Fic: Good Breeding (1/4) (Charlie/Draco, NC-17) for lilyseyes Author:joanwilder Recipient:lilyseyes Title: Good Breeding Rating: NC-17 Pairing(s): Charlie/Draco, Surprise/spoiler pairing—highlight to see* Harry/Snape* Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters engaging in sexual activity are 16 years or older. Summary: A year after the war, the Ministry takes steps to reverse the dwindling pureblood population by enacting the Pureblood Marriage Law. A year later, they introduce the Male/Male Pregnancy Program. No one is exempt. Warnings: Highlight to see: * forced magical bonding, semi-public sex, rimming, mpreg (not detailed or graphic)* Word Count: 31,000 Author's Notes: I've incorporated four of your six kinks, lilyseyes. Although the mpreg is not graphic or detailed, it's a significant part of the story. I want you to know I thought of you the entire time I was writing. Hope this tickles your fancy. Thanks to my partner-in-crime beta reader; what would I do without you?
Marriage is our last best chance to grow up.
"By the power vested in me by the Ministry of Magic, I now pronounce you husband and wife, and may your days be good and long upon the earth." The officiator gently turned the couple to face the guests seated behind them, then broke into a smile as he called out, "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Percy and Audrey Weasley!"
Charlie stood to the side and watched the mayhem, as the small gathering of family and friends surged to the front to congratulate the newlyweds. He watched as his teary-eyed mother and proud father embraced each of them in turn.
"That just leaves you, mate," George muttered at his side, giving Charlie a nudge with his elbow.
With a sigh, Charlie answered underneath his breath, "Yeah, don't I know it—way past due, so I've heard."
"Sorry, shouldn't've said that. I can't imagine how you feel…" George said apologetically.
Shrugging, Charlie gave him a lopsided smile. "I could use a bit of humor just now." He and George started to follow the group as it drifted toward the food tables. "Who knows? I might get lucky and get a looker." The two of them snickered softly, but Charlie was glad when Angelina swept by and claimed her husband, thus ending the conversation.
The sun was beginning to set as the chairs were pushed away for dancing. Charlie helped, then turned to locate his father. He saw him standing to the side, watching him, no doubt waiting. As if on cue, Shacklebolt was at his father's side, so Charlie stepped out purposefully and strode toward them, stopping briefly when Bill reached out to grab his shoulder and murmur at his ear, "Chin up."
They walked single file, silently, up the garden path and into the kitchen, then on to the sitting room where Arthur motioned them towards the chairs as he announced, "I'll get us some whisky."
"When did you get in?" the Minister asked him directly as they sat opposite one another.
"Last night," Charlie replied. "My parents didn't know I'd be here either, sir. But I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I'd pretty much decided to come home anyway." He took the glass from his father and waited for him to sit beside him, then continued, "This seemed as good a time as any to do it, and no way I'd miss Percy's wedding. So…here I am."
"Yes, here you are."
"Kingsley, as I told you earlier, we didn't know he'd decided to comply."
"Well, I'm convinced, now that we're all sitting here." He turned his attention to Charlie. "You do know, if you were anyone else, I'd have to take you in tonight. But as your father will vouch for you, we can settle some things here and now, with the understanding that you'll present yourself to the Ministry for the lottery on Monday."
Charlie felt the blood drain from his face. "Monday? A lottery, so soon?"
"First one was six months ago. Pity you missed it, seeing you've decided to respond to your summons. The pool of availables then was several hundred, but this one will be much smaller."
He stopped as he took a folded parchment from his robe pocket, then reached out to hand it to Charlie. "This is an updated version of the Pureblood Marriage Law Act—it's quite long, and to save time, I'll brief you on its most salient points. All participants must be counseled in advance of the lottery, and you've missed that opportunity, so you'll have to make do with my explanation. With me so far?" He seemed to suddenly catch himself, as if he'd forgotten the impact all of this would have on Charlie. His face softened, as did his tone of voice when he continued.
"Charlie, we're past the point of fighting this. God knows I tried, and so did many others. But the prevailing will of the Wizengamot cannot be overturned, and the Law will be of relatively short duration."
"Ten years," Charlie scoffed. "Ten years of never coming home, wondering if I should be looking over my shoulder. Sorry, Minister, but it's a long time."
"And yet, here we are, two years into the Law and finding a way to live with it," Shacklebolt said with a nod. "You understand the basis of the Law. The product of two protracted wars that depleted the pureblood stock of wizardom?"
"Yeah, because most of the Death Eaters are either dead or in Azkaban. Or were executed during the war for being blood traitors. Most of them purebloods. Sort of brought it on themselves," he finished bitterly.
