Harry's hand, wrapped firmly around the stiff shaft sheathed in green silk, shook as he attempted to regain control over his breathing. Moving forward, he repeated his previous resolve, there's no going back. He'd made his decision. He'd come this far. There's no going back now.
Stepping through the gates, he entered the lavish grounds of Malfoy Manor. He'd never properly seen the outside of the place but he'd heard about the peacocks. The albino birds were beautiful, and Harry stared at them for several minutes until he realised that he was just delaying the inevitable. Even then, he still didn't move very quickly on the way to the front doors. The last and only time he'd been here, it had been as a guest of dubious consent in the dungeons. Even though he'd been taken across the grounds to get there, his eyes had been so swollen from Hermione's hex that he hadn't been able to see a damn thing. Considering that incident had only been a few months ago, he would never have guessed that he would ever come back willingly. However, he had something to return that took precedence over his aversion.
Once the dust had settled, Harry was somewhat unnerved to realize that he was the master of three wands; the one that had always been his own, the one that he'd gained through a strange twist of destiny, and one that he'd grabbed in a desperate bid for freedom during his last visit to Malfoy Manor. The first, he wanted. The second, he was obligated to safeguard. The last... he needed to get rid of that thing.
He couldn't justify throwing it in a drawer, and breaking it was out of the question. It seemed wrong to send a wand by owl. Despite protests by a small herd of Weasleys, he had decided it was only proper to hand-deliver it. Alone. So, here he was; walking up the front steps of a grand manor, his own wand in his pocket, and Draco's wand clasped tightly in his hand, wrapped in a piece of green silk.
Despite the grandeur of the Manor, there was a desolate, almost-dead feeling to the place, and Harry hesitated with his hand over the knocker. There had been no security charms, but he'd expected that; the ministry had forbidden Lucius Malfoy from using any charms that might conceal him while he was under house arrest. Still, it wasn't the lack of wards or charms that made it seem empty. It was as if the place were a ghost of something it had once been, even though Harry wasn't sure exactly what that was. It didn't matter. He just needed to return the damn wand, and get the hell out of there.
He could hear the knock echo on the other side of the door, as if it were echoing through eternity. The expected house elf didn't appear, nor did the door swing open of its own accord. After several tense moments, Harry was almost ready to turn on his heel when the door finally opened a fraction. A pale, pointed face met his at eye level, and the only emotion that registered was a thinly guarded touch of surprise as tired eyes popped open wide behind an unkempt fringe.
"Who is it, Draco?" called a woman's voice from somewhere in the background.
Draco, for his part, still seemed to be trying to make sense of what his eyes were telling him. "It's... er... a classmate. From Hogwarts. I... er..." Draco ran out of words, and an instant later, Harry heard the cold sound of hard shoes clicking against the floor, coming closer.
Manicured nails wrapped around the edge of the door, followed by the appearance of Narcissa Malfoy. She seemed better kept than Draco, but just as tired. For a moment, she looked shocked; in the next moment, tears started welling up in her eyes. "Please... Mr. Potter," she said in a low tone, "please come in."
"I... er... I just came to deliver..." Harry started, but Mrs Malfoy didn't seem to hear him, as she turned and retreated into the house. Draco looked back over his shoulder at his mother, then glanced back at Harry, gave an uncomfortable shrug and followed his mother. Harry swallowed, gripped the wand a bit tighter, and entered. The door swung slowly shut behind them.
A moment later, he found himself seated in a formal parlour just off the main foyer. There was a small fire burning on the hearth, but it didn't seem to give off any heat. The chairs were stiff and ornate, the oriental rug didn't soften the room, and not nearly enough light seemed to sneak past the heavy curtains. The high ceilings made Harry feel both too small and conversely claustrophobic at once. Becoming nervous, he began playing with the fraying edge of the silk between his fingers. He'd come here for a reason, so he'd better get on with it. "I... I just came here to return something. I didn't mean to come in or anything -"
Mrs Malfoy shook her head, cutting him off. "If you're worried that my husband is going to cause trouble for you, rest assured that he won't." She uncrossed and re-crossed her legs, then wrung her hands together in her lap. She seemed to be walking an uneasy line between formality and emotion. Finally, she took a bracing breath. "Lucius has secluded himself in a far corner of the manor, and hasn't come out in weeks. He doesn't know that you're here, and I won't tell him."
"Er... thanks." Harry looked down at the silk-wrapped wand in his hand. "I really should give -" he started, trying to steer the conversation back towards his task at hand, but Mrs Malfoy continued right over him.
"Even if Lucius did know you were here, he would have no choice but to thank you."
"I really just have to... what?"
She gave a slight smile. "He wouldn't do it willingly, but you must understand that despite anything else, there is nothing more important to us than our son." She blinked a few times, and Harry realized that she was holding back tears. To her left, Draco fidgeted, but Narcissa gave him a glace, and he stilled again. "When we realized that the Dark Lord had intended for Draco to die, we knew we'd made a mistake. I do not know that we can willingly accept... other classes of wizards as equals... yet, perhaps... but still, we realized that we misplaced our loyalties."
It seemed to Harry that the world had turned on its head - he was in Malfoy Manor as a welcomed guest, and Narcissa Malfoy was freely admitting that her family had been wrong. He glanced sideways at Draco, who was looking at him intently, if tightly. Draco held eye contact, and gave a meaningful nod.
There had been a few notable times in his life that Harry hadn't been sure of what to say. This was certainly one of them. "Well... er... you didn't tell Voldemort that I was still alive. You could have."
Mrs Malfoy shook her head. "You're smarter than that, Mr Potter. You knew I wouldn't."
Harry could only shrug.
Mrs Malfoy nodded knowingly, then tilted her head towards her son. "Draco told me what you did in the Room of Requirement. And then, he's fairly sure it was you who stopped the Death Eater who had caught him. Was he right?"
"Er... yes, but anyone would have done -"
"No, Potter," Draco cut in. "Nobody else would have."
Harry looked at Draco, searching his pale face. There was an element of resignation there, and acceptance, but mostly gratitude. He gave Harry the same deliberate nod as before.
"Nobody else would have given me the chance," he continued, "especially after everything I'd done to you. In the Room of Requirement, I heard Weasley yelling at you to leave me. I thought you were going to listen to him." Draco's eyes lost focus for a moment, then he shuddered. "Later, I was trying to find a way out of the school when the Death Eater cornered me. I didn't even know him by name, but he recognized me. And again, there you were. Ha... what was I supposed to think?"
This was coming too fast. Harry had expected to walk up to the door, ask a house elf to fetch Draco, hand over the wand, and get out. He certainly hadn't expected this. "I don't know, Malfoy," he finally said.
"I didn't know either," Draco said, mirthlessly. "But I've had a few weeks to think about it." He stood slowly, then walked smoothly towards Harry and held out his hand. "Thank you for saving my life." There was no hesitation in his voice, no uncertainty left in his posture, and his eyes were honest.
Harry stood, then looked down at the small slender packet in his own hand. Feeling mostly sure of himself, he placed the wand in Draco's outstretched hand, and clasped their hands together in one movement.
In a split second, Draco's expression went from relieved to surprised. He pulled his hand back and looked down at the roll of green silk. "Is this... is it..."
Draco quickly unwrapped the wand and dropped the piece of silk. He looked rapidly between Harry and his wand, disbelief written all over his face. "I... I don't know what to say."
Harry shrugged. "It's yours. It... it was the wand that took down Voldemort. I needed it at the time, but it's yours."
"I missed it."
"I understand." Harry shuffled his feet and look back over his shoulder at the door. "I should leave."
Draco nodded, still staring at the wand in his hand. Behind him, Mrs Malfoy stood and walked across the room to stand next to Harry. "I'll show you out. Thank you for coming."
Harry didn't say anything, but with one last glance at Draco, he turned to follow Mrs Malfoy back into the foyer. She didn't look at him until she had opened the door and stood aside, but when she did look, the tears she'd been holding back were sticking to her eyelashes. She held her head up, plainly trying to maintain an air of propriety. "You've been too generous, Mr Potter, but that seems to be your nature, and I'm grateful. I think that's why you won. Perhaps, someday, things will work themselves to a balance."
Feeling distinctly uncomfortable, but also strangely satisfied, Harry met her gaze. "I hope that today was a start."
"You started this long before today, I believe. But, I won't keep you any longer. Thank you for saving my son. You will always have the gratitude of this family."
"Thank you," Harry whispered. He didn't think he would ever need help from the Malfoys, but it was a good feeling, nonetheless.
The door clicked shut behind him as he made his way down the steps. He was almost halfway to the gate when he heard the door slam open. Harry spun around, half-expecting to see Lucius coming after him, wand drawn, but it was Draco.
Draco half-ran, half-stumbled down the stairs, and was out of breath by the time he caught up with Harry.
Harry frowned. "Did I forget something?"
Draco shook his head. "No. I did."
Harry furrowed his eyebrows together in confusion. "What's tha-"
He was cut off as Draco suddenly enfolded him in a tight embrace. For several seconds, the world was nothing but Draco: Draco's arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders, Draco's chest heaving against his own, Draco's breath warm on his neck, and Draco's heart pounding through his shirt. Finally, Draco pulled away, leaving one hand to rest lightly on Harry's arm.
Harry blinked a few times, almost speechless. "Wha-what was that for?"
If anything, Draco's expression was shy, which only increased Harry's confusion. "I owe you far more than that, but for now... I..." Draco shook his head, more to himself than to Harry. "If you ever need anything... I... I'll always remember what you did for me."
If he could have, Harry would have said "thank you". If he could have, Harry would have gripped Draco's hand in acceptance. But Harry was far too stunned to say anything. Instead, he watched silently as Draco gave him a sheepish grin, turned, and walked back to his house.
Finally, long after Draco had disappeared from view, Harry left the grounds of Malfoy Manor and Disapparated.
It had been three years to the day since Voldemort had fallen; three years to the day since life was supposed to become normal. In those first few months, while "picking up the pieces", Harry had continuously told himself that "normal" would begin when he just tied up the last few details. Normal would begin when the dead had been buried and properly mourned. Normal would begin when Hogwarts was rebuilt. Normal would begin when an honest Minister of Magic was elected. And normal would begin when Ginny and he had settled down, started their careers, and begun to live happily ever after.
Normal, Harry decided sullenly, doesn't fucking exist.
The last dregs of Thursday cut a sharp slant into the second floor study of Twelve Grimmauld Place. Dust motes that hadn't yet settled paved a perverse golden path from the window to the bookshelf on the far side of the room. Harry almost wanted to snarl at the setting sun for daring to illuminate the one item on the bookshelf that kept him glued to the past - the one item he blamed more than anything for his inability to find "normal". He knew that he could just as easily blame himself, but he couldn't handle that, loathe as he was to admit it. Instead, the Elder Wand was a much easier target for his resentment.
The Deathstick sat in a locked box where it had been kept for two years, three months, eighteen days, and seven hours... if anyone was counting.
His intent to seal the wand in Dumbledore's tomb had seemed sensible at first, but it never happened. When the time came, he couldn't do it. He'd gone to the gravesite, but something had stayed his hand. For a while, he had excused it as his fear that someone might discover the wand's whereabouts, and desecrate the grave to retrieve it, but later, he admitted to himself that some other force had kept him from leaving it there. He just couldn't leave it behind. He couldn't throw it away, nor could he snap it; the wand was too powerful of an artefact. Over time, he came to realize that the owner of the Wand of Destiny did not simply have power over the wand; the wand would also claim a power over him.
The Elder Wand, Harry soon learned, had a will of its own. Harry's intent was to break its power by dying undefeated, but the Wand was quite determined, it seemed, not to be forgotten. In the first year after the battle, he'd brought the wand to Curse Breakers and wand makers, but to no avail. Ollivander had retired, and no other wand maker dared to experiment with it. The Curse Breakers had absolutely no luck. Since then, it had sat in his study, haunting him alongside everything else that had gone wrong.
The horrors leading up to Voldemort's death had been given their due lament and anguish in the proper time, but after the grass had begun to grow over the graves of some of his dearest friends, the ache came back, deeper than before. Dreams came as memories, not visions, but were no less painful. Emotions he'd buried at the time out of necessity were demanding their due, with interest. And in Harry's mind, the Wand was the one thing holding the debt over his head.
There were other things he kept in the second floor study besides the Elder Wand - things he both needed to remember and often wished he could forget. As Harry walked through the room, the fading light only deepened the ache as his treasures were cast into shadow.
There was a photo of Fred that George had given to him, along with a small box of the last trick candies produced by Weasley Wizard Wheezes before war put their business on hold. There was the mokeskin pouch Hagrid had given him, which contained the Golden Snitch left to him by Dumbledore, and the ring with the broken halves of the Resurrection Stone. He'd dropped the both in the forest, but Firenze had personally combed the area where the Death Eaters had made camp to ensure that all traces of their Dark magic had been removed. The Centaur found the ring barely a week after the battle, and the following spring, the Snitch emerged in a half-melted snow drift. Harry kept the Snitch as a reminder of Dumbledore, and the ring... because he had to.
Harry shuddered, then moved on. Kept apart from the rest of his old textbooks was his sixth year Potions book, propped up on the shelf behind the bottle in which he'd collected Snape's memories. Just next to that was the torn half of a photo showing Lily, and the second page of a letter that she had once penned. On another shelf was a photo of Remus and Tonks that he'd been given by Tonks' parents, set right next to a much older photo of Sirius with James and Lily. Harry paused on the photos of his parents and their best friends. There were times when he could remember so clearly the minutes when they walked alongside him in the woods that he felt he could still reach out and touch them. During those minutes, the Beyond had seemed so close, and the physical world had seemed so separated, that he wondered if it was a mistake that he'd been allowed to carry on living, when perhaps he should have followed his family Home.
He shook his head. Those were not thoughts he should be having.
The shelves contained a few more pictures of friends from Hogwarts, the Gryffindor house patch from his school robes, the coin from Dumbledore's Army, and finally...
Harry lifted the Invisibility Cloak off the shelf. Of all the strained emotions triggered by the items on the shelves here, the Invisibility Cloak was the most confusing. It was his. It had always been his, and his father's before that. For years, it was an innocent toy for less-than-innocent adventures, a way to escape from danger, and mostly, a tie to his father. Now, it was also one of the three Hallows, and even if it was his by birthright, he wasn't sure if he wanted it. Some days, he could feel the longing to pull the cloak back over his head and to disappear from the world, as if he could hide from the troubles plaguing him. Other days, he felt the deepest revulsion for the fact that he'd carried such a thing with him for so long, as if the Cloak had partially tied him to the fate he'd known.
Those thoughts always brought him back to the Elder Wand. With a sigh and a mixed flash of emotion, Harry settled the Cloak back onto the shelf, and finally turned his attention to the Elder Wand. He'd mused for hours, days, and months on end as to why it held such a bizarre power over him, and why that power only seemed to grow with time. He'd thought, perhaps, that it was because he'd kept all three Hallows united in the same place. However, when he separated them by bringing the Stone and Cloak to the small vacation home he owned in Australia, it hadn't changed anything. In fact, the Wand weighed even more heavily on his mind, driving him nearly mad until he'd brought the Hallows back together. He could almost feel the Wand demanding to be used, and in that way, even if by accident, its deadly legacy could continue. No matter how strong the pull, Harry refused to use the Wand, but that didn't help his state of mind. In the end, he always came back to the same conclusion. The power couldn't be broken until he took it to the grave with him. The world had asked him to sacrifice everything once, and apparently it wasn't enough. Now, he'd have this burden forever... unless he figured out another way to break it once and for all.
It was then that the doorbell chimed, and a moment later, Kreacher's rusty voice announced the arrival of the other burden weighing on him: Ginny.
With an inward sigh, Harry backed up a couple of steps from the bookshelf before turning and walking out the door. As he went, he vaguely noticed the last rays of the afternoon finally disappearing into the dusk.
"... and mum is expecting you to be there at dad's birthday party on Tuesday. I told her that you got the invitation, but she wanted me to remind you," Ginny said over the top of her menu.
"Okay," Harry answered, not even looking at her. He was trying to appear engrossed in his menu, but food was the last thing on his mind.
"I don't know if you've looked at their specials today, but I was told that the Yorkshire pudding here is fantastic."
She paused, but Harry figured it didn't need a response, so he let it go. Really, he didn't even want to be there. To him, the anniversary of the battle wasn't the fond memory of victory that most of the wizarding world had adopted. Instead, it was a day of painful losses, and he wanted to remember them alone. However, Ginny insisted that anniversaries were meant to be celebrated properly. So, like every other anniversary (including their first meeting, their first kiss, and even their first date), she'd dragged him to yet another restaurant. This time, it was a cosy place that served upscale versions of pub food and other English classics. It was a far more palatable choice than the place she chose the last time: a high-class French restaurant that considered slug-in-a-shell to be a fine delicacy.
