Seeing the Light
by FearlessDiva
a sequel to Tissue of Silver, being in (extremely) belated honour of Zarah's day of birth.

The Daily Prophet
10 December 2000

RUMOUR HAS IT! by Hidelia Higgenbluth

Rumour has it that Hermione Granger (20), War Hero and Research Genius, will be tying the knot in the Spring with Graham Cobb (21), a fellow researcher at the Oxford Institute for Scientific and Magical Research. Tomorrow night's engagement party will be the social event of the season, and the ceremony will no doubt be the Wedding of the Year. Friends of the couple say it's been "a whirlwind romance," and note that poor Graham has a lot to live up to: Hermione was engaged to the late Ron Weasley, youngest son of the Minister of Magic, until his tragic death during the last days of the War, and subsequently romantically linked to Super Auror Harry Potter himself! I'm sure my readers join me in wishing the couple every happiness.

11 December 2000, 2:35 p.m.
Malfoy Manor

Dear Sev:

Here are the Muggle clothes I promised for this evening's round of torture party. And, yes the shirt is burgundy, but the rest of it is black, at least, and the long-cut jacket is going to look fabulous on you. The one small joy I shall have of this evening is seeing you in something with a bit of colour, so do please indulge me just this once?

Given the date, however, I really won't blame you if you decide not to go. You know I'm eager to have you there for moral support, but you must be in a very poor mood indeed and I wouldn't want to feel as though I'd coerced you to attend. Then again, perhaps nothing that happens at the party could make you feel any worse, in which case you might as well go.

Or perhaps the date makes no difference to you at all, and you are well over all of it, and you will be fine this evening. I certainly hope this is the case, for then I won't feel guilty for whining to you all night and dirtying your beautiful new Muggle jacket with my tears of boredom. Yes, I do sometimes feel guilty about things. Rarely.

At any rate, Harry and I will stop by the Green at 7ish, and if you don't feel like going, you can just tell us to sod off, and we will. Or if you prefer to come with us and abuse Harry with tremendous sarcasm and expressions of loathing, I suppose we will put up with that as well. Let me just ask Harry . . . yes, he says that's fine and he's used to it by now.

We'll be seeing you around 7, then.

Always the extra flobberworm hair in the potion of your life,

Draco J.

Draco squinted into the mirror as he tied his tie. The blue shirt set off his grey eyes exactly as he'd intended, but he wasn't sure about the tie. He'd tried three different ones now, and he just couldn't seem to make up his mind. "I don't know why I even have to go to this stupid party," he grumbled.

"Because you're whipped, dearie," the mirror answered back.

"That's it exactly," Harry's voice said from the doorway to the dressing room. Draco made a face at the mirror, and thereby also at Harry standing behind him, at which point he got a good look at what Harry was wearing.

Draco turned and choked back a gasp. "You're going in that?"

Harry clutched at the lapels of his black leather jacket. "What's wrong with it? I thought it looked rather nice."

Rather nice was rather an understatement. Draco had always loved a man in black leather, and Harry looked positively edible. But as usual, Harry was completely missing the sartorial point. "It's an engagement party, Harry. Even if it is Hermione's and overrun with Muggles, it's still the sort of thing to which one is expected to wear a tie at least." The top two buttons of Harry's black shirt were undone, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of pale skin and fine dark chest hair. Draco licked his lips, but forced himself to keep his mind on the matter at hand. "Besides, don't you think all black is rather an extreme statement for attending an ex's engagement party?"

"I'd bet you ten galleons Snape tossed out that burgundy shirt of yours and reverted to his usual black."

"Sev didn't used to shag the bride-to-be, at least to the best of my knowledge - "

"Ewww!"

"And Sev gets to do whatever he wants because he's Sev. And whether he's wearing unrelieved black or not, he will be wearing a tie. And so will you. Go change."

"I don't want to. I like this jacket, and I like this shirt, and I don't want to wear a bloody tie. It's going to be strange enough, you know, without adding feeling as if I'm suffocating all night into the mix."

Draco scowled at him. "If it makes you uncomfortable, I'd rather stay at home anyway. I've told you this a dozen times. If you're not willing to admit to our relationship in public, I'm perfectly happy to stay out of sight." His voice sounded petulant even to him, and it annoyed him. He turned back to the mirror and began fiddling with the tie again.

Harry came up behind him and put his arms around him. "If we start showing up places as friends, people will get more used to the idea, and then when we do come out it won't be such a shock. And I want you to be there. I like spending time with you."

"I know." Draco shook him off and tightened the tie so that he almost choked himself. "You just don't like admitting it. Wear whatever you want, I don't give a fuck." He stormed out of the room and headed down to the parlour to pour himself a drink before they left.

And as for the sound of Harry's sigh echoing down the hallway, Draco steadfastly ignored it.

Draco was well into his second drink when Harry came down to the parlour, still wearing the black shirt and the black leather jacket. "Are you ready to go?"

Draco tossed down the remains of his whisky and set the cut-crystal glass down on the coffee table. "I suppose. We're meeting Sev at the Green."

"Okay, fine. Let's go." Draco knew that not complaining about going with Sev was a concession, even if Harry looked less-than-thrilled and his throat remained resolutely tie-less. Draco felt marginally cheered.

They found their coats and started the walk out to the front gates where they would Apparate to Snape Green. Hogwarts had broken up for the Christmas holidays, and now that Sev's wretched father had finally had the decency to die, Sev was spending more time at his ancestral home. Draco always rather liked Snape Green, for all that it was dark and gothic and basically the antithesis of the Manor's rococo lightness. It was cold and ebony on the outside, but had strange, unexpected pockets of warmth hidden around it.

The gates of Snape Green opened to them as soon as they Apparated. They made the short walk to the house and one of the house elves opened the front door to usher them inside.

Sev was in the library stretched out on a dark leather sofa, dressed in the Muggle clothes Draco had sent over, wearing socks and no shoes. He had one hand curled around a bottle of excellent brandy - Lucius' favourite brandy, in fact - and the other hand tucked under his head. It seemed to take him a moment to focus on the figures at the end of the room, but once he did he jumped up and embraced Draco in a paternal hug, the bottle still in hand.

"Jacques! So glad you're here!"

If such exuberance weren't evidence enough, the smell of Sev's breath left no doubt in Draco's mind that his godfather was several sheets to the wind already. He didn't drink to excess very often, but Sev had a famously prodigious tolerance for alcohol. He must have been drinking for hours to be so far gone.

Draco patted Sev on the back affectionately and gently pushed him away. "It's good to see you too, Sev. I see you've taken to the bottle in honour of the date."

"Drinking to himself's memory," he said, waving the bottle carelessly. "May he rot in hell for all eternity." He took a long swig of amber liquid, with no more reaction than if it was tea.

"Let's go sit on the sofa for a moment, shall we, Sev? Do you know what you did with your shoes?"

Sev allowed himself to be manoeuvred onto the sofa, and Harry hovered on the other side silently to provide support should it be needed. Draco shot him a grateful look and was rewarded with a small smile.

"Get the fucking house elves to get the fucking shoes," Sev said. "Useless little bastards. Lumilla!" he shouted into Draco's ear. Draco winced. Sev never got sick when he drank but the wicked mood swings were unpleasant enough. Draco wished he'd had more to drink himself before he left. That was really the only way to cope; drink enough and Sev's rapid shifts from one emotional state to another started to make sense.

A nervous looking house elf appeared at the doorway. "Master bellowed?" she asked.

"Lumilla, Master Severus seems to have misplaced his shoes. Do you think you could find them for us?"

"Yes, Master Draco." She disappeared again.

Draco raised an appreciative eyebrow at Harry. "That's what real house elf respect looks like," he said.

Sev waved a hand. "It's all an act. They stick their tongues out at me when they think I'm not looking."

Harry laughed. "What about all that hitting themselves in the head with lamps and such when they say something against their masters?"

"House elf PR," Sev sniffed.

Lumilla returned with a pair of black ankle boots, silently handed them to Sev, curtseyed and disappeared. Sev looked at the boots as if he wasn't quite sure what to do with them.

"Have I always had these boots?" he asked.

"Well, not since the dawn of time, I would imagine," Draco answered. "But they do look familiar, yes."

"Hm." He began to shove into them, but he hadn't loosened the lacings so his feet wouldn't slide in. Harry was regarding the scene with an expression of strangled but deep amusement. Draco took the boots away from Sev and started undoing the laces.

"You know, Sev, a sobriety spell might not come amiss at this juncture."

"NO!" he howled. "Cast a spell on my person without my permission and you will face my dark and bloody wrath! Nowhere on earth will shelter you from my vengeance!"

"Okaaaay. Ten points to Slytherin for high drama. I was merely suggesting that perhaps you would like to sober yourself up a bit, before making an appearance in public. Seeing as how you're having some difficulty getting into your boots without assistance." He handed Sev the now-unlaced boots.

Sev got his feet into them this time and managed to lace them up and tie them. "I'm sober enough," he said with a nod as he tied the last knot.

Draco shrugged. "It's your funeral. I am allowed to mock you until I tire of it, though."

"Jacques, you always mock me. Whether I'm sober or not. You mock everyone."

"Oh, yes. So I do." He smiled sunnily. "Are you sure you're up for this? If you'd rather not go, we can soldier on without you."

Sev shook his head emphatically. "Granger asked me to come. She was my best student, you know. Next to you. But you don't count."

"Oh, that's just so typical. The title goes to Granger because I don't count. Why shouldn't I count?" Draco could feel a full-scale pout coming on.

"Because you're not my student, you're my son." With that caveat, Draco's pout melted away in a rush of slightly discomfited filial pride. "For all practical purposes, I mean," Sev continued, "not biologically. With that hair and those eyes, you couldn't be anyone's but himself's, though I always thought you favoured Narcissa for the most part. You used to be so little! So little and cute!"

He leaned against Draco and reached up and mussed his hair affectionately before Draco could squirm away. Perhaps the fact that they'd reached the deeply embarrassing you-used-to-be-so-little phase of Sev's intoxication while they were still at the Green meant he'd be spared another iteration of it in public. But he rather doubted it. In fact, it looked as though it was going to be one of those evenings that achieves new definitions for discomfort with every passing hour. By the end of it he'd probably be grateful if public declamation of his previous littleness and cuteness was the worst embarrassment he suffered. He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair to set it right.

"She asked me, I'm going, that's final!" Sev said such sudden conviction that Draco jumped. He privately thought that Sev wasn't doing Hermione much of a favour, but he knew better than to try to argue with him at this point. The next time he cycled through one of his strangely lucid phases, Draco would make another attempt to persuade him about the sobriety spell. That was probably the best he could hope for.

If he were as selfish and evil as everyone claimed, he thought, he'd ditch the party and drag Harry with him, and they'd spend the evening shagging like aphrodisiac-dosed rabbits. But no, despite the fact that no one ever gave him any credit, he would do his boyfriendly duty, to the boyfriend who wouldn't admit to him in public no less, and go to this stupid party. He was a martyr. A long-suffering, much-put-upon, deserving-of-sainthood martyr. Some Muggle should paint portraits of him looking beautiful and half-clothed and hang them in museums in Italy. He rolled his eyes in a fashion that he fancied was reminiscent of St. Sebastian.

"Well, we might as well go on, then," he said.