"And this is why it's the purebloods who must supply the remedy. The initial Law could only address men and women marrying, as the purpose of the Law is procreation. It's to the Wizengamot's credit that they did not try to force the Law onto those who were not genuinely heterosexual; of course, they had to provide proof of their sexual orientation, as your father did for you. When the Ministry realized how large a group of child-bearing purebloods fell outside of the Law, they put the Department of Mysteries to work on a solution, and within a year, they'd perfected what they'd been working on for years, the MMPP and FFPP, a series of potions and spells that make male/male and female/female pregnancies possible. The Pregnancy Programs' first sets of couples are now with child, although in the early stages. But you will learn more of this after you find your partner."
Charlie was shaking his head in disbelief. "So, this group of men in the lottery on Monday. Where did they come from; how'd they miss the first one? Are they like me? Finally realized that running away isn't the answer?"
Shacklebolt shook his head. "Very few are like you; most were not available at the time. They've now been released from Azkaban, or forced-labor work programs, some of them were ill or injured, a few have just come of age, but most of the younger ones have worked out a personal arrangement by the time their birthday puts them in play. Others had trials pending, and have recently been acquitted."
Shuddering, Charlie muttered, "This is what I get for waiting, then—murderers, thieves, deviants, dark wizards supposedly rehabilitated, sick with God knows what…"
"You must read the Law—you'll find there what I'm about to tell you now, but I want you to carefully consider this. An hour prior to the lottery, participants willing to negotiate a bonding have that bit of time to do so. So, I advise you to get there early and take a look. You might come out of this far better off if you can strike a bargain with someone, than chancing the lottery, which is blind and impartial."
"How does the lottery work, then?" Charlie asked.
"On Monday, there will be sixty of you. All of you will take a numbered tile from a charmed and protected box, then beginning with the number one, that person will select his mate; the process is repeated until thirty is reached. At that time, there'll be thirty couples. You'll have three days to be bound by a ceremony, then a week from that time to consummate the union with anal penetration of at least one of you, although that has no bearing on who will be the carrying partner. Sexual intercourse will be expected three times per week at the minimum, up until the institution of the Pregnancy Program. Three months after your bonding, the two of you will report to the Ministry with your decision as to who the pregnant partner will be; at that time there will be an interview and examination only, so that the proper Male Pregnancy Program can be custom fitted to one of you. Once the course of potions has begun, sex is imperative daily until conception occurs."
"And this is only for one child, right?" Arthur asked
"For the present, until we see what the numbers will be. As of now, there're no plans to invoke a similar Law for half-bloods and Muggle-borns; after all, it's pureblood stock that's become so dangerously depleted. And their lines are important for new infusions of magical power into wizardom as a whole."
"Never proven," Arthur mumbled.
"But probable; we've seen it again and again, the numbers of Squibs that are born to a line when there are few purebloods in the lineage. Not that they can't occur spontaneously in any line, but this is a proven statistic, so it's the one fact that the Ministry has chosen to address."
Sitting with his head in his hands, Charlie was in a state of shock. Even though he'd known the truth of it, sitting here listening and realizing that this time next week, the Weasleys would have another blushing groom, was a bit too much. Shacklebolt's soft voice pulled him out of his misery.
"Were you involved with someone else, in Romania?"
Charlie shook his head. "Nothing serious."
"That's a shame. The Law recognizes all unions entered into prior to May of 1999." He set his empty glass on the table, then leant forward, his elbows on his knees. "If there were any way I could spare you this, Charlie, you know I would." He glanced at Arthur. "Bill and George didn't enter into it, having married before the Law took effect. Ginny, of course, married a pureblood, and the Wizengamot, as you know, granted a special dispensation for Ron and Hermione, given their Orders of Merlin and connection to Harry. And now Percy…" He shook his head. "I had to pull some strings so that he could wait for Audrey to finish Hogwarts." He sighed as he sat back in his chair, watching Charlie.
Arthur spoke up now. "Kingsley can't be seen as doing the Weasleys any more favors, son. There've already been some remarks about how the Law's been adjusted for certain families."
"Which is by and large untrue; there are instances where some things have been taken into consideration. Percy's case is one of them—allowing them to wait a year, since they're a love match and both purebloods. The Review Board believes that such a match, if allowed to proceed, will actually produce more progeny in the long run. But unfortunately, others see it as gross favoritism."
"I get it," Charlie sighed. "I get it." He looked up blearily at the two men. "Leave me the papers, will you? I'm off to Romania early in the morning to get the rest of my gear, and let them know I'll be gone…indefinitely."
The three of them stood, and the Minister held onto Charlie's hand after he'd shaken it. "As a matter of rote, I must warn you that if you flee, you will not be safe. Given the high profile of your family, they will come after you. You could run and hide, but you could never come home again."
The two men stared at each other for a moment, then Charlie withdrew his hand. "I give my word. I'll be there Monday morning."
