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[FIC & ART] The Pirate and the Prince

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CHAPTER I 

 

Some say the Master of Death is a hideous monster, forced to live behind a mask. Others claim he's a myth, for no man can do what he is rumoured to have accomplished. Sordid minds brand him the worst of thieves, purloining the chastity of innocents with nary the promise of tomorrow.

He is all these things, and none. I count myself as one of the lucky few who know the truth.

He is my Harry. And this is the story of how he came to be.

~O-O~

Draco blames the bottle of Aberfeldy Highland Malt and Blaise's extraordinary talent for bringing out his worst (read: childishly competitive) shortcomings. It's the only plausible explanation as to why he, Pansy, and Blaise are walking through the Docklands, a part of town that would give them pause even on the brightest of days, and yet they are doing so, conspicuously dressed in their best silks and wools and close to the stroke of midnight.

"Draco, can we please head back now?" Pansy's strides have turned more uncertain, the water-slicked cobblestone path not doing her well-heeled feet any favours. "You've proved your point several times over."

"I haven't proved anything," Draco scoffs. Nearby, the raucous laughter of someone well into their cups seems to support his statement. "We haven't even made it to the wharves yet." The strong stench of blubber from the oil houses that dot the area around the Great Wet Docks perfumes the air, a marked presence despite the fragrant timber ponds and new construction.

"Listen, Malfoy, we've come far enough," Blaise says as Draco waves off his protests. "I concede; the Master of Death is not a myth, and he's either a fool or brave enough to set foot in the Pool of London."

Draco looks at him flatly. "Don't humour me like I'm one of your Cythereans."

There's a beat of silence, but Blaise's anger is palpable over the humid night air. In the distance, a harbour bell gives off a low, warning clang. "If the Master of Death exists, he would not be foolish enough to come so far down the river where he would be trapped. And I'd appreciate it if you showed a bit more respect for the lovely Miss Parkinson. Her keen mind and sharp tongue are matched only by her beauty." Blaise holds out his arm, elbow crooked, which Pansy takes with obvious relief.

Draco rolls his eyes. Blaise may be a rake of the first order—his propensity for drink, gambling, and light skirts is legendary among their peers—but Draco has seen the way his best friend's face goes soft whenever he's around Pansy. There is no doubt in his mind that Blaise and Pansy's childhood friendship will eventually grow into something even greater. It is a certainty matched only by the doubt Draco has that he will similarly one day find someone to call his own.

The thought of the vapid, simpering men with whom his family has forced him to spend time sours his mood further. "The only thing I hate worse than losing is to be patronised. The dare was for us to find proof that the Master of Death exists. And what better way to do so than to find evidence of his ship?"

Pansy whimpers. "Draco, the wharf is at least another mile long. Blaise is right, he would never venture so fair inland with all the docks that are being built." Blaise tightens his grip on Pansy's arm and nods his agreement as Pansy continues. "My poor feet."

"Listen, I'll give you one hundred Sovereigns, as promised," Blaise pleads. "Let's just head back to the carriage and go to White's, shall we? I think we've earned ourselves a high-stakes game of whist and some juicy gossip."

"Why? Because we came within a mile of a possibility that leaves us as uninformed as when we started? Perhaps the best way to line my pockets is not to go into business with Father, but to keep making terrible wagers with you. Always in my favour, of course."

Blaise lets out a long laugh. "See, Malfoy? That's why you'd be the perfect politician."

A quick retort rests on Draco's lips; his father relishes his influence as a hereditary peer, and with the growing threat of Independent Whigs such as William Pitt the Younger, there is no question that Lord Malfoy, the Marquess of Slytherin and Earl of Wiltshire, expects his only son to follow in his footsteps. It is a life that Draco is unquestionably qualified for, but it leaves him undeniably unenthused. It is also why, if he were to examine his motives further, Draco admittedly pushes himself to do things that court a bit of excitement, especially when under the influence of a challenge and drink. Now that the buzz of whisky has subsided, however, he's not sure this is one of the best decisions he's ever made. 

The yellow glow of the streetlights are fuzzy in the mist, and the fog's eerie pall makes everything around the docks seem otherworldly. Draco shivers despite himself, and startles when someone bumps into him, roughly.

His hands fly to his pockets on instinct, covering his pocket watch and purse. A boisterous, feminine laugh greets him in response. He looks up, shock replacing his angry expression when he sees a beautiful young woman, roughly the same age as him. Even in the dim light he can see the flame-colour of her gorgeous tresses, and the tattoo of a winged creature that covers her forearm and ungloved hand.

"I have no interest in your gold," she says with a wink, her voice low and throaty and full of promise. Her lively brown eyes rake up and down his form, and Draco suddenly feels like an innocent girl experiencing her first season at Almack's. "Nice threads. You, my lord, may be the Pinkest of the Pinks, but I prefer my men with a bit more…seasoning." She smirks, and as she leaves, Draco swears that he feels the ghost of a touch trailing over his jacket-covered bum.

His fair skin grows heated, the fit of his cravat too tight. "And I have no interest in spending my time with a woman of easy virtue," Draco shouts at her retreating form once he's found his voice. If she hears him, her reply is swallowed up by the chatter of the dock workers, the occasional mudlark, the bells, and the fog.

"Or any woman, regardless of her virtue," Blaise says with a chuckle.

"Please, Draco," Pansy pleads. "There is nothing more to see, and everything to lose. If we continue, I'll be in no condition to attend Wednesday's ball, and I do so want to go, as I finally obtained a voucher this year, and from none other than the Patroness Slughorn."

Draco knows how much attending the ball means to Pansy, especially after her family's fall into financial distress, and because of pirates, no less. 

"Fine," he acquiesces.

The trio turns to leave, but not before Draco casts one last look towards the wharves that empty into the North Sea. For a second, he swears that he sees the silhouette of foreign ship. It looks nothing like the sailing barges that dot the Thames, nor the smaller, ketch-rigged fishing vessels, nor the huge trading schooners or armed merchantmen. This one has a long and narrow hull, with three large masts, the front of which is raked forward. It looks like something that is built for a smaller crew and for speed, yet sturdy enough to spend months in the ocean.

When Draco blinks, the outline of the ship is gone, swallowed up by the chilly, London fog.

~O-O~

"Irma Crabbe says that Lord Dumbledore has been stirring the pot, advocating for a pluralistic, free market model of supply and demand," Narcissa Malfoy says as she opens her letter. Her hair is pulled neatly into place, her porcelain skin flawless, cheekbones sharp. She never seems to be anything other than elegant and composed.

"It is nothing but the dangerous ramblings of a man who is clearly addled." Lucius angrily turns the page of the Prophet. "Trade should be the responsibility of the government. Without such oversight and protection, the economy would surely fall to ruin. If Voldemort were alive—"

"What happened with Lord Voldemort, Father?" Draco interrupts. His face heats at his parents' scandalised looks. "Pansy says that he was defeated by the Master of Death when the pirate was naught but an infant. Blaise thinks that the Master of Death is a legend conjured up by Voldemort's supporters to save face when the lord was killed by his mistress' jealous lover."

"You should not listen to ridiculous rumours Draco," Narcissa admonishes, sipping her tea. "Lord Voldemort, God rest him, would never let himself be tarnished by anything so tawdry. I am hardly surprised that Mr Zabini would spread such untruths, but I would have expected better from Miss Parkinson."

"Sir William Parkinson is a perfect example of the dangers of dysregulation and foolhardy gambles. It is no wonder that his daughter is so scatter-brained, given his propensity for poor judgment. And Mr Zabini is no better. He whiles away his days in the gaming halls, spending the money which the Lady Zabini has afforded him with her social climbing and four marriages."

"Five, darling," Narcissa quietly corrects.

"Well, that's four too many."

"Speaking of marriages, Theodore came calling yesterday while you were out with Blaise. He has returned from India to take care of his father after Lady Nott's passing. Plus, he's been managing his family's holdings. He is such a well-mannered and handsome young man."

"Smart and competent as well," Lucius interjects.

"Yes, indeed. He would be a wonderful provider for you, Draco."

Draco puts down his fork with a clatter. Theodore Nott is also utterly boring, a man who wants nothing more than to have an attractive partner on his arm. "I believe we were talking about the Master of Death and not my love life," he persists.

"I only wish that you had one to speak of," Narcissa sighs.

Lucius lowers his paper and frowns. "And why this curiosity about the Master of Death? He is a person, not a myth. I have heard the outlandish talk—that he is the descendant of Blackbeard, or worse, that he is the ghost of Edward Thatch himself; that he is a demon, or a sorcerer who utilises Black Magic."

"I heard children may sometimes be recruited as messengers or spies, or…even for purposes of pleasure," Draco says, his face flushed. It doesn't escape his notice that his mother has ceased attending to her morning correspondence and is watching him with a strange expression. "It would not be such a surprise if the Master of Death had grown up as part of such a sordid world, and then was drawn into—"

Lucius' fist bangs on the table, his lips thinned and eyes thunderous. "I don't know why you're entertaining such foolish notions about the Master of Death. He is a murderer. And should he ever set foot on our shores, he will receive the punishment fit for his horrific deeds." Lucius stands, his emotions getting the better of him as his voice trembles. "You are an Earl, Draco, to be Marquess upon my passing. Lord Voldemort was a champion of the peerage and your birthright. There are plenty of people such as Dumbledore and his ilk who threaten all our family has fought for. The Master of Death has set our leadership and standing, as well as your very own future, back. Do not romanticise the evildoings of a rabble-rousing criminal."

Draco cannot remember the last time he saw his father so furious. "I am sorry, Father. I won't bring it up again." He fights the urge to fidget as his father meets him with a steely gaze, then eventually gives in with a heavy swallow.

"Well then," Narcissa says brightly. "I fancy a visit with Lady Goyle today. Draco dear, would you like to join me?"

*

Draco certainly doesn't want to join his mother, or Lady Goyle or her son Gregory (who has become, in the space of a year, angry, unsociable, and quite boring). He makes his excuses, much to his mother's consternation and his father's suspicions. It is a small lie of convenience, in which he states that he would prefer to take the barouche to the park for a drive—not only to show off the Malfoy's newly purchased, perfectly-matched pair of Turkomans, but for socialisation. He feels that it is the latter reason which earns him a reprieve from his neighbourly duties.

What he does, however, is to drive past the gates and head towards the Pool of London instead.

He's not sure what it is about this place that makes him feel so defiant. The impertinent woman from last night, perhaps, the one who both shamed and intrigued him with her boldness. The sense of danger and adventure, possibly, for the stench of fish and sewage and the side-slips who dredge through the river's muck are even more apparent in the light. The intensity of sounds and sights are a far cry from the genteel parade of colourful silk gowns and thoroughbred horses in The Park. The difference should be revolting, but he finds himself drawn even deeper instead.

"Oh! Pardon me," a man exclaims as he collides into an elderly woman right in front of Draco. His face is ruddy, his jowls waggling as he bobbles the packages he's carrying. The largest one, which is balanced precariously over the others, goes toppling to the ground, carrying the poor woman with it.

Draco bends down to help. He reaches over and holds out a hand, but suffers the same ignominious result when she loses her balance and takes him down with her. He ends up face down, his hands splayed against the hot cobblestones, his face buried the woman's bony chest and faded, musty shawl.

"Thunder an' turf!" the man sputters. He sets his belongings on the ground then reaches over to grab Draco by the waist, hauling him up. "My greatest apologies, my Lord. Forgive my clumsiness…my wife always says I try to do too many things at once, and end up accomplishing nothing."

"I'm all right. Really," Draco says, frowning as the man attempts to dust off Draco's coat, his huge hands pawing at the fabric. When Draco bats him away in favour of helping the woman who's still seated on the ground, the man steps forward to lend her his hand. Of course, this time, the woman manages to stand without further incident.

"Terribly sorry," the man says as the woman glares at him in a huff. He looks guiltily at the dried meats and vegetables strewn about. "Er…perhaps I can buy you something to eat to make up for your loss?"

The woman proceeds to chastise the man as he bends down to retrieve his scattered packages. The pair walk away, the woman's reedy and reprimanding tones carrying above his contrite ones as Draco is left standing and shaking his head, flummoxed.

"I would check your pockets," someone says, chuckling. "That was quite a bit of havey-cavey business going on there."

Draco looks up, startled. A man is looking down at him with an amused expression. Draco is fairly tall, but this man has at least a good two inches on him, and his frame can only be described as rugged. It is the body of a man who does heavy labour and, from the evidence of his tanned and freckled skin, a good portion of it outdoors. But what is most striking is his flame-red hair, worn wild and longer than is fashionable, and gathered at the nape of his neck with a leather strap. It's a colour that's rare in its fiery beauty, but which Draco has now seen twice in the span of less than twenty-four hours.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"That clumsy man carrying the packages and the old woman? You just assisted them in more ways than one." The red-haired man's blue eyes crinkle with something that's a cross between amused and sympathetic as Draco sticks his hands in his pockets and lets out a sound of distress when they come up empty. "That was a prime example of a bulk and file, if I ever saw one. Thieves and pickpockets are plentiful…even more so down by the wharf." Something seems to capture the man's attention further down the street as he cranes his neck to get a better glimpse.

"I am Lord Malfoy. My father is the Marquess of Slytherin," Draco begs. He grows desperate as the man shows little signs of listening. Draco holds out his left hand, where an emerald ring sits on his fourth finger, emblazoned with the Malfoy family crest. It's overly-loose, however, and when the man gives it a distracted glance, Draco huffs out a noise of frustration. He twists it so the jewel and insignia leave no doubt as to his veracity, but by this point, the man is already turning away. "Retrieve my purse, and I shall reward you handsomely," Draco says imperiously, finally securing his attention.

The laughter in the mans' face lessens. "I have neither the time, nor the inclination."

Draco fights the urge to stamp his feet. He feels his temper get the best of his judgment, and he reaches out, grabbing at the man's arm. "I will make it worth your while. How much?" he asks as the man wrenches his arm away in distaste.

"I told you: I don't have the time, and the chances of catching those two are slim. The price of such thievery is execution, and I don't fancy the fight that would be needed to take down those two and their gang, even if I did. Perhaps next time you should be more apprised of your whereabouts, and whom you keep company with. Have a nice day, my Lord." He gives Draco a tiny bow with a mocking grin, then turns and takes his leave.

"You…you!" Draco sputters. The gall of some people, to weasel out acts of basic decency. He stands on his tiptoes and catches sight of the old woman's shawl as she turns the corner, then puts his pride aside to give her chase. 

"Stop! Thief!" he cries. Having been born in the saddle, Draco is an excellent rider, and he held his own fencing at Eton. But his well-tailored clothes are constricting, and his boots not made for running on uneven streets slicked with river water and the blood of fish. He loosens the buttons on his jacket and waistcoat, his lungs protesting the burn and stench of the environment and his exertions.

He sees the pair turning the corner into an alleyway, the man's eyes visibly widening when he sees Draco in pursuit.

"Stop them!" Draco shouts once more, only to be viewed by the people around him with indifference or, worse, as a source of entertainment. He plunges ahead, his anger and embarrassment at having been taken advantage of overriding any sense of fear. He turns right into the alleyway which the pair was last seen, and the bright light surrounding the water turns into something even more fetid and dark as the buildings grow taller and the pathway more narrow.

An arm shoots out, hitting him square in the chest.

"Yer not too smart laddie, are ye?"

Draco wheezes in response, his ribs aching with his gasping breaths in the face of his attacker's putrid breath. "I'm sorry. I don't speak idiocy, even of the sarcastic variety."

He is rewarded for his snide remark with another punch. Draco keens as his stomach lodges itself in his throat.

"Yer nothing but a rum cull," the man says as Draco coughs forcefully. His eyes are glittering with hatred, all pretenses of the incompetent fool who had spilled his packages over the street, gone. "You aristocrats, you think yer so much better than the rest of us. That money and a name gives you the right to deny others basic necessities like food and a place to sleep. Well, see if your title can save you now, lordling."

If Draco is going to be insulted, it will be done with his correct title, thank you very much. "I am the only son and heir of a marquess. And I will make sure that every constable and thief taker will bring you to trial."

A frightening grin spreads across the man's face. "That, young lordling, is a bold assumption. Especially since you would need to be alive to make use of their services."

"My father…" Draco can't help the shiver that spreads through him as he shrinks back towards the docks, the people and the light. "There are people who saw you. With me. My father will not stop until he finds you, and trust me, the consequence of that will be much worse than if you let me go right now."

The man withdraws a small object from his jacket pocket. His thumb rubs over a switch, causing a gleaming and deadly looking blade to flick out. "I think I'll take my chances. But thanks for letting me know."

Draco assesses the situation and makes his decision in the space of a second. There is no question that the pickpocket is intent on making good on his threat. He looks to be in his thirties or forties, though it is difficult to know for sure given his hard life, and Draco notes that the man tends to favour his left leg. But he also outweighs Draco by at least four or five stones, and has probably spent most of his life fighting not with a sword or pistol, but with a knife or his bare hands. The only option for Draco to escape in this situation, is to run.

Which is exactly what he does. He shouts, hoping that the noise is loud and surprising enough to cause a momentary distraction, then whirls around and dashes in the direction of the wharf. He's being pushed by adrenaline and fear; the events of the morning flash before him, and for a brief moment, he longs for his mundane life, so that he may accept Theo's inevitable proposal, or visit the Goyles along with his mother.

Instead, he's nearing the exit of the alleyway, the sight of the docks and the sounds and smells beckoning him like a strange and magical world. His heart pounds against his ribs as he makes a sharp turn right towards the open water, the aching, awful pulling sensation increasing with each step. 

"Excuse me," he squawks as he collides with someone. The contents of their basket are thrown asunder, and as Draco tries to ignore the throbbing on his right elbow, he's now sure he has two people angry enough to pursue him. "So sorry," he adds as he takes off, wincing at his atrocious lack of manners.

He dares to turn around once, but even with the crowds and carts and flurry of activity, the thief still manages to stay close behind him. He makes his way past the granaries and warehouses and the smaller docks which are in disrepair. Draco knows he sticks out like a sore thumb, with his peacock-blue jacket and gold-threaded waistcoat; he pulls them off, mid-run, but there's still the matter of his white-blond hair.

"You!" he shouts at one of the mudlarks, who's looking at him in stark amazement. "I will give you my coat and vest for your cap!"

"My lord?"

"Quickly. And your jacket, too," Draco adds, motioning to the dull-brown coat that's seen one too many winters. "Whether you choose to keep them or sell them for a tidy sum, they will serve you much better than what you have now." When the young man hesitates, Draco pushes the garments towards him impatiently. "Now, or I shall extend my offer to your friend," he says, nodding at another boy who is watching with eager interest.

"I want them," the mudlark blurts. He peels his sodden jacket off his gangly arms and hands it over along with his cap, looking at Draco as if he's confounded.

Draco makes a moue as he dresses. The jacket is damp, and even as slender as Draco is, it's easily two sizes too small. His wrists stick out inches from the end, the hem doesn't even cover his arse, and the material stretches much too tightly across his shoulders.

He lets out a grunt of frustration then shoves his hair inside the cap and pushes it down low. A quick look back tells him that he hasn't lost the thief just yet, but the man's head bobs up and down periodically, as if searching him out in the crowd.

Draco moves quickly, continuing east towards the estuary, but the further he goes, the number of  buildings lessens and hiding places grow more scarce. His legs are starting to feel like jelly, and he's not confident in his ability to outrun his nemesis for much longer.

Salvation, as it turns out, comes in many forms—this time, in the shape of a warehouse, whose entrance is stocked with timber and barrels and crates. Most of the workers are closer to the water's edge, repairing the docks, or building the walls which have sprung up around the Thames as an added security measure against sabotage and theft. Draco wonders whether they are effective deterrents against the most elusive and dangerous pirates, such as the Master of Death.

He keeps an eye out for trouble as he opens the nearest crate, but it's filled with something slimy and unidentifiable. The thought of lying on his back while hiding—of being so vulnerable—is also unappealing. He moves on to the large, oak barrel beside it; holding his breath as the top comes off easily.

Surprisingly, the container is empty. The wood is stained on the inside and it smells strongly of fish, but there's room enough to accommodate him if he folds himself tightly. He clambers over several other crates to jump feet first inside; the wood is in fair condition, curved against the ribs, but there's a small hole and slight gaps in the slats that allow him a bit of air and a peephole into the world. It's enough to serve as a hiding place, and he slides the cover on over him.

He counts to one hundred, then does the same five times more. His view of the world is limited by his vantage point and the diameter of the hole, but he dare not exit too early, so he decides to start counting again.

He's reached seventy eight when he feels something knock against the side of the barrel. His heart leaps into his throat; he dares to look through the hole, but all he can see are a pair of legs—strong ones, at that. There are at least two voices, one of them unnervingly familiar, but thankfully, absent the harsh rhythms of the pickpocket.

Draco presses his back against the barrel and hugs his knees to his chest. There's a grunt as he finds the barrel, and himself with it, tilting back.

"Blimey! What does Harry have in here? This whole thing's got to weight at least fifteen stones!" The barrel's edge lands with a thud, the impact causing Draco's teeth to chatter. There's a heart-stopping moment when he hears someone trying to loosen the top.

"We haven't got the time," the second person answers. Draco can't see much, even through his small peephole in the slats; the voice is masculine as well, but with a more measured tone.

There are some heavy grunts, followed by another curse, and then Draco feels the barrel being hoisted onto a flat cart. "This better be worth it," the first voice mutters as another barrel thumps noisily next to Draco.

When the cart begins to roll, Draco has the sinking feeling he's just traded one bad situation for another.

*

"How many more do we have left?"

"There are five more crates, I think. Plus, we're still waiting for Harry."

There's a murmur—perhaps three or four voices, tinged with concern and an urgency, although Draco's too far away to make out their individual words.

He might be delirious from the heat. Perhaps he's in one of the assembly rooms, a night of fashionable amusement playing tricks with his head, because the dialect is distinctly cultured. He leans forward, trying to get his bearings as he peers through the small hole, and lets out a gasp.

There is no question that he is onboard some ship. The deck—what he can see of it—is narrower than that of a typical passenger or cargo ship. There is a woman crouched down several feet in front of him who appears to be inspecting several of the crates. She's dressed like a man, with breeches that hug the long lengths of her shapely legs, and her muslin shirt is gathered at her waist, the drape of it accentuating her soft curves. 

"Five more?" Draco can practically hear the woman frowning. She lifts the lid on one of the barrels, and Draco doesn't know what shocks him more, the thick, red hair that tumbles loose from under her hat, or the tattoo that decorates her forearm, visible even from this distance. It's of a Harpy, of the beautiful and vengeful type that Hesiod wrote about, its aggressive form surrounded by symbols of the wind and justice. There is no doubt in his mind that this is the same woman who mocked him just the night before. "This is less than three quarters full," she says, accusation in her tone.

"You know what happened last time, Gin," someone says. "We just need enough to reach the Isle of Hogsmeade. Too much more, and we'd be inviting the rats and vermin to share in our bounty."

"Yes, but last time, we nearly ran out—"

"We'll make do," someone says firmly. "Besides, we can stop at the Port of Cokeworth to replenish if we need to."

"Cokeworth? Are you crazy? You know that Harry would never voluntarily step foot back in that place!"

"We came back to London, didn't we?"

"Well, yes," the woman named Gin admits. "But that's only because of Seamus' poor mum—and, of course, wherever Seamus goes, so does Dean. Plus, Dumbledore needed to speak with Harry."

"So Harry came back, placing all of us in great danger," a man says, his voice frustrated and brash. "And worse of all, himself"

"Harry will always place the needs of others before his own," a fourth says. Her voice is slow and considering, carrying none of the intensity of emotions that seem to spill over Gin and the other speaker. In another setting, he might have even found it soothing. 

“Well, he's tempting fate a little too much for my taste," the first man says with some impatience. "He may be my best mate, but I don't care how brilliant of a pirate he is, even Harry can't outrun the oncoming storm even with a full wind at the Nimbus' sails." He lets out a reluctant sigh. "I'm just frustrated. You know I'd follow him to the ends of the earth."

Pirates? Draco just traded being gutted by a two-bit criminal for being shot or drowned by bloody pirates. Draco sucks in a deep breath, then regrets it as he inhales something dank and putrid from inside the barrel.

He tries to stifle his urge to heave, a faint wheeze escaping and his panic rising as something thumps on top of the barrel and begins to tap.

"No, Hedwig," the second female voice admonishes. The hammering stops. There's a rustling sound, and from his tiny vantage point, Draco can make out a pair of flapping wings. "You need to go back to your room, lovely. You're nearly as well-recognised as Harry!" The bird coos, ending with a throaty purr, then flies off.

"I swear, Luna, you spoil that bird too much," Gin laughs. "Keep feeding her treats, and she'll be waddling instead of flying."

"Pish! A bit of kindness is what we all desire." Luna moves closer to the barrel. Her skirts rest against the peephole, obstructing Draco's view. But as quickly as his heart sinks, it rises again, for the cover suddenly slides several inches—not enough that anyone standing over the barrel can easily ascertain what's in it, but enough that he's able to breathe more easily.

Draco hears the sounds of several items being loaded, the deck groaning as they hit heavily on the ground. "Harry and Hermione are right behind me," a person grunts, "and they found someone to replace Seamus and Dean on the crew."

"Just one?" Gin asks. Draco doesn't have to see to hear her worry, and he wonders what would make someone who seems so confident and fearless question the wisdom of her leader.

"Seamus and Dean were a package deal. We've always operated on a skeleton crew—seven people, seven cabins. It's a miracle that Seamus and Dean were able to share that small cabin like they did." The person who speaks reminds Draco of the bluestocking Hannah Moore—smart, stern, and utterly terrifying.

"I offered them my room, Hermione," a man says gruffly. His voice is thick and rough, and something about it makes Draco's breath hitch and heat pool in his gut. "It's more than double the size of the rest of the cabins."

"You need the space for your meetings. And…all your other various activities," Hermione says, disapproval in her tone. "Besides, I don't think Seamus and Dean minded too much."

"Is that whose room I will be staying in, then?" someone asks. They seem more timid than the rest; their tone is certainly lacking the friendly and occasionally antagonistic quality often present between people who've known each other for a very long time.

"And who do we have here?" Gin asks.

There are some faint chuckles, broken by Hermione's exasperated sigh. "This is Terry. Mr Boot is an excellent swordsman, and has knowledge of Common Law and legal precedence. He…"

Draco's mind stutters at the news. Terry Boot sounds familiar, and Draco wishes he could see the man's face. He remembers hearing about a Lord Webster Boot—the Baron of Swindon—whose parents Mr James Steward and the Lady Isolt Sayre had caused quite a scandal over half a century ago when they married, as Mr Steward was a commoner far beneath her station. Draco reins in his wandering thoughts, then presses his ear against the barrel, trying to hear Hermione's introductions.

"…so even though we fulfill some more traditional roles, we all lend a hand, wherever one is needed. On your left is Ron Weasley, the Sailing Master, who is responsible for navigating and sailing the ship. The woman to his left is Ginevra Weasley; she is our Boatswain and Rigger. Don't be surprised if you find her high on the mast with the sails more often than you do on deck."

"The pleasure is all mine," Gin—Ginevra—purrs as Boot chokes out a scandalised greeting. "And please, call me Ginny."

"Your...husband," Boot manages. "I don't fancy being left out at sea my first day, Mrs Weasley—"

"Firstly, Mrs Weasley is my mother. And I don't have a husband quite yet, isn't that right, Neville?" There's a moment's pause, which is broken by Ginny's loud guffaw. "Are you serious? Ron? That's a bit much, even for my tastes. Ron's my brother."

"Oh," and Draco feels embarrassed for Boot at that moment. "Well, pleased to meet you, Ginny," he says, his voice faint.

"To continue," Hermione says primly, "we have Neville Longbottom. He is the ship's botanist and Master Gunner. And, despite his acumen, has somehow managed to find himself enamoured with Ginevra."

"I'm a lucky woman," Ginny agrees. "Neville certainly knows how to handle a gun."

"Ginny…" The man who must be Neville coughs out his embarrassment. "Pleased to meet you, Terry. Welcome to our motley crew."

"Luna is to your right. She reads the weather and the winds, and is shockingly good at reading the moods and motivations of people. She is also our ship's Surgeon."

"Actually, I have a background in animal medicine. Although, I occasionally tend to humans, too." Draco recognises Luna as the woman who had coaxed Hedwig from the barrel earlier. There's an awkward pause before she speaks again. "Yes, I think you'll do. Welcome to our family."

Someone clears their throat. "Hermione is our Quartermaster," the man with the thrilling voice interrupts. "There are few times that I will need to assert my authority over everyone else, and these will be primarily in the midst of battle or while navigating dangerous passages. In all other instances, you will respect Hermione's decisions as much as you do mine." There's the sounds of footsteps, drawing nearer to Draco and then stopping. "In addition to your individual talents, you will start by fulfilling the job of the ship's Carpenter. I also expect the others to teach you, at a minimum, a rudimentary knowledge of their responsibilities."