Harry gave him an odd look. "What's that you're doing with your eyes?"

It was going to be a long night.

They Apparated to a secluded alcove on the grounds of Balliol College in Oxford, as indicated on the invitation, then walked through the grounds a short way to the Jowett Walk Building where the party was being held. Harry thought Snape was keeping his feet surprisingly well, considering how drunk he was, and Draco seemed to be less brassed off than he had been.

Harry was particularly glad of this last. There was nothing worse than an evening-long Draco-pout, and he'd witnessed a few. But wearing a tie had seemed completely pointless to him, and he figured it was as good a night as any to put his foot down. Draco was going to be testy and out of sorts regardless, what with the coming out issues and the public appearance. Harry had often wondered if some degree of empathic ability came along with being a Seer, because Draco was particularly sensitive to large groups of people. Well, wizarding people, anyway. He said he could feel them standing around hating him, which seemed like sheer Draconian hyperbole in addition to being somewhat paranoid, but then again, there were an awful lot of people who hated Draco. Maybe the fact that much of the gathering was non-magical would make it easier for him. Harry could only hope. If they all got out of this party without serious emotional or physical injuries, Harry would be profoundly grateful. He wasn't laying any bets on it, however.

They climbed the steps to the Jowett Walk Building and checked their coats in an alcove of the ante-room, then entered the Grand Hall. It was very similar to the Great Hall at Hogwarts, a large, high-ceilinged rectangular room with pointed gothic windows and polished dark wood panelling. But instead of long tables with benches, small round tables with white linen cloths were scattered throughout the room, with a bar at one end of the hall and a dais full of a dozen classical musicians at the other. The room was already nearly full with milling guests. Harry spotted many familiar faces - Arthur and Molly Weasley and the twins, Alastor Moody, Headmaster MacGonagall, a scattering of various Hogwarts old boys and girls who had survived the War, Ministry officials, and friends of Hermione's from the Institute whom Harry had met before. It seemed like every minor celebrity and self-important politician had managed to wrangle an invitation, not surprising given Hermione's status as a War Hero and her relation to the Minster's Family. This was one of the big social events of the season. Hermione herself was standing at the end of the hall near the dais, giving instructions to the musicians. She finished talking to them, turned and saw Harry standing in the doorway with his Slytherin entourage. She smiled at him and waved but her eyebrows quirked up in surprise and she gave him a questioning look.

Draco leaned over and whispered in his ear. "I thought you said you told her about us."

Oh, shit. "I said I was going to, but I wanted to tell her in person, and we've both been really busy so . . ." Harry's heart found a nice place to settle just below his stomach.

"So you didn't tell her." His tone set a new standard for icy. "Of course you didn't tell her. Excuse me." He pushed by Harry and set off at a determined pace for the bar.

Harry glanced over at Snape, who was looking as though he was trying to decide the best method for evisceration and just couldn't quite make up his mind. "Mr. Potter. I am constantly amazed by your ability to function with your head so far up your arse. Do you think you might opt for a surgical removal at some point? I'll talk to Draco; perhaps you should go enjoy the company of your fellow Gryffindors." He might as well have said cockroaches for the disdain that dripped from the word. Harry nodded and Snape followed Draco to the bar.

A bright flash of white light caught him staring forlornly after his Slytherins' retreating backs, thinking about how he had managed to fuck things up royally. He blinked until his vision returned, to find Colin Creevey smiling back at him from behind his omnipresent camera.

"Hullo, there, Harry!" he said brightly. "Good to see you!"

Just what he needed, Colin Creevey taking pictures of him standing around with his mouth open like a complete berk. "You, too, Colin. Um, sorry, I'd love to stay and chat, but I've really got to find Hermione."

He turned to make his way through the crowd as Colin called after him. "Okay, then, Harry. See you later on, then."

Harry's stomach was churning. Draco was so furious he hadn't even bothered to be insulting, and that was a very bad sign indeed. He knew he should have told Hermione, and he really had meant to. They had just never been able to find a time. If he pulled her aside now, that should at least prove to Draco that he was sincere. He'd start there and move on to serious grovelling as needed. With side orders of sexual favours. Hopefully.

He found Hermione in a corner having a serious discussion with the catering staff about the timing of the hors d'oeuvres, while holding what appeared to be a large picture covered by an elaborate red velvet cloth with gold tassels. The caterers marched off to the kitchen to carry out her orders, and she turned her attention to Harry. "I swear, planning the Final Assault was easier than putting this party together!" she said as she leaned the picture against the wall and hugged him. "It's good to see you, Harry." She kissed his cheek, and he gratefully hugged her back.

"So, how did you end up coming to the party with Malfoy and Professor Snape?" she asked. "I didn't actually expect Draco at all, since he hardly ever shows his face in public anymore, much less for the three of you to arrive together. And is it my imagination or is the Professor a little . . . unsteady?"

"Seriously impaired is more like it. He's commemorating the anniversary of a lost love, and I suppose getting pissed is traditional."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "And he told you this?"

"Draco told me, but Snape confirmed it."

"Really." She looked at him expectantly and when he just gazed back blankly she swatted him on the arm. "Well, go on, spill! It was Lucius Malfoy, wasn't it?"

Harry blushed a little when he realized that he might have been telling tales out of school. "It isn't much of a secret, really, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't go spreading it around."

"Oh, I won't say anything. I just always wondered. You must have become better friends with Draco than I realized, to be getting all the family gossip."

"We've got rather close, yes. Hermione, that's what I wanted to talk with you about. Is there somewhere we could have a bit of privacy for a few minutes?"

Hermione got that little line between her eyebrows that meant she was about to refuse him something and felt bad about it. "I'm really sorry we haven't had time to get together. It's just with work and the party planning and the wedding planning, I've been really swamped, and you know, now just isn't a very good time . . ." She scanned over the crowd, where the serving staff were beginning to pass through with trays. "Oh, look, I told them to serve the crab puffs first, and the spring rolls second. Damn! I'm sorry, Harry. Maybe we could get together next week, after all this madness is over?"

Harry started to protest that he'd only take a few minutes of her time, but before he could get a word in, her fiancé Graham came up and wrapped his arms around her from behind, kissing her clumsily on the ear. "Darling, the musicians have a few more questions for you," he said. He looked up over Hermione's shoulder and gave Harry an insincere smile. "Harry, didn't see you there. How are you?"

Harry always had the feeling Graham didn't like him, but he could never figure out what he'd done to put him off. "Doing well, Graham. And yourself?"

"Fantastic! Life couldn't be better. I'm marrying the cleverest, most beautiful witch in England." Whereas you're still single and a gigantic prat, was the unspoken conclusion to that sentence.

Harry smiled back at him gamely, though, for Hermione's sake. "Congratulations again, by the way."

"Thanks." Graham looked smug.

Hermione giggled as Graham kissed her cheek and she gave him a playful pinch on his forearm. "Oh, go on, you. I'd better see what the problem is with the musicians. Harry, we'll talk later, okay?" And with that she extricated herself from Graham's arms and dashed off, taking the picture with her and leaving the two men staring at each other uncomfortably.

"I saw you arrive with Draco Malfoy. Still stuck playing bodyguard to the rich and infamous, then?"

"Actually, no. I'm back to my usual duties. Draco and I are, um, friends and we came socially. Together. To the party, I mean."

"You're friends with Malfoy?"

"Yes." Harry's glare dared Graham to make something of it.

Graham just smirked back at him. "Sorry, don't mean any offence there, Harry, but you've got rather strange taste in friends."

Harry wondered if Graham was more offended by Draco's status as the public's official representative for Dark Magic or by his sexual orientation. Whichever, Harry wasn't really interested in hearing Graham's opinion. "You don't know the half of it. And I should be getting back to him. Good seeing you again, Graham," he lied.

"You too, Harry," Graham lied back.

Actually, Harry had no intention of looking Draco in the face again until he'd cornered Hermione and accomplished his mission. He killed time by getting a drink for himself, and waited for Hermione to finish what appeared to be a rather spirited conversation with the musicians, picture still in hand. Once she finished and the musicians started to play, he picked up a second glass of champagne and headed toward her. They met up near the corner of the room.

Harry handed her the glass. "You look as though you could use this."

She accepted it gratefully and drained half of it in one go. "Thanks. It's just a little stressful, you know. What with the magical relatives and the non-magical relatives and the magical friends and non-magical friends."

"Not to mention most of the Ministry and everyone who's appeared in the Prophet in the last six months."

"Oh, don't exaggerate." She finished the champagne. "I could do with another one of those, though."

Harry offered her his half-full glass, but she didn't have a free hand to take it. She laughed, set the picture against a nearby chair, took the glass and drank it down. "You're a true friend, Harry."

"So, what is that thing?"

She set both the empty champagne glasses on the table and picked the picture up, angling it away from the rest of the room so that only Harry would be able to see it. She pulled off the ornate cloth to reveal a portrait of dogs playing poker, though how they were managing to keep the cards in their paws wasn't quite clear. The pit bull won the hand and barked happily as he drew the chips toward him and the poodle rested his head sadly on the table. "Quiet, you," Hermione hissed. The pit bull looked chastened as the dealer, a collie, began distributing cards for the next round. "Engagement present from one of Graham's wizarding relatives. Who evidently didn't read the note about being discreet with magic because of the non-wizarding relatives." She draped the cloth back over the portrait and set it down. "It's rather hideous, isn't it?" she whispered.

Harry, who really wasn't sure what the polite answer to a question like that would be, hazarded, "Yes?"

Hermione snorted a laugh. "I don't suppose you'd like to take it off my hands? Wouldn't it be just perfect for your sordid bachelor pad?"

Harry's eyes widened as he imagined Draco's response upon coming downstairs to find that hanging on the wall in the parlour. "Uh, no, I. Um. Really don't think that would be a good idea." Though it would be awfully funny. The Manor's walls would probably refuse to even accept a nail to hang such a tacky object. Harry stifled a chuckle.

"Laugh it up, hero. One of these days you'll have in-laws of your own to deal with, and then you'll understand the depths of my frustration."

Harry doubted that Graham's family could be much more difficult than Snape. "All right. I'll bite. How bad could it be?"

She sighed heavily and looked around. "Graham's father." She pointed to a tall, thin man with blond curly hair very much like Graham's, wearing a black suit that looked too big for him. "Non-magical. Decided after the divorce that wizardry was the tool of the devil. Estranged from his son until last year, will bolt at the first hint of magic."

She turned and pointed all the way across the room to an attractive older woman in a red dress, who was holding what looked to be a large glass of whisky in one hand and a diminutive handbag in the other. "Graham's mother. Bitter about the religious conversion and twelve years without child support payments. Usually very charming, not holding up well under the stress of seeing her ex-husband. Fortunately, Graham was able to step in and separate them before she'd managed to untangle her wand from her handbag."

It was the same tone of voice she used to use when she delivered briefings - controlled, precise, slightly hyper, with just a hint of strain - and it made Harry weirdly nostalgic. No matter how bad things seemed, when Hermione was planning he'd always felt secure, even optimistic. It was just so Hermione to approach wedding plans with the same intensity as an apocalyptic War. He put an arm around her shoulders and waited for her to wind down.