That night, after all the guests had gone, and spouses and parents and grandchildren were stuffed into every available nook and cranny of the Burrow to sleep, the Weasley brothers, minus the bridegroom, sat around the kitchen table.
"When was the last time we were all here like this?" Ron asked, pouring them all another round of Ogden's Old.
"Well, it was before the Law…"
"But the first Law didn't include queers, so Charlie was still able to come home…."
"Until they announced the sign-up for the lottery. I got my summons in November of 2000, so I didn't come for Christmas. So, the last time would've been for the May Day celebration the spring before."
"Wait, wasn't there a wedding that summer?" Bill asked, frowning.
"Nope," George said promptly. "Mine was in April of '99, then Ginny that summer, and Ron at Christmas. We were all together for those, and then like Charlie said, we all went up to Hogwarts for the anniversary. No wedding that summer, then the MMPP was announced in September."
"So, a bit over a year," Ron mused. "I remember now, Christmas didn't seem right without you here."
Charlie stared moodily at Bill. "I should've answered the first summons," he said morosely. "What good did it do to take a stand and refuse to come? Here I am anyway, and probably worse off."
"Hey, for all you knew, they'd have one round of it, see it didn't work, and that'd be the end of it. You had to try. We all would've, in your shoes," George told him, followed by a chorus of agreement.
"Forcing you to marry is one thing," Ron muttered, "but the whole pregnancy bit would be enough to make me run. I mean, c'mon, we're men. How in the world does that even work?"
George tossed the shot glass from hand to hand, then said without looking at Charlie, "You remember Will Fiedler? He was a year behind you…I think."
"Blond, sort of short, Ravenclaw."
"Right in one. Well, he was in the first group to get the potions, and I saw him in the shop a few weeks ago…" He stopped as he swallowed, his eyes drifting up to meet Charlie's. "You can already tell. He's got this little paunch out in front. Talked to him for a while, then he out and told me. Didn't seem too unhappy about it, just a bit embarrassed."
"God, I hope they know what they're doing." Charlie ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, then looked up when the table fell completely silent. "Hey, none of that. I'm sure they have it all figured out."
Ron asked slowly, "How do they decide which one of you…you know?"
"I don't know," Charlie said wearily. "Maybe the couple gets to decide, or draw straws or something."
"If you get to pick your partner, you should make sure it's somebody smaller than you are. That way you can…take the upper hand, you know what I mean?" George advised.
Charlie gave him a withering look. "I doubt the Ministry's left it so that force will decide the matter. Give them some credit."
"Oh right, give them some credit; their record up to now is so inspiring," Ron mocked.
Standing, Charlie started to collect the empty glasses. "Well, I'm not worrying over everything ahead of time. Monday's scary enough as it is." He turned toward the door, his thumbs hooked in his belt loops. "I'm off early in the morning; have to straighten out things at the reserve. You guys'll all still be here when I get back?"
Bill glanced around the table, then said as he stood, "We're all sticking around until you get this sorted out."
They said their good nights, with Ron and George heading up the stairs first. Bill lingered in the kitchen, then motioned with his head for Charlie to hang back. Pulling a parchment from his pocket, he held it out to Charlie, saying, "Kingsley gave this to me—thought it might upset Dad. It's the lottery list—updated with you on it. He said to remind you about the hour of negotiation before the lottery. Said that sometimes works out better—at least you'd both know you had a bit of choice, no matter how pathetic the whole thing still is."
Charlie took it from him slowly. "Did you look at it?"
Nodding, Bill said simply, "Yeah, I did. You should look at it too."
Lifting an eyebrow, Charlie answered, "You think so?"
"You should look at it."
"All right, I will."
As Charlie went through the motions of the day, traveling and packing, putting his career on indefinite hiatus, the lottery list was first and foremost in his mind. After a bit of reflection, he understood perfectly why Bill had urgently advised him to consider it.
Some of the names were known to him—men who'd been Death Eaters and done time in Azkaban, about to be released the very next day. He'd followed their trials in the Prophet and knew exactly what they'd done. Others had been released to a monitored status since the first lottery and were now ready to rejoin society. But, criminals all of them. At first glance, these would be the undesirable partners….
Until he was struck by the other information that the list yielded: the age of the participants. The Law included all gay men from the age of eighteen or leaving Hogwarts, whichever occurred latest, until the age of sixty. Charlie himself had dated men in their fifties, so that wasn't what gave him pause.
It was the provision in the Law that restricted the pregnancy to a partner of less than forty-five. Which meant that if a man over forty-five had the right of choice, he'd be required to choose a younger man within the child-bearing range. Charlie was sure the Ministry had this all figured out, each lottery adjusted so that the men with the choice would have to choose within the range that would guarantee a progeny-producing unit of two. From what he could see, there were more wizards under forty-five than over, but it made him stop and reconsider: he could end up with a bitter ex Death Eater, or as the partner who'd automatically be assigned to become pregnant, if he left it to the lottery.
