Title: Reveille: Breath's a ware that will not keep: Obsession
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Reveille: Breath's a ware that will not keep: Obsession
Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
Breath's a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad: when the journey's over
There'll be time enough to sleep.
'This is, all of it, your fault.'
'Gentlemen.' Mr Draco Malfoy and Sir Harry Potter had almost forgotten the dustily Dickensian solicitor in whose chambers they were squabbling. 'My, ah, fees are, if you will forgive the reminder of such a vulgar consideration, mounting. Should we hereafter instruct counsel ... well. Sir Harry, what Mr Malfoy is saying is -- and in this he's quite right, I'm afraid -- what Mr Malfoy is saying is, quite simply, that your and your party's insistence -- quite a commendable one, I quite accept that -- your admirable determination, to, ah, put through legal reform in the post-war Moots --'
Draco broke in, irritably. 'Had your lot not reformed the law of libel in a nice, woolly, civil-libertarian spasm, Potter, we could have sued that damned woman and cast her in damages that would have broken her. Evidently, we cannot, nowadays, thanks to your high-minded, impractical, Gryffindor reforms. This is all of it your fault.'
'To be fair,' interjected Mr Halesowen-Rowley, in an uprush of lawyerly impartiality and candour to the lips, 'the Skeeter woman owes much of her -- I shan't say influence, she hasn't any, but her ... marketability -- to, ah, Mr Malfoy's youthful, ah --'
'Building her up, yes.' Harry was exceedingly dry. 'Petards, hoist, engineers, for the ironic fate of. Quite.' Had anyone -- particularly anyone lithe and blond and over-clever who happened also to be an Old Slytherin -- been inclined to have forgotten that the erstwhile Boy Who Lived and Youth Who Vanquished Voldemort was, by now, retired as Field-Auror Marshal, a man of vast experience, a hereditary of the Moot, a knight of the realm, and a man who had educated himself as a subaltern -- to compensate for his neglected schooling -- as fiercely as had ever a young Churchill in a dusty cantonment of the Raj, Sir Harry was forcibly reminding any such hypothetical person of just these facts. 'I think I can say without the risk of contradiction that our intention in passing the Reform (Defamation, Libel, and Slander) Act 2004 was not to prevent an action lying where --'
'My dear Sir Harry!' Mr Halesowen-Rowley was so shocked that he removed his pince-nez and began polishing the lenses quite violently. 'I'm surprised at you. For all your lengthy experience in, ah, Auroral affairs, and your influence in effecting the separation of the military and policing functions of government, you are, you know, also a legislator of not a few years' activity: you must, really, be aware, surely, that the intention of the Moot is wholly irrelevant to any interpretation of the law. Come, come! It is what the Act says that is of moment, you know. Now: surely you recognise that.'
'That damned cover alone,' broke in Draco, angrily, 'must be actionable! I look simply dreadful, for one --'
'-- and "Death Eater" is defamatory on its face!'
'Under the old Act,' said Mr Halesowen-Rowley. 'The fact of the matter is, my dear sir, that however equivocal and coerced your participation in the Rebellion was --'
'I was acquitted, damn it!'
'Ye-esss.... Be that as it may.... Under the present Act, you can no more complain of that -- the more so as you are, after all, a public figure, as of course is Sir Harry, as regards the law as it now subsists -- than you might complain of the unflattering photograph, or Sir Harry of the pose and attire in which he is depicted, no matter that both are, ah, manipulated disobligingly, eh?'
'Getting considerable stick from m'tailor,' barked Sir Harry. 'Never wore a shirt like that in m'life, damn it. But this is an irrelevancy. That damned Witch insinuates that Draco was untrue to Aster whilst they were married and she lived, and that I was unfaithful to my late wife, damn it. To Ginny, mind you, a heroine of the War, the mother of my children, murdered -- like Aster -- by terrorists. It's obscene, Halesowen-Rowley!' The past several decades had shaped Harry indeed: he could become Colonel Blimp in the blink of an eye, when occasion demanded.
'I am not, Sir Harry, in the habit of turning away business, I assure you.' Mr Halesowen-Rowley was quite as acerb as his interlocutors. 'I should nevertheless be doing you a grave disservice, were I to fail in my duty to point out that, even under the prior Act, one cannot libel the dead, broadly speaking. As to what you correctly characterise as this Skeeter person's, ah, insinuations, they are precisely that: not absolute assertions of fact. Standing alone, they may, quite possibly, be -- potentially -- actionable, but, naturally, they do not, do they, ah, stand altogether alone. It is a fact, after all, that, now that you are both widowers with adult children, you have, you know, entered into an, ah, hmm, into a ... relationship. Come, come, let us look at this dispassionately. The two of you do have a considerable, ah, history of being materially influential upon one another's fate, do you not? You have both been, since you were quite young, I don't say obsessed with one another, certainly not, yet, nonetheless, ah, highly sensitive to and alert to one another's doings -- and views. You --'
'In short, we've at best a paper case, with no real prospect of success. Quite. Thank you, Flavius -- no, no. Good day.' Harry had long learnt the literal meaning of obedience; and the law, above all things, was the law, whatever his private wishes.