"And don't forget the crazy great aunts, the snooty cousins and the thuggish uncles, not to mention Colin Creevey, now on his sixth roll of film. But on the positive side, I've only had to listen to Dad complain about the overabundance of sugar on the menu, oh, two or three dozen times. So, things are looking up."

She finally took a breath and that was his cue to give her a little one-armed hug and laugh. "I can see why you might be more willing to face down a horde of Death Eaters. Have you considered eloping?"

"Every minute of every day since the invitations went out." She leaned her head back on Harry's arm. "But my mother's delighted with the idea of a fairy tale wedding after the ugliness of the last few years. And I worried that Arthur might be upset but he's been so sweet and pleased that I'm happy. He keeps saying how good the wedding is for public morale . . . Take it as a warning, Harry. When you're finally ready to settle down, it's going to make all of this look like a quiet Sunday picnic. The Ministry's public relations people will be falling all over themselves."

Harry winced. They'd be falling down, all right - in a dead faint. "God, Hermione, I really should have talked to you before now. Just give me five minutes, please - somewhere less public."

He glanced around, looking for a place where he could pull her aside discreetly, when Percy Weasley suddenly Apparated right in front of him, wearing full dress wizard's robes and a long, floppy formal cap.

"Percy! What are you doing dressed like that?!?" Harry hadn't seen Hermione looking so panicked since the day in fifth year when Ron convinced her that their Potions exam had been rescheduled to that morning.

"What do you mean? Why are you dressed like that? I thought this was a formal occasion."

They were all suddenly blinded by Colin's flash as he got a picture of the woefully over-dressed Percy. "Hullo, Percy!"

"Not now, Colin," Hermione hissed. She looked around quickly, spotted a cleaners' cupboard nearby and unceremoniously shoved Percy inside it, as he sputtered incoherently. Colin gave Harry a perplexed shrug and wandered away.

"Do you think anyone saw him?" She asked Harry worriedly after she'd shut the door.

"Well, if they did it's not as if he was floating the furniture around the room or anything. They'll probably just think that their eyes were playing tricks on them or he's just, um . . . making a fashion statement?"

She rolled her eyes. "I'd bet a hundred Galleons the twins tampered with his invitation. I'd better go in there and explain things to him, and get him to transfigure his clothes to something a bit less obvious. I suppose we'll be getting off lightly if that's the worst they get up to tonight."

Hermione disappeared into the cupboard, taking the dog portrait with her, and Harry was left standing in front of the door, his mission still sadly unaccomplished. Gazing across the crowd, his eye immediately landed on Draco. Of course. Harry could never help looking at Draco. He had the cutest little evil smirk on his face, as Snape leaned over him, evidently making some poisonous comment into his ear. Then suddenly the smirk fell away to be replaced with a slightly wide-eyed neutrality. He placed a hand on Snape's arm, said something to him and slid his eyes toward the entrance to the hall. Harry turned to look, and what he saw made him wish they'd all stayed at home that evening after all.

"Sev, look who's standing in the doorway there," Draco said into Sev's ear.

Sev looked and raised an eyebrow. "Pretty. But I thought your dance card was full."

"That's Eliot. Dancing at Via Fossa Eliot. Snorting cocaine in the loo and going back to his place to shag repeatedly Eliot."

"Oh, dear." Sev drained his glass. "And Potter will recognize him, I assume."

"I would imagine so."

"What are you going to do?"

Draco sighed. "I don't know. I think that's his sister he's with. I saw some of those odd, still pictures of her in his apartment. One of them must know Hermione from the Institute or something. Sev, I didn't even tell him my real name."

Sev began to snicker. "What did you tell him your name was? Maurice? Enrique. I know, Wolfgang. Surely not Jacques, that's just . . ." At which point he was too overcome with laughing to continue to speak.

"Sev!" Draco hissed. "Please! Try to pull yourself together. I'm having a crisis here!"

Sev managed to get control of himself and shrugged, still smirking. "I suggest you have another drink instead." And with that he wandered off toward the bar, taking their empty champagne glasses with him.

"Damn it, Sev!" Draco whispered after him as loudly as he dared. Sev kept walking. Sauntering, really. Slightly unevenly. Leaving Draco entirely defenceless as Eliot caught his eye across the room.

Eliot gave him a sexy, lopsided smile, and didn't break eye contact as he leaned down to whisper something to his sister. She whispered back, and they continued back and forth for some time, making no secret of the fact that they were talking about him.

Draco wondered if Sev would think to bring him another drink, or if Sev even remembered that Draco existed, now that he wasn't standing right next to him.

Sadly, it appeared that Harry remembered Draco's existence, because he was crossing the room with great purpose. Draco wondered if the Muggles would notice if a devastatingly attractive blond suddenly disappeared from the middle of the party. Surely the Ministry would excuse the Use of Apparation With Muggle Witnesses in such circumstances. He knew all the prosecutors - they'd probably cut him a deal.

Harry was scowling at him, but Draco just smiled sweetly back. "Have a good talk with Hermione?"

"I was trying to tell her about us."

Draco rolled his eyes. "It's good to know that you're completely insensitive and dense with everyone, not just me. Harry, did you ever stop to think that your ex's high-profile engagement party might not be the best place to come out to her?"

"I thought you wanted me to tell her!"

"I wanted you to tell her six weeks ago when you said you were going to."

"Well, I don't happen to have a Time Turner handy."

"It doesn't matter. I don't care whether you ever tell her. I'm going to get another drink." He started off toward the bar, but Harry grabbed him by the elbow and stopped him. Draco stiffened. "Take your hands off me, Harry."

Harry didn't. "I noticed your friend Eliot's here. You said he was a Muggle, that he didn't know who you were."

"And that's what I thought. Now remove your hands from me before I do it for you." Draco looked him steadily in the eyes and let him see just how serious he was.

Harry let go of him, but didn't step away. "You lied to me."

"I didn't lie to you! I've NEVER lied to you. Which is more than I can say for you, given how you implied you'd told Hermione when in fact you hadn't. I can't cope with your hypocritical Gryffindor bullshit right now, Potter. I need to get another drink and cool off before I say something I'll regret."

Harry took a step back, his green eyes narrowing with resentment. "Fine, Malfoy. Have a good time."

Draco didn't even favour that with a response, just rolled his eyes and stalked away. He hoped the bar had stocked a decent whisky. With this level of stress, champagne just wasn't sufficient.

Even fuming as he was, Harry couldn't keep himself from staring at Draco as he walked away for the second time that evening. He had this dangerous swagger to his walk when he was angry, as if he could take anyone in the room apart and he knew it, but he was restraining himself out of regard for his dignity and a sense of noblesse oblige. It was infuriating. And really hot - the Malfoy trademark combination.

Contemplating Draco's rear view didn't make Harry any less annoyed with him, but it did put reconciliation in a much more tempting light. He was trying to get a grip on his temper and prepare for another run through the Malfoy Verbal Obstacle Course when someone stumbled into him from behind, spilling a drink all over him and nearly knocking him off his feet. His glasses flew off and he immediately stepped on them with a sickening crunch. The simmering anger he'd been trying to control leapt into a blaze. His heart was beating treble-time and he could feel magic floating in the air around him, just waiting for him to channel it.

"Oh, God!" a woman's voice exclaimed from behind him. "I'm so sorry! I'm such a clumsy idiot. Dreadfully sorry!"

It was only an accident, he told himself. He took two deep breaths and the swirling magic went back to ground where it belonged. Removing his foot from his glasses, he picked them up by a mangled earpiece. They dangled from his hand like the squashed remains of some spindly, exotic insect.

"Oh, my word!" the woman continued. "Look at your glasses!" She began to laugh: a loud, indelicate and wholly amused laugh. "I'm sorry, it's just so terrible that it's rather funny."

Without his glasses she was just a blur of colour and an impression of angles and curves. Black dress, wild dark hair, pale white skin, a sort of squarish face, tall, well-shaped. He held his ruined glasses close to his face to try to examine them, and heard her give a little bit of a gasp.

"Dear God, I've run over Harry Potter. Hermione's going to have my head. Shall I try to repair them for you?"

"No, I can do it. I've had plenty of practice, believe me. You're a friend of Hermione's then? From . . . uh. School?"

"I work with her at the Institute, but I'm a witch if that's what you're getting at."

"Great. Is anyone watching?"

The blur of hair moved as she gave a look around. "All clear."

Harry pulled his wand from his pocket and held it so most of its length was hidden up his sleeve. "Occulus Reparo." He really needed to learn to cast that spell without a wand. The glasses repaired themselves and Harry put them on. That was one problem solved but he was still soaking wet and smelled like a distillery.

"Here, let me dry you off at least." She cast a discreet cleaning spell and he was dry and clean. She brushed him off, laughing again. "Well, how's that for making an impression?" She held out her hand. "I'm Liz."

He shook her hand; she had a firm grip and was much prettier now that he could see her properly. Her hair was a mass of mahogany ringlets, and her eyes a light blue that Harry would have called grey if he hadn't had Draco's eyes to compare them with. The black cocktail dress she was wearing had a square neckline that showed a pleasant amount of cleavage. "Harry. Nice to meet you."

"Sure, you can say that now all the destruction I've caused has been repaired."

"I've lived through worse," he said with a smile. "So, you work with Hermione at the Institute?"

She nodded. "We're in the same department - Physics and Arithmancy. I primarily work with Muggle theoretical quantum physics but Hermione and I work closely on a number of projects, looking at the intersections between quantum mechanics and arithmancy and other forms of magic, but she's more on the experimental side."

Her eyes locked onto something over Harry's shoulder, and he turned to look. Hermione and Percy had the twins cornered and looked as though they were giving them a stern talking-to. Percy's wizarding garb had been transfigured into a drab brown suit with a bright yellow tie. Which Harry supposed was less conspicuous than a long floppy cap, but only just. The twins were nodding solemnly, as though they were really sorry and not just waiting for the opportunity to do it again.

"Was she always like that? So responsible and together?"

"Oh, yes. Even at eleven."

Liz grinned. "I'm not at all surprised."

A loud thump sounded from across the room, and nearly everyone turned to look. A man in black vicar's garb was lying in a heap on the wooden floor of the Hall, the crowd around him muttering and trying to rouse him.

"Oh, my God," Harry said. "I hope that's just someone who took the concept of an open bar a little too seriously. I'll go and look for a doctor."

"No, no. It's all right. That's the vicar. He's fine, he's just got a bit of narcolepsy."

Harry started laughing. "They chose a narcoleptic vicar?"

"Graham's father insisted. Friend of his, evidently." The vicar remained on the floor, and Colin Creevey's camera flashed.

"Huh. Hermione wasn't kidding when she said that her in-laws had been causing problems."

Liz sighed. "Sadly, no. And that's probably my cue to provide backup to the bride - my duty as a bridesmaid, you know. It was a pleasure to meet you, Harry, after hearing all about you for months. Stop by the Institute sometime and we'll make Hermione take us out to lunch."

"That sounds lovely. Nice meeting you, too."

Liz crossed the room to help Hermione, who was by now kneeling at the vicar's side and shaking him gently. Harry wandered away toward the edge of the crowd, and found himself standing next to Snape.

"Would you ever insist that Draco and I use a narcoleptic vicar if we decided to get married? You know, if we could get married."

Snape just stared at him with the horrified fascination he usually reserved for his students' most spectacular potions mistakes.