So, as he sat out in the garden on Sunday night, long after the others had gone to bed, he fingered the parchment along its folds, acutely aware of the two names on the list that might save him from the serendipity of the lottery.
He knew he'd not seek anyone else's advice; Bill had already, in a way, cast his vote in the matter, although Charlie wasn't certain which of the two men he'd think was the better risk. His father was out of the question too, mostly because his anger simmered just below the surface and would color anything he might have to say, the product of watching his children have to scramble to wed the ones they'd wanted to spend their lives with, so that the choice wouldn't be taken from them.
Charlie slipped the folded list into his shirt pocket, deciding that he'd present himself at the negotiating hour of eight a.m. and keep his options open.
"Good luck, son. I wish I could be there with you," Arthur told Charlie at the door to lottery room. "Just…be careful…about any deals you might make. I wish Bill'd consulted me first."
"Dad, I'm a big boy, I'll be fine." His father gripped his shoulder for a moment longer, then with an almost fierce nod, he turned and headed for the lift.
There'd been a slight scene at breakfast when Charlie had calmly informed his father that he intended to try a negotiation. He'd continued to butter his toast, then slather it with jam, so that by the time his father was finished and waiting for an answer, his mouth was full and he could only make apologetic hand motions. Bill had stepped in and firmly told his father that they'd discussed it the night before, and that Kingsley thought it an option he should at least consider. Bill pointed out that Charlie had made up his mind, and Arthur should respect his decision. He'd been a man on his own for over a decade now, hadn't he?
Taking a deep breath, Charlie opened the door and stepped into the room. It was smaller than he'd expected, with a group of wooden chairs set up in rows of five, facing the front of the room. Along the wall at the back, there were five curtained cubicles with a sign affixed above them: Negotiation Booths. He could see that only one was occupied, two sets of legs and feet showing beneath the curtains.
The voice startled Charlie. Just to the right of the door was a table with an elderly witch sitting behind it. "Check your name off on the sign-in sheet." She waited while Charlie bent and scanned the list and found his name at the very bottom. He placed the 'X' to the side of it, then reached out and took the name card she handed to him. Casting a Sticking Charm, she stuck it to the right side of the front of his robes. "Do you have your list?" she asked, then when he hesitated, she handed him a duplicate of the one Bill had given him two nights ago. "Negotiations are permitted until nine sharp, at which time you'll be required to take a seat in the front for the lottery; if an agreement has been made via negotiation, then the two of you must return here to notify the Chairman. Any questions?" she asked
"No, ma'am, thank you," he said as he stepped away and turned toward the chairs. He estimated that most from the list were already present, some standing alone against the walls, some sitting randomly scattered in the chairs. The atmosphere was oppressive, oddly quiet for the number of people in the room, and it smelt of fear, something with which Charlie, given his occupation, had encountered in groups of men before. No dragons to face and conquer, to be sure, but for all of these men there was something just as intimidating on their horizons. As for himself, Charlie mused that he'd face a dragon any day over this almost tangible rape of his hopes and dreams, not to mention his free will.
He ignored the chairs to stand near the back of the room, almost opposite the entrance. Leaning against the wall, he casually crossed his arms, and began a subtle inspection of the other candidates. One met his eyes and nodded, but most stared straight ahead, or appeared to be asleep where they sat. As Charlie methodically worked his way around the room, he was suddenly dismayed when he realized that he wasn't…wait, there he was.
Along the back wall, in between two of the negotiation booths, seated on the floor with his long legs stretched out in front of him, Charlie saw him. If he hadn't been looking for this man in particular, he'd've never guessed that this could be he.
His skin was sallow, an unhealthy hue that made his normal pallor almost sickly; his eyes stood out in purplish sockets, sunken into hollowed cheeks, one of which bore a starburst bruise of yellow-green with red at its edges. All of this was painful to see, Charlie thought to himself, but the worst was the way the man hunched his shoulders, as if cowering and crouching down would make him invisible. So different from the last time Charlie'd seen him, over two years ago when his picture had been in the Prophet at the time of his sentencing.
Charlie looked at the clock hanging crookedly on the wall: eight-fifteen. He glanced around the room one last time, realizing that most of these men looked to be in better shape, but the one sitting there on the floor…it was to him that Charlie needed to speak.
When he walked and stood just in front of the man, the pale gray eyes finally showed some life, as they shifted upward to look at him. When they glimmered with the barest trace of recognition, Charlie nodded and said softly, "Draco."