With the atmosphere being darker, and the din of the patrons being louder, Harry hoped that he could pass most of the evening avoiding deeper conversation. His mind was still on the Wand, and also with his discomfort in this relationship.
"I think I'm going to try the Yorkshire pudding, but if you want to get the roast pheasant, maybe we could share back and forth," Ginny went on.
"That's good," Harry replied, only half-hearing her.
He barely noticed her scowl. Then she said, "Of course, the Crumple-Horned Snorkack stewed in bubotuber pus would be just as delightful."
"Okay... wait, what?" Harry finally put down his menu.
Ginny was glaring at him. "Well, at least it got your attention. Are you going to even look at me once this evening?"
Her gaze cut into him, and finally he let his shoulders slump and looked away. "I'm sorry, Ginny. I've just... got some things on my mind, and I guess I'm just not feeling too social today."
"You're not feeling too social any day lately," she said flatly. "Let me guess... you've got your mind fixed on that Wand again, don't you?"
He opened his mouth to answer, but just as quickly snapped it shut, and looked towards the ceiling as if hoping for divine intervention. "Well, yes, but you don't understand -"
"Harry, stop." She pushed a strand of hair out of her face, then leaned forward on her elbows. "You have been fixated on that bloody thing for... almost the entire three years since you got your hands on it. Can't you forget about it?"
It was all Harry could do to keep his jaw from dropping in exasperation. "Don't you think I'd forget about it if I could?"
"Pardon me," interrupted a waiter. "Are you ready to order?"
Harry pasted a smile onto his face, but shook his head. "A few more minutes, please."
"Certainly," he said with a nod. "A beverage, perhaps, while you decide?"
"Bottle of wine, Harry?" Ginny asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Actually, I'd like a pint of ale."
Across the table, Ginny's expression darkened.
The waiter glanced at her nervously, then back at Harry. "We have some lovely seasonal ales from two local brew houses, if you'd like a beverage menu..."
"Stella," Harry said definitively.
Ginny made a sharp coughing sound.
Sensing danger, the waiter quickly turned to her. "And for you, miss?"
"One glass of Pinot noir, please," she said, still looking directly at Harry.
The waiter beat a hasty retreat.
Harry wished he could do the same. Ginny was levelling her sharpest glare at him. "Can't we just have a normal dinner like any other normal couple?" Harry cringed at the word, but Ginny didn't seem to notice. "No matter where we've gone lately, you've had your mind on something else, usually that damn Wand. It can't have any power over you unless you let it. It's just a stick!"
"Just a stick!?" Several nearby patrons glanced in their direction, and Harry grimaced. He dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper. "Just a stick?" he repeated, with attempted calmness. "In case you'd forgotten, it's one of the most powerful magical artefacts in history, it leaves a trail of death and destruction wherever it goes, and it's sitting in my house!"
"Well, then how about you get rid of -"
"You know I can't do that."
"Well, could you -"
"You don't even know what I was going to say!" Ginny snapped, gripping the edge of the table.
Harry looked down and away, and shook his head. "Doesn't matter. I've tried everything." He glanced up at her sideways. "I'm going to go to the men's room."
She frowned. "The waiter will be back to take our order any moment."
He waved dismissively at her as he got up. "Just order something that looks good. Roasted Snorkack or something like that."
Harry could feel her eyes drilling holes into the back of his skull as he walked away, and wondered how he was going to survive the rest of the evening. He didn't notice another pair of eyes following him.
The men's room was empty, as he'd hoped. Even better, the restaurant was nice enough that the restroom included a small vanity area, complete with two almost-comfortable chairs and a small table strewn with magazines. Feeling more tired than he'd felt a moment before, he slumped into the nearest chair and cast a casual glance at the reading material on the table. Most of the magazines had scantily-clad women on their covers, and Harry guessed that a very clever man realised just how many patrons might need to escape from bad dates. In his case, however, the magazines weren't going to do him a bit of good. His problems with Ginny ran far deeper than a simple bad date, and far deeper than even she knew.
Even while the rest of his life, and all the things he loved, were flying away from him, not one, but two things were closing in on him, making him feel horrible claustrophobic, as if there were no escaping. The Wand was the obvious one, and also the excuse he kept using to hide his discomfort with Ginny.
The more space he needed, the more tightly she clung to him. She'd decide that he needed to be cheered up, so she'd drag him to a show, or an event, or to a restaurant, or even shopping. She would come over to fix him tea, insisting that he spent too much time alone, which she cited as the reason for his foul mood, but her presence only made him more irritable. Even Hermione's subtle hint to her, suggesting that some Muggle thing called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome took time for recovery, didn't get her to back off. Whatever the case, he was in no mood for romance.
Which led him to the other problem.
He glanced at the magazines again, shook his head, then lurched to his feet. He couldn't think like this. He shuffled over to the sink, and turned on the cold water tap. His glasses were set on the counter, and a moment later, he'd doused his face with a double-handful of water. The icy cold liquid did nothing to distract him from his thoughts... but the blurry face in the mirror, looking over his shoulder, snapped him to attention.
"Wha... who are..." He spun around, and from there, he could see the bemused face of Draco Malfoy, less than two feet away from his own.
Malfoy chuckled. "Taking a shower in a public restroom, Potter? Does cavorting with Miss Weasley make you feel the need to clean yourself?"
In an instant, surprise turned into anger. "Watch what you say, Malfoy!" He began groping to the side for a paper towel dispenser. "I'll have you know that -"
"Easy there, Potter. I was joking." He held up a clean towel, which he must have conjured, as it wasn't native to the restroom. "Here, wipe your face before you get your shirt wet."
More confused now than angry, Harry accepted the towel. When he'd finished wiping his face, Draco was holding out his glasses for him. By the time the world came into focus, Draco was leaning casually against the opposite wall, arms folded across his chest.
Harry tried to set his jaw, but had to settle for a baffled frown. "Did you follow me here or something?"
"Into the bathroom," Draco said lazily, "yes. Into the restaurant, no."
"You... in a Muggle restaurant? Why in the name of Merlin's beard would you come here?"
Draco snorted in amusement. "My date is fond of the place. Halfblood."
That took Harry by surprise. "You're dating someone who isn't a pedigree-carrying pureblood? I never thought I'd see the day." He leaned sideways against the other wall. "And at a restaurant that doesn't cost over a hundred quid per entrée?"
Draco gave a nonchalant shrug. "I've had to be more... careful about my expenses. My father has cut off my trust fund until I've become... respectable again."
"So he doesn't approve of your date, then?"
That drew a long, low chuckle. "You could say that. But at least my date and I are enjoying our evening. Can't say that much for you and the Weasley girl."
The cloud that had lifted for a moment settled over Harry again... like a brick. "I didn't particularly want to come tonight."
"Three years to the day, if I'm not mistaken, right?"
Harry felt his eyebrows raise of their own accord. "You remembered that?"
Incredulous amusement. "It's practically a national holiday. Are you the only one who doesn't treat it like a party?"
"Why would I?" Harry thudded his head lightly against the wall in frustration before turning and walking back to the small sitting area. He collapsed into the same chair he'd vacated a moment before. "Sure, it was technically a victory, but how many people had to die? How much did we lose? How much is still not right?" He looked down at his hands, which were resting idly in his lap. "I'd hoped it could be the start of a normal life for me, but -"
"If life were normal, you wouldn't be the Great Harry Potter." Draco crossed in front of him and took the other chair, then looked at him intently.
"I never wanted to be the 'Great' anything. Except maybe a Seeker, but I haven't even been able to do that in years. Everything else... I just did what I had to do. And now that it's done, I just want to get on with my life."
Draco looked contemplative for a moment. "Well, what's holding you back?"
Harry turned and looked squarely at Draco, considering him. He hadn't spoken openly about this with anyone, except in scant detail to the curse-breakers who had tried to help him with the wand. He'd tried to explain that part to Ginny, but she was the other half of the problem. Hermione had been far too academic about it, and her pragmatism (and her insistence that he needed to see a therapist) was as infuriating as the Wand itself. Ron didn't have any better ideas. Beyond them, all the people in whom he would have confided... were dead.
"I told you once...' Draco began slowly, "if there was ever anything I could do for you... I owe you. If what you need is an ear to listen... I can do that."
"It's complicated. And personal."
Draco pursed his lips, then nodded. "Wizard's Honour, I won't breathe a word of this to anyone, unless you ask me to." He raised his right hand, which glowed faintly for a moment, completing a basic Wizard's Oath.
Harry stared at Draco for a long moment. For some strange reason, he felt as if he really could trust Draco's intentions. Also, he remembered Draco's parting words the day he'd visited Malfoy Manor to return the wand, and even then, there seemed to be something new and unusual about Draco that he could simply... believe. There was no real reason not to talk to Malfoy, and Harry knew that the one thing he needed, aside from getting rid of the damn Wand, was some with a fresh perspective. He sighed. Why not?
"Okay... there are two problems." He chewed on his lower lip for a moment while deciding where to begin. "It's... well... I don't know how much you heard, regarding... how Voldemort died."
"You killed him. With my wand, if I do remember correctly. Or, more specifically, he cast the Killing Curse, and it rebounded on him. And in case you don't remember, I was there."
"You were in the Great Hall?"
Draco nodded. "Towards the back, but I saw it all. You were... very impressive."
For a moment, he looked shy, and Harry had the distinct sense of deja-vu, remembering the same look on Draco's face the day he'd returned the wand. Harry shook his head to clear the memory. "You saw what happened, but... did you hear what I said? To Voldemort? About his wand?"
Slowly, the shyness melted away, and a completely different look came over Draco's face. He seemed tired, but also as if he knew something more than Harry was expecting. "Yes, Potter. I heard. The Deathstick. The Wand of Destiny. The fabled Elder Wand was held in Voldemort's hand, yet its allegiance was yours. That's why his curse rebounded, as I've learned. But before that... it was mine." He stared off at the mirror on the far wall, seeming to look straight through it, rather than at their reflections on its surface. "For months, I owned the most renowned wand in history, and I didn't even know it."
Harry sat in silence for several seconds before saying, "If I could give it to you, at this point, I think I would."
Draco turned back to him with a strange expression on his face. "Believe me, Potter, I wouldn't want it. What I want, however... is my wand back."
"What? I gave you your wand back!"
This time, Draco laughed. It was mirthless, but still quite amused. "Funny that; the wand doesn't think so."
"I think... we need to talk about this somewhere else."
Harry blinked a couple of times, then felt as if he had suddenly come to his senses. "Shit! We're in a Muggle restroom! What if someone had come in?"
Draco gave him a most bemused expression and shook his head. "Still thinking like a Muggle after all these years. I conjured a 'Cleaning: do not enter' sign for the door, and put up a Silencing Spell. I figured that would hold us for at least fifteen minutes."
An embarrassed grin pulled at Harry's mouth. "Guess I wasn't thinking."
Draco shrugged. "Typical. You're still a Gryffindor."
"And I'll admit that you had other things on your mind. The Wand." He paused. "And... if I might venture to add... I think your other problem has red hair and a glass of Pinot Noir."
Immediately, Harry felt his stomach twist. "Fuck, she's still waiting out there."
"Only if you're not so lucky." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wallet. "I think we should also discuss Miss Weasley as well. But also, not here. Ah, here it is." He plucked a small card from one of the slots in the wallet. "My Floo Network address. Be there tomorrow night at 7:00, and don't be late."
Harry looked at the elegant print on the card, then back up at Draco. "But what about... well... I -"
"Unless, of course, you have intimate plans with the She-Weasley."
A flash of dread hit Harry like a Bludger, and Draco laughed. "Well, that answers that, too. I'll see you then." He turned to leave, then looked back over his shoulder. "Oh, and Potter... bring the Wand."
With that, he slipped out the door, leaving Harry standing there, wondering just what the hell he'd got himself into. He was still trying to wrap his brain around it when the door opened and a Muggle walked in.
"Oi, how long does it take to clean a ruddy loo? I've been waiting for ages!" He then seemed to take note of the fact that Harry was not a custodian. "Wait, how'd you -"
"Er... I must have just slipped in when you weren't looking. Excuse me, my date is waiting."
As Harry hurried back to the table, he found himself no less distracted than when he left, but this time, the Elder Wand wasn't at the forefront of his thoughts. As he smiled and humoured Ginny, ordering a fine bottle of French Champagne for her, his mind was thoroughly set on Draco Malfoy, and the Floo address he had tucked in his back pocket.
It was 6:56, and Harry was pacing. The fireplace was lit and ready for the Floo, and four minutes seemed like an eternity to wait. In his hand was the box containing the Elder Wand. Around his neck was the mokeskin pouch, carrying the Resurrection Stone. In his messenger bag was the Invisibility Cloak, folded neatly. In his mind churned dozens of nebulous questions, driving his frenzied pacing across his library floor.
Why he was bringing all three Hallows, he wasn't entirely sure, but it seemed like a good idea. Perhaps it had something to do with that strange, knowing aura that had overtaken Draco when the Wand had finally been mentioned. Maybe Draco knew something. Maybe he could find a way to be rid of the infernal Wand. And maybe, just maybe, the rest of the Hallows should follow it - even his beloved Cloak. If nothing else, he had them in case he needed them.
6:57. Draco had also said they should talk about Ginny. What the hell could he say about Ginny? That she was a nice girl, but she was driving him batty? The fact that she wanted sex, and Harry couldn't be less interested? How about the conversation he'd overheard between Ginny and Mrs Weasley that included his name, the word "marriage", and speculation on the number of children? Or, if it all came right down to it, there was the simple fact that being with her just seemed... wrong at this point in his life. He cared about her, to be sure, but right now, she didn't fit. There were other things on his mind; other things calling to him. If only she knew what was calling to him. If only he could admit it to himself.
6:58. Of course, if he couldn't even admit it to himself, then how the fuck could he talk about it with Malfoy? That question alone had kept him awake for half the night. What sort of person could stare Voldemort in the eyes, yet be unable to look himself in the mirror and ask himself if he might be... you know... different? If he could never face up to his own inner demons, what kind of future would he have? Would he just go on like this forever, never even allowing himself to fully consider the possibility that maybe... just maybe... he liked boys?
It wasn't that he didn't like girls. They just didn't seem as interesting lately, and more to the point, the only one he had was clinging to him like a doting old woman when all he wanted - desperately - was some space and freedom. Really, he might have been able to continue ignoring the sexual curiosities for a while longer... if it weren't for the fact that in the men's room, he'd found himself fighting an insane urge to bite Draco's lower lip.
The clock on the mantle ticked over to 6:59, and Harry had waited long enough. He grabbed a pinch of Floo powder and tossed it into the flames. "Dragon's Lair!"
There was a swirl of green flame, a sickening cyclone of fire grates and ash, and he landed in an undignified heap on an Oriental rug.
"You're early," came a familiar drawl from across the room. Draco was sitting in a wide armchair, one leg over the other, with his chin propped up on his hand. He seemed amused.
Harry pushed himself up to his knees and sat back on his heels, quickly taking in the small yet tastefully-decorated flat. The only thing that didn't match was the Oriental rug, but it seemed vaguely familiar. "You only said not to be late."
Draco smirked. "And you landed like an eleven-year old. Merlin's knickers, Potter, you can defeat Lord No-Nose, but you can't land on your feet coming out of the Floo?"
Harry scowled, but Draco diffused it with a light laugh. He uncrossed his legs, stood, and walked over to Harry, his hand outstretched. "Here, come on," he said, pulling Harry to his feet.
Now upright, Harry took a better look around. The place really wasn't very large. The dining and living room was merged into one open area, and he could see the kitchen off to the left. A wide single-panel window covered the entire far wall, but the shade was drawn. To the right, there were two closed doors, which Harry figured were the bathroom and bedroom. On the walls, there were a few classic-style oil paintings, and equally few portraits, mostly of blond subjects. Harry's eyes finally came back to rest on Draco. "Dragon's Lair, huh?"
Draco shrugged. "It suits my needs. And what else would I call it?" He gave a soft laugh, then tipped his head to the side, indicating a small table setting on the far side of the room. "I made some tea. We've got a lot to discuss."
For a moment, Harry stood there, his hand still clasped in Draco's, considering him. It was the same something that had stood out the previous night in the restaurant men's room; the same thing that made him decide he could trust his old rival. Something written without words, but plainly etched across Draco's face, had caused Harry to accept Draco's invitation. He'd never seen it there before. Or maybe he had, just once, but it had been so subtle and so fast that he hadn't recognized it.
Draco frowned. "What?"
"We all have," Draco replied evenly. "But... yes. And you already know some of the 'why' behind it. And we'll have time to talk about the rest. But for now... tea. Or wine, if you'd like."
"Just not Pinot Noir."
Draco smirked again. "How about a Stella?"
Harry felt himself break into a wide grin. "Now you're talking."