"I didn't think so."

Draco got his double whisky and retreated to lean against the wall in the corner. It wasn't long before Eliot strolled over, his blue eyes sparkling as though he was enjoying himself immensely.

"I've learned more about you in the last ten minutes than I did in five or six hours spent in rather more intimate circumstances," he said.

"Hello, Eliot." Draco took another sip of whisky.

"Jack. Or should I call you Draco now?" He raised a dark eyebrow, and Draco had to admit that he was fiendishly attractive. He was wearing a perfectly cut black suit, with a jade green shirt and a black tie with a Japanese character in green.

Draco found himself smiling. "Call me whatever you like."

"I must say I'm rather surprised to discover I've bedded a celebrity."

"You could sell your story to the wizarding tabloids and make a mint, I'm sure. I Shagged A Death Eater - One Man's Story."

"Ex-Death Eater, surely. If that. I don't need the money, Draco. And I wouldn't even if I did."

"Your sister's a witch."

"Just like Glinda." Draco gave him a blank look. "Never mind. Muggle humour. Janey's friends with Hermione. They work together at the Institute. I was in town visiting for the weekend, and I thought I'd tag along to this little soiree, since it's a mixed event. I don't get to see how the other half lives very often, you know. I'm always a little bit fascinated."

"Well, you're in luck. This is a very exclusive party. You'd be hard pressed to find a crowd more influential or renowned. All the Ministry officials, minor and major celebrities . . ."

"Harry Potter," Eliot added.

Draco drained his glass. "Harry Potter. Exactly."

"No one knows about you two, eh?"

"What's to know about us?" Draco asked casually, and added a slightly arched brow for emphasis.

"Well, that you're fucking him, for one thing." Eliot laughed. "God, I have to give you credit. You're a cool one. Smooth as silk. If I hadn't seen the way you two were looking at each other when you were arguing, I would never have known by talking to you now. Were you fucking him when you went out to pick me up?"

"Does it matter?"

Another chuckle. "I suppose not. Not really. I am curious, though."

"No," Draco admitted with a sigh. "I wasn't. I went out that night because I thought I'd never have him and it was driving me mad."

"You're in love with him."

"I'm not sure that matters, either." Draco's voice sounded a little less detached and a little more resigned than he'd intended it to.

Eliot stepped closer to him, close enough that Draco could feel his body heat and had a sudden, vivid flashback of the taste of the nape of his neck. He gently swept a stray hair out of Draco's eyes. "He'll never admit to you, you know. The publicity would be crushing. A relationship probably couldn't survive that kind of scrutiny, and do you really think he'd be willing to tarnish his heterosexual golden boy image? I'd imagine that his superiors at the Ministry would be rather insistent that he didn't."

Draco's body had evidently not received the memo entitled Monogamy: What It Means to Me. All it knew was that Eliot was beautiful, smelled good, and was already proven to be a fabulous lay. The fact that Draco's heart was breaking as he silently admitted that everything Eliot said was true seemed a weirdly separate phenomenon. He cleared his throat. "If this is supposed to be comforting, it really isn't working."

Eliot smiled and leaned up against the wall next to Draco. Very, very close to Draco. "Then take comfort in this: I've been having dreams about you. I've been going back to Via Fossa week after week hoping to catch a glimpse of you. I don't give a shit about wizarding politics or public opinion. I've been out of the closet for years and I have no intention of ever going back in. I'd love the chance to get to know you better, Draco. As publicly as you would care for. I'd be delighted to show you off - to wizards, Muggles, my family, anyone - everyone. I can't claim to have saved the world, but I can tell you that I would never be ashamed to be seen with you. Maybe that's more the sort of hero you need right now."

Eliot took Draco's empty glass from his hand, his fingers just brushing against Draco's as he did so. It took all of Draco's self-possession to keep from shivering. Eliot pulled a slip of folded paper from his pants pocket and tucked into the breast pocket of Draco's jacket. "You give it some thought, love. Call me when you've made up your mind. In the meantime, enjoy the party. Perhaps we'll talk again before the evening's finished?"

Draco nodded automatically, and watched him wander over to the bar, set the empty glass on a tray, and then disappear into the crowd. Draco rested his head against the wall behind him and closed his eyes. He felt the faintest glimmer of a panic attack starting, and he concentrated on taking even, deep breaths. Well, he thought, at least if Harry dumps me, I've an attractive place to land. He swallowed his hysterical laughter and kept breathing.

It had taken Harry all of three minutes to locate Draco in the crowd, and he witnessed the exchange with Eliot with a growing sense of outrage. His fingers closed over the wand in his pocket without his conscious volition. "Look at that!" he whispered to Snape. "He's touching him. He can't do that, he can't touch Draco's hair like that. He's practically rubbing himself all over him." He'd drawn his wand before he realized it, but just as quickly Snape had snatched it out of his hand and put it in his own pocket.

"Give that back!" Harry growled.

"Let's look at this logically," Snape said in a very reasonable tone for someone so drunk. "You're easily the most powerful wizard in Britain. You've suffered serious metaphysical damage from Dark Magic use and you're still learning to control yourself. You're in the closet and you refuse to come out, and the boyfriend you won't acknowledge is being hit on by an extremely attractive non-magical young man. I will not be giving your wand back this evening."

"You might as well. I've been studying wandless casting you know - "

"And you're not good enough yet to be dangerous. You can't even repair your glasses."

That was a fair point. "But what if there's an emergency? I could need my wand."

"You won't."

"Fuck." He watched as Eliot slipped a scrap of paper into Draco's pocket, undoubtedly a phone number, and then strolled away as smug as could be. As if Draco would know how to use a telephone - after four months he still didn't know what to do with the television remote. "Jesus Christ! He looks indecent, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed like that."

"I think he's having a panic attack," Sev said dryly.

"Really? You think so? You don't think that's the throes of lust?"

"I think you need to talk to him and apologize for being an utter prat."

"So he can tell me not to touch him again and accuse me of being a Gryffindor hypocrite? I don't think so."

"You ARE a Gryffindor hypocrite!" Snape made a disgusted noise. "In fact, go find your own godfather to whinge to. Draco's trouble enough without my taking you on as well. And if you weren't being a complete wanker to him, you wouldn't need to whinge. Go on, go find Black."

"Sirius is here?"

"He and Professor Lupin walked in about ten minutes ago. They're hovering over a hors d'oeuvres tray as if it was their final meal. Over there." Snape pointed dramatically. "Now sod off and leave me alone!"

Harry sighed and did as Snape instructed. Maybe Sirius and Remus would have some good advice for him. Or at the very least, refrain from calling him names.

As he crossed the room, he noticed a bit of a smudge on the right corner of his glasses, probably from where they had twisted and repaired themselves in his hands. As he paused for a moment to clean them with his handkerchief, a deafening bark sounded right behind him, seemingly right in his ear, and he jumped about a foot into the air. His specs fell out of his hands to land with a too-familiar clatter on the wooden floor. When he picked them up he saw one of the lenses had cracked, and his hand was in his pocket closing around thin air before he remembered that he'd been disarmed and couldn't repair it. He swore under his breath and put the glasses back on; better to look like an utter git and be able to see out of one eye than to be completely blind.

He turned to look for the source of the noise and found Hermione standing right behind him, holding the dog portrait in one hand and stifling her giggles with the other. "Sorry," she said, sounding anything but.

"Maybe you'd care to give me a hand?"

"Oh, all right. Hold this." She handed him the painting and shook her head at him as she lifted the spectacles from his face. "I swear. You'd think someone who defeats Dark Wizards all day long would be able to manage a simple Reparo spell." After a cautious look around, she cast the spell and handed the glasses back.

"You're better at it than I am," he answered with as much dignity he could muster. "Cheers." He handed the portrait back to her. "I thought you put this thing in the cleaners' cupboard."

"I did. And it mysteriously found its way out again. I was just putting it back." There was another bark from beneath the concealing velvet cloth. "Shut up," Hermione hissed. "I've never heard an inanimate object make more noise in my life."

As if on cue, from across the room Percy Weasley's brown suit lit up in flashing neon letters declaring "Never A Dull Moment - Weasley's Wizard Wheezes" and began playing the famous Wheeze jingle at extremely high volume.

"Oh my God. I'm going to kill them! They're dead." Hermione took off through the crowd still lugging the picture with her, looking every bit as murderous as she claimed. Colin was already at the scene of the crime, taking pictures of course, while the red-faced Percy looked as though he would happily sink into the floor, never to re-emerge.

Arthur wandered over to Harry, casting a forlorn gaze across the room at his sons' handiwork. "Can you believe I really thought they'd grow out of this? Instead they've made a career of acting like juvenile delinquents. I've talked to them a dozen times about choosing the appropriate venues for their little jokes, but it doesn't seem to help. Those boys are a menace."

"It's how they show they care. It's not malicious, you know that." Harry watched Hermione consult Percy and wave her hands around discreetly (with her wand up her sleeve, no doubt). The suit stopped flashing and singing and Hermione began searching the crowd, obviously looking for the twins, who had wisely made themselves scarce.

Arthur sighed. "I know, Harry. It's just such a bother at times, especially with all the extra scrutiny now that I'm Minister. And Hermione deserves a little peace and happiness, after all she's been through. I shudder to think what they might get up to at the wedding."

He had a point. Maybe the two of them could find a way to arrange a battalion of Aurors to surround the twins at all times, as a joint wedding gift to Hermione.

"Ginny said to say hello, by the way."

"She's not coming?"

Arthur shook his head. "We sent her the invitation by Muggle post, you know that's the only way we can get things to her at that University. She mailed a note back. Thanks but no thanks, it said. Say hello."

"Just say hello? No mention of who you were supposed to say hello to?"

"We're saying hello to everyone to be on the safe side. All that money we're spending so she can learn to be a writer, and she sends us six word notes."

"Well, she is a poet."

"You'd think she'd at least try to make them rhyme. Her hair is black this week," he said sadly. "She sent us a picture, one of those still Muggle photographs. She was wearing an earring in her nose."

Harry tried very hard not to laugh. "She'll be okay, Arthur. Don't worry about her."

"Well, it's good to see you anyway, Harry." He gave Harry a hearty, paternal pat on the shoulder. "I've hardly laid eyes on you the last six months or so other than at briefings. You must be doing something right - you look well."

"Thanks. I actually have been pretty happy."

"I'm glad. Life should be more than a series of duties and sacrifices." Arthur's eyes were dark with the sorrow of a son lost, one whose name was hardly spoken any more because it was too painful. And the reward for all his tireless work in stitching the wizarding world back together was to celebrate what by all rights should have been Ron's engagement, to smile and wish Hermione well and genuinely mean it, despite the fact that he would change it all if he could. Harry thought Arthur was a truly great man. And he suddenly missed Ron very much.

"You know, sometimes I feel guilty about it. About being happy when so many people sacrificed so much. But Remus said once that it's a way to honour them. That they gave everything so that there would still be a world where people could be happy, and if we don't seize the opportunity then we're wasting their gift."

"Carpe diem, my boy, that's the spirit. You and I should make some time to watch a Quidditch game and drink a pint or two. Or - do you still have that Muggle television thing?"

"I just bought a new giant screen one a few months ago, with digital surround sound and all the extras."