"I look forward to it, Harry," Boot replies, almost reverently.

"Harry?" The garment that blocks Draco's view is suddenly gone. He peers out, but can't see much aside from a sea of legs. "The wind has turned. I fear if we don't set sail within the next half hour, our stay in England will be a much longer one than anticipated."

Harry swears under his breath. "Neville, please show Terry to his room. Ron and Ginny, prepare to set sail."

"I've already paved the way with some well-placed coin to the dockhands. We're following a packet ship out; they will be less likely to pay us any attention if we follow such a large conveyance."

"Thanks, Hermione." Even if Harry hadn't mentioned it earlier, there was no question as to how much he trusted the instincts of his Quartermaster. "I'll feel a lot better once we've made it past the North Sea and into the open waters of the Atlantic."

"Let go of your mask, Harry," Hermione says softly. "It's been years; people's fanciful imaginations have made you more recognisable in your disguise than without it."

"Not unless I'm below deck or out of British waters," Harry says firmly, brooking no argument. "Though it's been eleven years since they've set eyes on my countenance, there will be no question as to my identity if my scar is visible for all to see." There's some more conversation, but it's muffled, and Draco can't make out the words. He's also starting to perspire, and his clothes are warm and too tight. He's praying he doesn't pass out. Today's events catch up with him all of a sudden, made worse by the sudden lurching movement as the boat pulls away from the port, the slow, backwards flow stopping, then changing direction again, pulling right.

He's not sure how much time passes, but it's enough that he's wondering whether he will die the most ignominious death ever in the history of his family when they find him soiled, penurious and twisted in two. He's saved from his spiralling panic when the lid to the barrel flies open.

"Friend or foe?" Luna's voice filters through the black spots that dance before Draco's eyes. He blinks, and the first thing he notices is the sky. It's a perfect blue, hardly the weather he was expecting with all the crew's talk about an impending storm. The second thing he notices is the halo of white-blonde hair that surrounds Luna's delicate features, and her pale, silvery eyes. She looks ethereal, like an angel. Or, at least, a distant relative of a Malfoy.

"Hmm," Luna considers, then thrusts out her hand. "Friend, I think." She's surprisingly strong, which is a good thing, because Draco's legs give out as he tries to stand, and it is only through luck and her sheer will that he doesn't face-plant against the ledge of the barrel and split his lip. "I don't think you could do much damage in the state you're in, even if you were the enemy."

"Please…" Draco looks around wildly. They're still in the Pool, but the majority of the docks and buildings are behind them, and the waters are considerably wider and less congested. 

Luna gives him a considering look. "There is a terrible lightning storm coming our way. If you want to survive, I suggest you find a place to hide below deck."

"But…" Draco's mouth gapes. He knows it must be terribly unattractive. "I don't belong here. You're pirates."

Luna raises a brow. "And the government hires privateers to raid the ships of their enemies. Does one legitimise the occupation more than the other?"

"Your captain…he could kill me for hiding aboard his ship!"

"That is a bit presumptuous. Maim or punish, perhaps…" She purses her lips, then lets out a sigh. "Harry is never cruel, nor does he dole out punishment and retribution without reason. As I see it, you have two choices. You can either jump overboard, swim to shore, and take your chances with whatever you were running away from before you hid yourself in that filthy barrel. Or, you could stow away until we were far enough from land that Harry will feel guilty for throwing you overboard, then convince him to let you stay by appealing to his sense of decency."

"But—"

Luna whirls around, her grey eyes flashing in warning. "Our entire crew is working hard to make sure we remain safe, and I don't have time to debate the merits of each choice with you. Especially since your intentions are a bit murky." At Draco's look of defeat, her tone softens. "Well, not murky, exactly. But I don't think you even know yourself what it is exactly that you want." She picks up a small box from the ground and heads towards an opening in the middle of the deck. "If you do decide to come down, make sure you secure the hatch after you. I suggest you head down the passageway to the last room on your right; it is by far the largest, and will give you the most likely options for a hiding place. If you decide to leave, it's best you do it now, or else I pray that you are a very strong swimmer."

"Luna!" Draco calls as he climbs the rest of the way out of the barrel, just loud enough to capture her attention. "I don't understand. Why are you helping me?"

She gives him a sympathetic smile. "Because one way or another, we were all in your shoes."

*

Draco doesn't hear any signs of a storm, but the waters have definitely grown choppier; the boat, which seems to have been built to favour speed over stalwartness, has taken to periodically pitching back and forth. It makes a tenuous situation even more fragile. The room in which he's currently ensconced may be bigger than the rest, but it hardly qualifies as large— there's just enough room for a bed and a desk, and two chairs which, Draco assumes, this mysterious Harry must use during his meetings. It's fairly untidy—books and newspapers and clothes strewn everywhere—and the only redeeming quality is that it affords Draco a hiding place between two shirts and a pair of breeches that have been hung up to dry.

"Intruder!" Hedwig cries.

"Shhh!" Draco hisses. The infernal bird has been flying around Draco ever since he stepped foot in the room. He makes a shooing motion with both arms. "Go away."

Apparently, Go away means something quite different to parrots, because Hedwig chooses to perch on the shelf right above Draco and twist its neck to peer down at him. "Away! Go away!" the bird repeats, then does it again, faster and faster. "Go away, go away! Intruder!"

"Wait…" Draco looks around frantically. There's a small bowl with some grains and a tiny piece of cheese; the cheese looks relatively fresh, and Draco's suddenly reminded that his last meal was at least twelve hours ago. But he hasn't quite reached that level of desperation, and there's a bird that could probably peck his finger right off if he tried.

"Here," he says, holding out the cheese. "Good…Hedwig. Good bird."

"Hedwig," the parrot says, approvingly. She eyes him with something resembling suspicion, then pokes at the cheese with her beak.

"Yes, I'm fully aware of the damage you may inflict," Draco says as she gives him a warning peck with the tip.

The admission seems to mollify her. She takes the cheese in one claw and brings it to her mouth, clucking as if sampling the finest delicacy. "Good. Hedwig good. Intruder good," she proclaims.

The tiny victory nearly unravels Draco's already dissolving composure. He can't believe that he defied his mother, that he was robbed and assaulted, that he was threatened with his life, only to escape and find himself in jeopardy yet again. He strokes Hedwig's feathers, desperate for some reassurance, growing a bit bolder as she burbles and coos and leans into his touch.

"Friend or foe?" he murmurs. He receives his answer as the door to the room opens and Hedwig flies towards it, screaming.

"Intruder! Intruder!"

"Yes," the person says with a tired chuckle. Draco is so busy checking off the "foe" column next to Hedwig's name that he nearly doesn't recognise the voice as the deep and gravelly one that makes his insides flutter. The one that belongs to Harry.

He dares to peak around the hanging shirts, wanting to catch his first sight of Harry above a ruffled sleeve, and when he does, he almost lets out a sound of dismay. 

Harry is wearing a cloak, one of those plain, brown woolen ones whose massive hoods can hide a beautiful innocent's youthful face as well as an old crone's weathered one. But when he lowers the fabric from his head, his face is further hidden behind a domino. The mask is unadorned, larger than the ones favoured by guests at a masquerade.

There's something worrisome about Harry's desire to hide himself under so many layers. The plainness of the mask is foreboding, yet Draco can't help but be curious at what is hidden underneath. Harry's lips are full and strong, but the height of the mask can't quite cover the disfigurement that mars his forehead, the hint of a silvery-red scar dipping beneath the edge of the leather. Draco wonders if the rest of his face is just as disfigured, whether his cheeks are roped with gnarled or twisted flesh. It is impossible to see the colour of his eyes from this distance, but when the man raises his right hand to his head, running his fingers through the strands of his hair, Draco can see that there are scars on the back of that, too. It reminds Draco of the witches and sorcerers in the fairy tales his mother used to read him as a child, and he finds himself simultaneously fascinated and repulsed.

"It'll be nice to be back home, won't it, Hedwig?" Harry asks, and Hedwig chirps her agreement. He smiles, then turns away from Draco, bending down to unlace his boots. Even clothed, the lines of Harry's back are undeniably broad, his waist trim, and the curve of his arse shapely and muscular. It's a body that rivals a Greek god, the type that is immortalised in paintings and statues, whose power and grace are so innate it makes them even more beautiful.

Draco's heart catches in his throat. He remembers the time he saw the head gamekeeper at his family's estate divesting his clothes as he joined the trappers and warreners for a swim. The sight of all that flesh, glistening under the August sun, was nothing compared to this. Truth be told, Draco is having difficulty reconciling this newest revelation with the shock of Harry's marked skin. He's been accused of thinking too highly of his own looks and lineage by more than one disgruntled suitor, and he can't understand how someone who appears so scarred could move with such boldness. He knows he should look away—that the whole situation is highly improper, but he finds his eyes being drawn to Harry's movements, betwattled as Harry loosens the ties to his shirt, the fabric draping loose over his shoulders.

The tantalising peek at his golden, tanned skin causes Draco to suck in his breath. Hedwig seems to sense his predicament, as she hops along the top rail of Harry's chair and croaks out a laugh.

"Intruder," she says, laughing. She hops back and forth on her feet, her head bobbing towards Draco.

"Mmm," Harry mutters. He scratches the back of Hedwig's neck, then stretches his legs out in front of him. "Invaders are much too frequent an occurrence, Hedwig. Though it is nightmares that trespass in my sleep and sorrow that obtrudes while awake. I long for a time when my heart is battered by something sweet in their stead, and will welcome it gladly." His words are a bit slurred, though there is no mistaking the wistfulness in them. He leans forward and places a small looking glass atop his desk, then mutters as he reaches behind his neck to undo the fasteners of the mask.

The dim light of the lantern causes shadows to flicker over Harry's face. Draco bites back a whimper, his heart pounding as the mask slides off with barely a whisper, revealing a strong jaw and straight nose, and eyes the colour of the rarest emeralds. A large and jagged scar crosses angrily like lightning from the middle of his forehead to his right brow. It's a sight so shocking in the midst of his beauty beautiful that Draco lets out a gasp.

Harry's body stiffens at the sound, and when he whirls around his gaze is directed at the clothes that stand between him and Draco.

"Intruder!" Hedwig caws.

Traitor! Draco thinks. See if you'll get another treat from me again. He slams his eyes shut, vainly hoping like a child that it will make him invisible to the world. With the loss of his sight, every other sense seems amplified. The waves as they lap against the hull of the boat. Hedwig's coos. The smell of the ocean soaked through the wood of the boat and the harsh lye from Harry's laundered shirts. The scratchiness of his traded jacket and the stickiness of his skin, the ache of his legs from running, then sitting, the thundering of his heart.

What Draco can't sense is Harry. He hasn't heard any shouts or threats, so it's possible that Harry might be replacing his mask or weighing his options while remaining at his desk or contemplating the best way of disposing of Draco's much-too-young-to-die body. Of course, nothing has gone as planned in the last twenty-four hours, so it really should come as no surprise when Draco suddenly feels the sharp point of a knife against the curve of his throat.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter II 

 

Draco has heard stories, from men who have fought in wars, of what happens when one thinks they're about to die. Some say their lives flash like a series of portraits before their eyes, or that they speak with God or the Devil. So it is strange that Draco feels everything, yet nothing. He's acutely aware of the flurry of wings and Hedwig's frantic squawks, of the bilious churning of his stomach and the sour smell of his fear, of the trickle of sweat that collects between his forehead and the roughened woolen fabric of his cap—yet all he can think of is the blade that's held against his skin.

"Please," he croaks. He dares to look up; Harry's gaze is flat and impassive, but Draco can sense the anger coiled up within. He takes a deep breath, then winces as the knife inches deeper with the small movement. "I mean no harm."

"Intruder, good," Hedwig seems to agree. Thank God for small favours, for Harry hesitates at the pronouncement and fractionally loosens the press of the knife. The small difference is enough for Draco to take a gulping breath without being accidentally skewered, and he decides to press his advantage.

"Have pity on me. If I truly had a nefarious plan, I would not be hiding in a place where there was only one route of escape, and without any weapons to speak of. I may have a high opinion of myself in certain matters, but I certainly don't think that I have the fleetness of foot nor the physical power necessary to best you."

Harry cocks his head. Draco may be imagining it, but it appears as if he's holding back a smirk. "I have a feeling that sharp tongue of yours has inflicted some considerable damage on its own. Are you trying to dull my defenses with honied falsities?" he asks, blade still in hand.

"No! I—" For some reason, the thought causes Draco to blush furiously. "I mean, it's fairly obvious that we're ill-matched physically." When Harry rakes his eyes over Draco's body and arches a brow, Draco grows flustered. "That is not to say that I can't hold my own. I'm quite skilled with a smallsword," he adds, his fear-addled brain tripping over his tongue as he tries to defend his honour.

"So you engage in a bit of swordplay, then," Harry says with a sly smile. He motions for Draco to stand, keeping his blade trained carefully on Draco's neck. When Draco rises and shakes off the dirt from his clothes, Harry wrinkles his nose. "Or perhaps you prefer to defeat your opponents another way—with your putrid stench."

Harry's barbed remark tears a hole into Draco's already-frayed control. "And perhaps you are no more than a thief who preys on the vulnerable. A coward behind a mask."

The smile drops from Harry's face as his eyes glitter with fury. He draws himself up, besting Draco's six foot frame. "You know not of what you speak," he hisses, angry and foreboding. "Show me the insides of your jacket pockets. Slowly."

Draco presses his nails into his palms to stop from trembling. He inches his right hand into the corresponding pocket. It's deeper than normal, no doubt used to hold objects dredged from the river by its former owner. There's an uneven thread that's loosened from the lining, and a silty residue rubs rough under his fingernail from a hole that has formed in the corner. As luck would have it, he remembers his ring; there's no question that the large and flawless emerald will rouse Harry's suspicions. He's never been so grateful for its ill fit, and he easily slides it off, fitting it through the hole before he turns the pocket out.

Harry's eyes narrow. "The other one now," he grunts without lowering the blade. Draco does the same on the left, trying not to wince when his hand encounters something that's misshapen and…squishy. The Thames is famous for its denizens, ships and corpses and excrement alike.

"Hands up. Turn around," Harry says next. Draco follows his command, though the size of his jacket limits his ability to reach completely.

Still, he's shocked when he feels Harry behind him. Harry's chest is broad and strong, and the heat of his body is notable despite their layers of clothes. His mouth hovers near Draco's ear, close enough that Draco can smell the whisky and tobacco on Harry's breath, feel the dangerous rasp of his stubble. Some instinct overwhelms his weary mind and he leans back, biting out a gasp when he's stopped by Harry's thighs, bracing and strong beneath his breeches.

Harry moves quickly, shifting the knife into his left hand and using his right to restrain Draco at the waist, the knife's blade resting against the softness of Draco's belly.

"What were you thinking?" Harry muses as his right hand deftly skims the hem of Draco's sleeves.

Draco can hardly breathe, knowing how easily the weapon's angle can change with a simple twist of Harry's wrist. Harry continues his search, seemingly ignorant of Draco's distress as he lowers Draco's arms, then removes the jacket and throws it to the side.

"To wander onto a pirate's ship—into a captain's chambers, no less—is a fool's errand at best, and courting death at worst." Harry's hands are roaming in the space between Draco's legs, down towards shoes that are now heelless and scuffed.

"Apparently I wasn't. Thinking, that is," Draco grouses, trying to ignore the shiver that comes over him.

Harry stands once more and takes a small step back. "And is that a common occurrence? Cap off," Harry says, indicating the sad, shapeless cover atop Draco's head. Draco heaves a great sigh then pulls it off slowly as his hair spills out from hiding.

A low curse escapes Harry's lips and his face sets into a scowl. His eyes roam over Draco intently, tracking the lengths of Draco's legs, the angle of his hips, and the rise and fall of his chest before falling onto his hair. With his jacket off, Draco feels even more vulnerable; his shirt is soiled and torn, the topmost buttons missing, and his cravat was lost somewhere in the fray. There's something oddly calculating in Harry's actions, and Draco flushes under the scrutiny. 

Suddenly, Harry grabs Draco's hand. The instinct for self-preservation is too great and Draco pulls away, but Harry has an iron grip, his strong, thick fingers latched tightly around Draco's wrist. After a small tussel, Harry easily turns Draco's hand palm up. Draco's unsure as to what Harry sees, but a sense of foreboding steals over him upon seeing the grim expression on Harry's face.

"You mean no harm, you say? We'll see what the Quartermaster says about that." Harry reasserts his grip and drags Draco along with him, out of the room.

Draco's legs wobble, his exhaustion and weakness his near undoing. A strong arm suddenly wraps around his waist, steadying him, and Draco realises with a start that it's Harry who prevents him from falling.

He curses his willfulness. In hindsight, it would have been so much easier to visit with the Goyles instead.

*

The Quartermaster is not what Draco expects. She's petite, for one, and while she doesn't have the patrician beauty of the Greengrass sisters, or possess Pansy's waspish tongue, there's an air of terrifying competence about her. It is an outstanding feature that surpasses any physical attributes, such as the hair that falls in a wild mane about her shoulders, or the intelligence in her eyes. It is the character of one who could slay their opponents in a war of strategy, and there's no question that Harry trusts her implicitly. She sits across from Draco, hands folded primly in front of her, with Harry at her side.

The intensity with which she assesses Draco makes him swallow. He looks towards the wall, bending under her gaze, his breath hitching once he catches sight of his reflection.

His porcelain skin is covered in grime and sweat, flushed from the sun and heat. His eyes are sunken, and his lips are chapped and swollen. His hair is a disaster, the layers of dirt and unthinkables from his borrowed cap transforming the silken, gold sheen of his famous tresses into something mousy. There's a pang of regret when he notes that the waves of his Brutus hairstyle—perfect enough to give Beau Brummell a run for his money—now lay in a stringy mess, his painstaking hours of labour for naught. He is unrecognisable right now as the heir to one of Britain's oldest families. It is devastating…but it may also be the very thing that saves him.

"What could you have been running away from that was worth taking your chances with a group of pirates?" Hermione muses.

Draco scowls. It's a natural reflex, one that is unfortunately enabled by vanity, money, and possessing too thin a skin. "Is that a rhetorical question? My answer will either displease you, or be considered a falsehood designed to play on your sympathies." He looks at Harry, then away again once he realises just how much is at stake. "Will you make me walk the plank?" he asks, voice faint.

"I vote for keelhauling," Harry says.

Draco wonders whether one can break his teeth from sheer will, given how tightly Harry is clenching his jaw. He wraps his arms around himself instinctively at the thought of being dragged beneath the water while being flayed by barnacles.

Hermione looks at Draco, warning in her eyes as she doesn't deny his accusation. She drums her nails against the wood, their tips clicking an ominous rhythm. "Perhaps you can start by telling us your name."

Draco recalls the conversation overheard on the deck regarding Harry's meeting with Lord Dumbledore. The elderly baron has been nothing but a vocal opponent of the Malfoy family's interests.

"Jacob," he answers, thinking quickly. "Jacob Black, Miss Hermione."

Hermione's eyes narrow as her lips press into a frown. "I don't recall telling you my name."

"Keelhauling is starting to sound more and more appealing," Harry says, looking even angrier. He leans forward, propping himself with his elbows on the table as he stares at Draco, green eyes flashing unmercifully. He runs a hand through his unruly mane, and despite the dangerous scowl that adorns Harry's sun-tanned face, Draco hates that he finds him wildly attractive.

"I…I overheard you. While I was hiding, in one of the barrels." Draco scowls as Harry snorts. "You were making your introductions to Boot."

"I thought I was paying McLaggen per pound of wheat, not spoilt flesh," Harry mutters. "That's several weeks' worth of food we've lost in your stead."

"'Tis not my fault that you and your crew chose the wrong barrel! I assure you, it was not my intention to be at sea, so far from home, and basking in the pleasure of your hospitable company. And if it is grain that you paid this McLaggen for, you've been made a fool. The barrels were filthy; there was nothing but mold and rot inside."

That infuriating smirk reappears on Harry's face. "At least you found an appropriate hiding place."

The man is as smug as he is obnoxious boor. Draco's cheeks pink and he clamps his mouth shut as he fights the retort on his tongue.

Hermione shoots Harry a bewildered expression. "What possessed you to hide away in a barrel, Jacob?"

Draco hesitates. He decides that the closer he stays to the truth, the better. "Someone wronged me. Unfortunately, when I attempted to confront them, they preferred to rectify the situation with their fists and a blade."

"Hey, love." Another man enters the room and presses a kiss along the back of Hermione's neck, causing her to blush prettily. He has flame-red hair and freckled skin and Draco recognises him with a start, for he is none other than the man who had warned him of the pickpockets, then adamantly refused to assist him.

"Hey, Harry." The man's blue eyes sharpen as Draco shrinks back further in his seat. "Who's this?" he asks suspiciously.

"Jacob Black," Hermione supplies.

"A stowaway," Harry says simultaneously.

Blue eyes narrow in Draco's direction. "You look familiar." Draco tries to keep his panic from manifesting as the man moves closer, his eyes peering intently. "Have we met before?"

Draco shakes his head, grateful that his voice is parched and raspy. "I think I would have remembered. It's not too often that one meets someone who looks like you."

The man's hand slides back down to his side, grinning. "Actually, I can think of six others, if you count my sister and brothers." Then, as quickly as it appeared, his smile is gone, and Hermione reaches back to place a hand on his shoulder.

"This is Ron Weasley. He and his sister Ginevra are part of the crew." She lets out a long sigh. "The more pressing question is: what are we going to do with you, Jacob?"

"Did you search him?" Ron asks.

"Yes. Didn't find anything," Harry admits, almost reluctantly.

Ron pulls up a chair and sits to Hermione's right. "So, Jacob. Are you with us for a brief or extended stay?" he asks wickedly.

Hermione gives Ron a flat look. "Do you have any skills, Jacob? Well, besides baiting Harry."

Draco takes in a long breath. Harry is a lost cause, and Ron will likely follow Harry's lead. Hermione is his best choice, if he can appeal to both her sense and sensibility. He discounts dancing, riding, and his love of books as anything that may improve his standing in their eyes. "I can handle my own with a sword and a gun," he says. Such an admission might rouse their suspicions, but at least they're useful skills, given the pirates' lifestyle. "I'm fairly good at maths." Actually, he's excellent at it, having assisted his parents with running Malfoy Manor and their other households. "And I'm a fast learner and a hard worker."

"We could always use an additional hand, at least until we reach the Isle of Hogsmeade," Hermione says thoughtfully.

"It would be another mouth to feed. Not to mention, we don't have the room," Harry replies. Draco is grateful that it's not an outright 'no'.

"We could drop him off at the next port."

"And then what?" Draco asks, unable to hide his fright. He has no money to speak of, and no change of clothes. At best, he might be able to manage a steerage ticket if he were to sell his ring, likely for much less than its actual worth. The thought of staying in the lower deck, without any bedding to speak of on a trans-Atlantic voyage, is disheartening, to say the least.

"Perhaps I could be of some service to you in exchange for a small wage?" he proposes. He could make enough to cover his room and board in New York with the monies made while his father wires the funds necessary for a private room in a cabin passage back to England. It is a prospect that gives him hope, no matter how difficult the task the pirates may set forth for him.

Ron tilts his head back and guffaws, his long legs spreading out under the table as he looks at Harry pointedly. "Harry has no need to pay for his pleasure. There are plenty of men and women who are willing to service him for free."

"No!" Draco chokes out. "I only meant…" He stops, his words trailing off helplessly. The idea of selling himself in such a way, when he hasn't experienced anything more than a chaste kiss, rankles as much as the idea that Harry could seek relief so freely. 

"If we spare your life, you would receive a place to sleep and food in return for your work," Harry grunts out. "I believe that's more than generous, given the circumstances."

Draco snaps his mouth shut. "It is," he nods. He will take what he can at this time; there will always be a chance to gain favour later. "Thank you for your generosity." The words come out with near-sincerity, but Harry's lips thin a fraction further.

"There's still a matter of his sleeping quarters," Ron says, arching a brow.

Hermione taps her fingers on the desk once more. "We can't put Jacob in a room with Luna, Ginny, or myself. Ron's room—" She darts a look at Harry "—is unavailable for obvious reasons. Neville has earned his space, and Terry, as the newest planned crew member, has the smallest room. Plus, someone has to keep an eye on Jacob, at least until he earns our trust." She looks up at Harry, her mouth softening in sympathy. "That leaves you, Harry."

Harry lets out a low groan. "You know I have difficulty sharing space with anyone else."

"It would be temporary." Hermione lays a hand on his shoulder. "Unless you have any other suggestions?"

Harry looks at his friends, the three of them appearing to communicate silently as Draco holds his breath. "It is a temporary arrangement," he says finally, resignation in his tone. "And give him one of the buckets of rainwater and a container of soft soap to wash with. The entire situation stinks enough without having such a bold reminder."

*

Harry's second requirement is that Draco launder his clothes using his residual bathwater. It is difficult enough bathing in the chilly water while using a soap much too harsh for his delicate skin, but Draco has no idea how to go about washing his clothes afterwards. In the end, he plunges his trousers and shirt into what's left of the water in the bucket, watching it turn an even murkier grey before rinsing everything off with some saltwater. He brings his pitiful, sodden garments to the back of the ship to lay on the rack as Ron showed him earlier, hoping they'll dry by morning.

He wraps himself in a towel and heads back to the cabin. When he arrives, Harry is waiting, holding out a nightgown as well as a white, muslin shirt and a pair of short drawers and trousers. 

"For me?" Draco asks, touched. He had no idea what he was to do until his clothes had dried, and hadn't dared to ask for anything more.

Harry nods, his nose wrinkling as hands over the garments and looks Draco over. Heat crawls up Draco's neck as he feels, once more, that he's lacking. "I didn't think I'd have to specify that your hair needed to be washed as well," Harry finally says.

Draco doesn't dare do that; it is a small miracle that Ron hasn't recognised Draco as the imperious aristocrat he encountered on the wharf a mere eight hours earlier. He's thankful the Sailing Master was preoccupied during their encounter, but their close interaction, along with Draco's unusual hair colour, would certainly put Draco's alias in jeopardy.

"I took a damp cloth to it, but the water was already dirty," Draco says, which is the truth. He heads towards the corner where Harry's laundry hangs, thankful for a modicum of privacy. He checks on his ring; it's currently tucked into a small knothole in one of the floorboards, having been placed there when he retrieved his jacket to be laundered. "I'll wash it next time."

"See that you do. Heirloom parasites are uncomfortable little buggers and nigh impossible to get rid of," Harry points out, and Draco pales, his body giving an involuntary shudder.

Draco unfolds the nightshirt. There is a name written on the collar, the ink faint. Diggory, he's able to make out, just barely. When he puts it on, he's glad that the design is simple enough that he doesn't require a manservant. The hem falls to his ankles, though it is large through the chest and shoulders, and the fabric smells faintly of amber and musk.

"Who's Diggory?" Draco asks as he exits from behind the shirts. There's a makeshift pallet on the floor, leaving no question as to where Draco is expected to sleep. "Is he one of the crew?"

Harry's face twists as he watches Draco slip under the thin sheet. His eyes, formerly so expressive, now look strangely flat.

"He was." Harry offers nothing additional, and Draco is left to wonder whether this Diggory fellow left on bad terms. Or perhaps he was a former lover, given the fact that Harry still possesses his nightshirt. It's a thought that turns Draco's mood sour as he pulls against the cotton, tucking it away from his skin.

Harry turns around and snuffs out the candle. The cabin grows black, but Draco hears the occasional flutter of Hedwig's wings and the rustle of fabric as Harry removes his clothes.

"Harry?" Draco asks softly once he hears Harry settle into bed, the frame creaking. Harry stops moving, and the cabin is pulled into a thick silence.

"Go to bed," Harry finally says, his voice gruff. "We've an early start tomorrow."

Draco turns around, hot tears of frustration gathering at the corners of his eyes as the import of the day suddenly hits him. Every muscle aches; he's tired and stiff, dirty and penniless, and uncertain if he'll ever make it back to London and his family. Even worse is the feeling that he's so very alone in the world.

He's not sure how many hours pass, but it's utter exhaustion that finally pulls him into a restless sleep.

~O-O~

"Jacob!" Something flies at Draco, hitting him in the head. "Rise and shine; you're supposed to be on deck and not spending the entire day with your arse in bed!"

Draco opens a bleary eye, then shuts it immediately once he encounters Ron's much-too-gleeful face. "I can't shine if it's still dark outside," he grumbles, pulling the covers over his face. "Besides, no one can sleep with those infernal bells going off every hour."

Ron grips the edge of the sheet and gives it a forceful tug. "Rubbish. Those are watch bells; they go off every four hours. I should know, I just finished the last one." His eyes narrow, his face suddenly serious. "You're on probation, you know. Harry doesn't usually take to strangers in our midst so easily. I wouldn't push the boundaries of his hospitality, or else you might find yourself behind the boat with the rest of the laundry."

Draco recalls the flimsy board that trawls behind the ship and wonders if it might be preferable to Harry's anger. In the end, he decides that he should risk neither.

