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He's not entirely surprised when he gets an owl from Hermione Granger a few days later. Potter's refrained from announcing the courtship to the public, which is only sensible of him, and Marcus isn't really worried about him accepting someone else's courtship in the meantime. Why would he? Right now, Marcus is giving him something he wants, even if Potter doesn't want to admit it.
But asking Potter to keep the whole thing a secret from his friends would be foolish. So Marcus offers to meet Granger in Hogsmeade, and then in Diagon Alley when she refuses the Hogsmeade meeting. Apparently she supposes that the first choice is a trap.
In the end, Granger is waiting for him outside Flourish and Blotts, frowning heavily at him. Marcus nods to her. She isn't to his taste, and not because of her blood. She just doesn't blaze with power the way Potter does. But there's nothing to be gained from being impolite to the woman who will essentially be his future sister-in-law. "Hello, Granger."
"What is this all about, Flint?"
"Oh, that's interesting. So Potter didn't tell you in detail?"
"Harry tells me everything!"
"I'm just trying to figure out how much you know, Granger." Marcus puts his best conciliatory look on. From the way Granger glares at him, she doesn't think it's worth much. But she does turn and march ahead of him into the bookshop, which must mean they're going to have a quiet discussion, Marcus reckons. Granger doesn't seem like the kind of person who'll make a fuss when surrounded by books.
And she does calm down once they're seated at a table near the back that seems meant for kids. Marcus tries not to hunch with his knees under his chin and tries not to resent Granger. "I want to know why you're courting Harry."
"He's attractive. He's powerful. And he doesn't have that many other spaces available for me."
Granger frowns. "Available for you?"
"He doesn't need a friend like me, and he doesn't have followers or political ambitions, so I can't help him like that. I could have asked to be his boyfriend, I suppose, but that's an informal arrangement, and I want a formal one."
Granger stares at him in silence. Then she shakes her head. "I'll never understand purebloods."
Marcus chooses not to respond. He does think that's accurate, but it wouldn't be diplomatic to tell Granger.
"Harry's not gay."
It takes Marcus a moment to remember the Muggleborn slang that sometimes even got tossed around in Slytherin, when someone wanted to single out the concept. He shrugs. "All right."
"All right, what?"
"So he hasn't wanted to date blokes exclusively. That's what that word means, right? I don't see what it has to do with me."
"Purebloods don't have a word for that? Why not?"
"Because someone could date a woman or a man or both if they wanted," Marcus says. "A lot of purebloods don't really date many people. They'll go to dances or parties with someone, and then they'll probably marry that person and have children. But they could still have lovers on the side if both spouses agreed to that. Or maybe their spouse dies, and then they marry someone else. What does it matter if someone chooses a man the first time and a woman the second, or has a wife and female lovers?"
"But it means that Harry might want to date a woman if he's not gay."
"All right," Marcus says, when he's twisted his brain a bit trying to understand that. "Then he'll reject my courtship offer and go date a woman."
"But—" Granger pauses. Marcus takes the opportunity to look around the bookshop. There seem to be more children there than he thought at first. Maybe the population is recovering from the war at last. Marcus approves. The children he and Potter have will do better in a wider world, where there's fewer people concentrated in a small area who might have strong feelings about their last name being 'Potter.'
Marcus does want a Flint child as well, of course. He doesn't think Potter will object if they actually get to that stage and brew the blood-based potion to create the homunculus and then call down the spirit into it, or maybe pay a witch to carry a seed infused with their blood.
"If he's not gay," Granger says at last, "is it fair for you to pursue him?"
"He's the only one who can tell me that." Marcus shakes his head. "Besides, maybe he's bisexual." He's proud of himself for remembering the Muggleborn word. He can already see that this kind of thing is going to be necessary when dealing with Granger, although he still doesn't really know why. Do people care that much about the genitals of who someone hops in bed with? Magical power matters, and for long years Marcus thought blood mattered, but what's between your legs? It's weird.
"Maybe." Granger still appears unconvinced. And now that Marcus has thought of it, there's something else. Maybe he takes a long time to think through things, but he always gets there.