They let go of each other's hands, and Harry noted, with some disappointment, that his hand felt unusually empty and just a bit cold. A few moments later, cold hands were forgotten as he began working his way into his frosty pint. Draco was sipping a glass of Australian Shiraz, interspersed with small talk about favourite libations. That quickly led the conversation back to the restaurant, and Draco brought it full circle by setting his glass aside, adopting a serious expression, and asking, "So, Potter... what's really going on?"
Harry lowered his pint with a sigh. "So, I've kept this wand with me for three years. I had meant to get rid of it, but I can't. It's just connected to me, and I can't just get rid of the damn thing! I swear, it's practically haunting me. My life is completely fucked up, and... and... I just want it to go away."
Draco was listening with a slight smile. He folded his hands under his chin and said mildly, "I was talking about Miss Weasley. Of course, based on my observations, if you were truthful about the whole matter, your tirade about her would be similar."
Harry balked, then stammered for a few seconds. "Wait... just wait... I thought I was coming here to discuss the Wand!"
Draco's smile became wider, and Harry had the uncomfortable sensation of being patronized. "I invited you here to discuss your problems. As you said yourself, you have two: the Wand, and the woman. I figured I'd start with the simpler one."
Harry wanted to argue, he really did, but he was so fed up with keeping everything bottled that he had no energy to fight back. Besides, this was the reason he came... to talk about stuff. All of it. He picked up his pint and took a slow swig, then put it back down on the table with a thud. "I honestly don't know if Ginny is the simpler problem or not."
"Really? Why would that be?" Draco was definitely smirking now.
"Because I'm not sure why she's driving me bat-shit insane, but she is." He watched as a drop of condensation slipped down the outside of his glass and left a small wet spot on the table. "I mean, part of it is because she won't back down and give me space, and part of it... I just don't know."
There was a moment of silence. Harry watched more droplets run down his glass, then reached out to trace one with his finger, hoping that Draco might just give him an answer that would sum it up for him.
"How's the sex?"
Harry startled so hard that he bumped his glass and sent a small wave of Stella splashing onto the table. "Aah! Shit. Shit, I'm sorry. Here, let me wipe that up. Do you have a towel handy?"
Draco flicked his wand, and the spill disappeared. "Still forgetting that you're a wizard, I see."
Thoroughly embarrassed, Harry sat back down, keeping his hands awkwardly in his lap. "No, you just threw me off guard."
"Then how is your sex life with Ginevra? That bad, is it?"
"The sex life," Harry said tightly, "is non-existent."
"Such a shame. Three years, and you can't get her into your bed?"
Harry could feel heat rising to his cheeks like a furnace. "Actually... it's the other way around."
"Why, Potter! You're the frigid bitch of the pair!"
"It's not like that! I want to have sex, just not with - oh shit."
Harry shook his head. "I am not getting into this. We're not going there. Fuck, Malfoy, this is only our third civil conversation. I'm not ready to get into sex yet!"
"Okay, we'll save sex for our next date."
The self-satisfied grin on Draco's face was bad enough, but the uncomfortable twist in Harry's stomach drilled the true impact of that statement far deeper. At a lack of anything else to do, Harry reached an unsteady hand over to his mug and took a much larger chug than he'd intended. Beer ran down his chin and dripped onto his shirt, and he choked as a bit more decided to take a detour into his lungs.
Draco was up on his feet a split second later, taking the mug away and clapping Harry on the back. "Nice one, Potter. I know the She-Weasel is a touchy subject, but I won't permit suicide-by-beer-drowning at my dining table."
After several more moments of coughing and hacking, Harry finally caught his breath. "Can we please just discuss the Wand?" He looked up at Draco. "I know you know something more about it than I do. The look on your face last night... what do you know? Do you know how to get rid of it? You said that you wouldn't want the wand for yourself... what do you know? Please, Malfoy."
Draco looked back down at him, warily at first, then hesitantly.
Uncertainty turned into resignation, and Draco sighed heavily. Without a word, he went over to a nearby bookshelf, and took a rustic-looking tome from the bottom shelf. He returned to his chair and sat, laying the book on the table between them.
"I should start at the beginning," he said. "When you returned my wand to me, I was ecstatic. I thought I'd never see it again. You can't understand... losing your wand is like losing a piece of yourself."
"I do understand," Harry said softly. "Mine broke. Why do you think I used yours against Voldemort?"
Draco seemed surprised by this. "But... well, I thought you were using mine because your wand and You-Know... er... Voldemort's wand were connected somehow."
Harry shook his head. "That wouldn't have mattered, because by then, I knew he had the Elder Wand. Mine broke during the months that I was hunting for the... well, it's a long story, but I had to find -"
It was Harry's turn to be surprised. "You... you knew?"
"Not until after the fact."
"Nobody knew except Ron, Hermione, and me!"
"I have my sources. That's not important now." He cocked his head. "But... I've seen you use your old wand since then. You can't repair a wand that's been broken."
Without any affection, Harry patted the box containing the Elder Wand. "I used this. A simple Reparo did it."
Draco raised an eyebrow. "Well, Merlin's left testicle, I'll be damned. I didn't think that was possible."
"Heh, the Deathstick isn't a normal wand," Harry said mirthlessly, "as I've been so lucky to discover."
Draco nodded. "Ah, yes, that would explain it. Which brings me back to this. As I was saying, I was thrilled to get my wand back. The only problem was... it wasn't mine anymore."
Understanding dawned on Harry. "You mean it's still loyal to me?"
Looking distinctly chagrined, Draco nodded. He picked up his wand, which was still lying on the table, and looked at it longingly. "I can make it work, but it doesn't feel right. I can tell that it's different. And for several months, I debated trying to find you to try to fix it, but..." He sighed. "Let's just say I couldn't work up the nerve."
At a loss, Harry could only say, "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. You did what you could at the time. You took it because you needed to. If you hadn't..." Draco raised his head again and looked Harry squarely in the eyes. "If you hadn't taken it, the world would be a different place, and I'd probably be dead."
Silence hung uncomfortably for a few moments. It was Harry who broke the gaze first, finally looking down at the wand still cradled in Draco's hands. "But... if I gave it back to you, shouldn't it have recognized that?"
"I thought about that. I thought about a lot of things." Draco laid the wand aside, and rested one hand on the book. "That's where this comes in. My apprenticeship with Ollivander."
"What?" Harry wasn't sure if he'd heard that right. "You... you're training to be a wandmaker? And I thought Ollivander retired!"
"Yes, he retired, but he also needs someone to take over the business. As for me training to become a wandmaker... well, I'm trying. Ollivander doesn't think I have the aptitude for it, but very few people want to go through the long, old-fashioned apprenticeship needed for a career like that." He sighed heavily. "Considering that the Ministry won't hire me, and most other places won't give a chance to the son of an Ex-Death Eater, it seemed like a good idea. Plus, I wanted to find a way to make my wand work for me again. Ollivander is giving me a chance, and even if he doesn't decide to keep me as an apprentice, I'll have learned quite a bit."
"So, you've been learning wandlore," Harry said slowly, finally beginning to understand.
"You were trying to figure out how to regain the loyalty of your old wand, and somewhere along the way... you learned something about the Elder Wand."
"Two for two, Potter. Keep going."
"Do you know how to break its hold on people?" Harry asked in a rush. "Did Ollivander tell you how I can get rid of it?"
"Slow down!" Draco held up his hands. "And you were doing so well, too. Well, that's partly correct, so you get two-and-a-half."
"Which half?" Harry shifted to the edge of his chair.
"Ollivander didn't tell me how to get rid of it." Draco opened the book about one-third of the way through, and Harry realized the text was Draco's own handwriting; his study notes. "However, he did give me access to his personal library so I could do research for my training, and I found some stuff."
Heart pounding in anticipation, Harry leaned over to read the script, when the sudden whoosh of flames on the hearth signalled a firecall.
"Draco? Hey, Draco, are you there?" It was a young man Harry didn't recognize, but he must have been almost the same age. "You said you were going to give me a call."
Draco rolled his eyes, and said to Harry in an undertone, "Sorry, I've got to take this. It won't be long. Start reading."
Harry picked up the book, but despite the fact that those pages might contain the answer to the problem that had been plaguing him for three years, his eyes were glued on Draco.
"Michael, good to see you. I'm a bit busy right now -"
"I was hoping we might get together tonight."
Draco's posture went completely rigid. "I told you I was going to be busy this evening, and that I'd call you tomorrow. I've got a project I'm working on, and -"
"Surely you can take a break for some relaxation, can't you? You seem a bit tense." There was a definite level of suggestiveness in his voice. "Besides, you cut things a bit short last night, and it would be nice to see where we can go without interruptions like -"
"I told you, not tonight!" Draco was definitely getting upset, and Harry was starting to see why.
"Why, is there someone else there?"
Draco opened his mouth, but the split second of hesitation must have been too much for Michael.
"Ah, that's it, isn't it? You've got another man in your flat, haven't you?"
"Yes, but it's not like that! We're working on a project... for my apprenticeship."
"Sure you are." Michael spat derisively. "I should have known. Have fun working with your wands. My friends were right - I never should have dated an ex-Death Eater, no matter how good his story was."
"You've got to be kidding me! I told you, we're just working on a project! This guy doesn't even know... or he didn't until you called. We're not doing anything!"
Michael laughed humourlessly. "A likely story. Next thing you'll tell me is that Mr Chastity in your flat there is Harry Potter."
There was a green swirl of flames, and Michael's face disappeared. For a long moment, Draco stood silently, staring at the empty fireplace. Finally, without warning, he turned and walked over to the wall, and thudded his forehead against it. "Fuck."
"Draco...?" Harry ventured, pushing the book aside and standing. "Are you o-"
In the next instant, Draco had put his fist through the wall. Harry was too shocked to move at first as Draco made his way to the couch and collapsed, letting his head fall backwards against the cushions. After another minute, he said, "If you're going to leave, you might as well do it now."
Harry pressed his lips together. This was certainly unexpected, but there wasn't anything wrong with it.
Take your own advice, a small voice in the back of his head intoned.
Ignoring it, Harry stood and walked over to the couch.
"Take the book if you want," Draco said without looking at him. "Read it, see if you can learn anything useful from it, and then send it back to me, if you'd be so kind."
"I'm not going to take the book."
"Fine. Then don't say I didn't offer. See you around."
"I wasn't going to leave."
In a flash, Draco's expression changed. His eyebrows furrowed, and he raised his head sharply. "You're not?"
"Not unless you're telling me to leave. It's your flat, and I don't mean to impose." He hesitated. "It seems as if my presence has already caused a problem."
Draco studied him for a moment, then slowly sat up, then hunched over, folding his arms on his knees. "You didn't cause a problem. Michael is the suspicious type. He was a bit touchy last night when I left him at the restaurant table to follow you into the men's room. I think he called tonight because he suspected that I was... well..." He looked up at Harry. "You're a big boy. You figure it out."
"I think I have." Harry inclined his head towards the fireplace. "That's why your father is withholding your trust fund, isn't it? Not because he's a half-blood, but because he's a..."
"A 'he'," Draco finished for him. "Your powers of perception are practically Slytherin," he continued, completely deadpan.
Silence hung for a moment before Harry caught the sight of red on Draco's hand. "Shit, Malfoy, you're bleeding!"
Draco looked down at his own hand - the one which had made a sizeable hole in the wall moments before - and appraised it with detached amusement. "Now, would you look at that. Well spotted. Ten points to Gryffindor."
"That's not funny, Draco. You might have broken something."
"Obviously. The wall."
"Let me see it." He dropped down to one knee and reached towards Draco's hand, only to have his target recoil.
"It doesn't hurt, and I don't need you to play nursemaid, Potter."
Harry looked from the oozing blood, which was spreading a red stain across Draco's thigh, to Draco's tightly guarded expression. "You're getting blood on the upholstery."
Draco looked away. "I told you - leave it. A Scourgify will fix the mess later." He cast a quick glance back. "Sorry. Rough day."
Sensing that argument was pointless, Harry got to his feet, looked back at the book on the table, then over to the fireplace, and back to Draco. "You know, if you're uncomfortable, I can leave." Truth be told, Harry was feeling uncomfortable himself, and not because of Malfoy's boyfriend. It was because the idea of Draco having a boyfriend tightened a little knot in the pit of his stomach that he'd been trying to ignore for a long time, and the disconcerting thing was that the knot wasn't an unpleasant sensation. When Draco didn't reply, Harry felt obligated to fill the silence.
"Maybe you can call Michael back, that is, if you want. I don't want you to lose your relationship because you were with me." Harry balked at his own words. "I mean, because I was here. When he called. And he thought we were... shit. I can tell him that we weren't doing anything, if you want. I don't care. Wait, I do care, but it doesn't matter... er... it's fine with me if you want me to. I mean... of course it matters, but I like - fuck, what I mean to say is..."
The look on Draco's face was rapidly morphing from sullen irritation to amusement. Harry, on the other hand, was progressing from concerned to flustered just as quickly. He took a deep breath and tried again. "I'm trying to say that it makes no difference to me who you're dating, and I don't want to let you lose a relationship because someone had the wrong idea. I came here to talk to you about the Elder Wand. You can probably help me, and maybe I can help you with your wand." Just as he said that, however, an image flashed in his mind... naked torso, unzipped trousers, Draco's cock in his hand. His heart seemed to skip a beat, and he felt his cheeks burning. "I mean... your literal wand, not... oh shit."
Draco didn't seem offended though. In fact, he still seemed amused. "I'll have to add this to my notes under the 'She-Weasley Problem' category."
It was as if a switch had been flipped in Harry's brain. The dreams he'd been having - when he wasn't reliving a nightmare from the battle, of course. His avoidance of Ginny's sexual advances. His self-imposed seclusion. In that instant, confronted with a possibility he'd been ignoring and avoiding as long as possible, Harry realized he could only do one thing: get the fuck out of there.
"I... I have to go." He hurried over to the table and grabbed the box with the wand, and reached down to pick up his messenger bag. When he stood upright and turned back around, Draco was directly in front of him, holding out the book.
"Take this with you. Read it, for what it's worth. Really. And send it back when you're ready."
"I... okay," Harry replied numbly.
"You don't have to bring it back yourself," Draco continued, "but if you want to... you still have my Floo address."
"Right. Okay. I'll... I'll be in touch."
Harry's mind was whirling long before the Floo took him, and even when he landed back in the library of Twelve Grimmauld Place, his mind continued to spin for hours after that.
I'm an idiot. I'm such a fucking idiot.
Harry hadn't left his bedroom in two full days, except to use the loo. Kreacher had brought him meals, and the message that Ginny had come to call once. Harry told him to tell her that he had a cold and needed to sleep. Pigwidgeon brought him a letter from Ron, saying that they ought to get together for a "blokes' night out", but Harry couldn't bring himself to reply to that. Ron's idea of a "night with the boys" was irreconcilable in his head with the sort of night he kept imagining. In fact, Harry couldn't get himself to reconcile anything. He felt confused, lost, hopeless, and generally like an...
Idiot. Bloody stupid fucking idiot.
If nothing else, he had found one productive thing to do; he'd read Draco's entire apprentice journal. Twice.
It seemed obvious which parts of his notes were from structured lessons with Ollivander, and which parts were from Draco's own research. The more personal parts were strewn with underlines and bolder writing and stars whenever something seemed to have the potential to make his beloved wand work again. The further Harry read into the journal, the more the focus shifted from things involving his own wand to wand ownership in general, then to his previous ownership of the Elder Wand, and then to the Elder Wand itself.
Draco's note-taking style was very different from Harry's, but on the second read through, Harry finally began to pick up on some important themes.
First, there was the simple matter of direct conquest of another wizard, from the blatantly obvious in which one wizard kills another, to things as subtle as one wizard intentionally tripping another and picking up the dropped wand first. Much of it depended on circumstance, and, to Harry's chagrin, on what the wand 'decided'.
If the bloody Elder Wand has anything to say about it, I'll never see the end of it.
Then, there was the matter of giving a wand to another wizard. The wand can decide upon loyalty to the recipient or not, depending again on circumstance. Draco's wand, as Harry had figured, was purchased new, but the journal reminded him that Draco's mother had purchased the wand while Draco was at Madam Malkin's, being fitted for school robes. Ollivander did have a natural knack matching wands to wizards, and as the wand had no previous loyalty, it gave its loyalty to Draco easily enough. However, Hawthorn was, as wandlore suggested, a very proud wood that has an affinity for conquest, leadership, dominance, and even sometimes cruelty, depending on the specific nature of the wand. When Harry had taken it from Draco, it recognized a new master easily. Being given back as a gift had apparently not suited it.
Great, the wand likes me because I'm a bully.
