Thank you again for all the reviews! This ends The Horns of Elfland. Thanks for coming along.
"Someone's going to start noticing soon, Harry!" Hermione was leaning so near Harry that Harry was a little worried Slughorn was going to accuse them of cheating. On the other hand, he had probably already hurt his potion by dropping in some ingredients that he didn't mean to drop in, too soon. His hand had a habit of fading out just when he was ferrying some vital flower petal or something to the cauldron. "You should tell people the truth."
"I don't want to be stared at again," Harry hissed. Slughorn cleared his throat. Harry looked up and smiled politely.
Slughorn stared back with his jaw slowly dropping, which wasn't something that had happened to Harry before. He seemed to have difficulty taking his gaze away from Harry. When he finally managed, he cleared his throat loudly as he started to move away. "So, class, when you've added the heliotrope, you should see your potion turning blue and clear…"
Harry blinked and turned to Hermione. "Do you know what that was about?"
Hermione hesitated, then murmured, "Your eyes are showing through your glamour. And your smile, too." She wouldn't look at Harry, and her ears were turning red. "You can almost hypnotize someone when you smile at them."
"Shit," Harry muttered. Hermione had told him that would happen, as his body reached out and groped desperately to try and find him a mate and thus survival, but he had assumed he would have more time. He didn't even have a quarter of his body permanently faded yet, the way the book had said he would.
Hermione didn't even scold him for language, just looked at him soberly. "Do you want to tell people what's going on before or after you turn into a really attractive ghost?"
Harry nodded back. He supposed the stares wouldn't matter so much if he managed to find one mate who really loved him or liked him enough to consent to live in a loveless mating for a little while.
Maybe he could hold out the attractions of visiting Elfland and fame after all, if it meant that he wouldn't mind-drug someone into becoming his mate.
"Malfoy's staring at you," Hermione told him a few minutes later, when Harry was still trying to figure out a way to announce his elf-ness that wasn't embarrassing.
"He can fuck off," said Harry, and turned around and glared, ignoring the scolding for language he did get this time. Malfoy stared at him insolently, then turned back to his potion. Harry shook his head. "He didn't want to help me, and then he gets all pissed off when I try to find someone else. He probably doesn't want to renounce being my mate just to keep the power he has over me."
"Whatever you say, Harry." Hermione put her hands up in a placating fashion. "So. You're going to tell people soon?"
Harry let out a long, slow breath as he touched his forehead and realized that he felt nothing beneath his fingers—and not because the rough skin of his scar had faded so much. "Yeah. Reckon I don't have a choice."
Hermione said nothing, but Harry did feel the fleeting touch she pressed to his wrist a second later.
"Mr. Potter wishes me to make an announcement." Harry sat back with a grimace when McGonagall's words sounded from the Head Table. He had decided that announcing it like this, at dinner, was the best way to make sure all students heard about his predicament and could contribute to a solution.
One slight compensation for the curious gazes washing towards him now was that Malfoy looked absolutely disgruntled to have his dinner disrupted. Harry smirked. Should have taken me up on being my mate when you had a chance, arsehole.
Of course, in so many ways they wouldn't have worked. But at least Harry knew Malfoy didn't give a damn about his fame, and he had been through a war that had to matter more to him than tormenting Harry did. They might have worked out.
Well, except that I was wrong about the war mattering more to him than a chance to torment me.
"Mr. Potter," said McGonagall, and her eyes were as full of pity now as they had been when Harry first told her what was happening, "is turning into an elf, thanks to his contact with elf-shot." Harry had to turn his head away, staring determinedly at his hands, as he heard the buzz of excitement growing around him. "He is also currently in the process of fading away. He needs a mate to connect his spirit to Earth once more. Anyone in seventh year or above who wishes to ask about becoming his mate, should—"
Harry forced himself to ignore the rest of that speech, and the gasps of astonishment and pity and what sounded like excitement. He had known some people would be more excited about his fading and the opportunity to be with Harry Potter than anything else, but it still hurt a bit to hear it expressed like that.
