The Garland Gay
by vaysh11

Pairing: Draco Malfoy/Harry Potter
Rating:
NC-17
Warnings:
magical creatures (Veela), some blood, death of a minor character
Word Count: ~35,000
Genre(s): Action/Adventure, Mystery, Romance

Canon: Through DH (EWE)
Other characters: Hermione Granger-Krum, Pansy Parkinson, Blaise Zabini, Montague, Narcissa Malfoy, George Weasley, Rodolphus Lestrange, assorted human OCs, assorted Veela OCs
Artist:
raitala

Summary: Draco Malfoy has it all – sex, money, power. But a family secret threatens to become the undoing of the successful head of Malfoy Bank. His troubles bring him to private investigator Harry Potter, who lost it all – girlfriend, Galleons, Auror career – over a tenacious obsession with a certain blond. Both become entangled in the vengeful schemes of a stranger from the past. As much as Draco tries to resist, in the end, he must make a fateful choice for the man he is destined to love.

Author's Notes: Saying that this story took "forever and a day" to write is no exaggeration. I started writing it more than a year ago as a Beltane gift fic for the wonderful Curiouslyfic, to whom "The Garland Gay" is dedicated with a huge thank-you for her awesome prompt and in highest admiration of her writing. The Veela Covey of Silbury Hill evolved from this image of a sheela na gig on the font of the church of St Mary Magdalene in Winterbourne Monkton. The story is based on the conjecture that the mysterious sheela may have become JK Rowling's fictional Veela. The title of the story is taken from Loreena McKennitt's song "The Mummers' Dance" that also inspired the Beltane scene. My gratitude goes to my betas, Marguerite and Jamie, and the patient mods of Draco Big Bang.


 

A Garland Gay


-- dedicated to Curiouslyfic --



Beltane 2006

The grass underneath still feels like winter. It's limp and dry, too weak yet to weather a full season and the sheep that will be grazing here all summer. Wisps of cloud move across a sky that is the colour of withered cornflowers. The translucent round of the moon trails behind on the horizon.

He is back. His body feels younger than he ever was. The smell of fire still lingers in the threadbare cloth of his robes. It's been seven years since he has last worn them. His hair is long, thick with the scent of smoke. The tangled strands tickle the skin on his neck, something he has not felt for such a long time. He lifts his hand, rubs at the soot that clings to his fingers.

His last memory of this world are Lucius' bright grey eyes. He had trusted his brother-in-law back then, even when Lucius had led him right into the blazing circle of fire. Trusted him, for he was family, and family had mattered most in his life, seven years ago. Family. Blood. Toujours Pur. The ash on his tongue tastes sweet, like powdered sugar.

Yet he was returned, to the very same spot on the foot of Silbury Hill. Rodolphus Lestrange gets up, smoothes the cloth with his hand, the soft pale hand of a man much younger than he feels. In his mind he measures the years and wonders what all has happened while he was gone. His gaze searches for the line of elms, veiled still within the morning mist. There lies the road. This is the way to London.

*


Almost Three Years Later

It greatly amused Draco Malfoy that Gringotts Bank should stand right across the entrance into Knockturn Alley, almost as if a taint of the Dark could not be avoided when dealing with gold and Galleons. There was a reason, after all, why hoards and vaults were best protected by dragons. The star constellation Draco naturally had become the emblem of the new Malfoy Bank. Outlined in diamonds, it graced the black marbled façade of the new building opposite Gringotts, right at the corner of Knockturn and Diagon.

Out of the windows of his office, Draco could see Gringotts' bronze doors all locked up, no goblin standing guard, no customers entering or leaving. He leaned back in his chair, making the expensive brown leather creak. The wizard on the other side of the desk raised his head quickly. He flashed Draco a wide smile, then returned to signing the documents. In the frosty light that fell in through the tall windows, the young man's black hair shimmered almost blue. With his pale complexion and a hidden fire gleaming in those dark brown eyes, Benoit Rosier certainly was one of the most handsome men Draco had seen come out of Hogwarts in a long time. At lunch yesterday, Pansy had reminded him again to not mix business with pleasure, and Draco had resisted, for as long as the negotiations continued. It had not been an easy feat to get one of the oldest and richest French wizarding families to entrust their fortunes and estates to the management of Malfoy Bank.

But now that the young heir -- thankfully queer down to the splayed finger holding the purple-plumed quill -- was finalising the deal, Draco let himself indulge in pleasant fantasies. Business was like sex. Or rather, good business meant great sex. And those scratches of a golden tipped quill on parchment and that pretty face underneath a mass of black hair -- that, Draco Malfoy thought, definitely spelled a phenomenal fuck once their business was concluded. He shifted in his chair again to give his bulging erection a bit more room. The creak of the leather interrupted the quiet, as Benoit Rosier was perusing the last of the parchments. His head shot up again, eyes clear and wide open, a hesitant smile on those full lips. The chairman of Malfoy Bank had a reputation for selecting his lovers randomly, after no pattern or proclivities that the Prophet or even Witch Weekly could detect. His reputation suited Draco fine, no need to become predictable in the public's eye. He'd fuck anyone with a prick -- no matter age, looks or blood status. But this young man was one of his more cherished fantasies come true: old, pure blood, straight out of Hogwarts, with all the brass superiority of the young. A Gryffindor, too, which made this seduction a special treat. And not quite as sure of himself as he would like to be, if Draco read that vague smile correctly. A bit shy, perhaps? Or had he never been with an older lover?

Benoit signed the last document with a determined flourish, moving so eagerly that droplets of ink splattered over the parchment and onto the dark mahogany of the desk. With a quick swipe of the sleeve of his robes he tried to wipe it off, but managed only to enlarge the smear.

"Oh, merde. I am sorry, Sir," the young Rosier said with admirable calm. "If those spots cannot be removed, I'll buy you another desk."

So full of that Gryffindor arrogance, but still, a flicker of fear lit up in his eyes, when he looked over to Draco who hadn't reacted at all to the mishap. Fear or rather, embarrassment, judging from the faint reddish spots that appeared on Benoit's cheeks. Draco let his eyes move over the muscled body of the young man, openly admiring what he saw. For a moment he imagined Benoit in red Quidditch gear, then met his eyes, searching for a subtle response to his unspoken invitation. Benoit nervously licked his lips, clearly interested now, but unsure whether he should take things that far. Shy, yes. Slightly intimidated. Draco felt himself get hot at the thought of fucking this boy for real, taking him beyond
those schoolboy fumbles in the Hogwarts locker rooms. For all his adult life, others had reacted instantly to Draco's arousal, and he could see it now, too, in the young man's face -- his eyes glazed over, his lips went soft, his breathing sped up ever so slightly. It was all the response Draco needed to continue with his plan. "That won't be necessary," he said, taking his wand from the folds of his robes. With a muttered Evanesco, he Vanished the spilled ink. Then he pushed his chair back and stood up.

Benoit imitated his moves and got up slowly, almost hesitantly. He mechanically held out his hand to bid the chairman of Malfoy Bank good-bye.

"Before we shake hands on our new partnership," Draco said with a small, suggestive smile, "perhaps you would like to wash those ink stains off your hand, Monsieur Rosier?"

*

"I don't kiss," Benoit gasped, his fingers gliding down the oak panelling, leaving sweaty prints on the wall separating the spacious stalls in the men's loo of Malfoy Bank. Draco had him pinned face-forward against the wall with his left cheek pushed into the dark wood. He was bucking viciously into Draco's fist, his prick bone-hard and slippery from pre-come and spit. The red of his lips was glowing in the dim light, tempting Draco. He wanted to lick at them and bite, to see if he could turn them even redder.

"No kiss, you say?" he whispered into Benoit's ear, making him squirm and clench his hands into fists, striving desperately for some semblance of control. Draco tightened his grip on the other man's hard-on, and he squeezed it with vicious force until Benoit stopped moving. Breathing fast, he seemed exhausted and horny at the same time. He was leaning fully resigned back against Draco, waiting for whatever was about to be done to him.

Draco freed his own erection from the confines of his trousers. He did so unhurriedly, pushing the buttons through their holes and unlacing the silken fastenings of his wizarding attire with care. The Rosier boy, he'd noted, was wearing Muggle clothes underneath his robes. One of the new Cavalli suits, he would guess from his own visits to Savile Row. A childish delight, no doubt, still Draco couldn't help but anticipate shooting his spunk all over the expensive cloth. But this was for later. First he'd make this arrogant prick beg for the kiss that he didn't want to share, like this was sex for money, and he had the right to refuse such intimacies. No, Draco was no punter, and Benoit no whore. They were here because they both wanted it. There had been no doubt in Benoit's advances the moment they entered the bathroom and shed their robes. No straight bloke scruples, either. Now they would go all the way and fuck. And kiss.

Draco spread the firm buttocks before him and pressed the length of his erection into the cleft. He felt more than heard the groan as Benoit pushed backwards to feel more of that intimate touch. Deep in his stomach, Draco sensed a flicker of the hot need that sometimes came over him when he'd gone too long without the potion. It had been three weeks, a couple of days more, perhaps. But it was not yet serious, not yet anything that could overpower him and make him lose control like those times when ... No, he'd enjoy this fuck at his own leisurely pace. And he would kiss those red lips and have them glisten with his own spit when he was ready for it.

He kept moving his erection between the round cheeks of Benoit's arse, rubbing over his hole, but not penetrating him. Instead Draco started to stroke Benoit's dick again. Once they re-established a rhythm, he moved his other hand into the tangles of Benoit's hair, pulled harder and harder, until the man moaned with pleasure. Then Draco shoved three fingers between those full lips, leaving Benoit no time to resist.

"Suck them," he whispered. He'd seen the effect that his voice, gone hoarse and low with desire, had on other people. It was part of his natural Allure, an erotic charge that entered his words once his body was aroused. He could feel it himself, a guttural vibration in his throat that made him moan senseless to come faster and harder, even when tossing off by himself. It was something he remembered as an overpowering, shameful need to scream, insanely, full of lust, from the time before he had used the potion. This now was subdued, controlled, his to use to make this boy scream and beg. And he did use this voice, said things like "suck them hard" and "yes, that's it" and "let me feel your tongue." Benoit was sucking Draco's fingers eagerly like they were dick, and he hadn't had a good fuck in months. Which may just be the case, considering how rock-hard and aroused he was.

Draco abruptly withdrew his fingers that were slick with spit. He moved his mouth even closer to Benoit's face and murmured, "And now you kiss me." Benoit had no power to resist the Allure; his head fell back on Draco's shoulder as if by instinct, he was searching frantically for Draco's mouth, moving his lips along Draco's chin and cheek. Those lips, so very soft and shiny wet -- Draco just had to capture them and lick at them with the tip of his tongue. Benoit twisted his head desperately at the awkward angle, trying to get more of Draco's tongue and suck at it, like he'd been sucking at Draco's fingers before. Draco pushed in deeper, and Benoit moaned around his tongue, all the while fucking Draco's fist. His hips started jerking fast and uncontrolled. Soon he was so far gone that he lost his hold on Draco's tongue, but kept close to his mouth. A deep groan tore from his throat and his body arched backward against Draco, tense with the need for release.

Draco smiled as he took his hand away from Benoit's prick, making him fuck the air for a couple of thrusts. The young man moaned, "No, no, don't stop, don't stop, don't ...“ and tried to finish himself off with his own hand.

But Draco would have none of that. He brought one arm around Benoit's waist, trapping his right arm, and slammed him fully into the door. The stalls shook from the impact, and Benoit brought his left down onto the door with a frustrated bang.

"Easy, easy," Draco whispered. Benoit's body shuddered violently against him. Before the stalls stopped vibrating, he had his own cock slick with the spit on his fingers and pushing against Benoit's hole.

"Fuck me," the young man groaned out, "putain, fuck me already!" He twisted his head in an angle that had to be painful, searching in blind need for Draco's mouth.

Draco caught those opened, full red lips between his teeth and bit down hard. He had the young Rosier where he wanted him. Time to finish business.

*


Draco threw the paper towels -- ingenious Muggle inventions -- onto Katerina's desk, and she Vanished them in an instant. Good girl. He had left Benoit Rosier slumped against the door, spunk running down his thighs, dripping onto his bespoke trousers. His own spunk, too. Let it not be said that Draco Malfoy was not returning the favours he was receiving in such abundance. It had been a good fuck. Still, something had been missing, as always since he was taking the potion. A certain edge, the overwhelming high, the sheer need. He missed it, but he couldn't risk it. Hell, he'd been in too much trouble before. The chairman of Malfoy Bank just couldn't be making the Prophet's headlines on a weekly basis with his exploits in the seedier parts of wizarding London. A couple of years ago, after his tryst with the Marchbanks heir and his son, who -- Draco insisted -- he hadn't known had been only sixteen at the time, had been in the news for weeks, Mother had called in the Bank's Board of Directors and removed him temporarily from office. The potion had been his last resort. But damn Granger and the way she made him beg for it. And damn Father! Draco would never forgive him for dying on them, leaving him with ... with this and never having told him a single word about it.

"Mr. Malfoy?" Katerina called after him from her desk.

Draco shot his secretary a withering look. She knew better than to address him when he was in that kind of mood. And what was it with the wizarding world that everybody wore glasses these days as if it had become a smart fashion, Potter-style?

"Your glasses," he said, stepping back at the desk and pointing a finger at the gold-framed spectacles, "there are spells for that, you know."

Katerina removed the glasses, dangled them from her fingers for a moment, then proceeded to clean them with one of those Muggle paper towels which she seemed to pull from the air. With a glint in her eyes she said, "You liked them when you hired me, Sir."

"Now, did -- ?" Draco noted the fireplace behind Katerina's desk. The faintly green shimmer of the ash indicated that someone had come through recently. "Don't tell me I have a visitor? You didn't let anyone in my office, did you?"

Katerina shook her head. Draco had never seen her move, but the glasses were back on her nose. "No, Sir. Of course not." She tapped a finger on the stack of parchment slips on her desk. "There has been a Floo-call from the Department of Mysteries."

"Granger? Granger called? And she used the Floo? Salazar, why can't that woman use an owl like every everybody else?"

He and Granger met once a month. But never since that very first time had Granger contacted him. For the last four years it had always been Draco who sent the owls and waited for long hours, sometimes even an entire day for the answer with arrangements for their next meeting. Granger never let him forget that she had been doing him a favour when she enlisted him for her prestigious "Love Project."

Draco remembered well that first time down in the sublevels of the Ministry of Magic. He'd felt a certain sense of privilege at first. Only Unspeakables were allowed into the Department of Mysteries, but now those handleless black doors had opened for him. He'd seen Potter at once, sitting on one of the chairs lined up in the bare corridor that the welcome-wizard had lead Draco to. Of course, Granger would bring her old buddies into any high-profile Ministry project she was director of. Mudblood favouritism, Draco suspected, but never said a word. One thing he had learned during his apprenticeship at the Société Générale was to keep his mouth shut. But he couldn't, for the life of him, pass Potter without saying anything. So he approached the Golden Boy, and Potter looked up, that bloody guileless look in his eyes, and his mouth widening into a smile, a smile, as if he was actually happy to see Draco Malfoy, of all people. Potter raised one arm and said, "Hi", almost shyly.

And that's when Draco had felt it for the first time. He wanted him, wanted Harry fucking Potter. He wanted to dig his fingers into that messy black hair, wanted to kiss him and touch his too-lanky, too-knobbly body all over. Merlin, for a second he even fantasised about letting Potter fuck him, right there in the shabby Ministry corridor.

He had nodded curtly, mumbled, "Good day" and stalked by Potter uncomfortably, grateful for his robes that were hiding a hard-on of phenomenal proportions. Draco had kept to the loo until it was time for his appointment.

Granger was all business when he entered her office. "Thank you for coming in, Malfoy," she said. No titles, minimal courtesy. Fine, this suited Draco just fine.

Red files were stacked high on Granger's battered desk. Draco had imagined some more imaginative interior design, a heart-shaped room perhaps, or at least a couple of pink hearts on the walls. This was, after all, the centre of the rumoured new scientific programme of the Department of Mysteries, dedicated to the study of "Magical Laws of Affection, Attraction, Predilection and Partiality", called MLAAPP for short, or simply the Love Project. But Granger's office looked like any other office Draco had seen in the Ministry, no different but for the windows, which were charmed, for whatever reason, to show Mount Augustus rising above a stretch of Australian desert.

There were more of the straight-backed chairs, and Draco selected the one that looked most comfortable. In the loo, the irritating prickling sensation had flamed up on his back again, and if it got any worse, Draco at least wanted a chair he could safely lean back against. "Yes, I've come. But why is Potter here?"

At this, Granger finally looked at him. The red robes looked good on her, he had to admit. Of course it helped that she'd finally got a haircut that deserved the name.

Draco waved towards the corridor. "I ran into him out there. He's waiting, in case you've forgotten." And who was he, some bloody secretary?

"Oh." Granger turned back to her precious folders. "He's waiting for his appointment. Malfoy -- Potter." She ticked off their names on a roll of parchment which ended somewhere underneath her desk. "The Department made the appointments in alphabetical order."

"In alph..." Something was not right here. Granger sounded much too overly casual for this to be mere coincidence. But what was the Mudblood playing at? "Granger, I'm --"

"It's Granger-Krum, actually." She tapped her quill on a brass nameplate on her table.

Right. The Wedding That Brought Wizarding Europe Together. How could he have forgotten this piece of spectacular news?

"I'm not blind, Granger-Krum," Draco bit out. "I passed one of the Parvati sisters coming down here, the one who's taken to penning romances. That makes her a virtual expert on love, surely. I bet she was here for an appointment, too. So, it's Parvati -- Malfoy -- Potter. Forgot your alphabet? Or can you only spell in Ancient Runes these days?"

"No need to get nasty, Malfoy." Granger threw down the quill in what looked suspiciously like exasperation. "Harry's been waiting around for you. He wanted to see you. Don't tell me you didn't talk while I made you wait?"

Potter wanted to see him? "Yeah, sure, we talked." Greeting each other in a bare corridor was talking, wasn't it? "And what do you mean, you made me wait? Granger, you called me here, and I came because, as an upstanding member of wizarding society, I'm always ready to offer the Ministry my assistance. But don't test my patience. I have a bank to lead. A bank where your husband's family happen to have their new vaults. What do you want from me?"

Granger looked at him for a moment, then she moved her hand as if to push back her hair. She dropped it halfway, as she remembered that she'd got rid of those bushy curls. "Harry participates in the project," she said, returning to Draco's earlier question, "because his life was saved by a very potent form of love magic. We want to find out what spell Lily Potter used to save her child's life. And then there's the magic that kept Harry safe under the roof of a blood relative until he came of age. Not much love was lost between them, but still the magic protected him. You can surely see how he's a very valuable candidate for the project."

Draco sighed. Obviously Granger was gearing up to tell him all about her cherished little project, and in typical Granger-fashion she was starting with the Golden Boy. She was not telling him anything new. Not even Draco, who'd avoided Rita Skeeter's Potter biography like the plague, had been spared the daily excerpts in the Prophet. He crossed his legs, smoothed his robes, feigning utter boredom. What he really wanted was to rub his itching back against the chair.

But Granger kept staring at him as if she was expecting a response. When none came, she picked up the quill again. "All right, Malfoy, I see you are more interested in why we would want you as a candidate for the project."

"Indeed." Draco leaned back and suppressed a sigh of relief. "In your owl you mentioned the Malfoy heritage. But I can't imagine that this is about pure-blood magic. If I'm informed correctly, you doubt it even exists." Best to pretend he didn't know at all. If the negotiations were going where Draco wanted them to go, he would need all the leverage he could get.

A small smile appeared on Granger's lips. Draco recognised it now for what it was: not the arrogance he had once taken it for, but the expectant thrill of a debate she was certain to win. "No magic is exclusive to pure-bloods, Malfoy. You know that. Pure-bloods had access to secret magical knowledge, access that had been denied to all other witches and wizards for centuries. All that supposed magical superiority is based on that advantage alone. There's nothing special about their blood." She moved her chin slightly forward, like she'd always done in school.

But if Granger expected him to argue, he was about to disappoint her. Draco inclined his head, a small shrug of his shoulders. It was all the concession she was going to get. "Your little treatise is begging the question, Granger: if it's not my blood status, then why am I here?"

"Oh no. It is your blood we're interested in." She did not look at him, instead she reached for a folder on top of the stacks. Even from his side of the desk Draco could make out his name on the cover.

So they knew, damn them. But how much? And from where did they get such information? Before Draco could think of how to continue, Granger spoke, again in that overly casual voice. "Do you sometimes feel a strong sensation in your upper back, Malfoy? And I mean strong, not a mere itch. More like pain, I am told."

