so gorgeous,” Draco said suddenly. “It’s the worst. I was complaining to Pansy about it, and she laughed at me.”

“As well she should, Magic gave you a gift,” Harry motioned to himself. “I could’ve been half-troll, like Marcus Flint.”

Draco grinned as he followed Harry to the bed, shedding his own clothes as he did so. “Flint’s not half-troll.”

“Ogre?” Harry questioned.

“Stop talking about that freak of nature before I lose all interest in getting laid.”

Draco flicked back the blankets and sheet, so Harry prodded him onto the mattress and followed him. He couldn’t help the soft, pleased sound that escaped his mouth as Draco spread out on the bed under him and opened his legs in an overt act of submission. It was enthralling, and he figured his mate knew it. Draco watched him with half-closed eyes, bottom lip clenched in his teeth.

“I want to own you,” Harry murmured, and Draco’s went wide with shock. “I didn’t understand how I wanted you for years, and it was frustrating as hell.”

“What’s it like now?” Draco questioned

Harry positioned Draco’s body exactly as he wished it, activated the prep runes, and slid his cock inside. “This is how we are meant to be—together in a way that cannot be controlled by anyone but us. It doesn’t matter what sort of bond we have now or in the future—you belong to me, Draco.”

Draco’s breath hitched as Harry started to move with long, deep strokes. “Harry…you’re…fuck.”

“You’ve always been mine,” Harry said. “Since the dawn of time—every single time I’ve walked this earth—our hearts have met and become one. You’ll be with me forever—until all the stars are gone, and the universe is no more. Even then, when there is nothing left but dust, we’ll remain just as we are right now in this moment… two souls made one.”

He watched Draco fall apart under his hands and come helplessly—spilling over his own stomach with a shocked gasp. Harry kept his pace slow and deliberate as Draco’s eyes grew glassy, and his body went pliant in his hands.

“Perfect,” Harry murmured. “You’re so sweet like this, Dragon. Soft and open—for me to use.”

Draco’s hole clenched around his cock, and Harry tightened his grip on Draco’s hip and settled in deep. Harry trailed one of his hands up Draco’s thigh, hitched up his leg, and started to grind with a slow roll of his hips.

“Oh,” Draco gasped and arched up off the bed. “That’s so good.”

“It is,” Harry murmured. “Do you want to come again?”

“Yes, please,” Draco whispered. “Please.”

Harry tilted his head as he curled his fingers against the muscle of Draco’s thigh. “Please…what?”

Draco’s cheeks flushed, and he wet his lips. “Please, my Lord.”

Harry shuddered and let go of Draco’s hip so he could wrap his hand around his lover’s rapidly hardening cock. “Come for me, Dragon.”

He rubbed the leaking head of Draco’s cock with his thumb in a slow circle and pressed in as deep as he could. Despite his preference, he knew he wasn’t going to last long. He briefly considered taking the time to do a cock ring spell, but that kind of magic was preferred for more deliberate and planned sexual situations.

Draco came between one ragged breath and the next. Harry followed with a harsh groan. They were still for a few moments, then he pulled free of Draco’s body and dropped down on the mattress. He didn’t move at all when Draco hit him with a skin cleaning charm and stared at the ridiculous canopy of his bed that he’d bought because it reminded him of his bed at Hogwarts.

“For the record, that whole thing you do with the talking during sex is a stupidly ridiculous turn-on.”

Harry turned and offered him a grin. “Would it be rude to tell you that I once talked a guy into coming without laying a hand on him?”

“It should be, but I’m more amused than anything else,” Draco said. He rolled over on his stomach and cushioned his head with both arms. “Who?”

Harry flushed and shrugged. “I didn’t get his name. Met him at the Cauldron one night and haven’t seen him since. Upon reflection, he was probably wearing a glamour.”

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“I’ve gone to private clubs…where glamours were commonplace,” Harry admitted. “I’ve worn them in the past—anonymous sex was my preference for a few years as it allowed me to get off without having to deal with the social expectations.”

“Witches or wizards?” Draco asked curiously. “Both?”

“I don’t honestly care where I’m sticking my cock as long as I get to come,” Harry said plainly and shrugged when Draco stared at him in shock. “As long as I can figure out how to get someone off, then I’m fine. I really enjoy making my partner come.”

“I noticed and not complaining,” Draco assured, then yawned. “Let’s straighten up the bed and get some sleep.”

“Sure.”

* * * *

Harry eased out of bed and walked naked across the room to touch the window—rain was pouring down the panes. He looked out over the loch, loosening his grip on his mage sight as he did so. The waters were teeming with life—magical and non-magical alike, but the magical creatures created large wakes of ambient magic across the water’s surface. It was a fascinating sight.