Arthur's eyes lit up. "Sounds fantastic! I'll bring the lager and we can watch some of those Muggle sports, that football game they have, maybe, or that game where they knock each other over and fight for the ball. Take advantage of that bachelor flat of yours."

"That sounds great." And it did. The only problem, Harry realized with a sinking feeling, was that the giant Muggle television thing was at the Manor, along with everything else. Harry's London flat was largely empty and used only as a point of Apparation for secrecy. So he'd either have to come out and admit that he was living with Draco or move all his things back to the flat for the afternoon. He could put Arthur off and it would buy him some time, but it wasn't a permanent solution.

Harry tried to imagine what Arthur's reaction would be if he told him the truth. As Minister, Arthur knew all about Draco's role in the Order's victory. He had made sure that Draco retained the Malfoy estate, and awarded him the Order of Merlin First Class. But that didn't mean he'd be pleased to have his administration's most visible PR asset publicly admitting to sleeping with its most notorious weapon. It would gut Harry to have Arthur looking at him with disappointment.

Hermione's friend Liz walked by and smiled and waved to Arthur as she passed. "Hello, Minister."

"Hello, Liz! Here, I've got someone I want you to meet. Liz McRae, this is Harry Potter."

Harry smiled and gave her a little wave. "We met earlier, actually, but I didn't catch her last name. Are you related to Jimmy McRae the Auror?"

"My father," she answered. "Do you know him?"

Harry shook his head. "No, he retired right about the time that I joined DMLE. I've heard hundreds of stories about him, though. He's a legend. I think Mad-Eye's still hoping he can lure him out of retirement to a desk job."

"Moody's not the only one," Arthur said. "Damn hard to find management who know what they're doing. Well, I am in desperate need of a drink, so I'll leave you two to it. We'll talk soon, Harry, make arrangements for that game, then." Arthur's eyes sparkled at him, and he gave Harry a wink over Liz's shoulder as he made his exit. That scheming little match-maker, Harry thought. And there he was, left to make conversation with Liz.

Not that it was really all that difficult. They talked briefly about her father, whom she obviously adored, and a little bit about the post-War restructuring at DMLE. She was whip-smart, but more down-to-earth than Hermione, beautiful, funny, and seemed unintimidated by his fame. If Arthur had custom-designed someone with PR functions in mind he couldn't have done better than Liz McRae. As they talked, he wondered how his life would be different if he hadn't had Draco to take into consideration. He'd probably be thrilled to have an introduction to a woman as lovely as Liz. They might hit it off, and everyone would be delighted. There would be glowing articles in the Prophet, cover photos on Magical Homemaking, a wedding even more enormous and complicated than Hermione's, everything that was expected of him. She probably wouldn't allow strange men to rub themselves all over her in corners. She wouldn't accuse him of being a Gryffindor hypocrite. Her father would clap him on the back and call him son, instead of offering up an array of sarcasm so dizzying it required translation. Harry would be the ever-dutiful hero, with no concept that a universe existed where he was in love with Draco Malfoy.

Liz smiled at him and he shivered a little. "You must have a million people you should be talking to, though, and I could use a refill." She waved her now-empty champagne glass. "It was nice talking to you, Harry. Do stop in for that lunch sometime."

He smiled back and said he would, and felt weirdly hot and cold at the same time. He wished that he and Draco were talking to each other, and that he could go stand next to him and hold his hand. But instead he'd have to settle for finding Sirius and Remus and stealing some crab puffs.

Draco was still concentrating on his breathing with his eyes closed when he heard Sev's voice. "You should probably sit down."

"That's not a bad idea, actually." He opened his eyes and found Sev standing there with two glasses of whisky in his hands. They found a nearby table and sat.

"Panic attack?"

Draco shrugged. "The start of one, or perhaps just a false alarm." Draco took a sip of the drink. "It was beautiful while it lasted."

Sev looked at him dubiously. "The panic attack?"

"Harry. Harry and me."

"Aren't you being a bit melodramatic? One argument doesn't mean the relationship is over."

"I'm always melodramatic." He sighed and swirled his whisky around in his glass. "But let's be honest, Sev. He's never going to admit to me in public. I've been willing to hide for a while, but I won't hide forever. I don't like the closet; I never have. It's cramped and there are spiders. So that's that."

"Perhaps you should talk to him about it before you make any decisions."

"So he can tell me that I have to give him more time? He'd put me off about it for the next twenty years if I let him. Ah, well. It's been six months I thought I wouldn't have, much less spend deliriously in love. I should probably be grateful and leave it at that."

"That's a very Hufflepuff way of looking at it."

"I like to think of it as maturity - the Slytherin option being attempting dark and heinous curses on him, and seeing as how he's already defeated one incredibly powerful Dark Lord, I'm not feeling particularly confident."

"There is that." Sev sipped his drink.

"Or maybe it hasn't really hit me yet. I just feel numb at this point."

"I know the feeling."

"Not numb from drink, you alky. I mean, maybe I'm just waiting to have my nervous breakdown until he starts taking all his things away from the Manor. Then I'll weep, and wail, and throw curses at him, and hang onto his ankles begging him not to go."

"That's more what I was expecting from you."

Draco stuck his tongue out. "Nice to know you have such confidence in me. But even if it does end with me in tears, hurling hexes out the front door of the Manor, it was an amazing six months. Were you and Lucius ever as happy as that?"

Draco knew he was pressing his luck by asking - Sev never talked about Lucius, and in fact Draco didn't generally want to talk about Lucius either. But now that his own relationship with his one true love seemed to be falling apart, hearing about Sev's seemed potentially useful. He hoped that intoxication and the fact of the date might conspire to make Sev a bit more pliable than usual.

One corner of Sev's mouth quirked up in a bitter smile. "Just because I'm drunk I will tell a few tales about Lucius. But if you ask me again when I'm sober, I'll put a hex on your hair products."

"A fairly effective threat, that. All right, I promise."

"Our first year together was glorious. I was not generally a happy young man but when I was with Lucius, I felt as if I was glowing. I worshipped him, and he quite enjoyed being worshipped. He doted on me as long as he had my utter devotion and loyalty in return. Which, of course, he did. At first." Sev took a long drink.

"So he was kind to you at the beginning? Affectionate?" Draco couldn't imagine the Lucius he knew causing someone to glow with joy, or treating someone with the tenderness of a lover.

Sev shrugged. "Most of the time, yes. He wasn't as cold then as he became later, and he was always more affectionate with me than he was with you. Perhaps it was simply that his own father had been very detached and mostly absent, and Lucius didn't know any other way to be with you."

Draco waved a hand. He didn't want to talk about Lucius' failings as a father. "So you had a glorious year, then what happened?"

"He changed, I changed, he wasn't the person I had imagined him to be. And I suppose I wasn't the person I imagined myself to be, either. But I stayed with him for far too long after I worked it out. It was a complicated and very sick situation."

Sev appeared lost in thought, and Draco was trying to decide how much further he dared to press. It might be kindest to drop the subject now, but there was something that Draco had always wondered about, and he doubted he'd get another chance to ask. "Did you finally leave him because he whipped me that summer?"

Sev sighed and looked very tired. "It was the final straw, but I would have left eventually regardless. It was long overdue. You were going to Hogwarts soon where I could keep an eye on you, so it seemed a logical time. And after he bloodied you so badly, it was months before I could look him in the face without feeling ill. Not that he hadn't done far worse in my presence before, of course, but never to anyone I cared about. As I said, we were both seriously fucked up, and being together wasn't enhancing the sanity of either of us, unfortunately."

"Do you regret falling in love with him?"

He pushed a lock of black hair out of his eyes with long, deft fingers. "The price was high, but I don't think so. I wouldn't have you, for one thing."

"You've never loved anyone else, though."

"That doesn't mean you won't, Draco. You're twenty years old, and stunning in every way. People of both genders flock to you. If your relationship with Harry doesn't work out, you'll meet someone else."

Draco rested his head on one hand and felt very, very hopeless. "But will I ever meet anyone who knows who I really am and still wants me anyway? Will I ever meet anyone I want as much as I want Harry?"

Sev remained silent, but covered Draco's other hand gently with his own. Draco squeezed back lightly, and suddenly felt a little better. Maybe they'd both end up bitter old queens, but at least they had each other.

Sev's attention suddenly fixed at the door of the hall. The bonding moment over, Draco released Sev's hand and twisted in his chair to see what Sev was looking at.

"Hmm, not bad," Draco murmured. The object of Sev's attention was a tall man dressed all in black right down to his tie, with long red hair hanging loose around his lean, square face and a fang earring dangling from one ear. "Is that a Weasley?"

"Arthur's eldest. Bill."

"I'd forgotten he cleans up so nicely. You were at Hogwarts together, weren't you?"

"He was a few years behind me. An appallingly unattractive child."

"He seems to have gotten over it."

"If you don't mind a complete lack of subtlety."

Draco laughed. "Oh, because you can't stand flashy, Lucius being the paragon of all that was subtle and restrained. Not to mention you, with your dramatic entrances and your annual speech - brewing glory and stoppering death ring any bells? Come on, Sev. You have a taste for drama queens."

Sev scowled at him. "I do not."

"You do. And you think Bill Weasley's fit."

"It is not physically possible for me to get drunk enough to admit to finding a red-headed, fang-wearing, Gryffindor-sorted Weasley attractive."

"Don't admit it, then. But I think you should go talk to him. For old times' sake. He's a fellow son of your alma mater, after all."

"Half of wizarding England's a fellow son of my alma mater. What purpose would it serve? I don't even know if he's gay."

Draco gave him a pleased smirk at the virtual admission. "Sev, he's wearing a fang earring. I'm pretty sure he's gay. And the purpose would be to talk to him. You know, conversation? I'm sure you remember the concept. What could it hurt?"

Sev shook his head. "You're insane. And I'm not nearly drunk enough."

Draco pushed his half-finished whisky at Sev. "It's an open bar," he said with a smile. "I'm going to go be elsewhere now. Have fun."

Since he'd donated his drink to the Get Sev Laid Project, he needed a new one. Once that was taken care of, he found a length of wall to claim and watched the crowd. It really was the elite of wizarding society, and Draco knew that Lucius would have been holding court in an atmosphere like this, charming and terrifying by turns, just as Draco himself used to do in the Slytherin common room. He supposed he should feel bitter that he'd been pushed to the sidelines, but actually it was quite restful. Despite how good he was at it, he'd had more than his fill of performing during the War. He was content to be left to himself now. The only thing he really wanted was Harry by his side, and there wasn't a damn thing to be done about that. No point in dwelling on it.

Perhaps if he repeated this phrase to himself like a mantra, he would eventually convince himself.

He'd nearly decided to give it a go when he felt the weight of someone's eyes on him. Scanning across the crowd quickly solved the mystery. An older woman, in her sixties perhaps, was standing at the edge of the press of bodies, looking him over. Her wig was slightly off centre, as was her lipstick, and her head was tilted as if she was listening very carefully to something no one else could hear. The glass in her hand was the twin of the one in his own. She smiled at him, displaying a gash of scarlet lipstick on her teeth, and then winked.

Draco blinked. Surely the stress was getting to him and he was imagining things.

She smiled again and made her way over with a gait so unsteady it looked almost like a dance. She draped herself on his arm, which gave Draco the delightful opportunity to note that the alcohol fumes she was giving off were so potent that an open flame would be hazardous.