They didn't waste much time in the Negotiation Booth. If Draco seemed battered and bruised, Charlie quickly learnt that his will and suspicious instincts remained intact. He wondered why he felt so relieved to find that the man might be down on his luck, but was still Slytherin to the core.
"What's in it for me?" Draco asked, his eyes narrowed, his arms wrapped around himself.
"It's the same for both of us," Charlie explained patiently. "We'd both know what we're getting…sort of."
"I don't know you at all," Draco said sourly. "And you don't know me either."
Charlie thought for a moment. "True in a way. But at least we know a bit about each other. Would you rather take that crapshoot out there? End up with someone who slept in Azkaban last night?"
"My mother's in Azkaban," he said flatly.
Oh. Right. And your father died there. "I'm sorry, I knew that. But you know what I mean."
Draco studied him, his eyes searching Charlie's face, then suddenly they widened slightly. "You decided this before you came, didn't you? You saw I was on the list, and you decided you wanted to make a deal."
Charlie nodded. "Yes, you or Stefan Collier. I saw you first."
Scratching his chin, Draco countered, "You think because I'm not physically strong, I'd be your best shot."
"I decided before I saw you, remember?"
Confusion flickered across Draco's face. "Why, then?"
Charlie knew then that he'd have to give him something. "Let's just say…we both know how important family is."
Draco scoffed. "Yeah, you got that right."
"Fifteen minutes until the MMPP lottery begins," droned a neutral voice over the increasing noise of the room.
Draco struggled to his feet, ignoring Charlie's outstretched hand to get up on his own. He put a hand behind him to steady himself against the wall. "What about this pregnancy thing?"
"I honestly don't know," Charlie said, meeting his eyes. "I've not got past the marriage thing, to be honest. We'll have to work it out."
"No tricks. No pressure from your family, because mine sure as bloody hell won't be standing up for me."
"This'll be between the two of us, promise." Charlie leant to the side and used a hand to slightly part the curtain so he could see out into the room. "Almost time." He glanced back to find Draco looking at him almost desperately, and then decided to take a chance.
"Listen, you don't have any reason in the world to trust me, I know. But you can either make a choice to take a chance with me, or you can let chance decide the entire thing for you in the lottery. We could make it one last opportunity to tell the Ministry to go fuck themselves."
Draco didn't smile, but Charlie saw the fleeting flash of emotion in his eyes as he said, "All right, let's do it."
Over the next several days, Charlie knew it had to be hard for Draco.
They'd left the Ministry together, both of them a bit bemused by the volume of paperwork required to finalize their 'agreement'. As Draco would continue to wear his Anti-Apparition bracelet until after they were married, Charlie Side-Alonged him to the Burrow.
In the end, Charlie was proud of his family; his brothers had been waiting in the kitchen, along with his mother. All of them had seemed shocked at first, except for Bill, who'd been the first to reach over to shake Draco's hand, then pushed him into a chair at the table. It wasn't long before there was a plate of eggs and rashers set in front of him, while the conversation turned to last-minute planning of yet another Weasley wedding.
"George, fire-call your father and tell him he must come home. Oh dear, well at least most of the family's still in the area. I wonder if Mrs. Marner will do another cake on such short notice. Draco, dear, is there family you'd like to attend? Let me know, and we'll owl. Let's see, what time of day do you…."
Charlie leant in and murmured close to Draco's ear, "Don't worry. They'll plan it all, so we just need to nod in the right places. I'll get you out of here as soon as I can."
Then he sat back in his chair, and for the first time since he'd come home on Friday evening, he felt the knot in his stomach begin to relax. As he watched Draco try to politely answer questions, he thought to himself that maybe things wouldn't be half as bad as he'd expected….
Draco sat in the garden with Fleur and Ginny, looking lost and uncomfortable, as the Weasley boys tossed a Quaffle around above their heads. His wand would be returned to him by the Ministry after the ceremony, so until then, he was still prohibited to do magic.
After supper that evening, Arthur pulled the two of them into the sitting room, with directions to the rest of the family that they were to be left alone.
Charlie and Draco sat on either end of the settee, facing the older man in the armchair opposite. He looked from one to the other, then shook his head. "When Kingsley told me, I was certain he'd heard wrong."
Charlie sensed rather than saw Draco stiffen beside him. "Dad, I don't think now's the—"
His father held up a hand. "Let me finish. I meant to say I was shocked, but I believe the two of you must've worked something out, isn't that so?"
"We did," Charlie said first, then looked to Draco who still didn't speak or nod, just continued to stare at Arthur, his hostility obvious.
Arthur sat back in his chair, his lips pursed as he considered Draco. His face suddenly seemed to soften. "You both could've done a lot worse. So now, it's up to the two of you to make the best of things." He still stared at Draco, then leant forward, as if he'd suddenly made a decision. "So much harder for you, though. Here amongst people you don't know. My advice is to avoid the women around mealtime, unless you want to be put to work in the kitchen. Isn't that right, Charlie?"