Shit. Draco couldn't help but squirm in his seat, straightening his shoulders and rearranging his robes, so they fell more loosely down his back.

"Your fingers," Granger continued, her head still bend over the opened folder with Draco's name on it, "do they bleed sometimes, for no reason at all?"

Draco snatched his hands away from his lap, hid them within the sleeves of his robes. He couldn't help it, even though he knew there was not a trace of dried blood underneath his nails. He'd been to the manicurist this morning to make sure of it. How did they know such things? "Granger --"

"And this?" She took a handful of newspaper clippings from the folder and pushed them towards him.

Draco recognised them instantly. His mother's collection at the board meeting had been equally impressive. On top of the pile was the article of Marchbanks' testimony before the Wizengamot, his son at his side. In the picture Simon looked even younger than sixteen, all innocence in his simple Hogwarts robes. He kept turning back to the photographer, and the movement made his tangled dark hair fall into his face. Damn the boy.

Granger was staring at him, and he shoved the clippings back at her. "I was acquitted of all those charges," he said. His tone sounded defensive even to his own ears.

"I'm aware of that. But I also know that the Wizengamot's decision would have been quite different, if Simon's father hadn't been part of your little orgy. They were protecting the reputation of the Marchbanks family as much as yours. You were lucky to get off so easily, Malfoy."

"Orgy!" He managed to roll his eyes, and it helped to remember what a bad lay Marchbanks had been. The older Marchbanks. With Simon, it had been a quick blowjob, nothing more. "Merlin, Granger, I fucking didn't know the boy was under-age. I was interested in his father. And if you actually read all those articles, you'd know bloody well that I don't make it a habit of seducing sixteen year-olds."

"I read all those articles, and to me they confirm the one thing I've been looking for. Your libido, Malfoy. Could it be that you don't always have it under control? Your prick has got you into quite a bit trouble, now hasn't it?" She didn't even have the decency to blush, rather she watched him with curious interest, twirling the quill between her fingers and clearly enjoying what she was doing.

The one thing I've been looking for. "What I do in my bedroom is nobody's business but my own," he said. "If you and the Department think you can satisfy your voyeu..."

"We're not interested in your private life, Malfoy."

Good. Because under no circumstances would he discuss his sex life with a bunch of stuck-up Unspeakables. He'd rather go for the Temporary Impotency Spells his Mother had suggested. "So ..." Draco found himself searching for words to say what he'd never shared with a stranger.

Thankfully, Granger made it easy for him. "It's your Veela heritage that is making you a valuable candidate for the MLAAPP," she said. No smug smile, no judgemental looks. She knew. And she wanted him for her precious little project. Wanted him badly. Draco just found the leverage he'd been looking for. The question was, could she give him what he needed?

He cleared his throat, deliberately. Give her the impression that he was hesitant about being involved in the project, Veela heritage or not. "There must be more suitable candidates than me," he finally said. "There is Veela blood in many of the old families. And how did you find out about it, anyway?" He hadn't meant to let on that the revelation fazed him, but his cheeks burned and anger coiled in his stomach. Damn, he just didn't have Father's bleeding self-control. How the fuck had they found out about it?

"Veela Register." Granger pushed another piece of parchment towards him.

Wizard Descendants of the Silbury Hill Covey it read, then listed names of the old Wiltshire wizarding families, almost all of them, as much as Draco could ascertain at one glance. The Malfoy line started with one Gregory Delamere and ended with Draco Abraxas Malfoy.

"My father registered me with the Ministry?" His voice was hollow with shock, and he knew instantly that he was giving too much away. But Draco was too startled to see his family's secret revealed like this. Salazar-from-the-fen, he himself hadn't known about this until he turned twenty-one, the Veela coming of age.

But Granger seemed not to notice how upset he was, or else she didn't care. She simply shook her head and said, "It's self-registering. Your name appeared in the Register the moment you were born. This is just a copy, of course. If you're interested I can show you the real manuscript sometime. It's considered one of the Department's most ancient mysteries. The Register has been entrusted to the Ministry by the Order of the Veela itself. It's safeguarded by a Secret Keeper's Charm. I can only show it to you because your name is in it."

Draco nodded, dumbfounded. What the fuck was the Order of the Veela? And still, all of this didn't explain ... "Granger, why me? Look," he pointed to a name on the register page. "Francis Blackman. He's a wizard. I had no idea he has Veela blood, too. But there he is, in your Veela Register. Why not him? I'm sure he's more than happy to help you out." Married to a Mudblood, too, Draco thought but did not say aloud. But surely that made Blackman an even more suitable candidate for the Love Project. The keeper of the New Inn in Winterbourne Monkton had married for love, presumably.

"He's found his mate," Granger stated.

"Pardon?"

"Francis Blackman is married, Malfoy. He's with his true mate. All that infamous Veela Allure, the Veela's legendary power of seduction and attraction, it's solely directed towards his wife. And don't tell me you're not aware that you've got it, Malfoy. It was all over you when you came into my office just now." Granger's voice had gone quiet at her last words, and finally -- a blush. Blooming on Granger's cheeks and spreading rapidly all the way down her throat. With deep and (he knew) petty satisfaction Draco noted that the crimson on Granger's cheeks clashed horribly with the vermillion of the shawl she had draped over her dark Unspeakable robes.

"So?" He leaned forward, trying hard not to grin.

"You're unmated. And obviously," she tapped on the paper clippings again, rather annoyed, it seemed to Draco, "the Veela streak runs strong in you. God, Malfoy, you're sleeping around like the best of them ..."

"Envious, Granger?" Really, he couldn't help it.

"Shut it, Malfoy. Must I remind you that my husband is Victor Krum? Let me assure you that he's very good with a broom," she said with much more sexual innuendo Draco had given her credit for. Her eyes sparkled mischievously, and for a moment he got an inkling of what Krum saw in her.

Draco nodded, still grinning. "Point taken. But still -- so what?" he repeated.

"So we want to find out more about the Veela powers of seduction. Veela are not magical. But then, how do they do it? How do you do it? Is it something in your blood? How does it influence your magic? Does it even? That's the kind of things we're interested in." She'd spoken fast, as if these were routine questions reiterated whenever she had to argue for the inclusion of Veela into the Love Project.

"You do want my blood." Draco found himself chuckling. This was too good to be true.

"Just samples. A few physical exams. Interviews mostly. Nothing very personal and all information will be anonymised. You can refuse to answer questions you don't like. Within limits. This has to work for both sides. We do want results."

The cards were on the table then: Granger knew about the troubles he had managed to get himself into. He knew that she needed him for her precious project. Whether Granger was aware of the fact that he was suspended as chairman of Malfoy Bank was unclear. And Draco had no clue as to how important the study of Veela Allure was to Granger. But he knew how things worked within the Ministry. If he suspected correctly, then the Galleons of the Department of Magical Creatures were behind it. Even Unspeakables had to procure funding. Now all depended on ...

"What is in it for me, Granger?" he asked with all the calm he could muster. "You don't expect me to agree to all this for a pat on the back, surely?"

Cat's in the cream, Draco couldn't help thinking when he saw Granger's smug smile. She thought she had an ace up her vermillion sleeve, obviously. With a smooth movement, she opened one of the side drawers of her desk and brought out a small bottle.

"This," she said and placed the bottle on top of Draco's file.

The liquid inside looked translucent and light as water. Like Veritaserum. Or gin. Not many potions looked like this. Venenum Suffoco Alae, it read on the parchment attached to the dark glass. And yes, this was what Draco had been hoping for. Weeks of research had made him familiar with the potion, but he'd found no way to acquire it or brew it himself. Its origins were obscure, to say the least. The one ingredient that all the many potion books of the Manor's Library were certain of was the hair of a Veela. Of a full Veela. One of the rarest potion ingredients of the wizarding world, passed down from one generation of Veela to the next, it fell under Class A Non-Tradeable Goods. One would think some Dark trader had specialised on Veela hair, but if someone did, Draco had not been able to locate him or her. People in Knockturn Alley, who usually didn't blink twice at the threat of Ministry's sanctions, would hardly speak to Draco once they realised what he wanted. One seasoned trader had taken him to the side and whispered, "You don't want to be messin' with the Veela, boy. Ever heard of Shimmerburg? No? Then see that it stays that way."

Yet there it had been, eight fluid ounces of the fabled Veela Suppressant Potion, standing on a Ministry desk, within the reach of his hand.

No side-effects, Granger had said, and she had been right. They had made their deal. Draco came in every four weeks for exams and interviews, Granger provided him with his monthly dose of potion. No more embarrassing sex scandals involving the Malfoy name, no more of that overpowering need that made him lose all control. No more of that thrill of seduction and conquest, either, but he'd resigned himself to the occasional fuck in darkrooms and loos. And Montague, who was more than willing to share his bed whenever Draco wanted him.

That day when Draco had left Granger's office, Potter had still been waiting around in the corridor. Waiting for him, presumably. Potter had got up and this time Draco had greeted him first. They'd talked for perhaps five minutes on their way up to the Atrium, meaningless chit-chat about their respective careers. It had been pleasant enough. The potion had felt warm in Draco's stomach, and while he'd admired the way the light sparkled in Potter's green eyes, there had been none of that irresistible urge to ravish him right on the spot. He no longer wanted Potter, which had been a ludicrous idea to begin with. Potter was straight, about to get married, about to become an Auror and make all his high-flying dreams come true.

Three months later the Prophet had announced the Golden Boy's downfall and revealed the fact that Harry Potter had repeatedly failed to pass one of the crucial tests required for entry into the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. But at that point, Draco had long been over whatever had passed between them in the corridor. Barely noticed by the wizarding world, the Muggle stock market had crashed and with it, Gringotts had gone down. Draco had been busy, opening vaults at Malfoy Bank for customers like the Rosiers ...

He shook his head, trying to clear it of the memories. Granger -- Granger had called. Draco looked to Katerina who was waving at him with a slip of parchment.

"Actually," she said calm and all business, as if her boss had not been staring blank-eyed into the fireplace for the last few minutes, "it was not Mrs. Granger-Krum who called from the Ministry. It was a Floo-call by the secretary of the new head of the Department of Mysteries. Mr. Black?" She gave him a questioning glance.

Draco nodded. "Yes, Black. What's with him?" The Prophet had been attacking the Minister of Magic for days about appointing a member of the Black family as Head of such an important Department. A wizard, who had been with the Unspeakables only for two years, too. Marius Black. Draco had never heard of him, and neither had Mother. A bit of a mystery man, Draco supposed. But what could this new Department Head want from him? "What's the message, Katerina?"

"Apparently," Katerina said, reading from the parchment as if she didn't know the message by heart, "Mrs. Granger-Krum has been removed from the Love Project. Mr. Black has made the project his number one priority. He is sending his greetings to his cousin ..." She looked up. "That would be you, sir."

"Yes, I got that. What does he want?"

"An appointment at the Department of Mysteries. Monday morning, nine o'clock sharp. It's about your participation in the Project, Mr. Black's secretary said." She shrugged and Vanished the parchment with a flick of her wand. "I am sorry, sir, but I couldn't find out more from her. Very close-lipped witch."

With a very bossy boss, apparently. Mother had told him that there had been a squib once in the Black family with the name of Marius Black. The Ministry was full of idiots, but somehow Draco doubted a squib could infiltrate the Department of Mysteries. A niggling sense of premonition filled his mind. This new "cousin" of his spelled trouble.

Draco told Katerina to get his coat, scarf and gloves. It was freezing outside. Not the ideal weather for a stroll down Knockturn Alley. The traders might be too scared to get the Veela potion for him. But the Ministry's secrets were always to be had for a handful of Galleons and a pointer or two as to which Muggle stocks to buy or auction off.

*


It was one of those clear nights in early April, the air filled with all the promise of spring, but still freezing cold. Harry Potter had been hiding in the branches of a street-side poplar tree for nearly three hours now. Not a soul had come stumbling down Little Compton Street, not even one pissed wizard. Harry briefly wondered whether wizards were not drinking anymore in Soho.

But then, he was not out to watch for drunks. He was here because up in the flat on the fifth storey of the Edwardian townhouse opposite the poplar, Pansy and Adam Bagnold had pitched their marital tents. Heir to one of rich "new blood" wizarding families, Adam had married Pansy Parkinson, much to the chagrin of his parents. Pansy had grown into feminine curves and a pair of tits that appealed very much to the straight fraction of marriageable wizards. Pansy was working as a freelance journalist for Witches' Weekly, she was pure-blood, supposedly. But really, nobody had ever much checked on just how pure the Parkinsons really were, and Harry would not start digging into that pail of worms. His job was with Pansy Bagnold née Parkinson and whoever shared her bed these days. His client, the venerable Horatio Bagnold, married to the former Minister for Magic, Millicent Bagnold, and father of Pansy's husband, had been very clear about what he wanted: a name, pictures, irrefutable evidence. The words divorce trial had been mentioned. But Harry had not yet come up with any kind of evidence, irrefutable or not.

The moon's light was a blurry sliver of silver on the wet pavement. Not an ideal night for observation. But this was the weekend when Adam was away, hunting in the countryside. If Pansy had an affair, then Harry would get his pictures tonight. A name perhaps, even. There were six windows on the fifth storey, arranged in groups of three. The windows to the right were ablaze with what had to be hundreds of lighted candles. Parlour, drawing room, then a fainter light that had to belong to a smaller bedroom or study of some kind. On the left there was a balcony leading off from what Harry suspected to be the master bedroom. All of those rooms were lying in the dark.

He shifted on the broom and thought about pouring himself a cup of tea. In his bag he'd stowed away the tools of his trade, all shrunken and spelled light by a Levitation Charm: camera, two sets of Extendable Ears, battered Muggle thermos, enchanted switchblade, various emergency potions. And his Invisibility Cloak. In the beginning of his career -- if one could call it that, and Ginny certainly hadn't considered sleuthing any kind of career she wanted a future husband of hers to pursue -- in the beginning Harry had wondered whether it was right to use one of the legendary Deathly Hallows for spying on other people's dirty secrets. Somehow it had felt as if now that Voldemort was gone, the Cloak belonged into a tomb like the Elder Wand. But the Cloak, together with the Marauders' Map, was all his father had left to him. And over time, Harry had come to think that perhaps his father -- Marauder that he'd been -- would not have minded so much that Harry used his gift to make a living as one of the Pinkerton detectives of the wizarding world.

The tea was bitter and hot. Just as Harry screwed the top back onto the thermos, a figure was approaching number four, Little Compton Street. A man, broad-shouldered and tall, dressed in ankle-length robes. A perfect fit for the description of Pansy's paramour that Mr. Bagnold had given Harry. The man stepped onto the marble steps leading up to the entrance. Immediately golden light spilled from the stone arc. A complicated Lumos, was Harry's guess, charmed so that a hidden lantern alighted when wizard or witch came close to the door. The man's hair was a dark brown, framing his face in soft short waves. Harry quickly dropped the thermos into the bag and took out the camera. The man turned the very moment when Harry took the first picture. He was looking up and down the street, perhaps to check if someone was watching him enter the house.

Through the camera's lens Harry recognised him instantly. Montague looked older, of course, but he was easily identifiable in the light. Ever since he had returned from the Vanishing Cabinet something was wrong with his face, as if one side no longer fit the other. A purplish scar ran up his left cheek, another seemed to cleave his chin in half, but it was more than that. Perhaps the cheekbones no longer aligned, or perhaps Montague's chin had been smashed and awkwardly mended. Harry took more pictures, just in case. But he doubted very much that Montague was Pansy's secret lover. The man was commonly known to frequent the gay clubs over at Old Compton and Greek Street.

Also, Montague was living with Malfoy, was his lover, for all that the Prophet was telling these days. Never mind all the other men Malfoy was going out with. It was not as if Harry cared. But he knew that Malfoy was still close to Pansy -- from his research, he told himself, every good sleuth needed to do research. But he had known this long before Horatio Bagnold ever set foot into Harry's dingy detective agency. So Montague had been living in Malfoy Manor for the last three years. Three years and five months, to be precise. And it was not as if Harry was counting the days. But he remembered with startling clarity the moment when he'd opened the Prophet's society page one morning, the bold headline staring at him, and the picture of a smiling Draco Malfoy with his arm around the shoulders of Prospero Montague, looking uncertainly into the camera. Harry had never known Montague's first name. At Hogwarts he'd always been just Montague, to everyone, even to the lot from Slytherin House. Prospero. Harry hated the thought that Malfoy would shape a P with those perfect, thin pink lips, but not say his name, not say Potter. Obsessed? Not Harry Potter, surely. Least of all with Draco Malfoy, ex-Death Eater-scum-turned-most-prestigious-banker-of-the-wizarding world.

Down on street-level, the heavy entrance door opened, and Montague disappeared in the house. Harry crossed the street and flew closer. In this post-Voldemort world, spelled windows had become a rarity for wizarding flats, reserved for the underground levels of the Ministry for Magic and Muggle-only areas. Certainly nobody would spell their windows shut in Little Compton Street. Behind the curtains a long-haired shadow stepped in front of the middle window to the right. The woman had to be Pansy. Harry had observed her entering the house two hours ago. The shadow moved away, then was joined by a second, taller one. Harry took a picture, but the shadows barely touched. A soft acknowledgment of each other's presence, nothing like the lover's kiss or passionate embrace that his client hoped for.

Harry meant to put the camera back into his bag -- Montague was not the evidence needed for a divorce trial -- when something bright flickered to his left. He quickly steered the broom closer to the balcony. The bedroom lay in utter darkness, as much as Harry strained to discover the shimmer of candle-light or the flash of a Lumos. Still, he had seen something, and three years as a private detective had taught him to trust his instincts. He got out his Invisibility Cloak, draped it over himself and the broom. Carefully he flew over the balcony's cast-iron railing, then landed behind one of the stone pillars and dismounted. Invisible he stepped towards the balcony doors and pressed his face against the glass. With the light of the street lamps and the sickle-thin shine of the moon, it was still brighter outside than inside the room. Harry saw nothing but pitch-black dark.

Five storeys below, the heavy entrance door creaked loudly, and Montague returned to the street. A short visit then. He pulled up his hood and went quickly towards Greek Street. From the looks of it he was heading for Wombwell's Circus, the closest wizarding tavern connected to the Floo network.

Harry thought about taking a last picture of Montague. But there was no need. Oddly, he felt like a stalker now that Montague was leaving, as if he had glimpsed into the private lives of those Slytherin friends without need, but only to satisfy his curiosity about all things related to Malfoy. He touched the inside pocket of his jacket that held the wrinkled parchment from Wand Intelligence, the licensing agency for private wizarding investigators. He was doing his job, he reminded himself. And as embarrassing and nasty as this job might be, Horatio Bagnold wanted results, and Harry was going to get them. He needed the money. Rent was due the second of the month. And Mrs. Jades, thrilled as she was to have the Boy Who Lived live in her house, was no bank, as she said whenever Mister Potter was late with his payments, an event which occurred ever other month or so. The riches stored in the Potter vault had been heavily diminished during the recession, and few of all those many golden Galleons had survived the collapse of Gringotts. Harry had put number twelve, Grimmauld Place on the market a couple of years ago. An unnamed buyer had paid him more than the going rate, but still much less than the Noble and Most Ancient Home of the Black family would have realised ten years ago.

Montague was just about to disappear in Wombwell's, when a soft noise came from the dark bedroom. One of the balcony doors opened and Harry lunged behind the pillar. A man stepped out, a dark shadow against the faint light reaching up from the streetlamp below. His body was naked but for a loose pair of trousers. Harry ducked further against the wall and tried to keep his breathing slow and quiet. The man was not more than five feet away from him. Until this moment Harry had not truly believed Horatio Bagnold's suspicions, had thought them unfounded slander, fabricated to get rid of a daughter-in-law unbefitting the Bagnolds' position in wizarding society. But here was proof: a tall man with closely cropped hair, broad-chested, young, too, by the looks of it. And a very fine arse, Harry couldn't help but notice when the man moved forward. His back looked as if sculpted from slate, darkly gleaming muscle and bone covered with smooth skin. The man put his arms on the railing, leaned against it to watch the street or the sky. Perfectly relaxed, like the flat was his own and he'd stepped out for a moment.

