Chapter Seven: Dominion and Largesse
The presentations were mercifully short, and soon Harry, having given her scroll proclaiming her to be an honorary member of the Order of Merlin to Mrs. Weasley for safe-keeping, found herself caught up in a flurry of introductions. She was about to manufacture an excuse to get away from all of the embarrassing fuss when a familiar arrogant drawl provided one for her.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry to disappoint you, Secretary Croakes, but Miss Potter has agreed to dance the first of the evening with me."
"But it will only take a moment to intro--"
"Now, now, sir, you wouldn't want to make us late for the opening waltz, would you?" Draco asked.
Harry marveled at how a person could sound charming and threatening all at once, and, despite her irritation at the proprietorial manner in which the Slytherin boy had collected her, she took his hand and allowed him to lead her onto the floor.
"I should punch you, Malfoy," she whispered, smiling raptly up into his eyes. She and Hermione had practiced what her behavior should be tonight, and Harry was glad because it helped.
"What on earth for? I've saved you from that rabble," he said, giving Harry's well-wishers a contemptuous glance, "and, if I'm not very much mistaken, that is my Christmas gift around your splendid throat."
"Ever hear of wrapping paper, Draco? What the hell kind of household emissary was that creature, anyway?"
"Nice to see that living with Severus is enlarging your . . . vocabulary."
Harry flushed deeply, but she continued to smile beatifically at him as she "stumbled," causing the tip of her left heel to plunge into the middle toe of Draco's right foot.
"Trust a Gryffindor to make a subtle point."
"And yours wasn't? Just what kind of game were you playing at, sending me some mean little face-changing fairy to give me the necklace?"
Draco sighed and leaned down to murmur into Harry's hair. "My emissary was a fée de sens. Such creatures can be bid to do favors in exchange for . . . others."
"Merlin, what did that nasty thing want from you?"
"A drop of my blood."
Harry pulled back a bit from Draco to stare at him.
"Don't be so shocked, Ree. It was the only way I could contact you. Father is having me watched. I've been forbidden to have anything to do with you."
"What? Why? He knows that you're supposed to have . . . um . . . ."
"Trained you. Broken you. Bent you to my will. Yes, I know. But I also made a present of you to him, and I believe that another interested party 'asked' him to leave you alone, as well."
Oh, Merlin, this is all so disgusting. "So because your father can't have me, Lor--"
"Lower your voice and do not say that name, please," Draco said harshly, but he never stopped smiling, either. "Do you know," the boy said pointedly with a glance at a glowering couple that seemed to follow their every move on the floor, "I think Blaise Zabini is quite taken with you."
"Really?" Harry asked, wondering who the mysterious couple was.
"Indeed. In his last letter, he asked after my intentions toward you. . . . Laugh, Harry," Draco whispered.
They laughed together, and Draco swung them away from the eavesdroppers.
"Who are they?"
"Zabinis. This room is lousy with them. . . . Blaise really would like permission to court you, you know."
"And he asked you about it why?"
"Because he knows that you belong to me, Harry."
"No, I don't!"
"No? Is there some sort of arcane rule that says half-breeds are exempt from the binding of a life-debt?"
Oh, I really don't like you, Harry thought, glaring at Draco, as she dragged him out of a pair of French doors onto a cool, quiet balcony. "The life-debt between us doesn't mean you own me, and you know it," she said, taking off Draco's gift and urging him to take it with a gesture.
"So what does it mean to you?" Draco asked, looking at the chain as if afraid of it. "Put that back on."
"I don't know, not yet--but I do know that whether or not I date Blaise Zabini is none of your concern!"
She made no move to re-fasten the necklace around her throat.
"And do you want to date Zabini?" Draco demanded to know.
"No, of course not, you git!"
Slightly less angry, Draco pressed, "No, you can't believe your luck? Or no, you're actually turning down Blaise Zabini?"
"Harry, 'yes' what?"
"Yes, no, Blaise may not have permission to court me."
"May I ask why not?"
"You're the one doing to the asking. What kind of a spineless twit is he to send you in his place?"
Draco favored Harry with an assessing gaze of approval. "You intimidate him."
Harry snorted in disbelief. "I intimidate Blaise? That's ridiculous." She turned and considered Draco for a moment, pointed her finger at him as if it were a wand, and said, "Ridikkulus!"
"Very funny, Potter."
"That's what I thought when your fée de sens called on me."
"Well, I know you like my gift, or you wouldn't have worn it." Draco turned Harry's face up to his own, and brushed her mouth with his lips. "And I know that you like Blaise well enough, even though you never did participate in our evening amusements."