"Definitely, that's why there's always Quidditch before dinner," Charlie said with a grin, which faded when he remembered. Turning to Draco, he added, "Just a few more days, and you'll be able to play."
"Ah, yes, that reminds me. You have a bracelet still, don't you?" Without waiting for an answer, Arthur went on, "That'll disappear the moment you're bonded, and Kingsley himself will be here to return your wand. Which brings me to employment."
He seemed suddenly uncomfortable. "Charlie, I've spoken to Maya in the Department of Magical Creatures, and she'll see you on Thursday afternoon—said she's certain they could work in a dragon expert. Draco, you'll be expected back at work that same afternoon. And there you must remain, until you provide proof of employment elsewhere."
For the first time since they'd arrived that morning, Draco seemed to come alive, almost electrified. "No, no, they said I didn't have to go back! That once we were bonded, I could find another job." He was sitting on the edge of the settee, his hands clenched in fists beside him, his pale cheeks suddenly flushed.
"That's true. Once you have another position, then you'll be finished up there. But not until then. Do you have an idea of where…or any abilities that might qualify you…" Arthur trailed off, seeing the warning look his son was sending his way.
"No," Draco bit out bitterly. "No contacts, no particular skills, unless you want to count Unforgivables and functioning under Imperius. Or pissing my pants…I seem to remember doing that fairly often."
There was dead silence for a moment, then Charlie stood and gestured for Draco to follow him. "That all, Dad? Been a long day. We're going up." Charlie touched Draco gently, taking his arm and steering him through the hall to the stairway.
They were to share the twins' old room, just the two of them, an amazing feat in a house so chock full of people as this one was at the moment. Still, Charlie felt the need to apologize.
"It doesn't mean anything that we're in here together. I mean, we don’t have to… What I mean is, you'd have to share with someone, and I figured you'd be more comfortable with me than anyone else. Pick your bed, I'll take the other."
Draco stood in the middle of the room, and didn't move for a long moment. "It's fine. I understand." He went to sit on the edge of the bed against the wall, then leant forward and buried his face in his hands.
Charlie watched him for a moment, then asked, "What was that all about? The job thing? You must really hate it."
Draco looked up, then down again, seeming to study his shoes. "Department of Mysteries. They put me there after my trial. Work-monitored program. I've been there two and a half years."
"What do you do there?" Charlie asked, curious. "Seems like an odd place to put you."
Draco's unexpected smile wasn't a nice one; in fact, it was a smile meant to hide the real emotion that might show if he weren't careful, or at least, that was Charlie's guess.
"I'm a test subject. They experiment a great deal, and they need wizards to…test things on."
Trying to hide his horror, Charlie asked evenly, "What sort of things?"
Draco sat up straight, then pushed himself back on the bed so that he was sitting against the wall, his legs out in front of him. "Spells, rites, rituals, potions, some really bizarre stuff involving time-twisting." He shuddered.
"That…that doesn't even sound legal," Charlie said, outraged.
Draco seemed suddenly more cautious. "Well, it's all very hush-hush. And I'm not supposed to talk about it."
Charlie stood and took the two steps across the room to sit on the edge of Draco's bed. "Did they hurt you?" He tapped his own cheek, then nodded at Draco. "Did they do that?"
His hand coming up to his cheek, Draco flushed. "Like I said, not allowed to talk about it, but yeah, this might've happened there." He turned his head to the side, so that Charlie almost didn’t hear when he mumbled, "They're not allowed to do any permanent damage."
They were both in their beds, the moonlight streaming in through the window. It'd been at least a half-hour since they'd turned off the light and said a mumbled, "Good night." Thinking Draco asleep, Charlie said it to himself, "First thing we're going to do is find you a new line of work."
He was surprised when he heard the faint sigh, "Gryffindors."
The ceremony on Wednesday was smaller and shorter than Percy and Audrey's. Of course, all of the Weasleys were there, but this time Draco's Aunt Andromeda and cousin Teddy were there, as well as Severus Snape, who accompanied them.
Wedding robes for the two of them had been mysteriously given as a gift. As they walked together to the front of the small assembly, then faced each other on either side of the officiator, this was the precise moment that was captured on film and appeared in the next day's Prophet: equal in height, with Draco perhaps a bit taller; one rugged with burnished gold skin, the other pale and finely featured; two heads of unusually long hair tied back at their napes, one of them auburn, the other almost platinum; one set of pale blue robes, the other a silvery mint.
Most would've agreed that this was the most unlikely of couples to ever grasp hands and say the words of binding together; but as it happened, as they murmured the sacred words, as Charlie's face filled with wonder, and as the sullenness drained from Draco's, those that were present would later say that it seemed the most natural and beautiful of weddings they'd ever been privileged to witness.