Finally, McGonagall was done making her speech, including telling the students about the list on her office door that they should add their names to, and how Harry would set up interviews with the students he was interested in on a daily basis. Harry stood up unsteadily and left the Great Hall right away. He knew his glamour was slipping, or at least people would convince themselves it was, and their hungry stares were a little harder to take than the gossip.
He made it up one flight of stairs before someone grabbed him and slammed him into the wall. Harry spun around incredulously, reaching for his wand. He couldn't believe someone would attack him now, right after he'd finally explained the strange things happening around him and the whole school had him on their minds.
Then he saw it was Malfoy, and he realized that of course Malfoy would attack him now, because Malfoy was irrational.
"You had to let everyone know, didn't you?" Malfoy growled into his ear, his hands locking onto Harry's shoulders. "You had to make sure that everyone knew how displeased you were with your choice of mate."
"I didn't even mention your name." Harry shrugged once, flexing some strength into his muscles, and broke Malfoy's hold without much effort. He laughed at the sight of Malfoy's face. The change was mostly making him fade, but then other times he would find extraordinary strength added to his body, the way that he apparently had extraordinary beauty added to his eyes and smile. "You have nothing to complain about. You can just show up at the formal bonding with whoever I choose and speak your words of renunciation. No one else ever has to know it was you."
"So you're casting me aside like so much rubbish." Malfoy was huffing like the Hogwarts Express, and he refused to move his eyes that were locked on Harry.
Harry rolled his eyes enormously. "I'm sorry, O Your Majesty. I thought I was only following up on the rejection that you'd already given me. Remember that one? When you said you wanted to be free and you wouldn't enslave yourself to me?"
"I didn't use that word—"
"Whatever, Malfoy." Harry was already regretting letting the conversation go on this long. They were still too close to the Great Hall, and someone could have heard some of it. Besides, Malfoy didn't deserve any more of his time. "Go. Be free. Let me deal with these changes that I never asked for in my own way."
He took one more moment to look at Malfoy, because it was probably one of the last times he would ever see him this close. He didn't know if he found Malfoy's features handsome, it was a little hard to tell when they were so flushed and so familiar, but Harry thought he might have been able to.
"At least one of us should get to be free," Harry added, and walked off, and left Malfoy standing there.
"How is it going, Mr. Potter?"
Harry clenched his hands and stared unseeing at the Headmistress's desk for a long time before he responded. He knew she didn't deserve his scorn, or anything like it. She had been more than generous to him, including making the announcement and offering her office as a meeting place between Harry and his "suitors."
McGonagall wasn't the one to blame for the fact that most of the "suitors" tired Harry to death.
McGonagall's voice was soft and compassionate. Harry looked up and managed to drag a smile from the depths of his being. "I think Milla was the best." Milla, or Ludmilla Jenkins, was a Muggleborn Hufflepuff who would ordinarily have been two years behind Harry, but had been moved up to seventh year because she'd done well enough on exams despite all the Death Eaters in the school. Being able to concentrate like that made Harry admire her, and it seemed that she'd been a passive part of Neville's resistance effort, passing food and information to the people who'd had to hide inside the Room of Requirement.
And she was pretty, and gentle, and seemed not to be dazed by his smile and his ears. She had told him that she'd had elves in her family tree, and grown up around some of the portraits of her more distant ancestors. It was a good thing, one Harry hadn't known to be possible, not to be dazzled by his beauty.
But Milla had still looked at him like he was something…special. And asked him about the war in a hushed voice, and listened with wide eyes when he talked about it. Harry didn't know if he could take a mate who pestered him for war stories.
On the other hand, better than that than someone who was only with him for the fame, and Harry had the strong feeling Milla didn't care about that.
"You don't seem happy about any of this, Mr. Potter."
Harry lifted his head and found himself staring at McGonagall as though she was stupid, which he supposed wasn't the best way to look at someone who was trying to help him, but still. "I never wanted a mate at all, Headmistress," he said, knowing his voice sounded stiff. "Of course I'm not happy."
"I meant that you're not happy with the choice of Miss Jenkins as your mate." McGonagall leaned towards him and considered him. "You didn't tell me the name of the person who rejected you."
