“Malfoy,” Harry called out after Defense class and was happy when the other student paused and turned to look at him incredulously.
Harry knew this was a bad idea, but he was at his wits’ end. He’d tried to send out his response to Krum’s letter, but it just looked so plain and small and insignificant. Last time his letter had at least had the formality of being in Latin, but now—now. Harry shook his head. He needed something to set his letter apart. He didn’t know why this was important, couldn’t fathom his reasoning, and yet he wanted his letter to be separate from normal correspondence. This was his life—this was forever—
Marriage was forever.
A lump formed in his throat.
“Well, Evans?” Malfoy questioned, pulling Harry out of his terrifying thoughts. “What is it that you want?”
Glancing at Malfoy’s two companions, Parkinson and Zabini, Harry took a deep breath. “Do you have a moment?”
Malfoy’s serene expression didn’t change, for which Harry was grateful, and with a flick of his hand to show that it was all right, Zabini and Parkinson continued on their way toward the Great Hall for lunch. The two remaining students stared at each other, Malfoy in obvious interest at being addressed and Harry in embarrassment.
Hermione stalked past them and glared openly at Malfoy, but he just hissed at her, causing her to leap back in fright. Harry had to contain a laugh.
“Shoo, Granger, this doesn’t concern you,” Malfoy drawled as she paused, hovering several steps away from them. “I’ll return your precious Potter to you in the same shape I found him.”
She sniffed at him. “Why should I believe you?” Her voice quavered slightly and Malfoy just twirled his wand in between his fingers.
“Would I really want to piss off one of the First Families?”
Hermione looked startled and, when Harry didn’t tell her to wait, she huffed and turned away.
“Mudbloods,” Malfoy cursed under his breath, but Harry barely noticed. The hallway was now almost empty and he needed something from Malfoy. The two hardly knew each other. They’d met in class the first week, Malfoy openly eyeing him and Harry just shrugging at him, suddenly used to the strange amount of interest in him. The two hadn’t really exchanged many words outside of class—or in it for that matter—but Harry didn’t actively mind the Malfoy heir. He never called Harry a Mudblood and always addressed him as “Evans” if he said anything to him at all. Ron had tried to drag him into many of their scuffles, but Harry had always hung back, instead watching the two, seeing a snippet of wrist here, the elegant turn of the neck, the way a pale fringe fell into grey—
“Admiring my eyes, Evans? What would the fiancé say to that?”
Harry visibly shook himself and glanced at Malfoy, whose eyes were alight with amusement. He cleared his throat, trying to regain his thought process. “Er—sorry.”
“No worries,” Draco drawled, a smirk forming on his lips. “You’re welcome to look anytime you like. Just look, mind you. Don’t want your aging sugar daddy to curse me to within an inch of my life.” He leered at Harry, his own gaze lingering on the way Harry’s white shirt was tight against his chest. “Anytime, Evans.”
Malfoy leaned against the wall. “So, anyone I know?”
Harry felt himself relax into the inane questioning. And it was just that—inane. He could tell that Malfoy really wasn’t prying, just trying to make small talk and setting Harry at ease while looking at places where he really shouldn’t ….
Who would have thought that Malfoy was inclined the same way Harry was?
“Yes, actually. I think so.”
“Ah,” Malfoy breathed out. “That makes it so much more interesting. Perhaps he’ll send the family a wedding invitation? The Malfoys, while not the Oligarchy, are the elite. The closest thing we have in Britain—I think the closest first family is in France.”
“Oh, really? I didn’t really know.”
“No, of course not,” Malfoy agreed. “There’s no reason for you to know. Father’s paranoid about red ribbons though. He wants me to have a choice—his great aunt received one, you see, and, well, she actually took a dark artifact to her person to avoid it. Didn’t even bother to open the letter, as the story goes.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “Are they—are they that bad?”
Malfoy snorted elegantly, his head thrown back against the wall, the ends of his longish hair touching his shoulders enticingly. “Hardly. She was a bit of a diva, from what I understand. Still, Father would rather that I not get one, so I’ve done a bit of research on it just to understand it all. Traced the rumors of the first families. My guess” —he paused, looking Harry up and down slowly as if undressing him with his eyes— “is that if I know him, and you know that I do, that the family must have been represented at the Triwizard Tournament somehow.”
Harry flinched despite himself.