Finally, there was extensive writing on the subtleties of exchanges that were not true conquest and not actual gift-giving. In the distant past, wizards and witches had to earn their wands through completion of a task or challenge. In more modern days, wands were sometimes kept in the family, and a wand left behind by a deceased family member would be willed to the next generation, if the young witch or wizard could earn it. The notes became even more cryptic after that as they went on to explore feigned subjugations, symbolic defeats, and even sexual domination. Each one had different subtleties; none of them worked all the time.
The most interesting part of this, however, was research on cases in which the wand was stranded without an owner. The reasons for this result were nebulous at best, and constantly inconsistent. Still, this was the part that gave Harry the most hope.
Of course, he only had a basic understanding of the matter through reading Draco's notes. Draco was the expert. Which meant only one thing.
I need to go back. NOW.
With his mind fixated on one thing, Harry closed the book, tucked it under his arm, grabbed the Wand in its box, and barged out of the room - almost knocking Kreacher to the floor.
"I'm sorry, Kreacher! I've got to go somewhere. Can you tell anyone who stops by or calls that I just have a cold and that I'm asleep?"
Kreacher gave him a look that was a combination of confusion and tolerance. "Yes, of course, Master. But, Kreacher knows that Miss Weasley will insist on bringing you remedies."
"Damn, that's right. You're brilliant, Kreacher." He bit on his knuckle for a brief moment to help him think. "If she does... er... just tell her that you've taken excellent care of me, and that you'd be offended if she didn't trust you to take the best possible care of me. Oh, and you can say that I ordered you not to let anyone in."
"That will work, Master," Kreacher replied with a pleased nod, then mumbled to himself, "Master would have made a good Slytherin, just like Kreacher's last Masters. Even if he is acting strangely."
Harry rolled his eyes quickly in amusement before Kreacher looked back up, awaiting any more instructions. There was just one. "Don't worry about holding dinner if I'm too late."
"Kreacher will have some stew ready that he can heat for Master if Master returns late," he said, and gave a low bow.
Harry began to move down the hall towards the library and his Floo-network fireplace, when Kreacher cleared his throat sharply. Harry turned around to see the house elf giving him a look that was... highly disapproving.
"My apologies, Master, but Kreacher suggests that Master takes a bath before going anywhere."
Harry blinked, then turned and looked at his own reflection in the hallway mirror. He was still wearing his oldest flannel pyjama bottoms and the sweater Mrs Weasley had knitted him when he was eighteen, and his hair was sticking up in every direction. "Er... I think you might be right."
"Kreacher is happy to make sure that Master doesn't embarrass himself, especially if Master is going to meet someone... important." With a smug grin, he bowed low again.
"Er... thanks for helping."
A half hour later, Harry was showered and properly dressed. The Wand in its box, the Invisibility Cloak, and the Resurrection Stone were all packed into his messenger bag, and the journal was tucked under his arm. With one deep breath to steel his resolve, he threw a pinch of Floo Powder into the fire, and called out, "Dragon's Lair!"
To his pleasure, he actually managed to land on his feet this time. To his disappointment, the flat appeared empty. That seemed odd, because most wizards and witches would lock their Floo from the network before going out, and Draco didn't strike him as one of the types who would leave his flat unsecured. Harry was just about to call out when he heard voices from the next room.
Against his better manners, if not his better judgment, Harry tiptoed across towards the second of the two doors on the right-hand side of the room. He could make out Draco's voice, as well as a voice that... shouldn't have been possible.
"Snape?" Harry let slip before he could catch himself.
He heard cussing from the other room - Draco's voice - the thud of something dropping to the floor, and the scrambling of feet. A moment later, Draco had slipped out of the room, his face pink and his eyes frantic. "Potter, don't you know it's polite to call ahead? What if I'd had plans?"
"Er... I..." Harry was struggling enough to make sense of what he'd heard that he couldn't much make sense of anything else. "I can leave, if you want."
Draco stared at him for a moment, then gave an exasperated sigh. "You don't have to leave."
"Do you have a guest over?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
"Was that -"
"Stop. Just stop. I'll give it to you plainly." He folded his arms across his chest. "My mother commissioned a portrait of Severus Snape after the war, and when my father kicked me out of the house, she sent the portrait with me, to 'look after me', in her words. I told her that I didn't need to be looked after, but I didn't argue further because Severus was good company, and I respected him. Besides, he's not usually here. He's got other portraits, you know."
Harry blinked a few times, and said the first thing that came to mind. "You keep him in your bedroom?"
It was Draco's turn to look speechless. Several seconds later, he said defensively, "It's not my bedroom, Potter. It's just a spare room."
Harry glanced back over his shoulder at the fireplace, thinking that he ought to simply leave, but he turned back to see Draco shaking his head.
"Let me put some tea on. I take it you read my apprentice notes?"
Draco pressed his lips together. "Then we've got a lot to discuss."
Several minutes later, they were seated at the dining table with two cups of tea that were being completely ignored. The messenger bag was under Harry's seat, and the apprentice journal was open on the table. Harry, however, was ignoring that, too.
"Before we get started, I just wanted to apologize for the other night. I was trying to help."
"Well, you helped take care of Michael."
Draco actually smiled. "Don't be. He was too prissy, and annoyingly cerebral. Ravenclaws."
Something clicked in Harry's mind, and his mouth fell open. "Was that Michael Corner?"
"The one and only." Draco's smile became faintly devious. "Yet another boy to be traumatized by romantic encounters with Ginevra Weasley and Cho Chang."
"Nothing, Potter. Nothing at all. Unless you think it's something."
The only thing Harry could think was that he didn't want to think about it. "Er... no. No, nothing."
Draco gave a knowing nod. "If you insist. And if you must know, no apologies were necessary." He leaned back and stretched. "Enough of that. What have you figured out from my notes?"
Happy to be switching gears, Harry pulled the book closer between them and flipped to one of his bookmarks. "Well, your notes are really thorough," Harry said. "Even I understood some of it."
"Well then, I've accomplished the impossible and should be awarded Professor of the Year."
Harry rolled his eyes and continued. "I think I understand why your wand is being stubborn about switching back."
"Do enlighten me, oh Great Master of Wandlore."
"Sorry. Go on, Potter. Let's see what you've picked up."
"Well, right here," Harry said, flipping the book to a page he'd marked, "you wrote about the characteristics of hawthorn wood, which is what your wand is made of."
"Obviously. Er... yes, it is."
"Thank you. Anyway, you said that hawthorn likes strong leadership and dominance, even conquest and... cruelty. I don't think I'm a cruel person -"
Harry nodded once in acknowledgement. "But I did cut a few victories, and the wand is probably drawn to it."
Draco looked away. "Excellent deduction, Potter. And whereas you are the Conqueror and Victor of Legends, I am made of epic quantities of fail. Not only did you defeat me, which I'm sure doesn't help me with my wand-loyalty problem at all, but I lost my friends, lost my influence, lost my trust fund, and probably lost my entire future. The wand has no use for me. I've tried to become more... er... dominant in some areas of my life, but the basic fact remains; you beat me, and the wand won't let me forget that."
Harry frowned. "What if you were to defeat me now?"
For a moment, it looked as if Draco was going to laugh, or cry, or both. He settled for a sullen smirk. "The defeat couldn't be staged, Potter, and we both know that you could easily best me in any duel, even if my wand was working as it should."
"It doesn't have to be a duel, does it?" Immediately, Harry's mind flashed to the list of potential means of victory and defeat - physical, symbolic, and even sexual. A shiver ran up his spine, and the action didn't go unnoticed.
"Have something in mind, do you?"
Harry quickly shook his head. "No. No, I just remember... seeing other options in your notes. There have to be other ways for you to defeat me."
"Sure, let's just see if I can best you in a game of Exploding Snap."
"That's not what I meant."
Draco held his gaze for a moment before letting his shoulders slump. "I know it's not. And believe me, I thought about this. The only problem is that if I defeat you in such a way that my wand would recognize it... the Elder Wand would also recognize it, and that would be a disaster."
"You wouldn't want the same burden I have now," Harry said, more to himself than to Draco.
"It would be worse than that, Potter."
"What do you mean?"
Draco leaned forward and pushed the open journal aside. "I mean... okay, how do I explain this? The Deathstick wasn't always passed along by murder, or wrested from the hands of one evil conqueror by another. There have been times in history, recorded by students of wandlore, when the Elder Wand simply fell into the hands of the average witch or wizard. That person wouldn't have any intent of overthrowing enemies or defeating armies, but somehow, that's what they ended up doing."
Harry's eyes went wide. "No..." he whispered.
Draco nodded slowly. "The wand doesn't want to be left to rot. However it was created, its unusual magic has a strong sense of self-preservation. It desires to be passed on in battle, to defeat, and to lie in the hands of the strongest or most clever witch or wizard. And if that person doesn't happen to be power-hungry or battle-driven... the wand will see to it that its owner becomes exactly that.
"That's why you're miserable, Potter. The wand wants to be in the hands of a conqueror, but you were only that because you needed to be. So, until you become the malicious, power-crazed bastard that the wand wants, it will make you miserable and angry, hoping that you'll snap and finally use it."
Harry could feel his stomach slowly constricting into a knot. "Merlin..."
"But the wizarding world is lucky that you have it and not anyone else - not me."
"Why?" Harry asked weakly.
"Because any lesser wizard would have already given in to it. Like I would."
The knot in Harry's stomach tightened and clenched, and he realized how stuck he really was. In the end, he had to be the one in possession of the Elder Wand, not because he was a great warrior, but because he had no desire for power. It was the same reason he'd been able to find the Philosopher's Stone - he wanted to find the stone itself; the riches and immortality it could bring were unimportant to him. Now, he wanted to keep the world safe from the bloody horrors the Elder Wand had strung across the face of history. However, the Philosopher's Stone didn't have a will of its own.
"I'm stuck with the Wand," Harry said, feeling miserable.
"If you want to keep it from continuing its legacy, it's got to be you... or nobody."
"Can't it be nobody?" Harry asked, almost whining. He folded his arms on the table, and flopped his chin down on them.
Draco rested a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I've been working on it."
There was a long pause, and Draco withdrew his hand. Harry looked up to see an enigmatic look on Draco's face. After another few seconds, he answered, "Some luck. Not much, but... here, let me go get something."
Draco left the table and disappeared back into the spare room, while Harry remained at the table, his chin still resting on his arms, trying to tell himself that he wasn't actually sulking. A moment later, however...
"Shit, shit, fuck, shit!" That was Draco, yelling from the other room.
In a heartbeat, Harry had crossed the living room and burst through the door. The room was fairly dark, but he could see an enormous book on the floor, and Draco almost doubled-over, nursing his left hand. Harry rushed over to him.
"What happened? Did you hurt yourself?"
"It's fine, Potter. Please, go back out to the table. It's nothing."
"It's not nothing! That's the hand you punched the wall with two days ago. I told you that you probably broke it. And you didn't go to see a Healer, did you? Let me see - I can probably fix it for you."
Draco straightened up, and he had a distinct look of panic in his eyes. "I told you, Potter, go back to the table!"
"Well, at least let me help you carry the book - oh fuck..."
As Harry turned to pick up the book, he saw what Draco had been trying to hide. It had taken a moment for Harry's eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, but now that they had, he felt his stomach drop to his knees. Yes, there were a couple of large bookshelves on the right-hand wall. There was a cabinet containing several wands and scrolls. However, something else had Harry's undivided attention. A row of leather implements hung from hooks along the far wall. Several lengths of metal chain hung from the ceiling, with padded leather cuffs dangling from the ends. An unnerving array of ropes and straps were coiled neatly on a small table, and against the left-hand wall were two pieces of evil-looking furniture.
Harry swallowed. "Er... I'll just... er..." He picked up the book - which was indeed quite heavy - without taking his eyes off the startling display. "I'll just go back out to the table with this. I... yeah, I'll do that."
Feeling somewhat stunned, Harry moved back out into the brighter light of the main room, dropped the book on the table with an ominous thud, and sat down stiffly. He didn't even look at Draco as the other man joined him.
"You were right," Draco began. "About my hand, that was. I broke it. And my wand seemed to think I deserved it, and I couldn't get a clean mend on it. That's why I dropped the book."
"I'll still fix it for you," Harry said vaguely.
"You don't have to. I'm stubborn anyway."
"Nice Gryffindor trait."
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Draco shrug. "There could be worse things, I suppose." He paused. "Harry, if you want to leave -"
"I don't," Harry said quickly, before pressing his mouth shut. He finally turned in his chair to look directly at Draco.
Draco's face was tight with nervousness, and his pulse beat wildly in his neck. In his lap, he was cradling his left hand with his right. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I hadn't meant for you to see that, and if I hadn't dropped the book -"
"Stop," Harry said softly. "Hold out your hand."
While Draco tentatively offered his left hand, which Harry could finally see had some deep bruising under some poorly placed glamour charms, Harry dug out his wand. A few careful charms later, the bruises had disappeared and the swelling had gone down. Draco retracted his hand and massaged it, then tucked both of his hands tightly under his arms, hugging himself.
"Thanks for that."
"If you want to leave now -"
Harry shook his head and held up a hand to stop him. "I already said that I don't want to leave. Of course, that might make me insane, but not nearly as much as this idea."
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't believe he was even thinking of this. In his mind, the view of Draco's little shop of horrors - the Dragon's Lair, Harry thought ruefully - was clear as day. He'd never seen such a thing before, but he'd definitely heard of it. Read about it. And, in his darkest dreams, fantasized about it, only to wake up both ashamed and horny as hell. And right now... the culmination of Draco's notes led him to only one conclusion.
He opened his eyes and stared past Draco's shoulder at the door to the spare room. "Your wand recognizes dominance, right?"
"But because I gave it back to you willingly, you shouldn't need to actually defeat me or anything."
"That makes sense," Draco said. His voice was beginning to shake.
"The Elder Wand wants a dominant, violent person, and would probably relinquish its hold on someone if that person was violently defeated."
"Yes, but that would mean the person who defeats the Wand's master would become its new master."
Harry looked Draco squarely in the eyes. "Not if the old master willingly submits."
"When Dumbledore asked Snape to kill him, he was willingly submitting. That was his plan."
Draco held his silence for a moment, then shook his head. "It won't work. Dumbledore asked Severus to do something he didn't want to do. The way the plan was supposed to work... Severus was submitting to Dumbledore's request, and that meant Dumbledore was supposed die without ever being defeated."
Harry found himself nodding. "Yes, I know... but the symbolic defeat... what if the Wand's owner submits to something that the other person would like to do? What if the details of what will happen are not known? The owner is put into submission - not against his will, but still without any control. You wouldn't have defeated me, so the wand couldn't be yours, but it could no longer stay mine, either."
It took Harry a couple of seconds to realize that he'd switched from the theoretical to the specific - yours and mine - but it didn't matter. The intent was perfectly clear.
For his part, Draco seemed stunned, but still able to speak. "And... because my wand only needs to recognize me as being a worthy owner... or, at least, not to see you as the absolute top-dog... that would be enough." He blinked a few times. "Harry, do you understand what you're asking me to do?"
Harry began to nod, but then thought the better of it. "I have an idea. I mean, I've read... er... been told about... oh fuck it. I'm not completely naïve, you know."
A tiny smile ghosted across Draco's face. "No, you're not completely naïve. Just mostly."
Before he could prevent it, Harry blushed. Draco cocked his head. "Harry... have you ever done anything like this before?"
"Well... not exactly."
"Not exactly what?"
He inclined his head sheepishly towards the door of the spare room. "That."
"Bondage, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism?"
Harry squirmed. "Yeah, that."
"Hmmm," Draco murmured critically. "What about sexual experience?"
The heat that was rising to Harry's cheeks went cold as he felt the blood drain from his face. "I... er... not with... I mean..."
"Sex with a man?"
"No! I mean... I... I haven't..."
Draco's mouth dropped open. "Wait just one minute. You're almost twenty-one years old, and you're a virgin?"
There was nothing Harry could say. Thoroughly put-out, he leaned forward and thudded his head on the edge of the table. He heard the scrape of Draco's chair on the wooden floor as Draco pushed back from the table.
"I don't know about this, Harry. I mean, your idea makes sense. I'm shocked, largely because you thought of it yourself, whereas I hadn't, even after I'd been studying this stuff for so long, and it might just work. But... I can't ask you to do this. I think you need to go home and think about it. I mean, there might be another way, and if there is, I don't want you to go into something this... serious without thinking it through carefully."
Harry sat up and looked at Draco. The man was leaning back in his chair, looking completely flustered. His right hand was fisted into his own hair, and his left arm was wrapped around his torso, as if he were both trying to rip himself apart and hold himself together at the same time.
For his part, Harry was feeling much the same way that Draco appeared. The idea had popped into his head, and without understanding why, he was becoming rapidly fixated on doing it. He didn't want to be told that it wouldn't work - he was sure it would - and he didn't feel like considering other options. "Do you not want to do it?" Harry pressed, knowing he was being reckless.