After several years, now, of the 'ah, hmm, relationship' to which Halesowen-Rowley had delicately alluded: indeed of his being to Harry what Scorpius was to Albus Severus (it was no small irony of Fate, the Fates having a damned pawky sense of humour, that he and Harry had first become at all close through the friendship of their sons, and become lovers rather after their sons had become a couple): Draco also had learnt when not to persist in a frontal assault on a strong position. However, there was even now -- when he had attained quite twice the years of the haunted youth depicted on the cover of La Skeeter's contemptible fiction -- an ineradicably Slytherin quality to Draco; and if he left quietly with Harry at Harry's nod, he was nonetheless mutinous beneath his polite, bland mask.
In the months since he and Draco had Apparated away from Letters Close -- the equivalent, naturally, to the Muggles' Chancery Lane -- and returned to Evelake, Harry had put the matter from his mind. Partly, this was due to consideration: contempt, Draco well knew -- and burnt to remember, for in their youths, he had been on the other end of it -- was one of Harry's best weapons against his enemies. Part of it was Harry's soldierly recognition of what battles were worth the fighting. Much of it, however, resulted quite simply from Harry's having other things to divert him, these ranging from his orchards to the Moot to the village XI to the PCC.
Draco, being after all Draco, and a Malfoy, had been thrice as busy and he should yet have made time for vengeance. Not even the reflection that the lives and doings of two middle-aged Wizards, who had made their marks when they had been as young as their sons now were, were still newsworthy and saleable, slaked a Malfoy's viperish lust for revenge. (He would not admit, even to himself, that it was rather flattering that his life and deeds -- and Harry's, of course -- were still a source of public fascination, and that he -- and Harry, to be sure -- remained even now objects of intense public fantasy and amatory obsession: a fact as uncomfortable as it was flattering, as the Skeeter woman shouldn't have had any sales were the Great British Wizarding Public not even now salaciously avid for any goss about them, and star-struck with it. The very idea that he could be - appalling thought - a celebrity burnt acidly in his Malfoy soul.)
In any event, Draco, under a series of rather threadbare excuses, made frequent absences from Evelake in the three months succeeding their rather vexing and bootless conference with Flavius Halesowen-Rowley, popping over to the Continent on numerous occasions and twice even to America . Harry said nothing of these absences; what Harry guessed, or knew, was always another matter entirely, and one into which Draco did not much care to enquire.
Three months tattered by days of absence from the intimate daily round of life in Evelake had been a steep price to pay. Three months of interruptions to the erotic banquet that was his daily (and, still more, his nightly) life with Harry, had cost him dear indeed, even for a man as dedicated to vengeance as was Draco. It had not been merely the displeasing necessity of not simply being there, basking in Harry's affection, nor the positively penitential agony of being more than a touch of the hand away from Harry: his pursuit of redress had cost him sorely in the complexity of simple joys that were his life with Harry at Evelake. The first ducklings stumbling on still-new legs through the meadow grasses by the streams and ponds as their mothers grazed; the majestic mothers of the new calves, sweet-breathed and grave, mighty udders rhythmically a-sway; lambs gambolling; the hum of busy bees in the flowering orchards; the innocently pompous amours of amphibians; the massy bloomings of wistaria; the wine-coloured breast of a Dartford warbler flashing past to seek songful refuge in the heathland; the bluebell woods; the sedate pace of the collared dove on coral feet, secure in Evelake from all harm: these had he neglected to have his vengeance. His, and Harry's, all the more, whether Harry sought it or no.