"Fine," he grouses, kicking at the sheets that have become entangled in his feet. He's a Malfoy. How hard could it be, anyway?

*

It's difficult enough to greet the ungodly hour, let alone without the assistance of a manservant or the necessities to complete his ablutions. His borrowed clothes are ill-fitting, and he's sure his eyes are red-rimmed from the salty air and his exhaustion. Draco brushes his hair back as the wind fights valiantly against him, causing the stringy and dull locks to slap against his sensitive skin. 

"You weren't with the rest of the crew yesterday." The man next to Draco looks at him with no small amount of curiosity. "I'm sorry," he says finally, his mouth quirking into an apologetic smile. "It's just that you look familiar." He holds out his hand, and his grip is warm and friendly. "I'm Terry. Terry Boot."

"Jacob Black," Draco says in return. He has a particular memory for names—something that was encouraged by his father to enable Draco's political aspirations—and he recalls that Boot's circle touched on his own through their mutual friendship with Zacharias Smith, even though the former attended Bedford School instead of Eton. Draco looks away in the hopes that Boot won't notice Draco's unusual and identifiable eye colour.

"They're amazing, aren't they?" Boot remarks, mistaking Draco's reason for looking away.

Draco looks up to where Boot is pointing. The skies over the waters are kissed with the beginnings of the sun, the cobalt-black turning a lavender-grey, and even though it's muted, it's brilliant. There are two figures dangling from the masts high above, their limber forms scaling so high they look to be touching the heavens.

Draco squints at the smaller. He can just make out the red hair that's whipping about from where it's pulled back like a horse's tail on top of her head.

"That's Ginny," he says to no one in particular, watching open-mouthed as she attaches the head of the upper topsail to its mast. There's another person dangling above her, his body hale and strong. They work in synchrony, the strength and fluidity of their movements almost like flying, freed from their earthbound duties.

"Yes," Boot murmurs, entranced.

The man who is working with Ginny climbs down behind her. As he descends, his muscles strain and flex in the dawning light, the brightly-coloured ink that decorates his rippling back moving with each step. His hair is as black as a raven's wing, and, like many of the crew, held by a strap at the nape of his neck. The predatory way he scales down the mast stirs something inside Draco. Something exciting, and perhaps a bit dangerous.

"Harry's something, isn't he?" Boot says knowingly.

Draco gapes. "That's Harry?"

"Yes," Boot says with a chuckle. "Despite his fearsome reputation, he really does consider himself equal to all on his crew. No one would suspect that the legendary Master of Death is as comfortable rigging a sail and cooking a meal as he is plotting an attack on his adversaries."

Master of Death? Draco's knees buckle as the rest of Boot's ramblings get lost in the roar that fills Draco's ears. The Master of Death's hatred of the aristocracy is legendary; it is even more imperative now that Draco keep his identity hidden. He takes the edge of his cap and lowers it further, making sure to cover any loose strands of hair.

"Glad to see you awake before the forenoon," a deep voice rumbles in Draco's ear, its throaty timbre causing his pulse to flutter.

Draco frowns as Harry steps away to shake hands with Boot.

"I told you I'm a hard worker," Draco protests. "But my body still suffers from yesterday's events. And it's not as if anyone has informed me on my schedule or responsibilities. Or what I should wear," he reminds Harry, unable to withhold his petulant tone.

Harry folds his arms across his bare chest, his skin glistening with sweat. "The schedule changes every day. We rotate our watches, and everyone is expected to learn each other's duties, although there will always be a person in charge. As for clothes, wear something light, but sturdy. Or, in your case, whatever's not in the wash," he says with a smirk.

"What would you like me to do, Harry?" Boot asks excitedly. His obsequious behaviour grates on Draco's nerves, especially since Harry doesn't seem to mind that Boot has no idea what his responsibilities for the day are, either. Then again, Boot has been shamelessly ogling Harry's body. Draco supposes that sort of wanton behaviour appeals to men with the size of Harry's ego.

"You and Hermione are to set up the records for our journey, and ration our food and water supply. We hadn't planned on having an eighth person on board," Harry says, looking at Draco.

Draco perks up at hearing Boot's assignment. He has great experience with ledgers and apportioning supplies himself, and is sure he can do a better job than Boot. His goal at this point is self-preservation, anything that would prove his use and reduce his chances of being thrown overboard.

"What did you have in mind for me?" he asks, almost eager. "Given my experience with a shotgun and a rifle, I thought I could help out with the artillery." It would not be unusual for Draco to return from the fowling grounds with two or three braces of pheasant for supper.

Harry turns to Draco, his eyes brimming with amusement. "I appreciate the suggestion, but I've known you for less than twelve hours, Jacob. What kind of fool do you take me for, to assume I would assign you to the gunnery?" He whispers something in Boot's ear, then dismisses him as Boot heads back below deck. Draco fights the urge to wipe that self-satisfied expression off both their faces.

Once Boot disappears, Harry turns and walks towards the boat's stern. "Are you coming?" he asks, lifting a brow.

Draco resists the urge to tell Harry that he's been waiting patiently while Harry and Boot had their tête-à-tête. He falls into step behind Harry, his unease growing as they approach an area on the deck that holds a bucket of sand, a pail of water, and a mop.

Draco looks at Harry helplessly. "You expect me to—?"

"Why, swab the deck, of course." Harry grins.

"Surely there must be a better way you could utilise my talents. I could help Hermione and Boot; I could learn to rig the sails with Ginevra." Draco takes a deep breath as he feels his temper rising. "You said you considered everyone equals on board!"

Harry's brows draw down in the center, his lips thinning with displeasure. "We are. And your responsibilities will increase once I see what you're capable of, and after we've established some trust." He motions to the deck, which is damp from the ocean water, several areas muddied by gunpowder. "You might think the task menial, but it is a necessity. As you can see, some of the crew, including myself, often walk the decks barefoot. Sanding the surface helps rid it of any splinters. And loose powder from the guns can not only damage the wood, but pose a fire hazard. Swabbing the deck is a task that all of us perform. Plus it affords a person time for contemplation and teaches discipline." He hands Draco the mop as the silence stretches between them.

"Far be it for me to be the reason why you have splinters in your delicate feet," Draco says with a sigh as he takes the mop from Harry's hand and squats down in the corner. Though the job promises to be monotonous and arduous, he refuses to give Harry Potter—Master of Death, wanted criminal, and Draco's reluctant saviour—the satisfaction of his failure.

*

"Here," Neville says as he hands Draco a cloth soaked in tea. "Place it against the back of your neck and then I'll give you some extract of meadowsweet for your fever."

"Thank you, Neville." Draco accepts the compress gratefully, hissing when the wet cloth makes contact with his sunburned skin. He tries to settle his aching muscles against the chair in the kitchen, but his legs are uncooperative and stiff. "If you don't mind my asking, how does a Master Gunner know so much about medicine?"

Neville pulls out a chair and sits down next to Draco. "To be fair, I think Harry could appoint anyone on this crew to be the Master Gunner. Ginny wields a blunderbuss with more accuracy than anyone I know, while Luna favours the weight of a pistol. Hermione is especially skilled with a smallsword, Ron enjoys the speed of a rapier, while Harry is proficient in all. But it was my luck against Voldemort's lover—the Lady Nagini, a woman whose viciousness was as great as her beauty—that earned me the reputation of a skilled fighter."

"Somehow, I doubt that luck had much to do with it," Draco muses. "Either way, it still doesn't explain how you became a healer."

Neville smiles. "Luna is much more suited for the position than I. My interest is in remedies of the botanical variety. My family has a large estate, and my parents…" Neville's voice trails off, and he looks away from Draco before regaining his composure. "Well, my parents, when they were well, took an active interest in our gardens. I learned to appreciate plants for their ability to heal as well as for their beauty." He leans forward to take the end of the towel that's fallen down Draco's back and reposition it so it covers Draco's shoulder.

It's a small gesture, but one that's filled with such consideration that Draco is sincerely moved. The emotions of the past twenty-four hours come crashing to the fore, and to his horror, he feels the sting of tears against his tired eyes.

"I'm sorry," Draco says, wiping angrily at his face.

Of course, Harry chooses that very moment to enter the room. He's carrying a platter of food and a bottle of wine, which he quickly places on the table as he takes a chair to sit opposite Draco.

"What happened?" Harry asks, his voice filled with concern.

"Nothing." Draco tries to suppress his sniffles, but the act only causes his face to contort unattractively, adding embarrassment to his list of wounds.

"If one of my crew is hurt, it's my business to know about it," Harry persists.

"The sun is brighter on the water. It's something my skin seems to take issue with," Draco says grudgingly.

Harry reaches up and touches Draco's forehead. Draco's eyes drop down in response, and he feels a bit lightheaded when he catches sight of the way Harry's breeches stretch across his thighs and what appears to be a well-endowed front. He bites down on his lip, hard enough to wince; there's no telling what may spill out of his mouth now that he's feeling as if he were half-sprung.

"You're feverish," Harry says angrily before turning to Neville. "Has he taken any meadowsweet?"

"Not yet," Neville replies. He hands a phial over to Harry. "I was about to get him something to eat; it's better if he has some food in his belly."

Harry grabs a glass from the shelf and fills it with water. "Drink," he orders, holding the cup up for Draco.

Draco eyes the bottle of wine. "I'd prefer some of that claret. I believe I've earned it."

"You'll have some once you're no longer overheated. Drink," Harry growls again, unmoved.

Draco sighs, then takes the glass from Harry and sips. His throat is parched, his lips burn as the cool liquid slides past them, and he's surprised he hasn't been more aware of just how thirsty he is. He takes several more sips, and before he knows it, the glass is nearly empty.

Harry refills Draco's glass once more, then grabs something from a basket on the counter. He places the phial of meadowsweet in front of Draco, along with the platter of food. "Start with the biscuit, slowly. When you finish, I want you to take Neville's medicinal."

"Are you going to tell me when I should take a piddle as well?" Draco asks crossly.

Neville lets out a delicate cough. "Um…I'll bring another phial of meadowsweet to your cabin, gentlemen," he says as he stands and lays a hand on Draco's arm. "I hope you feel better, Jacob. Excellent work, for your first day. Many people would have stopped long before you. You should be plumed about it." He gives Harry a pointed look, then heads out of the kitchen.

"I like him," Draco says quietly. He surveys the fare in front of him; the salted pork looks dry and unappealing, but the biscuit smells divine. He breaks off a piece, surprised to discover that it's still warm, and pops it into his mouth. "Bloody hell," he groans, his eyes nearly rolling backwards. "This is incredible." He licks the crumbs from the corner of his mouth before taking another bite, wiping the remnants of the buttery morsels from his fingers after he swallows, propriety be damned. He repeats the action several times, only to discover that he's devoured the biscuit in under a minute.

"I can die happily now," Draco says, opening his eyes, only to find Harry staring at him with an unreadable expression. "Wherever did you get these?"

"I made them," Harry says, his voice slightly strangled. "They're flavoured with the filberts we brought back from our last voyage to Turkey."

Draco stares as Harry's cheeks grow even pinker. "So your duties extend to feeding everyone as well?"

"It's something that we all can do. But…I don't mind cooking, as it turns out. I had to learn how to do so early in my life. In a strange way, I find it somewhat soothing." Harry hesitates, then takes a deep breath. "I can teach you, if you'd like."

Although Harry's brows are drawn down, and his tone oddly reluctant, Draco knows a conciliatory gesture when he hears one.

"I would. Very much so," Draco says. He watches as something softens in Harry's expression at his answer. Feeling self-conscious, Draco reaches for a fork with the intent of spearing the strip of pork from the platter.

The handle rubs against a blister on the palm of his hand. "Damnation," Draco curses as the fork falls to the tabletop with a loud clatter.

In a blink of an eye, Harry is beside him. Harry reaches out for Draco's hand even as Draco tries to hide the evidence of his failure. He can't understand how something as simple as wielding a mop leaves him questioning his most basic competencies.

"Let me see," Harry says quietly.

Draco surrenders with a sigh, his body going pliant. "It's nothing, really…" he starts as Harry turns his hand over and makes a distressed sound. Draco is tempted to have a similar reaction when he sees his poor hand for the first time. His nails are broken and ragged, two with blood under their nail beds, and all are blackened from the residue of powder and tar. His palms are chaffed, the pads blistered and open. His fingers are so swollen that his family's ring wouldn't even fit, large as it is. His delicate fingers and smooth skin, long a source of pride and vanity, are now roughened and ugly.

Draco chokes back the lump in his throat. Harry brushes the inside of Draco's wrist with his thumb, then looks up, his face pinched. "I…I know who you are. Or at least, what you are." He withdraws his hand to scrub his face, causing his hair to stick up wildly. "I mean, it wasn't difficult to see that you weren't born into a life of hard labour. Your accent…it's too posh. Your hands have likely never held anything heavier than a quill or a saddle until now. And though you wore a hat when we first met, there was no break in the colour of your skin from where it was hidden from the sun." 

"Oh." Draco fights the urge to fidget, something he hasn't had to contend with since he was a child. "I…I work in a shop," he thinks quickly, trying to bridge the divide between reality and falsity. "I was employed by a stationer on Cockspur Street, and as such, am more familiar with the weight of a tome in my hand than a bucket and mop."

"Yet you blithely talk of being assigned to the gunnery," Harry reminds him pointedly.

"My father has a parcel of land in Wiltshire; several hundred acres," Draco adds desperately, decreasing the actual number by over tenfold. "As one of the newer members of the gentry, he wished for me to have the education of those of a higher social stature, so…" He shrugs, holding his palms up, and allows Harry to draw his own conclusions.

"A gentleman farmer?" Harry asks with a raised brow. "You're a member of the gentry. You have more than nearly ninety percent of the population."

"Are you going to cast me overboard?" Draco asks, voice small.

Harry lets out a genuine laugh, one that has Draco smiling despite his predicament. "You are preoccupied with the thought of us feeding you to the sharks. Would you prefer that we do so?"

"It is nearly one and the same, for there appears to be plenty of sharks onboard as well," Draco quips.

Harry's eyes glint with amusement, and Draco realises that the man is undeniably beautiful. Were he to appear in high society, men and women would be falling at his feet.

"Touché," Harry says. "Your wit is as conspicuous as your obstinance. You never tried to shirk your responsibilities, as miserable as they made you."

"How would...?" Draco stops, mouth agape. "You were keeping watch on me!"

Harry scowls. "Of course I was watching you. You are a stowaway, an unknown with a suspicious background."

The smugness that Draco feels upon being found free of censure disappears as quickly as it came. "Will this be a regular occurrence?" he asks. He looks down at the food on his plate, his appetite lost. "I understand your suspicion, but I hope to eventually merit your trust."

"Isn't life is like that, though?" Harry asks. "Discovering who is deserving of our faith?"

"I suppose." Draco thinks about his father and their connections; there is an element of trust, but loyalties can be bought for a price, oftentimes more easily than principle. He's used to people fawning over him—for his looks, his wealth, or for what his name can bring them.

"You don't believe that?"

"I don't know that I've ever had to think about it in such a manner," Draco answers truthfully.

Harry must think that Draco's faring better, because he pours Draco a half-glass of wine. "'Tis a dangerous way to live." 

"I don't know of any other." Draco picks up his fork gingerly, this time tolerating the weight of the handle as he selects a strip of pork. Of course, Draco would much prefer the flesh of a roasted suckling pig, but the dried meat is tastefully seasoned, and though a bit tough for his taste, goes down nicely with the wine.

Harry stretches his legs out in front of him, his eyes fluttering shut. He's quiet for so long that Draco wonders if he's fallen asleep. He takes the opportunity to drink in the lines of Harry's face, lingering on the jagged scar that angrily crosses his forehead. Harry's face is full of angles—the square planes of his jaw, the straight line of his nose, the hard slope of his brow, the strong curves of his mouth—but they're different from Draco's delicately sharp features. It's as if an artist sculpted Harry out of marble, but feared for something too perfect and left his chisel lax in order to make him more human. But here, with his eyes closed, those hard edges smoothed over, Harry is almost ethereal in repose.

Draco is so caught up in his musings that he startles when Harry speaks.

"The people closest to me were betrayed by people they once thought they knew. I can't afford to make the same mistakes. If I can't learn from history and my own misfortune, then they were for naught."

Draco pushes the meat around on his plate. "People like me will never earn you trust, will we?"

Harry's eyes pop open. For someone who was practically slumbering moments ago, he appears remarkably sharp. "Though many have tried, I don't think you're a spy. There's no way my enemies would have put someone right in the middle of a lion's den who was so obviously in the suds," he says with a wry grin.

"What gave it away?" Draco laughs. "My talent for knocking myself on my arse with a broom? The way I couldn't stand, nevermind walk, after I was on my knees with a holystone?"

"Yes. All of that," Harry admits. "And yet, despite it all, you refused to give up. You needed to prove to yourself that you could be a meaningful and productive member of the crew, even when you were given the most menial tasks. You needed to succeed, even at the expense of all that pretty skin."

"You think I'm pretty," Draco beams.

A reluctant smile tugs at the corners of Harry's mouth. His eyes narrow, this time not in suspicion, but amusement. "I believe I said it was your skin that was."

"The last time I checked, that was a part of me. Thankfully."

Harry's eyes roll heavenwards. "God, you're such an arse."

"I've been told by quite a few people that is another rather delectable part of me," Draco says, batting his lashes coyly.

Harry shakes his head in disbelief. "You're incorrigible. I'm definitely keeping an eye on you."

"Good," Draco says with a grin as colour steals up Harry's cheeks. He digs back into his meal, re-energised and his spirits lifted. It feels as if something has loosened in their interactions, sliding from hostility and wariness to a begrudging acceptance. It's a feeling that grows when he observes how Harry stares at his lips, the green in his eyes darkening as Draco slowly swallows his wine.

Harry stands suddenly. "I…I have to meet Hermione," he stammers, voice gruff. "Make sure you take another dose of the meadowsweet elixir before turning in for the night. Tomorrow is a new day, after all." Harry walks out of the room so quickly that Draco is left speechless.

"Well, I'll be damned," Draco says once he regains his bearings. He drains the remainder of his wine, unsure whether it's the drink or Harry's mysterious behaviour that leaves his insides warm and addled.

*

When he returns to their cabin, Draco lets out a gasp when he discovers two phials of the fever-reducing elixir atop his pallet, along with some hand cream, aloe root, and an extra sheet and blanket.

He sits down and opens the jar that contains the balm, sighing in delight as its delicate fragrance perfumes the air. His parched skin drinks in the emollient greedily, and the pain eases until it's faded to a dull ache.

A flurry of wings captures his attention. Hedwig swoops down from where she must have been hiding in the corner, carrying something in her beak.

"What have you got for me?" Draco muses.

She hops along his bedding, watching him with a sharp eye, then deposits the scroll from her beak into his outstretched hand.

Draco unties the small string that's wrapped around the parchment. He presses it flat, barely making out the words scrawled boldly on its surface in the faint light:

Jacob,

I have always believed that true friendship is built on respect and trust, and without the two, one can only be considered an acquaintance. And while I would prefer a small number of compeers who hold true to this ideal than a large one that does not, I welcome the day when such a circle of influence grows a little bit bigger.

-H.P.

"Curious," Hedwig declares, tilting her head and watching him from one large, black eye as Draco reads the missive.

Draco folds the parchment into a small square and tucks it into the knothole next to his signet ring, not ready to ascertain why it deserves to be kept with his most cherished possession.

"Curious, indeed," he says as he runs his fingers lightly along Hedwig's back. Somehow, in the span of twenty-four hours, his desperation to survive has evolved into his need to earn Harry's trust.

~O-O~

"Stop it," Draco scolds, unable to hide his fond smile. "The sun has barely risen and you're already stirring up a breeze."

Hedwig lets out an indignant caw before settling onto Draco's left shoulder and burying her head against his neck. "I still can't get over it," Luna says as she takes a damp cloth and wipes the pads of the cat that's sitting contentedly in her lap. "I've never seen Hedwig take to someone so quickly. Well, aside from Harry, of course."

"We've been sharing sleeping quarters for the past month. That's hardly quick; in fact, in some circles, we'd already be married."

Luna hums in that distracted way of hers, although Draco thinks that the Nimbus' surgeon and resident animal expert is much more attentive and cognisant than she lets on. "Do you have someone waiting for you back home, Jacob?"

Draco thinks back to the parade of foppish and insipid men whom he's met. There's a flash of guilt when Theodore's face swims into focus. Draco's parents have made no secret of their desire for a match, but after weeks at sea, a lifetime of polite society with its vicious gossip and treacherous politics seems more like a prison sentence than a happily ever after. 

"No. No fiancé as of yet."

"There you go." Luna lets the cat down; Draco watches in fascination as Quibbles sprints up the furniture to scale the shelf above them. "I wasn't thinking of a sweetheart in particular. Although it is interesting that's what you thought I meant."

"I…well, there's my family, of course," he allows.

"Oh?" Luna asks with a quiet curiosity. "Do you have siblings?"

Draco looks down at his hands. They're no longer pale but a light and golden brown, and the skin is calloused on his palms. His family—along with the Manor and his genteel existence—all seem a lifetime away.

He allows himself to temporarily mourn his change and their loss. "I am an only child,"

"As am I. My mother passed when I was but nine, and my father never found it in his heart to remarry. It's only been the two of us ever since…well, that is, until I met Harry."

Hedwig stirs at the mention of Harry's name and takes the opportunity to nip at Draco's cap, pulling it off.

"Go bother someone else," Draco grumbles as he swats at Hedwig half-heartedly. She screeches in indignation before flying off to join Quibbles on the shelf. "See? As much as I'd love to have siblings, I don't share very well. I can't even seem to find favour with a bloody parrot."

"A cockatoo. Well, actually, a cockatoo is a parrot, but Hedwig fancies herself a bit different from the rest of the birds. Probably enjoys the company of Felidae more than other Psittaciformes," she says, nodding towards the corner where Hedwig is nesting between Quibbles' paws. "And sometimes we find kinship in places that are least expected."

Draco tries to follow the thread of Luna's thoughts but it leaves him a bit befogged. "I'm not sure what you mean."

She stands and places the washcloth in the bin. "It's just that with all your hard efforts in the past month, you've turned out to be quite an attractive man. I'm sure that there will be plenty of people vying for your hand if there haven't been already."

Draco catches his reflection in a small water basin. His hair has grown; the formerly close-cropped sides and back now extend past the nape of his neck, while the fall of his hair is long enough to reach the bridge of his nose. Despite how often he wears his cap, the sun has managed to bleach his hair nearly white, and his body, while still lithe, is stronger and more toned. All pretenses at modesty aside, he knows that he's always been objectively good-looking, but now his looks are wildly striking.

"I suppose," Draco says slowly, allowing himself to indulge in the praise.

Luna hums once more. This time, however, the sound is sharp and all-knowing. "I was referring to your inner qualities. But your outer ones aren't half-bad, either."

~O-O~

When Harry finally makes good on his promise to teach Draco how to cook, it doesn't happen in the way Draco envisions. There isn't a pre-planned lesson, nor a supper to cook for the crew. 

Initially, Draco dismissed the offer as something said in polite conversation, the kind of phrase one may toss around when meeting a distant acquaintance without intent to follow through. He doesn't even think there's much to make a meal with: most of the meats are already cured, oil is a precious commodity, and cooking over an open flame is done infrequently due to the fire hazard it poses. Despite this, it happens on a day that is both monumental and inconsequential.

"Happy birthday to me," Draco sighs as he makes his way to the pantry. It's nearly four in the afternoon and time for dinner, but a long day spent repairing the sails and reinforcing the gunwale by the cannons has left him irritable and in dire need of a restorative. He's about to pour himself a glass of burgundy, planning to get properly shot in the neck, when someone clears their throat.

"Birthday?" Harry asks. His brows rise as if punctuating the question.

Being caught unawares only adds to Draco's irritability. "Yes," he snaps, his mood souring further as Harry laughs. "I hear we all have them, you know."

Harry moves a step closer, his eyes dancing. "You should have said something."

Draco lets out a sigh. His birthdays are usually elaborate affairs, filled with plenty of callers and a ball replete with exotic foods and dancing until the wee hours of the morn. And now it appears as if he will be denied even the simplest of pleasures. 

"There didn't seem to be an appropriate time, between restocking the feed bins and breaking down the barrels."

"Which you've managed brilliantly, too." Harry continues hurriedly as Draco gives him a peeved look. "That is, several weeks ago, your hands were blistered after only four hours with a mop—"

"And now I can go eight without such marks of my frailty. It's been the highlight of my stay with the dastardly pirates of the Caribbean. And before you say anything," Draco continues, pre-empting Harry's growing frown, "I know that every role is important, and that everyone in the crew, you included, has performed each duty at one time or another. But what I resent is that you've never trusted me to do anything more, even when I've told you my strengths. I've never been assigned to the gunnery, nor have I been allowed to help Hermione with the books." He feels his tears building and he turns away from Harry, angrily.

"You're right," Harry admits, letting out a sigh. "I think I let my prejudices interfere with my good judgment. Even after all this time."

"You think?" Draco asks, whipping around to face Harry.

"I'm trying to apologise," Harry scowls. "I thought I was allowing you more responsibility, but I see that's not the case."

"I've been aboard for nearly a month. I think we're closer to the end of the journey than the beginning."

"Point taken, and again, my apologies." Harry's lips twitch as if he's trying to fight his amusement. "You're awfully contrary."

"I'm not sure I would call it being 'contrary.' Rather, I'm engaging in a willful misunderstanding," Draco says with a sniff.

"Perhaps we should just agree to your willfulness, and leave it at that. At any rate, you're right. You deserve more than you've been given, and that will change as of tomorrow."

Draco wrinkles his nose. "So, is this your idea of a birthday present?"

"What? No," Harry says with a snort. "You're too smoky by half; what kind of man would I be if I were to offer you as a gift something you're already due? As for your birthday…" He steps to the side, rummaging through the pantry. "Depending on how swiftly we travel, we might have time to dock at Willemstad Harbor. We can replenish our supplies, purchase some milk and butter, and enough fruit and fresh meats to have a proper celebration."

"But we have enough food until we arrive at Hogsmeade?"

Harry grimaces as he holds up several small, wrapped packages. "Hardtack and sardines." He dumps them on the counter, and pushes forth another. "Horse beans. Not exactly the makings of a birthday feast."

"I was going to content myself with a glass of sherry." Draco points to the now-stale biscuits. "So that is an unexpected boon."

Harry lets out a laugh. "Had I known you'd be so easy to please, I'd…" His voice trials as his eyes light with excitement. "Will you retrieve the bags of currants and filberts from that bin?" he asks as he bustles about, retrieving some brown sugar and several spices and placing them onto the wooden counter. It's followed by the sound of flint striking steel as he starts a small cooking fire, then places a frying pan over the flames. 

Draco brings over the parcels. Their shriveled forms look about as tasty as the paper they're wrapped in. "What are you making?"

“Something sweet, and we are making it together." Harry takes one of the bags from Draco and empties the filberts into the pan, drizzling them in oil. He tosses them back and forth until they're well-coated and the skins begin to brown and crinkle.

"Make sure to add plenty of sugar. Just to be safe," Draco says with a grin.

Harry nods, then looks pointedly at the pan. "Think you can take over?"

Draco remembers the times he's snuck into the kitchens as a child to watch the cooks prepare their meals and, if he was lucky, abscond with a delicious treat. A month ago, the pan's weight might have given him pause, but he manages it well now, the filberts hissing, the air filled with the scent of something sweet and nutty.

Harry moves to his right and places two bowls on the counter; they smell of cinnamon and cloves. He stands behind Draco, chin nearly resting on Draco's shoulder, his measured exhalations tickling the strands of Draco's hair. 

Draco feels his face flame as hot as the fire that's in front of him. "If these remain on the fire much longer, they'll burn."

"Right." Harry steps away and takes his space next to Draco; when Draco removes the pan from the flames and looks up to Harry for instruction, he notices that Harry's face is also flushed from the heat. "Place the filberts here," Harry says, gesturing to the large cloth he's laid on the table. Once Draco's done as he's asked, Harry gathers the nuts inside the cloth and begins to roll them about, the fabric twisting between his thick, strong fingers.

"What would you have me do next?" Draco asks as he looks at the currants and spices, his brow furrowed in concentration.

"We need to sweeten the currants. Would you like to give it a go?" Upon seeing Draco's dubious look, Harry continues, "Don't worry if it's not perfect the first go-around; there's no mistake so great that can't be fixed."

Draco considers the small array of items before him. He adds some sugar and several pinches of cinnamon to the mix, then places it to the side. When he adds the currants and sugar to the pan, he realises that he and Harry have settled into a rhythm, moving about the small kitchen as if anticipating the other's next move. In fact, when Harry reaches around him for the sugar, his chest brushing ever-so-slightly against Draco's back, Draco thinks of the times when he caught his father doing the same with his mother and smiles.