Harry turned his head aside. No, he hadn't, and his own instinct to protect Malfoy was disgusting even to him. But he didn't want to deal with the git's whinging, and he would if he had told the truth. "It wouldn't work out, ma'am," he said. "They were on the opposite side of the war."
"Ah. And they rejected you because of the war?"
Let it be that. "Yes, ma'am."
"Well, Harry, I'm sorry," said McGonagall, and shook her head. "In that case, I think that you should ask Miss Jenkins for a formal bonding date as soon as possible. Miss Granger told me that it's the bonding ceremony, not—anything that would be inappropriate until Miss Jenkins comes of age, which will settle your spirit." She gave Harry a pointed look, and it took him a moment to realize she was staring at something specific. He followed her gaze.
Part of his bum and leg were hovering inside the chair, as if he was a ghost.
Harry swallowed and looked back at her. "I know. I'm going to write to her parents soon and explain what's going on. And—propose to her." That was the part nearly making him ill, but something had to be done, and at least that would bring an end to the tedious procession of answering questions and nice fake conversations that he'd had so far.
"I'll give you the rest of the day to do that." McGonagall's eyes were full of pity. "Go and do what you need to do, Mr. Potter."
"Thank you for your help," Harry said, croakily. But it was true. She'd been great about it.
He stood and almost ran from the office. He seemed to float down the stairs, and he didn't know if it was all the insubstantial nature of his body, or if the bloody grace that was leaking through his glamour had something to do with it.
When Harry came out past the gargoyle, he stood there breathing for a second with his eyes closed. He wanted to go back to Gryffindor Tower, but there might be some disappointed suitors there. Maybe…
Yes. Like it or not, he relaxed best now with trees around him, making the Forbidden Forest the best place.
He turned, and smacked into something solid. Harry grunted and looked up. Of course his body would choose to be solid at the most inconvenient times, as well as fading at the most inconvenient times.
It was Malfoy, staring at him as if Harry was a bug that had scuttled across his path. "Do you mind, Potter?" he asked in a frigid voice. "How much does it take to get you to stay away from me?"
Harry saw no point in answering. He stepped around Malfoy and glided towards the nearest staircase.
"Potter, wait! Can't you even recognize a desperate gambit to talk to you when someone makes one?"
Harry tensed his shoulders as he stopped. He was stupid, he berated himself. Malfoy only wanted another chance to insult him. It was simply the nonsensical elven instincts that made him wait here and hope against hope that Malfoy had changed his mind, and he would actually do something that benefited Harry.
"We need to talk."
Harry opened one eye to peer at Malfoy's face. He was pale, but determined, and Harry decided he could be the same. "Yeah. I've chosen my mate, and we need to discuss the date of the bonding and the renunciation."
Malfoy looked as if he wanted to grip a spear and drive it into Harry's side. Harry straightened, staring coldly at him. You can try, you prat.
But Malfoy turned away, and rubbed his hand across his face, and sighed. "Do we have to talk about it in here?"
Harry shook his head. He could appreciate the desire for privacy even if no one was around right now. "Come on."
He was aware of Malfoy trailing along behind him as they moved through the corridors, the silence and swiftness of his movements almost perfectly corresponding to Harry's. Perhaps another reason his elf-ness had chosen them as mates; Malfoy could keep up with him, which Harry thought wasn't the case with some of the other possible candidates he had on his hands.
But he was tired of thinking like that, quite honestly, and he set his jaw as he walked down the corridor. He wouldn't think like that again.
Harry walked until they were among the outer, looming oaks of the Forbidden Forest and Malfoy's footsteps were shuffling, his breath coming faster. Then Harry turned and looked at him, making sure to keep his arms folded. If he was fading, at least he couldn't drop anything if the only thing he was holding onto was himself.
"All right," said Harry. "So I'll try not to make it too inconvenient for you, but I do have to get bonded before three months are up, or my chance will be gone because I'll have faded too much for anyone to rescue me. What date is best for you?"