Job or not, there was no denying that Harry liked what he saw. Liked it very much. He had always appreciated girls, their melodious voices, the feeling of long soft hair between his fingers. But never had his body reacted instantly to girls like it did now, to the well-shaped, masculine body of a stranger in the night. It was one of Harry's character traits that had not sat well with the mind testers of the Auror Division. Harry -- or rather Hermione -- had suspected he was gay ever since that crazy sixth year at Hogwarts. Anything more than snogging and holding hands with Ginny had felt wrong, somehow. He could admit that to himself now. And he'd acknowledged years ago those dreams of blond hair falling into shadowed eyes, of slender, pale limbs, of rough, determined touch and the feel of hard cock against his groin. The bodies in his wanking fantasies were blurry, but definitely male. Then there'd been this one dream, of Malfoy standing before the picture of Barnabas the Barmy up on the seventh floor at Hogwarts. Harry still recalled Malfoy's head falling back against that group of trolls in pink ballet tutus, his vicious eyes closed for once, his thin lips opened slightly. Harry remembered vividly what had never happened, what he'd never felt, heard or tasted -- Malfoy tugging at his hair, Malfoy whispering his name, Malfoy's spunk on his tongue ...

So Harry was gay. And so what if it was Malfoy whom he'd been obsessing over for all those years? Sometimes Harry would take home a bloke, making it a point of not looking for the blond and slender type. It felt good, it gave his body the relief it needed. Sometimes it was hot, but none of them were Malfoy. The mind testers from the Auror Division had called it a pubescent fixation. Shacklebolt had handed their report to Harry on the day he told him that he was not cut out to be an Auror. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement was not willing to tolerate recruits, no matter how famous, who were obsessed -- perversely, sexually obsessed -- with former Death Eaters.

Staring at the muscled back in front of him, Harry almost missed Pansy who'd come out of the bedroom. She had cast a Lumos, its light spilled out onto the balcony. Harry withdrew even deeper into the shadows. As quietly as he could he positioned the camera before him. For this was what he had been looking for: irrefutable evidence. Pansy stepped towards the man and put her arms around his waist. He leaned back against her with a quiet laugh. The low throaty sound seemed vaguely familiar. The profile of the man's sharp, straight nose was outlined against the dim light of the moon. Ah ... could it truly be him? Harry held the camera up and took a picture, then another one, a third. There was not nearly enough light, but he was taking his chances. A few enhancing charms could do wonders to under-exposed photographs.

"Watching the stars?" Pansy whispered into the hair of her lover.

The man turned, grabbed her by the hips and drew her close. Harry took another picture. He was certain now of the identity of the man, there was no mistaking that handsome face. Zabini. Once Prince Charming of Slytherin House, now celebrated host of a new wireless celebrity show. Harry would have never thought that Zabini would go for a married woman, much less for Pansy. For a second he wondered whether those intimate touches didn't mean what he thought they did. Slytherins were oddly physical that way, he'd noted. But then Zabini leaned down and kissed Pansy, slow and tender, and no, this was no ploy to get at the Bagnolds' money, this was the amour fou Bagnold Senior had been hoping for. And it was just like Harry, really, to know a word like this and recognise true love when he saw it.

"I rather watch you," Zabini said when they came up for air. He made no effort to speak quietly, and the sound of his voice startled Harry out of his thoughts. He quickly took a series of picture, catching Pansy's pleased smile and Zabini brushing a strand of hair from her face.

Somehow the camera made all of this seem less like spying, and more like a job. A legitimate job, Harry reminded himself, as he watched Pansy draw Zabini inside the bedroom again. Adultery was still considered a crime in the wizarding world, especially within the pure-blood circles. And private investigators investigated crime. It was their job. Still, as Harry took one picture after another, of Zabini pulling the robes off Pansy's shoulders and exposing bare breasts, of Pansy untying the lacings of his trousers and stroking his erection, he couldn't help feeling that he had no business here. He stopped taking pictures then, this was as irrefutable as evidence got. But as much as Harry wished that his conscience, modesty, or even plain common sense had made him stop, he knew better than that. There was no denying his dick that had shown interest ever since he'd watched Zabini in the moonlight. And something gathered in his chest, a feeling that left him gasping for breath.

These were Malfoy's friends. The thought kept going around in his head, as he watched, mesmerised. Pansy was stroking Zabini's swollen cock and his dark-skinned belly, her breasts touching his chest. Zabini's trousers hung low below his arse, perfectly shaped like an ebony heart. His hands seemed to be all over Pansy's body, tugging and tearing at her robes, until they became undone. Something about the contrast of those bodies -- dark and pale, slender and full-figured -- made Harry stare and stare, unable to look away, unable to move.

He only turned away when they stumbled towards the bed, and Pansy extinguished the light with a snap of her fingers. Harry stared at the camera in his hands and for a crazy second he wanted to toss it over the railing, see it shattered in a thousand pieces on the pavement. He would never do it. The camera had been Colin's, and he'd rather die than destroy it. But he couldn't destroy something else, either. Not after he'd seen them together like this. Harry Potter, private investigator, had done quite a few things in his life that he was not proud of, but he knew a right thing when he saw it. He had the name, he had the pictures, he had the evidence needed to ruin all of Pansy's chances to come out of a divorce unscathed. But Horatio Bagnold would never hear about any of this. Not if Harry could help it.

*


Monday Morning, 9 am

The days are long for him, but he's getting close to his goal. It is mere weeks until Beltane, and this year he will not miss his chance. This year he will step back through the hawthorn gate at the church of St Mary Magdalene. His guide is just about to arrive.

For a moment Rodolphus Lestrange sees Lucius before him, young and proud, like in those first years when they followed the Dark Lord. But the man entering his office in the Ministry never reached Lucius' height, and then he notices Narcissa's softness. Not in his face, that is all Lucius, angles and points, grey eyes sharp and cold. But the Blacks' grace is in his step, the way his hands move when he speaks. It brings up memories of sparkling silver frost and fairy lights, of Bellatrix in flaming red robes on their first dance at the Yule Ball. Music was in her blood, and Lucius' son has it, too, his slender body graced with a dancer's gift.

Draco does not recognise him, takes him as this distant cousin, Marius Black, whom Rodolphus invented to accomplish his plan. When they shake hands, he feels Lucius' firm hold. With it comes the memory of ash, of a sweetness that burns through him like honeyed fire. It takes nothing more to make him remember what he set out to do: Draco Malfoy will be the tool of his revenge, the path taking him back to where he longs to be.

The Veela runs strong in Lucius' son. It wraps him in a shimmer of golden green, visible only to those who have been to the Forbidden Realm. Rodolphus rarely thinks of it, but now he recalls every Beltane with instant clarity, every day and hour spent in the covey's company. Voldemort took Bellatrix from him; Lucius sacrificed him to the land of Wiltshire and the Veela. Rodolphus will not lose Angels forever. Fate owes him.

And so he talks, explains, asks subtle questions. It startles him how ignorant Draco is of his task. However did Lucius think Wiltshire would survive? The land has been slowly dying ever since this ignorant new Provider failed to fulfil his family's oath that he's bound to by his name and his blood. The Veela covey must be shaken to the core -- the land is the source of their life. They will die a slow death, too, if it dies. But he will save them -- Loveknight, Billypeak, even that Amazon hag, Shimmerburg. And the Veela Queen, of course -- Angels. After he is done with Draco Malfoy, she will be his again.

*


Squeezed in between All Cauldrons' Troubles insurances and the noisy, smelly workshops of Gambol and Japes, Draco could make out two grimy windows which had to belong to Potter's detective agency. If he had known that the Golden Boy lived just across the street from Malfoy Bank, he might have paid him a visit earlier. Then again, perhaps not. The door leading up to the second storey hung off its lose hinges. Draco pushed it open, wand at the ready, and stepped into the dark hallway. Something moved, and when he cast a quick Lumos he saw the naked tail of an enormous rat disappear behind the garbage bins. He almost turned to leave and give the job to one of the trustworthy, clean-shaven private investigators Malfoy Bank usually hired for their more clandestine inquiries. Then he reminded himself of the events of the day. Trustworthy and clean-shaven just wouldn't do for the job at hand. It had to be Potter, no matter the hovel he called his office. Hard times called for drastic measures.

Draco stepped over the broken tiles of the hallway and went up the stairs. It had started with an owl by Pansy this morning, telling him in a few choice words that his latest conquest had got him front-page coverage of the Prophet again. The Howlers came even before he got the paper delivered. Mother's owl from Paris had arrived shortly afterwards. News spread fast in the wizarding world. Benoit Rosier claimed he had been sexually assaulted by the chairman of Malfoy Bank. He had filed an official complaint with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. No word about their new partnership, yet Draco suspected someone from the Rosier family was having second thoughts. But he'd be damned if he had Rosier's signatures revoked in exchange for a withdrawal of the complaint. There would be no out-of-court settlements this time. He worked too hard for this. And Benoit, damn the bloody bastard, had wanted this fuck as much as Draco had.

A silver cauldron was engraved into the high double glass doors of the insurance firm. Further down the hallway, the floor was covered with layers of dust and odd pebbles that looked suspiciously like bat shit. In the dim light of a naked light bulb, Draco discovered a smaller door, which he first took for a broom-closet. Then he saw the yellowed piece of parchment pinned to the wood. In his barely legible scrawl Potter had written HJ Potter -- Private Investigations on it. Draco would have left at the sight, but a sharp tingling between his shoulder blades reminded him of why he'd come here.

Marius Black had turned out to be a tall, bearded man in a spotless white Muggle lab-coat. Granger's office had been transformed into a potions laboratory; Mount Augustus was replaced by the standard Ministry view into a dull courtyard with leafless trees. After minutes of idiotic chatter about the Malfoy estates, Black had informed Draco that his participation in the Love Project was no longer needed. When Draco asked about the potion, Black had first pretended ignorance, then declared that the Ministry would no longer give away such expensive and rare potions for free. Draco disagreed on the "for free"-part, but when he offered to pay for the potion, Black had glared at him from smouldering dark eyes. "The Ministry does not deal with Class A non-tradeable goods, my dear cousin," he had said, and that had been the end of it.

As he knocked at the door to Potter's office, Draco could have kicked himself for becoming so dependent upon the fuckwits from the Ministry. He should have looked into procuring the potion by other means years ago. He waited a full three seconds, then banged his fist against the door. Draco Malfoy was not in a patient mood today.

"Fucking hell!" Potter's slurred voice came from inside, then the door swayed open. Clearly this was all the invitation Draco was going to get. He gingerly stepped over the threshold into what resembled the wreckage of the Slytherin common room after the end-of-the-year-parties. Empty beer-bottles were lined up on the wall left of the door. Cardboard packages of Muggle take-away were stacked on top of Vanishable metal containers, the kind that Tom from the Leaky used to deliver his homemade food. To the right were two file cabinets, drawers opened precariously, overflowing with files. A layer of newspaper and parchment on the floor made do for carpeting. In the middle of the mess sat Potter, wand in hand, feet on his huge desk, a glass of what looked like Ogden's before him. He stared at Draco as if he was seeing a ghost.

"Potter! How are you?" Draco discovered a chair hidden beneath a month's worth of used robes and underwear. "Would you mind?" Draco cast a meaningful glance at the garments. "It may have escaped your notice, but a client just entered your office."

Potter shot up from his chair and Vanished the clothes in an instant. He pronounced the spell clear enough, and the mumbled sounds that followed had the ring of a half-arsed apology.

"These are your business hours, yes?" Draco asked because Potter still stared at him, leaning over the desk, wand upright, as if he was expecting an attack. "And you can put away the wand. As I said, I am here as a client."

"Er ..." The wand disappeared in the sleeve of Potter's jumper. Slowly he sank bank into his chair. The smell of stale sweat and spilled beer became stronger once Draco sat closer to the desk. There were deep shadows underneath Potter's red-rimmed eyes. His hair had grown too long, a dark stubble covered his chin and cheeks. His face was paler than Draco remembered. The Prophet was lying on the desk beside the glass of firewhisky, opened to a page further to the back. Draco knew exactly what article Potter had been reading. He had a clipping of it in his pocket. Pansy's owl this morning had held more news than the accusations of the Rosier boy.

"We both made headlines today, I see," he said, pointing towards the Prophet.

Potter nodded, but still stared at him, as if he was trying to figure out who exactly had come into his office and was talking to him.

"I have a job for you."

A slight turn of the head, a glint in those green eyes.

"Well, are you interested? Talk to me, Potter." This was going nowhere fast. Draco was willing to forfeit trustworthy and clean-shaven, but he needed a man capable of doing the job.

"Malfoy." Potter abruptly got up and walked towards a door in the back wall. "Give me a second, will you?" He had opened the door, when he turned. "And yes, I'm interested. In fact, I'm very much interested." With that he shook his wand out again, Vanished Tom's metal food containers and disappeared into the backroom while the Muggle take-away containers clattered to the floor.

"Salazar ..." Draco stared at the door in disbelief. This was so typical. He had left Katerina in the office with dozens of owls from clients concerned about the reputation of Malfoy Bank. They had to be dealt with, reassured. And Mother had notified him that she'd be Portkeying in from Paris and expected him to meet her for tea in the Manor. He didn't have all day for this.

He got up, walked around, trying to shake of the restlessness. Merlin, but Potter was a slob! And a drunk to boot, judging by the empty bottles of Ogden's piling around the file cabinet behind his desk. A crumpled blanket was lying on the floor, as if Potter had been sleeping in the chair. Draco picked it up and folded it, smoothing out the creases. The blanket smelled of Potter, sweat mixed with the faint aroma of lemon soap. His body reacted to it in the blink of an eye, arousal spreading fast from his groin to his fingertips while he kept stroking the blanket, enthralled by the harsh, sturdy wool. He wanted to touch Potter's face, rub his cheek against the stubble and press his whole body close to the man. Draco pulled the blanket towards him, when a fine sharp pain shot through his shoulder blades. With a gasp he dropped the blanket and stumbled backwards against the desk.

Damn, he needed the potion. And he shouldn't have come, should have send Briggs, his lawyer, to give Potter the job. But he had wanted to come now, hadn't he? Had wanted to see Potter again, talk to him up close, not like those chance encounters in the Leaky when they'd barely nodded at each other. What the fuck was it about the man that Draco just couldn't leave him bloody well alone?

He took a deep breath and rubbed his shoulders to ease the tingling pain. Potter was his last chance, that's why he was here. If he didn't get the potion soon, things would get messy again. Here he was, sporting a raging erection just from a whiff of Potter's smell and the feel of a blanket that Potter presumably had slept in. It was ridiculous. And it had to stop.

Draco kept rubbing his back when his eyes fell on the wall behind Potter's desk. Clippings, notes on slips of parchments, photographs and what looked like scribbled-on beermats were attached to the wall. With a Fixing Charm, Draco guessed from the haphazard way the notes were stuck over layers and layers of parchment. Quite the little investigator, Harry Potter was. Draco smiled, then he saw part of a nose and a dark eye that he recognised at once. He moved a couple of notes to the side, and the photograph came into full view. Blaise, half-naked on a balcony by night, with Pansy in his arms. It had to be at the Bagnold's flat in Little Compton Street. In the darkness behind the pair, Draco recognised the huge poplar opposite the street.

So Potter had indeed found evidence of Pansy's affair with Blaise. An "affair" that had been going on much longer than that farce of a marriage she'd got herself entangled in. Draco had never understood why Pansy felt she needed to marry the Bagnold git. He rather suspected her parents were behind it, even if she'd never admit it. He moved more of the notes and found two more pictures of Blaise and Pansy, undressing slowly in what obviously was foreplay to a hot and steamy fuck. This was devastating evidence -- why hadn't Potter come out with it?

Draco turned and looked again at the Prophet on the desk. Bagnold Claims Potter Investigations Fraud, the headline spelled, in smaller letters than his headlines on the front, but still dominating the page. In the article Horatio Bagnold was quoted in long detail about how the former saviour of the wizarding world had not been able to detect his daughter-in-law's shameless display of adultery. An investigator from a Muggle firm had come up not only with the name of her paramour within a mere day, but also provided irrefutable evidence in form of Muggle photographs.

It had been Pansy's idea that Draco should to go and ask Potter to search for the potion. She must have known that Potter knew about her affair. That for some reason he had decided not to betray her little secret, all irrefutable wizarding evidence on his wall notwithstanding. Pansy was odd like this, returning favours that she could not even be sure to have received. It made her even more of a Slytherin than him, Draco assumed, playing subtle games that he could hardly guess at. All he wanted to know was why Potter had missed a perfectly legitimate opportunity to give his dragging sleuthing career a much-needed boost.

He put the notes back in place, covering up the pictures of Blaise and Pansy. No need for Potter to notice that his client had been snooping around. Speaking of clients, how much longer did Potter --

Blond hair. His blond hair. Draco moved a beermat that had numbers scribbled all over it. There were more pictures of a very familiar man indeed, who was wearing his robes, his scarves, his leather gloves. What the fuck was Potter up to, taking picture after picture of him? In the Leaky, reading a newspaper. On Diagon Alley, walking towards the Bank. And this one? Potter must have taken it ages ago, for it showed him with Montague, coming out of the Fortress, all giggly and pissed as hell.

Draco heard the door open and close, then Potter stood beside him at the desk. He didn't look at Draco, but stared at the wall, at the dozens of photographs, close-ups and shots from a distance, Draco Malfoy looking up into the sky, shaking his head, turning a page, walking a few steps. The floor was littered with the notes that Draco had dropped to reveal all of this.

Potter rubbed his hand over his face, a furious blush creeping up his cheeks. He'd taken a quick shower, changed his clothes. He looked good in a green Muggle shirt and black trousers. Tired still, and he hadn't shaved, but Draco didn't mind. He stared at Potter. Potter, who had followed him around and taken pictures of him, secretly, hiding them underneath his notes on the wall. Had Potter been stalking him? Did he still suspect him of some dark evil, like he'd done all through Hogwarts? Draco opened his mouth to defend himself against -- Merlin, he didn't even know against what. But then he noticed Potter's erection -- big and hard, clearly visible underneath those Muggle trousers. The smell of lemon soap was around him, with a whiff of turpentine. And the pieces fell into place, one after the other: Potter waiting for him in that Ministry corridor, Potter's disastrous coming out, Potter's shy smile whenever they met. Harry sodding Potter wanted him, wanted Draco Malfoy. It was a cosmic joke but Draco couldn't laugh. His mouth had gone dry as his blood rushed south with a need that was almost painful. He ached to touch Potter, wherever. He should never have come here, running low on the potion like this. Now he was fucked.

"This," Potter started, "I can explain it, I can. If you ..."

"Come here." The Allure was strong in Draco's voice, and he saw immediately what it did to Potter. His breath stuttered, a swift flicker of the tip of his tongue. He moved one hand towards his neck as if to get a hold on himself. The other went instinctively towards his groin.

Slowly Potter stepped in front of Draco, careful not to touch him anywhere. He stared at the floor, perhaps at Draco's crotch hidden underneath his robes, but Draco wanted to see him. He put his hands on Potter's hips and pulled him close. "Look at me", he whispered.

And Potter raised his head and looked straight at Draco. Merlin, what was it with those glasses? The light reflected off of them, distracting Draco from Potter's lips that quivered like he was about to cry. Or about to kiss. "Take them off," he ordered softly.

Potter obeyed at once, like he was under Imperius. He didn't take his eyes from Draco when he put the glasses on the desk. And perhaps that order had been a mistake, for Draco found himself gasping at the green intensity of Potter's eyes, sparkling and dark with desire. A strange urge came over him, to smooth out the creases around Potter's eyes, to caress those lips until they opened into a small smile. Potter's eyes fluttered shut, but he held all still, leaning ever so slightly into Draco's touch.

"Put your arms around my neck," Draco said.

Something flashed across Potter's face, like he was in pain. "No, Malfoy, that's not a good ... I don't think ..." He didn't finish but didn't move, either. What was it with that man? Did he think Draco was going to hurt him, when he was so much gentler than he had been in a long time? Much gentler definitely than he'd ever been without the potion. And this was like it had been without the potion, there was no denying the heat flooding his entire body, the crazy need to be with Potter, right now, here on this desk.

"Put. Your arms. Around. My neck," he said again, letting his voice go husky.

Potter's hands were sweaty and trembling, yet their hesitant embrace sent sparks through Draco's body. The tingling in his shoulder blades turned into something else, something that pushed painfully against his skin and made him move forward and pull Potter close, to have their bodies touch. Oh, and he should stop this now, he should. But then Potter moaned softly, his breath warm, his lips so close to Draco's cheek, his chest hard against him. Draco couldn't stop, not when it felt so good, brilliant like nothing had felt in years. He moved his hands over Potter's back, his arse, his thighs. He was less lean than Draco liked his lovers to be, but he felt wonderful, smooth and firm. Draco's erection was pressing into Potter's soft belly, his fingers were digging into cloth, flesh and muscles. Merlin, he was aching for Potter's naked skin, so much he could feel his fingertips go numb with the need of it.

Potter leaned close to him and whispered, "Kiss me," and again, "Kiss me."