Charlie was not just a witness, of course. But he, more than anyone, perhaps, was the most surprised when the ceremonial kiss, which should've been shy and chaste, exploded into a bit of fireworks that drew 'ooo-ing' and 'ah-ing' from their guests, until Charlie heard his mother's embarrassed twittering, and pulled away.
They spent a day of dancing and drinking and a decidedly magical moment when Draco realized his Anti-Apparition bracelet was gone, and soon after was solemnly presented with his wand by the Minister of Magic in attendance. Charlie watched him closely as he wielded the wand before sliding it into his pocket, and their eyes met just for a moment; Charlie didn't know Draco well at all, but in that moment, he was able to read volumes.
As the guests were leaving later that evening, Charlie turned to see Draco standing to the side of the garden gate as he talked to Severus Snape. He could tell something was amiss by the look on Draco's face, the way his shoulders were drawn together, and how he was staring into space over Snape's shoulder, finally meeting Charlie's eyes.
Charlie was beside them in a moment, making a point to stand next to Draco, their shoulders touching. "Hullo, Severus, you're going?"
Snape gave him a withering look. "I'm at the gate. What do you think?"
Charlie smiled disarmingly. "I think you're upsetting my partner here. Not a nice thing to do on his wedding day."
Smiling slightly, and with a curt nod for Draco, Snape stepped around them, just after he said, "My apologies, then. I was offering him a word of fatherly advice. My best to the both of you."
Neither one of them moved until Snape had Disapparated, then Charlie asked conversationally, "Fatherly advice?"
Draco turned to him, his eyes grateful. "He was reminding me of how fortunate I was, and not to do something stupid."
"Ah," Charlie replied, "advice for the both of us, then." Placing a hand lightly on Draco's arm, he steered him toward the group in the garden.
"Wasn't so bad, was it?" Charlie asked as they undressed that night.
"I can see why you'd think that way," Draco answered as he carefully folded his wedding robes.
Charlie sat on the edge of his bed, naked except for his boxers. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, perplexed.
"I mean I can see why you enjoyed yourself—here in your home, all your family around you, bringing you gifts, wishing you a happy future," he finished, his tone slightly mocking.
Staring at Draco, Charlie said in a low voice, "I didn't want this any more than you did."
"Oh, I know that's definitely not true," Draco disagreed, sitting on his own bed to face him. "You have no idea what this feels like for me. You've not spent the past two years without seeing your family. Three for my father. You've not been the odd man out, having everyone stare at you and whisper behind their hands. If we're talking about who didn't want this the most, you might want to consider all that. It might change your answer."
Charlie's shoulders sagged as he did consider all those things, then he replied, "You're right, of course, I misspoke. I'm sorry." He watched as Draco bent over and massaged his ankle where the bracelet had been. He was still watching when Draco slowly looked up and caught him staring.
"So," Draco said as he slowly sat up, "I suppose you'll want to do it now."
Charlie frowned. "Do it?" He shook his head. "No thanks, not tonight. And by 'do it', I assume you mean sex, right?"
"Yeah," Draco answered, seeming surprised.
"Draco, you do remember that both of us were forced into this, don't you? Not just you?" When Draco nodded sullenly, Charlie continued, "We have a week, and even that's going to seem too soon for me, all right? But we probably shouldn't leave it until the last moment—sort of stressful that way."
"So, you want to pick a day?" Draco asked. When Charlie shrugged and rolled his eyes, Draco suggested, "Monday, then?"
"Monday's good. Hopefully we'll have a place by then. I'm not doing this in my mother's house," he opined.
"God no," Draco agreed, his eyes as big as saucers.
They were standing outside Draco's flat in Muggle London, at twelve noon, when Charlie realized why Draco was suddenly so anxious. They'd agreed to stop here first for Draco to change into his Ministry robes.
"I don't have to come up," Charlie said candidly. "I didn't really need to come with you at all. Just thought since we were both going to the Ministry…"
Draco's shoulders slumped. "You might as well come up. You'll see it sooner or later," he grumbled.
Charlie followed him into the building, then through a door at the end of the corridor to the stairwell. As they climbed, Charlie reminded Draco, "So, I'll meet you here tomorrow at six? I should have my end of things sorted out, and then we can figure the rest out…" They continued to climb, until Charlie lost track of the landings. "What floor're you on?" he asked, starting to sweat slightly.
"Tenth, top floor, and no lift either," Draco threw over his shoulder as they exited the stairwell. They walked to the middle of the corridor, then Charlie waited as Draco stood on tiptoe to feel along the upper ledge of the doorway, and deftly palmed a key as it fell off. Unlocking the door, he pushed it open and headed for the only window in the tiny flat, throwing the curtains aside and pushing the small paned panel upward.