Malfoy smirked. “Yes—that seems to have struck a nerve. How intriguing. How may I be of help?”
Harry took in a deep breath. “I don’t have any really special parchment or ink, and his letters are so—“
“Ah, yes, formal.” Malfoy calmly inspected his fingernails. “What does he use, illuminations?”
“No, then.” Malfoy sighed and turned his head to the side, his gray gaze catching Harry’s. “Do you happen to have one on you?”
“I just want to see the first few lines. See what this prince of yours is doing with his letters. You shouldn’t copy the same technique. You want to startle him, surprise him. You seem to want to make a good impression.”
“Er—“ Harry blushed.
“I’ll take that as confirmation. Gods, I need a fag.” Malfoy pushed himself from the corridor and turned, moving toward a window.
“Follow, Evans,” he commanded simply as he rummaged through his bag and pulled out a cigarette case. With a flick of his wand, the window was open and yet the warmth didn’t seep out of the area. “Want one?” he asked as Harry came up beside him, feeling himself entering a bubble of warmth right near the stained glass.
“Figured,” Malfoy muttered to himself. He stuck one in his mouth, lit it with the end of his wand, and took in a large breath. “Specially ordered from a little wizard in Morocco. Best wizard tobacco outside of Virginia, and I prefer it. Well, Evans. Where’s this letter of his?”
“Right,” Harry mumbled as he carefully took it out of his breast pocket and unrolled the first few lines so Malfoy could clearly see the gold lettered initial and the red vowels.
Malfoy squinted at it. “Impressive,” he murmured. “Right. Illumination it is, then. Do you know calligraphy?”
Harry stared blankly at him.
“Chicken scratch it is, then. I daresay he’ll find it endearing, your prince.” He drew in a long drag from his cigarette and sighed, blowing smoke out from his nostrils. “Be at the library at four this afternoon. I’ll have the parchment and some expensive ink. Do you have the draft written?”
Nodding quickly, Harry breathed out a sigh of relief.
“Excellent.” Malfoy flicked his nearly finished cigarette out the window. “See you then,” and then with a swish of robes he was gone.
The library was filled with curious Ravenclaws, all hoping to get a glimpse of whatever research Harry and Kevin would do on the mysterious fiancé. Harry was startled that the rumors hadn’t made it to the Daily Prophet yet, but he supposed the magic inherent in receiving a ribbon had effectively silenced the castle. They seemed to be able to talk about it among themselves, but not to the outside—not to anyone who didn’t already know. That, at least, was a relief. He could just imagine what Skeeter would say about the entire situation—the passing thought sent a chill down his spine.
That just couldn’t happen, clearly. His life was already turning into a nightmare without her buggy presence.
The parchment Draco brought was beautiful. It was no more than a thin sheet of see through paper that Malfoy said was spun from flobberworm silk with a simple border in blue, showing stars fluttering across the page as a wizard watched from beneath a tree. “I can’t—“ Harry began, but Malfoy just quieted him.
“There’s more where this came from.” He slid a card over to Harry. “This is the only paper I had that wasn’t engraved with my name or initials; you should probably special order yourself some over Christmas. The foreign prince will appreciate it.”
“Prince?” Kevin asked from his seat beside Harry.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “The First Families are royalty to us. Whoever Evans’s admirer is—he’s a prince or a duke. The two are usually interchangeable, but gathering the fact that he’s making an offer of marriage to Evans here, it shows that he’s probably the head of his family or at least the heir. He must be a prince.”
“He’s never said,” Harry whispered as he traced a shooting star with the pad of his thumb.
“Of course he didn’t. That would be common.”
“Heaven forbid if he were actually common,” Kevin grunted.
Malfoy gave him a fierce look that Harry read as confirmation of Kevin’s flippant statement.
It took Harry a painstaking hour and a half to copy over his letter, trying desperately to form cursive letters that made his hand cramp. Malfoy sat on the opposite side of the table, offering encouragement and snide comments whenever the mood suited him and glaring at anyone, especially Gryffindors, who tried to approach the table.
“Stupid, the lot of them,” he grumbled after telling Ginny Weasley that her hair should be made into a hat for a penniless banshee as only such a creature would want such a grotesque color on top of her head. The poor girl had run off in tears. “She’d probably be your mistress on the side, Evans, if you asked.”