"I'm Zelda," she informed him.

"I'm sure you are. I'd bet that you're a relation of one of the happy couple."

She nodded happily. "I'm Hermione's great aunt. That's not important, though. Age is only a number."

"Much as one's bank balance is only a number, I imagine." He tried to shake her off his arm, but she seemed firmly affixed, ramora-like.

"I reckon a hot young stud like you is just gagging to get an education from an experienced woman like me." Impossibly, she managed to cling even more tightly to him. He was starting to feel seriously claustrophobic.

"As tempting an offer as that may be, madam, I'm afraid I happen to be gay."

She squinted up at him. "Like one of those homosexual boys?"

"Very much like one of those homosexual boys, yes."

"Oh, that's no trouble," she slurred and waved a hand recklessly. "I don't mind."

He was beginning to lose feeling in his fingers. Then Creevey's damnable flash went off, and he could add blindness to his growing list of ailments.

"Ooooh, lovely. Do you think we'll be in the papers, then?"

"With my luck, undoubtedly. Colin, old chap, come here for a moment." Colin came to heel like an obedient puppy, though his face was clouded with suspicion. "Meet Zelda. Zelda, Colin. Colin and I went to school together. He's absolutely mad for older women." Colin sputtered a denial as Draco transferred Zelda's death grip from his own arm to that of her new victim. "Now, now, no need to be shy. You two have a nice chat and I'll just give you some privacy then, shall I?" The picture of Zelda practically crawling up the length of Colin's body and trapping him in a dark corner was almost amusing enough to make up for the incipient claustrophobia and wrinkled sleeves.

He strolled away, sipping at his drink and thinking very decisively about Things Other Than Harry. As he passed a little knot of people, a man wearing a vicar's collar suddenly slid to the floor. Draco turned to look, but no one seemed the slightest bit panicked as they stood around him and stared down.

Muggles really were the oddest creatures.

Harry was happy to accept greeting hugs from Sirius and Remus. Remus held him out at arm's length when he'd thoroughly hugged him and looked him over with an appraising eye. "What's wrong?"

Harry shrugged. "Draco and I are having a row."

Remus hugged him again briefly, then released him so they could all sit at the table they'd commandeered for themselves. "Do you want to talk about it?" Remus asked as Sirius went back to gorging himself with crab puffs.

"It's horrible. You remember the night of the Alley Incident - Draco had picked up that dark-haired tart? Well, the tart is here, at the party. Draco had said that he was just some Muggle he'd picked up, that he didn't know him before, but now that he's here that seems rather unlikely, doesn't it?"

"And what did Draco have to say about it?"

"He claimed that he hadn't lied to me. Then he told me to get my hands off of him and called me a Gryffindor hypocrite."

Remus raised his eyebrows. "Why did he call you a hypocrite?"

Harry coloured a little. "Well, because I sort of implied that I'd told Hermione about us when I hadn't had a chance to, yet. I really was meaning to, it's just that she and I hadn't had time to get together. And then I tried to corner her to tell her tonight, and when I told Draco that, instead of being happy that I was trying to make it up to him, he called me insensitive and dense!"

Remus coughed, but it sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.

"And then," Harry said, "he allowed that slut Eliot to touch him and rub himself all over him in the corner. Snape took my wand away because he didn't trust me not to hex Eliot, which, all right, perhaps in retrospect wasn't such a bad idea. Then Snape called me a Gryffindor hypocrite as well, and a prat and a wanker. He told me to leave him alone and sent me over here to bother you instead." He collapsed in his chair in depression over just how many indignities he'd suffered that evening, and reached across to Sirius' plate for a spring roll.

Sirius gave Harry a dark look, but allowed him to remove the spring roll. "See what you get for involving yourself with a bunch of Slytherins?"

"Well, to be fair, it's just the two Slytherins, not a whole bunch. What's the plural for Slytherins? Pack?"

"A murder," Sirius suggested. Remus gave him a warning glance, but he seemed too busy devouring a spring roll to notice.

Harry felt a sudden flash of irritation with Sirius. Snape might be a vicious bastard and a grand annoyance on several levels but he really did love Draco. Harry didn't see why Sirius had to cut him down at every opportunity. "I can't blame Snape; he's only trying to protect Draco. And he's not really all that bad. I mean, yes, sometimes he's nasty out of dislike, but sometimes he's nasty because he does like you and he's worried about you. Then sometimes he's nasty because he likes you but you're annoying him."

"That's a lot of different kinds of nasty."

Harry couldn't disagree. "It does make things rather complicated. But that's not the point."

"And what is the point?" Remus asked gently.

"Um. I'm not sure." He ran his hands through his hair. "I started out complaining about my tragic mistreatment at the hands of my Slytherins, and somehow ended up defending them instead. Everything keeps getting twisted around from the way I mean it to go. I try to make up with Draco and we just end up angrier with each other. It's as if everything I touch tonight falls apart. But really, you should have seen him flirting with Eliot. Giving him that smile, letting his eyes sparkle at him - I felt ill watching it."

Remus laid a hand on Harry's arm. "Harry, I'm sure Draco isn't being deliberately provocative -" Sirius' snorted laughter dried up abruptly at a quelling look from Remus. "Maybe you should try talking to him again."

But before Harry could open his mouth to ask for advice on how exactly this should be done, Hermione stepped up to the table with Liz McRae in tow. She greeted Remus and Sirius and kissed them both on the cheek, before turning to Liz.

"I wanted to introduce you all to Liz MacRae; we work together in the Department of Arithmancy and Physics and she's one of my bridesmaids. Liz, this is Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Harry Potter." Liz shook Sirius and Remus' hands, and smiled at Harry.

"Harry and I met twice already this evening," she said. "I've even broken his glasses, so I feel like we're old friends."

"Oh, really?" Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Fast work there, Harry."

Harry could feel himself blushing and he wondered why the entire wizarding community seemed to be conspiring to set him up with Liz McRae. Didn't he have enough problems and confusion without adding her into the mix?

Liz started laughing. "Now there's something you don't see everyday." She pointed over Harry's shoulder, and everyone turned to look.

"Someone please tell me I'm hallucinating," Hermione said.

Snape and Bill Weasley were literally dancing through the crowd together to the strains of the Vienna Waltz. Colin was snapping pictures as fast as he could, his flash blinking like a beacon, and the surrounding crowd stepped back to give the dancers room, some murmuring with evident amusement and some with scandalized indignation. Snape's long black coat swung out with the turns, and it seemed unfair that he could dance so gracefully with all that alcohol in his system. Bill was just as light on his feet, and the two of them made a surprisingly handsome couple, tall and slim, a study in contrasting colours, slicing through the crowd like sailing ships. "I didn't even know they knew each other," Harry said.

Hermione sank into an empty chair. "That may be the weirdest thing I've ever seen," she said.

"Who do you think is leading?" Liz asked.

"Snape," Hermione, Remus, Sirius and Harry all answered simultaneously.

They all sat transfixed as Bill and Snape glided around the room, and finally bowed deeply to one another as the music came to its close. Snape headed off toward the bar, and Bill wandered back to the table where he'd been sitting with his father, with a tiny, bemused grin on his face.

"Arthur's going to give him a bollocking," Hermione said grimly.

"Oh, he'll be fine," Harry answered. "He's good-natured about it, but he never lets Arthur or Molly intimidate him. Just let it be, Hermione."

She crinkled her forehead sceptically, and Harry could see a meddling of gigantic proportions coming on. But he didn't think he was in any shape to try to derail it. The Weasleys would have to manage on their own.

"Hullo, Remus. Sirius." Draco's voice over Harry's shoulder was pleasant and as neutral as Harry had ever heard it. Remus said hello back, and Sirius growled something that could have been a hello around a mouthful of food.

"Granger, I wanted to thank you for the invitation and offer my congratulations." Harry twisted in his chair to see Hermione stand and shake Draco's outstretched hand.

"Thanks very much. I'm rather surprised you made it, actually, but I'm glad you're here. Um, may I introduce Liz McRae? She's one of my colleagues at the Institute."

Liz stepped forward and shook Draco's hand as well. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Malfoy."

Draco gave her his most charming smile. "Draco, please. Even Harry doesn't call me by my last name anymore."

"Then I'm Liz."

"The pleasure's all mine, Liz." He executed a little bow that was somewhere between a handshake and leaning down to kiss her hand, but somehow managed to convey both extremes at the same time. The sneaky little flirt. Harry's blood pressure was rising even as he realized that it was approaching farce to be jealous of his boyfriend for flirting with the woman his ex-girlfriend was trying to set him up with.

Draco finally let go of Liz's hand and Hermione said, "I hear congratulations are due to you as well. Three points higher than the legendary Snape on the Potions N.E.W.T., the highest score in two centuries they say. As well as top scores in all six of your other areas, very impressive."

He did his little aristocratic dismissive hand wave. "It's only because I'm taking them two years later than Professor Snape - and yourself, of course. And you still beat me in Arithmancy and Transfiguration."

"Not by very much, I'd bet. The Professor must be very proud."

Draco's smile this time was a bit less calculated charm and a bit more genuine. "He vacillates between being proud and being irritated that I beat him. He's pressing me to take the Potions Master exam in the Spring."

"So soon?"

"He seems to think there's no reason to wait. So I suppose I shall. I don't have much to do besides study, especially now that the trials are finally winding down. In fact, it's looking as though I may soon have even more free time on my hands than I'd anticipated."

Draco's eyes didn't so much as slide over toward Harry, but Harry knew a comment aimed to his address when he heard one. His jaw tightened until he could feel his back teeth grinding together, but he held his tongue. Remus laid a hand on the back of Harry's elbow, subtly offering his support and simultaneously suggesting that perhaps Harry shouldn't cause a fuss in front of all these witnesses.

"Well, I know you don't need the money, but if you ever decide you're bored and looking for a job, the Institute would be thrilled to have you, with or without your P.M. certification. They're always short of both theoretical and experimental Potions expertise."

"That's kind of you, Hermione. What kind of work -"

"Merciful God, no." Hermione's horrified gasp made everyone turn to look across the room. Standing next to a tray of food, with a half-eaten canapé in his hand, was Graham's father. He was chewing happily. And from his head had sprouted a pair of asses' ears.

Graham's mother was standing a few feet behind him, laughing like a drain. The twins were doubled over in hysterics in a corner out of his line of sight. The people closest to him were starting to notice and stare, but so far Mr. Cobb was oblivious. The ubiquitous Colin was snapping pictures as always, though he looked weirdly dishevelled and seemed a bit jumpy.

Hermione seemed very close to either breaking down in tears or throwing up her hands and taking the next flight to a remote tropical island. The expression trembled on her features for a moment then resolved into a look of fury worthy of a Gorgon. She pulled her wand from inside her sleeve and brandished it toward the twins without the slightest consideration for secrecy.

Liz gasped and seized Hermione's wand hand. "Hermione, you don't want to do this. Give me the wand."

"Oh, I do want to do this. I promise. Let me go!"

"It's my duty as your bridesmaid to save you from yourself. Just give it up and no one will get hurt."

"But I want someone to get hurt," Hermione hissed. "Two someones. And you'll be next in line if you don't let go of my wand!" They began to tussle over the wand with a ferocity that didn't surprise Harry in the slightest.