While saying this, he took the chain from Harry's fingers and dipped a hand into the top of her robe to tuck the gift into her décolletage.
"You're a tease," the girl said, breathlessly.
"I'm terribly complicated," Draco said, not moving. "And we're being observed."
Harry didn't back away, either, but she lowered her voice. "Won't you get in trouble for being with me?"
"Who can say? I don't particularly care."
"Draco, why should Blaise be scared of me?" she asked, leaning into his chest.
"Hmm," he replied, trailing one finger over her jaw line. "I wonder. You've only managed to elude death by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in spectacular fashion on more than one occasion. I'm not sure why Blaise, whose family counts many supporters of the Dark Lord among its branches, might be afraid of getting tangled up in yours, no matter how verdant they may be."
"Is Blaise planning to take the Mark, Draco?" Harry asked sharply, pulling away from him.
"Potter, that's not the sort of question one asks in polite society."
"However, 'polite society' also refrains from hiding itself on darkened balconies with the innocent and heroic," a smooth and softly mocking voice carried over the sound of the throng from the doorway.
"Good evening, Father. I didn't realize you'd yet arrived."
"Son," Lucius Malfoy acknowledged, favoring the boy with a hooded look. "And Miss Potter," he said, walking forward to take the girl's hand and turning it to expose her palm. "A pleasure, as always."
When Lucius kissed her hand, a liquid shock seemed to roll from the hollow of her palm to areas of her body of which she was still uncomfortable acknowledging being in possession. She liked it.
No! No, don't let him affect you with a wizard's trick.
"Clearly you've been . . . neglected of late, young lady," Lucius said in response to Harry's involuntary moan. "We will have to see if there is anything I might do to remedy that situation. I know you must feel the loss of Draco at Hogwarts deeply."
In as steady a voice as Harry could manage, she replied, "We all miss Draco very much. Quidditch isn't nearly as challenging."
"But what is this I hear about Mr. Zabini?"
"Sir?" Harry asked in pretended confusion.
"You have no interest in the boy after my son, is that correct? He's a fine lad from a good family . . . ."
Don't flirt, don't flirt, don't flirt . . . Draco willed.
But what other choice do I have? Harry thought back at him, even though she knew he would not hear. You set the rules. "I think I prefer French to Italian, Monsieur Malfoy."
"We have an accomplished chef at the manor. Perhaps you'll soon have occasion to visit there and sample some of the family's more . . . sophisticated fare."
"And wouldn't that be an improvement over my cuisine of late?" Harry responded, almost visibly ecstatic to see Charlie Weasley rapidly approaching the balcony.
Before Lucius could reply, Charlie was there. "Good evening, gentleman, lady," he said, taking Harry's hand firmly in his own. "It's criminal of the two of you to keep everyone's favorite person outside on the night of her first Ministry affair."
Draco looked relieved and angry at once, but Lucius was simply amused. "Come to save her, Mr. . . . Weasley?" asked Lucius with faint scorn.
"I've come to steal her away from you . . . Sir," said Charlie with a cut-crystal edge to his tone that conveyed his checked malice and supreme confidence.
He isn't afraid of him at all, Harry thought. "Mr. Malfoy--Draco--it looks as if we'll have to continue this discussion another time. Have a lovely evening, and . . . thank you," she said to Draco, making a darting gesture with her hand toward where the boy had secreted his gift before walking away.
When they had returned to the ballroom and begun dancing, Harry informed Charlie that he was an idiot. He laughed.
"I tame dragons for a living, Harry--or do you prefer 'Ree' now?"
"Oh, um, Ree, I guess."
"Good. It suits you."
"You really think so?" Harry asked, beginning to feel warm.
"Oh, yes. 'Ree' sounds like water rushing over smooth stones. I imagine that if I were to run my hands through your hair, it would feel very much the way your name runs over my tongue."
"My hair?" He likes my hair! "Are you flirting with me, Charlie Weasley?"
"It's kind of you to notice, Miss Potter."
"Ron will kill you! I'm his best friend!"
Charlie laughed. "Do you mind it that I'm flirting with you?"
Harry blushed. Is this what girls do all of the time? she asked herself, though not quite as vehemently as usual. "No."
"Tremendous! Then let's not worry about ol' Ronnie. He's young, stupid, and couldn't catch me by broomstick if his life depended on it!"
"Watch yourself--'Weasley is our king'!"
"Yeah?" he asked, staring into her eyes. "That's really good news, Your Majesty."
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