Harry gagged and Kevin had to take away his nearly finished letter so he didn’t accidentally ruin all of his hard work.
That night, Harry first dreamt of Krum, of dark eyes without color, a scowl on thin lips, and words whispered in Bulgarian that he could not understand. He awoke gasping, the lingering feeling of lips pressed against his, and tears fell silently from his eyes.
“Why?” he whispered into the darkness, but no one answered him.
He fell asleep again, alone, the red ribbon tangled in his fingers.
Both Hermione and Ginny were barely speaking to Harry the next day, but he really didn’t mind. He saw them whispering together over breakfast and caught snatches of names—strangely of fathers of several Slytherin students—and knew that they must be hypothesizing on Krum’s identity.
“Why did you lie to me the other day?” Ginny begged him in the common room after dinner. “Why?”
Her eyes lingered on the red ribbon that he was absentmindedly twirling around his fingers.
He had no answer for her—at least not one that she’d want to hear.
Harry stared down at the scar on the back of his hand. I must not believe in nonsense. Anger curled in his stomach at Umbridge, and he just wished Krum would come and take him away—though he feared it would be to something worse, much worse. Hogwarts was all he knew of the wizarding world. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
A common Muggle phrase, but one that fit his situation well.
He wondered absentmindedly if Granger would sneer if he quoted it at her.
Then again, that might actually be an improvement, strangely enough. He holed himself up in the common room, tucked into one of the few nooks with window seats, and opened up his small book of Shakespeare’s sonnets that his cousin Dudley had slipped into his hand just before he left for his fifth year. Harry hadn’t thought that Dudley paid much attention to his studies (though he did better now at Smeltings than he had at their Muggle primary – probably because Aunt Petunia wouldn’t stand for any of his usual nonsense that she had seemed to encourage when Vernon was still around)—but still, the small gift had been much appreciated. He thumbed the thin pages absentmindedly, letting them fall open at their will, not looking for any sonnet in particular.
A word caught his eye, and he glanced down, the callus on his index finger rubbing against the corner of the page. Marriage…
Red for lust—red for a drop of blood in the snow—red for the tears a rose cried when its petal-heart began to fade—
Carefully he stroked the page, his eyes unseeing as he thought of his dream the night before. It had been at the Quidditch world cup, he remembered it now, when they were hiding in the ditch, their fingers entwined although Harry had hardly noticed in his fear. Then there were kisses—soft, gentle, lingering—
It’s only a dream, he reminded himself, as his free hand came up unbidden to hover just above his mouth. Just a dream—not a memory—
His gaze fell back down to the page, his lashes brushing against tears he hadn’t realized he was crying.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Impediments. He had no impediments to offer to the marriage. None whatsoever.
He felt trapped—like a hippogriff, Buckbeak even—tied to a post and unable to take off in flight to free himself. And there was no one coming to rescue him in his darkest hour.
That’s a lie, a small voice in the back of his mind seemed to whisper. He’s come to take you away.
Harry wouldn’t name the he, he couldn’t. It was all too new, too fresh, too painful—
The air seemed to be knocked out of his lungs, and his hand fell from his lips to his chest as he sucked the air greedily, trying to calm himself down.
No impediments. There really were none. He had nothing to say, nothing to offer in refusal. His name had been correct, the proper etiquette followed, and there was nothing he could do. Nothing. Aunt Petunia couldn’t object—he couldn’t object—there was no one who would stand up now or forever hold their peace—
No one—they thought it romantic, unless their jealousy overcame them—like Granger or Ginny or someone—
His eyes flicked up at the hint of ginger, and he found himself staring at Ron instead of his younger sister. He swallowed painfully as his eyes skated down the broadening shoulders, lingering at the muscles hidden underneath the horrible maroon jumper he was wearing. Quickly Harry tore his eyes away.
Why did he have to think of such horrible abstractions? Why did his eyes linger whenever his focus settled on Ron, even for just a moment—
Ron was his best mate (according to Ron, but most of Gryffindor seemed to believe it at least partially; they seemed to think collectively that even a blood traitor Weasley was a better friend for the fecking boy-who-lived than a Muggleborn Ravenclaw, the stupid sheep)—and he shouldn’t think of his best mate like that. He didn’t even like Ron, let alone fancy him. The entire idea was completely ludicrous. He just had to be so deliciously awkward, with his gangly frame that didn’t quite fit, making him look a bit like an orangutan, if Harry were completely honest. Why did he have to be so bloody fanciab—
Harry immediately cut the thought off right there, glancing guiltily down to the page again, that had become crumpled over the past few moments.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Great, just great, he thought.