Malfoy stared at the leaves on the forest floor. Harry snorted. "I thought better of you after the war," he said, and didn't bother trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "Even if it was stupid of me to do, because you still like to taunt me as much as you ever did. But I did think you'd learned not to be a coward."
It worked. Malfoy fired up beautifully, glaring at Harry with a face like sunset. Harry found himself staring, and immediately shook his head, dissipating the clutch in his chest and the catch in his breath. This was the mate he wasn't going to have, magic and elf-shot notwithstanding, and not all the soft blowing of horns around Malfoy would change things.
"I'm not a bloody coward," Malfoy said, his voice as tense as a hedgehog's quills. "I wanted—" He took a step towards Harry. "I thought I was going to be free after the war, and finally have things I wanted."
"You said." Harry watched him without moving. As far as he was concerned, Malfoy was both a coward and a pain in the rear.
"But I don't want you dead," Malfoy snapped. "I was going—I wanted to show you that I'd grown up and matured. That was why I left you alone for the first months here. Why not? It was no effort to ignore you when I had so many other things to hold my attention."
Harry ignored the pain that felt like a new elf-shot splinter in his finger. Yes, his elf-ness was pained by the indifference of its mate. His elf-ness could go suck on a log. "You still do."
"Not anymore." Malfoy stared at him. "Don't you see?" he burst out, when Harry went on looking back and not comprehending what Malfoy apparently wanted so much to show him. "Without you alive and there to do something, to react to me, it's no good! Not at all!"
Harry felt as though something had unfolded inside him and started breathing after being suffocated for months. Maybe it was the elf-ness again. "Fine," he said. "You don't want me dead. Then renounce the bond. I'll be alive, and with someone else, and you won't ever have to worry about me again."
"I want you paying attention to me," Malfoy ranted on, apparently not giving Harry the compliment of attention in return. "I want to make sure that you're actually seeing me for what I am. I'm real, and here, and alive, and you shouldn't only stare at your friends with eyes like that."
"Eyes like what?" Harry would have worried that the slipping of his glamour had started affecting Malfoy, but he had been the first other than Harry's friends to see him without the glamour, and he hadn't shown a sign of bedazzlement then. "Are you feeling all right, Malfoy?"
"Eyes that just accuse and ignore and dismiss me!" Malfoy took a long step towards him. "I promised myself you would actually see me after the war, but how can you see me if you aren't here?"
"So you had the chance, when my magic chose you as my mate, and you decided to throw it away," Harry sniped back. "As per usual with your self-destructive choices, Malfoy. Don't try to make me responsible for this, you berk—"
Malfoy grabbed his shoulders and shook him. And of course they were solid enough for him to do that, when they were mist to Ron and Hermione half the time. Harry tried to get out of the hold, but it was impossible.
"I didn't even know how I wanted you to look at me," Malfoy was babbling. "As a friend, or a rival, or someone you could exchange cordial nods with, or someone you wanted to protect and defend—"
"But not as a mate."
"I didn't think about it, I told you!" This time, Malfoy's hold was both weaker and more imperative, and Harry slipped to the side and around him without thinking about it. Malfoy turned with him, eyes on Harry, still trying to get his attention. Which had been the way between them most of the time they'd been in Hogwarts, Harry had to admit. He was trying to get Malfoy's attention, like last year, or Malfoy was trying to get his, the majority of the rest.
"But knowing that this is a way I could have it," Malfoy whispered, "now I want it."
"You're barking," Harry said flatly, while his heart did a little victory dance inside him that he told it was entirely unwarranted. "What exactly did you expect me to think when you told me all that stuff about how you never wanted to be chained again after the war?"
Malfoy looked at him as if he was the dimmest idiot in the world. "I wanted you to chase me."
"I'm not going to chase someone who wants to be free of me," said Harry incredulously. "Especially when someone else could replace you as my mate. That's why I thought you would be overjoyed to know that, because I believed you!"
"Gryffindors are too trusting." Malfoy shook his head.
"Yeah, well, Slytherins and their mind-games—"
Malfoy startled forwards again, and Harry almost drew his wand, because he'd had enough of Malfoy grabbing him and shaking him. But this time, Malfoy threw an arm around Harry's neck instead, and pressed his lips against Harry's.