Draco was helpless against the rough, dark voice. His lips opened, and Potter's mouth pressed against him. His legs spread wider, he cupped Potter's arse with both hands, to pull him in, to get more of him. Their dicks were grinding against each other, and Draco gasped out loud at the sweet thrill cutting through him.

Potter was pushing into his mouth now, and oh, Merlin, he tasted warm and sharp, a trace of Firewhisky on his to tongue that kept running over Draco's teeth and lips and sliding into him ever so often. Draco felt himself groan loudly, and Potter's hips jerked forward in response.

His hands were in Potter's hair, combing through the wet tangles and smoothing them out of Potter's face. Every unruly strand seemed to coil around the tips of Draco's fingers, making him pull at them with such hot, desperate need. He tried to think, tried to remember if it ever had been like this without the potion, the first time with Montague perhaps, or one of those crazy fucks back in Paris. But his body seemed to have a mind of its own, with flames piercing his shoulder blades like the points of a burning knife, and his dick frotting against Potter's, horny like a schoolboy. And no, Draco had never felt what he felt now, that he wanted to wrap Potter's trembling body in his arms and hold him and soothe him, and at the same time he wanted to tear that green shirt from Potter's skin, slam him onto the desk and pound mercilessly into that firm arse of his. It made him squirm and moan under Potter's lips, how much he wanted all of this.

He opened his eyes, as he pulled Potter's head closer. At first he thought strands of hair had stuck to the side of Potter's face. Drops of water spilled from the dark tangles, and this ... it ran in rivulets down Potter's forehead and cheeks, dripping lightly onto Draco's face. Potter must have seen it, too, for he leaned back from their kiss and moved one gentle finger over Draco's cheekbone. It came away red, and Potter's eyes went wide.

"What is ... are you ... are you all right?" he stammered, as Draco drew his hands from Potter's hair.

The odd thing was, it did not hurt. His fingers felt oversensitive, but fine. There was no pain, as there should be, with blood pressed out from underneath his nails, when sharp dark points pushed out of his fingers. Draco screamed, not from pain but from shock. He shoved Potter back, scrambled away from him, pressing his hands tightly against his stomach. Blood seeped through his fingers, it spilled over his knuckles and down his wrists, it dripped onto his robes and the floor. Red on the Prophet, red on the blanket, a spray of red on the scribbled parchments on the floor. Draco stared at it.

Potter leaned back at the wall, breathing hard. His face was white as a sheet underneath the dark stubble. It was the first clear thought that came back to Draco: that Potter had gone all white, when it was Draco whose worst nightmare had come true. For this was it. There had been dribbles of blood on his cuticles sometimes during sex, in the times before he'd taken the potion. But nothing like this. Mother had told him about it, about the Revelation, and that it was nothing to be feared, a beautiful thing, a Veela thing. But he couldn't, couldn't ...

"Potter," he rasped, "you have to get me a potion. It's illegal and you won't like it, but you're a private detective, right? You do stuff like this." He searched -- with his bleeding hands, the sharp points shredding the lining -- the pockets of his robes and found the piece of parchment where he'd written down the potion's name. "Here, it's this. I ... I need it." He held out the parchment to Potter, trying hard to ignore the pleading tone in his voice. Pansy had been so sure that Potter would take the job, that with his connections to that red-headed fool from Wizard Wheezes he'd be able to find the potion, somewhere. His hand was trembling, when Potter took the blood-smeared parchment from him.

"Do you need to go to St Mungo's? I can Apparate you there," he said quietly. He never glanced at the note, just looked at Draco, eyes bright with worry.

It was too much to bear, really. "Just get me the potion, will you, Potter?" Draco felt the tingling in his fingertips subside and he unclenched his fists. There was not a trace of the protracting claws, and the bleeding had stopped. He moved away from Potter, closer to the door.

"Venenum Suffoco Alae," Potter read from the parchment, then looked up. "What is this, Malfoy? Does it have anything to do with ... whatever that just was?" He waved vaguely at Draco, or perhaps at the blood-spilled Prophet on his desk.

"Like I said, it's a potion. I'd like to have it, and Jiggers doesn't exactly carry it. You don't need to know more." He was at the door now, desperate to leave. "Will you take the job?"

Potter stared at him, then at the note in his hand. "Malfoy ..." His voice had gone soft as his finger moved over the blood on the parchment. "You ... you come here, you fucking kiss me like nobody's kissed me before. And then there's your blood all over ... what is that with your --?"

"It's fucking none of your business, Potter!" Draco tried to keep his voice down, but he was seconds away from losing it. He couldn't stand another minute here, in this dismal office, with Potter not five steps away from him. "Will you take the job?"

Potter must have seen the panic in Draco's face, for he nodded. "You ..." He crumpled the parchment in his hand. "I'll give it a try. No promises." He took one step forward, a move that made Draco retreat even further against the door. Potter stopped at once. "Please," he whispered, "what's with you? When can I see you --?"

Draco needed to leave. Now. "We'll meet again when you have the potion. Owl me." With that he stormed out of the office.

*


Outside in the corridor Draco walked a couple of quick steps, slowed down, then turned. He half expected to see Potter standing on the threshold, but the door had fallen shut behind him. Draco looked down at himself, at the mess of his blood-splattered robes. He shivered. That was it, then. He'd lost all control around Potter, bloody Potter with his bloody pictures, his hard cock, his dark voice and his kiss, his kiss that sent Draco spinning and completely losing it. It had done something to him, that kiss, done something to the damn Veela in him. What an idiot he'd been, coming here when he knew, when he fucking knew what Potter was capable of doing to him, had been doing to him ever since they'd met that first time at Madam Malkin's. He should have never ever come, not without the potion.

The potion ... Potter would get it for him. He had to.

Draco took a deep breath. And another. Then he dared to look at his hands. Red was smeared around the nails, and his fingers were sticky with drying blood. He shook out his wand and cast a Scourgify, harder than usually. It hurt as if he was scrubbing his nails with a wire brush, but the hurt felt good. It felt clean. He would have to scrub his nails and hands hard, with water and soap, when he was home at the Manor. Merlin, he needed to scrub his back that was aching and itching like crazy. But for now, his fingers looked fine. They were clean to the eye, with no trace of red left around the manicured cuticles.

Draco tried to clear his mind for Apparition. Determination ... Under no circumstances could he return to the Bank like this, a trembling mess and ... damn, he was still hard. How could Potter have such an effect on him? What was it with the git that Draco's dick developed a life of its own, wanting nothing else but rub against Potter with his cheap Muggle clothes, his tired, sad eyes, his flab from all the booze and take-away? Damn, he needed to go to the Manor, survive tea with Mother and then have a luxurious wank in a hot, lemon-scented bath. The Manor. Right. Destination ... He did the first step, preparing for the spin, concentrating on deliberation, the voice of their Apparition instructor still in his ear. Or was it Potter's voice, whispering Kiss me, making him dizzy and weak so he had to reach out for the banister. Clutching the smooth wood, standing in the cold white light that filtered into the corridor through the glass doors of All Cauldrons' Troubles -- that's when Draco smelled it. Bitter and fresh: a memory from the walks with his father in the woods around the Manor. The floorboards shifted, the banister dissolved under his hand and had him tumble forward and twist --

Sorrel ...

It grows on the path that opens before him. With each step he crushes the lancet-shaped leaves underneath his boots. High trees line the path, their shadows fall on the small stream that gurgles in the dark. At its bank lies Potter, naked and ghostly white. His green eyes stare into the sky, his hand clutches a piece of parchment smeared with ink and blood. Strawberries grow beside him. Their tiny star-shaped flowers and pale green berries are visible through the dark leaves. Through the trees the orange shine of a fire approaches. Fear stabs at Draco's heart. He takes off his robes and wraps them around Potter. They are white, his robes are, white as snow and soft like down, with a bluish grey pattern. Potter shifts underneath them, and
this one, Draco's heart pounds in his chest, his throat, this one, this one. The first wave of heat singes the wool of the robes and touches the tips of Potter's hair. Flickers of flame, the fire's vanguard, leap across the stream. There is something that Draco needs to do, something they have always done, here, in the wild. Sorrel, sorrel, strawberries and --

The flames leapt at the hem of his robes, as Draco Apparated right into the middle of the Manor's entrance hall. For a moment there was the sweet taste of strawberry juice on his lips, then he was down on the floor, knocked off balance from the impact of the spin. The marble floor was cold and soothing underneath his palms, white with grey veins at his cheek. He heard footsteps coming closer, then Mother's anxious call and heels clicking on the polished floor. Montague's deep voice came from the stairs, they were both running towards him.

He assured them that, no, he had not Splinched himself, he was fine, yes, all fine. When he found the strength to get up, he let Mother embrace him and smooth his robes. Montague took him by the arm and led him to the salon, where the house-elves had just set the table for lunch. He sat with them, but barely nibbled at the food. They talked for what seemed like hours, about the bloody business with Rosier, about the enraged clients, about damage control. Draco expected a firm reprimand, but Mother seemed to sense that something was not right with him. She gave him an odd look from her blue eyes, then told him to rest. Finally, he could retreat to his rooms, strip off the robes, get out of the clothes that were burning him alive. Every part of his body where Mother had touched him, where Montague had held him, felt hot and blistered. But when he looked at his skin, it was unharmed. He ran a bath, and in his bathroom of green-veined marble, Draco started thinking clearly again.

He had lived with visions for all his life. Father had had them, Aunt Bella, too. Not the big ones that became prophecies, not those. Those only came to true Seers. But these little glimpses into the future or some other time, dream-like visions like many wizards and witches experienced occasionally. So it had been a vision that he had seen in Potter's corridor. It was not his first, but usually he saw only the rolling hills of Wiltshire. He thought that maybe he had seen that path in a vision before, but certainly not Potter and never fire. He had no idea what the vision meant, only that Potter was in danger. The piece of parchment in his hand was easy enough to read. Likely Potter was already out now, searching for a highly illegal potion, with the Ministry and a bunch of rabid Veela on his heels. Potter needed more information. And yes, Draco should have stayed and warned him, never mind that without the potion, Draco was turning into a sex-crazed, blood-dripping freak around Potter. Even here, in the cold water, he was getting hard again, just thinking about the git.

Draco leaned back against the marble. The feel of the cold smooth stone relieved the tingling in his shoulder blades that had started up again. He couldn't allow himself to get so out of control. So, yes, he would meet again with Potter. Together they'd come up with a plan to keep Potter away from the Veela and out of trouble. And as soon as Draco had the potion, he'd fuck Potter good and get him out of his system, once and for all.

That night, he sent an owl off to Potter, asking for an urgent meeting the very next day.

Then Draco went to Montague. They fucked for hours, until Montague's arse couldn't take it anymore. But Draco, his prick so hard he could scarce bear it to be touched, never spilled his load. He blamed it on Father, the bastard, and those curst Veela. Only in the early morning, when he'd gone back to his own bed, did he let himself think of Potter -- how warm his body had been, how strong his hands, how his teeth had grazed Draco's lips so gently. It was then that he came, with a force that made him moan and tremble, long after his release.

*


A Couple of Days Later

He is back, but it is a different kind of homecoming. Rodolphus' last memory of the Manor is the pale moon over the gabled roof, a ghostly white peacock staring down at him, as he and Lucius set out for the Church of St Mary Magdalene.

The peacocks are gone and much else has changed. How can Lucius' son not see the desolation of the land? A soft spring breeze is awakening all of England, but Wiltshire still lies deeply asleep. The Manor's stately trees are stark and bare, Narcissa's flower garden is covered with the wilted stalks of last year's bloom. The quiet rings eerily through this stunted land, no cuckoo calls, no woodpecker drums the trees. The birds must have fled the Manor grounds.

He takes the withered garland from his bag, dusty dark green stalks, woven and twined into the wreath that binds the Consort to the Queen. It suits the Manor's winter sleep, this entanglement of dead twigs that lost all colour and is devoid of the freshness of spring. The Garland Gay was returned to him when the Veela returned him to his world.

All the carefully tended potted plants in the Manor's winter garden are in full bloom. When he slips through the glass doors, the smell of orange blossoms overwhelms him. Narcissa always takes her breakfast here, amidst this display of nature perfected by magic. She will remember the Garland when she discovers it, will remember having seen it in Lucius' hands. It's the first step on a path that will bring him back to the Realm and into Angels' arms again.

Rodolphus Lestrange places the wilted wreath casually on the breakfast table, a dead thing on the sparkling surface of the graceful metal stand. The house-elves won't touch it, they know better than to come between the Veela and their wizarding spawn. Then he leaves the grounds in the blue hour of the day, just before the sun rises.

*


The Queen would be very pleased, Shimmerburg thought. The Veela was hiding, crouched behind the potted orange trees, when the Garland Gay was delivered to the Malfoy Manor. Rodolphus had done what every Consort should, in the rare cases when a human survived the Veela Coupling: make sure the Provider knew his task, and if he had forgotten the Sacred Oath, remind him of it and make him deliver the Sacrifice. The land had gone without the true Beltane rite for too many years, it showed in the spring that would not touch Silbury Hill, it showed in the green that would not come, in the Squibs and cripples born to humankind. Rodolphus was an odd one. Shimmerburg hat never trusted him.

The brooding wizard had left the Manor too quickly. He should have handed the Garland to the Provider, person to person. He should not have left it on a table for those tiny elves to touch it, or for anybody else. Nobody but descendants of Veela kind were to know about the Oath and the Garland's gift.

But Rodolphus left, robes swirling as he spun and vanished, in the magical ways of wizarding kind. He never saw the other wizard with hair dark as a blackbird's feathers and scars in his face. This one lived in the Manor, he was the Provider's companion, even though -- Shimmerburg sensed -- they were not mates.

The wizard stepped into the winter garden and took the Garland in his hands. Shimmerburg gasped as it came to life under his touch. New shoots sprung from the entwined twigs, coloured them all different shades of green as one leaf after the other unfolded and grew until the wreath was bursting with flowers, white, yellow and the pale purple of bellflowers. Small star-shaped flowers turned into fruit, and strawberries ripened from whitish-green to pink to mouth-watering red. The wizard stared at the Garland Gay, and he crushed berry between his lips. Shimmerburg could hear his startled sigh as the sweetness of the berries made him sway. Ah, wizarding kind were never immune to the Veelas' charms, not even this one who had no drop of Veela blood in his veins. He clutched the Garland to his heart, then carried it back into the Manor.

Shimmerburg watched him leave. Hopefully he would bring the Garland to the Provider. And hopefully that curst blond wizarding spawn finally got a clue as to what to do with it. Shimmerburg herself had brought the Garland to the Manor faithfully every year before Beltane, reminding the Provider of his family's oath. But he had never delivered the Sacrifice. He had never brought a human Consort to the Veela Queen, and it was the covey and the land of Silbury Hill that suffered for it.

But there was hope. This year, the Garland made its choice. And the Consort had accepted the gift, Shimmerburg had seen it with her own eyes. This year, there would be a Consort for Angels the Queen. Silbury Hill would come to life again. Her task here was done. Slowly she rose from behind the orange plants and gave a last disgusted sniff at their artificial smell. Wizarding magic ... So overrated when compared to the living, breathing smell of the wild. Out in the garden, she touched the thorny stems of the roses and absent-mindedly caressed last year's dead leafs. She smiled when the bushes erupted in a flurry of dark green foliage and white buds opened and flowered beautifully once the first sunlight touched them with their warmth.

*


Malfoy's owl had said to meet out in Wiltshire, in the village of Winterbourne Monkton that Harry knew to be close to the Malfoy Estates. For a full three seconds he had contemplated not going, because honestly, why couldn't they meet in Diagon Alley? Malfoy came into London every day, sometimes even on the weekends. Harry knew his working hours better even than Malfoy's secretary. But of course he had Apparated to this empty field just outside the village. How could he not come, after Malfoy had appeared, out of nowhere, in his office, and kissed him and looked at him from those bright grey eyes as if Harry were the centre of his world? How could he not come when Malfoy was clearly in trouble? Harry had spent half the night in Hermione's library, and the few hours back at his place he'd been tossing between the sheets, thinking about Malfoy ...

It was going on noon, a mild day with more than just the promise of spring in the air. Harry was walking down the narrow road towards the church that he had discovered behind the dark, leafless branches of the trees. We will meet at the entrance of St Mary Magdalene, Malfoy's owl had said.

A sense of expectancy was lying over the rural houses amidst the large gardens, hidden by hedges and shrubs. A Muggle farm building of red brick was visible at the end of the road; the roof of the Manor Farm peaked out above the row of old elms. Winterbourne Monkton was almost all Muggle, but Harry would bet the Manor Farm was owned by wizards. It was hard to tell but something about the dilapidated roof made him think that it was held together by magic. The road was broad enough for cars, but no one was driving. Harry hadn't seen anybody since he had arrived. In the shadow of the bald elms, the road seemed to be waiting for something to burst forth all of a sudden from the earth between the cracks in the pavement.

He walked over a narrow bridge that crossed over a stream, then came up to a row of cottages with walls built from whitish sarsen stone, some of them with thatched roofs. There was an unnatural stillness about the place. Harry listened for birds, for a breeze rustling through leaves, for chicken clucking in the backyards of those cottages. But there was nothing, not even the nosy villager who usually would have noted any stranger passing through the street. The curtains in the windows did not move; no doors stood ajar to be closed quickly when Harry came by. It was as if everybody in Winterbourne Monkton had taken a large dose of Sleeping Draught.

Before one of the cottages the bare branches of an overgrown forsythia were hanging into the footpath at the side of the road. Harry had been at the Burrow just last weekend. There, the forsythias had been in full bloom, a yellow hedge brimming with insect life around Molly's vegetable garden. He stopped to touch a leafless, flowerless branch. It felt wet, and the buds in the wood were hard and cold, as if all life had retreated to the roots, like in the depth of winter. On the ground Harry discovered a scraggly bunch of snowdrops. They were not even out of the soil all the way but already the leaves were covered with small brown spots. The white-green petals of the flowers were wrapped in a greyish netting, thin and fragile like cobwebs, but Harry suspected more dangerous. He wondered how such a young plant could already be infected by disease.

Crouched low beside the wooden fence, he saw signs of impending spring everywhere -- green tips were pushing up from the earth between the fencepost and all over the garden. In the pots on the steps leading up to the blue cottage door, tiny shoots were growing. But all that fresh green was tainted with spots or mould. Harry rose and touched the fence. It felt wet, just like the forsythia branch. Flecks of paint came off the brittle wood. He looked over to the where the weather vane of St Mary Magdalene reached up into the blue sky. Malfoy was waiting there for him with whatever urgent news that could not wait.

For the better part of the night, Harry had researched the illegal potion Malfoy wanted. Hermione's library held all the books they had salvaged from the Black library before number twelve, Grimmauld Place, had been sold. Venenum Suffoco Alae turned out to be a potion that prevented Veela characteristics to surface in a wizard or witch with Veela blood in their ancestry. Malfoy's breakdown yesterday in Harry's office left little doubt that he needed the potion for himself. There had always been rumours of a stray Veela in the Malfoys' family tree, but frankly, Harry did not set much store by rumours. Rumour had him secretly married to the youngest daughter of the Minister for Magic, or heading an expedition to climb Mount Cho Oyu.

But Hermione had confirmed Harry's suspicion. She had been rather tight-lipped about it, confidentiality issues, she'd said. But Harry knew that Malfoy was part of the Love Project, and it was a close guess that it was because Malfoy had Veela blood. Harry usually took his clients confidentiality very serious, but not with Hermione who did so much unpaid research for Potter Investigations that she was a partner in all but name. He had told her about the job Malfoy had hired him for, and she in turn had entrusted him with the knowledge that the Love Project had supplied Malfoy with Venenum Suffoco Alae until she was ousted from it. By the looks of it, Malfoy had been ousted from the MLAAPP, too.

Perusing old potion books, turning one thick page after the other, scanning for anything relating to Veela, Harry hadn't been able to get Malfoy out of his mind. God, he'd fantasised enough about the man, the boy even, years back. He'd always thought that white-blond hair had to be so soft and sleek, like silk or velvet, no matter that Malfoy was a cold-hearted bastard who'd happily ruin a life with a word or a well-placed signature. Hermione said that Harry overrated his memory of Malfoy at Hogwarts, crying when only a ghost in the girl's loo was listening. She also said that Malfoy had changed -- whether for better or worse she never said -- and that Harry was obsessing about a fantasy image of a man whom he did not know at all. Which was -- well, Harry guessed she had a point. But then, he had never believed that Malfoy was a nice person, not ever. Yes, he'd seen him crying, he'd seen him afraid, he'd seen him lowering his wand that had been shaking all along. But he also had seen Malfoy mercilessly bullying everyone whom he deemed beneath himself, whether they were poor, Muggle-born or simply an easy target. He knew from first-hand experience that Malfoy hadn't given a flying fuck about all the wizarding businesses and family fortunes that went down along with Gringotts. In a way it fit that Malfoy's hair wasn't as soft as Harry had imagined. The blond strands had been almost as unyielding as Harry's own. Quite unlike Malfoy's hands that had been so surprisingly gentle when he checked out Harry's arse and drawn him into an embrace that had left Harry breathless with need and tenderness, both.