Worse still, he had, he knew, and had been shamed to know, unconscionably neglected the children -- although they weren't children any longer, and shouldn't at all thank him for calling them as such. Lily, his by no means secret favourite of them all, Scorpius included: her combination of Weasley pranksomeness, Potter independence (not to say arrogance), and Slytherin guile in the best traditions of his old House, reminded him sharply of Aster, and of Pansy at her best: had left school now and was taking a gap year in which, he admitted with keen self-condemnation, he should be seeing more of her and doing more for her than he was. His stern reminders to his nagging self-criticism, that he was pursuing reparation for the sake of the children as much as in his own or Harry's sakes, and for the good name of the shades of the childrens' mothers, never quite convinced him in his heart of hearts. On one of his trips to Wizarding London, indeed, he had surprised Lily, and Al and Scorpius with her, lunching in a trattoria where Lawcalf Row turned into Vellum Mews, the intersection of the legal and publishing worlds. They'd been uneasy, almost shifty, with him, as they'd not been for years, which he excoriated himself as being the consequence of his recent absences, and he had become awkward with them in his turn, sloping off in a direction he'd not meant to take (the instinct to conceal his purposes being wholly uncontrollable in him) even as Den and Gabrielle Creevey had appeared to lunch with the young people. It had shaken him; as also had the sudden, sharp recognition that on that day, although he had shuddered at their modishly Muggle attire, Al and Scorpius had looked almost exactly, unnervingly, like Harry and him at that age. He had perforce -- there had after all been witnesses -- mentioned the encounter to Harry, without going into why he had been up to town, secretly hoping that Harry would say something, anything, that might act as an unintended absolution of his own sneaking about. Harry had merely made a noise indicating mild curiosity, and the subject had been hastily dropped. Yet even the risk of exposure that this encounter had so trenchantly pointed could not warn Draco from his courses: the unsleeping Malfoy blood still ran riot within him, a tide that dimmed and rose and mounted even above the innocence of his duty to the children, and that swept him past them and the times they should have spent together, and bore him away in spate.
For this, for the floodtide of vengeance, he had instead called wearily and wearisomely upon rapacious American lawyers with gamblers' eyes and the patter of Knockturn dealers, upon sour French advocates with mouths like purse-bags and souls of titrated avarice all compound, upon numerous maddeningly polite and circumlocutory solicitors from various Commonwealth countries, and upon a terrifyingly Hagrid-sized Teutonic jurist in Lübeck who had reeked equally heroically of herring, spirits, and formidable intelligence, and whose smile was steel-plated.
In pursuit of his vengeance, he had spent squalid hours listening in bars and cheap restaurants -- the Continentals had never managed to comprehend the concept of a decent pub, and the Yanks were of course wholly incapable -- where the denizens of the local equivalents to the Effra Mews press congregated to swill Lethean draughts that might aid them to forget the vileness of their vocation: hours he might otherwise have spent with Harry, in the leaf-dappled, apple-scented sunlight of Avalon.
His vengeance had come dear: but come it was at last. As he watched and waited, having cozened from an incautious secretary the time when Rita Skeeter was to meet with her publishers in this meagre building on Dye Urn Alley, he saw the owls arrow through the leaden London sky, and heard the sounds of Apparition that heralded the servers of process. Within three minutes, everyone passing by heard, without his pleasure in the sound, the outraged screams and shrieks of the authoress and the wounded bellowing of her slovenly publisher. It was with a feral grin fixed ineradicably upon his face that Draco strolled coolly into the ramshackle edifice, barged past the frightfully genteel receptionist, and shouldered his way into the offices whence those screams of fury emanated.
The years had not been kind to La Skeeter. At her best, under layers of slap and with the light behind her, she had clearly been granted the face her character had earnt; just now, in the harsh light that speared through the less filthy of the windows, she looked like nothing so much as a Hag.
'I've taken advice, Malfoy, you haven't a case, thanks to your lover's gallant efforts in the cause of reform and free speech -- I'll counter with a claim that will break you --'
'Ah, dear lady, your greed has betrayed you. I quite agree -- having taken advice -- that you are not amenable to a suit for damages in the Three Kingdoms. And the English-speaking nations are, in the main, shockingly liberal in what they'll allow to be published without recourse. But you couldn't resist the lure of foreign lucre, could you -- no, don't beetle your remarkably wrinkled brow at me, you desiccated, raddled old besom. I've spent the past three months in libel tourism, and I think you'll find the Continentals, amongst others, take a very dim view of this sort of rubbish.'
'Put a sock in it, Rita,' rumbled the publisher, a flabby, shabby fellow who was cousin to the wartime proprietors of the Prophet. 'What d'you want, Malfoy?'
'My dear Cufflink. I thought you'd see sense. What I'd like is to see this Hag in Azkaban. What I expect I might be persuaded to settle for is seeing her doing penance in her shift, with a placard confessing her deeds, in every magical quarter in Europe and the Three Kingdoms, along with taking every last Knut she and you have made from this balls, and having the pleasure of watching the offending volumes pulped. What we'll begin with today is this: a complete list of every source, informant, or collaborator who in any way participated, wittingly or not, in this outrage.'