Harry felt as though someone had lit a fire inside his chest. He was fading back into solidity, he thought, because the tingle from the kiss passed down from his lips and through the fire and shot colored flames and flesh back into his limbs. He leaned in and kissed Malfoy ferociously, kissed him starvingly, and Malfoy moaned approval and kissed harder.
Harry got him against a tree, delighted to be the one holding onto Malfoy for once, and reached down. Malfoy could say what he liked about wanting Harry's attention and wanting to be chased and all the rest of it, but as far as Harry was concerned, that was only talk until he confirmed something with his own independent observation.
And then he felt it. Malfoy was hard, and from the way he thrust into Harry's hand, he wanted to be jerked off. That, at least, was a desire that Harry had no chance of misunderstanding.
"So now," Malfoy murmured, his eyes filled with low light as he stared into Harry's, "you believe me?"
"Shut up," Harry let him know, and stroked him and returned to the kiss, which made Malfoy shut up whether or not he wanted to. And from the way he was sucking Harry's tongue, he would at least have liked to moan aloud.
But he didn't get the chance. Harry was stroking him, and white light was spilling along his fingers, bleeding through the glamour, and the heat from that fire he had felt in his chest earlier was growing, and he was hard. He turned to the side and began to rub against Malfoy's hip.
Malfoy's hand came down, groping, as if he wasn't sure where Harry's cock was but was willing to help. Harry nudged it away again. He was going to be the one to make Malfoy come, and himself come, and kiss Malfoy, and keep Malfoy silent, and all the rest of it. Obviously, leaving anything in Malfoy's hands only resulted in disaster.
There was a moment when Malfoy went rigid and tense against him, and then he was coming, suddenly, spilling into Harry's hand with a cry that echoed inside Harry's mouth. Harry chuckled, and rubbed his own cock against Malfoy's hip faster. Malfoy was sliding against the tree, but Harry braced his sticky hand against Malfoy's other shoulder, and he stopped. And Harry finished, triumphantly, against smooth cloth and the warm skin blazing beneath it, instead of on rough bark.
They stayed near each other, recovering and gasping, for a long, uncomplicated moment after that. Then, Malfoy being Malfoy, he decided to make it more complex again.
"That wasn't the best I've ever had."
Harry decided against admitting that that was the first he'd ever had, at least as more than a kiss. He shrugged at Malfoy. "Yes, it was," he said, suddenly absolutely sure it was true. His hands were still blazing, warmer with the white light rising out of their palms. "Because I'm an elf, and I have special powers to bring my mate off. You just don't want to admit it."
Malfoy turned redder than he'd been during their whole snogging session. "Wanker."
Harry grinned and wiped his sticky hand on Malfoy's hair. "Yeah."
It took Malfoy another second to figure out what he'd done. By then, Harry was speeding along the edge of the Forbidden Forest, keeping to the patches of sunlight, away from the dangerous dark areas, and Malfoy's yelp rose like a werewolf's howl behind him.
Harry peeked over his shoulder. Malfoy seemed to have forgotten his rules about wanting to be the one being chased, and was chasing Harry with a determination that looked as if it might hurt him.
Harry grinned and sprang over a log. He could have turned back towards the school, but that would involve cleaning up. He could have run for a broom, but that would involve a faster chase that Malfoy might lose.
Harry wanted him to win.
So he kept running that way, and he was laughing when Malfoy tackled him to the ground among branches and chips of wood, and the only spell he had time to cast was one that would protect him against splinters before Malfoy slammed his mouth very firmly down. The last thing Harry wanted now was another splinter that would turn out to be elf-shot.
"Malfoy," he did have to moan when Malfoy started to reach into his pants in turn.
"My name," said Malfoy above him, in a voice he probably wished was more dignified, "is bloody Draco."
Harry grinned. "All right, Bloody Draco."
Bloody Draco kissed him again as punishment, and Harry gave himself up to rutting on the ground at the edge of a dangerous magical forest as obviously the plan for the afternoon.
Maybe his elf-ness had known what it was doing, after all.