Too soon, the currants plump from the liquid and the heat. Harry adds the still-warm, skinned filberts to the pan, one hand resting on Draco's back as he does so. Draco casts a surreptitious gaze at Harry as he bites his lower lip in concentration, noting the way the emerald green of his eyes deepen with the task, how the scar on his forehead becomes more prominent when Harry's skin is flushed.

"Jacob," Harry says, apparently repeating himself with some urgency as he indicates the pan.

"Sorry." Draco places the nuts and currants in the sticky mixture and stirs, coating them thoroughly.

Harry turns to retrieve something from one of the cabinets. "One last thing," he says as he brandishes a bottle of rum while wearing a large grin. He pours a goodly amount in, and then, with a wink, several splashes more. "Mind your hand. As well as any other cherished body parts."

"Don't put that away," Draco says as the spirit catches flame. It licks up the sides, the golden-orange glow barely contained as the contents of the pan spark and sizzle. Perhaps the wildness makes him feel bold, for once Draco removes the pan to place it on a stone slab, he picks up the bottle of rum and takes a long, hearty swallow.

He thumps the bottle down, watching Harry out of the side of his eye and cocks his head in challenge.

"Don't start something you might regret," Harry says, amused. "It's been a long time since someone has been able to drink me under the table." He raises the bottle to his lips and tilts his head back, and Draco watches in fascination as Harry takes several long, deep swallows.

"Not everything has to be a competition," Draco mutters as Harry replaces the bottle on the table and brings over several hard biscuits.

"My mistake." There's a notable pause. "If there truly was one."

Draco shrugs, unable to deny the accusation. In truth, it matters little—he's feeling pleasantly tipsy, the buzz of his birthday and Harry's attentions magnified by the heat of the kitchen and the drink. He takes another swig of the rum; it's much sweeter and heavier than he prefers, but it sits pleasantly in his stomach and makes his blood thrum faster. He twists his fingers around the hem of Harry's shirt and pouts. "If it were—a competition, that is—I'm quite sure I could take you, Potter."

Harry looks at Draco with something that approaches fondness. His gaze drifts down, lingering a bit too long on Draco's lips, his eyes turning dark and needy.

"You can challenge me once you have something to eat," Harry says roughly. He spoons the fruit and syrup from the pan and pours it over the biscuits, the bread soaking up the liquid to turn the dried, unappealing texture into something palatable. "Here," he says, holding up one of the plates. "Happy Birthday."

Harry waits as Draco dips his fork into the concoction. He looks expectant, and so bloody hopeful.

Draco knows the look. He's been the recipient of it many times, from men and women who stare at him from under their lashes, drinking in his features when they're trying to be stealthy. Most of the times it makes him impatient and irritable, knowing they don't see him for the person he is, or for the things he might contribute outside his appearance and title.

With Harry, however, it's different. It's as if Harry can see straight through to the part of Draco that longs to be better than a namesake, to contribute to something meaningful. To the part that considers something as simple as this moment, one that's both thoughtful and personal, more meaningful than the fanciest dinner in the world.

"Happy Birthday to me," Draco whispers as he closes his eyes and makes a wish. When he opens them, Harry is waiting, holding a plate of his own. They take a bite together, and Draco tries not to dwell on how Harry's face lights up with pleasure at the taste, or how the sugary concoction manages to catch on the lump in his own throat.

~O-O~

Moonlight filters through the windows, bathing their living quarters in an eerie glow. It must have only been a few hours since Draco fell asleep, but it's disconcerting; he's slated for the morning watch, and even though he's gone through the full circuit, his body protests the inconsistencies of his schedule. Everything seems caught between two worlds: sleep and wake, night and day, today and tomorrow.

Something prickles at him through the fogginess of sleep. A sob that's on the verge of a wail, its wavering edges laced with terror and sorrow. It's followed by a loud thump—not the kind that Draco now knows comes from the rocking of the ship, especially one that's sitting in calm waters. The hairs on his hand stand on end, and he turns in the direction of Harry's bed, seeking an explanation.

Perhaps it's the bottle of rum that he consumed with Harry, or the glasses of sherry that followed, but it takes Draco several moments before he makes sense of what he sees.

The Master of Death appears to be battling Death himself. Harry's upright, and his face is sallow, eyes unfocused and unseeing. The night sky is just bright enough to accentuate the sheen of sweat across Harry's forehead and the sheets that lie tangled about his waist, imprisoning him like some deranged serpent as he thrashes about.

Draco clambers off his pallet, but when he reaches Harry's bed, he's uncertain of what to do. His uncertainty immobilises him until Harry arches, his mouth twisting unnaturally as his pulse bounds at the base of his throat. Harry little resembles the man who turned months-old hardtack into something special for Draco mere hours ago, and there's no way Draco will allow his fear to stop him from showing Harry an equal kindness.

"Harry…" Draco eases onto the bed slowly, sitting behind him. The mattress creaks, protesting the additional weight, but Harry doesn't seem to notice. Draco reaches around and places a hand gently on Harry's shoulder. Harry can be quicker than a badger if provoked, but he leans into Draco's touch instead, even though his eyes remain unfocused, glazed over. 

Draco takes a deep breath and presses closer, his hand rubbing slow, soothing circles along Harry's back. Harry muscles tense, and suddenly, he seems to shake loose of his nightmare's hold. He leans back, his body sinking against Draco's chest as if drawn to Draco's warmth. Beneath the sour scent of Harry's sweat, he smells faintly of currants and rum and the remnants of his soap. Draco's fingers sink into the thickness of Harry's hair, the strands surprisingly smooth despite their oft-wild appearance, and he feels the tension dissipate as Harry falls lax against him, Harry's whimpers eventually receding.

They lay together, quiet save for the sounds of Draco's fingers rubbing deliberately against Harry's scalp and Harry's slowing breaths. The light still looks unnatural, as if the stars' luminosity have been pulled into the ocean's depths, their brightness dimmed by the water's weight.

When his fingers tire, Draco lowers them to his side. The movement causes Harry to stir, his impenetrable gaze watching Draco warily.

Harry clears his throat, but the raspiness wins out. "I had another bad dream, didn't I?"

Draco takes a deep breath. "It certainly didn't look like a pleasant one."

Harry frowns, then pushes himself up onto his elbows and scrubs tiredly at his face. When he turns, angling his body towards Draco, he looks down at his hands twisted in his sheets. "I've been plagued by them since I was a child. I'm sorry if I frightened you. To tell you the truth, I'm surprised I haven't had one until now."

"It's because I'm such a calming influence," Draco teases, laughing softly.

"You're something else," Harry agrees, his voice low and throaty. He leans towards Draco, and suddenly Draco finds it hard to breathe. "Why did you console me?"

"You sounded like you were in agony. I couldn't bear to see you suffer," Draco answers honestly.

"My dreams often involve people from my past. Terrible people…people who did terrible things. I…I could have hurt you, if I'd mistaken your touch." Harry reaches out, his thumb tracing the line of Draco's jaw before settling near the corner of Draco's mouth.

"I don't think you would have," Draco says stubbornly. "It's not in your nature."

Harry looks dubious. "I've done things you wouldn't believe." He lowers his head. "Things that go against the best of man's nature."

Draco snorts. "I might not have experience in physical combat, but I've seen how false promises can destroy a man's hopes. I know how sharp words can cut even the most stalwart of men, all while hidden behind a mask of politeness. So don't tell me that I don't understand man's nature. I'm neither incompetent, nor guileless."

"Yet you trust me," Harry says, bemused.

"Aye, I do. And do you, me?"

Draco's question hangs in the air, thick and heavy between them.

"I didn't," Harry says slowly. "Perhaps even yesterday, I might have answered the same. But now I see a man who never shirks his duty, because he has something to prove. I see a man who finds beauty in the smallest of pleasures, as well as the greater things. I see a man who won't stand to watch his crewmate suffer, even if that person once treated him poorly." He shifts, the sheets around him slipping lower as Draco's heart threatens to beat out of his chest.

Draco swallows. "That sounds like respect and trust. Does this mean we're friends?"

The corners of Harry's eyes crinkle. "Friends. And, perhaps, something more." He swipes at Draco's lips once again with the pad of his thumb as his eyes darken, and Draco turns his cheek into Harry's palm, lips parting in open invitation.

Harry moves quickly, turning to face Draco, the heat of his chest palpable through the thinness of Draco's nightshirt, the bare skin of their legs pressed together. There are none of the coy, flirtatious gestures Draco is used to—no simpering flattery, no brush of lips against a gloved hand. Instead, Harry draws Draco to him with a growing desperation, his hand cupping Draco's face as he captures Draco's mouth. There's no hesitation as he teases Draco open, the gentle but insistent pressure of his lips causing a slow, delicious warmth to spread through Draco's belly.

Draco gasps when they pull back for a breath. Harry looks half-feral in the dark, his desire turning his eyes black, his lips swollen and hair mussed.

"I find you absolutely intoxicating, Jacob," Harry murmurs. His forehead rests on Draco's, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips as he trails the back of his hand along the jut of Draco's collarbone. "You're a fire in my blood."

Jacob. The name causes Draco to stiffen, and from the way Harry reacts, Draco's face must be showing the horror he feels upon hearing Harry's words. 

Harry moves back so quickly that his body hits loudly against the cabin wall.

"I'm sorry." Harry lifts his hand then seems to think the better of it, running it through his mane instead. Their long strands stick up haphazardly around him, making him look sleep-addled and vulnerable. "I took advantage of your kindness, mistaking it for something else."

"It's…" Draco falters, the proper words unable to exit his mouth. "It's all right, Harry."

The words seem to upset Harry even more. "It's not all right. No one should ever have something taken against their will, especially that which should be freely given."

He bolts out of bed, and rushes to his trunk. The activity causes Hedwig to stir, and she cries angrily as Harry pulls on his trousers.

"I'll take the First Watch," he rasps, shrugging into his shirt and coat before putting on his glasses.

Draco's face falls. They were supposed to share the Forenoon watch; he had been looking forward to it all week. "Harry, please. You haven't slept…"

Harry gives him a small smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "If I were to stay, it would evade me regardless. The night sky…sometimes, it helps me think. I'm not fit for any company right now, anyway." 

He doesn't wait for Draco's protest, not that one is forthcoming. Harry once said there were few people he trusted, and in turn, he's handed his trust to someone who's already broken it, several times over.

Going after Harry to correct his misunderstanding over would only perpetuate the deception. For to do so would be playing not only with Harry's conscience, but his heart.

~O-O~

"Harry!"

Draco raises his head at the infernal racket that's going on outside their door. Before he has a chance to answer, someone pushes their way in, limbs flailing.

Neville's mouth gapes. "Where's Harry?" he asks, his face colouring.

"He took the First Watch." Draco glances at Harry's pocket watch on the desk and frowns. It's 6:15 in the morning. "He should have been back by now."

"Have you any idea where he might be?"

"I can't even tell what he's feeling from one minute to the next," Draco says irritably. "The man is as inconstant as the wind."

"You're sleeping in Harry's bed," Neville points out bluntly. He looks at Draco, eyes narrowed. "You're also never this contrary. What happened?"

Draco sighs. "Nothing, I promise you. As to my admittedly foul mood, perhaps you're finally seeing me as I truly am."

"Look, I don't know what happened between the two of you, but—"

The door slams open, with Harry behind it. There are circles under his eyes, and the shadow of his beard has now grown into something more tangible.

"Harry," Neville begins as Harry looks up, clearly shocked.

"Ginny's spotted a ship on the horizon," Harry explains. "It's a Cruizer, but one that's slow-moving. Mercantile class, most likely." He withdraws a case from his desk containing two thinly-curved lenses; Harry had once explained that they were used to see without the aid of spectacles. He places one into his left eye, then the right, grumbling the entire time. "I hate this," he comments to no one in particular.

He blinks several times then removes his mask from its hook. Once he slides it into place, the black leather not only alters his face, but his entire demeanour. Gone are the hints of playful swagger; in their stead is a grim determination that's reflected in the line of his shoulders, the set of his jaw, and the draw of his brow.

Draco pushes aside the sheets and heads over to his trunk. "What's a Cruizer class?" he asks as he rummages through the borrowed luggage for a pair of trousers. He dresses swiftly, then searches for a leather wrap. His hair is now long enough to tie behind the nape of his neck, although the fine strands have a tendency to fall loose around his face without the aid of a pomade.

"An eighteen-gun brig sloop. It's designed to be manned by a less people than a frigate, but it still amasses a fair amount of firepower," Neville answers.

Draco fumbles his wrap, his throat suddenly dry. "Are we attacking it? Or…are they attacking us?" He wishes he didn't sound so nervous.

"Depends." Harry shrugs with a nonchalance that doesn't fool Draco. "The ship's definitely British. If it's a naval ship and we're recognised, it's just a matter of who attacks first. If it's a merchant one, we'll attack if it's one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight's."

Neville must sense Draco's confusion. "'The Sacred Twenty-Eight' is what we call the twenty-eight companies that fund the policies of Lord Voldemort," he explains. "They use their money and clout to influence regulations and public opinion, and have been known to resort to illegal means when it suits them."

"Attacking them at sea allows us to strike at their finances and morale. It's one way of evening the stakes," Harry finishes.

"There are innocent people aboard those ships," Draco protests as Harry and Neville rush towards the main deck. Despite his reservations, or perhaps due to his curiosity, he follows them to where Ron is preparing the munitions.

"Despite our portrayal in papers like the Prophet, we've never killed except in self-defense. That goes for all of us—Harry included," Neville says in response to Draco's pointed look.

"The Master of Death, gentleman pirate, at your service," Harry says with a mock bow.

Ron looks up from where he's fitting pieces of scrap iron into the muzzle of a cannon. "This stuff? It's mostly for show. We'd prefer if they surrender without a fight. We fire a warning shot and give them a chance to clear the deck. If they resist, we'll aim for the foremast and sails." He lets loose with a throaty laugh. "Though I don't mind a bit of action, now and again."

Neville shakes his head. "Most of the time, we see little of it, to be honest. The show of force is generally enough to scare the mercantile ships into surrendering. That's the best situation…it keeps the bloodshed to a minimum, with less guilt and damage to the goods."

"Of course, we need to be prepared for any eventuality. There are always those who equate surrender with dishonour. Who are prepared to fight to the death," Harry says ominously as he runs his hand along the hilt of his sword.

"Harry…" Draco says, his voice catching. He's ill-prepared for battle, his past experiences in fencing and hunting child's play in comparison, and he's not sure how well he'd fare now that the stakes are higher. The possibility of death…of dying at sea, thousands of miles from his family and under a false name, is unbearable. "Please, Harry, we need to talk—"

A boom shatters the quiet as a misfired cannonball barrels into the water, causing the ship to rock. Draco can't see Harry's face beneath the mask, but for an instant, the corners of his mouth soften into something regretful. "I'm sorry, Jacob. It'll have to wait until later." He straps a holster and its dagger around Draco's leg and presses a pistol into Draco's hand. The heat of his touch lasts longer than necessary to secure the weapon in Draco's grip, and for a moment, Harry's eyes deepen with worry before shuttering.

"The penalty for captured pirates is often death by hanging. Don't get caught…and if you do, remember that your dagger will serve more purpose than one."

*

Draco stares at the men who are standing in front of him, guns and swords laid on the ground, hands above their heads. Their feet shift from side to side, scraping against the floorboards of the deck, and he suddenly realises how young many of them seem, some perhaps no older than fourteen. Despite his own inexperience, he suspects that he feels more at home on the Nimbus than this ragtag crew does on the Flying Umbridge.  

Harry paces in front of the group, slowing to a stop when he reaches a man dressed in clothes much fancier than the rest. The sweat is rolling off his baldpate, and his fingers are trembling. He looks to have suffered too many years at sea, and is at least ten years older than the man beside him.

Harry prods at the embroidered gold stripes on the man's sleeves. "Who is the captain of this ship?"

The man swallows. A bead of sweat rolls down the line of his throat, staining his collar. "I am Captain Thicknesse. The Flying Umbridge is a small ship with little valuables to speak of…mostly textiles."

"Is that what they're called nowadays? Rumours are your company still profits from the sale of human flesh," Harry says, sneering.

Most of the crew look confused at the accusation, but the remark must mean something to Thicknesse, for the captain pales. "That…we carry nothing of the sort. You are free to check our stores—"

"I have no doubt that it is not the purpose of your current trip." Harry holds tight to his cutlass with one hand as the double-edged blade glints brightly in the sun. "This was supposed to be an easy voyage, a favour from your company after the difficulties you encountered on your last one, wasn't it? A last hurrah before your retirement?"

Thicknesse sputters, the jowls of his cheeks shaking in protest. He turns towards his crew, who are looking at him with shock and indignation. "He's lying! He knows not of what he speaks—"

"Let me refresh your memory, Captain." Hermione steps forward, brandishing a dog-eared book she's pilfered from Thicknesse's quarters. "This is your ledger. In 1807, you captained a voyage to l'Île du Diseau; 1809 and 1810, to Newick Key; and, in 1811, you attempted a delivery to Rossgan Key—more specifically, to Sea Cairn Hall, during which a near-mutiny broke out over your punishment of a young sailor who protested the inhumane conditions with which you kept your cargo. You and your employer continued to profit from such immorality despite the fact that such activity had since been deemed illegal."

"I was only following orders!" Thicknesse cries, shrinking back as Harry takes a menacing step closer. "Have mercy, for I have never done so since!"

"More likely due to the lack of opportunities presented to you, rather than a change in your conscience." Draco thinks he hears one of the crew trying to stifle their sniffling. "It is only for the fate of your crew that I spare your life," Harry spits. "I will leave you and your men with enough provisions to make it to the closest port."

Ron scans the line of men, his gaze landing on a young boy at the end of the row. He appears frail and his hair is a mousy brown, the ends ragged as if clipped by hedging shears. 

"What's your name?" Ron asks with surprising gentleness.

The boy's brown eyes widen in shock before lowering to the ground. "Colin Creevy, sir."

"Do you know where the foods and wares are stored, Colin?"

Colin glances at Thicknesse, who gives him a curt nod. "Yes, sir. In the lower deck, by the ballast. Underneath the fo'cs'le."

"Think you could show me the way?"

Colin does so, and after twenty minutes, a parade of barrels and crates make their way onto the Nimbus, stocked with plenty of water and drink, grains and beans, and meats and cheeses to sustain them for the remainder of their journey. Several large crates join them, filled with fine linens and fancy textiles, plus a pallet and small sack of clothes.

"What are those?" Harry gives Ron a strange look.

"They're Colin's." Ron lowers his voice. "Harry, he doesn't belong here."

"He doesn't belong with us, either. He might be in greater danger in our company than theirs."

Ron shakes his head stubbornly. "I worry for his emotional state under a man like Thicknesse. Colin's bright and observant. He draws, Harry! Beautiful pictures, ones that tell such great stories."

"There's nowhere for him to sleep," Harry protests, but Draco can tell that he's weakening.

"He's a small thing, and takes up hardly any space," Ron argues, pushing Harry in a way that only the closest of friends are comfortable in doing. "We've replenished our rations. Plus, he can stay in my cabin, on his pallet. It seems to be the thing, nowadays."

"We've turned from a band of pirates to be feared to taking in wayward strays," Harry says, but it's uttered with such begrudging fondness that Ron must interpret it as a sign of victory.

"Best mate ever," Ron proclaims with a wide grin, turning around and cuffing Harry on the arm.

It's a giddiness that grows when Ginny swoops down from the shrouds, hair flying in the wind and hands stained with gunpowder as a red and gold flag trails behind her.

She drapes the colourful cloth over one of the besotted sailors.

"That's better," she proclaims as his cheeks pink. She steals his hat and pushes it onto her head, wearing it at a jaunty angle as the rest of Harry's crew make their way back on board the Nimbus.  

"Compliments of the Master of Death," she says with a wink, linking her arm around Harry's as they prepare to leap offboard, the last ones off the ship. "And next time, remember your manners. It's proper to doff your hat when you're in the presence of a lady!"

~O-O~

Harry said there would be a large celebratory feast in the weeks following their arrival at the Isle of Hogsmeade. As it turns out, the boon in provisions following the raid on the Flying Umbridge means there's no need to dock at the next port. They have enough food to last them through the remainder of their journey and there's little else to stop for, excepting perhaps the company of a tempting armful or two, as Ron often enjoys teasing Harry.

Draco isn't sure if Harry has a habit of seeking his pleasures frequently, or with whom. For all he knows, Harry could have a lover in every port; he certainly doesn't appear to be the type of person who wishes to settle down, given that he spends more time offshore than on it. The thought fills Draco with inexplicable disquiet; it was never his nature to turn away from a challenge however, so he sets about to remedy the situation.

As they sail closer to the Isle of Hogsmeade, the weather turns balmy. It's the perfect excuse for Draco to shed the excessive layers he's worn in prior weeks. His favourite outfit is a thin cotton shirt tucked loosely into a pair of tightly-fitting breeches, accented by a pair of fine leather Hessians. The outfit is a nice perquisite from Thicknesse's stash, and the fine quality of the items means they're not only more comfortable, but show off Draco's form to its best advantage.

And it isn't just the clothes. The sun has imbued his skin with a golden glow, and his fair hair is longer and brighter. While he will never achieve the raw power of either Harry or Ron, Draco's body is now lean and strong from the weeks of hard labour, his shoulders broader, and, all pretense of modesty aside, his arse more shapely and dimpled. 

It is a fact which he uses to tease Harry in every way possible.

He's taken to sleeping nearly starkers, trading Cedric's oversized nightshirt for nothing more than the West Indian air, his legs no longer encumbered by a pair of bulky drawers but short cotton ones whose fronts are tied with little more than a drawstring. On the first night that Draco dares to be so bold, his cheeks are flushed so pink he might be mistaken for being feverish. But after that first night his confidence grows, and in the end, it's Harry's cheeks that are deliciously red.

And Draco doesn't stop with just his clothes. He's been taught the skills of flirtation and seduction since he was a child, in order to make a suitable match. It's not difficult to see the way Harry stares when Draco bites down on his lower lip in concentration as he reads, or how Harry's voice grows hoarse when Draco bends to clean the cannons with a rammer. There's also the manner in which Harry's eyes turn soft when Draco holds fast to the lyrics of a ditty despite the ribald changes adopted by the rest of the crew, or the way they grow animated and energised when he and Draco spar verbally.

But despite this, things remain platonic. And with the Isle of Hogsmeade a mere two days away, Draco is beginning to think that his time with Harry—the first man for whom he's felt something more than a passing fancy—is slipping away, a footnote in an otherwise strange and fantastical journey.

The whole idea puts him in a foul mood. He clambers atop the deck, the flap of the sails loud in the background and leans into the wind. Here, with only the bowsprit jutting out from the ship's prow and the wide expanse of the ocean in front of him, he feels strangely at peace. He grips the rails, closes his eyes as the sun sets in the distance, and turns towards its warmth. 

"Don't jump," someone says softly. 

Draco hears the weight of Harry's footsteps on the deck behind him, sure and light-footed. "Sometimes, when I close my eyes and hear the birds and the waves, it's as if I'm flying alongside them," Draco says, opening his eyes slowly. 

Harry settles himself on the railing next to Draco as they stare out at the waters ahead. "Hmm," he says quietly. The setting sun bathes his strong features in its soft light, his eyes luminous under his dark lashes. "I think I prefer to keep my eyes open, though. To be prepared for any eventuality."

"Being prepared doesn't mean one can't enjoy a moment of spontaneity. I would think that the Master of Death would embrace Fate's whimsy with a bit more daring."

Harry snorts. "I've experienced more 'daring' by the age of twenty than most have in the entirety of their lives."

"So modest." Draco glances at Harry, and in a fit of inspiration, lowers his hand to the strip of green fabric that's wrapped around his waist. He undoes the knot and waves it in front of Harry face. "Let's try, for a bit of fun. It will be like playing buffy with a stick."

Harry's eyes widen as he lets out a long hiss. "I won't wear a blindfold."

Draco frowns, deflated at the rejection. "But you wear a mask all the time," he says.

"Not one that impedes my vision." Harry leans back, visibly trying to slow his breathing. "I was often locked in a cupboard as punishment when I was a child. To be forced into such darkness is difficult for me."

"I'm sorry." Guilt wells up in Draco, the heat in his face rising. "I didn't know."

"How could you?" Harry asks, soft and without censure.

Draco thinks about his parents, how they tried to lay everything at his feet, give him every advantage. Though their wishes for his future may be different from his own, they had never done anything so deliberately cruel. "Your parents…forgive me, Harry, for speaking out of turn, but I don't understand how anyone could do such a thing to a child, never mind their own."

"It wasn't my parents," Harry whispers, fiercely staring at a spot on the railing. "It was my aunt and uncle. Monsters can be found everywhere, including one's family."

Draco reaches out to hold Harry's hand. Harry's eyes dart up in surprise, but he doesn't withdraw from the touch. His palm feels solid and warm, and then his fingers curl, interlocking with Draco's.

Harry watches Draco intently, then raises Draco's hand and brings it to his lips.

Harry's mouth brushes against Draco's skin. It's fleeting, but the ghost of the kiss lingers, the memory a sweet boon. "You're beautiful when you blush," Harry says, grinning.

"You make me feel like a lady who's just been granted a voucher to Almack's," Draco laughingly admits, thinking of Pansy.

"Hmm." Harry lets go of Draco's hand and runs a finger absentmindedly along the railing. "I doubt you'd ever find me hanging around with such esteemed company."

Draco's face falls at the disdain that's clear in Harry's voice. "Whatever do you mean?"

"The company of people who think that good breeding and exemplary behaviour are provinces of the nobility when they, in fact, are often the ones who lack it the most."

Draco takes a step forward, unwilling to let such a statement go unanswered. "That's a bit presumptuous. Why would you think so poorly of those whose only crime is to have been born of noble birth?"

"Because I was shown their immorality and cruelty at an early age, for it was none other than a noble—Lord Voldemort, the Duke of Hangleton—who robbed me of my childhood when he struck down my parents for his political advantage."

A chill washes over Draco, causing him to shiver despite the still-present sun. His father was an ardent supporter of Voldemort and his policies. He's still not sure how Voldemort met his demise and Harry's role in it, what rumours are salacious gossip versus some embellished version of reality. Given what he's just learned, he's certain that both Harry and his father are somehow involved.

Draco turns back to the open sea. As the sun touches down over the horizon, lavender washes over the skies, and the ocean turns a dark and turbulent blue.

Draco crosses his arms, unable to shake the sense of foreboding. "Here," Harry says gruffly as a light, woolen coat drapes over Draco's shoulders. It smells of Harry and his soap.

"Thank you," Draco says. Harry's gaze flicks over Draco's body wrapped in the too-large jacket before his expression becomes hooded.

"We'll be docking at Brisson Cay on Friday. My estate—Godric's Hollow—is on the western side of the Isle of Hogsmeade. It is large, and most of us reside there when not at sea, while we attend to our other business ventures. There is room for you and work to be had if you would like to continue your stay, although it might include a bit of hard labour."

Despite his predicament, the prospect fills Draco with a semblance of hope. "I believe I have proved to you that I have both the desire and capability to perform such work."

Harry gives him a smile. "It would only be fair to tell you that the Hogwarts Express sails from Brisson Cay to the Port of New York every three months. From there, it would not be difficult for one to book passage to London. If you should ever need it."

Draco frowns. "Is that what you'd prefer?" he eventually asks.

"There is a small cottage by the gardens, close to the water." Harry hesitates. "Hogsmeade is famed for its unusual beauty. I think that, for you, it would be a perfect home."

There's no mistaking the way in which Harry's voice husks lower. Draco tilts his head and licks his lips, parting them invitingly. "I look forward to you showing me all the beautiful things," he dares.

Draco winds his fingers along the back of Harry's neck and pulls him in. The hairs along Harry's nape tickle Draco's skin; Harry lets out a groan and gives in to the demand with the smallest of protests, and when he does, it's as if the walls of his resistance come crumbling down. He pushes Draco against the rail and brackets Draco's body between his muscular arms, his breath hot against Draco's cheek as their foreheads brush against one another. 

"You drive me to madness," Harry grits out. "Filling me with a fever beyond all reason." He allows Draco to bridge the distance as their lips touch, and the kiss that follows is desperate and almost angry.

The force of their kiss nearly causes Draco to buckle, his head dizzy as Harry cups Draco's chin and tilts it so the angle is better. The clumsiness of Draco's initial attempt slides into something more practised, a longing filled with lips and tongue, the heat of it urgent. Harry's left hand grips the side of Draco's hip, pulling them flush, the tightness of his breeches leaving no misunderstanding about the state of his arousal.

"Harry," Draco gasps. He tilts his neck back as Harry mouths the exposed line of Draco's throat, and he's sure that his skin is mottled and bruised as Harry worries it between his teeth. Draco's hips buck forward, and he's mortified by how needy he sounds, how desperate, how dangerously close he is to spilling in his trousers as he ruts against Harry's thigh.

"Do you know how much I've thought of you, Jacob?" Harry asks as Draco whimpers, his heart a rapid staccato.