"Does Potter know that you're talking to me about this?"
"Of course he does."
Marcus snorts. He wasn't a prefect, but he spent seven years watching his fellow Slytherins try to lie their way out of trouble. Most of them weren't any better at it than Granger. "Sure, crash the other broom."
"He does! I mean, in general." Granger sighs and shakes her head. "I didn't want to upset him. He's pretty occupied with the courtship offer, for some reason. Talks about it, and you, at least once a day."
"But he didn't actually tell you to seek me out and interrogate me about the courtship offer." Marcus nods and stands up. "Good-bye, Granger."
"Wait, Flint! I'm only trying to watch out for my friend, and you haven't told me all that much about the offer."
"Potter is the one who should get to decide how much I tell you."
"What? You care for him that much?"
"I think he'll make a fine husband. But besides that, Granger, this isn't about compassion. It's about honor."
Granger flushes brightly. "I'm honorable. I mean, if Harry knew about this conversation, he wouldn't mind me knowing. He talks about the courtship offer in detail every day anyway. And he let me read it."
That is knowledge Marcus prizes and also plans to use to his advantage, but he disapproves of the way he got it. He shakes his head. "Potter should still be the one who gets to decide who talks about this, and what kind of details his friends have." He walks to the door of Flourish and Blotts and opens it.
"I wanted to make sure that you weren't going to hurt him."
"I don't think you can know that, and I don't think you have the ability to do anything except advise Potter," Marcus tells her, and walks out and towards the nearest Apparition point. He has to think of another courtship gift that he can send Potter, one that can show him the kinds of strengths Marcus can bring to the marriage.
"What if I advise him not to accept your courtship offer?"
"He's still the one who has to make up his mind," Marcus calls back, and then disappears with a pop. There were a few people in the street who heard what Granger shouted, but Marcus isn't that worried. How many of them are going to think he and Granger are talking about Harry Potter?
Several of them, apparently. Marcus frowns at the story about their courtship on the front page of the Prophet the next morning.
Potter probably won't like that. He always hated being in the paper when they were in Hogwarts, and he despised Rita Skeeter, who's at least busily failing in her career as an author at this point.
Well, at least it gives Marcus an idea for his next courting gift. Marcus makes sure that his wand is visible in the arm holster he's wearing, and then turns and Apparates to the offices of the Daily Prophet, a modest building in Franken Alley.
The chattering and the dashing around among the reporters stops as he walks into the main office, which is an overlarge stone room still showing holes in the floor where old walls were removed. Marcus smiles as he sees Potter standing in front of the welcome witch's desk. Excellent. The only thing better than having come up with an idea for his next gift is Potter being there to witness him deliver it.
"Flint?" Potter asks, turning around to stare at him.
Marcus performs a sweeping bow, and turns to the welcome witch. "Where is Jasper Appleby?"
The welcome witch bites her thin red lips and seems to debate answering him, but a tenor voice rings out behind Marcus before she can. "Here, Mr. Flint. Did you have some problem with my article?"
"Excuse me," Marcus says to Potter, who just nods and stares at him. Then he turns, walks over to Appleby, and draws his wand. He uses it to slap Appleby across the face.
Appleby reels back, one hand to the thin red line that's standing out on his pasty skin. "How dare you—"
"That's a challenge to a duel, in case you didn't understand it," Marcus drawls. "I'm giving you a free education since you didn't know better than to write about my formal courtship of Harry Potter in the bloody paper. I'm here to teach, you know. Right now, I'm going to teach you what it feels like to hurt, once you accept the challenge." He levels his wand at Appleby.
"You can't duel me for telling the truth!"
"I see you need some education." Marcus grins and watches as Appleby almost trips over himself moving backwards. "When it's a formal courtship, it's the definition of crass to talk about it in public with anyone except one of the participants of the courtship or with their explicit permission. Now, I'm bloody sure you didn't interview me for that ridiculous article, and I hardly think my chosen would let you interview him, given his history with your idiotic paper. Now you're going to duel me. Or apologize."
"I wrote the article in good faith!"
"And ignorance. Which I'm here to correct, like the good professor I am."
"You c-can't duel me."