Late that night, Draco, striving desperately to conceal his overwhelming pleasure in his own cleverness, slipped quietly into bed beside Harry, whom he thought soundly asleep. Triumphant though he was, however, he could not resist -- though he would never admit -- the rather unmanful squeak he emitted when Harry rolled over and pinioned him, hard (in every sense) upon him, unyielding and not to be trifled with.
'Done with wreaking your great and terrible vengeance on Skeeter, then?'
'I -- what -- I mean -- oh, bugger, you knew ?'
Harry chuckled. It was not a comforting sound, although Draco found that very quality in it frighteningly arousing. 'Did you seriously imagine I shouldn't? Given who I am and what positions I've held? I'll tell you now, I'll accept damages, but I draw the line at putting her in stocks and securing public sympathy for her, for all that she, in the days of my youth, couldn't have done Voldemort better service if she'd been -- your father.'
'No, not angry, as such. Mind, I really ought to spank that pale, taut little alabaster bum of yours quite pink.' Draco moaned: he hadn't meant to, but he simply could not help but do. 'Ah, yes, well, you'd quite like that. You have been naughty.'
'She deserved --'
'Come, come,' said Harry, meaning no doubt to evoke Mr Halesowen-Rowley, but succeeding only in very nearly making Draco do just that. 'Can you imagine our giving testimony under oath, hmm? Struggling to deny the obvious? Trying to assert that we're not obsessed with one another?'
Harry's knees -- still knobbly, but powerful -- had nudged Draco's legs wide. 'Could you swear you're not obsessed with having my hand -- here? My weight upon you? Your legs wrapped around me -- yes, just like that, love? My teeth nibbling on your ear, just -- so? My tongue --'
Draco moaned, utterly abandoned, as he gave way yet again to his longest-lasting and most delicious obsession, against which mere vengeance and cleverly-managed victory were but passing shadows.
After breakfast the next morning -- a meal at which Draco had not appeared, as he was sleeping the sleep of, if not the just, at least of the satiated -- Harry was finishing a few letters in his study, one of them, quite sharply worded, to that too-easily-led photographer and lunchtime trattoria habitué Dennis Creevey (far too like poor Colin, really, whom Harry yet mourned), and preparing to sally forth into the orchards, when Albus Severus sidled in.
'Er. Father. D'you have a moment?'
Harry put down his pen and gave his second son a long look. 'I'll grant you a moment. You also, Scorpius, don't loiter in the doorway.'
'Sit down, both of you. I've not the time for your faffing about. No, don't be alarmed, I imagine it will be at least an hour before Draco manages to rouse and clamber -- I expect gingerly -- out of bed.'
'My, we are formal this morning. And so you damned well want to be. The father wavers, but the governor -- well, we'll take that as read. I suppose you want assistance with the funds, a brilliant opportunity having gone west rather than turning up trumps.'
'Well. Er. Yes?'
'Yes. You may draw on Gringotts to any amount -- remarkably enough, I trust you, even now. The price of this trust, however, is that you listen to a few words of advice. Firstly, never underestimate the lengths Draco will go to when he feels affronted. Secondly, never overestimate his cleverness, either: he can do all of that that wants doing. Thirdly, publishing is a damned risky business to invest in, unless your Aunt Luna is involved, in which case it's utterly mad as well as being safe as houses. And, fourthly, never put money, time, or effort into any scheme of Lily's, as I trust you've learnt by now: least of all when she's cagily Slytherin about the real purpose. She's far too like her Uncle Fred -- and my father, come to that -- for her or anyone else's good: too clever by half and not quite clever enough not to be manipulated by such as Skeeter. Now off with you both, and you might be well advised to stop with Jamie for a few days lest Draco twig.'
Chastened, Al and Scorpius rose and began to trudge towards the door.
'Oh, and lads? A final point. Two, really. If you ever again agree to model for a photograph portraying me and Draco in our youth, there will be hell to pay. And get shot of those appalling suits and shirts you wore in the damned thing, they're hideously ugly as well as incriminating in the extreme. You may Apparate from here, and you may wish to do so now. '
As the sounds of their -- well, flight, really -- died away, Sir Harry permitted himself a smile, and called for an elf. 'Dappley? Be so good as to send for my daughter, please. I shall meet her in the orchards in twenty minutes' time. And please see to it that Draco doesn't hear of it, or find us for, oh, a quarter hour after that. Thank you.'
As Harry walked out into the bright, confident morning, he smiled. Someday, perhaps, he'd tell Draco of what plans the Sorting Hat had had for him, all those years ago. Perhaps. For now, it was amusing enough to let Draco believe that, for the first time in his clever, scheming, obsessive life, he had fallen in love with someone wholly without Slytherin guile.