Draco is so far gone that he doesn't care that Harry thinks he's someone else. His body burns as if suffering from ague and his heart races from the way Harry's fingers dig into his sides, as if he is trying to mark Draco's skin through the layers of his clothes.

"So needy. So beautifully responsive," Harry adds as he punctuates his words with a roll of his hips.

"Only for you, Harry," Draco gasps. "No one else. There's never been anyone else."

Harry's hands still, his grip painfully tight. He pulls back, and though his eyes are still dark with arousal, they are also widening in shock. He takes a step back, his lips swollen and kiss-bitten, his dark hair tumbling out of its queue as he shakes his head forcefully. "You are…" he rasps, his throat working from the effort. "You are an innocent?"

"What does it matter?" Draco pleads. He moves to draw Harry towards him, his heart aching when Harry recoils from his touch.

Harry's hands are clenched into fists so tight, Draco fears his nails will draw blood. "It matters because your first time should be something more than a dalliance."

Draco's cheeks pink with anger. "Are you saying I'm but an amusement?"

"Jacob…" Harry takes several deep breaths but he's already closed off, distancing himself from Draco with his words and actions. "I am saying that I am not the man that you think, nor the one you deserve. You should be someone who can return the trust that you give in equal measure."

He turns and walks away. When the sun breathes its last gasp, Draco realises that he's still wearing Harry's coat.

~O-O~

"Seems a bit self-defeating, breaking them up, only to put them back together again."

Ron looks up from where he's stacking the staves of the barrel into a hoop. "Breaking them down saves space. Plus, it's easier to make sure that each barrel stays clean. Unlike the one you stowed away in." He sits back and motions at something too far for him to reach. "Hand me that quarter hoop by your feet?"

Draco brings over the larger ring. "Looks like a flower," he muses as he looks at the half-formed structure.

"Funny you should say that," Ron laughs. He slides the second hoop onto the staves. The barrel takes on a more familiar shape as it curves against the ring, and Ron hammers it in place with a driver. "The part where it's positioned inside the raising hoop? It's called the mise en rose."

Ron, for all of his brashness, pronounces the phrase with a French accent so perfect that Draco is taken aback. "Ton accent est parfait," he comments, brow raised.

Ron smirks. "My sister-in-law is French." He turns his head and gestures to the pile of shaped iron in the corner. "Hand me the next one, will you? The bilge hoop," he clarifies.

"This one?" Draco asks, pointing to the largest one in the group.

Ron nods. He grunts as he pushes it into place, then stands back to inspect his work. "This whole 'welcome home celebration'? It'll be fun, but the real reason Harry has one every time we return is to make sure that the residents of Hogsmeade have opportunities for employment as well as having fun. Not everyone takes kindly to the idea of a handout, and it's easier to make sure that people have enough to meet their needs while holding onto their pride. At any rate, I'll be there, reaping the benefits," he finishes, patting the frame of the wine barrel.

Draco hands Ron the next hoop as his mind wanders. He's having a hard time reconciling this benevolent Harry with the rest: a blood-thirsty pirate who is the sworn enemy of the aristocracy; a person who steals from others for a living; and one who would deny himself his own pleasure for fear of besmirching Draco's virtue.

It's a thought that plagues Draco once the Nimbus finally docks in Brisson Cay. He knows now of Harry's great loss, and how Voldemort played a part. But he also knows that Harry can be considerate and just. Perhaps if Harry could get to know Draco, then titles such as Jacob or Lord wouldn't mean so much. 

After all, if a broken barrel can be pieced back together, surely so could the human heart.

 

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 3

 

"Bloody hell," Draco swears as he stares at the blood that oozes from his finger where a thorn's pricked its tip.

"Bordel de merde! Bordel de merde!" Hedwig squawks as she flaps her wings from her perch, chortling when Draco barks out a laugh.

"What a wicked tongue you have, Hedwig. I see that Harry's been having fun with you."

"Fun," Hedwig agrees as Neville gives her an indulgent smile.

"It's actually the fault of Ginny's brother, Bill. Ever since he got married, he's made it his mission to become fluent in French. Of course, that means teaching his brothers and sister all the improper words as well. Here," Neville says, handing Draco a tie made from hemp. "Wrap the largest branch around the arbor, then prune by half. The bougainvilleas need a bit of encouragement to bloom."

"I don't understand how something so gorgeous can be so vexing," Draco complains as he looks at the explosion of blossoms in pink, purple, and white. 

Neville shrugs as he snips off a dead branch. "I can think of a few people who might fit that description myself."

Draco glances at the huge and fragrant flowers, their thorns visible beneath the riotous colours. "Should we fertilise them today?"

Neville shakes his head. "They're very particular. If we use too much compost, we'll sacrifice their blooms for their green." He grunts as he jumps off the ladder. "Every three to four weeks will be just the right amount for them to thrive."

"Finicky things."

Neville lets out a laugh. "Like I said: not unlike some people." He dusts off the soil from his trousers and rakes his hand through his hair, his sweat turning the strands a dark golden-brown. "How are you enjoying Hogsmeade, Jacob?"

"It's…" Draco's at a loss for words. It's entirely different from London and Wiltshire, and while he misses some of the conveniences of cosmopolitan living, he finds that he quite enjoys the gentler pace of the island—the way he's focused on the here and now, on living.

He stares out at the small cottage where he's spent the last two weeks. It's only a single room, not much bigger than his bedroom at the Manor, just large enough for a cot, desk, kitchen, and table. But it's outside where he spends most of his time; there's a garden that rivals his family's back home, and the ocean is close enough to smell the salt in the air and for him to hear its waves at the beginning of each day.

"What's not to like?" he finally answers.

"Indeed," Neville agrees with a smile.

"How are you settling in?" Draco asks.

"Well enough. Ginny loves it here, although I think she misses England."

"Really?" Draco pictures Ginny's unconventional behaviour and her lust for life, every bit as beautiful as the Harpy emblazoned on her skin. It's hard for him to envision her sipping tea and demurring to the hoi oligoi. 

"Most of her family is in England. They're… Her family, large as it is, is extremely close-knit. One of the closest I know," he adds. "Five years ago, her brother Fred was killed in battle. As much as Ginny loves Harry and Ron, she can't ignore the pull of the other family she has left. And I have my family, as well." He wipes his palms on his trousers once more, a strained smile on his lips that doesn't reach his eyes.

"Oh." Draco finishes tying off one of the ends, then looks back at Neville surreptitiously. For someone who is so open about himself and others, he's spoken nothing of any siblings or parents. Draco hops off the ladder and leans against the wall. "I didn't realise you still had family back home."

"In England, yes. Though I'm not sure I'd quite call it 'home'. You see, my parents…when they were recognisable as such, lived in Haxby in North Yorkshire. But it is Bethlem Royal Hospital where they now reside."

"Bedlam." The word escapes Draco's lips, his face stricken at his indelicacy. Neville nods, his eyes sad.

"Yes. I'd take offense, if it weren't apt." He cleans the blades of his shears and tucks them back with the rest of his tools. "They both fell ill when I was away at university. 'Convulsive vapours' was the diagnosis of one expert, but I suspect it was something more sinister. A poison, of the mind and soul."

A thousand questions lay on tip of Draco's tongue, yet it's not his place to push. Sating his curiosity won't change their circumstance, nor lessen Neville's pain. Draco waits, trying to demonstrate his support with his quiet patience.

"At any rate, Ginny and I will be aboard the Hogwarts Express when it leaves in September. Besides, I'd like to have her family's official blessing after I ask for her hand in marriage."

"You and Ginny…!" Draco leaps forward and embraces Neville as Neville gives him a grin that manages to be both embarrassed and proud. "That's wonderful news! When do you suppose you'll ask?"

"This weekend, at the celebration," Neville says. "I figure there's no time like the present. Why wait when you know everything you want is right there, in front of you? Life is too short and uncertain to stand on ceremony."

~O-O~

"You have good taste," someone murmurs in Draco's ear. 

Draco startles from where he's admiring the delicate embroidery of a waistcoat. "I…I was just looking," he says hastily, replacing the garment. The skill of the tailor is undeniable, and the quality of the piece would certainly be indistinguishable from Schweitzer and Davison's on Cork Street. But Draco has neither the finances nor the cause to justify such an ostentatious purchase, so he smooths the material against the mannequin before turning his back on it with some reluctance.

"I would give it more consideration, then," the stranger says, stepping in front of Draco. He's tall and broad—nearly as muscular as Harry, with a shock of dark hair and greyish-blue eyes that look strangely cold. "A lovely garment such as this deserves to be displayed on someone equally as beautiful."

There's no mistaking the lascivious glint in the man's eye. "A bold statement, considering you are but a stranger. In fact, it is one brazen enough to be considered impolite," Draco reprimands.

"My apologies. It is a grievous error on my part that shall be corrected." The man holds out his hand. When Draco puts out his own in greeting, the man clasps it for longer than is proper. "Lord Flint. I own the Polo Grounds at Crescentwill Manor, where we breed and train our thoroughbreds. In fact, one of our studs can trace his lineage to none other than the Godolphin Arabian." He lets go of Draco's hand, but his eyes linger, tracking the lengths of Draco's legs and making Draco squirm uncomfortably. "You look like you would sit prettily atop a horse, Mister—?"

"That's Lord…" Draco's voice trails off, his cheeks warm. He would like nothing more than to wipe the smug look off Flint's face with a display of his own horsemanship or the use of his family name, but he knows that the island is small enough that such news is bound to travel. "Mister Black," he says instead, tamping down his competitive nature. "And you are mistaken, I'm afraid. I am nothing but a bookseller and stationer."

"I would be honoured if you would come by the estate. Perhaps I could make a horseman out of you yet."

Draco steps back, his eyes darting towards the exit. This is only his second foray into town, and since most of his time is spent at Godric's Hollow, he's still unfamiliar with the shops in Hogsmeade and their merchants. He arrived with Harry, but Harry had balked at the prospect of spending an undefined amount of time at the tailors, so Draco urged him ahead, a decision which he is sorely regretting.

"Pleasant as that sounds, I don't believe my fiancé would appreciate that very much," Draco says with a strained laugh.

Unfortunately, the lie doesn't deter Flint. He steps closer, forcing Draco to back up against the table. "You deserve better than a cad who leaves his baubles unattended. Someone might be tempted to pick you up." He smiles, his teeth glinting sharp and white, and Draco wonders whether it would be better to deploy a well-placed knee to Flint's bollocks or a slap across the face when the shop door opens, hitting the wall with an ominous thud.

"What's going on here?" Harry asks, clearly irritated, his eyes flashing angrily behind his glasses. He carries several packages in one hand, their wrappings wrinkling within his tight grip.

"Harry, love!" Draco extricates himself from Flint and makes his way towards Harry, wearing a smile that's tight and overly bright. "You left me for far too long, darling. I was about to purchase three jackets out of sheer boredom. Luckily, Lord Flint was here to keep me company." He turns and bats his lashes.

Flint visibly flinches, his face twisting into something comical. "Potter…I apologise. I had no idea that Jacob was…that is, I had no idea, after everything that happened with Diggory, that you would ever consider—"

"Marcus." If possible, Harry's expression grows grimmer. "I fail to see how my past or present affairs have any bearing on what, by any standard, is considered offensive and indecorous behaviour."

Several of the other customers are now openly staring, and Flint looks stricken. "My apologies. I only hoped to invite Mr Black to see our new horses," he stammers. "My family and I would love to have you both at Crescentwill. Perhaps you'd be interested in breeding one of your fillies with Xander."

"Thank you, but no. In my experience, environment influences health and temperament, and given my… fiancé's obvious distress in your brief company, I doubt it would be a successful venture."

Flint nods stiffly, apparently unable or unwilling to confront Harry further.

"I understand. Well, I bid you good day, then." He opens his mouth as he turns towards Draco. The glare Harry sends him in return must make him think the better of it, since Flint turns tail instead and scurries out the door.

"Fiancé?" Harry asks Draco, his eyes sparkling with amusement. 

Draco lets out an embarrassed cough. "Seriously, Potter? I was accosted and unceremoniously manhandled, and that's what you're focused on."

"I could have throttled him for treating you so," Harry growls. "But I would wager that you could handle Flint on your own. You seem to have no issue with speaking your mind to me."

"Flint isn't worth my energies," Draco says airily, the implication unspoken. He takes a look at the packages in Harry's hands. There are at least five bundles, and all appear to be from different shops. "You've certainly been busy. Have I really been here for so long?"

"You seem just as at home in a sartor's shop as Hermione does in a lending library, and that's saying a lot. But it did give me time to finish my errands. Speaking of which—" Harry pulls out one of the packages, the second from the top, and hands it to Draco. "This is for you."

"For me?" A pleased smile spreads over Draco's face as he inspects the plain, brown wrapping tied with a ribbon and affixed with a wax seal. "May I?"

When Harry nods, he opens it carefully.

The wrapping is beautiful—simple, but thoughtfully done. Nestled inside, protected in several layers of tissue, is a brightly-coloured quill and a leather-bound journal whose pages are made of vellum.

Draco lets out a long breath. "It's wonderful, Harry," he says, overwhelmed by the gift.

"I've noticed that you spend a lot of time in the library at Godric's Hollow. I thought…well, given that, and your previous occupation, that you might want something on which to record your thoughts." Harry flushes a deep red. He looks as if he'd like to shove his hands in his pockets, but since they are occupied, seems to settle on scuffing his shoes against the floor instead.

"It's perfect, Harry. Truly." Draco reaches out and squeezes Harry's hand; unlike Flint's possessive gesture, the squeeze that Harry returns fills Draco with a fluttering warmth. "Thank you. I'll cherish it forever."

Harry rewards him with a blinding grin. Draco realises that even with his new gifts, there's no way to adequately capture the happiness he feels in that moment.

~O-O~

"Come, Colin!" Ginny whirls around, resplendent in a gown that is without excessive adornment but compliments her figure perfectly. "Dance with me!"

The poor boy lets out a garbled noise as Terry and Luna add their encouragement. It's been nearly two hours since the start of the ball, and the look of longing that Colin spares the whirling couples fills Draco with sympathy. 

"I don't know how to," Colin admits. "I've been told I have two left feet. I wouldn't want to trample over your lovely shoes."

Ginny lets out a snort. "You survived a month at sea with Thicknesse. I think you can handle a waltz. Besides, you look much too handsome to be keeping the topiaries company," she adds, holding out her hand.

Colin takes Ginny up on her offer after the briefest hesitation. When the pair make their way onto the dance floor that's been set up on the expansive grounds of Godric's Hollow, Draco isn't surprised to discover that it's Ginny who takes the lead, guiding the young man through a series of springy steps. What is a surprise, however, is the grace with which she performs them.

"Beautiful, isn't she?" Neville asks, clearly enamoured.

"Her coupées…her footwork is impeccable," Draco says thoughtfully.

Neville chuckles. "Ginny's just as comfortable dancing a reel as she is climbing the mast. It's all those years of lessons; I guess there's no way for her to entirely escape her upbringing as a lady."

"She's a noble?" Draco asks, his mouth parted in shock. "Does Harry know? I thought he despised the aristocracy."

"Oh." Neville stops, looking surprised by Draco's reaction. "Ron and Ginny's family have ties to King George IV himself, if you go back far enough. In fact, most of us do," he says, nodding towards Luna and Terry Boot.

"It would be a bit hypocritical of Harry to feel that way, considering he's titled as well," Luna adds.

"Not that you'd ever know it," Terry says as Luna hums along with the melody. "You'll never find Harry thinking less of someone just because they're not addressed as 'Sir' or 'Lord'."

"Harry believes people should be given an equal footing, no matter their parentage or wealth. Not all of the noblesse disagrees, but there is a vocal and powerful group that oppose the idea," Luna explains. She twirls, then curtsies to her invisible partner as the music in the background comes to a stop.

Many on the dance floor disperse as the orchestra begins their next piece, a much slower song. Draco's small group is soon joined by Colin and Ginny. Draco notes that the young boy is flushed with delight, his eyes sparkling with a happiness that has been increasing ever since he came aboard the Nimbus.  

"That was such fun!" Ginny exclaims. She fans herself, then smiles at Neville as he hands her a glass of ratafia, downing it gratefully. "Thank you for the dance, Mister Creevy," she says, lowering herself in the perfect curtsey. 

Colin smiles, the edges soft and shy. "I had a wonderful time, Lady Weasley. I'm sorry I couldn't continue further."

"And why is that?" Draco prompts gently.

Colin makes a face. "This next dance…it's slow."

Draco's brow furrows. "It's a waltz."

"It's really slow."

"Ahhh." Draco cocks his head as the familiar strains of a Pirouette waltz fill the air. "It is slow. But it's also the perfect dance to sweep a special lad or lassie off their feet."

Neville holds out his hand towards Ginny. "Speaking of which, love, I've been waiting to have a turn with you on the floor. Plus, I think we might have to rescue Harry."

Draco turns as Neville and Ginny head back onto the lawn, his curious gaze mirrored by Colin, Luna, and Terry's. He finally spies Harry near the large Cascalote tree at the northwest corner of the dance floor, and it's clear from the way he's gesturing that Harry is irritated.

Draco fights to keep his expression neutral as the other man steps into Harry's space in an overly-familiar manner. The newcomer is objectively handsome, loathe as Draco is to admit it. His sandy brown hair is perfectly coiffed, and even from this distance Draco can see that his eyes are a striking blue, his nose is straight, and his lips are full and sensual.

"Who is that with Harry?" Draco asks. He's proud that his voice remains even.

"Roger Davies," Luna replies, her tone filled with disapproval. "Harry's business partner, and at one time, his lover. Harry broke things off when it was clear that Roger wanted something more serious. It appears as if Roger isn't willing to accept 'no' as an answer."

"Perhaps Harry's just waiting for the right person," Terry says, straightening up a bit.

"If only it were that simple," Luna says sadly. "Harry was in love, once. But Lord Diggory suffered an untimely death, and Harry has never recovered. It will take a very special person to make him risk opening his heart in that way again."

Something sinks in Draco's stomach like a stone. He remembers the nightshirt that he wore at the beginning of their journey, the one he now realises has the name of Harry's past lover on its collar. He experiences a swell of anger and jealousy, which is quickly followed by sadness for Harry's loss and as well as guilt towards his selfish emotions.

"Poor Harry," Colin says softly.

A sombre mood settles over the small group. Draco's heart aches upon seeing the flush of Colin's excitement dim.

"Come, young master Creevy, and dance with me," he says with a gentle smile. "We should respect the past, but tonight is also about celebrating life and the future. Let me teach you the steps, for soon your dance card will be filled, and I must seek a turn while I am able."

Colin laughs, and already his face looks lighter. Draco takes Colin into his arms and begins showing him the steps.

"For this waltz, your movement amongst the other dancers is constant and in one direction. The difficulty, therefore, is not the floorcraft, but in the intimacy between the two partners." Draco places one hand along the small of Colin's back, and brings the palm of his other hand alongside Colin's and raises it overhead. The difference in their heights makes the arch less than perfect, and Colin strains to maintain it, losing his footing.

"That's all right," Draco murmurs encouragingly. "Let me lead. Eyes up here." Colin follows, giving in to Draco's experienced command, his body position and footwork growing more assured as Draco directs them in a slow circle.

"May I?" someone asks, tapping Draco on the shoulder once the song finishes and the orchestra begins another.

Draco turns, his arms dropping unceremoniously at his sides as his heart thumps erratically. Harry watches him intently with a slow smile, his eyes hooded.

Colin lets out a small cough. "Um…thanks for the dance, Jacob, but I'm kind of thirsty. I'm going to get something to drink."

"Nothing stronger than an orgeat lemonade, Colin," Harry orders, his eyes never leaving Draco's. 

"Um…right. Well, see you around," Colin says, practically running off.

"You scared away the poor boy," Draco huffs as Harry slides easily into his arms. They're of a similar height, and the difference between Harry and Colin's physical stature is mirrored in the confidence Harry exudes as he leans forward, hips touching, his fingers too light against Draco's jacket.

"He looks to have recovered," Harry says as he points in the direction of the dessert tables. There's a pretty girl who looks to be Colin's age smiling prettily at him as he hands her an apricot ice. "Of course, I could take my leave, if you prefer."

Draco tugs on Harry's sleeve. "Don't you dare. It's terrible form, and I'd hate for my reputation to suffer."

"It couldn't, not with the way you were tonight. You were amazing with Colin."

The music swells, and Draco's clothes lay tight and heavy against his skin. Harry's gaze is hungry, his focus intent on Draco, as if he's the only guest here, and Draco finds himself wrapping both arms around Harry's waist, for fear of falling.

"This is hardly the proper way to waltz," Harry murmurs, his breath hot against Draco's ear.

"Then perhaps we should be improper," Draco teases.

Draco catches the way Harry's eyes darken further before he's swept up in Harry's arms. Harry's long legs carry them forward, never faltering through the reverse turns or on the uneven ground until he navigates them away from prying eyes.

"I thought the purpose of this was to be improper," Draco whispers once they come to a stop. The music, moon, and stars dissolve into nothingness as Draco's entire consciousness focuses on the man before him. He pulls Harry's body flush against his, and there's no mistaking the hitch in Harry's breath, nor the hard line of his cock pressing against the front of his breeches.

"I think you've got that covered," Harry says drily.

Draco takes a deep breath, then gives in to his desires. He hasn't been alone with Harry in weeks, and all he wants to do is kiss this man who is a mass of contradictions. In Harry, Draco sees a man whose generosity is endless despite all that he's suffered, who is both a noble and a rogue, who has so much to give, yet doesn't trust in love for himself. Draco slides his hand from where it rests on Harry's shoulder and threads it through the softness of Harry's hair, then leans forward on his toes to capture Harry's mouth.

When Harry groans he sounds desperate and needy, like a man who's offered wine after he's been dying of thirst, when what he really should have is water. "Jacob," he says, his voice spilling frustration. "You deserve much more than a man like me.”

Draco doesn't let loose his hold. "I may not have experienced anything more than a kiss, but that does not diminish desire, or my ability to consent. I want you," Draco continues as he watches Harry's resolve falter. "I would want you whether you were my first, my tenth, or the last. And I know you have some misplaced need to play the martyr, but I assure you, I don't need saving."

Harry tries again. "What you offer is a gift that shouldn't be given blithely.”

"We've been dancing around each other for months!" Draco snaps. "I am tired of people dictating what I study, or how I dress, or what I think. And I'm especially tired of people telling me who I should be with, or what is right for me. I may not know everything, and I may make mistakes along the way, but I know this: I want you. I want to know what it means to feel pleasure in someone's arms, to experience that moment when desperation gives way to passion. I want to kiss you, to feel your touch, to hold you in my arms. To make you feel the same way in return. Please, Harry," Draco begs, his cheeks pink. "Unless you'd prefer I find out with someone else?"

Harry's eyes grow hard and possessive. "Don't toy with me," he growls.

"I am not toying with your affections, nor have I been above pleading. I've laid myself out for you—bared my soul, so as to erase any doubt." The moon seems to agree; the clouds part and she reveals her beauty, illuminating the moment. Harry's pupils are blown wide with desire. He quickly looks away from Draco's knowing gaze, but his eyes betray him as they linger on Draco's lips, and the pulse that thuds at the base of Draco's throat.

"If we do this," Harry starts, and Draco's heart speeds at the possibilities of those words, "I can't promise you anything more than tonight."

Draco doesn't care; he'd rather have one night than nothing at all. He draws a finger down Harry's cheek and along his jaw, and feels the muscles clench in anticipation. "Tonight is all I ask for."

*

It's as if once Harry has Draco's consent, the dam of his pent-up desire breaks loose. With a nearly inhuman fervor he drags Draco into the main house, hand in hand, past the revellers and their closest friends, several of whom give them knowing looks. Draco couldn't care less that he's wearing his happiness on his sleeve; if the entire world knows that he is about to engage in an indiscretion, so be it. It isn't as if he doesn't feel like proclaiming it from the rooftops himself.

They make it past the front door…Draco isn't sure how, only that his jacket has become unbuttoned in the process. There's a grand staircase in the foyer, the wood polished to a stunning orange and gold hue, the variegations of which Draco becomes intimately acquainted with when his back hits the bannister and he lets out an embarrassing squeak.

"Sorry." Harry draws back, and Draco already misses the solidity of Harry's mouth, the press of his cheek. "I got a bit carried away."

"Not enough. When we're through, I hope that you'll be so incoherent as to render such apologies useless," Draco says as he pulls Harry back towards him and blushes at his brazenness. 

Harry's eyes darken as he slips his hand into Draco's and leads him up the stairs towards his room. It could almost pass for chaste, the propriety with which they start, but midway through Harry's hand wraps around Draco's waist, his fingers trailing up and down the back of Draco's jacket, and by the time they reach the top they're curling firmly over the swell of Draco's arse.

"How much further?" Draco gasps.

"About twenty feet. Eighteen…" he amends as he pulls Draco against him and proceeds to walk backwards. "Seventeen." Harry's next words are forsaken in favour of a kiss; unlike the previous ones, filled with impatience and urgency, this kiss is gentle and teasing. There's a brush of the lips—soft, gentle, and barely wet, a whisper of a promise that Harry breaks when he nips at Draco's bottom lip, then pushes in with his tongue. The feel, the taste of Harry licking inside Draco's mouth, languid and deep, has Draco moaning.

"Blimey," he says breathlessly as Harry reaches blindly to open a door, then closes it just as quickly behind them.

Harry tugs off his jacket, nearly ripping the seams in his haste, and then does the same to his shirt, the tanned planes of his muscular chest thrown into relief in the moonlight. When Harry moves his tattoo comes alive, its powerful lines and bending and flexing with his movements, a rippling sea of orange and red. 

Harry turns and catches Draco staring. "Like what you see?" he asks with a cocky smile.

"No. Too many clothes."

"I agree." Harry walks over to where Draco is waiting close to the edge of the bed, a predatory look in his emerald eyes. He drags his fingers over the plackett of Draco's shirt, tugging slowly at the neckline. "Too many, indeed." Harry undoes the top button with one hand, and Draco has only a moment to wonder how Harry is able to manage it so expertly before Harry makes quick work of the entire row and the shirt hangs loose and opened.

Draco's skin heats as Harry drinks him in. "Yes. Please, just…" 

Harry traces a line down the base of Draco's throat, marking Draco across his collarbone and down his chest. Harry's mouth soon follows the reddened path, lips and teeth teasing the sensitive flesh, and a wave of shock and pleasure ripples through Draco when Harry latches onto a nipple. Draco can't help the way his body responds, the way his hands seek out Harry's hair, pulling him deeper as the bud pebbles under Harry's hot and wicked tongue. 

"God…" Draco shudders. His cock is uncomfortably hard under his trousers, the noises that escape his mouth unbidden. His stomach clenches as Harry rubs his hands down Draco's sides, the pads of his thumbs rough and insistent. "Harry," he says, tugging on the strands of Harry's hair. He needs to taste, to kiss. He has to ground himself lest he be lost forever in Harry's eyes, his touch, those lips that are so shiny and full and inviting.

Harry seems to know what Draco wants, despite his teasing. He traces the outline of Draco's lips with his tongue, then gently licks inside his mouth. Their noses bump when Draco tries to deepen the kiss, but Harry smooths it over with a tilt of his head and a soft chuckle, and Draco feels himself drowning in Harry's scent, his sounds, his touch. When Harry moves, the length of his arousal brushes against Draco's thigh, the tantalising feel of it turning Draco wanton and demanding. He thrusts up, gasping at the pleasure that shoots through him at the friction against his cock, and then once more when he Harry ruts against him in response. 

"I'm afraid I won't last much longer," Draco says as he laughs, high and breathless, the heat gathering in his groin.

The idea seems to please Harry, for his hands tighten around Draco's waist.

"Let me take care of you," he whispers, the words and his sly grin making Draco shudder. His hand slips under the waistband of Draco's pants, his fingers rubbing against the sensitive skin of Draco's belly. They're strong, rough and calloused, and they make quick work of the placket of Draco's breeches. Harry slides down between Draco's legs, lowering the garment as he goes, watching Draco's prick spring free.

"Oh my god," Draco moans. Harry looks up, eyes huge beneath his lashes. He removes his glasses and places them on the table, then looks at Draco once more, as if waiting for permission. "Yes, bloody hell, now would be as good a time as any," Draco manages imperiously.

Harry chuckles, his fingers closing around the root as he licks a stripe from the base to the tip. Draco's eyes roll to the back of his head, garbled curses spilling out of his mouth as he grips the sheets in his fists. He's never felt anything like this—has only heard the bawdy tales of the different ways pleasure could be had aside from one's hands or buggering.

And it's apparently something that Harry is more than familiar with, if the sounds that emerge from his mouth are any indication. He swirls his tongue around the head of Draco's cock, then sucks at the bead of fluid that collects at the tip, groaning as if he can't get enough. When Draco cries out at the spike of intense pleasure, he suckles some more, venturing lower, throat working and tongue rough as he takes more of Draco inside him.