"I... that's not the point." Draco was looking everywhere except at Harry. "If we were to do... what you suggest... we couldn't do it in half-measure. The magic would recognize that it was false unless it's done with total commitment. It would be painful, and invasive, and it would take something from you that you could never get back."
"Isn't twenty-one years too long to hold on to it anyway?" When Draco didn't reply, Harry pushed again. "Am I that unappealing?"
Draco grimaced, and for a moment, it looked as if he might cry. "No," he whispered, so softly that Harry almost couldn't hear him. After taking a sharp breath, he turned to face Harry. "Do you remember what I did almost three years ago, when you came to return my wand?"
"You did a few things..." Harry ventured.
"Right as you were leaving, when I ran after you."
The memory, as fresh as if it had only happened yesterday, came back to Harry in a rush. Draco suddenly enfolded him in a tight embrace. For several seconds, the world was nothing but Draco: Draco's arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders, Draco's chest heaving against his own, Draco's breath warm on his neck, and Draco's heart pounding through his shirt. Finally, Draco pulled away, leaving one hand to rest lightly on Harry's arm.
Harry blinked a few times, and found that Draco was indeed resting one hand lightly on his arm. "Harry... do you remember?"
"Yes," he said. "I do. I always wondered why you did that."
"Part of me wondered, too," Draco said, his voice tinged with sadness. He pulled his hand back. "The only answer I have is that I wanted to. I couldn't let you just walk away."
"You just wanted to thank me," Harry suggested, trying to be reasonable, but it sounded hollow, even to his own ears.
Draco scoffed. "If I'd just wanted to thank you, the handshake would have been sufficient. I might have even sent you a fruit basket." He shook his head. "I don't hug people, Potter. Harry. I hug my mum. I've even hugged my dad. But in general... it's not something I do."
"Then... why -"
"Because I wanted to," Draco repeated. "In those weeks following the battle... the whole world changed. My world changed. I had a lot of thinking to do. I knew I had to re-evaluate everything I'd ever thought, everything I'd ever known, everything I'd ever believed, or I wouldn't survive in that new world. And I started with you." He was shaking slightly, and Harry could see that his emotions were running as close to the surface as they could have without spilling over.
"You liked me."
"You saved my life."
"You still like me."
"It's hard not to." In one smooth moment, Draco stood and walked over to the fireplace and leaned one arm against the mantle. "I'd been told to hate you. Taught to hate you. Indoctrinated to hate you. It was easy... until you decided not to leave me to die."
Harry could only respond with an automatic, "It was the right thing to do."
Draco looked back at him bleakly. "And you're one of the few people who actually does the right thing. It made you easy to hate. It makes you easier to... respect. You could have left me behind... in that fire. I'd never been so terrified in my life. If I'd been you, I would have flown out of there so fast, and not looked back. But you saved me. Fuck, you saved everyone's lives."
A cold thread of reality pulled Harry back to himself. "Not everyone's," he whispered.
"So do you think that means you killed them, because you didn't save them?" When Harry couldn't answer, Draco's mouth fell open slightly. "You think so, don't you?"
"How long have you felt like that?"
Harry shrugged again. "I've always felt a bit guilty, mostly because wherever I went, someone told me that I was responsible for everything." He looked down at his messenger bag on the floor. "After the battle, some of the guilt went away, but now... it keeps getting worse."
Draco's eyebrows furrowed together. "Tell me more."
Harry clenched and opened his fists a couple of times, still staring at his messenger bag, trying to think. "I think about what happened at the battle, and before it, and I feel as if I hadn't done enough. Not soon enough, not quick enough, not smart enough, not strong enough. I watched Fred die, right in front of me -" He paused and coughed a couple of times, then sniffed once. "- and there was nothing I could do. I was supposed to save everyone. I was supposed to make it better. But it's still not better. I won, but I failed. I failed."
With that, he kicked the messenger bag. The box containing the Elder Wand flew across the floor and fell open. The Wand rolled out of it, and lay there, as if mocking him. Harry shuddered. "And that... that thing... it won't let me forget."
For what felt like a long time, the room was silent as both men stared at the Wand on the floor. Then, Draco stepped forward. He reached into his pocked and pulled out a piece of green cloth. With it, he picked up the wand, put it back in the box, and closed the latch. He put the box back into the messenger bag, then held it out to Harry.
Harry took it, tentatively, and stood. "What should I do?"
Draco closed his eyes slowly, then opened them again. "Go home. Don't take the Wand out of the box, whatever you do. Come back tomorrow night, at sunset. I need to do a bit more research, and prepare some things. I want to make as sure as possible that what we do will gain the respect of my wand, but not get me stuck with the Deathstick. It won't be an easy line to walk, but I think we can do this. I think we need to do this."
"What are we going to do?" Harry asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"I... I don't think I can tell you. You can probably guess some of it. As you said yourself, you're not that naïve." A little smile tugged the corners of his lips. "But... based on what I know of wandlore, quests and rituals, and your specific situation, I think the details have to be unknown."
"Just... when you come back tomorrow night... you can't question anything. You'll need to do exactly what I tell you to do. Oh, and here..." Draco reached into his sleeve and withdrew his own hawthorn wand, holding it with the handle towards Harry. "Keep that with you, and when you arrive the first thing you'll need to do is be ready to give it to me, formally."
Harry tentatively accepted it. "I can do that."
"And then, have the Elder Wand ready, too. Keep it in the box though."
"Are you sure you can do this? Because once we start, there's no going back."
Draco looked at him, eyes sad, face neutral. Then, to Harry's surprise, Draco leaned over and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
Before Harry could ask any questions, Draco held up a hand to silence him. "Well then, here goes nothing." Draco took a deep breath and set his jaw. A strange look came over him. "Leave my home, Potter, and do not return until you are prepared to accept my power and dominance over you."
Realizing immediately that the ritual had actually begun, Harry tipped his head and shoulders forward in an awkward bow. "Yes, sir."
Draco didn't say another word as Harry grabbed a pinch of Floo Powder, tossed it into the fire, and called out, "Twelve Grimmauld Place!"
Harry stumbled out of his fireplace to find Kreacher in the library. The ancient house elf was hopping from foot to foot in agitation, wringing his hands.
"Master is home, oh, Master is home. Kreacher hopes that Master will not be angry. The Weasley girl is here, and Kreacher can not make her leave!"
It was all Harry could do not to drop Draco's wand in surprise. "Shit!" He looked around frantically for a place to hide the wand and messenger bag. "Kreacher, try to hold her off, distract her... anything. I've just got to go put this stuff in the study, and then I'll -"
"Then you'll what, Harry James Potter?" Ginny was leaning against the doorframe, blocking the way out of the library. Her arms were folded over her chest, and her eyes were narrowed.
"Ginny!" Harry fumbled with the wand again, trying to hide it without appearing too obvious. "I was just... taking care of something... and I -"
"You know, I didn't think anything of it when Kreacher said you were under the weather on Sunday. I was a bit irritated that you wouldn't talk to me yesterday, but I let it slide. But tonight was my father's birthday party, and you said you'd be there. I figured you'd have to be really ill to miss that without even contacting me."
"I can explain -"
"Oh no, I don't think you can." She took one foreboding step into the room, her arms still folded menacingly. "There's something very odd going on, and you're going to tell me, in detail, exactly what that is."
Harry's mouth had gone completely dry. He shifted his messenger bag casually to move it out of direct view and slipped Draco's wand into it. "There's nothing going on, Ginny. I have been feeling under the weather for the past couple of days, and I admit, I got distracted with a project I picked up -"
"It's true!" He was beginning to feel a bit frantic. "Just ask Kreacher. I didn't leave my bedroom for two days, and only left the house today to gather some information."
"Bollocks, sliced thin, sautéed, and piled high with a load of bullshit," Ginny retorted flatly.
It was then that Kreacher let out a loud snort. "Miss Weasley is doubting Master's honesty. Kreacher does not like that. Kreacher will tell you that Master did not leave the bedroom for nearly two days, and that Master was feeling quite unwell." He wrinkled up his nose and looked away. "Such a rude girl. Kreacher does not understand why good Master puts up with her, not believing Master when he told the truth."
Then, as if remembering where he was again, Kreacher looked back up and Ginny, then turned to Harry and said, "Kreacher will prepare tea, if that would please Master. Kreacher will happily add some more of the cold remedy Master has been using."
Harry mentally thanked Kreacher and the twist of fate that had given him the most clever, Slytherin-like house-elf he'd ever met. "Thank you, Kreacher." He coughed and sniffled for good measure. "That would be great. I think the last dose is wearing off."
The sneaky house-elf gave Harry a wink that Ginny couldn't see before bowing low and shuffling out of the room.
Harry was just starting to feel a bit relieved when he turned back to Ginny and saw that her scepticism hadn't lessened at all. "Okay, so you've been sick. The only remaining question is how you caught that cold."
In an instant, Harry's mind was scrambling again. "I... probably caught it at the restaurant."
Ginny's face twisted into a harsh smile. "For the first time tonight, I think we agree on something."
"Who did you meet in the men's room?"
Harry could feel the blood drain from his face, and the room suddenly felt cold. "Wha-what are you talking about? I just... needed to think, and it took a while."
"You must think I'm really, really stupid." She finally let her arms fall to her sides, then crossed the room to stand almost toe-to-toe with him. "You left the table in a huff, and were gone for almost twenty minutes. You came back, and your entire demeanour seemed to have changed. You appeared quite pleased with yourself, except you were still distracted. It doesn't take a bloody genius to recognize that your distraction had simply changed to something far more enjoyable."
"No... I was still thinking about the Elder Wand!" Harry felt a flash of vindication in the fact that he was able to say something absolutely honest that supported his stance. "I'd just figured out something new about it."
"Really?" Ginny planted her hands on her hips and cocked her head. "What did you discover about your wand Harry?"
The insinuation was unmistakable, and the glimmer of hope that Harry had felt disappeared completely. Ginny tilted her chin up in victory. "Nothing to say for yourself, have you? You know, I had wondered how a man of your age could seem so chaste and innocent. I've practically thrown myself at you more than once, and you maintained your virtue. I should have known. I really should have known."
"It's not like that," Harry protested, but it sounded weak, even to his own ears.
"I'm sure it's exactly like that. A tryst in the men's room, an upswing in your mood, and then you disappear for three days. Finally, I come here to find you returning from some mystery destination."
"You-you were at his house, weren't you?"
Harry looked at her bleakly, knowing the only way out of this was to come clean. "Please, Ginny... just hear me out." He turned and began pacing as he spoke. "You're right; I met someone in the men's room. Someone I've known for a long time, but hadn't seen him in years. He could tell I was upset, and when I started to tell him about the Elder Wand... he knew already, Gin. He knew. He's done research on wandlore - he's an apprentice wandmaker."
"Yes! And he was there - at the battle - and saw what happened. So during his apprenticeship, he's been doing research on wand ownership and specifically the Elder Wand."
"And I supposed he showed you intimate details of his knowledge of wands?"
"Yes... no! Damn it, Ginny, it's not like that!" He walked over to one of the chairs in the corner of his library and dropped his messenger bag alongside it before collapsing into the chair himself. He leaned his forehead into his hand and began massaging his temples in a futile attempt to ward off an oncoming headache. "Please listen. I'll tell you exactly what's going on. I admit that I was over at this man's house. He wanted to show me his research, and he loaned me his apprenticeship journal. It had all manners of notes and details about the Elder Wand, and the details of wand ownership. He's specifically researched the possibility of stranding a wand without an owner, and we think we've found a way to strand the Elder Wand."
"Mmm-hmm. Do tell," Ginny said as she took a few steps closer.
"Dumbledore's plan had been to die without being defeated, and he ensured that by picking the exact method of his demise. Frankly, I don't want to die. The Elder Wand has been driving me completely insane though, and I need a real way to get rid of it before I lose my mind. So, we're working on another way of stranding the Wand. I'd have to be defeated somehow, symbolically if necessary, but I would have to seek out and willingly submit to this defeat, or the wand would give its loyalty to the other man."
"How interesting." Ginny's voice was directly above Harry's left shoulder; she was standing over him. Her tone was scornful, and she obviously didn't want to believe any of it. She certainly didn't believe all of it.
"It's the truth!" Harry cried, wishing that she would just accept it and leave. He looked up at Ginny's guarded expression. "He could help me! And then maybe I can put all this bullshit in the past and just get on with my life. With us..."
"You really think so, Harry?" Ginny asked, her voice bitter. "Can you really say that you'll ever look at me as a partner? If you really just like men -"
"That's not the way it is!" Harry almost shouted in protest. He coughed, then lowered his voice. "I... oh Merlin. Ginny, I... I haven't even admitted that much to myself. And I like women! I like you just fine! I just..."
"Distracted by other things?"
Harry sighed deeply. "Distracted by everything."
"Are you interested in men?"
"I don't know. I can't say. I... I can't believe I'm talking about this."
Ginny walked around to face him and sat on the edge of the ottoman. "Do you honestly still like women?"
"Do you honestly still like me?"
Harry nodded again, hoping that he was being honest with her, and with himself. "I just need some space to figure things out. To figure me out. I never really had a chance to do that before. And I need to figure out how to get rid of this fucking Wand. I'm hoping this man can help me."
"You're hoping he can help you... but with which parts?" Ginny's face was neutral, but her eyes were getting tight.
Harry closed his eyes. "Maybe all of them."
"Who is it?"
Harry felt a little jolt shoot through his stomach, and his eyes snapped open. "Wha... er... I... I don't want to say."
Ginny frowned. "You said he was at the battle. I'm going to assume that it's not an ex-Death Eater, so that means it was either a student, a teacher, or even a member of the Order. You can tell me now, or let me figure it out on my own, but trust me, I'll find out."
Knowing Ginny, Harry had no doubt about that. "I'll tell you, Gin! Just not now. Please? Just give me time."
Still frowning, Ginny turned her attention from Harry to the messenger bag, which had tipped over on the floor. Without another word, she reached into it, and pulled out a very familiar wand. "I've seen this before."
Harry's eyes went wide, and he could hear his own pulse rushing in his ears. "You have?"
Ginny nodded, still staring at the wand. "Oh yes, I've seen this before. You used it when your wand was broken, back while you were hunting for the Horcruxes, and during the battle. And then, you returned it to its owner: Draco Malfoy." She looked up at Harry. "You met Malfoy in the restaurant bathroom, didn't you?"
Harry opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
"And you were at Malfoy's house, weren't you?"
Slowly, Harry began to nod.
"I see," Ginny said evenly. "You know, it even makes a bit of sense." With that, she dropped Draco's wand on Harry's lap and stood in one smooth movement. "I think I should be leaving now."
Although that had been what Harry had wanted since he saw her in the doorway, he suddenly wasn't so sure. He grabbed the wand and scrambled to his feet. "Wait, Ginny, I didn't mean it like this."
She'd already been walking towards the door, but she stopped and turned back to face him. Her face was resigned, and even a bit sad. "I know, Harry. I know." She walked softly back to him. She raised her hand, and for a moment, it looked like she was going to stroke his chin, but then she pulled her hand back. "You've been asking for space for a while, and I never gave it to you. I wanted you to be happy, and I thought I could find that for you." She paused, then smiled a melancholy sort of smile to herself. "If you decide you still like women... that you still like me... come back when you're ready. If you decide you like men - although I hope it's not going to be Malfoy - I'll still be here as a friend. And if you decide that you like both... we'll figure it out."
"Ginny...?" Harry wasn't quite sure what to make of this.
"Just... whatever you do with him about this Wand issue... be careful, okay? You seem to really think he knows what he's doing."
She pursed her lips. "Your judgment saved the wizarding world. I suppose I'll trust your judgment here."
Not knowing what to say, Harry gave a thin smile.
Ginny mirrored it. "Just don't stay away too long." She leaned forward on her tip-toes, kissed him on the side of his chin, then turned and walked out of the room.
A moment later, Kreacher appeared in the door, balancing a tray with two teacups. "Kreacher brought the tea, but it seems that Master no longer needs it."
Harry stared past Kreacher into the hall, listening to Ginny's feet as she went down the stairs, then to the definitive sound of the front door shutting. "Thank you for trying, Kreacher," Harry said vaguely. "I think, maybe, that I'll need something a bit stronger than tea."
The last dregs of Monday were trickling into Harry's study from the window behind him. It looked just like Thursday, and Harry could almost pretend that it was still Thursday, except for the fact that the entire world had changed since then. He was staring at the box containing the Elder Wand, which was in its usual resting place on his bookshelf. On top of that box was Draco's wand. The bottom edge of the sunlight crept up the bookshelf. The box was slowly engulfed by the shadow, then the wand on top of it.
Harry had thought briefly about sending an owl with a message that perhaps they should consider finding another way, or even firecalling to back out, but he knew that if he did that, he'd regret it for the rest of his life. Besides... he had to return Draco's wand. The irony of that fact made him laugh aloud, and the sound echoed strangely in the silent house. Kreacher was gone for the night - Harry had given him permission to visit the house elves at Hogwarts while he was gone. The house felt empty and desolate, and Harry had no wish to stay there any longer.