Charlie struggled to hide his reaction.
The room was sweltering, paint peeling from the walls, a single light bulb hanging on a fraying cord from the ceiling. A tattered, faded rug covered the floor in front of an unmade bed, while a small wooden table pushed into a corner was laden with takeaway cartons and dirty glass and silverware. There was a 'drip-drip-drip' from the small sink beside a curtained partition, which Charlie assumed held the toilet. The entire room stank of sweat and sewer.
After he'd taken it all in, Charlie realized that some time had elapsed in uncomfortable silence. When he looked at Draco's face, his heart constricted, as he saw the mixture of shame and misery there.
"Just so you know. I didn't pick this place, the Ministry did. Part of the work-monitored program. They pay for your room, but you have to live where they put you."
Charlie was embarrassed that he'd not asked before this. "They pay you, don't they? So you can buy food, and other things you need?"
Draco shrugged. "Since they supposedly feed me breakfast and lunch, all I get is enough to cover suppers, and five Galleons a week for spending money. Everything else they take care of: clothing, postage, laundry." He seemed to catch Charlie's dismay, and his cheeks flushed suddenly. "More than adequate."
"What do you do in the evenings?" Charlie asked to change the subject.
"Usually work late, so I come home and go to bed. Next thing I know, it's time to get up and go back again." He walked to the bed and reached down to sort through some clothing thrown at the end of it. Straightening, he folded a set of robes across his arm, then nodded toward the door. "We'd better go now."
They walked the blocks to the Ministry in total silence, not breaking it until they stood in the Atrium itself.
How strange, Charlie thought to himself, three days ago when he'd been here, he'd not seen Draco in years, and now, here they were….
Draco eyed the bank of lifts on the far wall, then paused, turning to Charlie. "Tomorrow evening, then."
There was something furtive in his face that made Charlie say what was on his mind. "You won't run, will you? There's not much to stop you if you decide to try."
Pulling himself up to his full height, Draco said quietly, "You see how I am, what I have. Where would I go? They'd find me eventually, and then I'd be worse off."
Charlie nodded, unable to say it, wanting to tell him that he intended to do all that he could to get Draco out of there—out of the Ministry and that hovel where he lived. "Well, hard to imagine how things could be worse, but I suppose they could. The way I see it, I'm hoping we've both hit our low point, and the only way to go now is up." He gestured with a finger to make his point. With a smile and a jerk of his head, he motioned them toward the lifts. "For starters, let's see if I can talk Maya into a job."
"Well, that's great news!" Harry pounded Charlie on the back in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. "But a desk job? How'll you survive?" The two of them sat on either side of the scarred wooden table, Kreacher appearing instantly with a steaming soup tureen floating behind him.
"Oh, I'm hoping it'll just be until…" He shook his head. "I don't know, Harry. The thought of living in London for very long makes me heartsick. But at least it's dragon-related." He waited until Harry was served, then they both picked up their spoons and began to eat. "Really appreciate you letting me spend the night here."
"So…" Harry hesitated. "What're your plans? Draco has a flat, then? You'll be staying there? I can’t imagine the two of you'd stay with your mum and dad."
"No," Charlie agreed. He set his spoon down, and sat back in his chair, staring at Harry. "Too awkward. Well, any place will be awkward. God, the whole damn affair's so awkward!" He pressed his fingers to his temples, then looked up to Harry again. "Draco's flat is out, full stop. My god, you wouldn't believe it. I sure didn't. To think he's lived in that…hole for over two years. It's just…well, it's the Ministry—what should we expect?"
"It's so unfair," Harry murmured, pushing his soup away. "I can't imagine being thrown together with someone like that, not to mention…Draco." He couldn't hide his curiosity. "How's he been? I mean, are you getting on at all?"
Charlie thought for a moment, then took up his wine glass. "Better than I expected. But the hardest parts are in front of us." He looked away, then squared his shoulders and smiled as he looked to Harry again. "One step at a time. Next will be a new flat; I've got some money to get us started."
They sat silently as Kreacher cleared the table, then they picked up their tea and walked to the large library on the ground floor. Charlie admired the new settee and chairs, commenting on how much brighter the room seemed.
"Kreacher and I've been working on it. The books, well, they need some attention."
Charlie looked at the four walls of the room; he'd never noticed how many books there actually were. Floor to ceiling, shelf after dusty shelf, and pushed into a corner stood an antique wall ladder, spindly and fragile-looking. He wondered for a moment about what sorts of books these were, and imagined that generations of Blacks had been responsible for putting them there.
"Charlie…I'd like to help. So, please, just hear me out, all right?" Harry asked, leaning casually against a bookshelf. "I have to admit this wasn't all my own idea. My business partner and I talked about this earlier today…"