He stepped forward but hesitated to actually enter the fray. People were staring, and he supposed as one of Hermione's closest friends he had a responsibility to try to break up the skirmish, but even a Gryffindor's courage had limits. He looked around to see what help could be expected, but Sirius and Remus were wearing identical expressions of terror and dismay. Draco, of course, seemed amused and perversely delighted. The four men stared at each other for a few moments, each clearly hoping someone else would step up to do what needed to be done, while the women continued to tug the wand back and forth between them and make use of some very unrefined language.

Finally, Draco rolled his eyes. "The much-vaunted Gryffindor courage in action. For fuck's sake, you lot are pathetic." And with that he waded in and began trying to help Liz disarm the bride-to-be. After a few more moments of struggle, Hermione's grip was suddenly broken and Draco and Liz were flung backwards by their own momentum and straight into Harry.

They all went down in an undignified heap with Harry at the bottom, the distinctive sound of cracking glass sounding in Harry's ears for the third time that evening as his glasses were smashed into the bridge of his nose. Draco landed mostly on top of Harry, knocking the wind out of him, and Liz on top of Draco. They laid there motionless for a few seconds, trying to gather their wits and sort out whose limbs belonged to whom. Harry didn't need his shattered eyeglasses to know that Draco was smirking and making absolutely no attempt at all to extricate himself.

But when Liz rolled off of them with a stifled giggle, propriety forced Draco to do the same. Without the giggle, of course. It was more of a sniff.

Hermione seemed oblivious to the three-person pileup she'd caused, and continued to glare across the room. "All right, all right. I promise not to do them any permanent damage, but they're not getting away with this! And someone has to undo the donkey ears on Matt." A smile began stealing across her face. "Though it really is rather fitting." But then the smile was gone just as quickly and she was General Granger again, marshalling her troops for battle. "McRae, are you with me?"

"Aye, aye." And the two of them advanced across the room like a pair of scorned and vengeful Veelas.

Sirius shuddered. "Poor Fred and George. I wouldn't trade places with them right now for anything in the world."

"I wouldn't trade places with those ginger-haired problem children under the best of circumstances," Draco said as he dusted himself off.

"Well, they deserve it after everything they've done to disrupt Hermione's party." Harry took his glasses off and examined the lenses, now opaque with cracks. He rubbed his tender nose absently.

"Shall I give you a hand there, Harry?" Remus asked.

"This is the third time tonight they got broken. Could you just cast that vision spell for me? That will hold things until I can get safely home and I'll just fix them myself later, or use one of my spares."

"Okay." He cast the spell and Harry could see. Too bad the permanent version carried such risks to one's eyesight. The glasses really could be an impediment in a fire fight. He was used to them, though, and his face felt oddly exposed without them. Remus healed the bruise on his nose for good measure as well, and then everyone turned to observe the floor show going on across the room.

Liz banished the asses' ears from the still-oblivious Mr. Cobb and cast a memory charm on the two or three Muggles standing nearby. Meanwhile, Hermione threw a binding spell on the twins and began giving them a piece of her mind. Eventually, Liz took her place behind Hermione, providing a back-up glare and chiming in with a few words every now and then. The stern, dangerous look on Liz's face was astonishingly sexy, and Harry wondered if he'd always had a thing for dark streaks or if it was a recent acquisition.

As if he could read Harry's mind, Draco turned to him with the arched brow that meant he was just aching to lay into someone. "Liz seems like a nice girl. Just your type, isn't she, Harry?"

Only Draco could infuriate Harry so completely with just an insinuating tone. "Well, I could ask you the same thing, since you were making a show of practically drooling all over her!"

Draco gave a short, sharp laugh, dripping with sarcasm. "Oh, I never stood a chance. She might as well have been wearing a tag that said, 'On Hold for Harry Potter.' Considering your PR options, then, are you Harry? Because there didn't seem to be any point at which the words 'I'm spoken for' escaped your lips."

Harry leapt up from the table, and only barely restrained himself from shaking Draco until his teeth rattled. Sirius jumped up to stand behind him as well, probably thinking that he'd be serving as second for a duel any minute, lack of wand or no, while Remus stayed seated but looked rather alarmed.

"Those words don't seem to be making much of an appearance in your vocabulary tonight, either," Harry hissed. "Or were you trying to show Eliot how unavailable you were by rubbing yourself all over him? Then again, we never actually did make any kind of agreement. I apologize for getting in your way."

Draco's eyes widened in shock. "Never made an agreement! You moved all your things into my house! And I let you! No agreement?!?" Harry had never seen Draco so on the verge of sputtering incoherently. His elegant hands balled into fists at his side, and suddenly three light fixtures overhead blew out with a shower of sparks.

The crowd ooh'd and murmured, and turned to stare at the ceiling above them, as Draco narrowed his eyes and marched off without another word.

"Well, that went well," Sirius muttered, as he sat back down to address his plate once more. Remus sagged in his chair, and Harry sat down, put his head in his hands and groaned.

Draco found Sev sitting at a table with an empty glass before him and a shell-shocked look on his face. He glanced up at Draco and said bleakly, "Please tell me that I didn't just dance through Hermione's engagement party with Bill Weasley to the tune of the Vienna Waltz."

"Sorry, old man. There's photographic evidence, even. If it's any comfort, I'm fairly certain you were the one leading."

"Brilliant. You are never to allow me to drink again."

Draco tried to give Sev a cheeky grin, but he had a feeling it wasn't really coming off. He pulled his wand out of his pocket and handed it to Sev. "Hold this for me, would you, until the urge to murder Potter and everyone associated with him passes?"

"My word, was that you causing the lighting troubles?" Sev put the wand in his inside coat pocket.

Draco nodded. "I literally cannot remember the last time magic slipped away from me uncontrolled that way."

"You were nine or ten, I think."

"Reduced to the level of a child, all for the sake of love." He picked up the empty glass in front of Sev and swirled it around as if that could make more liquor appear.

Sev snorted a laugh and Draco pulled his attention from the bottom of the empty glass just in time to see that glint in Sev's eye. "No. No, Sev. Don't do it."

But Sev paid him no attention and reached over to muss his hair vigorously. "You used to be so little! So little and cute!"

"Gargh! Bloody hell, Sev, not the hair!" He began frantically trying to smooth it back into place with his fingers. "Fuck. Now I look like a git in addition to acting like one. I hate you. Go and get me another drink."

"You look gorgeous, as always." He dropped an inebriated kiss on the top of Draco's head and scooped up the empty glass. "Try not to destroy any more light fixtures while I'm gone." He took off toward the bar at an impressive clip, listing only marginally to one side.

"I'm never allowing him to drink again," Draco muttered to himself.

Somewhere, perhaps from the cleaners' closet along the wall in front of him, Draco could swear he heard dogs barking. Yet another of the Ginger Menace's pointless and inane tricks, no doubt. Where the mirth was to be found in aural hallucinations of dogs barking, Draco couldn't say but then he'd never thought the twins were funny in the slightest. He ran his fingers through his hair again and wondered how much more he'd have to drink in order to achieve a state of blissful unconsciousness. It might be more efficient to simply bash his head against the door of the cleaners' closet.

"It's disgusting," a man's voice said rather loudly from behind him. "It's hard to believe they'd let those Death Eaters within a hundred yards of a hero like Hermione, much less the Minister himself. I bet Harry Potter would have something to say something to that Draco Malfoy if they'd let him."

It took superhuman control not to respond cheerfully, it's usually something along the lines of harder, faster, oh, God, yes. At least until this wretched evening. And that thought was so depressing that he forgot all about the heckler until the man spoke up again.

"Oi, you! Death Eater! You've got some nerve showing your face around here."

Draco turned in his seat to face his tormentor. He was a big, meaty man with beady eyes set too close together and a face red from drinking. His friend beside him was bigger and redder still. "I assume you're some relation to the groom?"

The man looked surprised. "I'm his Uncle Luke, what's it to you?"

"Oh, nothing. It's just that Hermione's manners are exquisite, despite her Muggle upbringing, and I couldn't really imagine you having any connection to her. Sadly, one may choose one's spouse but one cannot choose one's in-laws. I'm sure you'll be a sore trial to her for the rest of her days. I should send a send a sympathy bouquet."

"I took down twenty-five of you Death Eating bastards in the War, and I wouldn't mind adding one more to my list. You want to step outside and finish this off?"

"If you took out twenty-five Death Eaters, it was only because I sent Dumbledore a note of their locations on a silver platter. I assure you my body-count is far bigger than that, even only including the ones I did with my own hands." He stood up and allowed the Darkness and magic floating just beneath his anger to fill his eyes, steadfastly ignoring the fact that Sev had his wand somewhere across the room. "Harry Potter may have cast the curse that killed Voldemort, but I was the one responsible for his getting close enough to do it. Now if you'd care to take on the wizard who beat the Dark Lord while living under his very nose, you're welcome to try. But perhaps you'd prefer to consider that this is supposed to be a happy occasion and the last thing either Graham or Hermione need right now is a fatal duel during their engagement party."

Graham's Uncle Luke looked considerably less sure of himself than he had a moment before. "You lot were never anything but a bunch of cowards." He spit on the floor but turned and left, taking his silent hulk of a comrade with him.

Draco waved jauntily at their backs and slumped back down into his chair. How kind of Uncle Luke to remind him of why he hardly ever went out in public anymore, just when it was beginning to slip his mind. He took a couple of shaky breaths and wished heartily for Sev and a fresh drink. He scanned the crowd for any further problems, but the only thing out of the ordinary was the vicar slumped over a table, snoring, with a thin line of dribble sliding down his chin.

The craziness of the whole evening struck him, and he began chuckling softly to himself. Every time he thought events had reached the pinnacle of absurdity, something happened to prove that things could always be just a little bit more bizarre.

Slim fingers slid over his shoulders to rest just atop his collarbones, fingers much slimmer and longer than Harry's stubby, nail-bitten ones. "It's not going well, is it?" Eliot asked.

"I suppose that depends on your point of view," Draco answered with what he hoped was a flirtatious flippancy, but might have ended up more despondent and morose. "It could be worse. I'd say Liz McRae's stock is rising." Draco turned in his chair to make eye contact. "And so is yours."

Eliot's smile was brighter than the flash of Creevey's camera, and his hands felt warm through Draco's jacket and shirt. "Nine out of ten analysts say I'm an excellent investment."

Draco stood to get a little closer, and Eliot let his hands fall to his sides. "I'm not at all surprised." Draco murmured. He fingered Eliot's tie and wondered just how fucked up his relationship was, if it was bad enough that he might as well give in and let Eliot have what he wanted. It was seeming fairly well and truly buggered at that moment, and the pain inherent in that thought would have crumpled him where he stood, but for the distraction of the beautiful man before him.

"What does the writing on your tie say?" he heard himself asking, though he wasn't sure exactly why it mattered.

"Dragon," Eliot replied with a smile, and Draco had to laugh along with him. "Is it prophetic, do you think?"

"Oh, prophecy is something of a specialty of mine and I can tell you, interpretation is key. It's not the signs so much as how you read them."

"And how are you reading the signs?"

Draco brushed his thumb across the green character screened onto the black silk. "Green means go."