With trembling hands, Harry lifted the box off the shelf. He held Draco's wand in his right hand, and tucked the box under his left arm. Now, he was ready. There was nothing left to do but to go.
He crossed the hallway to the library, and with no further hesitation, grabbed a pinch of Floo Powder, tossed it on the fire, and called out, "Dragon's Lair!
The Floo sent him sprawling onto the familiar oriental rug, but everything else about Draco's flat was different. Harry pushed himself to his knees, carefully maintaining his hold on both wands, then looked around. The dining table was gone, and the couches had been pushed against the walls, and everything was lit only by candles, placed strategically throughout the flat. A hint of the remnant daylight was barely visible around the curtains, but aside from that, they might as well have been underground. All considerations about Harry's surroundings disappeared as Draco walked into the room.
Draco was wearing a surprisingly simple black robe draped over what appeared to be nothing more than black trousers and a black shirt. In the dim room, if Harry had squinted, he would have looked like a bright blond head bobbing along with no body; an amusing thought. Harry had to quickly suppress the urge to laugh.
Draco strode up to him with confident, measured steps, and looked down at him sharply. "You will not enter my domain to laugh. Do I make myself clear?"
Remembering clearly just how important it was to do this properly, Harry quickly cleared his head. "Yes."
"Acceptable. So, you have returned. Tell me, Harry Potter, are you asking me to conquer and control you?"
Harry bowed his head. "Yes, sir."
"Do you willingly accept my dominance over you?"
"Do you come here of your own free will, and your desire to submit?"
"Then, what do you offer to me as a gift, as a token to show that you acknowledge my dominance?"
For a moment, Harry had no idea what Draco was talking about, then remembered the obvious answer.. He held out the hawthorn wand with his right hand, and bowed his head more deeply. "A wand, sir. It was loyal to me, but it's rightfully yours."
Draco considered him for a moment. "Are you sincere in this offering?"
"Tell me of your sincerity."
It only took a second for Harry to realize that he had to really show the wand that it should switch loyalties to Draco, and that Draco was trying to prompt him without being blatant. "I took this wand wrongfully," he began, carefully selecting his words, "and must admit that I never did overpower you. The wand was outstretched and I took it, but I did not earn it. There was no struggle, there was no duel. I took advantage of momentary confusion, nothing more. I was held captive in your family's dungeons, powerless, and escaped by good fortune alone. The wand is yours."
Harry thought he felt a faint tingle from the wand in his hand, as if something was prickling, then fading from existence, but he might have imagined it. Regardless, Draco seemed satisfied. He reached out and took the wand from Harry's hand.
"Your offering is sincere, and so the wand leaves you, but I should still enjoy proving myself to it, to ensure its full loyalty to me." He pulled a piece of green cloth from a pocket of his robe and gently wrapped the wand in it. "What else have you brought?"
Following smoothly, Harry pulled the box with the Elder Wand from under his arm, and held it out. "I offer to you the Wand of Destiny." He started to open the box, but in a heartbeat, Draco's hand lashed out and slammed the cover back down. Just as quickly, that same hand whipped across Harry's right cheek.
"You bring me that cursed piece of antiquity! You are most certainly not worthy of it, but I have no use for it. Keep that box closed!"
The sting of Draco's hand on his cheek continued to burn, and Harry suddenly realized that this was no game. Feeling a twinge of fear, Harry bowed again. "I'm sorry, sir."
Draco wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Stand."
Harry was on his feet so quickly that his head spun. In the meantime, Draco began walking around him, counter-clockwise, in a slow circle. "You come to me willingly so that you may take your rightful station and relinquish ownership of this wand. You feel you are unworthy of this wand?"
"As it should be," Draco stated confidently, nodding to himself. "You are not naturally a man of command or leadership. You only assumed that role because you had no choice. In truth, you know that you do not deserve greatness on par with the Elder Wand. You're normal, Harry Potter. Mundane. Unworthy of this Wand."
"That's true, sir."
"You will only speak when I ask you a question, Potter. That was not a question." An instant later, Draco's hand struck his other cheek.
A burning desire to strike back welled up in Harry, but he quickly squashed it down. It was part of the act, part of the ritual. Draco had to display dominance without restraint, and Harry had to submit. He'd agreed to it. Quickly, he hung his head in a show of apology and shame. Draco must have approved, because he began to circle again.
"Tonight, you will have to submit to three things: power, pain, and pleasure," Draco said, calmly and evenly. "Tolerating these things will not be enough. You must embrace them, and fully accept that you have no power over such things. However, at every stage, you may refuse to continue. You may choose, but you may not control. You may refuse, but you may not dominate. And you absolutely must be willing. Do you understand, Potter?"
Harry was sure that this was Draco's reminder that he had to be completely willing to do this, and that any reservation on his part would render the entire ritual useless, or even cause Draco to be stuck with the Elder Wand. "I understand, sir."
"Excellent. If at any point you decide that you are unable or unwilling to submit, you must say, 'the Elder Wand is mine!'. That will end the ritual, and you will be forced to carry the Deathstick with you until it destroys you, as it has destroyed other unworthy witches and wizards before you." Draco stopped circling directly in front of Harry and faced him, eye to eye. "The Elder Wand will not be mine. Will it be yours?"
"The Elder Wand will not be mine," Harry echoed, his voice more forceful than he'd expected it to be.
Underneath Draco's solemn expression, Harry caught a flash of friendly encouragement and pride; the only indication that Draco was merely filling a role. It disappeared just as quickly. "So you say. We shall see. Enter my lair, Potter. Place the Deathstick in its coffin on the table between the two candles. Then, remove your clothes, fold them neatly, and wait for me on your knees."
A surge of some emotion, balanced tightly between fear and excitement, raced through Harry. He made an awkward bow, and then hurried towards the spare room.
The door was open, and like the rest of the flat, it was illuminated only by candles. The table Draco mentioned was quite obvious; it was a small oval table with two large pillar candles placed at either end, with a space just large enough for the box between them. Harry quickly settled the box into place, and began removing his shoes. As he did so, he took another look at the room.
The bookshelves were gone. Instead, the floor was dominated by a single piece of furniture, if "furniture" was the right word for it. The structure looked like a giant "X", made out of polished wood. It was taller than a man, with clips at the tops and bottoms of both cross-beams, and Harry was quite certain what the clips were for. On the side of the room with the table was a small couch. Along the opposite wall, the leather implements were still there, and as Harry began unbuckling his belt, he studied them.
Several of them seemed to be thick bundles of leather strands of varying textures and hefts. One of them had braids instead of strands, and another had metal beads attached to some of the fells. On closer inspection, yet another seemed to be made out of lengths of rubber instead of leather, and Harry suspected that it could cut into flesh easily enough. Next to those, Harry found two paddles, one perfectly round, and the other long and rectangular with two circular holes cut through it. He shuddered. Next were a few canes made out of what looked like bamboo, but it wasn't, and then a couple of whips...
"Familiarizing yourself with the instruments of your subjugation, Potter?"
Harry spun around and looked at the wall by the door to see Severus Snape, leering at him from his portrait frame. "Snape!"
The portrait rolled his eyes. "It's obviously too late to demand that you call me 'Professor', but I require, for the sake of this ritual, that you address me as 'Sir'. Do I make myself clear, Potter?"
"Eloquent as usual. It appears that Mr Malfoy has not explained my presence. While it is not necessary for you to know why in this case - only to follow orders - it will probably be simpler for me to explain.
"Draco will be taking direction throughout these proceedings from me. I will give the instruction, he will enact it, and you will submit to it."
That hit Harry harder than Draco's hand across his cheek moments before. "Why?" he asked, horribly confused.
Snape glowered at him impatiently. "Because, you foolish boy, if I am ultimately giving the commands, then I hold the power in this arrangement. And, last I checked, a portrait is unable to take possession of a wand."
Realization washed over Harry, and he couldn't help but admire the sensibility behind the decision. "So... it's another safeguard... to make sure Draco doesn't end up with the wand?"
"Ten points to Gryffindor," Snape drawled, his voice oozing sarcasm.
Harry ignored the sideways insult as he considered the next consequence of the arrangement. "You're going to be watching the whole thing?"
"You... you're going to see me naked?"
Snape leaned forward within his frame and leered. "Something to hide, Potter?"
Harry felt a flash of defiance and stared back up at Snape. "Not a chance."
Snape gave a satisfied nod. "Good."
"I thought you were straight," Harry said flatly.
"I was practically asexual in life due to circumstance. I fell for a woman because she was the only person who cared. As a portrait, I am not constrained by the precise restrictions of my fleshy predecessor, and find that I can indulge his natural attraction to both. And now, this conversation is over. Strip."
Knowing that he had no choice but to comply, Harry pushed back the defiance that was threatening to ruin this ritual before it really began, and bowed his head. "Yes, sir."
As Harry pulled down his trousers, Snape mused aloud, "If only it had been that easy to get you to call me 'Sir' when you were in school. It might have saved a fair bit of friction."
Not having been given permission to speak, Harry held his tongue.
"Of course, you always were impertinent," Snape continued. "Not that you had the salt to back up your rancor."
I won't talk back, I won't talk back, I won't talk back...
"However, regardless of the fact that you are unworthy to bear the Elder Wand... you have done well, Potter." Snape's voice softened by an iota. "It is good to see you."
Harry paused mid-motion, halfway out of his shirt, and looked up at Severus with a stunned look on his face.
The portrait was giving him a look that resembled a thin ghost of fondness, or in the least, begrudging appreciation. "The Headmaster has explained much to me over the past three years. You and I shall speak of this again..." His expression hardened suddenly. "After you have learned your place. Quickly, Potter. Socks, too. Fold them and put them aside - acceptable. Now, on your knees."
Harry was in such a rush to comply that he actually fell to his knees, realizing just a split second later that the wooden floor was much harder than it looked. He had little time to consider that, however, before Draco walked back into the room.
Draco eyed Harry with a note of approval before taking off his own robe and laying it aside. In his black shirt and trousers, he cut an impressive figure. "Power," he began, "is your first task of submission. This -" He held up a leather collar with three metal loops. "- is a symbol of that power. Put it on your neck yourself."
Harry accepted the collar and awkwardly worked the fastenings. The instant it was in place, he felt a tingle of magic, and the collar automatically shrank to the exact circumference of his neck. Despite being completely exposed, he was beginning to feel distinctly claustrophobic. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to regain some sense of equilibrium when he felt something click onto the loop at the front of the collar. His eyes flew open to see Draco holding the end of a black leather leash, which was now tugging gently on his neck.
"Come closer, Potter," Draco commanded, giving a distinct pull.
Harry moved to get up, but Draco shook his head. "On your hands and knees, boy."
The floor was cold and unforgiving on his knees, and Draco kept backing up, forcing Harry to keep crawling forward.
"Ah, how I shall relish this sight," Severus all but purred from his frame. "The Boy Who Crawled. Bring him over towards me, Draco. No, sideways. Let me see... ah yes, he's not quite as small as I'd imagined. He could use some trussing up. If you would..."
"Gladly," Draco said with a languid drawl. He pulled his own wand out of his pocket and removed the green cloth, then held out both for Harry to see. "Do you ask me to use this wand to exercise power over you?"
Harry swallowed, but pressed forward. "Yes, sir."
Draco smiled deviously, then flicked his wand. The next thing Harry felt was the sensation of something ice cold squeezing the base of his cock. He yelped in surprised and looked down. A shiny silver ring had materialized, just snug enough to be uncomfortable. Harry looked back up at Draco and Severus and opened his mouth to speak, more out of shock than protest, but the instant he did, Draco flicked his wand again, and something rubbery and round filled his mouth. Reflexively, he tried to spit it out, only to discover that it was strapped in place around the back of his head.
As soon as Harry realized that he couldn't speak, instinctive panic began to set in. He tried to calm his breathing, but it wasn't working. He felt as though he was beginning to suffocate when Draco gripped his hair and pulled his head upright.
"Breathe through your nose, Potter!"
The hand on the back of his head and the warmth radiating off Draco's body next to his own was an immediate source of stability, and Harry leaned into it, trying desperately to steady himself.
"Well, well, well," Severus quipped. "He's practically melted into you already."
"Hmmm, yes, he does seem to like it," Draco replied. "He's getting hard, too. Almost impressive." Then he whispered softly in Harry's ear, "You're going to be a proper slut, I can already tell. But I did give you a safety line earlier, and it wouldn't be proper to take it away just by taking away your voice. If you can't handle it, just hit your hand or foot - whichever limb is able to reach at the moment - against the floor. I'll stop, although I don't think you'd be happy if I did. You have to want it. Can you handle that, my little whore?"
Harry nodded weakly.
"We'll call you Malfoy the Merciful for centuries to come," Severus said. "Now that you've got him trussed up like a roasting pig, what are you going to do with him?"
Draco stood, keeping his leg against Harry's side. "Naturally, I have my own ideas, but I defer to you, Severus. What shall I do with the little whelp?"
"I would say... he looks like a roasting pig. So, roast him."
"A bit harsh, don't you think?"
"This is why you aren't running the show, Draco. Have the boy lie on his back and fetch the Burning Ice potion."
Draco's hands were firm but not rough as they tugged the leash and guided him to lie on his back in the centre of the room. In the meantime, Harry's mind was turning circles.
They're going to roast me? What the fuck? This can't be right. This can't be right. What's happening?
With a flick of Draco's wand, bindings appeared and wrapped themselves around his ankles and knees. There would be no way to run now, even if he wanted to. Draco disappeared, and a moment later, returned with a container of... something, and pulled a paintbrush out of it. "I think we should do this as a testament to what our little slut is about to become." He reached out with the brush, and began writing across Harry's torso.
The liquid on the brush felt ice cold, and if he could have, he would have gasped. As it was, he squirmed.
"Hold still, Potter," Draco commanded. "Unless you intend to give up, in which case, let me know. If not, then remember: this is what you want."
Harry slowly opened and closed his eyes, then nodded his consent. As Draco continued to write with the freezing liquid, goose flesh raised over every inch of his skin. Just when Draco seemed to be running out of room, he tapped Harry's stomach with his wand, the icy chill disappeared, and he began writing again. A moment later, when the freezing sensation had seemed to cover every inch of him, Draco repeated it. It was when the cold liquid was traced down his arms and legs that Snape stepped in.
"Try not to overdo it, Draco," Snape chided. "We want to toast him lightly, not burn him to a crisp."
"Just a moment... almost done... there. I guess that will have to do." Draco stood back to admire his handiwork. "He should get to see the show, too. I think he should really see how completely we control him."
"A mirror, then," came the impatient reply, "and get on with it."
Harry couldn't quite get his brain to comprehend what was being said over him. Despite the chill from the icy script across his torso, irrational fear was beginning to take hold again. They're not seriously going to burn me, are they? They can't... I mean, he wouldn't... that's not necessary for this, is it?
In the meantime, Draco had taken careful aim at the ceiling, and with an incantation muttered under his breath, a mirror had appeared there, perfectly placed so that Harry could see himself. Before Harry could really observe, however, Snape interjected himself.
"In reverse, Draco. Do you want him to read it, or not?"
A hint of embarrassment hindered Draco's haste to use the Mirror Reversal charm, but Harry hardly noticed as he watched the view of himself in the mirror flip. He looked so... pathetic. Sprawled out on the floor, completely exposed for the world to see. Or, for that matter, Draco and Snape, which was almost as bad. Given this view of himself, Harry was torn between humiliation at his predicament, and raw terror as Draco pointed his wand at Harry.
A small tongue of flame shot out of Draco's wand and hit Harry in the middle of his stomach. The flame felt like a sharp bite on his skin, but Harry was far too distracted by the next thing to dwell on it. The lettering that Draco had traced burst into flames vivid red flames. Through his panic, he noted that the fire was hot, but he wasn't actually being burnt. It didn't make it any less terrifying. And then, he saw the words written in fire:
The sight of it was almost enough to make him forget that he was on fire. And even then, the flames died a few seconds later. It had been uncomfortably warm, but he was okay. Draco wasn't really going to hurt him. It was all perfectly safe.
A moment later, a very satisfied-looking Draco leaned over him, blocking his view of the mirror. "Hot enough for you, Potter?"
Harry tried to nod, and discovered that it took an unusual amount of effort to accomplish that task.
"Aww, look Severus, he's hot."
Severus scoffed. "I'm sure you think he is."
Draco ignored the comment and grinned deviously at Harry. "Here, let me help cool you off." He bent down and placed something shockingly cold right in the hollow at the base of Harry's neck. When it began to melt, Harry realized that it was just an ice cube. Still, combined with the heat of the fire, the slight air currents drying his sweat, and the burning heat of embarrassment, the sharp temperature contrasts were creating havoc with his senses. Trickles of cold water began to run down the sides of his neck as the ice cube melted, and he began to shiver. Although his feet were tied, his hands were free; he could remove the ice cube, but somehow he knew that if he did, he'd be violating the rules. Instead, he continued to shiver and stare at Draco imploringly.