"Because it's a formal courtship, I can." Marcus is enjoying making someone else look stupid for once. He catches Potter's eye, and sees that he looks stunned. Marcus winks at him and turns back to Appleby, flexing a little for Potter's sake. "But if you don't want the duel, then you can apologize."
Appleby swallows, and his throat bobs as his eyes dart back and forth between Marcus and Potter. Marcus takes a helpful step towards him, and Appleby gabbles out, "I'm sorry! I should never have written about your formal courtship in such detail."
"There," Marcus says, and pats Appleby's shoulder. If he squeezes down hard enough to make Appleby's face go white, they're the only two who'll know that, and everyone else can think Appleby is just ready to faint with fear. "That wasn't so difficult, was it?"
"No," Appleby whimpers, and then leaves the office, walking as though Marcus really did kick his arse.
Marcus chuckles and turns around again, only to find Potter unexpectedly right behind him, which is a better reward than he thought he'd have. He smiles at him. "There. He won't write about us again."
"But you intimidated him."
"Yes? It worked."
Potter narrows his eyes at Marcus. "You're going to claim this as another one of my courting gifts, aren't you?"
"Admit it, you like it better than you would jewelry or a musical instrument or some of the other recommendations for the second courting gift."
Potter isn't able to subdue his smile completely where it spreads across his face. Then he shakes his head. "Hermione told me about the conversation that you had. She isn't exactly impressed with you."
Marcus shrugs. "I don't want to be rude to your friends." It would be counterproductive, given that it would keep him out of Potter's life and bed. "But I also thought she was rude to talk to me the way she did, like saying that she doesn't think you're gay and so I'm somehow constraining you into this courtship."
Potter's mouth opens, then closes. "If I wanted to tell you to fuck off, then I would," he murmurs, leading Marcus towards the door. He's also lowered his voice. Discretion, Marcus thinks. He's afraid that someone at the Prophet would write about him swearing in their office. Marcus can appreciate Potter's point-of-view, although he can also break someone's writing hand if it comes to that. "If I wanted to date a woman, then I would."
"That's what I said."
Potter comes to a halt in front of the office and studies him. "But Hermione wasn't trying to be rude. She was just looking out for me."
"All right," Marcus says agreeably.
"And she got used to needing to know my secrets for years, because otherwise, it would have made it difficult for her and Ron to protect me." Potter is talking softly to himself, looking off at the bookshop. Marcus thinks of asking whether he wants something from there for his next courting gift, but instead, Potter focuses on him again. "And it's driving her mad that I haven't told anyone why I decided to let you go ahead with this courtship."'
"That includes her."
"Yes, it does."
"And that includes me."
Potter's smile widens. "Yes, it does."
Marcus shrugs and grins at him. "All I want is for you to let me go ahead, so that's fine with me."
"Thanks," Potter says. "Sometimes it's relaxing to be around someone who's not worried about me constantly, someone who just wants to do nice things for me."
Marcus opens his mouth to ask if that's the reason that Potter is allowing the courtship—not that he probably thought of Marcus as nice before this began—but then Potter steps towards him. Marcus eyes him. His face is so firm that Marcus wonders if he's about to get a scolding for offering to duel Appleby in Potter's place, courtship gift or not.
No. Instead, Potter puts his hands on Marcus's shoulders and leans up. Marcus leans down, because sometimes he's stupid but he's not a fool, and Potter's mouth brushes over his. Potter backs away a second later with a flush so bright that Marcus is surprised he manages to walk.
"Er, right, I'll be—going now," Potter says, and then Apparates away.
Marcus stands where he is and ignores the glances sneaked his way. No one is going to be able to write about this in the Prophet or approach him and ask about it without his express permission, and Marcus finds that's just fine with him.
Marcus sits up long into the night thinking about his third courtship gift. The traditional gifts are supposed to make statements, but they're regulated so that one person doesn't think a silver bracelet means "I'm wealthy" and someone else doesn't think it means "This is how much I value you." Marcus thinks that his non-traditional gifts have made pretty clear statements, though.
I'll fight your enemies for you. I'll protect your privacy.