Sirius and Remus made small talk between them, but Harry's attention was fixed across the room, where Draco was fingering the bottom of Eliot's tie and flirting. He was standing close, practically whispering in Eliot's ear, the mating dance between them obvious to anyone who cared to observe. Eliot was clearly completely unconcerned with discretion; actually, he looked like he was preening, proud to have pulled someone so gorgeous and brilliant, delighted to be the one holding Draco's precious gaze. Draco said something, and Eliot replied, and they laughed together, but Harry knew Draco too well. He could see that Draco's thoughts were elsewhere, even as he seemed to be responding to Eliot's advances. Though the Malfoy Mask was firmly in place, even from across the room Harry could see such sadness in Draco's eyes that his jealousy fell away. He was left with the coppery taste of regret in his mouth, and a churning, sick feeling in his stomach. Draco was hurting and Harry was the cause.

He recalled a time in late May, just after Draco had passed his N.E.W.T.s. They had gone out clubbing to celebrate and ended up pretty legless. Harry was still using his apartment in London then, and so they decided to go back to his place, drunken cross-country Apparation not being the brightest of ideas. Draco had insisted on taking a Muggle taxi for the novelty of it, and they'd been sitting in the back, kissing slowly and murmuring intoxicated conversation to one another. They pulled up to a traffic light and stopped, and Harry happened to lean back to look at Draco just as the light turned green. The car was flooded briefly with strong, green light, not quite the colour of the killing curse, but so close. The aristocratic angles of Draco's face were highlighted in that sickly glow, just as they'd been when Catherine Tayce cast Avada Kadavra. The wretched helplessness and terror of that moment came roaring back to Harry. All the air was suddenly gone from the car, and he couldn't breathe, couldn't move, couldn't see anything but Draco's beautiful face lit up in green, and then slack and still and dead against the parlour carpet. Somewhere Draco was calling his name, asking what was wrong, but he couldn't seem to find his way back, couldn't respond, could only stare in horror at the corpse of the man he'd only just realized he loved.

Finally, long moments later, he blinked and the green light was gone, replaced by the flickering amber of the streetlights playing over Draco's concerned expression. Tears were streaming down Harry's face. He was struck by the realisation that he'd nearly lost Draco once already, before they'd even started. Their happiness was so fragile, so easily snuffed out. He clung to Draco and sobbed, completely unable to explain himself, as waves of pure grief washed over him. Every tear he'd swallowed over the course of the War came back to have its revenge, and it wasn't until the next morning that he realized that Draco must have instructed the driver to keep circling the block until Harry was able to pull himself together nearly an hour later.

Seeing the green of Eliot's shirt reflected in Draco's grey eyes, Harry understood that there were ways other than death to lose someone. He'd made mistake after stupid mistake, and now Eliot was preparing to step into the space between them and spirit Draco away. He recalled what it had felt like when Draco was gone, how desperate he'd been as he'd pressed his hands to Draco's chest and filled him up with magic, how lonely as he'd sat by the resurrection bed for three days and nights, hoping against hope that Draco would wake. All that despair was still waiting, held back only by a few seconds of time and the sadness in Draco's face which bore witness to his love.

Harry was crossing the room before he'd even decided to, but he stepped between Draco and Eliot with purpose. "Excuse me," he said, and slipped the phone number out of Draco's breast pocket and handed it to a rather shocked-looking Eliot. "He won't be needing this."

Draco arched an eyebrow and opened his mouth to make a smart remark, but Harry silenced him in the most effective way he knew. He leaned in and kissed him, and if the crowd around them was muttering excitedly and Colin Creevey's flash was going off like a strobe light, Harry didn't notice. He could only feel Draco's lips soft and warm beneath his, and the feel of Draco's waist under his palms as he pulled him closer. They kissed like they needed kisses for oxygen, until finally the weight of their audience's attention broke into their private sphere of bliss. Harry looked up to find the whole of the party staring at them.

"This is Draco Jacques Malfoy," he announced loudly. "I am wholly, completely, madly in love with him. Any of you who have a problem with that can kiss my heroic white arse."

Draco began to laugh, delight edged with hysteria.

Harry took his hand. "Can we go home now?"

"I think we have to. I'd really rather not be around to answer questions once the shock wears off."

Harry led him through the stunned crowd, which stepped back to let them pass in silence punctuated only by the soft click of Colin's flash. As they passed Snape, he pulled their wands out of his pocket and offered them discreetly "It would appear that you can be trusted with these again," he murmured.

Draco's smile shone brilliantly as he took back his wand and stuck it in his pocket and Harry did the same. "Be sure to drink some hangover potion before you go to bed tonight, Sev," Draco chirped happily. He patted Sev's arm as Harry pulled him away, and shot an apologetic grin to Eliot who was watching their retreat with an expression mixed of disappointment and fondness. Eliot gave a little parting wave, but Harry dragged Draco through the doors of the hall before he had time to do so much as wave back.

"I'd say I must be dreaming, but my dreams are never this good," Draco said as they stopped to gather their coats in the reception area.

Harry smiled and kissed him once more, then broke away just long enough to whisper. "You haven't seen anything yet."

12 December 2000, 2:15 p.m.
Location To Remain Undisclosed for Obvious Reasons

Dear Sev:

My condolences for the presumed state of your head. I do hope you have plenty of Snape Ancestral Hangover Remedy on hand. I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the entertainment your intoxication provided during an otherwise excruciatingly painful evening (though fortunately it ended rather better than I anticipated). The glorious sight of you waltzing through Granger's engagement party in the arms of Bill Weasley will be burned in my memory forever.

Continuing my tradition of unreasonably complicated life circumstances, my beloved and I are now fugitives from The Press. They had the Manor completely surrounded by the time Harry and I crawled out of bed this morning, though of course the wards prevented them from approaching the house itself. Nevertheless, being essentially trapped on the estate was rather claustrophobia-inducing.

We were trying to decide what to do about the situation when Harry received an owl from Arthur Weasley. He berated Harry on a personal level for keeping secrets from what amounts to his adopted family, and accused Harry of indulging in some sort of late adolescent rebellion. Arthur, like the rest of the wizarding world no doubt, is anxious for Harry to come to his senses and drop me like a hot, sarcastic, Slytherin potato. And if that weren't pleasant enough, evidently journalists have also overrun the Ministry building and are harassing anyone they can get their hands on for quotes about the scandal. If Harry even approached the building it would likely start a riot, and Arthur "suggested" that Harry should take an extended leave of absence until the dust settles. At this point, and perhaps predictably, it's not clear whether Harry will ever get his job back. It's one thing to have a gay Super Auror; it's another entirely to have a gay Super Auror who has publicly admitted to shagging a former Death Eater Spy. Being the repeated Saviour of the Wizarding World will only grant one so much, after all.

The idea of weeks spent sitting around the Manor watching Harry's giant television device seemed rather depressing, so we decided to flee the scene. Using all the resources at our disposal (well, not all, I suppose - the journalists are still alive, more's the pity) we managed to sneak off and Apparate away from the Manor, and we are now ensconced at Narcissa's favourite spa. I'm sure you recall it. Rather than sending owls directly here, as they could be intercepted, please owl to my solicitor, who will arrange for the mail to be floo'd over by courier daily.

We've only been here a little while, but I can already predict garnering hours of amusement from Harry's discomfort with the continental attitude toward nudity. I imagine we'll relax for a week or so, and then we'll probably do a bit of travelling - in disguise, of course. It could be rather jolly to be someone else for a while, wouldn't you think?

Harry's holding up well, all things considered. It might be good for him in the long run. He fell into working for DMLE because it was expected of him, rather than consciously choosing it, and having an opportunity to examine whether he wants to continue there can only be a positive thing. Whether our relationship will hold together under the strain of the publicity, not to mention the oh-so-supportive sentiments of his friends and family, remains to be seen but I'm cautiously optimistic. At the very least, I feel secure that he really does love me; last night's fiasco seemed to prove that if nothing else.

And now I must conclude because I have a salt scrub scheduled in fifteen minutes. Perhaps you should consider stopping by for a few days. Exfoliation is your friend, Sev.

Your silky-smooth annoyance,

Draco Jacques

The Daily Prophet
20 December 2000

GAY SEX ROMP SCUPPERS GRANGER WEDDING PLANS!

Following the shocking revelation at Hermione Granger's engagement party last week of the covert gay romp between Harry Potter, Hero of the Voldemort Wars, and Draco Malfoy, once third-in-command of Voldemort's Dark Army, Granger (20) and Graham Cobb (21) scuttled their plans for a lavish wedding and eloped to Scotland on Saturday. The romantic moonlit ceremony, witnessed only by a few close friends, took place on Rockcliffe on Solway's Sands, a mere stone's throw from Gretna Green.

Pictures taken during the Granger-Cobb engagement party show Malfoy and Potter locked in an undeniably passionate kiss, but many questions remain to be answered. A spokesperson from the Office of the Minister of Magic confirmed that Potter had requested and been granted an indefinite leave of absence from his post at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. She added, "Obviously, the Minister's Office can't speak for Mr. Potter. However, it's clear he's been through a great deal at a very young age, and he recently lost a member of his team in the line of duty. He and the late Auror Janice Wright were very close, and the circumstances of her death were quite traumatic." She would neither confirm nor deny the possibility that illegal use of Imperius was at the root of the scandalous events. Despite efforts, no one has been able to reach Potter or Malfoy for comment.

Ms. Granger confided tearfully, "I want everyone to be as happy as Graham and I are today. Of course I don't resent Harry for taking a bit of the limelight from our wedding. I wish him - I wish them both - all my very best. And I'm sure Ron, if he could be with us, would say the same." The late Ron Weasley, to whom Granger referred, was the youngest son of the current Minister of Magic, tragically killed in the last days of the War. He was widely reported to be Potter's best friend, and Granger's fiancé.

Bride and groom are reported to be taking a honeymoon in an undisclosed location.

Author's Note: In November, I asked Zahra what she wanted for her birthday. She said she wanted me to take the picture you see above, wherein Johnny Lee Miller and Jude Law are kissing, and write a Silververse story around it. (Miller and Law are cast as Harry and Draco respectively in the Silververse of my imagination.) So I said okay, and set to work. I worked and worked and worked. The story grew longer and longer and Zahra's birthday passed and I began to wonder if I wouldn't be giving this to her for next year's birthday. Nearly six months later, I've finally finished it and it's considerably longer than I had originally planned. It's really passed the point of being belated and into some other category of lateness altogether, but I hope you enjoy it, Zahra! Happy Birthday.

Infinite thanks to my team of betas. Maya graciously stepped in at the last minute to lend her opinion; Rachel worked with me for several weeks and provided line edits, on-the-spot AIM beta and fangirling over the LOTR boys; and FayJay provided incredible support, early brainstorming and kinky discussions of St. Sebastian. Thanks so much to all of you!

A.J. Hall's contribution goes far beyond beta and into co-conspirator. She co-wrote the beginning and ending articles, worked with me in development of the story from beginning to end, provided her usual exacting britpick and line edit and held my hand through excessive and extended bouts of insecurity. Words cannot express my gratitude or my debt to her.

Thanks also to all those over on lj who have continued to express an interest even though it's taken me months to finish this, and to The Fellowship for the shared webspace and the privilege of their friendship.

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