"Oh, now my little whore is too cold!"
All Harry could do was to make a pitiful keening sound deep in his throat.
"We can't have that now." He stepped back, and Harry knew what was coming an instant before he heard Draco cry, Incendio! again. The fire hit him, and this time, the panic didn't last as long. Of course, that meant he could take in the next message that had been written across his chest and stomach, this time in green flame.
The fire went out just as it was becoming painful. As the air reached his skin, he noticed that the ice cube was still on his neck, melting. No sooner had the residual heat faded than Harry began to shiver. Draco came back to stand over him, apparently enjoying the view.
"Hmmm... cold again already, Potter?"
"So tragic, isn't it? So it would be horrible for me to do this..." He held out another ice cube so Harry could see it, and made a show of placing it just in the hollow of Harry's navel.
The ice seemed to reach into Harry's core. With nothing but the cold floor beneath him and the draft of cool air all around him, combined with the emotional tension that was overwhelming him, he began to shiver convulsively, like tremors of small earthquakes running through him.
"Do you want me to warm you up?" Even as Draco asked the question, he produced another ice cube and slowly traced it along the midline of Harry's chest, then to the left nipple, then to the right.
By the time the ice cube had reached the curve of Harry's hip, he thought he might lose his mind. Although he knew that he was asking to be burned again, he nodded emphatically.
Draco tilted his head to the side as if considering it, then shook his head. "Mmm, I think not. Unless, of course, you beg for it."
Harry could only widen his eyes in response. How the fuck was he supposed to beg with his mouth gagged? He clasped his hands together in front of him in a pose of classic pleading, but Draco only laughed.
"Come on, Potter. Is that the best you can do?" The ice cube was drawn along the inside of his thigh. "Think!"
Harry squirmed for a moment, then collapsed bonelessly against the floor, breathing hard through his nose. He stared at Draco, who stared back. Then, Harry wriggled his hips. Draco raised an eyebrow. Realizing that he was on the right track, Harry undulated his hips in a more pronounced pattern. A smile tugged the corner of Draco's mouth. Sensing victory, Harry arched his back, blatantly exposing himself to Draco.
Draco took in the sight for a moment, then drew the ice cube along the underside of Harry's shaft. For a moment, Harry thought he was going to cry, but then Draco stood back. This time, when Draco pulled out his wand and incanted the spell, Harry didn't experience a surge of fear; just a rush of excitement, relief, and acceptance.
When he looked up at the mirror, the blue flames proclaimed him to be THE BOY WHO BEGGED.
It had been planned that way from the start, Harry understood as the flames died away. Part of him felt mortified for being lowered to that point so quickly, but part of him felt proud of himself for succeeding. And yet another part, one that was no longer buried as deeply as it had been only days before, was quite aroused by the whole thing.
Only a sudden tug on his collar brought Harry back to his senses.
"Potter! Snap out of it!" Draco was standing over him, straddling his torso, and looking somewhat concerned for him. "Can you hear me?
Harry blinked and said, "Yes, sir." It took another few seconds for Harry to realize that he'd spoken aloud, which meant the gag was gone. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, wishing the taste of rubber would go away, but a firm hand on his cheek once again brought his mind to the present.
"Potter, look at me." When Harry made eye contact with Draco, Draco released his cheek and stood upright. "Sit up."
Harry complied, trying not to tip over as vertigo rocked him. After a few more seconds, Draco told him to get to his knees, at which point he discovered that the bindings on his ankles and legs were gone. The room seemed less chilly, although he didn't quite feel as if he was completely there. It was a strange, floating sensation, which made him feel as though his inhibitions were a world away. What happened here was apart from all that. Here, Draco was in charge. Here, he could follow along.
Draco grasped a fistful of Harry's hair and pulled Harry's head back. Harry didn't even think to resist, and found himself looking up into Draco's face, which was twisted in a feral grin.
"Happy down there, my lovely little slut?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir." His voice sounded strange to his own ears, but he didn't dwell on it. He was enjoying the strange sensation, which was almost like the buzz from one too many glasses of wine. Bizarrely, he could almost imagine drifting off to sleep, except Draco's hand, still holding tightly to his hair, was keeping him grounded.
"You've had enough rest," Draco mused.
Harry nodded, automatically.
And then, with his free hand, Draco unzipped his trousers.
Harry opened his eyes a bit wider to take in the sight of Draco's cock, almost fully erect, bobbing in front of his face.
"Don't look at it, Potter. Look up at me," Draco said evenly.
Harry gazed up at Draco, awaiting his next instructions. The hazy, sleepy feeling had disappeared as his pulse sped up, This, he thought to himself, won't hurt. In fact... I want to do it. I really think I want to do this.
"Feeling horny already, Draco?" Severus asked in his silkiest tone.
"What queer man with a pulse wouldn't be?" Draco responded, not once taking his eyes off Harry. "The boy wants it. Just look at him. On his knees, begging like a bitch."
"You seem to have trained him to beg very well," came the reply from the portrait.
"It's about time someone put him in his place."
"I think," Severus said slowly, "that you must remain in your place as well. Turn around, Draco."
Harry caught a hint of the surprise on Draco's face before the man turned around, leaving Harry with an excellent view of a very appealing arse. That arse, as it happened, was still covered by a pair of black trousers.
"Drop your trousers, Draco," Severus instructed, as if in direct reply to Harry's internal query.
Harry could see the muscles beneath Draco's skin twitch and shiver as clothing fell away, revealing smooth skin in nearly flawless condition. It was all Harry could do to keep his hands at his sides.
"Impatient, Potter?" Severus asked.
"You always were. Pitiful. But at the moment, understandable. Now, do exactly as I say, no more, no less."
Harry's heart was thundering, and his breaths were coming short and shallow as nerves and anticipation and fear came rushing to the surface.
"Run one finger down the crevice of Draco's arse, gently, softly. Good. Now again, but press a bit deeper. Again."
Each time Harry stroked, his finger came just a bit closer to Draco's entrance. Each time, a visible tremble worked up Draco's spine.
"Now, Potter, take your hands and hold his arse cheeks apart. Blow gently on his hole... ah, yes. He's so responsive."
Indeed, Draco was responding. He was making small whimpering sounds, all while clenching and unclenching the tight muscles around his hole.
"Stroke his hole with your finger. Massage it a bit. Press on it... just lightly. Don't push in."
Draco let out a long, high-pitched whine, and Harry could feel his own arse clench and twitch in sympathy.
Severus seemed pleased with the progress. "Now, lick him."
Harry's breath caught, and he looked up at the portrait. Severus only glared down at him coldly. Realizing that it was the only way, Harry leaned forward, and pressed his tongue firmly against Draco's hole.
Several things happened at once. First, Harry was vividly aware of Draco's scent, which was not what he'd expected. It was rich and musky, and strangely enticing. Second, he realized that his own cock was beginning to strain for attention. And third, Draco let out an animalistic growl and clenched his arse cheeks so hard that Harry had to pull away or risk having his face squished.
Severus, for his part, laughed uproariously. It was a sound Harry had never heard before, and he wondered if that alone should make him worry. "So sensitive, both of you. Draco, relax. Potter needs to practice."
"I don't know how much 'practice' I can take," Draco mumbled under his breath.
If Severus heard him, he pretended not to notice. "Potter, continue."
Less hesitantly this time, Harry pushed his tongue forward again. He traced over the puckered folds of skin, which were much softer than he thought they'd be. He explored forwards towards the perineum, and backwards along Draco's crevice. All the while, Draco kept making tight, whimpering sounds punctuated by the occasional gasp. His breathing became rapid, and Harry felt his own speed up to match. Even though Harry had no real understanding of the sensations, Draco's reaction was enough to indicate how good it must feel, and his own arse was becoming desperate for attention. He pushed back his own wants and focused on Draco, pushing, teasing, and lapping, until his tongue accidentally pushed past the outer ring of muscle.
Draco's spine arched, and he gave a choked-off cry. "Severus... please... "
"Fuck, yes, but... please..."
"Potter, don't stop, but reach up with your fingers and press against his perineum, not too hard."
Draco came with a cry, teetering on his feet, before finally collapsing to his knees in front of Harry. Severus looked down at both of them, smirking. "Well then, it appears that Harry is your slut, but both of you are my sluts. How convenient."
From behind, Harry saw Draco's shoulders bunch up and his head lower. He could only guess, but he was certain that Draco was glaring at the portrait. However, Snape wasn't done yet.
"And I'm amused, Draco; I've watched your games in this room many times, but I've not once seen you come so quickly, so easily, from a simple rim job. Perhaps Potter has some talents -"
Harry was thrown backwards as Draco whirled around and sprung at him. Draco's mouth was on his own, but instead of a crushing kiss, Draco's teeth latched onto Harry's lower lip. Fingernails raked along his neck, shoulders, and back, all but ripping into him as he was pushed down by Draco's weight. The sudden onslaught startled him, and he began to struggle.
Draco released his lip and looked down at him, from inches away. "You've submitted to power, but can you handle pain?"
Harry's heart continued to pound as Draco stood, pulled up his trousers, and buckled his belt. An instant later, the leash was clipped onto his collar again, and he scrambled to his feet as Draco gave a firm upwards tug.
Without further ceremony, he was led to the strange, X-shaped structure that dominated the room. He didn't have to be told to know what to do, but waited for instructions.
"This, in case your virginal eyes have not seen such a thing, is called a St. Andrew's Cross. Stand against is, but don't lean your weight on it yet," Draco said flatly. "Now, your hands - grab the handles."
Harry reached up and grasped the handles which dangled from each of the upper ends of the wooden planks. To his surprise, the handles were made of a soft foam, and felt comfortable in his hand, just as the wooden beams that formed the "X" were smoothly polished and not unpleasant against his skin. However, his attention was directed at Draco, who was reaching up to secure leather cuffs around his wrists, which were clipped to eye-loops just above the handles. After Draco finished buckling the second cuff, reached around Harry's face and removed his glasses. Then he stepped away. A moment later, he said, "Obscuro!"
The world went dark. Or Harry went blind. It took a few frantic breaths before Harry realized that it was just a blindfold. Either way, the result was the same.
Footsteps moved around him, and stopped in somewhere to his front.
"Do you accept pain, and welcome it as I would give it to you?" Draco asked. He was much closer than Harry had realized.
"I suspect that you do not yet welcome it. Rather, you will tolerate it. I shall have my victory when you beg for it."
The footsteps moved back behind him, then off to the side. There were soft thudding and shuffling sounds, and the footsteps approached again. Even with the knowledge that Draco had come up alongside him, he still jerked in place when something cool brushed over his arse, then up his back.
"Wha...?" The half-formed question slipped out before he could stop it.
"It's a flogger, Potter. You're going to love this."
Harry wanted to ask if that was meant in seriousness or jest, but even if he dared open his mouth again, he wouldn't have been able to get a word in before he heard the whooshing sound of something flying through the air. The flogger hit his back, but nowhere near as hard as he thought it would. In fact, the leather almost felt soft, and the impact seemed like a gentle thud.
Another whoosh, and the lashes hit their mark again, just under the first blow. It wasn't painful at all. Another whoosh, another thud. It was almost pleasant, really.
A few hits later, and Harry could feel the skin on his back becoming warm. Several thuds after that, he was beginning to relax into the rhythm, when there was an unexpected pause. He cocked his head, wondering if, to his disappointment, it was already over, when -
The fells of the flogger came lashing so hard that all Harry could do was to gasp in silent shock. A second later, it came crashing down again, with the full force of a swing delivered by an adult wizard. The next swing struck across his arse, where the skin hadn't been given a gentle warm-up, and Harry finally cried out.
Draco said nothing, and Severus was remaining silent as well, and the flogger struck again, catching his arse from the other side.
The sensation was both sharp and dull at the same time, with a heavy thud that caused his whole body to shake with the force of the strike. Each time, he felt a need to cry out, but he bit it back. The sting came more sharply, and tears threatened to leak out of his eyes, but he blinked them away and refused to let it break him.
The lashes kept coming. The location varied. The amount of time between strikes varied. The strength of the impact varied. Harry didn't know what to expect. Every time he would anticipate a strike ahead of time, he would automatically tense his muscles. Inevitably, Draco wouldn't send the next blow until he had relaxed. Soon, he realized that fighting it wouldn't save him from the next strike, and he could only let himself accept the lashes as they came, and ignore the pain.
It was then that the assault paused. Harry lifted his head - he hadn't realized that it had fallen forward - wondering if he had passed that stage of the game. He was disoriented from the blindfold, and almost dizzy from endorphins. He felt Draco move up behind him, close enough that he could feel the heat from Draco's body, but not touching. Fingers clenched in his hair, and his head was pulled back firmly but gently.
"Still with me, Potter?"
Harry nodded weakly.
"Good. Because I'm not done with you, yet."
Harry straightened his head a bit, and his shoulders went rigid.
Behind him, he could hear Draco give a faint sigh. "Listen for a minute, Potter." He moved in closer, and pressed his chest against Harry's back. His next words were whispered. "You can tolerate pain because you've done it for so long. In fact, you don't know how to not feel pain. Everything is a fucking crisis. Everything has to be felt and suffered on and on, and it doesn't end. You cling to the pain, bottle it up, and drink it in large doses whenever you feel that you might have a chance to be happy. That's why you're fucking miserable."
Behind his blindfold, Harry blinked once, twice, and his mouth pulled itself into an involuntary frown.
"That's right," Draco went on. "You've got to be so stoic and tough; the great big hero, you are. You convinced the world, but you haven't convinced me. I can see right through you. You close off. You go it alone. And instead of really experiencing the pain, riding it through, and letting it go, you sit on it, and it festers. You resist. You can't accept that you're human, and human beings need to feel.
"You don't mourn, you don't cry, and you don't live. How the fuck do you think I survived after the war? I may not have my money, or my mansion, or my father's approval, but I have my life, and I experience it every fucking day."
Harry's breath hitched, and he bit down on his tongue. He felt Draco nodding.
"There you go again, Potter. Biting it back. Swallowing it down. You," Draco said harshly, "need to live again." He reached around Harry's torso and dug his fingers sharply into the skin over Harry's heart. "You need to feel pain, and embrace it. You need to live again, or it won't matter whether you get rid of the fucking Wand or not. If you don't live your life, you might as well keep the Deathstick, because that's what it is. You need to get through this, not around it. You need to cry, and you need to bleed. And I need to bring you there."
With that, Draco released him.
By now, the emotions Draco spoke of were welling to the surface. Harry instinctively thought to take a deep breath and calm himself, but before he could do that, the flogger came hammering down on his back again. Then on his arse. Then on his back again. Then across the backs of his thighs. Over and over, the flogger shook him, and each time, it felt as if something inside was being shaken loose.
Each stroke seemed to bring back a painful memory; a friend lost, a mission failed, a dream destroyed. Unlike the stale memory, however, the physical pain made it tangible, and brought it to the present. Everything was right now. Everything was real.
It began with a gasp. Then a choked sob. Suddenly, it was as if floodgates had been released. Tears came pouring down Harry's face, accompanied with silent sobs that racked his body as thoroughly as the flogger did. Harry barely noticed when the flogger was cast aside, and Draco began spanking him. It stung more, and Draco left his hand firmly in place at the end of each stroke, giving skin-on-skin contact which only intensified the rush of emotions.
Please, please... more. Gah... harder... please, harder. I need... I need... fuck, it hurts. Please... more...
Harry was only vaguely aware of the fact that he was saying these things aloud, and was equally unaware that Draco had stopped hitting him until the blindfold was removed, and Draco was standing in front of him. Harry squinted to see, and found that Draco looked as dishevelled as he felt.
"Does it hurt?" Draco asked.
Harry nodded. "It's... it's good. I needed... still need..."
"Go on, Draco," Severus said calmly from his frame.
Then, Draco held up a knife. It looked razor sharp, and Harry somehow knew what Draco meant to do.
"Do you want me to?" Draco asked.
Draco reached out with the knife and held it over Harry's heart. Delicately, he pressed the edge of the blade against the skin. Harry watched as it sliced a shallow cut into him, feeling it with every fibre of his being as it was drawn slowly across the surface of his skin; the cold steel, the hot blood as it ran down in a tiny rivulet. An eternity later, and far too soon, Draco withdrew the blade, leaving a small but vivid cut over his heart.
"Thank you," Harry whispered, still staring at the small trickle of blood, which had already begun to slow.
"Don't thank me yet," Draco replied.
Harry looked up at Draco to see that his eyes were red and moist, but his face was once again neutral.