So what else would Potter value, and perhaps want someone to protect for him?
Marcus ends up going back through some of his own memories in a Pensieve. Although he was never Marked himself, Death Eaters were often in and out of his father's house, and he listened to what they said about Potter. They talked about battling him, hating him, wishing he would die. They also feared him, although few of them used those words and Marcus didn't know it at the time. It's only looking back at the memory that he can see the fear in their faces.
Then one of them talks about a battle that happened as Potter fled the house where he used to live, and Marcus knows his next gift.
"You got me a falcon."
"Yes." Marcus shifts the steel cage he's holding to scratch his arm. The cage isn't that heavy—the peregrine falcon inside it isn't that heavy, either—but he's been carrying it since he left Diagon Alley.
Potter shivers and lifts his gaze to Marcus. "You know my owl died."
"Yes. That's why I didn't get you an owl," Marcus adds. Potter gives him a faintly disgusted look, and he goes on hastily. Potter probably knew it. "Falcons are really different in temperament. But peregrines are more reserved than some of the others. And you can train her as a messenger, since she's magical, or you can use her to hunt. Or you can just let her fly free. Anything you want, really."
"Why did you get her for me at all? Why would you think I'd want another bird?" Despite the flat tone of his voice, Potter can't keep his eyes off the cage, and the blue-mailed bird inside who's sitting up on her big yellow feet, golden eyes fastened on him.
"Because you don't need to be alone. And you like to fly. You need someone in your life who can fly."
Marcus blinks at him. "I mean, you can already tell that she has a personality. I think she would bite me if I tried to call her less than a person."
Potter laughs softly to himself and steps forwards to let his fingers trail down the bars of the cage. Marcus almost tells him not to do that. Magical falcons can carry post like owls, but they're less tame. She might bite Potter, and then there would go his brilliant idea for a courtship gift.
But the falcon opens her beak and makes a soft noise, turning her head almost completely upside-down. Potter smiles and kneels down to unlock the door of the cage. In seconds, the falcon is out and flapping on his shoulder, her talons digging in. Potter doesn't wince, which relieves Marcus. He must have bought robes with the padding in them that many shops sell for owl-owners.
"I think I'll call her Boadicea," says Potter, scratching the falcon's head.
"Why that name?"
"She's obviously a queen, Flint, come on."
Marcus grins at Potter, the besotted expression on his face as he stares at Boadicea, and the fact that his gambled paid off, and says, "Could you do me a favor?"
"If I can. Those books on courtship said I wasn't supposed to be the one giving you the gifts."
"This is a favor, and you can say no." Marcus waits until he sees the relaxation spread through Potter's body before he nods. "Can you call me by my first name?"
Potter blinks and surveys him. "Would you do the same for me?"
"If you want it. But not as a gift. As a favor."
The smile Potter gives him is almost as sweet as the one he gave Boadicea. "Fine. Call me Harry, and I'll call you Marcus."
"And can I ask for a kiss?" Marcus edges a little closer, flexing his biceps in case it helps.
From the steady flush rising up Harry's cheeks, it probably does. But he steps forwards, balancing Boadicea on his shoulder easily, and then kisses Marcus's cheek. Marcus tries to turn his head and catch his lips, but Harry has already moved out of the way and is shaking his head with a laugh. "You didn't specify it had to be on the lips."
No, he didn't. Marcus finds himself pleased with that little bit of Harry's cunning as he goes home.
That, and the way he took a chance on Boadicea and won, take Marcus beyond just having faith in the obsidian's choice. It's time to have faith in his own choices, too.
Marcus cocks a skeptical eyebrow as he sits down in the chair across from the desk. "I don't know why you want to give me an Order of Merlin, Third Class right now, Minister. It's been over a month since I captured the Lestranges."
"I know, but there was some paperwork to arrange first. In particular, we weren't eager to give an Order of Merlin to someone who had the same last name as some Death Eaters."
Marcus doesn't take offense. His father wasn't Marked, but he associated with enough Death Eaters that the mistake is natural. He shrugs. "Well, I did it as a courtship gift for Harry Potter. So if you're supposed to give Orders of Merlin to people acting out of the goodness of their hearts, that doesn't count, either."