"Oh god," Draco cries as his hips buck and Harry chokes. He's about to babble his apologies, but Harry brings his hands from where they're curled around the back of Draco's thighs to clasp his buttocks, drawing Draco even closer. Harry hollows his cheeks as Draco pumps his cock shallowly, and Harry's grip tightens, urging Draco on.

"Harry, I…" Draco tugs on Harry's head frantically, causing Harry's mouth to slide off. "I'm going to come."

"Let me taste you," Harry rasps, his voice hoarse and chin wet. He swallows down Draco once more, taking him all the way until his lips are curled around the base of Draco's cock, nose pressed against the blond, downy hairs, and Draco can't stem the tide, not against the heat, his urgency and Harry's determination. He gives several aborted thrusts before his thighs clench, arse tightening as he comes down Harry's throat with a shout. Harry keeps his mouth on him, sucking and swallowing until Draco shudders from the sensitivity.

Draco's floating, cradled in Harry's strong hands as they hold Draco steady.

"I can't feel anything," Draco gasps as Harry chuckles and nuzzles the inside of Draco's thigh. He opens his eyes, and when the haze of his release starts to fade, he notices that Harry is mouthing the line of Draco's hip while his right hand pushes down his own pants, freeing his cock.

Harry hovers over him. His prick is flushed, the tip of it engorged and red as he works himself over slowly, and Draco's mouth waters at the sight.

"It's not fair for you to have all the fun." Draco sits up and shyly curls his fingers around Harry's shaft. He's never touched another man like this before, and although there's something familiar about the way his hand circles Harry's girth, slides against the smoothness of his skin, it's different. He strokes faster, his grip tightening and confidence building as Harry lets out a low moan.

"Fuck…" Harry grits out as he sucks in his next breath. He pushes down his pants, the fabric rucking around his knees and nearly causing him to stumble. "You make me feel as if everything is new again," he laughs softly, shaking his head. 

Draco hastens to disagree, having been the recipient of Harry's expert attention, when he's overcome by a wave of uncertainty. "And I feel woefully inexperienced."

Harry presses a soft kiss against the corner of Draco's mouth. "You're perfect. So bloody perfect. Let me show you just how much, what you do to me."

He lowers Draco back down on the bed, surrounded by linens that smell of Harry's soap, woodsy with a hint of Seville orange and the sea. Harry peels off his own trousers and undergarments, then climbs over Draco, straddling his thighs. His forearms flex as he resumes his strokes, the fat head of his cock pushing between the circle of his fingers, the sounds of his hand slapping against his skin loud in the night. The muscles of Harry's stomach clench, his shoulders pitching forward as he moves faster, harder.

Draco rubs his hands along the lengths of Harry's thighs, urging him on.

"Let me see you, Harry," he whispers as he runs a finger under Harry's tightening bollocks. His fingers edge past Harry's perineum and near his rim, and as he presses against the ring of muscle Harry arches, his head thrown back as he comes, striping Draco's belly with his release and a guttural cry.

When he wrings out the last of his orgasm he flops down onto the bed. The end of the sheet turns into a makeshift rag as Harry gently cleans Draco's front, then uses another section on himself. When he's finished, he throws it to the side then props himself up on an elbow.

A breeze filters in through an open window, and there are patches of laughter and conversation. "You're neglecting your guests," Draco teases.

Harry's gaze travels down the length of Draco's face, then back up again. "Not the most important one," Harry says with a smirk. He leans over to press kisses from the curve of Draco's neck down to his chest.

"Point," Draco gasps

"Yes. Point indeed," Harry laughs as he stares as Draco's breast, the pink bud pebbling into a stiff peak.

Draco throws his leg over Harry's thigh and uses the momentum to push Harry onto his back. He's considerably stronger after the months aboard the Nimbus, but he has no delusions as to Harry's ability to best him. Still, it gives him a quiet satisfaction at seeing the Master of Death lying pliant beneath him.

"I think all of Hogsmeade is in attendance tonight. With as many people here who welcome your return, I wouldn't think you had an enemy in the world."

Harry's hands still from where they're tracking small circles along Draco's bum. 

"I've had enemies before I even knew what that meant," Harry says softly. His hands fall to the side while the moon casts the angles of his face in shadow. "Before I was even born." He hesitates, and there's a tight, anxious line to his mouth. "My parents were killed when I was but a babe. Their death was covered by nearly every rag: On Allhallows Eve, a coach carrying a man and woman and their one-year old son was beset by a band of four highwaymen. The remains of the scene suggest that the Earl—Lord Potter, a descendant of Lord Peverell, Duke of Gryffindor—and his wife had put up a valiant fight, but were no match for the bandits in the end. The assailants' only mercy was that the Potters died at their hands swiftly.

"There were other details, however, that were not in the papers. Those of a more unsavoury sort. For there was a fifth man…a man of prominence. It is unknown how he fit into the crime; some think he was an innocent traveller who couldn't resist playing hero, but was sadly outmatched. Others whispered that he may have been the one who hired the highwaymen himself, for he and my father were infamous for their duels and outspoken opposing opinions in Parliament. Either way, Lord Voldemort, Duke of Hangleton, was found dead, impaled by the spoke of the carriage's elm-wood wheel."

Draco slides off Harry to lie on his side. "But what about the babe? And who was driving the carriage?"

"I had disappeared," Harry says as Draco gasps. "For years, rumours swirled as to my fate. Some guessed that I had been eaten by wild animals, while others thought I had been found and raised by a family who had no knowledge as to my lineage. As it turns out, the truth lay somewhere in between. The coachman, who was a trusted family friend, hid me, then brought me to distant relatives."

"The ones who mistreated you so," Draco said, connecting the pieces, his heart aching for Harry. "Your life turned because of a tragic accident."

"The robbery was no accident, nor the result of bad luck or ill-timing. For those who believe in fortune-telling or the fate of the stars, it was prophesied that a boy of noble birth would become a champion of the people and overthrow the oppressive policies of the aristocracy that Voldemort and his followers promoted. There were two boys who were thought capable of fulfilling the prediction—myself, and Neville. Lord Voldemort, apparently, believed it to be me."

Harry's voice becomes choked, the light in his eyes growing dimmer as he confronts his ghosts. "I know there are myths as to how I survived, each more fantastical than the last. But the truth is that I am only here today because of the sacrifices of those around me, with only a mark on my head to show for it. It is a burden of guilt that I don't think I shall ever overcome, no matter how much I try."

Draco pulls Harry towards him, kissing down the column of his throat, trying to put into his touch the sentiments he can't seem to voice. He takes Harry's hand in his, interlacing their fingers and giving him an encouraging squeeze.

Harry brings his free hand up to tilt Draco's chin. He must like what he sees, for he leans forward and kisses Draco's lips, soft and sweet.

"Prophecy or not, it was the love of your parents and those around you that made you worth saving—and, in turn, makes life worth living."

Regret flashes across Harry's face. "It is still a far cry from living." He runs his hands through his hair, the strands sticking up haphazardly. Draco fights the urge to run his fingers through their softness. "A pirate's life for me," he says with a sardonic laugh.

"How did you make your way from the home of the worst relatives in the world to becoming the most fearsome marauder of the high sea?"

A smile tugs at the corners of Harry's lips. "I was able to escape my aunt and uncle when my godfathers came into the picture. Sirius and Remus were marauders—as was my father, before me. They were part of an organisation founded by Lord Dumbledore to oppose Voldemort, called the Order of the Phoenix. It was not just a matter of philosophical debate for Voldemort and his followers; they were fomenting hate, using their influence to limit opportunities for the lower classes, and creating an economy that would keep wealth and power in the hands of only a few. So the Order retaliated on multiple fronts; they attacked Voldemort's rhetoric by educating people and stirring passions on the ground, through words both printed and spoken. The Marauders were a specialised branch of the Order, one that created financial loss by attacking the opposition's holdings at sea."

"And so, by product of circumstance, the Master of Death was born."

"Yes." Harry half-turns, throws an arm around Draco's waist, and drags him close. Draco laughs, wriggling as he settles into the comfort of Harry's arms. "Some say I'm the son of Blackbeard. The truth is much less romantic."

Harry's prick is nestled against Draco's arse, and Draco can't help giving his bum a wiggle. "Do you know that I once came down to the docks to see if I could spy the legend himself?" he asks as Harry rolls his hips, a pleased noise rumbling through his chest.

"Curiosity can be a dangerous thing." Harry laughs, his voice muffled against Draco's skin.

"Well, it didn't kill me. Though I did end up a notch on your very long bedpost." Draco knows that Harry never promised him anything more, and he berates himself a bit for the snide remark, as much as he tries to couch it in harmless banter. 

Harry stops his teasing. He rolls Draco towards him and grips his hand, his face too serious to be mistaken for angry. "You are not just another notch, Jacob. I know what people say…what you might have heard. Though it is true that I have sought pleasure with men and women in the past, in recent years, my lovers have been few enough to count on a single hand. And it's been a very long time since I sought companionship with someone whom I see so frequently, who is privy to the most personal parts of me."

"You trust me," Draco says with a dawning realisation. His heart beats faster as Harry nods.

"I do," Harry says slowly, as if surprised by the revelation as well.

The confession is as delicious as the kisses that follow. By the time the last guest has departed and the only songs left playing are those by the tree frogs and crickets and Harry's slow and measured breaths, Draco resolves to tell Harry the truth. After all, if Harry himself is of noble birth, then he can hardly hold Draco's own lineage against him. All Draco needs is the proper time and setting to do it in.

~O-O~

Draco looks up from his spot in the library when he hears the knock. It's one of his favourite places in Godric's Hollow; there's something soothing about the dark woods and worn leather, the smell of books and parchment reminding him of home.

"Jacob?" Colin peeps behind the opening; his cheeks are flushed with excitement. "I have the next set of drawings for you."

Draco can barely contain his own eagerness as he pulls up a chair for Colin. He gathers his papers carefully, after checking to make sure the ink is dry, and stacks them in the corner of the desk. When Colin lays out the first drawing in front of him, Draco can't hide his gasp of appreciation upon seeing its beauty.

"It's amazing, Colin." The framework of the main house at Godric's Hollow is outlined in ink, but Colin has added colour with chalks, adding a softness that would be missing otherwise.

"I've been experimenting with the chalks and watercolours you bought me," Colin says, bouncing on his toes.

Draco shakes his head. Colin absolutely has a talent for pulling the viewer in, for turning them from a passive observer to a curious participant. He's amazed that such a gift has languished, untapped, for so long. "Your vision will bring the story to life where my words cannot. Talent like yours should be nurtured. How are you not at an academy? You could easily find a patron."

Colin gives Draco a sheepish look. "I…my family, well, we don't have one of the large farms, only a small holding of around twenty acres. With the passing of the Enclosure Acts, it's been more difficult to compete with the large landowners. My brother is young and prone to sickness, and I am of an age where I could seek employment. I couldn't bear to work in the factories up north; I was working off my passage on the Flying Umbridge in the hopes of finding work in America, for at least there, it would be one less mouth for my father to feed."

"But your drawings…you must have learned somewhere," Draco prods gently. He thinks of his lessons, of all the tutors his father's wealth had afforded him, and how easily he took them for granted.

Colin shrugs. "I have a tendency to get caught up in the details around me; if I had to hitch an ox to a cart, I would spend more time studying the curves of the yoke than getting the job done. My father used to berate me for being absent-minded." He gives another shrug, and despite the casual nature of the movement, there's no hiding his hurt. "I was never one for being the center of attention or at the forefront of action. I've always been an observer."

Draco's throat goes tight. "When we get back—if we go back to England," he amends, "I will make sure you have the support you deserve," Draco promises.

The hope in Colin's eyes is unmistakable. "Do you know people? Through your apprenticeship at the stationers?"

"Yes. I know people who have influence at the Royal Academies of Art in both France and England," Draco says, thinking of Blaise. "So if circumstances should bring us back—"

Colin's eyes light up. "France! There's this man—Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre—who's been experimenting with capturing images on copper!"

"That seems like magic," Draco says, laughing.

Colin's light brown eyes are as wide as saucers. "Can you imagine?"

"Hmm. Wouldn't that be a conflict of loyalties, though? One foot in the past, and another in the future?"

Colin shakes his head vigorously. "Both capture the scenes differently. It's as if you were to compare two paintings of a sunset. There's the subject, and then interpretation and perspective, all influencing one another."

"How true. And very wise," Draco adds, ruffling Colin's hair as Colin give him a grin. "Which is why this project we're working on is so important."

"Would you like to see what else I've done?" 

"If you have more, of course."

"Jacob?" Hermione bursts through the door, carrying several books in her arms. "Oh, hello Colin. I didn't mean to interrupt."

"That's all right, Miss Granger. I have to start my chores, anyway."

"Colin. Here. For more inspiration." Draco hands him the pages he wrote that morning. Colin takes them eagerly and waves his goodbye as Hermione watches with a shrewd expression.

"What are you two up to?" she asks.

"We're just discussing hobbies and mutual interests," Draco says evasively.

She sits down, occupying Colin's old seat. "Does one of those interests include Harry? It hasn't escaped notice that you've captured his fancy."

Draco falters at her bluntness. "Is that what you have come to speak with me about? My friendship with Harry?"

Hermione frowns. "Harry is an adult, and one who is capable of making his own choices. I wouldn't presume to insert myself into his personal life, just as I would expect him to pay me the same courtesy. If, however, anyone takes advantage of his generous nature…" She trails off, leaving the threat dangling.

"I know Harry has been hurt—"

"You have no idea," Hermione declares fiercely, her eyes flashing. "Life is not perfect, and Harry's probably had the most imperfect start of any, yet he still holds so much faith and goodness in his heart. And I know that the things that can make love so wondrous, with all its uncertainty and originality and magic, can also blind us to its faults. Harry has, and will make mistakes, but…he's suffered more losses than a person should ever know, including in love."

"Cedric," Draco blurts out. He can't help it, just as he can't help the shame that suffuses him when the expletive is tinged with jealousy at the notion that someone else had once captured Harry's heart in a way that Draco never could. 

Hermione's mouth drops in surprise. "Yes. I didn't realise you knew."

"Not all the details. Just that his death was unexpected."

"It was, due to the unnaturalness of the circumstances. A situation brought about by forces so hateful it makes one question the goodness in humanity. Harry told you of his parents' deaths?" Upon Draco's nod, she continues, "Even though Voldemort died that day, the fanaticism of his followers did not. Harry was an elusive target, so they attacked the next best thing, a person whose loss would have a devastating impact."

"Oh my god," Draco whispers, sinking into his seat.

"The loss of a lover…it is difficult to compare to that of his parents, the grief of a man versus a babe is incomparable. Harry was inconsolable…driven to drink, to fits of temper. He lashed out, even to those closest to him, and was rash in his judgment. Now, for the first time in years, I see the signs of the person he used to be. Someone who lives not just for principle, or vengeance, but for himself."

"I only want Harry's happiness," Draco says fervently.

"Do you?" Hermione's eyes watch over Draco carefully. "Then take my advice. Be truthful to Harry. I know you are not all you seem," she adds as Draco opens his mouth to protest, "but I believe in your good intentions. However, Harry's trust has been broken time and time again, and I fear that if he should find it broken once more, there will be no way to repair it."

Draco nods. Words are empty promises at this point, and he resolves to tell Harry everything, as soon as he can find him.

"My second piece of advice is this: be careful. I don't mean this in the way that you think. Harry may deny wanting another relationship, but it's obvious, his depth of feeling for you…and you for him. But his love comes with a caveat. Voldemort's followers, the ones who continue his hateful legacy—people like the Lestranges, the Malfoys, the Rosiers—will stop at nothing to hurt Harry."

Ice-cold water flows through Draco's veins. "What?" he croaks out as his vision swims.

"Voldemort's foot soldiers. The ones responsible for Cedric's death could easily do the same to you."

~O-O~

Draco doesn't think that he will ever tire of the view from the westernmost corner of Godric's Hollow. It's set at a high point on the isle, the sound of the waves breaking over the rocky shore a constant roar in the distance. It's one of Harry's favourites as well, so it's with a restrained excitement that Draco approaches, having received Harry's note.

"I thought you might be hungry," Harry says with a grin. He's sitting under a scarlet cordia tree, its bright orange flowers somehow making the cloudless day even brighter. There's a blue-checkered blanket spread over the grass and covered with dishes of breads and meats, while a nearby picnic basket promises plenty of sweets. A glazed berry tart lightly dusted with sugar is visible under the checkered cloth, and Draco's stomach growls, much to his embarrassment.

"I think you emptied the entire pantry," he says weakly.

Harry smiles in a way that lets Draco know the half-hearted protest hasn't fooled him. There's a trace of humidity in the air today and Harry has dressed accordingly, clad in a pair of silks and a shirt made of lightweight cotton. His hair has been recently trimmed, but it's still long enough to tie at the nape of his neck. Long enough for Draco to run his fingers through it, if he were to remove the leather strap. Draco shakes his head, refocusing on what Harry is saying. 

"…and at any rate, I need to eat as well, don't I?"

"What? Yes, of course," Draco answers, taking hold of the hand that Harry's extending and sitting down beside him. 

Harry doesn't let go, choosing to rub the pad of his thumb along Draco's fingers as he stares at the ink smudges on their tips. "I know you've been reviewing the estate's finances with Hermione along with all your other responsibilities. If it's too much—"

"No." Draco shakes his head adamantly. "I quite like feeling useful. And it's much better than swabbing the deck, time for contemplation aside."

"I deserve that," Harry admits with a laugh. "I was an arse."

Draco leans back on his elbows and tilts his face into the sunlight that filters through the trees. "Not without reason." He plucks one of the large berries off its stem and pops it into his mouth, revelling in the sweet juice that bursts across his tongue. "What changed your mind about me, anyway?"

"Besides the fact that you're one of the most beautiful men I've ever met?" Harry laughs at Draco's pleased expression, and gives Draco a good-natured nudge. "There's no need for modesty; you know you are. But a pretty face is merely that—something to admire and move on from, unless there's something more substantial to hold one's attention.

"You worked as hard, if not harder, than anyone on the Nimbus. My friends adore you; even more, you've gained their respect. And I see how you've taken Colin under your wing, showing him great kindness." He fills two glasses with Madeira and hands one to Draco. "These are qualities I would cherish in a friend, and in a lover."

Draco twirls the stem of the glass between his fingers. He's sure his mother would be horrified. "Is that what we are?" The word implies something more than a one-time dalliance.

Harry cups Draco's chin, his touch assured. When they kiss, he tastes of the sweetness of the fortified wine and promise. The feeling lingers, a memory on Draco's lips even as they part. "All that, and a thousand times more. I have tried to protect my heart, but it is defenseless against you. For the first time in years, you've made me believe I could love again. That it is worth the risk, however great." Harry looks down at his hands. "That I am worth the risk."

"Every risk, and more," Draco declares fervently.

Harry graces him with a wan smile. "How I wish it were so." He looks out towards the sea, and when he speaks, it is as if he is pulling at a secret so shameful he cannot look at Draco. "Luna fancies herself to be a bit of a clairvoyant. She enjoys reading tea leaves, the stars. Tarot cards. She once told me I was the Prince of Wands."

Draco tries to keep the confusion from his voice. "I'm sorry. I do not know what that means."

Harry turns and takes Draco's hand. When he rubs it this time, it's with a nervous energy, restless and urgent. "The person who is represented by the Prince of Wands is someone who is energetic and generous. He is passionate and attacks every aspect of his life with vigour. He is often viewed as charismatic and courageous."

There's something in the way that Harry recites these things, his tone dry and free from his normal humility or humor, that makes Draco think that Harry doesn't agree with these traits. "Those are all amazing qualities," Draco says slowly. "And from all I know, quite apt."

"The Prince has another side, though. He may be headstrong and impulsive, and on occasion, angry and restless. Whatever you think of my better qualities, I know those reside in me as well."

"You are human, Harry. Even saints have their flaws. If you were perfect, life wouldn't hold any challenge to learn from all it offered."

"But even that…you praise my strengths and excuse my weaknesses, and it still makes me question whether I'm worth it." A darkness clouds Harry's expression. "There is a price on my head, and by extension, on anything and everyone who is dear to me. I have resisted you for so long for this very reason, having lost those who hold a special place in my heart, time and time again."

"Cedric."

There's an unmistakable tightening of Harry's jaw. "Yes, Cedric. But also my parents. Sirius and Remus and their families. The list is unfortunately long, which is why I would not have you enter a relationship with me based on empty promises or false assumptions."

"Nor I, you." The shame that dwells inside Draco for his mistruths grows, but at the same time, he is hopeful; if Harry can share the darkest and most vulnerable parts of himself, so can Draco. "Your confession moves me. And though I'd eagerly jump at the chance to be courted by you, I must tell you something as well. Though I have never been perfect, there is also a part of me that I am less than proud of, one that I felt I needed to hide. And now, the possibility of finding a similar acceptance, of starting something beautiful with nothing between us, compels me to let you know—"

Too late, does Draco hear the footsteps fall. "Harry." The voice that interrupts is cold and angry as Draco and Harry jump apart.

"Roger." Harry's eyes flash dangerously, and he looks every bit as dangerous as his moniker. "I don't believe you have my permission to be on these grounds."

Roger's handsome features twist into something bitter as he surveys the scene, his angry gaze landing on Draco. "You haven't responded to my letters, or answered my requests to call."

"You're an intelligent man. Or so I thought."

"So because you no longer want to fuck me—or, more accurately, be fucked by me—you'll cut off our business dealings as well? I thought you made decisions with your bollocks and not your prick."

The muscle in Harry's jaw ticks as he stands, his wine tipping over and staining the blanket a deep red. "I need neither my bollocks nor my prick to know an arsehole when I see one. And though I owe you no explanation, it is because I discovered you were diverting water from the surrounding areas to your own estate. To steal something so vital to the welfare of your neighbours is an indictment of your character—one I have no desire to associate with."

Roger takes a step forward, his face nearly apoplectic. "You certainly had no qualms about associating with me before."

"A momentary lapse of judgment."

"Don't get too comfortable," Roger sneers, turning his anger on Draco. "You are hardly the first man Harry has taken for a picnic on this bluff."

Draco clambers to his feet, not caring that he has knocked over several of the dishes in his haste. "It matters not who Harry may have brought here before, for I am the one who is with him now."

"Enjoy it while you can. Harry is infamous for his inability to remain settled with a partner for very long. Especially one who has little to offer aside from his looks. With no money or holdings or employable skills, how soon do you think he'll tire of you, once he's had a chance to sample your—"

"Don't you dare talk to him that way," Harry begins, lunging at Roger, although Draco beats him to the punch. The crack of his hand across Roger's cheek leaves a red-white print as Roger raises his fingers to his face in shock, rage flitting across his comely features.

"I suggest that you keep a tighter rein on your staff, Potter," Roger seethes. "I could challenge Jacob to a duel, given the assault."

"You step foot onto my property, uninvited, and proceed to libel not only myself but Mr Black. I believe I could say the same." Harry's eyes soften a fraction as if in pity. "Roger…don't do this. Salvage whatever dignity remains and leave."

Roger stoops down to pick up the hat that flew off when Draco slapped him. He gives Draco a baleful glare when he leaves, not sparing a glance for Harry.

"Ex-paramour of not, he is a despicable person. He steals not only water, but from your coffers," Draco says as they watch Roger mount his horse, then take off.

Harry nods, his shoulders slumping. "His fondness for gambling has left him in a bad state. I thought…Hermione showed me the ledgers. She said you discovered he stole from the funds we had set aside to fund the secondary school. We are gathering evidence, but we don't want to tip our hand too early. Roger's family has a long history on this island, and he has many connections. It's one of the reasons I was trying to hold back from engaging in a physical altercation."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not. I was about to do the same. Probably worse." Harry lets out an exasperated sigh. "I'm sorry that you had to witness that." He makes a moue of distaste as he surveys the spilt drinks and scattered foods. "This was not how I envisioned our afternoon."

"It's all right," Draco tries to reassure him, although in truth, it's not. The intimate moment they had is lost, and with the sour taste Roger left in his mouth, he is no longer up for the emotional consequences of confessing. Of course, that's the moment Draco's stomach chooses to remind him of the fact that he still has not eaten.

He puts on a brave face. "If you didn't clean out the pantry already, perhaps there are some leftovers in the kitchen?" he asks. As Harry huffs out a laugh, Draco only wishes that the guilt that's worming a hole in his conscience is as easy to fill.

~O-O~

The beginning of that fateful night starts off like most, with the sound of crickets chirping in a crescendoed rush, their metallic song failing to silence the rhythmic, amphibious glubs of the frogs. The breeze rustles through the leaves of the Pigeon-Plum trees, the susurration almost indistinguishable from the distant surf. The island air is thick and heavy, and Draco's bed sheets slide lower in response until they're wrapped around his feet.

But it's still too hot—even with the linens tossed to the ground—and the air smells not of jasmine or gardenia, but of something more sharp and acrid. The harsh sting in the back of Draco's throat is enough to rouse him from slumber, and it takes him a moment to realise that the lights flickering in his sleep-addled eyes have nothing to do with the stars or the moon.

"Fire," Draco breathes. He jumps out of bed and runs towards the door, but rears back from the heat when he reaches for the handle.

"Fuck," he croaks out, trying to fight his panic. The window is partially opened, but it's too small and high to reach.

A loud crack startles him into action. Something hisses and pops, and there's a thundering crash as one of the beams splinters onto the ground and disintegrates in a burst of angry colour. Draco ducks down where the air seems slightly cooler, where the smoke stings his eyes a bit less, and stuffs his sheets under door.

He's reduced to crawling on his elbows and knees, and with the sound of the cottage collapsing around him, strange thoughts creep through his head, unbidden. He wonders what's left outside, whether the sunny yellow paint has peeled from the heat and turned an ashy grey. He thinks about the bougainvilleas that he cultivated so lovingly with Neville and his eyes water, not just from the fire itself. He mourns his parents—wonders whether they think him long gone, what he put them through with his disappearance—and wishes they could have known the truth, the type of man he'd grown to become.

And he thinks of Harry…about Harry's goodness despite all his difficult losses, of how the reality of who Harry is surpasses his legend, and of the truth of his kisses and what it's like to be held in Harry's arms. 

"No," Draco whispers fiercely. He refuses to let the fire consume him, to surrender everything he's gained and who he's become. The planks of the floor abrade his palms as he tries to feel his way around the dimming room, his head light, his body overheated and bruised.

In a moment of clarity or madness, he finds his shoes and tugs them on. It's a sign, he thinks, and he's ready to give himself up to providence and dash through the flames when he hears a loud shout.

"Jacob!" Even from the distance, Harry's voice is unquestionably wracked with desperation.

"Here! I'm here!" Draco rasps. He can hear Harry's curses and the sound of an axe breaking down the door. Draco coughs violently as the smoke billows in, fanned by the air.

There are several more voices in the background, but only one matters. "Oh my god, Jacob." Harry throws a large blanket over Draco to cover his mouth and nose.

"Wait," Draco pleads as Harry ushers him towards the door. "I just…" He motions to his desk. "I need to get something."

"Leave it," Harry pleads. "Whatever it is, it's not worth it."

Draco has always been too willful, his stubbornness at times conflicting with logic. Despite the danger, he cannot give this up. He breaks away from Harry's hold and throws open the drawer, grabbing his journal and pouch.

Harry's mouth is set in a disbelieving line. He grabs Draco and draws him close, every inch of him pressed against Draco's body as if protecting him from the flames through sheer force of will. "Don't stop. Don't look back," he urges, pressing a frantic kiss on the top of Draco's head as they barrel through the battered remains of the cottage.

The crashing timber and popping sparks cause Draco to flinch, but he keeps his eyes forward, his head tucked down and the blanket over his mouth and nose as the smoke and heat nearly blind him. When he and Harry finally make their way through the front door someone grabs a hold of him, although Harry seems reluctant to let go.

"Let me take a look at him, Harry," Luna says, her voice gentle yet firm. She tilts Draco's head up; his eyes are burning and he can't quite focus, although he's vaguely aware of her hand on his wrist. "Terry, can you…?" She doesn't finish her sentence, but Terry must understand, because she's holding up a cup of cold water to Draco's parched lips and urging him to drink.

When Draco's vision clears, Luna is watching him closely. "Speak to me, Jacob."

Draco opens his mouth, swallows, then tries again. "Thank you," he rasps as he takes a look around, his eyes squinting from the smoke and heat of the still-raging fire, even at this distance. Harry, Ginny, and Neville are handing each other buckets of water in some sort of brigade. Terry helps Colin in unloading the last tub of water from a cart, as Ron and Hermione drive up with another. "Bloody hell." Draco laughs, the sound tinged with hysteria.

Luna pulls a packet of something crystalline from the pocket of her dress and adds it to Draco's cup. "Drink," she orders.

Draco makes a face as he encounters the sweetness. "I refuse to sit by and sip sugared drinks while everyone else is working," he protests. He stands up but is unprepared for the sudden wave of dizziness that overtakes him.