He didn't let himself think about the kiss. Not here, on this deserted, rural road, minutes before he'd meet Malfoy again. He'd told himself to not read too much into Malfoy's behaviour in his office. Harry was the one being obsessed with the man -- he had a mind healer's report testifying to the extent of his obsession. Draco Malfoy was known to sleep around indiscriminately. Kissing Harry Potter meant nothing to him. In fact, they had snogged before in the Fortress' darkroom where one night Malfoy had come straight at him through the dim blue light and kissed him hard, tongue and teeth and spit. Malfoy had been too pissed to recognise him, but Harry had been floating in a happy bliss for weeks with the memory of that mindless kiss.

A narrow path led up to the church. With a few steps Harry reached the low stonewall surrounding the ancient cemetery and St Mary Magdalene. The limestone structure with the low tower and the extended nave must have stood closer to the village centre once, but over the course of time the centre had moved about a quarter mile up to the north. The sense of desertion was even stronger there than on the road and around the old cottages. For a moment Harry wondered whether the entire village had been cursed, and the barren branches and sickly plants were all an effect of that curse.

He walked around the church, but there was no trace of Malfoy. For a couple of minutes Harry waited at the front gate, then he strolled through the cemetery. Some of the crumbling headstones dated back to the sixteenth century. Harry touched them and felt the same wet cold like in the forsythia branch and the decrepit fence. If it hadn't been so eerily quiet, he would have missed the muted crack of Apparition from the other side of the church. Harry walked back to the church swiftly, expecting Malfoy to come strutting around the corner any moment. But nobody came. For a second time, Harry walked around the church until he found himself back at the church's front door. A wizard or witch had Apparated here, and Harry would be damned if it wasn't Malfoy. But where was the git hiding? And why?

Harry scanned the cemetery and the cottages of Winterbourne Monkton. The old Post Office was half hidden behind a row of leafless shrubs. There! A flash of white against the blackberry tangle covering the stone wall.

"Malfoy!" Harry's voice was too loud and shrill in that place; it felt as if the church's ancient sarsen walls were throwing the name back at him.

He took a couple of quick steps towards the blackberries, then stopped. They were to meet at the entrance of St Mary Magdalene. He would wait another five minutes, then Apparate to Malfoy Manor. If Malfoy was in trouble, somebody there would know about it. Malfoy had not gone to the Bank that morning. And today's Prophet had reported that Narcissa Malfoy was visiting England to deal with the aftermath of her son's latest escapades.

A sound, so entirely out of place in the deserted graveyard that Harry gasped, came from the footpath: the happy singsong of a child. The next moment a girl in a bright red skirt and a pink jumper was walking up towards the church. Only on second glance did Harry notice the awkward limp in her step. She waved at him, and he waved back. He couldn't help smiling at the bits of colour that the girl brought to the cemetery. When she came closer he saw that her left foot was turned inside with braces around her boots. Club-footed, was his guess.

"Sir," she called out to him, voice high from excitement, "are you Harry Potter, Sir?"

"The one and only," Harry muttered under his breath and walked towards her. "Hello," he said as the girl stood before him, staring up into his face with bright blue eyes. "I am Harry, yes."

She clapped both hands over her mouth then giggled through her fingers. "Your scar, Sir. It really does look like a thunderbolt."

Harry quickly reached for his scar. These days, he forgot about it most of the times. The girl kept giggling. She had to be a witch if she knew his name and about the scar. Only now Harry noticed the wreath of dried and faded flowers around her neck, a dark and dusty green against the pink wool of her jumper. He crouched before her and touched the dead leaves. Waiting for something to burst forth. A withered wreath, a dead forsythia branch, sickly snowdrops in April. The feeling of magic gone awry was so strong that Harry could hardly shake it from his mind. "What ... what's your name?" he asked the girl who had not taken her eyes from him.

"Eliza," she said. "I have a message for you, Sir, a message for Harry Potter." She smiled at him and reached out tentatively towards his forehead. She didn't touch him, clearly waiting for him to say it was all right to do so. Harry hated for people to touch the scar, but the girl seemed genuinely fascinating by the scar itself, not its bygone power or the painful memories it held for him, and so he nodded. Eliza's little fingers traced the lightning bolt, her touch so gentle that Harry barely felt it. Squib, he sensed as the girl's stunted magic tickled his scar.

"You have a message for me?" he asked.

Eliza withdrew her hand and stared at him open-mouthed, then blinked and in a swift move took the wreath from her neck. "He gave me this," she waited until Harry had taken the wreath from her hands, "and this." From a pocket hidden in the folds of her skirt she pulled out a folded piece of parchment.

Harry recognised the Malfoy's peacock seal immediately. He righted himself and looked around, but Malfoy was nowhere to be seen. Instead a man in Muggle clothes with a large white apron was leaning against the stone wall. When he saw that Harry had spotted him, he waved and walked slowly towards them.

"Eliza," Harry said, "who gave you the wreath and the message for me?"

"I cannot tell." She winked at Harry.

Squib or not, Eliza would do well in Slytherin House. That satisfied smirk on her little face told Harry enough, no need for the Sorting Hat.

The man with the apron came to stand behind Eliza and lightly put his hands on her shoulders. The girl quickly looked up. "Dad! This is Harry Potter. He let me touch his scar."

There was a split second of surprise flashing over the man's ruddy face, when he took in the whole of Harry, from the scar to the wreath and parchment in his hands. "Sir," he said, his voice a rumbling baritone, "I hope our little girl has not made a nuisance of herself."

"No, no. She delivered a very important message to me." Harry smiled at Eliza.

The man's gaze moved to the withered wreath, than he held out his hand towards Harry. "Francis Blackman, Sir. I run the New Inn over at Hain Lane." He pointed vaguely towards the Post Office. His eyes were still glued to the wreath.

Harry took the broad hand and firmly shook it. "Pleased to meet you, Sir."

Blackman gave him a satisfied smile then he took Eliza by the hand. "Would you do us the honour and have lunch with us, Sir?"

It was years since Harry had been invited by strangers for saving the wizarding world from Voldemort. Certainly nobody in Diagon Alley felt the need to buy him lunch these days. But it still felt awkward and horribly embarrassing. "I am waiting for somebody, actually", Harry said although Malfoy surely would not show up now that Eliza had delivered his message.

Blackman let out a short laugh. "Ah, Sir, if you're waiting for the young Lord Malfoy, I've just seen him scramble out of that wild bramble over there. Pretty thorny bunch, those kind. Ripped his fine robes, too, by the looks of it."

"Shh, Dad! You're not allowed to tell." Eliza shot her father a darkly accusing look.

"But," Blackman continued with a gentle pat on his daughter's head, "it is good to see the Lord of the Manor take the ancient rites serious for once. The land's been dying a slow death these last years." He glanced at the wreath again, then quickly inclined his head.

Harry almost missed the gesture, but he was sure: the innkeeper had just bowed to him. Solving mysteries was in Harry's blood, had been ever since he'd been thrown into a war as a boy. His instincts told him that this bow was not about the past and Voldemort, but about that oddly withered flower wreath and Malfoy's Veela trouble, whatever they were.

"Are you coming, Mister Potter?" Eliza was dragging at her father's hand. Blackman watched Harry, a calculating look on his broad face.

Under the white cloth of his apron Harry could see the outline of a wand. Blackman was a wizard living in this forsaken Muggle village. A wizard with a Squib, club-footed daughter whom Malfoy had chosen as his messenger. Harry had no idea why the git had not given Harry the wreath himself. Malfoy was hiding something from him, that much was obvious. But like it or not, a private investigator surely was allowed a few innocent questions over Shepard's Pie and a mug of ale.

*


Almost Three Weeks Later

Wherever the Garland Gay went, Shimmerburg followed, for she was the bodyguard of the Queen. And wide heavens, for all that the Veela were doing human kind a favour by replenishing the land, Beltane had gone entirely out of hands. For three years, no Consort had been provided for the Veela Queen -- and now it seemed this new Provider could not make up his mind. Which was the strangest thing, because the Garland Gay had clearly made its choice. Even a blind bird could not have missed the Flowering. But humans were strange like that. They were seeing -- and they didn't see.

The young Master of the Manor had given the Garland to another. He was a good flyer, this one, Shimmerburg would give him that, even if he needed a broom to fly. But under his touch the Garland wilted and became the dead thing that it had been for years. The Broomrider with the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead was clearly not the Chosen One.

Shimmerburg had taken a close look at the other one, the true Consort, back in the Manor's winter garden. He was strong for a human, despite or maybe even because of the scars in his face. Yes, a good choice. Perhaps he would live through the coupling and survive Angels' heat. Not that Shimmerburg cared. If she had a say in things, then the Consort would be killed the moment he had spilled his seed, like it had been done in the olden days. To sacrifice a life in exchange for the life of the land: those were the sacred ancient rites. But no more. Wizarding kind was the death of the Veela, they were, those curst humans with their wands and brooms!

And so Shimmerburg, one of the Ancients of the Order of the Veela, found herself in the backroom of this store reeking of magicked things that made her beak itch. She was huddled into her wings. It was not magic, this power to remain unseen, but a skill the Veela called Shifting. No human eye could make out her shape against the back wall. She was invisible to all but those who had been to the Hidden Realm.

"What's that bunch of green stuff you're carrying around, Harry?"

"Malfoy send it to me. Don't ask, George. He wouldn't even give me the wreath in person. Sent it to me with a note, saying it was for protection. Apparently, his father had been wearing such a wreath whenever he had dealings with the Veela."

"Lucius Malfoy with a flowering wreath! Merlin, I never took him for the romantic kind. But there's the peacocks, I guess."

"I know. This case has been going from to odd to mind-boggling in twenty-four hours, and then it's taken Hermione and me weeks to come up with even the vaguest lead to anyone who deals with the bloody potion."

"But we have it now. I just knew that Bill's contacts into Egypt would do the trick."


The red-haired wizard pointed towards a blue-glassed bottle on the table. It was filled with a potion that was clear as water. Shimmerburg could discern something in it, dissolved and mixed in with the other ingredients, a glistening, silver trace. Veela hair. It was an old truth, known to anybody with even just a fleeting knowledge of the Order: the Veela did not share their hair. It was sacred to them, the part of their body that bound them to family, covey and the land. Shave the head of a Veela, and it will die. Even those human Veela spawns knew of the power of their hair. There was a reason the Merovingian kings kept their hair unshorn.

There were only a few potions that needed Veela hair as an ingredient, and all of them were dangerous to the Veela. Judging from its colourless state, this one had to be Venenum Suffoco Alae. Shimmerburg had never heard of a Consort, false or true, who'd dealt with the bane of the Veela. The potion was banned all over the wizarding world. What was this one up to? Shimmerburg did not bear her armour for naught: she was the Queen's protector, sword, body and soul. If this wizard as much as threatened her Queen with just a drop of this vile brew, she would kill him. And she'd kill that redheaded fool for certain, once she knew where from he had obtained the potion.

"George, did you know that real Veela still live in Wiltshire?"

"Not only in Wiltshire, if you believe Mom. When we were little, she would tell us bedtime stories about the Veela covey of Stoat Hill. I was horribly afraid the Veela Queen would come and snatch me. They say the Queen will put a bridle to young strong men and run them like a horse all night, and they are found dead from exhaustion in their bed the next morning."

"Sounds to me like a fairy tale of saying the Queen fucked the living daylights out of them."

"Ah, Harry James Potter, better not let Mom hear you talk like that. Fleur might like it, though."

"She might. But, George, this is all wizarding superstition, right? There are no Veela luring humans from their beds, are there?"

"Never heard of it. All of Mom's stories were about the Wild Hunt. What is this about, Harry? Something you found when looking for Malfoy's potion."

"This innkeeper in Winterbourne was going on and on about the Malfoys' duties. And how Draco was not attending to them properly. It is strange out there, George. Like the whole land is cursed."

"You're worried about Malfoy."

"And what if I am?"

"Merlin's beard, Harry ..."


The wilted Garland was trailing out of the dark-haired wizard's pockets. Stacks of Galleons were piled beside a cast-iron till. Shimmerburg wanted to kill them both, crush them under her wings, trading cheap gold like this for the silver of Veela hair. But if she ruined whatever plan the Provider was hatching out, Loveknight would kill her. The covey needed the ritual to take place this Beltane. The land around Silbury Hill was dying. And the Veela were their land. Only last week Billypeak had been returned to the covey too feeble to walk, by Blackman, the wizard from the New Inn, the one whose daughter was born with barely a trace of magic. The Veela grew weak and magic was leaving wizarding kind, especially in the young. And it was all because the White Wedding had not been held for years. The covey would not survive another year without a true Beltane.

Shimmerburg would not kill this false Consort nor his friend, not yet, at least. But a potion suppressing the Veela spelled death and disaster, no matter the Provider's plan. Destroying it was mandatory. The Veela plucked a feather from the inside of her wings, so flimsy and small that one could have taken it for gossamer or mites of dust.

The wizards were deep in talk as Shimmerburg stepped out into the candlelight. The Shifting veiled her, and the wizards talked too loud to hear her quiet steps and moves. Nobody should be that careless when dealing with Venenum Suffoco Alae, least of all a Consort of the Queen.

She moved closer to the till. If the wizards look over to her now, all their human eyes would see was a glistening in the air. But they never turned their heads. The potion and the stacks of Galleons seemed forgotten. Shimmerburg quietly took the bottle, uncapped it and dropped the tiny feather into it. There was a soft crackle when Veela hair met Veela feather. For an instant, the potion turned a brilliant white. Neither of the two wizards noticed. She put the bottle back. It looked just like before, blue glass with a clear liquid inside.

She was a cunning old hag, Shimmerburg was. For nobody but the Veela knew what the addition of a Veela feather did to the Suppressant Potion. This was a secret Veela kind alone was privy to. The altered potion had no name; it was not mentioned in any of the ancient tomes of potion making. Shimmerburg chuckled to herself as she stepped out through the back door into the night. Whoever was going to drink that potion now, wanting to keep the Veela within at bay, was in for a splendid surprise.

*


"I'll open a premium vault for you, at no cost," Draco heard himself say, barely able to concentrate on his words. Had he just promised Potter a vault at Malfoy Bank? Potter, who was making hardly enough Galleons to come up with the rent for that hole he was living in? Certainly, Draco would pay him well, now that he had the bottle in his hands, a thousand Galleons, two thousand even, he didn't care. Because Potter had done it! He had procured the potion and brought it to Draco, right into the Bank.

And the man himself was here, a striking vision before the dark wood of the wainscoting, standing halfway between door and Draco's desk. Merlin, could he look any hotter with that shy smile of his, his body a firm shape underneath the robes he no doubt had donned only because he was seeing Draco Malfoy? Draco found himself staring at Potter's pale throat, and, Merlin, nothing could stop him from letting his gaze wander to Potter's chest, his stomach and lower, to Potter's crotch, where perhaps, if Draco was not mistaken, a slight bulge was visible underneath the cloth ...

"What?" he ground out.

Potter flinched at Draco's sharp tone. He was standing nearer to the desk now, beside the leather chair for visitors, and Draco realised he hadn't even offered him a seat.

"I ... um, I said," Potter stuttered, "a vault is not necessary."

"Do sit down." Draco waved at the chair.

Potter blinked as if surprised and a faint blush was creeping over his ears. Too sodding adorable. "If you," he continued as he sat, "just pay me back for the price of the potion, that will be fine. Er, and expenses. Yes, well, perhaps a hundred Galleons. That should cover it." He rubbed his hands on his robes, like a nervous schoolboy.

A hundred Galleons? Draco owed his fucking life to him, and Potter wanted peanuts? No business instincts, but that was hardly surprising in a Gryffindor. Surprising was how much Draco liked it, how this shy naiveté made Potter so irresistible, so bloody kissable. Draco wanted Potter so badly it scared him. He got up abruptly, slammed against the heavy tabletop and knocked over the inkstand. Potter reached out, his Seeker's reflexes still fast as ever. Draco's mouth went dry at the sight of Potter's fingers around the black ink.

"And an explanation. Of sorts." Potter's lips twitched as if he was secretly amused, all that shyness gone in the blink of an eye. Draco found he liked it even more when Potter took charge. Just the memory of that scorching kiss when Potter had claimed his mouth and tongue made him painfully hard.

"An explanation? About what?"

"Standing me up at St Mary Magdalene? Sending the girl with the wreath?"

Damn! He had all but forgotten about that dismal morning when Montague had brought the flowering wreath into the parlour. Mother had been delighted at its sight. She always complained about the Wiltshire weather ruining the Manor's roses. Draco had put it down to her getting used to the milder climate in France, and the splendour of the rose gardens of her Chateau just out of Paris. But this year even he had to admit the Manor's gardens looked dreary and dead like winter, and they were heading into May. When Montague handed the wreath to Draco, though, and the blooming flowers faded and the green withered before their eyes, Mother remembered Beltane nights when father had gone out into the dark, a withered wreath dangling from his hand. Veela magic. Draco's vision of Potter became clear all of a sudden. Protection. That was what Potter had needed. He had told him as much in that note little Eliza had delivered.

Draco shrugged. "You got hold of the potion without the Veela snapping your neck. It's all that matters." He couldn't quite rein in his smile, because Potter was here, without damage to limb or life, all dire warnings of the Knockturn dealers notwithstanding.

Potter gave him a disbelieving look. "I don't get it. Hiding in the blackberries, Malfoy? Why didn't you just give me the bloody thing."

He could have lied. Tell Potter some crap about mixed-up appointments and deny that he'd been to Monkton that day. If he had been in a sane frame of mind, he would have thought to send the wreath simply by owl. But he had so desperately wanted to see Potter again. But watching him stroll up the road, sniff at Ethel Harris' forsythia and walk around St Mary Magdalene had made it painfully clear that he could not be close to him again without the potion. Draco had hidden his clawed fingers in his robes that seemed too coarse and heavy for his itching, burning back. The scratches of the bramble thorns had been a relief, really, when all he wanted was Potter's arms around his neck again and his lips on his mouth.

He needed to take the potion now. There had been moments in those past few weeks, when Draco would have gladly traded his miserable existence for a stunt in Azkaban, if only to escape those dreams that haunted him night and day: dreams of Potter fucking Draco every which way possible, dreams of Draco fucking Potter even more ways possible, dreams of Potter giving him a spectacular blowjob in front of -- of all things -- that portrait of Barnabas the Barmy back in Hogwarts, dreams of Potter lying naked in the woods, of Potter kissing him, of Potter eating bowls of strawberries with their juice smeared around his lips. Of Potter stroking his hands, of Potter in his bath -- ah, no, he couldn't let himself think of that dream, he couldn't or else --

"If you excuse me, I will be right back." He took the small bottle of potion from the desk. It felt cold and smooth in his hand. The label read Venenum Suffoco Alae, in tiny print. Its edges were curled up and brown, as if the bottle had once stood too close to an open fire. Salazar knew where Potter -- or rather Weasley -- had obtained the potion from. It was not as if Draco cared.

He stepped into the library adjacent to his office, closing the door firmly behind him. In the quiet of the smaller room he noticed he was sweating and panting with need. Really, he needed to fuck Potter the minute he had some control back. He couldn't remember ever having been so aroused by the mere presence of another man. He took a whisky tumbler from the bar and with a quick twist uncapped the bottle. Carefully he poured himself a finger-width of the potion. The liquid sloshed around in the glass like it always did, odourless and clear like water. What if he didn't drink it now? What if he went back out into his office, grabbed Potter and fucked him against the bloody wall, like this, without the potion, without restrain, letting the Veela claim him, for once at least ...

Draco moved his hand over his groin. He was rock-hard, from the mere thought of what it would be like ... to take Potter like this. The need on his tongue was sweet and rusty. With a noise that sounded suspiciously like a whimper he pressed his palm forcefully against his cock and started rubbing himself. Merlin, he wanted Potter, like one man wanted another, without those magicked reins holding him back. But he couldn't let himself go. No, not a good idea. The Veela was too close under his skin. His shoulder blades had been tingling ever since Potter had entered his office, and that could mean only one thing. He quickly glanced at his fingers as the moved over the hard bulge underneath his robes. The nails shimmered lightly; there was no sign of red in the manicured cuticles. Thank Merlin! Draco stopped touching himself with effort. Then he raised the glass to his lips and downed the potion in one gulp.