The slide of a calloused palm against him, the sight of red sparks in the distance as he looked through shadows toward the outline of a face that was partially recognized and yet still obscured in the half-dark. Screams filling his mind as a strong arm wrapped around his shoulders, which Harry couldn’t help but lean into, his mind briefly moving to Seamus and his family and wondering if they were all right.
Red for curses.—Red for the Muggles’ screams.—Red for the blood that dripped from dead fingers.—
What was it about that movement that made Krum want him, think of him, decide to marry him through an order instead of just asking like a normal person?
He knew you’d run, the voice whispered to him. Like you’re trying to. You’re trapped and that’s the way Krum wants it.
The sound of tearing pages made Harry come out of his thoughts again, and he was looking at the damaged page of Sonnet CXVI. A small sound of disappointment escaped his throat, and Harry tried to smooth it out, his fingers gentling as they brushed against the thin paper.
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
What did a Muggle bard know anyway? Harry found himself thinking before shuddering his eyes. A poet would know, he had to know. My love. Krum had opened his letter with My love—love—this was the emotion Krum was professed to feeling—this ever fixed mark that wasn’t even shaken when it looked on raging storms—and a storm there would be. He could feel one brewing in Hogwarts, here in Gryffindor tower. It was obvious that everyone was whispering behind their hands, that their eyes lingered on him more than usual. They were all speculating, wondering who the man was that Harry was going to marry, whom magic had essentially sold him to.
Mum would never stand for it, Harry mused, before wondering if that was just a delusion he held. His mother had gone off and married a pureblood, ostensibly by choice, and had forsaken her Muggle God for his heathen magic and godless traditions—traditions like this one.
“Why are you crying?”
Harry looked up, tears blurring his vision despite his glasses, and saw Neville standing in front of him, essentially blocking the rest of the common room’s view of him, although he was obscured by shadows.
“I’m not—“ Harry began to deny, but clearly they both knew it was a lie. He quickly wiped his eyes, looking away, but he knew that he had failed to regain his dignity. “Sorry; what did you ask again?”
Neville shifted uncomfortable, although Harry only saw the movement from the corner of his still-blurred vision. “Er-are you okay?”
“Oh, yes, fine. Too much dust.” The lie hung between them, and Harry looked guiltily up at Neville, who was glancing away in discomfort now.
“I have money,” Neville blurted out and Harry looked at him strangely, not understanding.
Neville blushed under his scrutiny and toed the ground with his left foot, although he didn’t run away. Then again, he also didn’t elaborate immediately and an uncomfortable silence fell between the two of them.
“I can’t get access to it until I’m of age,” Neville finally began, looking at some point over Harry’s shoulder. “He’s foreign, right? Whoever sent you the ribbon?”
“Er-“ Harry began, but Neville immediately cut him off, seemingly gaining his courage.
“And I’m not nearly as rich as the Potters, but the marriage contract can be written in such a way that he’d never get any of my money anyway, not that he’d need it, obviously, if he’s sending you a ribbon…” He trailed off momentarily, but Harry was too stunned to say anything, his mouth hanging slightly open in his shock. What was Neville on about anyway?
“There’s been so few pictures of you, and our age is only off by a day, and I could get a scar, it’s not that hard, and if you could slip away, off to the Muggle world like you always wanted to and I—“ A sob strangled his words and Harry just looked at him dumbstruck.
“Nev—“ Harry began, but at the look of sheer desolation on his friend’s face, he found that he couldn’t say anything at all.
“You don’t want him, whoever he is, but I do,” Neville whispered so quietly that barely heard him. “I don’t care who he is—and I could—I could—“
“I’m sorry,” Harry murmured, reaching out and grabbing Neville’s wrist, feeling the bones slide against the pads of his fingers. “I can’t.”
Neville’s gray-blue gaze held his, and Harry saw the perceived betrayal written within them. He opened his mouth to try and dispel that horrible emotion, but Neville pulled his wrist gently but firmly away, and drew himself up.
“No, of course you couldn’t.” His voice was hollow, empty, and he turned, leaving Harry feeling as if his heart had frozen in his chest.