Shacklebolt pauses in the middle of shuffling papers. "Then that nonsense story in the Prophet about you courting Harry is true?"
Marcus grimaces. "Yeah. Some people have no sense and decide they can write about formal courtships in public without examining the etiquette."
"You seem to have misunderstood me, Flint. The disturbing thing is that you're courting Harry at all, not what the Prophet published about it."
"Because Harry is going to be an Auror." Shacklebolt is staring at him as if he doesn't understand why Marcus isn't melting into a puddle of shame on the floor of his office. "Marrying a Death Eater's son will make his reputation take a hit."
Marcus intended to remain calm and diplomatic with the Minister, but he actually snorts at hearing that. "And Harry is such a stranger to that, with all the ways that the wizarding world has turned on him in the past. He was the Heir of Slytherin and a delusional liar and he cheated to get into the Tri-Wizard Tournament and he didn't win the war fast enough." Marcus shakes his head. "If Harry cared about that, he would have told me to fuck off the minute I sent him the courtship offer."
Shacklebolt starts at the words, which is weird. He relies on the Flint family's reputation to judge Marcus, and yet he also thinks it's odd that Marcus would swear in front of the Minister for Magic? "You call him Harry?"
"Why not? You do."
Shacklebolt coughs and arranges another pile of parchments. "To be honest, I thought the courtship story was a joke. Or fake. Something Harry was allowing to let you regain your family's reputation. He's always been far too compassionate."
Marcus is getting bored of this conversation. "You mean, the way you used the story about the Order of Merlin to lure me here so you could question me about my courtship?"
Shacklebolt stares at him. He appears stunned to have been caught, which just says that he was underestimating Marcus due to the Flint family's reputation again.
Marcus snorts again and stands. "I suggest you talk to Harry about this if you're so concerned. Maybe he'll even tell you why he permitted the courtship."
"You mean you don't know?"
"Then why even keep this up?"
"Because I want to marry him. Why wouldn't I keep it going?"
Shacklebolt doesn't answer, but neither does he try to detain Marcus. Marcus just walks out shaking his head. Shacklebolt is a better Minister than Fudge in that he doesn't attack kids in public and proclaim them liars, but it seems he's committed to the fine Ministry tradition of assuming that they should be in control of what Harry does. And also lying.
The firm knocking on his door rouses Marcus out of the half-doze he's fallen into in front of the fire that evening. He was doing his best to think of his fourth courtship gift to Harry, and so far not coming up with an idea he liked. There's no real deadline, but he wants the next gift to be special. A bad gift might mean the difference between Harry declaring that he wants to change the courtship into a formal betrothal that can't be broken off as easily, or that he wants to reject the whole thing.
The wards aren't telling him there's a threat, but Marcus doesn't know how often he can trust them considering how his father managed to mess them up during the war. He opens the door himself, wand in hand, and blinks at Harry standing on the doorstep.
"May I come in?"
"Sure." Marcus steps out of the way, and watches Harry look around the heavy, dark wood of the entrance hall as he sheds his dripping-wet cloak.
"A bit gloomy," Harry observes.
Marcus nods. "If we get married, then I'm not going to insist that we live here. Or you can change the décor if you want. I'm not fussy." He glances towards the nook where his house-elf sleeps. Reginald is old and sleeps a lot now. "Do you want something to drink?"
"No." Harry stops him by reaching up and putting a hand on his cheek. Marcus finds himself standing absolutely still and staring down at Harry. He can feel a weight in Harry's hand that's as heavy as the dark wood on the walls. This is the moment when Harry decides on the courtship, he's certain, despite the fact that he could do it any time.
"What?" Marcus whispers. His voice is hoarse, but he doesn't feel like clearing his throat.
"I heard Shacklebolt summoned you to his office and wanted to discuss our courtship."
"Yeah, he did."
"What did you say to him?"
Harry's brow is furrowed, but it's hard for Marcus to understand why, if he's going to get approval or disapproval. He says simply, "That I knew it was to discuss our courtship and not give me the Order of Merlin like he said. And that you could decide for yourself if marrying me would smear your reputation."