There was a faint peppery taste to it. It was barely noticeable, but Draco had taken the potion for years and there had never been any kind of tanginess to it before. He took a couple of breaths, waiting for the numbness, which usually lasted for a couple of minutes, to set in. But this batch was different. He felt ... something, yes, but definitely not numb. Rather what he felt was --

Draco dropped the tumbler with a groan. The vial broke on the hardwood floor. What the bloody ... He clutched his stomach. Something, something was inside of him, making him feel dizzy and light-headed and so bloody hot there was sweat literally pouring down his back and chest. He stumbled, reached for the bookcases, the dark-stained wood of the bar, but found no purchase. He was pushed forward against the small round table in the middle of the library by a force that made his shoulder blades crack painfully. Salazar! Something must have been in the potion, something bad. Damn Potter and the Weasley brood! Draco grabbed for the table's edge to steady himself, but missed it. With a strangled cry he went down on his knees. So bloody heavy! How could --

Beside him, the table toppled over with a deafening clang. Its heavy top of inlaid glass shattered into a myriad of blue-tinted shards, but Draco didn't care, art deco antique or not. Something was wrong with his eyes. Or perhaps a blue light had appeared outside in Diagon Alley and was filtering in through the high windows. For the library seemed to be drenched in blue all of a sudden, flickering around the curtains and the bookcases like small ghostly flames. Draco pressed his knuckles into his eyes, but when he looked up again, his vision was still hazy. Blue was everywhere.

His back was on fire. Something sharp seemed to be boring into him. Or rather out of him, he couldn't tell which, only that he needed to get rid of his robes and shirt and undershirt, or else he'd suffocate in the heat. Tearing at the buttons of his robes, he shrugged them off, ripped the shirt at its seams, grabbed at it to get it off his back. His undershirt came loose, he didn't know how, only that it felt so good to be naked, to be able to breathe again, to feel cool blue air on his skin, to stretch, stretch his ... his shoulders, so wide ...

"Everything all right, Malfoy? I heard a noise."

Potter's voice was behind him, at the library's door.

Steps were coming closer, and then the smell of Potter was all around him. Warm and sweet and sharp, beeswax and turpentine and that faint odour of lemon soap. The aroma invaded Draco through his nose, his mouth, his skin. The few times he brewed it, Amortentia had smelled like this to him, conjuring up memories of leather and brooms, with a tinge of magic. And Draco had never known there was a smell to magic, but he knew it now -- a smell like the sharpening of a blade, like the stillness in the air before a thunderstorm.

His body turned by a will of its own. Draco could have found Potter anywhere, even in the dark. When he stood up and looked at him, Potter stared back, green eyes wide with wonder. And with something else, something dark and deep that went straight to Draco's cock. Potter reached out towards him, but Draco was faster, a Seeker's instinct bred into him through years of training. In a swift movement he had Potter shoved against the bookcases.

"Now," he gasped, "now," and didn't really know what he meant. But Potter seemed to understand, for he groaned out a breathless, "Yes, oh my God, yes."

Naked chest pressed against the rough cloth of Potter's robes, his need trapped within the cut of his bespoke trousers, Draco ached to touch Potter. Damn those buttons and fastenings. They fumbled and tore and ripped, two pairs of hands trying desperately to get at skin. Draco moved to kiss Potter but he missed the lips that were tempting him with their pale red, their glistening promise of sleek heat. Instead he found himself licking the collar of Potter's robes and sucking desperately at thick strands of black hair. Merlin, he needed to get closer. His cock was hot and heavy and so hard, thrusting against Potter, thrusting wildly against those layers of cloth. Draco tore at the sodding robes. He couldn't stand to be kept away from the bulge hidden beneath them. Potter was bucking up, and something snapped, strips of shredded black twirling at the side of Draco's vision. And, oh Merlin, how good, how bloody good to finally be able to frot against Potter's dick even with their trousers still in the way.

Potter moaned, and it did something to Draco, that heedless, rumbling moan. He put his hand on Potter's warm chest, he needed to feel this skin underneath his fingertips. Looking up, he remembered bright red lips, but then it was Potter, Potter who captured Draco's mouth in a full-blast attack. He was drowning in that violent, wet grinding of mouths, too much teeth and too little tongue and no air, no air but what he was sharing with Potter. Draco gripped a sharp hip underneath a tangle of bunched-up robes, he held Potter's chin so the git couldn't move, couldn't take away this gorgeous mouth of his, not until Draco was filled, to the brim, with this honey-scented, aching tartness that was all Potter. He could die like this, Draco thought, and he even registered through the haze of his arousal how odd it was that he wouldn't mind dying so, kissing and frotting Potter, in this strange blue light, on the verge of an orgasm that threatened to overwhelm him but didn't.

It was Potter who finally broke their desperate kissing, gasping for air. He held Draco at bay with outstretched arms. "Slow down", he said, and Draco tried but couldn't. He needed to push forward, closer, hips and mouth and hands, just to touch anything, any part of Potter.

"You're bleeding, Malfoy, your fingers are bleeding again." Potter snatched both of Draco's hands and held them. It fucking hurt. Or maybe this time, the sharp pain came from the points shoving out from underneath his nails. Draco winced, but already the pain was receding. What did he care that the Veela showed itself? This had happened before. It didn't mean that he shouldn't go through with fucking Potter. He'd wanted the git for so long. Draco moved forward, using all his weight. He needed to get back to Potter's mouth. With a sharp jerk, he tried to get his hands free, but Potter held him in an iron grip, so he couldn't move, couldn't touch him anymore. Damn him.

Draco stopped and forced himself to relax. Potter immediately loosened his hold, but continued cradling Draco's hands in his palms. Calloused skin so rough and warm. So strong. Salazar, he wanted to fuck Potter so badly. They both watched the claws push even further out. Draco groaned at the pain but couldn't take his eyes away from the dark bone tips, lengthening his human fingers half an inch at least, gleaming dangerous and sharp, ready to draw blood even when Draco's own blood was dripping on the hardwood floor.

"Can't help it." He brought one hand to Potter's face and sliced the claws across his cheek, from the corner of one eye down to his chin. Potter moaned as fine lines of red droplets bloomed on his skin. It didn't sound like he was in pain. "Can't help it", Draco whispered again, close to Potter's ear, threat, apology, he didn't know what. Potter turned his head a bit, giving him full access to the side of his face. Draco was helpless before the sight. He needed to lick at the scratches; he simply couldn't be without the sweet taste of Potter's blood flooding his mouth.

His clawed hands had become useless around buttons and lacings, and so it was Potter who finally loosened their trousers and shoved their clothes out of the way. They pooled around their feet, Muggle and wizarding attire entangled over black robes and a green shirt. All the while Draco had his hands in Potter's unruly hair, combing through it with his claws and letting the knife-sharp tips scrape over Potter's skin. There was blood on Potter's face, dripping from his hair, running down Draco's arms. He had played rough in bed; he'd never been one to resist the thrills of silken bonds and leather whips. Blood, though, had never been something he'd found arousing. But here he was, frotting against Potter in the odd blue light of the library, his hands taloned like a bird of prey's, and he wanted to draw blood from Potter's skin, wanted it like he'd not known he could want anything.

He should stop it here. He should force his feet to take one, take two, three, four steps back and move away from Potter's irresistible smell, the invitation of his body, thrillingly alive with red-hot blood pulsing underneath his shimmering skin. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Draco knew something had gone horribly wrong with the potion. All those agonising erotic fantasies of the last weeks -- it was as if the potion was forcing him to make them real and take Potter, who was moaning in pleasure as Draco continued carding blood-dripping claws through his hair. The potion had to be some kind of powerful aphrodisiac, something that made the Veela in him boil with desire. He should stop it now. Something was wrong. Somebody must have set Potter up to bring him the wrong potion, and Draco shouldn't give in to it, he couldn't allow ...

He moved backwards, to put distance between him and Potter. The effort made him grind his teeth and grab harder at Potter's hair. It hurt to no longer feel Potter's chest and belly and cock touch him. But he had to stop. Then Potter's hands, which had been resting on Draco's hips, came around his waist and held him close.

"No," he whispered, a broken sound so charged with need that a wave of pure lust crashed through Draco.

Potter slowly moved his jaw across Draco's skin, its light stubble masculine and real, scratching along Draco's cheek. The leathery, sweaty smell of his arousal was everywhere. Draco felt his groin contract at the touch of skin to skin, he felt precome ooze from his cock. There was no doubt about how much Potter wanted him. And Merlin, he'd known that Potter had the hots for him, but now this knowledge made him burn with an alien, rampant need. He would make this fuck so good for Potter. The git wouldn't know what had hit him when Draco was done with him. And fuck the potion, fuck the bloody Veela -- there was no stopping this, not with Potter offering, offering himself up ...

A weight at his back pushed Draco forward again and smashed him right into Potter's body. His claws rasped along the row of books when he clasped his arms more tightly around Potter's neck. The sensation was like being missed by a hex, but barely, the tingling of magic so close, Draco could feel it all the way down to the soles of his feet. He buried his face in the soft hollow above Potter's collarbone. Memories of other men he'd fucked flashed through his mind, men who had caught his eye with their stunning looks or their power. Men whom he'd pursued and wooed with all he had, Malfoy money, his personal charm and the Allure. Men who'd shared his bed once or repeatedly, men whom he fucked hard and good. Not one of them had felt like Potter. Never that arousing. Never that right. Draco moaned helplessly as Potter grabbed his arse to pull him even closer. He felt like stretching his shoulders again, and he did. Their bodies were wrapped in feathery, grey-blue shadows and Potter whispered in his hair, "Didn't know, sweet Merlin, I didn't know you've ...", and they were rocking together against the shelves in a rhythm so sharp and painfully arousing.

When the heavy tome of the Atlas of Unplottable Estates in Britain went crashing to the floor with a loud bang, Draco was a mere seconds from coming. Books were strewn all around them, and Potter was moaning and writhing against him without any restraint. But Draco did not want this to end with both of them spilling quickly, as if this was a frotting session in the Hogwarts' library and they randy schoolboys with a hankering for dick. An odd sense of purpose had caught him, like this was his one chance to make it good. The voice in the back of his mind kept niggling that it was all a potion effect, anyway, and as for Potter -- he obviously had no resistance whatsoever against the Allure. It didn't feel like Draco was using the Allure right now, but then, it wasn't something that he could turn on or off by choice of will.

The Allure was rather like the reflexive urge that took hold of him now, to grab violently into Potter's unruly mess of hair and yank his head back. Potter whimpered, clearly in pain, but he did not resist. He looked delicious with his head pulled against the ancient, leather-bound books. His neck muscles were drawn so tight they jutted out sharply, framing his exposed throat. Draco pressed the heel of his right hand against Potter's collarbone. The spattering of dark hair on his chest was soft and damp from sweat. He stared at Draco, his half-closed eyes bright and green like the woods in spring.

Another drop of precome spilled from Draco's cock, sharp and sweet like a first pulsing of orgasm. He slowly lowered his hand, claws scratching the tight buds of Potter's nipples, down to his softly rounded belly. Potter, who had been panting fast and shallow, stopped breathing altogether. Draco's hand dipped lower as if by its own accord and a guttural groan escaped him. Merlin, but had another man's dick ever felt so good? Potter was rather well endowed, which was a bit of a surprise. Draco just had to lick his lips at the sight of that thick, smooth-red boner crushed against his own paler dick. He moved his hand through the black and dark-blond curls that meshed between their bodies and carefully, very carefully wrapped his fingers around both of their erections. His out-stretched claws rested against Potter's belly, then were pressed into the flesh, when Potter started thrusting.

Draco's grip on their erections was haphazard, what with those bloody claws that he didn't want anywhere near his cock, or Potter's. And he kept losing what little hold he had because his dick was positively wet from all the precome dripping from his slit. He had never been a leaker; Dadworth's Very Intimate Magical Moisturiser was a steady companion of all his sexual endeavours, alone or with a lover. He could have Accio'd the lube right now from his desk drawer in the office. But there was no need; this slippery wetness felt better than all the lube in the world. Potter's thrusts were getting wild and uncontrolled; he hit the tender head of Draco's dick, rubbing at the tightly stretched foreskin. A fiery need, hot and smouldering, twisted in his groin and Draco felt his cock spill another squirt of precome. Merlin's balls! Where did all this spunk come from? Draco stared at their cocks gliding smoothly through his slippery fingers. They were covered in a moist layer that felt like dick juice but shimmered pinkish rather than pearly and clear.

"Gods ..." Potter circled Draco's erection with two fingers, moving them up and down. He was spreading the wetness all the way down to the base of Draco's cock. When he took his hand away again, it was covered with the stuff. Potter stared at his glistening hand, only to lick his palm clean first, then suck at the fingers eagerly. His eyes fluttered shut; watching his lips, Draco could practically taste the saltiness of come that Potter must be tasting. But it was the rapt expression on his face that was Draco's final undoing.

He grabbed Potter, shoulder, hip, he didn't care. And he was not careful with the claws, either, when he slammed Potter, face first, into the bookcase. Amidst Potter's yelp and the rattling of the shelves more books crashed to the floor, then Draco ground his cock into the crack of Potter's arse. There was sweat and heat and Potter's skin -- it felt right, so incredibly right. Draco smelled it again, that thundering tinge of magic in the blue air around them. He felt that need to stretch his shoulders again, and again a silvery shadow fell upon him and Potter. He gasped at the sight of the pale back, he licked over the shimmering veins in Potter's neck. So sweet, sweet ... How could human skin taste so sweet? Draco brought his claws up and tore them sharply across Potter's back, once, twice -- eight beautiful red lines. Potter winced in pain, and Draco leaned in to kiss his neck again, licking his way down to the droplets of blood. This one, something whispered within him, something that thrilled at the mark he'd left on the body of his ...

On the gorgeous, naked body of his lover. Draco moved his cock, sliding up and down Potter's arse. Pinkish stuff was still pearling from his slit, accompanied by a constantly peaking of arousal. The thought that he would pierce Potter any moment now made his stomach plummet and his knees go weak. He wrapped his arms around Potter's waist and pressed himself flush against the other man, groin against arse, thighs against thighs, chest against back. That's when he noticed that Potter was trembling. Not much, not like he was cold, but a faint shiver deep inside that would not stop. Potter's face was turned to the side in a painful angle, halfway smashed into the heavy tomes on the shelf. His eyes were open, but not looking at Draco. He was looking towards the window where the blue light kept trickling into the library. There was blood on the side of his mouth that Draco just knew was Potter's own. He must have hurt him when he'd smacked him against the bookcase. In an instant Draco registered the way Potter's hips were caught in a bruising trap against the shelf, and he realised that Potter's arms and his erection were jammed so tightly against the ancient books that he could not move at all.

Feathery shadows billowed around Draco. He had to give his best, make things up to Potter. Every snotty insult, every hex he'd thrown at him at Hogwarts. All his stupid lapses of judgement, his childish longings for glory, when he should have known from the moment You-Know-Who stepped over the threshold of the Manor not to trust the maniac one iota on the way. A hot wave of embarrassment flooded Draco as he recalled how viciously, how cowardly, he'd broken Potter's nose. Potter was immobilised now, too, like he had been back on the Hogwarts Express by Draco's Petrifying Curse.

This one, Draco's heart pounded.

Slowly he let up and moved a bit away from Potter. Not much, he couldn't lose the heat of his body. But enough for Potter to move and free his arms from being crushed in front of him. With a groan he raised them until he found a shelf to hold onto. Gently Draco slid his hands down Potter's sides, careful to keep his claws from the skin. The eight-line mark was in front of him, and he pressed his face against it. The rapid beat of Potter's heart reached his ear. Easy, love.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he whispered as he reached for Potter's cock. It had gone slightly soft, but as Draco covered it with his entwined hands, claws out of the way, Potter was rocking into them with a needy groan.

"Been a while," he muttered against the row of old books, then turned his head. The one eye that Draco could see had gone the colour of a night-time forest in the blue light, and he leaned in closer, bringing his mouth to Potter's ear.

"Wanna fuck you so much", he whispered, a soft growl in his voice.

He was so close that he could see the iris of Potter's eye go dark and instantly glaze over. His prick was hardening fast against the palms of Draco's hands. Then he pushed back with a fierceness that took Draco's breath away.

"Goin' to make," he moaned, the heat of Potter's arse forcing the words out of him, "goin' to make this so good for you." Potter was panting loudly; Draco doubted he'd heard what he said. This one, was on Draco's breath, a soundless whisper that still gave rhythm to his thrusts. They were rocking, like one body, against the bookcases. Each thrust forward smashed Potter's straining cock hard into Draco's hands; each thrust back pressed Draco's prick closer between those muscular buttocks. It felt like sliding through a slippery ocean of blue heat, inviting him in. He rubbed his chest against the scratches on Potter's back that still oozed tiny drops of blood, wetting Draco's nipples. He could have come like this, easily, with Potter so close he couldn't tell where the other man's skin ended and Draco's own began.

"God, fuck me already, Malfoy!"

The impatient need in Potter's voice was irresistible. Without breaking their rhythm, Draco pulled back as Potter rocked forward. When his cock slipped into Potter's hole, there was barely resistance, just a tightening around him and a fluttering ache in his throat. A shiver ran through Potter's body, a moan escaped his lips, from relief, perhaps, at being penetrated at last, or from sheer need, because his cock started twitching within the hold of Draco's hands. A smell, fresh and woodsy, was around them all of sudden. To the side, at the far end of the library, there was an orange shine. Fire, Draco thought, and he felt his shoulders stretch again widely. But the oddness of fire in the Bank's library did not faze him. Nothing mattered but that Potter was here, safe with him and finally, finally his.

He couldn't last long, not when he'd been so close before, not when Potter's body was moving so deliciously around him, not with this hot, hard cock in his hands. Potter's lustful groans pushed him deeper, and while all Draco felt was contracting heat that threatened to push him over the edge, he must have hit something sweet, for Potter started pushing back violently and moaning loudly, "God, damn yes, Malfoy, bloody fuck, do that again. So fucking good, feels so fucking good ...", a litany of need, all directed at Draco Malfoy and his cock up Potter's arse.

Draco bit hard into the other man's neck, savouring the sweetness of Potter's skin on his lips, his tongue. Potter's howled in pain, still his hips snapped forward, and a spurt of fresh wetness coated Draco's palms.

"Git," Potter muttered, trying desperately to fuck himself on Draco's cock and thrust into Draco's hands at the same time.

"You like it." Draco shifted before he slammed into Potter again; he rubbed his thumb over the head of Potter's prick, making him cry out.

Perhaps it was the abandon in Potter's voice, the way he threw himself into all that Draco was giving him. Perhaps it was the sudden flaring of the orange fire at the side of Draco's vision. Perhaps it was that he simply needed to come. But Draco couldn't hold back anymore, this was something that they'd always done, and he fucked Potter with all that he had. Potter tensed, then braced himself with outstretched arms against the onslaught. His body offered the resistance that Draco craved, it wrapped him in a suffocating heat that seemed to want all from him, breathe, seed, magic even.

"Harder," Potter moaned, and Draco felt his balls contract painfully. His knuckles had to be bleeding by now from being wedged against the hard spines of the books and the force of Potter's thrusting prick; he was sure to have ripped a few books to papery shreds with his claws. But he didn't care, he needed for Potter to spill on his living skin. He felt himself lose control over his thrusts, Potter's stuttering breath against his chest, harsh and irregular, but always there, this one. He was forced into an even keener arousal, like a thorn tearing into an open wound, pleasure and pain wrapped into one. Merlin, but Merlin, he needed --

Sorrel ... its bitter scent was all around him. The walls of the library seemed higher all of a sudden, the bookcases leaning inward precariously. Potter's moaning, writhing, sweaty body was moving with him, his naked skin ghostly white, with the scratches of his mark so intensely bright that Draco had to close his eyes and give himself over to the fire that was licking at his feet now. Amidst the hard thrusts he felt Potter turn his head, saying, "Kiss me, kiss me, Malfoy," and Draco searched blindly for his lips. Potter's teeth were biting into him the moment their mouths touched, then he arched back against Draco. Sudden liquid heat filled Draco's hands, a heat that flamed all the way up and singed his lips. The orange fire flaring around him circled his waist and reached his cock, squeezing it, burning it, and he was groaning into Potter's mouth with such unbearable need. Now, now --

Within that still moment before orgasm, quiet like the soft blue glow of a struck match just before it blazes into flame, Draco smelled it, with a sense that he knew was not human -- the sweetness of strawberries. It was all over Potter, mingling with his subtle lemony smell and the reek of sweat and spunk of two men in heat. Draco took the scent with him, as he was snatched into an orgasm, so wild and reckless, as if he was piercing Potter's very core, giving the beating of his own heart over to him -- this one, lover, chosen. Over and over again.