Draco came to stand with him and draped a robe over his shoulders. “For a man who claimed to sleep very little last night—you didn’t stay in bed long.”

Harry shrugged the robe on and tied it. “Hundreds of years ago, the Earl of Braemar stood in Magic’s service. Perhaps he lived in a little defense tower just like this one—watching over a magical enclave. Working to keep our people from being burned at the fucking stake because of fear and religious zealotry.”

“What does the current of Earl of Braemar want to do?” Draco questioned.

“Live, love, work.” Harry shrugged. “I don’t need to work, but sitting on my arse doesn’t appeal either.”

“No, agreed.” Draco nodded. “Come back to bed, Harry.”

“I will,” he assured. “It’s just…somewhere out a dark bastard is preparing to kill another woman, and we don’t know enough. Where are the other bodies? He dumped Soja, so he dumped the others.”

“We’ll figure it out,” he assured and laced their fingers together. “Croaker wouldn’t have given us the case if he didn’t have faith in our ability to handle it.”

“Yeah.”

He let Draco pull him back toward the bed, shedding his robe just short of hitting the mattress. Harry curled around Draco, tucked his face against his partner’s neck, and forced himself to relax.

“You’re everything I’ve ever wanted,” Draco said softly. “My heart’s desire.”

Harry pulled him closer. “Good night, Dragon.”

The End

* * * *

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

 

 

Keira Marcos

In my spare time, I write fanfiction and lead a cult of cock worshippers on the Internet. It's not the usual kind of hobby for a 40ish "domestic engineer" but we live in a modern world and I like fucking with people's expectations.

17 Comments:

  1. This is an absolutely AMAZING story!!!! While I, and probably others, would hope that you eventually add more to it, it ends on an absolutely sweet note 😀

  2. Helengloucester

    You are a master storyteller, M’Lady, and I thank you for sharing your marvellous tales with us. Hugs, Hxx

  3. Marci Kyle Kincheloe

    Damn that was good. Helen is correct – you are a master storyteller. What a damn good way to blow off work and read instead. LOL

  4. Myth and magic always comes alive in your work. This is so freakin’ good, and so well-characterised and written, as always. Thank you!

  5. So bittersweet and smart and sexy they break my heart.

  6. This continues to be a truly engaging and amazing story. I can’t believe you’ve set it up as a series with dates! You’re a goddess, but please don’t let this stress you out – the last thing something in your life like this should be is stressful.
    Thank you thank you thank you, for an absolutely brilliant new ‘verse to love these characters in.
    xxx

  7. I love this. So much.

  8. Every time I read this, or any of your works, I fall more deeply in love with your characterizations. You are a Brilliant writer. Harry/Draco is my favorite pairing and you breathe so much life into them it’s…
    I’m so happy that you choose to share your gift with us.

  9. Very good story, thanks for sharing it with us

  10. <3

  11. I couldn’t find a thing to read and I have to ration your work or I read it again too soon. I thought that’s what I was doing here but instead had a lovely time reading this again. Laughed aloud a few times. I’m also terrified of this killer being someone they know too well and how badly it will hurt them if he succeeds. Amazing job as always.

  12. **sighs deeply** I read this on RT originally and decided to reread this now in anticipation of July. But saying that feels not quite right. Because this is such a lovely story in its own right. I mean, I’m sitting here and my heart is feeling all kinds of “things” – about the wretched parents and parent-substitutes these two boys had and about the horrifying sacrifices they had to make and about the deprivation they experienced, absorbed, and normalized such that both were willing to walk away from a future full of love for “the greater good” of the other … and about the ending, which was just so sweet and satisfying and good all on its own. I look forward to anything you choose to add to this world, Keira. But thank you sincerely for sharing this story with us.
    **sighs**

  13. Greywolf the Wanderer

    I fucking love this story, dear Lady. it rocks my fucking world. I sorta remember it from before, but now there’s a sequel I had to re-read this one first, being as my memory is utter shite at best.

    many thanks indeed for all the lovely stories you’ve shared over the years I’ve been reading. your worlds are a balm to my spirit and candy to my brain!!

    *doffs his hat, bows* mille grazie!!

  14. There are so many parts of this story that I loved. The almost melancholy feeling while moving through the story.

    I always love your Harry, but this Draco was so incredibly moving for me. I could feel his uncertainty warring with his desires.

    Thank you so much for sharing this lovely work.

    There was one part that made me go hmmm. When Armand was talking about kidnapping Harry and raising him up in his own bastardly way. It drew such a vivid picture of what if for me.

  15. What a lovely story.

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