"You've submitted to power and pain, but pleasure might be the most difficult for you." He took a couple of steps back, and without ceremony, removed his shirt, trousers, and underwear. Standing naked, he asked, "Can you accept what you crave, and submit to it?"
Harry squirmed, and for the first time since the flogging began in earnest, really remembered that he was chained in place. His heart seemed to freeze in his throat, and the cuffs on his wrists felt too tight. "I... I don't know what I want."
"Liar," Severus accused in an offhand manner. "You are merely hoping that Draco will just have his wicked way with you so that you never have to admit your deepest secret aloud; that Harry Potter likes cock."
Harry opened his mouth, but had nothing to say. He looked at Draco, standing casually a few feet away, and felt the heat rising to his cheeks. That wasn't the only thing rising, either.
"Your own body is betraying you, Potter," Snape reproved him. "Admit it! Say it!"
"I... I can't... I -"
"Then say that the Elder Wand is yours," Snape commanded.
"Then own up to your life, Harry," Draco said as he began to walk a large circle to the left, around towards Harry's back. "Out of the three things to which you needed to submit tonight, this is the only one I think you wanted before the night began."
As he passed behind Harry, he reached out one hand and brushed it across the skin on Harry's arse, raising gooseflesh all over his body. "Come on, Potter," he continued, this time, dropping his voice a few tones lower. "Just ask me."
"I want to... I really do..." It was like an internal battle waging on inside. This was unknown territory. Pain and power: those were familiar already; those he understood, even if the context was different. Sexuality... pleasure... he'd had too little pleasure in his life. He'd never given himself license to even begin exploring such things, as if he hadn't been worthy. To do that would be to open himself to vulnerability on a level his brain couldn't even fathom. His desires became his demons, and he'd locked them all in a cupboard under the stairs in the back of his brain, as if that could squash the life and magic out of them.
He watched as Draco finished walking around him and came to stop directly in front of him, waiting expectantly. Harry licked his lips. "Do it."
"Do what?" Draco asked innocently.
"I'll do it when you beg me for it, specifically, and in detail." Draco pursed his lips, then looked over at Severus, who nodded. A grin blossomed across his face. "But I have ways to get you to say it."
Harry opened his mouth, but before he could say a word, Draco lunged forward and trapped Harry's mouth with his own. This time, he didn't bite, but the kiss was forceful and possessive, and left Harry breathless. Hands grabbed hair, and Harry gripped the handles of his restraints tighter.
When Draco pulled back, he let his hands drift down from Harry's hair, across shoulders, down pectoral muscles, leaving pink streaks from his fingernails. He stopped at Harry's nipples, and with a devious smirk, pinched.
The sensation shot twin jolts straight to Harry's groin, and he gasped, then whimpered softly. Apparently pleased with the results, Draco pinched a bit harder. When Harry writhed and gasped again, Draco winked, and twisted.
Harry all but howled and arched his back so hard that Draco lost his grip. That didn't seem to matter, because Draco was already moving around to Harry's back. Harry wanted to turn around, but the restraints held him fast.
Fingernails dug into Harry's shoulders, then raked down his back. Perhaps it was painful, but at that point, Harry had worked past pain, and it was just sensation. Intense, all-encompassing sensation that set his nerves on fire, making him feel so completely alive. He moved with it, pressing back against the sharp points that were digging into him. Draco continued to claw Harry past his hips, around the outsides of his thighs, and back up underneath the curve of his arse. He ended with a feather-light caress just shy of Harry's crevice, and Harry couldn't stop himself from whining
"Do you like that, Potter?"
Fingers began tracing the backs of his legs, starting just belong his knees, beginning to scratch partway up his thighs, and ending with a sudden sharp clawing motion across his arse.
"Yes?" Severus drawled.
Harry's mouth fell open incredulously, but he was instantly swept up again in the feeling of Draco's fingernails scraping down his back. When this scratch ended, Draco stepped away, leaving Harry trembling and panting.
A moment later, Draco had stepped up behind him again. Something thin, cool, and hard pressed against Harry's back, between his shoulder blades, and he recognized the familiar tingle of magic.
"This is the wand you returned to me. I've exercised dominance over you in power and pain, but now this wand will give me its complete loyalty and assist me in having you submit to pleasure."
The next thing he knew, a warm, stinging, caressing, sharp, rich, overwhelming feeling flooded through Harry. It was like the sensation of being on the brink of an orgasm, but not quite reaching it, but localized to the spot where the wand was touching him. The tip of the wand began to trace down along his spine. Lower and lower, until it reached the crevice of his arse. Draco moved it more slowly now, but he didn't stop. Harry could feel it approaching his entrance... knew what was coming... waited desperately for it to come...
The wand was withdrawn. Every trace of the sensation coming from it stopped cold, and Harry let out a gasping sob.
"Tsk, tsk, Potter. You haven't asked for it yet."
"Please... please do..."
"Please do what, Potter?" Draco's voice was low and suggestive. He pressed up behind Harry, and gently brushed the wand across his arse again, just close enough for Harry's hole to feel it, but far enough to be nothing but sheer torment. Harry bucked, trying to get his arse closer to the wand and that oh-so-amazing spell that Draco was using, but once again, Draco pulled it away. "What do you want me to do? Please put my wand in your arse? Maybe you want me to fuck you with it, too? That would be fitting - Harry Potter, fucked good and hard with the wand he stole. I'd ease it in... slowly... wouldn't want to damage your delicate virginal arse. Then stroke after stroke, I'd fuck you with it until you saw stars."
Harry thought his heart was creeping upwards into his throat, making it hard to breathe. He couldn't reply. He couldn't even nod. He tried, but all that came out was a tight whimper.
Draco chuckled. "Or maybe I'll use my hand. One finger, then two. I'll watch that tight little hole of yours spread wider and wider. Maybe I'll fit my whole hand in there. I can imagine you like that. Stretched wide open, and still begging for more."
Harry could almost feel the ghosts of those sensations as he imagined Draco doing exactly that. His knees were becoming weak. Draco must have noticed this, for he shoved one leg between Harry's, physically supporting him, but also letting Harry feel a fully erect cock nudging at the cleft of his arse.
Draco also wasn't done speaking. "Or maybe you want me to stick my tongue in there, like you did to me. Slick and firm, working my way around your hole. Would you like to see how that feels, Potter?"
Harry nodded weakly.
"Hmm, I don't think you mean it."
Snape interjected. "You're being far too gentle with him, Draco. A portrait needs his vicarious thrills eventually."
"Too gentle?" Draco asked, as if he'd just been handed a challenge. "Well then, let's see what our little slut can take before he begs for it."
Harry's breath caught, just a second before Draco's foot pushed his legs apart. The next thing he knew, Draco was attaching the ankle restraints, ensuring that Harry would be fully exposed with no way to hide. His feet were just a bit too wide apart to be comfortable, and the muscles in Harry's legs went rigid, trying to keep his arse clenched together.
Draco laughed. "There's no hiding it, Potter." He traced the wand up the inside of Harry's right leg, and down the left, noticeably avoiding everything in between. "I can see everything. I can do anything. The only question remaining is what you want me to do... and whether you've got the balls to ask for it."
Harry opened his mouth, but shook his head. He was overwhelmed. Draco had said that this would be intimate and invasive, but Harry hadn't expected anything quite this intense. He realized that this was purely naivety on his part, but there was nothing to say or do about it now. He had to face it, but he just wasn't... couldn't quite...
A warm hand moved between Harry's legs, and fingers gentle caressed his balls, rolling them, stroking them. Harry shuddered, and the pressure became a bit more firm. The fingers ventured forward to touch the base of his shaft, then pulled back slowly, pressing against his perineum before Draco withdrew his hand.
Automatically, Harry pushed his arse backwards, trying to follow the sensation, but Draco's hand was out of reach. Swallowing his pride, Harry asked, "Please keep touching me."
"Where?" Draco asked coyly, then brushed a hand across Harry's shoulder. "Here?"
He touched the small of Harry's back. "Here?"
A hard slap landed across his left arse cheek, surprising him. "Please who?"
"Please, what? Touch your arsehole? Stick my finger in it?"
"Yes, please sir."
"Say it yourself."
Harry took a deep breath. "Please touch my arsehole, and... and stick your finger in it. Sir."
There was a pause, then Harry felt the light brush of fingertips at the base of his spine. They traced downwards, tracing into Harry's cleft, which was spread wide open. The fingers reached the wrinkled skin around his hole, but the touch was maddeningly light.
"Please, sir... harder?"
"Good..." Draco purred, sounding very pleased. The fingers were withdrawn, but immediately replaced, coated with something cool and slick. They glided around the rim of his hole, occasionally passing right over his entrance, but not pushing in yet.
Harry couldn't hold back a whinge. "Please put your finger inside me."
"If you really want it..."
"Fuck yes... sir," Harry gasped.
Without another word, Draco slowly eased a finger past the tight ring of muscle. Harry clenched at the intrusion, and Draco held still until the muscles relaxed again. Then, he began to move his finger, just a bit at first, but then in circles, stretching Harry and creating a rush of sensations that Harry had never imagined.
"More, please," Harry moaned, not realizing that he'd spoken until after the fact.
The finger pulled out, and was replaced immediately by two. Soon, both were moving, rotating, and scissoring in his arse, driving him insane. Suddenly, Draco shifted his position and hooked both fingers around, hitting something, and Harry felt a rush of pleasure shoot through him.
"Oh fuck, fuck, fuck, please..."
"Is that what you want?" Draco whispered in his ear.
"Say it, Potter. Say exactly what you want."
Draco's fingers pressed against that spot again, and all inhibitions went out the window.
"I want you to fuck me," Harry begged, not caring that he sounded like a needy, whining slut. "Please fuck me."
"I want... you... your cock... in me."
"Yesssss," Draco hissed. He pulled his fingers out of Harry's arse, and the next thing Harry felt was something warm, slick, and blunt pushing against him. Draco wrapped his arms around Harry's chest so that his entire front was pressed along Harry's back, and Harry felt completely contained, controlled, and owned by Draco.
"Say it again," Draco demanded, nudging his prick against Harry's entrance, just barely starting to breach it.
"Fuck me! Please fuck me now." Harry was ready to start crying in desperation.
A second later, Draco's cock began to press into him, stretching him more, filling him slowly. Just when Harry thought he couldn't possibly go any deeper, he felt Draco's hips against his arse, and he knew that Draco was buried in him up to the hilt. Draco's hands were clutching him tightly, nails digging into his chest. The fullness in his arse and restraint of Draco holding him firmly was enough to pull a sob from him. It came out as more of a choked hiccup.
"You like this, Potter." It wasn't a question that Draco whispered against Harry's neck.
All Harry could do was to nod.
Slowly, Draco pulled back, letting Harry feel the slow burn of Draco's shaft moving through him, then pushed back in. This time, Harry leaned back into it, letting some of his weight fall against Draco.
"Oh yes, you like this," Draco said again. "You love the feeling of being claimed. You love the feel of a cock in your arse." He pulled out and thrust in again, faster this time. "You've needed to be fucked like this for years." Another thrust. "Look at you, pushing back against me like a wanton animal in heat." And another.
Harry whined and pressed back again as Draco's cock drove into him, and this time, it hit that spot, sending pleasure ripping through him.
Draco began thrusting into him without pausing, still speaking in his ear. "You're mine, Potter. I've finally got you. My little queer slut, Harry Potter, innocent and untainted until now. For the rest of your life, no matter where you go or who you fuck, you'll never be able to forget that I was the first one inside you. I claimed you. I owned you. And I fucked you as you begged for more."
The mere suggestion of there being more was enough to make Harry beg. "Please, more? Is there more?" he gasped through ragged breaths.
"Your arse is mine," Draco said as he slowly scratched down Harry's torso with his left hand, pausing just above Harry's straining cock, "and so is this."
Draco grasped Harry's shaft firmly and confidently, and Harry bucked against his restraints, pushing back, burrowing Draco's cock even deeper in his arse, even though it felt impossible. With a deep chuckle that Harry felt through his core, Draco massaged the head of Harry's shaft with his thumb, while slowly squeezing and releasing with the rest of his fingers. Harry shuddered.
"That's right, Harry. You've wanted this for ages, and I'm the only one who can give it to you." He fingered the cock ring briefly, which Harry had almost forgotten was there. "I can give it to you, or I can deny you."
He began to stroke Harry's cock in time with his own thrusts. "Tell me that you want this."
"Fuck, I want this!" Harry gasped.
"Tell me how much you like a cock in your arse."
"It feels... so good... wanted to be fucked for so long... your cock in my arse..."
Draco was speeding up his thrusts, the motions becoming more urgent but still under control. "Do you want to come, Harry?"
"Yes, oh fuck yes!"
"Then come," Draco growled. The cock ring disappeared, as if Draco's command has been a trigger for the magical ring as well as for Harry. As soon as the ring was gone, Draco impaled Harry with a particularly violent thrust, clutching him fiercely, possessively.
It was Harry's undoing. He felt himself tip over the edge, and with a cry that didn't even sound like his own voice, he came harder than he'd known was possible. The world seemed to disappear in a white fog, and he closed his eyes to keep it from blinding him. A few seconds later, he heard Draco cry out in his ear, and with a few final, desperate strokes, come inside him.
When he returned to his senses, Draco had pulled out. Harry found himself perversely grateful for the restraints on his wrists, for without them, he was sure he would have collapsed to the floor. Draco was leaning down and releasing the ankle cuffs. Then, still breathing hard, he pressed up against Harry's back to support him, and gently unbuckled the cuffs on his wrists.
Harry let go of the handles and sagged backwards against Draco, letting the man steady him.
"Come on, Harry. Walk with me," he whispered.
Harry nodded. It took all his effort to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and he was thankful that Draco was leading him, because he didn't know where he was going. A moment later, he was lowered onto the soft cushions of a couch and wrapped in a blanket. His glasses were placed back on his face, but the world didn't fully come into focus. Harry closed his eyes.
The couch dipped as Draco sat beside him. Not caring how pathetic he looked, Harry leaned over and rested against Draco's shoulder, and was rewarded with a warm arm wrapping around him.
"You're shaking," Draco observed. "Are you cold?"
Harry shook his head. "Not cold."
"Are you okay?"
Harry nodded. He couldn't answer questions just then. He was beyond the point where he could think. For several long moments, the world went by without him, as he relished the odd feeling of just being. It was amazing.
Then, a sharp BANG! shook him from his daze.
Draco sat bolt upright. "What the...?" He jumped to his feet
Harry blinked and looked up to see a small cloud of smoke drifting upwards over the table next to the couch. He stood on wobbly feet and teetered over to where Draco was standing, staring at it, with a look of disbelief on his face. "What is it?"
Draco didn't answer right away. Tentatively, he reached into the box on the table and removed two halves of a familiar Wand. He turned, holding the pieces up for Harry to see. The Elder Wand was broken.
"I think," Draco finally said, "that we did it."
Harry nodded, looking from the useless scraps of wood to Draco's stunned expression.
"Well," Severus chimed in, "if you boys are no longer needing my services, I believe I shall go report this to Albus. I'm sure he would be quite... amused by this tale."
Before either of them could protest, Severus turned and walked out of his frame.
Harry's mouth fell open slightly. "You don't think he would really give... details to Dumbledore... do you?"
Draco, still looking stunned by the unexpected turn of events, shrugged helplessly. "I guess the old man needs to get his jollies somehow."
"But... why would Dumbledore 'get his jollies' from hearing about two young men..." Harry's voice failed him as Draco shook his head with a bemused smirk.
"Come on, Potter. Did you ever notice how much purple that man wore?"
Harry stared at the wall over Draco's shoulder as the epiphany hit him like a well-swung flogger. Draco laughed, gently took Harry's arm, and guided him back to the couch.
"Sit and rest for a few more minutes, Harry. You need it right now."
Harry nodded mutely. After some time, the strange buzz coursing through his body faded into a level of relaxation that Harry had never before experienced. The Elder Wand was gone. It was as if a huge weight had been taken off his shoulders. His life could really begin now. Everything was new and fresh. His body was blissfully limp, and his mind drifted.
Suddenly, a thought came to him. "Draco?"
"What... what am I going to do about... well..."
"You mean, perhaps, where are you supposed to go from here? What are you supposed to tell your friends?"
"Tell them whatever you want, whenever you're ready - no more, no sooner."
"What about... er... you know..."
Harry cringed and nodded. "It's just that... I've always felt like I had this future I was supposed to live out. I always thought I was supposed to have a family, children, normal things. I thought that when I got rid of the Elder Wand, I could start that normal life. But... I like this. I really think I want this." Although the question was far too vague and demanding, Harry's thoughts were too open for him to hold back. "What is the future supposed to be?"
Draco sighed and pulled Harry a bit closer. "The future," he said slowly, "is whatever you want it to be. You've conquered your past. Just wait and let the things come, and make the decisions you feel are right for you. The future... hasn't been written yet."