Potter's hair was a tangled mess. Draco's breath was coming fast; he was slumped against Potter's back. Sweat had collected in the curls at Potter's neck; rows of tiny drops, each one perfectly round and shimmering like pearls. Then Potter shifted and Draco forced himself to give the other man space to turn around. His own hands were tingling with an aching hurt.

The blue light was gone. One look to the windows, and Draco realised it was after office hours. A soft dusk had settled over the rooftops on the other side of Diagon Alley. He could feel Potter's gaze on him and turned back to his ... to his lover, he should say. The thoroughly fucked, blissed-out look on his face made something melt in Draco. He placed gentle kisses on the scratches on Potter's cheek, and he just had to rub his whole body against him. A deeply contented sigh rumbled through Potter, and Draco pulled him close. He couldn't imagine letting Potter out of his arms again, ever, much less not spending the night with him. Beltane night, too. He wanted to fuck Potter until the sun came up, preferably in a king-sized bed with room service of champagne and caviar. Draco wondered how Potter would be as a top, if he was good at morning blow-jobs, and would he mind if Draco tied him to a four-poster bed and had his wicked ways with him? His cock showed interest again already, and Draco smiled at Potter. Who would have thought? There he was falling for a bespectacled, scarfaced git, of all the bent (and occasional straight) blokes out there. But Draco had every intention of keeping the man in his life and his bed, their past and Hogwarts be damned, and never mind that Potter was a piss-poor wretch of a private investigator and a half-blood to boot.

"They are so beautiful."

First Draco didn't understand what Potter was speaking of. Then he realised Potter must be talking about his hair. It fell on his naked shoulders, the blond moist from sweat and his expensive cut doubtlessly mussed beyond repair. He needed to freshen up before Apparating home to the Manor. Potter reached out to touch a strand of hair that stuck to Draco's neck. Amused, Draco turned his head a bit. Most of his lovers preferred to play with his perfect arse rather than his hair. Not that he minded.

Potter's touch was -- raw, almost unbearably so. Keen like the winter wind biting into the soil of Salisbury Plain, and yet so gentle it made Draco whimper. With sudden clarity he realised he stood in the Bank's library, naked but for his socks and shoes, trousers pooled around his ankles and clutching Potter who had spunk all over his belly and a dazed, silly grin on his face. And Potter was touching ... touching ... wings!

Draco turned his head, so hard and fast that it made the tendons in his neck snap. A fragile bony ridge extended from behind his shoulder, covered by white fluff that looked soft as down. A cluster of grey feathers ended in a claw not unlike the ones that still extended from his fingers. Overlapping feathers grew from the fluff-covered bones, the outer ones narrow and stiff, and the ones closer to Draco's body broader and longer. Their colouring went from a bluish dark grey at the tips that lightened to a pale sapphire.

A ripple went through the feathers, and Draco realised he had rolled his shoulders. He twisted his head even further, but he couldn't see where the wings were attached. Yet just like he knew that his foot was attached to his leg he knew they were there, a second pair of arms, awkward and heavy and yet so much stronger than his human arms.

He turned back to Potter, whose silly grin had turned into something more serious, something that Draco registered as concern. When he looked over to his other side, the weight of those ... appendages shifted with him, in a movement as natural as his hair moving with him when he turned his head. Draco gasped and stretched his shoulders again, just as he'd done before, to loosen the painful tension that was gathering in his neck, erasing the post-fuck contentment he'd felt just seconds before. The wings stretched out to their full span.

Draco screamed. Potter's hands were on his chest at once, moving down to his waist, holding him steady. He was talking to him, but Draco couldn't hear him over his own high-pitched scream. Those bloody wings were huge, like a dragon's. In the evening light their tips flamed red as if they were dipped in fire. His throat hurt. Even his voice didn't sound human anymore.

Frantically, he flexed the muscles in his back, trying to make the wings disappear back into wherever they had been hiding. They were only vestiges of an avian heritage. They should never have broken through his skin. But all he managed was to move the wings forward as if to wrap him and Potter in a cloak of red-tipped feathers. Draco felt another whimper struggle up his throat. He knew the feeling; this was what panic felt like. He wasn't, he couldn't be this ... beast. A memory came to him, clear and vivid as if it had happened just a few nights ago, of waking up in his old bedroom in the Manor from a pain that seemed to scorch the skin off the inside of his arm. It had been the first time the Dark Lord had Summoned him, mere hours after Draco had been branded with his Mark. The pain had been excruciating, but even worse had been the feeling that something alien had invaded his body and forced its tainted blood through his veins.

Potter was pulling him closer, his fingers rubbing soothingly at Draco's lower back. Their touch was so warm, and Potter's smell still enticing, but sweeter and so achingly familiar. It promised something that seemed out of reach all of a sudden.

"Let go of me."

The shock on Potter's face was palpable; Draco could feel it crawl up his sides from where Potter's hands were holding him one moment, then were gone.

"Calm down," Potter said, both hands up in the air. "Malfoy, it's all right." A small smile appeared on his lips. "Draco." His voice was uncertain and soft, as if he was saying the name aloud for the first time.

And Draco wanted to believe this voice that he'd known for so long but hadn't known could be gentle like this, like Potter actually cared and was not telling lies.

But nothing was right. He just had to look at the cut in Potter's lip, at his face marred with the long deep scratches of Draco's claws. He was a freak, a raptor with a sex drive born from its primal hunting instincts. It was mere luck that the Veela in him had taken Potter for a lover and not for prey. The potion --

Over at the bar the shards of the vial twinkled in the light of the setting sun. Draco stepped back, meaning to turn, to get away from Potter, but the weight of the wings made him stagger. Before he knew it he was stumbling over the tangle of discarded clothes. Potter tried to hold on to him, he was reaching out, but Draco missed his hand and was crashing to the floor. And he should have been grateful those wings were cushioning his fall, but such agonising pain shot up his spine. Draco tried to roll off those damn things but it just made the pain worse. He cried out, he was shaking. Wooden splinters from the broken table were all around him on the floor; some were stuck in his palms where he had tried to break the fall.

Strangling another cry of pain, he managed to roll around and take the pressure of the wings. He rolled into something alive and soft: Potter was kneeling beside him, but not touching. Draco was panting against his thigh, and he forced himself to lie still. Only when he'd caught his breath did Potter touch his shoulder in a quick, reassuring gesture, then moved his fingers carefully over the feathers.

"There's a shard from the table-top that has bored itself into your wing." Potter sounded so calm, it made Draco remember that not so long ago he had been a seventeen year-old boy who challenged the Dark Lord to his final duel. Merlin, he wanted so much to lay his head in Potter's lap and let the other man take care of him.

"Don't touch me." Draco's voice sounded pained and exhausted even to his own ears, but it was more than Malfoy pride that made him stand and tug up his pants and trousers. The clothes were a mess, ripped and smeared with blood and spunk, but at least his dick was covered. Potter looked up at him; the expression on his face made Draco stretch his shoulders -- his wings -- involuntarily. He had to force the damn things back by sheer power of will to not enfold Potter into them.

What the fuck was wrong with him? Potter had been the one who had brought him the botched potion in the first place. Venenum Suffoco Alae? A bloody joke! Or rather not a joke but a powerful aphrodisiac, tailor-made for wizards with Veela blood. Potter would not have allowed George Weasley to give Draco such a potion for fun; Draco trusted him that much at least. There was no other explanation for the lost look on Potter's face. Could Weasley have acted on his own and given Potter the wrong potion? To finally get his revenge for the death of his twin, the one who had almost killed Montague? But Wizard Wheezes had a vault with Malfoy Bank; they had conducted quite a few business transactions and had come out very well, both of them. The other Weasley brother, the one Greyback had maimed -- now, Draco would see how he would want some kind of petty revenge. He'd lost his job when Gringotts went down, and Malfoy Bank had no need for a Curse-breaker.

Potter stood, rubbing his blood-smeared hands at his trousers. "Let me take you to St Mungo's this time, Malfoy. That shard looks wicked." He stepped forward, and again Draco had to stifle the urge to wrap him in his wings. It made the bloody injury hurt even more, the way his muscles twitched to move the wings.

"What kind of foul potion was that, Potter?" Draco heard the snarl in his voice. He should stop talking now or he'd get vicious. But the pain was too much, those wings were too much, Harry sodding Potter, half-naked in his library, caring about him and not getting it at all, was too damn bloody much. "Are you so desperate for a fuck that you had to slip me some lust potion?"

The words hit Potter like a blow. Draco winced when Potter's shoulders tensed and his hands scrambled for purchase in the fabric of his trousers. Draco got nauseous all of a sudden, and before he knew it, his wings touched Potter's back. The throbbing pain around the shard was nothing against the pain Potter's forlorn look caused him. The need to make things right with him was overwhelming. What the bloody fuck?

"Get out", Draco rasped almost without a sound, but Potter understood him well enough.

"Please let me take you to St Mungo's, Malfoy. I won't touch you; you don't have to talk to me. I'll just Apparate you to the reception area and leave."

Any other time Draco would have admired the dumb bravado of Gryffindorish stubbornness. But now it was the last straw. "Don't you get it, Potter? I can't just waltz into St Mungo's with wings and claws and blood all over me. What the fuck do you think would happen to Malfoy Bank if this comes out? The wizarding world may tolerate those with Veela blood, but entrust their Galleons with them? No fucking chance! I can see the headlines in the Prophet already about how the Veela Allure infringes on my capacity to conduct business, no matter how dumb it would be to use it for --"

"All right, all right, I get it." Potter stood perfectly quiet, even his hands had relaxed at his sides. "Let me take you home, at least."

The man was insufferable. "Potter, you should ..." Draco couldn't keep his wings from touching him, but at least he could hold on to the sharp pain that flashed up his spine with every flutter and move. "I don't want you to take me anywhere. Get out. I don't want you around. Just fucking leave." There was nothing Veela in his voice. In fact, for a moment, Draco felt his wings retract. They couldn't because of the shard, but Draco thought he would know how to do it, once the injury was healed.

Potter was drenched in the red light from outside. His eyes sought Draco's, but Draco didn't flinch, didn't give anything away. He concentrated on the muscles that made the wings extend and retract. It hurt like a Fire Hex, but at least it kept those Veela instincts under control that screamed at him to not let Potter leave, ever.

The door closed with a soft click, then Potter was gone. The last rays of the setting sun had vanished with him. Draco stood motionless in the darkness, his breathing the only sound in the stillness of the library. He missed Father so much it hurt like a hole in his chest. How could Lucius Malfoy have died, leaving him not only with the Malfoys' ruined reputation, but with this -- this pathetic travesty of all that a pure-blood wizard should be? And how, damn him, dared he die before Draco could make the Malfoy name something to be proud of again?

"What the fuck do you expect me to do now?"

There was no answer to his whispered words; there never was. Draco walked towards the door with shaking knees. He should grab his wand and Apparate to the Manor. Mother would know how to heal the wing. She would be thrilled that his Veela blood had finally asserted itself. For years she had been pestering him to acknowledge that there was more to his heritage than the Allure and an above average sex drive. But Draco didn't think he could stand the look of mingled admiration and sorrow that she sometimes gave him when she thought he wasn't watching. Not a day passed when she did not talk about Lucius, and Draco knew only too well how much he looked like his father. And she would know. That he'd slept with someone whom he cared about. Veela wings were not revealed to just anybody who happened to be good in the sack. But Potter ... why the fuck Potter?

Potter should have never seen him like this, when the Veela had overwhelmed him. Nobody was ever to know except his parents. But those ministerial fuckwits from the Department of Mysteries knew, Granger and -- Black! His esteemed cousin in the second or third degree, prissy arsehole of a Ministry bureaucrat who had cut short his supply of the potion in the first place. All of this bloody mess was his fault. He had to help Draco now or, Salazar was his witness, he'd unleash the Veela Rage onto Marius Black.

*


Beltane Night

An accident, Lucius' son says when he stumbles into the Ministry's offices late at Beltane night that will be celebrated in St Mary Magdalene as well as around Silbury Hil. There's no more denying Draco's Veela blood, not with those wings, even when he hides them underneath voluminous robes. Then he reveals them, and a sharp thrill rushes through Rodolphus Lestrange. Such beauty in this boy who has Angels' colours, his wings glittering silver and blue like freshly fallen snow on a pool of ice. In this moment he hates Draco for this gift that lies hidden in the Malfoys' blood, and yet this boy knows nothing of it, does not even care.

The left wing is pierced by a shard of glass, feathers cut and frazzled as if Draco had been rolling around on a floor covered with debris. Rodolphus wonders what made him reveal his Veela nature (and more importantly, to whom), but he does not ask. Once he withheld the potion from Lucius' son, something like this was bound to happen. In fact, Rodolphus was waiting for it.

Draco is in pain, frightened and furious at the same time. The tight-lipped look on his face, the grey anger in his eyes, it's Lucius all over again. And for all that he won't tell Rodolphus what happened, he trusts him, more than he should. More than Lucius ever trusted him.

He leads him to a table covered with spotless linen sheets, he makes him lie on it, administers a Calming Draught and a potion against the pain. The he removes the shard. Episkey heals Veela as much as man, quicker even. When Lucius' son relaxes and his wings vanish into that hidden place beneath his human skin, tugged in between his vertebrae, Rodolphus says the one word he's waited to say all evening.

"Imperio!"

*


It didn't feel like they were in Wiltshire anymore, no matter that Loveknight, the Veela knight who had snatched Harry from his office, had said that Wiltshire was their destination. Even the star-studded, moonless sky seemed too bright for the English countryside. They were within a large clearing surrounded by high, swaying trees that were not elms nor birches nor any species Harry recognised. Rosehip bushes grew everywhere, flowering in an abundance of pink and white. The night air was still and balmy, reminding him of the vacation to El Hierro that he'd taken with Ron and Hermione a couple of years ago. A huge fire was burning in the middle of the clearing.

And there were the Veela. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of them were crouching or walking all over the place.

Loveknight stood closest to Harry. He had introduced himself as the leader of the Veela Brigade, which Harry assumed was some kind of combatant organisation. The Veela's face was that of a raptor, black eyes round and piercing, the beak dark orange, looking sharp like a razor. His armour was made of pale bone and long black feathers; his wings were brown, shot with red. He looked so unlike Malfoy, wings notwithstanding, that Harry wondered how much Veela blood truly ran in Malfoy's ancestry. There was little similarity between this martial creature that even walked and squawked like a bird, and Malfoy, furious and hurt, as Harry had left him in the darkness of the library.

Judging from the dark sky, it could have only been a couple of hours since Harry had stumbled out of Malfoy Bank. He had had gone straight to his office and got hammered on what was left of his last bottle of Ogden's finest. Malfoy throwing him out after they had been so incredibly close had been too much to take. Not to speak of the intensity of the experience that easily had been the best sex Harry'd ever had in his life. He would have done almost anything for Malfoy in those moments when they leaned panting against the bookcases afterwards, with the wings enfolding them. And Harry knew that Malfoy was not really throwing him out his office, but that he tried to exorcise the Veela within himself. Malfoy's secret was not so much his Veela heritage, but that he abhorred it.

Still, knowing all that didn't take the disappointment away that made Harry's heart hurt in a way that only Ogden's could relieve. He sometimes -- rarely -- drank out of a vague sense of longing and loneliness that he could put no name to, but not last night. Last night he'd known exactly why he had downed tumbler after tumbler of honey-coloured single malt: he'd seen a glimpse of the Draco Malfoy whom he'd been infatuated with for so long. A glimpse of a man who could be caring when he hurt you, a man insanely proud of his name and all he'd achieved, a man so utterly protective of his weaknesses that to have them revealed would shake him to the core. Splintery and raw, refined and smooth – it was those contradictions that made Draco Malfoy who he was. And Harry wanted nothing more than to be the one that Malfoy hooked his splinters in when in turn Harry could be the one who stripped away the mask and was entrusted with all that Malfoy would never show to the world.

It was in this maudlin mood -- royally pissed, wrapped in his blood-speckled blanket and mooning over the pictures of Malfoy -- that Loveknight had smashed the door of Harry's office, grabbed the wreath from the desk and yanked Harry from his chair. He remembered only gushing winds and the dark blue firmament high above when the Veela had carried him through the air all the way to -- supposedly -- Wiltshire.

He must have lost consciousness at one point because he did not remember having been laid out -- all in the buff, too -- on a bed made from sweet-smelling hay and strawberry-scented roses, upon sheets, thin and soft like gauze. His skin had been painted with spiralling green patterns and a single vine of rose blossoms twined over him, casually hiding his groin and at the same time tying him to the bed. But even without the thorny restraint, Harry couldn't have moved. He must have been hit with a powerful Body-Bind Curse. As much as he tried to shake it of, the invisible bonds did not give one bit.

"He's awake, Angels." Loveknight was talking to another Veela who stood at the head of the bed outside of Harry's field of vision.

"I am still not convinced that you've picked the right one." The Veela stepped around to the side of Harry. She was dressed in close-fitting robes that seemed to be woven from thousands of white, silver-tinged feathers. Her long hair was the same white-blond as Malfoy's, and yes, Harry could see a similarity now, what with the Veela's grey-blue wings and her skin that shimmered like thin porcelain around a cup of starlight. Angels looked as if she'd stood model for all the fairy princesses in Harry's Muggle children books. Then he saw her face, and all the resemblance to fairy princesses or even to Malfoy was gone. The Veela's powerful beak looked as if it was cut from ivory. But her eyes were the most unearthly part of her, large and golden, with a black iris much like an owl's. When she blinked at Harry, two lids closed over the shining rounds.

He tried to shift away when she reached out towards his hair, but the Curse or whatever wouldn't let him move. Angels' white claws touched Harry's cheek in a haphazard gesture that felt like an echo of Malfoy's claws scratching deep into his skin.

"The Garland is withered," she said. Only then did Harry notice the wreath of dried, dead leaves that had been placed in his hair.

"A black-haired wizard with a scar on his face, the Oracle said, my Queen." Loveknight's squawky voice sounded uncertain.

"Oh, he looks all right, but why won't the Garland bloom?" Angels let her claws trail down Harry's chest and belly, and she moved the vine for a peak. If the widening of her large eyes was any indication, she approved of what she saw. For the first time since Loveknight had brought him to this alien place, a flash of fear shot down Harry's back. What did the Veela want with him?

The Veela turned towards the clearing, and her wings touched Harry's arm. "Where is the Provider?" she called out.

"He is here, my Queen."

The voice was human, a melodious dark baritone. Harry could make out a tall man with a beard at the side of the clearing. He was clad in blue robes, a wizard if the raised wand was any indication. There was movement in the shadows underneath the trees from where the man had come, but he stood still like a sarsen stone underneath a natural arc of flowering branches.

"Rodolphus," Angels whispered. "You love-struck fool of a man. How in the wide heavens did you ..."

Harry missed what else she was saying, for a second man stepped out from under the shadows of the trees. His hair and face were hidden under a hood, and he was wearing robes so stern and forbidding he looked like his father in his Death Eater days. But Harry would have recognised Draco Malfoy everywhere. A jolt of surprise and relief surged through him. He struggled against the Body Bind again, to warn Malfoy off or at least alert him to his presence. Loveknight must have seen him, too, because all of a sudden he held a three-pointed shield on one arm and was striding across the clearing towards the wizards. The blade of his long sword sparked red in the fire's shine.

Damn the Body Bind. Harry focused on his right hand, and he managed to clench his fingers into a fist. But then Angels turned to him, her golden eyes livid and wild. Harry felt his fingers loosen again, without any of his doing. Not a Body Bind then. The Veela had no magic comparable to that of wizards and witches. The Thrall, Harry assumed. Back at Hogwarts, when Ron had been so smitten with Fleur, Seamus had explained about the powers of the Veela to entice, bait and immobilise their prey.

"Lord Malfoy," Angels said. "So the descendants of the Silbury covey have not yet abandoned their duties and broken the Oath. What a pleasure to see you in my realm."

Malfoy was walking towards Angels, taking awkward long steps across the grass. Harry wondered whether the injury was causing his oddly stiff gait. But there was no sign of wings hiding underneath Malfoy's robes.

"I come to provide a Consort for the Queen." Malfoy's voice sounded utterly stilted and almost forced, all his smooth snarl gone. Harry tried to catch his gaze, but Malfoy stared straight ahead at the Veela Queen. Just then, high flames flared up from the fire and illuminated his face. Harry gasped, or he would have, had he not been under Angels' Thrall. Malfoy's eyes were without spark, a dead grey like they'd never looked in all the years that Harry had known him.