"Jacob? Jacob…" Luna's voice echoes in the distance. Draco is aware of another set of arms reaching around him right before he passes out.

~O-O~

Draco wakes up to a damp cloth on his face. He's lying on a bed that smells familiar, but from the thread count of the sheets, is not his own. Strong arms pull him up gently and press a cup to his mouth. It seems that's all he does nowadays, he thinks as he sinks back into the pillows after several sips.

Sleep. Drink. Repeat.

He thinks someone brushes a kiss on his forehead right before he succumbs to sleep.

*

When Draco wakes next, he's still in the same bed, but his clothes seem different, less scratchy. He's able to open his eyes more fully, though they still feel heavy and swollen. His head spins a bit when he tries to sit, but he manages, and despite the stiffness of his legs, it feels good to dangle them over the edge of the bed.

"Jacob! You're up!" Luna's voice is as bright as the sun that streams in through the windows. "How are you feeling?"

"A bit confused and out of sorts." As Draco looks around, he realises that he's in Harry's bedroom. He feels his face heat. "I'm…where's Harry?"

Luna's face hardens at the question. It's an unusual look for her, but Draco has learned that a quiet ferocity lies alongside Luna's kindness. "He's with Hermione. He'll want to know that you're up; I'm sure he will fill you in." She places her satchel down on the floor and draws up a chair, looking Draco in the eyes. The colour of her irises are grey like his, but flecked with golds and greens instead of his steely blue. "What do you remember of the fire, Jacob?"

Draco closes his eyes, unable to stop the shudder that racks his body. "I remember waking up and feeling the heat. It must have been right outside the door; the handle was so hot, I couldn't touch it." He takes a deep breath and blinks, grateful when Luna holds his hand and squeezes. "I remember the room filling with smoke; I'm not sure how much time passed, but the next thing I knew, Harry was there. He brought me out, and…I remember sitting with you, and drinking something sweet, but not much more after that."

Luna nods. "You were delirious from the heat and dehydration. Harry took you back to his room where he could keep a close eye on you." She bites her lip. "The fire was five days ago, Jacob. The cottage is destroyed; Harry and Ron are going through it to see what can be salvaged, but much of what wasn't burned was waterlogged." 

Draco's eyes widen as Luna pulls something from her bag. "You brought this out of the cottage with you," she says.

"My…" Draco's heart leaps into his throat as she places the small bundle into his hands. The pouch containing his family's ring looks no worse for the wear, and though the cover of his journal is coated in a layer of soot, it's pages appear unharmed. "Thank you," he whispers.

"These things must be very special to you to have risked everything to save them."

Draco stares. Luna looks back, her eyes betraying nothing.

"They are." A wave of protectiveness overtakes Draco and he gets up, uncertain of where he can put them so they'll be away from prying eyes.

"Harry has set aside the top drawer for you," Luna remarks as Draco places the notebook and bag inside the drawer under a pair of cotton undergarments. "I didn't look through your things, Jacob; I would never disrespect you in such a manner. But…whatever it is that's making you feel guilty, I suggest that you take care of it. Things that sit around unaddressed tend to fester."

"Luna…"

"Hush. There's nothing more I need to say. Let me find Harry; he'll be upset enough that he wasn't here when you awoke."

*

It's several days later that Draco finally ventures out into the sun. His skin is a pink under the honey-coloured tan he's developed over the past several months, and the sting he feels from the sun's warmth reminds him of his early days on the Nimbus, when its heat could make him feel as if he were stripped bare and flayed. The shade from the large palm trees that line the property provide some respite, and Harry insists on moving their chairs every half hour, in keeping with the lines of the trees' shadows.

"I'm hardly going to wither away," Draco says crossly. "Unless it's from boredom."

Harry arches a brow and bats Draco's complaint aside. "Luna says that you need to take it easy."

"She means that I shouldn't be toiling away, repairing the cottage or working on the new schoolhouse. Not…" Draco waves an exasperated hand at the ottoman under his feet and the small table where a pitcher of iced lemon water and fresh fruit sit. "Sitting around with my thumb up my arse," he growls in frustration.

Harry lets out a surprised laugh. "Ron's rubbing off on you."

"It's Ginny, actually." Draco stretches his legs out and sighs. "I've done enough of nothing my entire life." He snaps his mouth shut, casting a worried glance at Harry who, thankfully, doesn't seem to notice the misstep.

Instead Harry is looking out over the water, his face racked with guilt. "The fire was my fault," he says tightly.

"What?" Draco exclaims, bounding out of his seat.

Harry sighs and runs a hand through his hair. The sun has streaked his dark locks with lines of brown, and if anything, it makes him look even more ruggedly handsome. "While you were recovering, Hermione and I took a close look at the cottage. We discovered that the fire was deliberately set, using a cloth soaked in potassium chlorate, sugar, and sulfuric acid. Hermione recognised it immediately as the compounds contained in Jones' Promethean matches."

Draco's lip quivers in indignation. He wants an inquiry, he wants answers, immediately. "Who would do such a thing?" 

"Roger." Harry grimaces at Draco's stunned look. "He was always a vain man. It was something I overlooked when…well, when I didn't care for anything more than a casual shag. Roger adored dressing in the latest fashion, but a riding accident caused his left foot to heal improperly, so that it was a bit wider than the right. He would have the right shoe made with a standard last, and the left with a coned, something that was done to his specifications by only a few select shoemakers."

"You found his footprints," Draco concludes, and Harry nods. Draco sinks back into his chair, feeling a strange combination of anger and bewilderment. "Have the police been notified?"

"We're gathering the evidence on our own, first. The Davies are one of the oldest families on the Isle, and  they have a lot of political connections. Hermione and I want to make sure that we build as tight a case against Roger as we can." He scuffs his toe against the ground and then drops down by Draco's feet. From this angle, Draco can see the dark circles under Harry's eyes, the lines of worry etched into his face. "Until we have enough proof to make sure that Roger is served his just due, I need to keep you close by. Safe." Harry's voice cracks as he reaches out and runs a shaky hand up Draco's calf.

Draco slides off his chair and takes his place next to Harry. "You're not the one who set the cottage aflame, you know."

"I might as well have been. I taint the lives of every person whom I hold dear—"

"Every one?" Draco persists. "I can think of eight who not only disagree, but who would gladly follow you to the ends of the earth."

Harry's brows dart up. "Eight?" he asks slowly.

"Eight on this estate alone. Including me." Draco places a hand on Harry's chest and splays his fingers over Harry's heart. "Especially me."

"I don't deserve you—" Harry begins, but the rest of his words are lost when Draco silences him with a kiss.

After so many days without Harry's touch, Harry tastes and feels like salvation. Draco licks along the line of Harry's bottom lip and tugs it between his teeth, feeling it swell. It fills him with pride, especially when Harry's breath hitches in response. Draco does it again.

Harry brings his hands up to the back of Draco's neck, his fingers tickling the hairs as he draws him close. "I love you," he whispers against Draco's mouth.

The admission causes Draco to gasp. Harry continues his assault, pressing kisses against Draco's jaw, the dip in his neck, the line of his collarbone as he lowers Draco onto his back. Draco feels the weight of Harry's cock as it slides against his thigh, and his mouth waters at the thought of it against his skin, or perhaps inside his mouth.

He cups the curves of Harry's arse to draw him close. "Please, Harry." He needs to feel Harry, to remember what it means to live. "I want to feel you. To give myself to you physically, in the way that I've already given you my mind and my heart."

"And I, you. Equally so." Still, Harry hesitates, his conscience warring with the desire evident in every line of his being. "You'll let me know if it's too much?"

Draco's heart flutters in anticipation. "I promise," he says, sealing his oath with a brush of his lips against Harry's reddened mouth.

*

The difference between disrobing in the light of day versus night is that Draco can, along with the added familiarity of the situation, appreciate Harry's attributes even more. It also helps that his own clothes are looser and easier to shed.

"Eager, are we?" Harry teases as Draco strips off the cotton trousers and tosses them to the floor.

"You can blame yourself for that. You seem to think that my delicate skin can't handle anything heavier than the softest cottons or thinnest linens." He sits back against the headrest and fixes his gaze on Harry as his hand circles the shaft of his cock, stroking himself slowly.

Harry's eyes meet Draco's. They dip down, darkening as he fixes on Draco's hand, then looks back up in challenge. Harry slowly unties the ribbon that pulls the neck of his shirt closed, and Draco has never been more glad that Harry shuns the fussiness clothes for something more practical. His eyes are riveted as Harry shucks the shirt overhead, the muscles at his sides rippling from the movement, the trail of hair that leads below the waist of his trousers deliciously visible.

When Harry flicks open the button to his breeches and pulls out his cock, Draco is unable to hold back his gasp of appreciation. He licks his lips without thinking, the act of which doesn't escape Harry's attention as he pushes the remainder of his clothes down around his ankles, kicks them aside, then advances upon Draco with a smirk.

"See something you like?" he asks, his cock bobbing up towards his stomach with each stride.

"Nnngh," Draco chokes out in return, his skin flushing hot at his response.

"I didn't quite get that," Harry teases as he climbs onto the bed and straddles Draco's legs, his bum barely brushing Draco's prick. Draco opens his mouth, but instead of a witty retort, a small whine escapes, his mind an incoherent mess.

Instead of pressing further, Harry's face softens, the teasing look replaced by something that makes Draco's heart flutter. "You're…" He dips his head to mouth the crook of Draco's neck then nuzzles into it, his words muffled as if he's trying to get them out before he loses his nerve. "You make me believe that everything is going to be all right. That I deserve to be happy, to be looked upon the way you look at me."

Draco angles his face and tips up Harry's chin. "I think we both deserve that, don't you?" Harry seems to agree, because he captures Draco's mouth in a kiss that's full of such longing and tenderness that if Draco weren't already sitting, he'd be weak in the knees.

Draco doesn't even realise that his eyes are closed until Harry breaks off their kiss and presses his lips over Draco's forehead, then lower over his lids and the tips of his lashes. "Yes. Definitely," Harry breathes.

Draco brings his hand between them and brushes his fingers over the length of Harry's cock. "I want you, Harry," he murmurs. He circles Harry's cock with his grip and brushes his thumb over the slit as Harry gasps into his touch. "Make love to me."

Harry grabs a hold of Draco's hand and stills, squeezing the base of his cock. "If you keep that up, it will be a while before you get your wish," he says with a shaky laugh. He reaches over into his nightstand and takes out a bottle of oil, pouring the liquid over his hand. He brings a slippery finger between Draco's legs and teases a slow trail along the inside of Draco's thighs, stroking the space under his bollocks until he reaches the cleft of Draco's arse.

"Yes," Draco hisses. His knees fall open to the sides as he urges Harry on. "Hurry," he pleads, punctuating his demand with a tilt of his hips.

Harry looks as if he's about to fall apart from the sight. He stares, transfixed as his finger dips in between the space of Draco's cleft and Draco hisses in anticipation. "All right. Just…please tell me if you need to stop."

"I will." Draco can't help wriggling a bit more; he's nervous, but he also needs something more. "I trust you, Harry."

Harry's body shudders at the words. He presses deeper, his finger circling the rim of Draco's arse, the rhythm quickening, growing more purposeful. Draco hitches his hips and knees, drawing them up to give Harry access.

"Fuck," Harry whispers, his voice awed. He uses his free hand to drip more oil against Draco's skin, the slick sliding down to where Harry's finger is close to breaching Draco's hole. When he places the oil back on the stand, Harry slides down the bed so he's lying on his belly; he mouths the softness of Draco's stomach, the bony angle of his hip, the wiry hairs that surround his prick, eventually wrapping his lips around Draco's cock and engulfing it in one long swallow.

Draco's yelp of surprise quickly turns into a moan when Harry's finger breaches the rim, the burn dulling into an ache as Harry continues to suck.

"Just…" With Harry's finger sliding steadily in, Draco's having a hard time focusing, caught between the sensation of something filling his arse and the wet heat and suction of Harry's mouth. Harry's breathing shifts as he begins to suckle more forcefully, one hand gripping the base of Draco's prick while another finger joins the one that's plunging in and out of Draco's arse, the sensitive muscle protesting the addition as Harry teases it open.

"Ahh, bloody hell," Draco curses as his hips buck forward, the tip of his cock hitting the back of Harry's throat. He feels Harry's muscles contract around him in response, yet Harry manages not to choke, the tip of his nose brushing against Draco's groin as his throat flutters around him.

Upon hearing Draco's needy whine, Harry finally relents. He slides off, pouring more oil over his fingers. "One more, darling," he rasps.

Draco nearly comes from that alone, from the way Harry sounds absolutely destroyed, so completely wrecked. He nods as the scented oil mingles with their sweat, the hint of musk perfuming the air as he presses back against Harry's fingers. They stroke inside him, twisting and plunging, then hitting something that makes Draco jolt, a searing burst of pleasure that travels from the base of his spine to his bollocks and up through the tip of his cock.

"Hurry. Fuck me," Draco says, all sense of pride lost as he pleads.

Harry raises onto his knees and slicks up his cock. "It will be easier for you on your hands and knees."

Draco shakes his head. "Want to see you. To have you hold me…" His voice trails off as he grows embarrassed by his romantic notions.

Harry leans forward to kiss the tip of Draco's nose. "I would want you in any way, but that is my preference as well." He lifts Draco's legs up, positioning them to open Draco further as he lines up his cockhead against Draco's hole. "You're so beautiful," he groans, emotion choking the steadiness from his voice. Draco takes a deep breath when he feels the pressure of Harry's cock against his rim; Harry's murmurs sweet words of encouragement, his hand a steady pressure on Draco's hip, then everything is overtaken by a swift, searing pain that's followed by an overwhelming fullness.

"Sorry," Harry gasps. He's gritting his teeth, the muscles in his forearms tensing as he holds still.

"No. Just…" Draco grows impatient; the more immediate discomfort is easing but it's still not right, he needs more, needs Harry to move. He brings his legs around and hooks the back of his heels along Harry's back, thankful for his flexibility as he pushes, whimpering when Harry sinks in further. "Don't hold back, Harry, love. Please."

Harry relents, his arms folding as he braces himself on either side of Draco, hips thrusting in long, torturous strokes. It's only when Draco's grip loosens from the folds of the sheets, the mewls from his lips becoming tinged with pleasure, that Harry speeds his thrusts, the erratic huffs of his breath and the stuttering snap of his hips the only clues that he's beginning to lose control.

"Fuck," he curses, his voice high and strained. "The way you feel…" Draco draws him down, his head tilting up to taste Harry's mouth. He savours the rough, relentless sweep of Harry's tongue as Harry fucks into him, the sounds of the room filling with their slapping skin, their pants and grunts.

Draco chases his release; his cock, which had softened when Harry first breached him, is now fully hard, slapping against his belly with each of Harry's thrusts. It feels just out of reach, making him keen with frustration, until Harry grabs hold of his shaft. His fingers curl into a fist and he tugs once, then twice, wrist twisting and thumb brushing up against the sensitive tip. Draco's toes curl as the heat builds in the base of his spine, his legs clamping down around Harry's waist as he shouts.

"Oh god," Draco cries out as he feels his balls tighten, his cock stiffening in Harry's hand as his mind whites out. The heat spreads from his belly to his groin, his body clamping down around Harry's prick, the muscles spasming. Sweat beads across Harry's forehead as he mutters incoherent words against Draco's lips; his strokes grow short and irregular, his back muscles tensing under Draco's feet, fingers gripping hard enough against Draco's sides that they're likely to bruise.

Harry lets out a long, guttural moan as he comes, his hips grinding against Draco's buttocks, the slick of their sweat causing their bodies to slide. They stay connected, reluctant to break the tenuous hold until Harry's softening prick, aided by oil and spunk, slips slowly out.

Draco winces as he lowers his legs. Harry looks around, then picks up a corner of the sheets and drags it across Draco's belly, swiping at the liquid drying there.

Draco makes a face. "Your sheets."

"Will need a thorough washing." He flops down next to Draco. "I plan on mussing them plenty more times today, anyway."

"Mmmmm." Draco stretches, then winces as he looks at the sticky mess. 

Harry must catch Draco's horrified expression."I'll draw a bath for you, anyway," he says. He smooths back the lock of hair that's stuck to the side of Draco's face and presses a kiss against the seam of his lips. He gets out of bed, then putters about, motioning for Draco to stay. Soon, Draco hears the sound of water being poured into the tub in the bath, the clang of a bucket against its side.

"You should get one of those shower baths," Draco calls out from the bedroom. "They're all the rage; we had ours made by Boyd on New Bond Street." Draco stretches again. He's pleasantly relaxed, a bit sore, and with the late afternoon heat, it's an effort to fight sleep. When he shakes himself awake, he's aware that Harry had asked him a question. "Sorry, what?"

"I was just wondering how your home…never mind. It wasn't important." Harry pads back into the bedroom and holds out an arm toward Draco. "Your bath awaits, my prince," he says with a grin. 

Draco steps out of bed slowly, grateful when Harry pulls him close and wraps his arms around him. Draco appreciates the affectionate gesture, especially when he tries to set foot in the tub and slips, his legs unaccountably wobbly.

"I wish you could join me," Draco says, frowning at the small size of the bath. He has to draw in his legs to fit inside as it is.

"We'll have a larger one made," Harry says with a wicked grin. He leans over and hands Draco a bar of soap, then whispers against his ear, his breath curling deliciously along it. "I'll be back in a bit with a towel and a clean set of clothes."

"Or I could spend the rest of the day naked."

"Don't tempt me," Harry says with a groan. "I have to meet with Hermione before supper."

"The cotton trousers that you and Luna insist I wear are in the top drawer," Draco calls out as he sinks into the warm water. He suds the soap in his hand and gently scrubs his skin, then lathers his hair. His muscles are loose from the heat and everything feels like a dream. He squeezes his eyes shut and begins rinsing his locks with the unused water in the bucket next to the tub.

He frowns, wondering where Harry wandered off to. Perhaps he meant that he was meeting with Hermione first. "Did you find it?" he calls out, placing the ladle down and wiping at the water on his face. The water is starting to cool, and he should get out soon. "It's right on top—"

"I found it." Harry steps into the bath. His eyes are furious and his hands shake, clenched at his sides. He looks to have dressed himself hastily, his clothes off-kilter and wrinkled, yet Draco has never felt so vulnerable and at a disadvantage.

Draco stands quickly, nearly losing his footing. "Harry? What's wrong?"

Harry takes two steps forward, visibly upset. "Tell me that you found this, Jacob," he says desperately as he holds up Draco's ring. A facet of the emerald stone catches the light, which seems to infuriate Harry further. "Tell me that you were holding onto this for its owner, or that you were in a spot of trouble and filched it, or—"

"I can't. It's mine," Draco whispers as the blood rushes from his face. His heart squeezes at the sight of Harry's face, filled with hurt and betrayal, but he continues, determined to finally tell the truth. "My name is not Jacob, though I am a Black—"

"This belongs to a Malfoy!" Harry bellows. If Draco thought that Harry was angry before, it is nothing compared to the rage that now seems to seethe through his every pore. "Lucius Malfoy, the Marquess of Slytherin. He is said to have a son my age. One whose beauty could make the angels weep, and whose wit is as cutting as a razor's edge."

Draco swallows, but he can't get the lump down his throat. "I am a Black—on my mother's side," Draco clarifies. "And I am a Malfoy—I am Draco Malfoy, the Earl of Wiltshire, and son of the Marquess of Slytherin. Though I am guilty of giving you a false title, every other bit of my story is true. I was a victim of pickpocketer who threatened my life, which is why I hid myself in that barrel on the docks…"

"You're a Malfoy." Harry laughs shrilly, scrubbing his face, as if none of Draco's explanations matter. "So if the only falsehood was in your name, I suppose your apprenticeship at the stationer's is true as well?" Upon seeing Draco's crestfallen face, Harry laughs again, the sound bitter. "Of course not. I should have known."

"Harry, please," Draco begs. He's shivering as he climbs out of the tub, reaching out for Harry. Harry recoils, staring at Draco with a horrified expression.

"For nearly half a year you've lied to my face—took advantage of my mercy, made a mockery of the friendship and kindness my friends extended to you. I invited you into my home. My bed. The son of my enemy."

"No! It was nothing of that sort! I never meant to hurt you, only to survive—"

"Of course." Harry sneers. "That goes without saying. But self-preservation has always been the way for people like you and your father. The end justifies the means, no matter how many people you may hurt to accomplish it."

"No, Harry," Draco pleads, his voice breaking. He wipes angrily at the tears that collect in his eyes and holds out his hands beseechingly. "I've never…Harry, I've never felt this way about anyone before. You were my first, my only."

"And I'm supposed to believe you now?"

"I'm not lying about this! I love you, Harry!"

Harry's eyes harden, his lips set in a thin line. "And I fell in love with a lie."

"I was waiting for the right time to tell you," Draco says, hanging his head. Still fighting a losing battle.

"And when would that be, Draco? A year into our relationship? When I proposed? How could you stand it, hearing me whisper sweet nothings to a man who didn't even exist?"

Draco grabs a hold of the wall, feeling lightheaded. "I am the same person, Harry. It is only a name—it doesn't change who I am, or what you mean to me."

"Yet your father has taken love from me. Not once, but twice."

"I did not know until recently what my father had done, but we are not the same."

"Your father uses his words to spread lies, to fan the flames of hatred. He encourages violence to protect his own interests, though he never partakes directly himself, too clean and cowardly to do such a thing. And you did the same," Harry says, his voice choking as he looks away angrily, eyes glistening. "You kissed me with the same mouth that whispered falsehoods, your own security paramount over the feelings of those around you."

The unfairness of the accusation inflames Draco. "I'll admit to cowardice…initially, for my own safety, and later, because I was afraid of losing you. But I never harboured any malicious intent. If you could get past your issues of mistrust and see—"

"I could never trust you," Harry spits. "For all I know, your sentiments right now are untruths."

"You're one to talk," Draco cries, unable to keep from lashing out. "You talk about trust, yet you rummage through my belongings—"

"The bag containing your ring fell out when I gathered your pants from the drawer. For you to think that of me…well, should have known. Why would you think any differently when you're so untrustworthy yourself?"

"Says the man who trusts no one but his closest friends."

Harry's fists clench. "For good reason."

"Perhaps you need to stop living in the past!" Draco cries. "You want people to be open and honest, yet you hide behind a mask. You spend your time sailing the open waters or hiding on Hogsmeade while others like Dumbledore fight your battles on the ground. You swing from extremes, coddling me as if I could break one minute, while vilifying me the next. I am not Cedric, nor am I my father!"

Harry's eyes grow cold, and Draco knows that he has gone too far. "No. You are not Cedric, nor will you ever be. To think that I could even speak of you with the same breath…"

"I'm sorry," Draco says mournfully. "Please, Harry…you know me. If you look inside your heart, you know who I really am, just as I do you. I don't think I'm wrong in saying that we were happy together, or that we could have that again. Think about what's truly important."

"You're right," Harry says. He shakes his head, and it's the look of resignation that takes over from where anger reigned that lets Draco know he's lost. "I've lost sight of what's important, put aside my judgment and instincts for…well." Harry laughs, and it's horribly hollow. "I will not turn you out now while you are recuperating, but as soon as you are well enough, I suggest you put your silvered tongue and considerable influence to find somewhere else to live, my lord.

 

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 4

 

Draco makes a nearly full recovery (physically, at least) within a fortnight. He spends his time in the west wing of Harry's home, housed in a corridor that sees little foot traffic on a normal day, and one which, conveniently, is the furthest away from Harry's own rooms. As August turns to September, the sun still burns bright, though a definite chill has settled over Godric's Hollow.

"I don't know what to do," Draco grouses as he drives a hammer down with more force than necessary into a wood beam; Neville looks up from where he's measuring the next length of wood and waits for Draco to continue. "Harry won't even talk to me unless it's in the company of others. The way he looks at me, when he can even bring himself to do so…" Draco chokes as he thinks about Harry's grim expression, those beautiful eyes, previously filled with light, now so empty and dull. It's as if Draco doesn't even warrant the effort it takes for Harry to be angry at him anymore, his memory banished to the recesses of Harry's mind designated for things Harry would rather forget.

Draco steps back and looks at their progress. It is a foolish notion, perhaps, the idea that resurrecting the cottage will bring back memories of happier times. But even though the structure stands tall and sturdy, the half-constructed walls hold none of the charm or smells or memories of the old. It's a sobering realisation, that he can't replace what he had with something new, and he feels his entire body crumple inwards at the thought.

"Draco?" Out of all the crew, Neville is probably the one person who manages to remain the most neutral, although Draco knows his loyalties will always lie with Harry.

Draco takes a deep breath. "I have nothing," he says, half-choked. "Ron and I had a cordial relationship before all this happened, but nothing more. Even less, now. And your fiancée…well, she looks like she wishes I'd walked the plank."

Neville shrugs, not denying the accusation. "Ginny's loyal. To a fault," he adds, though he can't quite hide his grin.

"And when Luna isn't giving me pitying glances, she's spouting truisms which, while incontestable and well-intentioned, are incomplete and therefore unhelpful and impracticable. And I see the disappointment in Hermione's eyes, and Terry seems more than happy to try to comfort Harry, while Colin…" Draco sits down on the ground, wincing as he lands hard. 

Neville takes a seat next to him. "Colin considers you his older brother."

"Yes. But he owes his new life to Harry. And he's flourishing…I can't take that away from him."

Neville's brows draw down. "Take it away? That sounds terribly final, Draco."

"I thought…bloody hell," Draco curses and throws up his hands. The grounds are beautiful, the breeze off the ocean stirring the fronds of the palm trees, and the perfection of the image simply hurts. "There's nothing for me here, Neville. I am an unwanted guest—and rightly so. I could find a place in town, but to be on the island, with Harry… It would hurt too much."

"So what, then?"

"My family's in England. They have no idea what's happened to me—whether I'm even alive. I've been selfish, not only with Harry. In my fear of losing him, I alienated everyone I care about. And within all that, I need to speak with my father. To hear his side of the story, and to determine what I must do next."

Neville gives Draco a sympathetic nod, and thankfully doesn't push the issue further. "Have you told Harry?"

"When could I? There's never been a moment where we've been alone. He's made sure of that." Draco laughs bitterly. "It seems once his good opinion is lost, it is lost forever."

Neville doesn't disagree. "I love Harry, and he has a stubborn streak as wide as any I've seen. But more than that, trust has always been central to him. He could easily be fawned over, for his looks or his money—hell, there are even some who desire him just because they have a ridiculous notion that he's a romantic rogue of a pirate. But Harry doesn't want false flattery. He's so desperate for something that's real because his life has been filled with deceit and treachery."

"So I've learned." Draco stands and loosens his hair from his tie. He closes his eyes and enjoys the feel of the warmth on his face and the way his hair tickles the curve of his shoulders. When he returns to England, his locks will be long and loose no more. "I am not a person who is used to giving up, but I refuse to chase something or someone foolishly. I purchased a passage on the Hogwarts Express; I'll be returning home to England with you and Ginny."

Neville is quiet for a moment. Eventually, he stands and places a comforting hand on Draco's shoulder. "Sometimes, time and distance are necessary to realise what we desire most."

"Now you sound like Luna," Draco says with a quiet laugh. "Truth be told, I just want to leave with what little friendships and dignity I have left."

Neville gives Draco's shoulder a squeeze. "Just remember. With time, people can be made to see what words cannot."

*

"You came," Draco says. The Hogwarts Express looms majestically in the background, yet his attention is occupied by the small group of people that has come to see him off. His vision wavers and he'll swear it's the sun that causes him to blink.

"Well. Neville and Gin are leaving, too," Ron says gruffly. He looks back to where the pair are waiting to unload their trunks and bags from their carriage, stopped by one of the townsfolk who is dabbing her eyes furiously as she gives them her well-wishes.. 

Hermione gives Ron a nudge, then recaptures Draco's attention. "Thanks for helping out with the books, Draco. And for uncovering Roger's deception." She hesitates as Draco waits, fighting the urge to shove his hands into his pockets. He never quite knew where he fit in with Hermione. So it's a surprise when she draws him into a quick hug. "I'm angry at you, you know. Not only for hiding who you are, but for feeling like you couldn't trust us to do the right thing if we knew."

"Until it was too late," he says miserably against her hair, stepping back after Ron pointedly clears his throat.

Hermione lets out an exasperated sigh, and Draco doesn't know if it's directed towards himself, Ron, or Harry. "Only Harry knows whether it is or not. His emotions run deep; the same humours that make him resentful and angry also make him passionate and loving.

"When I look at you, I see a man whose ill-conceived lies were rooted in fear. It is the same man who looked out for Harry, as well as Godric's Hollow's interests. These are not the actions of someone who wishes Harry harm."

"Thank you, Hermione." Draco gives her a smile, for her words make his heart ache a little less as Luna takes the spot in his arms.

"Hedwig still calls you an 'intruder', though I consider you a friend," Luna muses. "She may be right, however, for I think you've managed to become an important part of all of our lives, Harry included."