"He said that?"
"He said you were a brilliant young Auror trainee with a promising future, yeah."
Harry drops his hand with a soft curse. He turns around and paces over to the far wall, staring at a portrait of Marcus's ancestor Gaius Flint, who just stares back down at him with a haughty expression. Marcus's father cursed all the portraits silent a few years ago. Marcus sees no reason to reverse the spell.
"That—why is everyone trying to control me now? I thought they would stop once I defeated Voldemort."
Marcus clutches at his own shoulder to keep from flinching, but he can't help laughing. "Why should they stop now? It worked so well the first time."
"What do you mean?" Harry turns back around, and his feet are set and his chin thrust out. Shacklebolt might think twice of trying to control him if he could see him now, Marcus thinks.
But standing around admiring Harry's good looks doesn't answer the question, so Marcus speaks. "They manipulated you to be what they wanted you to be. To take care of their Dark Lord problem for them, by refusing to do anything about it themselves. To make you alone except for a few friends, when they all rushed to believe the newspaper articles about you. To make you think that you had the responsibility to live up to their image of you, by punishing you when you deviated from it."
"I chose to become an Auror."
Harry says that like it's a question, so Marcus nods. "Right. But if you had applied to the Ministry for something else, would they have let you alone to do as you like? Or would they have made you become an Auror if it was too far away from their purpose, or manipulated and molded you to do what they wanted if they thought the Department you chose could help with that?"
Harry closes his eyes. He looks utterly exhausted now. "Please tell me that you're not manipulating me, Marcus."
"I want you to choose me as your husband. I'm giving you gifts."
"I want to marry you. You're powerful and fit and I want to protect you and—"
"And you don't want to use me to get politically ahead? You don't want to use me to resurrect Voldemort? You don't want me to take up an important position in the Ministry so you can bask in reflected glory?"
Marcus shakes his head, more amused by the second. "Why would I want the Dark Lord back? And if I wanted an important position in the Ministry, I'd get it for myself. Political reputation would be tempting if it wasn't impossible. As your husband, I'm always going to face more suspicion and scrutiny than I'd like." He shrugs. "My father made his reputation, and my Flint ancestors made this family what it is. I'm not trying to redeem myself by marrying you, Harry. I want you. Sure, at first it was to gain a bit of security in a world that didn't have a lot for me with my father gone. But now it's about you, along with the security."
"Honesty." Harry stands there and stares into his eyes.
"Do you really think this would survive without it?" Marcus asks with a little scoff. "Of course not. We're too different to just assume we want the same things."
Harry smiles abruptly. "I meant more than that. I meant that I think I owe you some honesty, too, about why I accepted your courtship offer."
"That's the first time you've said something about accepting."
"That's because I've decided." Harry steps forwards and has that shining look in his eyes again. "Yes, I want to get betrothed."
Marcus catches Harry by the waist, while his heart hammers and his mouth asks, "And why did you not reject it in the first place?"
"I liked the thought that someone so unexpected was courting me, and sending me gifts, and didn't mention anything in the letter about political arrangements or redemption or needing to be careful and taking our time." Harry swallows. "I liked the thought that someone wanted me for me. I didn't know if you did, not at first. But I thought it was likelier because you were a Slytherin and not—a friend. Not someone who just—would have expected me to be thrilled about it and half-thinking about accepting them right away. Or not someone who would have expected me to court them and protect them instead. Someone who didn't need me to be a hero."
Marcus laughs. If Harry's decided to accept him because of who he is, then they're well-matched. After all, he's fallen for Harry because of who he is, not because he was the Boy-Who-Lived.
"Come here, then," Marcus says, and jerks Harry towards him and kisses him. Hard. Harry goes along with it, then more than goes along with it, leaning heavily on him and moaning enthusiastically as Marcus's tongue urges him on.
Harry finally steps back and asks, "Is there room in this formal courtship period for having sex before marriage?"
"Once it's accepted, oh, yeah," Marcus says, and leads Harry into the bedroom.
It's certainly accepted enough for both of them, Marcus thinks. All the other details are things they can work out later.