"We have brought him here already." Angels spread her wings, plunging Harry in blue shadows and cutting his view off. "You sent him the Garland, choosing a messenger who descended from the covey. It seems you have knowledge of the ancient rites, Lord Malfoy. Where have you been these last years, may I ask? Look at the land around Silbury Hill. It is all but dead." The Queen's voice was reproachful, to say the least. Her claws curled and flexed while she was talking.

All that Harry could see of Malfoy were his boots and robe-wrapped legs. They took a step back as he said, in the same stilted voice as before, "You abducted the wrong one. Why didn't you wait for me to come to the hawthorn gate? The Provider, not the leader of the Queen's brigade, accompanies the Consort into the realm."

How the fuck did Malfoy know about Loveknight? And what did he mean, the wrong one? For all that Harry could tell Malfoy had not known a thing about the Veela when he sprouted wings in the bank's library.

A trilling laugh came from the Queen. "Ah, you Malfoys with your petty human pride. You've failed your duty for years, boy. Did you think I was simply going to watch my kind die? Tell me: will or will you not provide me with a Consort for the Beltane rites this spring?"

"I will, my Queen." Malfoy's boots turned, and the hem of his robes swung in a half-circle. "Your true Consort stands right beneath the hawthorn gate."

Angels moved so fast that Harry never saw her step away from the bed. She held Malfoy from the back, her claws dangerously close to his throat, and her wings securing his arms in a deadly clutch. "Do not test my patience, Malfoy. I don't know what Rodolphus has on you, but he is not welcome in the Hidden Realm. Listen to your Veela blood, wizarding spawn."

"My Queen." The dark voice of the bearded man rang across the clearing. "I have been your faithful Consort for a year. Let the Garland make its choice, and I'll come back to your side."

*


Draco was standing underneath the trees, wrapped in a wonderful sense of calm. He felt as if he had just awoken from a long, luxurious sleep and over night, all his troubles had evaporated into thin air. The Rosier boy's complaint, the increase in vault terminations, the blotched potion -- it was washed away like ink letters on the pages of the Prophet in a light spring rain. Perhaps it had never happened at all. He couldn't have grown wings, now could he? And did he really fuck Potter?

But the moment these questions came into his mind, they were already gone again. All Draco felt was a warm happy feeling in his chest. There were Veela around, true Veela with beaks and wings, and Marius Black stood below a gate of entwining branches. Draco only had to follow him and all was right.

He heard Black's voice fill his mind: Step into the clearing. Walk towards the Queen. And he did so obediently. There was no reason not to walk across the fine green grass. The words coming out of his mouth were just an echo of what Black's voice was saying in his mind. I do, my Queen.

"I do, my Queen." He pronounced the syllables as perfectly as he could. Your Consort stands right beneath the hawthorn gate, Black's voice supplied.

Potter? Another voice spoke up in the back of Draco's mind. Potter shouldn't be lying here. Not naked. Not with that wreath in his hair.

Speak! Everything was going to be fine if he just formed the words.

"Your Consort stands right beneath the hawthorn gate."

Now turn! Draco turned away from Potter, motioning towards Black, like the voice told him to do.

You shouldn't leave Potter here, the other voice whispered. You should have never let Potter leave last night. She's going to kill him.

The next thing Draco felt were Angels' claws at his throat. "Do not test my patience, Malfoy. I don't know what Rodolphus has on you, but he is not welcome in the Hidden Realm. Listen to your Veela blood, wizarding spawn."

This one, was pulsing through Draco's blood. Dimly he heard Black's voice boom in his ears. In his mind, the wizard's voice ordered: Grab the wreath. Bring it to me.

Black fucked you over, the other voice said. And now he's gone around the bend. Why should you follow his orders?

With one instinctive flick of the wrist Draco's wand was in his hand. The owl eyes of the Veela went wide when he pointed the wand towards her heart.

"Human," she hissed at him, "don't you dare to --"

From the corner of his eyes Draco saw a dark-winged Veela approach, brandishing a huge sword. Salazar, he'd known why not to get entangled in Veela affairs. They were mental, the whole rabid bunch of them. With all of his strength he pushed the Veela Queen to the side.

Grab the wreath. Bring it to me, Black's voice commanded in his head.

This one, Draco's blood sang.

Don't let the Queen close to Potter, the voice in the back of his mind whispered. His voice. Draco's voice.

He stretched his shoulders, and the fabric of Father's robes tore apart with a loud ripping noise. His wings unfurled from the shredded garment, and he extended them to their full span. Draco leapt upon the grassy bed and knelt over Potter, covering his body with his wings. No one would touch him, least of all this Veela bitch in heat. Potter's green eyes met his. There was a light in them, like sunrays in a forest in spring. A thorn scratched along Draco's thigh and he reached for the vine that still tied Potter to the bed.

"Diffindo," he muttered, pointing his wand at the twining rose.

It snapped loose and withdrew into the rosehip bush at the side of the bed, slithering away like a garden snake. Potter's hand was at his wrist at once. "To your right, Malfoy. Watch out!"

As Draco was already turning to prepare for whatever attack was coming, Potter murmured, "Good to see you, lover boy."

Warmth, keen and alive, pooled in Draco's stomach, as he raised his wand, a Stunning Spell on his lips.

*


Oh, how he missed the scent of summer and strawberries that always lingers in the air of the Forbidden Realm. His eyes cannot get enough of the green and blue, this shimmering vision of grass, leaves and sky that means home to him. He has longed for this land almost as much as he longs for Angels now who stands not fifty yards away, close and yet still out of his reach. She is so beautiful he cannot bear look at her face, for fear that her brilliance will blind him.

Draco is a dim shadow before Angels' light; he served his purpose well. The image of the Veela in St Mary Magdalene marks the location of the gate, but it took the touch of Lucius' son to open it. The primeval creatures' magic is so easily duped by human witchcraft and sorcery. A simple Imperius, and the Provider turned traitor to his ancestry, allowing company to enter that by ancient law should never again set foot into the Realm. A Consort's days are measured, Angels had told Rodolphus when she sent him away, and that he was lucky to still be alive. But he will not, he cannot bear to lose her.

Voldemort taught them that even Death can be cheated yet all Rodolphus wants is to trick the Garland Gay. The Orchideous is a basic transfiguration spell thirteen year olds can master. Once Draco brings him the Garland he will cast the spell, and it will bloom -- for him. The Queen needs a Consort, and Potter, the withered wreath in his hair, clearly isn't it.

He has no idea why Harry bloody Potter is here. How could the half-blood even enter the Realm when Rodolphus is held back by an invisible barrier that won't let him pass through the hawthorn gate? He keeps staring at the man who once was this skinny boy who defeated Voldemort. Even the best laid plans go awry when Potter appears; it was one of the most frustrating lessons the war had taught him. And almost as if to proof his fears correct, Rodolphus' hold on Draco starts to waver the second Draco sets eyes on Potter. It takes all of Rodolphus' magical power to keep him under Imperius.

When Draco draws his wand at Angels and reveals his wings and covers Potter in them, things click into place. Slytherin to the end, Rodolphus grasps within the blink of an eye to whom Lucius' son revealed his wings last night, and why. Perhaps, he thinks, perhaps he's too old for a world where a Potter and a Malfoy can be mates. It is time to move on. His fate has been lying with the Veela for years.

He steps into the clearing, a wordless Alohamora on his mind. He will snatch the Garland; he will magick it to bloom. The Flowering is sacred to the Veela. Angels will be his for another year and a day.

A screech, a raptor's piercing eyes, the strangling pressure of long, sharp claws: Rodolphus Lestrange's foot has not yet touched the dew-covered grass when his neck is broken in a swift, determined snap.

*


The wizard's dead body dropped from Shimmerburg's claws. Bodyguard of the Queen was she, daughter's daughter of the ancient line of the Keepers of the Gates. Never had a Consort tried to force his entrance back into the Realm. It was a thing unheard of in the long history of the Order of the Veela. Curse the wizarding spawn, curse them tenfold! Shimmerburg longed for the olden days when the Veela Queen didn't mate with wizarding kind. Back then, the human Consort's life came to an end when his successor was chosen, just like the old year would pass to make room for the new.

Over at the fire, Loveknight was fighting the Provider, but the Queen was safe for now. Shimmerburg picked the body up from where it had fallen onto a patch of woodruff. It did not belong into the Realm. She carried it over to the other side of the gate where moonlight was slanting across the pews of the church. Let the Malfoy boy deal with the aftermath; he had brought Rodolphus to the border of the Realm, after all.

Shimmerburg left the body on the floor beside the font. She was about to return to her Queen when she heard the soft flapping of wings. A snowy was gliding through the main nave of St Mary Magdalene, circling above the altar and returning back to the door. All birds are the Veelas' friends, but owls are sacred to them. Shimmerburg let out a high-pitched trill, and the snowy came to her, eyes glimmering in the dark. It alighted on the font and held out its leg. A tiny roll of parchment was attached to it. A magical owl, but certainly bearing no message for Shimmerburg. The Veela would never thus use their feathered friends. Tearing the parchment from the owl's leg with her claw, Shimmerburg rubbed beaks with the snowy and crooned to it in the language of the birds.

Draco Malfoy, Beltane circle, Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, the address said. And it made sense now why the snowy would deliver its message to a Veela. For the recipient was in the Veela Realm that no living creature from this world could enter without permission of the Order, not even on Beltane night when the curtains between the worlds grew thin.

Shimmerburg was about to unroll the parchment and see what urgent message couldn't wait for the Provider's return when a man entered the church and walked down the aisle.

"Ziggy," he called out softly, and the snowy who had been cleaning its feathers, cocked its head at Shimmerburg, then flew onto the outstretched hand of the man. He was a wizard, judging by the robes and the black shape of a raised wand in the dark. "Where the fuck is he?" he muttered to himself.

At that moment he turned towards where Shimmerburg stood and she could see his face. In the moonlight scars gleamed silver on his left cheek and down the middle of his chin. She had been wondering about him, the rightful Consort of the Queen, the one she had watched in the Malfoys' winter garden when the Garland had flowered under his touch. So he had finally arrived, with no help of the Provider, as far as she could tell. With an inward sigh and a flexing of her wings Shimmerburg stepped from the shadows and revealed herself. Leave it to her to finish even the simplest tasks that the wizarding spawns had solemnly sworn to fulfil. She would guide the true Consort to his Queen.

*


Harry couldn't take his eyes of the wreath. Since the moment Montague had touched it, new shoots and leaves were sprouting from it. Now it was blooming in a myriad of colours, forget-me-nots, daffodils, tulips, clover ... Tiny strawberries ripened on dark-leafed vines woven all through. Harry wanted to grasp it, to make sure it was real, but Loveknight held him back. Harry was wearing Malfoy's shredded robes, and he was glad for the cover. Loveknight and his sword were scary enough without the deadly blade close to his naked skin.

"Are you bloody out of your mind, Montague? You can't stay here," Malfoy whispered urgently. His wings were still fully extended, a feathery mass that seemed to have caught gleaming sparks of fire. Every once in a while a wing fluttered close and touched Harry's back in a gesture that was nothing if not possessive. Malfoy never once took his eyes of the Veela Queen.

"I don't think I have much of a choice." Montague's voice was low, but he seemed oddly calm. He kept turning the flowering wreath, touching petals and leaves. His pale fingers were smeared with the juice of crushed strawberries.

"Of course you have a choice. I'll distract the Veela, and we make a run for the gate."

"It's not as if they can't follow us, Draco." Montague was watching Angels from half-closed eyes. The Queen had not moved since Shimmerburg had taken the wreath from Harry's head and handed it to Montague. Only her wings were swaying back and forth, in a soft, slow rhythm that mirrored the way Montague kept turning the wreath in his hands.

"I won't leave you here, do you understand? And stop looking at her, damn it! She'll put you under Thrall." Malfoy's wings fluttered tensely against Harry's back.

But before Montague could respond, Angels seemed to have made up her mind. She stepped back and let her golden gaze move over Harry, Malfoy and last, Montague. Then she said, "The Garland has spoken true and clear, Provider. Why would you deny the Veela their sacrifice?"

"He has nothing to do with all of that. Leave your claws off him. He has a life out there, in our world. You can't take it from him." Malfoy's voice was shaking. He stood with wings outstretched, as if he meant to gather both Harry and Montague beneath them. But while Harry stepped closer, to calm Malfoy down somehow, and be at his side should the Veela attack, Montague moved away, out of the reach of Malfoy's wings.

"Draco," he said softly, "you know that I have nothing much to go back to. Maybe this here is my chance to really have a life."

Malfoy tensed, but already the Queen spoke again.

"So you won't provide the Consort who has been chosen by the Garland Gay. And neither will you leave us this false Consort for the Beltane rites, no matter that you yourself have given the Garland to him. Make up your mind, Provider." She was closer all of a sudden, standing a mere couple of feet in front of Harry, who hadn't seen her move at all.

The claws pushed out from Malfoy's fingertips in a spray of blood. His wings stretched wider than ever before. The fire caught in them, making them flicker orange and golden.

"This one," he all but growled, "this one is mine. He is ..." and he touched Harry with the tip of his wing that glowed red like it had back in the library, "... my mate."

If Veela were able to smirk then the smug look in Angels' face was a smirk. She did a thing with her beak that made it both broader and sharper as she leaned so close to Malfoy that her feather robes touched his chest. "Believe me, Lord Malfoy, I have no use for your mate. But this other one," she shot a glance at Montague, "this other one is my rightful Consort this Beltane."

She took one quick step towards Montague, took the wreath from his hands and placed it upon his black hair.

There was a moment of utter stillness when Angels' wings slowly came around Montague's body and wrapped him in a two-fold embrace of Veela arms and Veela wings. Then all hell broke loose.

The Beltane fire erupted into a roaring storm of flames, threatening to blaze across the clearing like Fiendfyre. Fierce, high-pitched bird cries came from all around as the Veela screeched wildly. Montague's face lit up, then twisted into a grimace that Harry first took as pain, but clearly was closer to ecstasy, the way Montague melted into Angels' embrace.

The greatest change, though, came over the Veela Queen herself. She whispered something in Montague's ear and he nodded. Angels kissed him, and even while their lips were still touching her shoulders seemed to broaden, and her hips, slender already, narrowed even more. The change in her face was almost imperceptible, a hardening of the jaw perhaps, and a resettling of her cheek-bones so subtle that Harry could not have said for certain anything had changed at all. But the bright face that turned to Montague when Angels ended the kiss was that of a Veela male of indeterminate age, with Angels' golden eyes and a smirking beak that made him look haughty now rather than smug.

"Salazar's silver balls." Malfoy stared at the Veela Queen, his voice hoarse with awe. "Can you believe the lucky bastard? If he survives Beltane night, he will be fucking this gorgeous bloke for seven years."

"Malfoy." Harry touched his shoulder, and Malfoy turned at once. Harry couldn't help wondering whether there would be random, reckless fucking for him and Malfoy for the next seven years, as well. Bloody gorgeous git, his smitten mind provided, and something must have shown on his face.

"What?" The question came with the cool touch of a wing.

"Let's get out of here."

*


They were running beneath green bows touching their hair and their arms, branches were whipping at their faces -- and came to a stop in a place where the moon was shining down upon them. The grass underneath Harry's naked feet was cool, and there was a breeze rushing through the stillness of the night. He felt his body go limp from the sheer relief of being back with Malfoy here, alive, away from the fire and the turmoil in the clearing. The sky was like dark blue velvet with stars strewn across it like a thousand glittering diamonds. They had to be far away from any place where Muggle street-lamps brightened the night.

"Silbury Hill," Malfoy whispered at Harry's side. The mound rose a ways behind them, a treeless round against the sky.

He is my mate.

Bound for life, seven times seven, Fleur's grandmother had explained about the Veela mating. A dainty old woman with silver hair reaching all the way down her back, she had singled Harry out at Bill and Fleur's wedding. Her round blue eyes had seen right through his disguise. Bound by a power stronger than magic, a power beyond magic, she had said. Harry recalled the quick flash of fear in Fleur's face when she had accepted the goblet with wine. And Harry remembered distinctly the look of awe on Bill's face when he had kissed drops of wine from Fleur's lips, his arms wrapped tightly around her as if she was too fragile to stand on her own.

Malfoy had his face still turned towards the hill. His body was glistening with sweat, he seemed to shimmer in the light of the moon. The wings had retreated into that hidden place underneath Malfoy's skin, leaving only two faintly reddish lines that looked like scars. Veela could not live without their mates; they died if their mates' presence was denied for more than a couple of weeks. It was a cruel death, much like a plant would droop, shrivel up and die without water. Harry wondered whether this was true, too, for wizards with Veela blood. He remembered what Bill had told him later, sitting on the bench behind Shell Cottage: that it was not magic or sex or any special kind of wine which sealed this bond. It was in a Veela's blood, a fate destined and desired, set before the beginnings of time, and yet chosen freely. A contradiction to all that Harry had ever thought about love. And yet there was his obsession with Malfoy, and the fact that Malfoy had sprouted wings when they had fucked.

From somewhere to their right came the noises of people moving and talking, then the glowing pinpricks of candle light or wand-tipped Lumos became visible in the darkness. Harry moved closer to Malfoy, taken by a fierce need to protect him against whoever was entering the holy ground around Silbury Hill. It had been silly to assume they'd be safe here in this wide-open land. Malfoy gave him an odd smile and held out his hand.

"Beltane," he said and then Harry, too, heard the laughter and singing. The dancers entered the ground, lead by a man in green robes and a staff sprouting tiny leaves. Harry recognised the owner of the New Inn in Winterbourne. Francis Blackman stopped when he saw them, waved the staff and continued walking with light steps towards a thicket of brambles and wild roses.

"Fancy joining me for the rites, Potter?"

Harry had never been good with words, especially not with Malfoy looking at him like this, need and tenderness all wrapped in one, and anyway, Malfoy would kill him if he ever told him how beautiful he was, all those lovely angles sharpened by moonlight and his eyes shining with something that only Harry could see.

He took Malfoy's hand and squeezed it hard.

*


Seven Years Later

They said their goodbyes during the long night of Beltane. For the very last time, his beautiful lover made love to him. Montague will never see Angels again, not in mortal life. The Veela's face is not from this world. He knew this from the start.

And so he takes a last breath and gulps in the scent of strawberries that is ever present in the Hidden Realm. He glances one last time at the land shimmering green and blue as far as the misty horizons. There is a beauty here of beginnings, a freshness of the very first day. This land is untouched by humankind and will be forever. Here he will be remembered as the Broomrider Who Knows the Clouds; in his own world he will become one of the great weather wizards of his time. But he doesn't know that yet, and it is with a sense of trepidation that he steps through the white bloom of the hawthorn gate.

He is back. The blue light of the early morning falls in through the windows of St Mary Magdalene. His trousers and the shirt he hasn't worn in seven years smell like fire. When he pushes his overlong curls out of his face, he realises that his scars are gone. This is my gift to you, he hears Angels' voice in his mind, and he feels young like he is seventeen again, young like he was on the day before he was locked into the Cabinet.

In his trouser pocket he finds his wand, made from reed with a core of Veela hair. Fate leaves its taste on his tongue, tart and juicy like apples. He does magic for the first time in seven years, Apparating the few miles to Malfoy Manor that lies asleep in the first shy light of the morning. Hanny lets him in, and if the house elf is surprised to see him she doesn't show. He steps into the parlour, heading for the winter garden where he first discovered the Garland Gay. That's where he finds them, asleep on one of the leather couches by the fireplace. Potter's in pyjamas, Draco wears an unfamiliar velvet dressing gown. There's grey in Potter's black hair, and there are two pairs of glasses lying on the side-table. Their bodies are entangled, with Draco's arm firmly around the waist of his mate.

Silently he retreats back into the hall and walks up the stairs to his suite of rooms. The hallway has a deserted feel to it. Nobody lives here anymore. But the door to his room is open, morning sunlight is slanting into the dim hall. His old room smells fresh like it's been recently repainted. The curtains are new, made from golden silk, pale and shining like Angels' eyes. Longing pierces him for the Veela's touch, for the calm and brilliance of the days at Angels' side and the nights in his embrace. The longing will be with him for the rest of his life. Then he sees the bowl of strawberries, freshly picked from the Manor's gardens. A piece of parchment lies beside it.

Montague, he reads, I tried to stay up but you took your sweet old time coming. How long can it possible take to Apparate from St Magdalene to the Manor? Anyway, Welcome, old friend. I knew you would make it back. We see each other at breakfast. D.

fin


Leave a Review

MASTERLIST