Before Draco can ask Luna whether Harry's confided anything to her, Colin runs into him chest first as his scrawny arms wrap tightly around Draco's waist. He doesn't say anything, but from the way his shoulders are shaking, Draco's pretty sure Colin's feelings mirror Draco's own,

Draco ruffles Colin's hair. He has to reach up to do it, and he thinks that in another year or two, the lad might easily tower over Draco. It pains him to think that he'll never know.

"Hey," he says, cupping Colin's chin, his heart breaking upon seeing Colin's red-rimmed eyes. "What kind of person would I be if I were to deprive all the lovely lasses of the best dance partner Hogsmeade has ever known?"

"We never finished our project," Colin says petulantly, unable to look Draco in the eye. "Will you keep it going?"

"I…" Draco's shoulders slump, defeated. "I don't think I'm the best person to continue any more."

If anything, his words make Colin angrier. "So you're running away from that, too?"

"Oh, Colin." Draco doesn't miss how the rest of the group have inched further away, giving him and Colin some privacy. He feels badly that Colin has grown so attached, but perhaps it is better for him to learn that most things lack permanence, and that happy endings aren't in the cards for everyone. "We'll still write. And perhaps soon, you'll come and visit; they just rebuilt the British Museum, and have one of the best sculpture collections in the world."

Draco thinks it would be a good place for Colin to continue his study of human anatomy. He also plans on introducing Colin to Blaise and others with connections to the Academie, although Draco doesn't say anything for fear of making their parting more difficult. Right now, Colin needs the security and stability of Godric's Hollow, especially since Draco does not know what his own future will hold, once he confronts his father.

Colin wears a watery smile. "That'd be nice, Draco."

"You have a second chance, Colin." Unlike me, Draco's traitorous mind whispers. "Don't waste it." He looks around; most of the passengers are either on deck or on the gangway. He gives in to hope and presses up on his tiptoes, craning his neck above the crowd of well-wishers, but there's no sight of Harry anywhere.

Ron places his arm around Colin. "Sorry, Colin," he says, and it sounds genuine. His eyes meet Draco's, and there's something unfathomable in his gaze. "But they're nearly done boarding, and I'm sure Draco needs to find his cabin."

Draco hefts up his luggage. The medium-sized trunk would have carried less than several days of his clothes once upon a time, but the entirety of his life for the past five months is now neatly packed inside it. 

"Harry had a meeting with the magistrate," Ron blurts out, his mouth twisting from the effort.

"I know. I already said my good-byes," Draco says, catching Ron's look of surprise.

For a moment, Draco second guesses the wisdom of the package he left at Godric's Hollow. Harry might have made it clear that he prefers to keep their interactions at a minimum, but Draco still has things he needs to say. Perhaps it's also that selfish part of him, the part that thinks that by unburdening himself, he might alleviate some of his guilt. He replays how he paced back and forth until the last possible minute, until he gave in and placed the plainly-wrapped objects on Harry's dresser, next to Harry's mask.

He wonders what Harry will think when he sees it. Whether Harry could bring himself to understand what they mean. Or whether he will bin them both.

Even as he embarks, however, there's a part of Draco's foolish heart that still hopes for the best of reactions. It is the way of those romance novels Pansy is so fond of, after all, when the dashing but terribly misunderstood hero braves all obstacles to be reunited with the headstrong heroine who has a heart of gold. But Draco's title and privilege are not the currency his hero seeks, and the obstacles between him and Harry are too great to overcome. And as the Hogwarts Express lifts anchor and turns eastward towards the Atlantic, Draco's hopes for a storybook ending fade, taking Hogsmeade's shores and her people along with it.

~O-O~

Draco pulls his dressing gown around him. The winter's damp chill seems to seep through everything, and the velvet material offers little in the way of warmth. He remembers the heat of the sun on the sea on Hogsmeade and sighs, trying to ignore the way his breath puffs white in the candlelight.

There's a wardrobe filled with his old clothes back at the Manor, but they're unavailable to him, one of the casualties following his last row with Father. They're a season out of style by this point, but more importantly, he'd gladly trade the lot of them for lodging that's free from draft or the damp and rainy London weather. He's lost the golden tan of summer, his skin back to its luminous pallor. His hands itch to pull at something different, perhaps missing the twist of a rope against his palm, or the fragrant, satin-thin petals of the bougainvillea between his fingers.

At least the weight of the quill feels familiar. It is something that Mr Snape, his strange and intimidating employer at the bookstore in Piccadilly, has been encouraging him to use. For all his snappishness, Snape seems to have taken a surprising interest in encouraging Draco's writings, whether due to pity or benevolence or commiseration with his family's situation.

Draco hunches over his manuscript, ready to cross out the last several lines he's written out of frustration. He's been lucky to have sold several small, newsworthy pieces to the Quibbler, articles that supplement the paltry income he makes at Snape's, though the lodging he gets in return can't be discounted. But a magnum opus isn't forthcoming—Snape has encouraged him to draw from his experiences, but Draco's already left what remained of his heart in his diary, and the idea of translating his experiences into some hackneyed, romantic fiction to titillate the masses seems to diminish them, somehow.

A knock on the door gives Draco a welcome reprieve. He places the quill back in its pot and stands, cinching his robe as he moves to answer it. The plain wooden door affords no peephole, so his mouth gapes when he sees the identity of the visitor before him.

"Surely you were brought up better than to treat your visitors this way." Narcissa stands regally before him, as if she were calling on the Queen consort Adelaide herself. If Draco were anyone else, he would cower under her icy demeanour, but he sees the way her lips tremble as her body tilts slightly, with a hint of desperation.

"I was brought up to do many things. Not all of which are seemly." Draco steps aside. "Please. Come in."

He doesn't miss the way his mother's lips purse as her gaze zeroes in on his ink-tipped fingers. "Come home, Draco. This is not where you belong. Your presence is sorely missed—"

"By whom? Father? The last I remember, he called me a disgrace, a pariah, a traitor unworthy of the Malfoy name. And those were the kinder things."

"Your father loves you, Draco. He…well, it's just that he's brought you up to maintain tradition, to steer England in the proper direction. Can you imagine his heartbreak in discovering that you revile all that he stands for?"

Draco folds his arms across his chest. "I could say the same."

Narcissa reaches out and cups his cheek. "My darling boy. What did they do to you on that ship?"

"Open my eyes? Make me think about the world from another perspective? Give me a sense of purpose and self-worth?" At Narcissa's distraught look, Draco softens. Perhaps she is as Draco had been, unable to see outside of the limited rhetoric she was brought up with because she hasn't been exposed to anything different. "The people on that boat were from all walks of society, Mother. Most were nobility, in fact. The difference is that they didn't believe that being born into favourable circumstances defined their right to carry such privilege through the rest of their lives."

"And yet you are shunned for that very reason. The circumstances of your birth," Narcissa says shrewdly.

Draco turns back, busying himself in preparing tea as she takes a seat. His fingers shake, but he can't meet his mother's knowing eyes. "It's more complicated than that."

"You have feelings for the…for your pirate."

"His name is Harry. And he is hardly mine." Draco hands his mother he cup of tea. Thankfully, she doesn't mention anything of the faded detailing or the small chip in the saucer's rim.

"I see." She sips carefully, managing to appear regal, even in the small wooden chair whose left leg creaks as she shifts. "So it's true, then. That the Master of Death is none other than the child of James and Lily Potter." She taps a finger against the rim of her cup. "There was a rumour of his sighting a little over a decade ago…the disfigurement he was reported to have received at the hands of the bandits nearly too terrible for eyes to handle."

"It is a scar. One that was inflicted upon him as a babe, and one that suits him perfectly, if only as a reminder of all that he's had to overcome. And in my opinion, it only makes him that much more attractive."

Too late, Draco realises that he's raised his voice. He sits down quickly, only to be met by his mother's arched brows. "Your feelings for that man run deep."

"I loved him," Draco says, fighting against the emptiness in his heart. He knows he still does.

Narcissa rests her cup on the small end table. "You know, Draco, in the end, the most important thing to your father and me is your happiness."

"Even if it means fighting against Father?"

"I'm not saying it will be easy. I don't imagine your father will be easily swayed in his opinion, just as you will likely hold firm to yours. But we've raised you to be intelligent, thoughtful, and persuasive, and we could hardly condemn you for being that."

"If and when Father is willing, I need to speak with him. Politics is one thing; his actions, and their effect on others, are another. What happens afterwards might be too great a chasm to bridge."

The piercing brightness of Narcissa's blue eyes softens. "I have never seen Lucius as happy as when he held you in his arms, and not just as a babe. That kind of love doesn't just fade away."

Draco thinks of Harry—how it felt to be in his arms, to think that Harry might love him forever, and then to be at the receiving end of his disdain and anger. He used to think that his parents were all-knowing and infallible, but this is just another example of how wrong he is in everything.

~O-O~

The Christmas displays in the shoppes were always one of Draco's favourite parts of the holidays. He gazes at the array of chocolates and brightly coloured pastries in one window, and in the next, the mechanical toys that are ready to bend and twirl with the crank of a hand. The display in Snape's storefront is eye-catching as well; Draco spent the majority of the morning preparing it, showcasing the exotic quills and inks, as well as some watercolour paints and pencils. It makes him think of Colin, and he wonders how the lad is faring, and whether he's forgotten Draco by now.

The touch of a gloved hand on his coat pulls him out of his musings. "Draco?"

Draco looks up, eyes widening at the sight of the gentleman who stands beside him. He's dressed in the latest fashions from Cork Street and Savile Row, the jewel tones of his silk cravat shimmering in merriment along with the season. The gloves are of the finest lambskin, and his boots are polished to a perfect sheen.

"Theodore." Draco shoves his hands in his pockets, embarrassed at the dingy state of his own gloves. "It's been a while."

"Seven months and three weeks. Not that I've been counting." Theodore's face is flushed from the cold, and perhaps something else. "I've missed you. I admit, I was a bit affronted when you never answered my calling cards, but then I discovered you were abroad."

"That's a very civilised way of putting it," Draco laughs. "I'm sure others are calling it worse."

"I was worried for you, Draco. When we discovered that you went missing, that you were the victim of a robbery, I was beside myself. I…you know that I have nothing but the greatest affection for you."

"Thankfully, I'm here. And well," Draco says gently. It's a half-truth, the other half of which is none of Theodore's affair.

"Are you? You aren't living at home, you spend your time apprenticing at some…bookshop, wearing clothes that have seen better days. I never see you at the gaming halls or any of the dances. Even Blaise says that you've only visited him once since returning."

"I'm working."

"You don't have to, you know? I…Draco, I've made no secret of my wish to court you. I don't know everything that's transpired between you and your family, but I assure you, it means nothing to me. I have enough money to keep us in a comfortable style, and if we were engaged, you could move into the guest house—"

"What are your feelings about the dysregulation of industry and the rights of the lower classes?"

Theo blinks. "I don't see that there's anything wrong with the system we have now."

Draco lets out a long sigh, his gaze straying once more to the quills and fine parchment in the shop. "That's what I thought."

Theo shakes his head. "You shouldn't worry yourself about such things, Draco. Just as you shouldn't be wasting your time in some useless occupation. I'm sure I could find a position for you at the company; you were always fast with maths, although I think you'd do just as well at my side, charming all who come in contact with your beauty." He steps forward, and daringly, in the absence of Draco's available hand, brushes his mouth against Draco's cheek.

Draco's stomach swoops, first from surprise, then anticipation, and finally, disappointment. There's nothing there, save for the press of a pair of cold and slightly wet lips. Certainly nothing that fans the flames of his passions, or causes his heart to beat faster and his blood to sing.

Theodore must take Draco's reticence for acceptance, for his face breaks into a genuine smile. "The Bulstrodes are having their annual masquerade ball on Christmas Eve. Please tell me that you'll go. You used to love it so."

Draco hesitates; the Masque was one of his favourite events of the year, a throwback to parties of tradition, filled with the finest food and even finer threads, a haven for decadent behaviour and gossip. It would be nice to escape his current situation, even for a bit. "My parents will likely be there."

"You would be in disguise. And the grounds are large; you have the advantage of knowledge, for they are not expecting you." Theodore leans closer, his voice lowered into a conspiratorial whisper. "I also have it on good word that Mr Zabini plans on proposing to Miss Parkinson at the unveiling."

Draco laughs. It figures that Blaise would try to upstage the host and hostess, not to mention Christmas itself. "I'll consider it," he says, and Theodore beams.

Draco owes it to Blaise and Pansy, if not himself.

~O-O~

Most of the costumes at the masquerade are too overdone, the amount of frippery serving to diminish the mystery of the wearer instead of enhancing it. Draco had entertained the idea of going as a buccaneer, but upon seeing at least seven others in the grand ballroom dressed in a sash and sword (and possibly three more outside, surrounded by a pair of milkmaids, a vestal virgin, and a nun) he's glad to have escaped that lack of inspiration.

He sips his brandy slowly, letting the sweetness of the plum notes slide down his throat, warming his belly. He is not ashamed to admit that he misses some of his old life—not enough to return to such ignorance, but he understands even more how much money and opportunity can limit one's options if neither are readily available.

"Lord Malfoy?" someone hisses. Draco turns with a start, wishing to stay out of the sight of his father, only to discover that a man dressed as a sultan is watching him closely.

"Nott?"

"It is you, then. If it weren't for your hair, I wouldn't have known." Theo's mouth, half-hidden behind a false beard that looks and smells suspiciously like cat hair, is shaped in a round 'O'. "I thought you were going as a Prince. I thought we could be a royal couple."

Draco looks down at his own costume. Instead of salamanders, his yellow-gold robes are adorned along the hem with fiery lions in homage to the animal who drives the Prince of Wands' chariot. A riot of feathers spring from the edges of his mask, their bright orange plumage a phoenix's call to the sun. "I am. I am the Prince of Wands," he explains as Theodore gives him a blank look. "It's one of the cards in a tarot deck. The Prince is energetic and tenaciousness and courageous…" Draco's voice trails when he notices Theodore trying to spot someone or something in the grand ballroom.

"Where is he?" Theo mutters.

"Who?" Draco snaps. He was perfectly fine being ignored by himself.

"There's a man here who wishes to speak with you. I didn't recognise him by his costume, but he strikes me as someone important. He might be politically connected—he mentioned one of your articles in the Quibbler."

Draco's eyes widen at the news. The only person who knows that Draco writes for the Quibbler is Snape, and he's certain that his employer would have no reason to share that information with anyone else. Perhaps Theo had read it, and put two and two together? Perhaps Draco had been too hasty in assuming that Theo had neither the interest nor acumen he was seeking in a partner.

"…of course, we'll know for sure after the unveiling, but could you imagine what this could mean if he were as rich and connected as I think he is?"

Of course. This isn't about Draco, or Draco's passions, or even his frustrations. This is about what Draco can bring—though he no longer possesses the influence of his tainted legacy, Draco still has the looks and social graces to charm just about anyone. The only reason he doesn't protest when Theo takes his hand to lead him to the library is that Draco would prefer not to spend more time with Theo alone, lest it encourage Theo's advances. He also hopes that this mysterious man might provide some intellectual stimulation.

The library is surprisingly quiet. There are several men settled in the armchairs, sipping their drinks or smoking their cheroots, but it's unusually subdued compared to the gaiety outside. A lone figure stands by the patio doors, his back towards the entrance to the library, arms clasped behind him. A bauta hides his face, and his ebony hair is cut fashionably, even though it's worn loose. He looks uncomfortable, beyond the physical isolation, but there's also a quiet and commanding power in his stance.

The small hint of spice and citrus lingers in the air. Draco nearly staggers as his glass slips from his hand.

"I'll find someone to clean this up," Theodore whispers loudly, oblivious to the real reason for Draco's distress. "That's the man I was telling you about. Go speak with him. He seemed eager to talk," he adds as he takes off in search of the help.

Draco has dreamt of this moment more times than he can count, but fear turns his tongue sluggish. He steels himself, then takes his place next to the man, who Draco can tell has been quietly waiting.

"I heard you've been looking for me," Draco says, choosing to stare out at the gardens lest his body betray him.

"For far too long."

"You've…you've been seeking my whereabouts in the last several months?"

The man's posture loosens. When he speaks, his tone is low and regretful. "What I mean is that I've been searching for you—for someone like you, for so much longer than that." He swallows, and his Adam's apple is visible in the moonlight as it bobs down the line of his throat. When he turns, Harry's eyes are as beautifully green as Draco remembers, visible through the slits in his mask. "May we go outside to talk more freely?"

Draco nods. He pushes open the doors and tilts his head in invitation, then leads them to the left, past the hedge maze where he knows many of the revellers will be cavorting. Sure enough, they pass by a woman whose top is rucked below the swell of her breasts, her nipples rouged as her companion ruts up against her.

He's familiar with the grounds to Millicent's estate, having played on them many times as a child. He wants to be close enough to the main house that if a quick escape is required, it is feasible, yet far enough away from the other guests to ensure his and Harry's safety. He brings them to a bench under a majestic willow tree by the stables; most of the coachmen and groomsmen are busy attending to the carriages that line the yard, their mindless chatter a steady noise that aids privacy.

Draco sits. There is a bite to the air; he wonders if there might be snow in the near future.

"I heard that you moved out of the Manor," Harry begins.

Draco shrugs. "It was made clear that it was no longer my home." He peeps at Harry, sees the way that his body stiffens upon hearing the news. "You've been keeping tabs on me."

"You were always in my thoughts, Draco, even when I tried to banish you from my memories. I'm not proud of what I've done to try."

Draco's heart seizes upon the news; he knows that Harry had resorted to carousing, spending his time foxed and in the company of convenients following Cedric's death. Still, it hurts to think that Harry could find himself in another's arms so quickly after the dissolution of their relationship, however short.

"Not in that way," Harry says bluntly as if reading Draco's thoughts. "I found your gift."

"Oh." Draco holds his breath as he waits for Harry to continue.

"I…" Suddenly, Harry brings his fingers up to undo the ties to his mask, tossing it to the side as if it offends him. "I can't talk to you like this, hidden and unable to see your expression."

"We've both spent too much of our lives hidden behind something we are not," Draco says softly. He slips his mask off over his head, laying it on the bench next to Harry's. He removes his gloves next, then brings a hand up to Harry's face, drinking in the angle of his clean-shaved jaw, the curve of his lips, the jut of his brow. "You cut your hair," he says wistfully.

"It will grow. I had to let go of much more than that." Harry takes a hold of Draco's hand and clasps it tightly. "I was foolish, holding on to the past and unable to see what was in front of me. You were all that I thought I was: someone who was brave, who tried to do right, to believe in the goodness of others despite their own upbringing. It is with the greatest shame that it took losing you, and being confronted with the bald truth of your words, to shake some sense into me."

Draco thinks about his journal, and the story that he has not finished writing. Of his journey, and Harry. "It began as a way to sort out my feelings," he admits shyly. "Later, I thought the world deserved to know the truth about you. And I realised I needed to have my opinions heard as well. About you, but also the state of our country, and the frequent lack of action of many of my peers, much of which is the result of our limited experience. It is why I began writing for the Quibbler." He looks down at where Harry still clasps his hand. "I wanted to be as brave as you."

"Oh, Draco, love…" Harry takes Draco's hand and presses his lips against it. Though chaste, the touch spreads like a river unleashed, and Draco feels his face heat like the sun despite the December chill. "I wish I could be half as brave as you."

"You had everything taken from you as a child—"

"And I was lucky enough to have people around me who supported me at just about every stage of the way. You spent months at sea, ill-prepared, under the command of…" Harry's voice turns low and theatrically threatening as Draco's lips quirk, "…the Master of Death."

"But that's where you're wrong. I did have people around me: Ron, who taught me that laughter can be found in all places, including ourselves. Ginny, who showed me that our skills and dreams should never be limited by appearances. Luna, who taught me that kindness can be synonymous with courage, and Neville, who exemplifies a true gentleman, one who is both strong and soft. Hermione, who reminds me that I still have so much to learn, and Terry, who manages even now to see the world with the wonderment of a child. And, of course, Colin, who taught me that life is blessed with second chances."

Harry's quiet for a moment. When he speaks, his voice is hoarse. "Is it true, what you wrote? In your manuscript?"

Draco furrows his brow. "Yes? Although you'll have to be more specific; I wrote a lot of words."

"You called me 'your Harry'."

Draco looks down at his hands, unable to meet Harry's eyes. "I had thought of you that way, yes."

Harry winces upon hearing the past tense. "I wanted to come back to England sooner, but there was a lot to be done, once I unstuck my head from my arse. Hermione and I needed to make sure that Roger did not tamper with the evidence or escape trial. Once that was done, I considered much of what you had said and written, and realised that despite all I've done, it was inadequate. That the biggest change had to come from the ground up, and that if I were to be an effective part of it, I would need to return home. To be visible, in both sight and words, as well as my actions."

"You're here to stay? This is not just a temporary visit?"

"I had hoped not." Harry pulls out a small note card from his jacket and hands it to Draco. "This is the address of my home in London…it was my godfather's, who had bequeathed it to me after his passing. It's just off Islington Green, on the north side, near Collins' Music Hall. I, erm…"

Draco waits, taking a perverse delight in Harry's discomfort even as he waits with bated breath. "You…?"

"I'd love for you to visit. And perhaps, if you're so inclined, to stay. For as long as you see fit."

"That's a fairly ambiguous proposal, Lord Potter. One that leaves much open to interpretation."

Harry huffs out a laugh. "If and when a formal proposal is coming, I promise, there will be no misinterpretation. However, I want to make my intentions clear: I am setting down roots in London after all these years. I no longer want to fight my battles hidden behind a mask or legend, but out in the open. I want to do it with the support of my friends, and even better, with the love and support of my partner at my side."

Draco clears the damned lump in his throat. "And do you happen to have any idea as to the identity of this partner?"

"For months, I knew him as 'Jacob Black'," Harry says with a wry smile. "Then I discovered his name, the one he was given at birth." He withdraws something small from his pocket, then deposits it into Draco's palm. It weighs heavy in Draco's hand, but he doesn't have to open his fingers to know exactly what it is. "Draco Lucius Malfoy. The only child of the Marquess of Slytherin, the Malfoys of Wiltshire. I have been such a fool. You are so much more than a name. Would that I could take back everything I accused you of, to feel you in my arms again."

Harry looks so remorseful, the anguish in his handsome face making Draco's heart ache. "This ring," Draco says slowly. He slips it onto his finger; it's still large, never having fit him comfortably, and he takes it off again, tucking it in the lining in his robe for safekeeping. "It is a part of me. I can't change the circumstances of my birth, Harry. It doesn't define me and my choices, but it also makes me who I am."

"I realise that, now. And if you give me a second chance, I will spend the remainder of my life making it up to you, if I have to."

Draco leans forward and fists his hand in Harry's shirt, drawing him close. When he captures Harry's mouth in a kiss, he can feel Harry's mouth open in surprise. Draco licks past the seam of Harry's mouth, giving Harry his answer with every swipe of his tongue and glorious sigh.

Draco pulls back, pleased to see Harry looking a bit dazed. "I don't want to live in the past," Draco says roughly. "I only want to do what you said: to make a change, out in the open and with my head held high, moving forward."

Harry stands and pulls Draco to his feet. When Draco bends down to retrieve their masks, Harry gently stays his wrist.

"I heard that your father is one of the guests. What do you think about making a formal announcement that Harry Potter, Earl of Gryffindor and the reprobate Master of Death, has returned to London to officially court the wayward Malfoy heir?"

"As they say, there's no time like the present," Draco says, unable to hide his grin. Pansy will be upset at him for stealing her thunder, but in this case, it's worth it.

~O-O~

One year later…

It seems a lifetime ago since Draco's been back to Godric's Hollow, but as the waters outside their cabin window change colour to a turquoise blue, the waves broken by the reefs and land masses that dot the Caribbean Sea, a contentment settles in his chest. 

Harry ruts against him, his cock dragging against the soft skin of Draco's belly. "Need you, love. I've been thinking about you all morning."

"Just thinking about me, or…?" Draco slides a finger in between Harry's arse cheeks. He runs the pad along Harry's rim and sucks in a breath when he discovers how loose the ring of muscle is, already slicked by oil. "Harry," Draco whispers as Harry hums and pushes against Draco's finger. The tip slips in easily, and Draco's breath catches when Harry tilts his head back, the pulse in Harry's neck fluttering as he lets out a low moan.

The muscles in Harry's arms and chest are visibly straining as he holds himself above Draco. "I'm ready," Harry says. "Just…"

"I know," Draco says as he removes his finger. He grabs hold of his cock as Harry positions himself, the head of Draco's prick resting in the cleft of Harry's arse. "I've got you, darling."

They work together, hands spreading Harry's arse cheeks while steadying Draco's cock. Draco pushes up, unable to help the groan that escapes him when the resistance gives way, and he's surrounded by Harry's heat and the clench of his walls.

Harry lowers himself down the length of Draco's cock slowly, the muscles in his thighs tensing as his eyelids flutter.

"You're beautiful, Harry," Draco says. He's amazed at how easily such words spill from his lips, lacking any pretense or artifice. Harry seems to realise as well, for a small, self-conscious smile lights up his face as he continues his slide, until the curve of his buttocks rest against the front of Draco's hips.

"I love you," Harry says. His lids slowly open, and he watches Draco as if in wonderment, with eyes so clear and incredibly green.

Harry begins to rock, his powerful body flexing as Draco follows his movements, hips thrusting to meet him. The heat builds up steadily, an ache that starts in Draco's lower belly and grows, its intensity matched only by the feelings of love that well up in his heart. When Draco comes, it's from the overwhelming pleasure in the fact that it's Harry in his arms, and Draco's name—his true name—on Harry's lips.

*

Their daily walk along the deck before supper is one of his favourite times of the day, and something Draco will miss greatly when they arrive in Hogsmeade tomorrow. Their pace seems a bit slower than usual however, and Draco doesn't think it's just the languidness following their lovemaking or any residual post-coital soreness.

Draco tips his face into the sun, and when he opens his eyes, Harry is looking at him with a fond grin.

"Are you looking forward to seeing everyone?" he asks, his lips brushing over Draco's forehead.

"Yes. Excited and a bit nervous," Draco admits.

"You know, when you left, Ron sat me down with a bottle of rum. Told me that I had twenty-four hours to wallow in self-pity, but after that, I was going to sober up and listen to what he had to say." Harry's face scrunches up. "It was quite the earful. Especially since he was joined by the rest. They are quite fond of you, you know."

Draco takes a hold of Harry's hand. "Onwards, yes?"

Harry nods, his lower lip caught between his teeth. Draco knows that Harry still gets overwhelmed at times with guilt over his reaction, but Draco resolves to break that, however long it takes.

"We have a lot to look forward to, after all," Draco continues. "Luna writes that Buckbeak is faster than any of the other foals. Can you imagine, a grade horse winning over the other thoroughbreds? And if we opened up a training facility, or he started winning competitions? This could mean more jobs for the people of Hogsmeade, the money and publicity might attract the calibre of teachers you seek for your school—"

"Or I could just go back to a life of piracy and finance everything that way," Harry says with a cheeky grin.

Draco gives him a small push. "We're too busy to have you disappear for months on end." He leans against the railing of the deck and frowns. "Speaking of which, with all the changes being proposed in Parliament—are you sure we should be away so long?"

"Your articles for the Quibbler have been eye-opening. There are many on our side, including the majority of the populace. And that, ultimately, is where the decision rightly lies." Harry rests his hand against the small of Draco's waist, the presence of it deliberate as it drifts lower. "Besides, my fiancé and I are due for a holiday."

A flurry of wings diverts Draco's attention. "Mon chouchou!" Hedwig cries, pecking at Draco's pockets where she knows he keeps her treats.

"I'm not sure how, but I will make Ron rue the day he decided to expand Hedwig's vocabulary," Draco mutters as he gives Hedwig a piece of dried fruit which she snatches up happily before flying away.

Harry roars with laughter. "Knowing Ron, it could have been much worse. Plus, she's not wrong, mon couer."

Draco still blushes at the thought. Their relationship is still fraught with quibbles and the occasional larger disagreement, the product of two people whose tempers can be fiery and strong. Yet, they always find a way to work things out (in words and thought, as well as in their bed) and Draco is amazed at the idea that he's met his perfect match, and that his match is someone as magnificent as Harry.

"Will you miss it? The adventure?"

Harry smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling. Just a few weeks on the Firebolt has caused his skin to regain its golden colour, warmed by the sun and his happiness.

"As much as we've made a home for ourselves in England, I have too much wanderlust in my blood to want to settle. It's why I had the Firebolt built; her smaller size and faster speed will allow us to travel whenever we're able. But know this: it matters not where we are, for in the end, I am happiest when I am with you."

Harry lifts Draco's hand to his lips, the rasp of his stubble and hint of tongue on Draco's skin a seductive promise. When he lowers it, the sun catches on the band that adorns Draco's ring finger, a circle of alternating emeralds and rubies set in a band of gold. It matches the one on Harry's hand, a promise of a future filled with trust and love.

And this one happens to fit him perfectly. 

~Fin~