The Peacock Paladin and the King of the Emerald Court

~~

The King of the Emerald Court stood at the top of the hill, clutching his staff in one battle-scarred hand. He gazed down into the quiet, grassy Valley of Eternal Eventide, watching the dark shadows slip in and out of shallow crevices. They moved fitfully and with great speed, even though there was nothing there to cast them. He stared at them as if he could defeat them merely with the power of his gaze.

If only it were that easy.

Out of the corner of his left eye, he noticed the air beside him shimmering, as if there was an invisible fire close at hand. He didn't turn his head. From that mirage-like demarcation, the Peacock Paladin stepped forward out of thin air, with the barest rustle of his shining clothing.

The Peacock Paladin was usually dressed in an ornate fashion: bejewelled robes and fabulous headdresses, but today his taste seemed deceptively simplistic: a lengthy wraparound skirt, a kind of sarong. The lustrous blue material fell in complex folds from his narrow waist. It fluttered behind him in the sudden breeze, barely revealing pale toes and ankles, but easily outlining his long, lean highs, and the quiescent mound of his prick. The Emerald King turned his head away slightly, not wanting to focus on such a distraction at this time.

"Emerald King." The Paladin's voice was low, his tone soft. "Are you ready to battle the Beast of Shadows?"

The Emerald King found his voice and murmured, "I am."

He chanced a quick glance at the Paladin's face, and found the other man staring at him fixedly. The Paladin considered him for a very long time, his gaze tracking across the King's visage as if he was searching for a deeper truth. The upper half of the Paladin's face was painted in dark-blue, with fanciful representations of curling feathers fanning out from the outside corners of his eyes. These made his pale skin and eyes seem to glow, gave him a ferocious air despite the whimsical decoration, and the Emerald King found it hard to look away.

The Paladin must have found some sign of what he sought, because he nodded, slowly, and then considered the King's battered armour.

"You are strong," he murmured, and the King felt the old armour beneath his tatty cloak revert to its undamaged state right over his body: the dents popping out with muted clunking sounds, the scratches sealed and the gaping holes knitted over with strong metal. "You are the strongest King I have ever encountered. You must believe that of yourself."

I am strong, the Emerald King told himself and his staff seemed to melt in his hand without dripping away through his fingers. It coalesced into a sword, the sharp blade made of the same deep-green material as his armour.

"I am here to help you," the Paladin told him, stepping close and looking down at him with those intense eyes. The King looked up at him, lips parted slightly. He imagined he could feel the warmth of the Paladin's bare chest. "Please trust me, my lord."

The Emerald King felt his cheeks flush and cut his gaze away quickly. His voice was rough, tone curt as he said, "Don't call me that."

"Don't call you, what, sire?" The Paladin was mocking now, certainly. The Paladin was strong, and if it wasn't for him, the King would not have gotten so close to the Beast of Shadows time and time again. Behind that great beauty, however, was a coolly calculating mind, the King was sure of it. He was determined not to be caught up in any little game of his Paladin.

"Let's just get on with this," the Emerald King said, keeping his gaze firmly fixed on the shadows in the vale.

"The Beast cannot be killed," The Paladin reminded him. "It can only be controlled. Do you remember?"

The Emerald King nodded, a quick dip of his chin. "I remember. I'm ready."

"Very good, my king."

The Paladin stepped even closer, and the Emerald King looked up at his face with a start. The Paladin's fair eyebrows were pulled together in a rapt frown and he raised one hand slowly, as if he feared the Emerald King would start away. The King blinked rapidly as the Paladin touched his face, warm fingertips trailing down his cheek and under his jaw, tipping his chin up a little more.

The Emerald King felt as if he couldn't help himself. He swayed forward, licking his lips in anticipation; he moaned softly as the Paladin's lips pressed against his, a tentative touch that deepened as the King reciprocated. He released the sword, pulling his hand out of the basket hilt and placing it at the back of the Paladin's neck, feeling feathers and hair brush lightly against his skin.

The Paladin kissed him briefly, pulled away slightly at the end, his breath falling heavily on the King's lips; at the flutter of his lashes, the armour of the Emerald King, so recently repaired, slipped off his body, leaving him in a short, loose shift. The Paladin dove in again, fiercely, so much so that the King felt himself being bent back at the waist, the Paladin's arms tight around his body. The King felt the thick, hot length of the other man's cock against his in slow beats as the Paladin's hips moved back and forth slowly.

The Paladin pulled back once more with a light, shuddering breath, and put his face against the Emerald King's neck, licking and kissing. The Emerald King moaned a word, a single name, and the Paladin froze. Slowly, he detangled himself from the Emerald King, his gaze averted, points of colour bright at his cheekbones.

"My apologies, my liege," he said from between tight lips as the Emerald King stared at him, mouth kiss-swollen. "That was...highly unprofessional." He stepped away, and the armour crystallized around the King once more. The King took a deep breath. He was still hard, and he exhaled slowly.

"There's no need for apologies," he said. There may have been something strangely soft in his tone, something inviting, for there seemed to be surprise in the Paladin's grey gaze as he looked up quickly. The Emerald King tried on a small smile on for size. "I kissed you back, didn't I?"

The Paladin still appeared to be flustered; the expression was alien on his face, at least to the King. The Emerald King felt a species of affectionate amusement, and then surprise at himself, for feeling it.

"It's not real," the Paladin murmured, and they both watched as a helmet wafted into view between them, vivid blue and green feathers arranged in an elaborate crest. "It's... it's all in your head," he said as the Emerald King reached out for the helmet.

The Emerald King laughed quietly as he fastened his helmet. He reached out for the sword which had remained hanging in the air where he had left it.

"Someone once told me that just because it's all in my head doesn't mean it's not real," he said, and the Paladin raised his eyebrows. "I'm going into battle now."

"Good luck," the Paladin said, and a smile quirked at the corner of his thin lips. "But you won't need it. My King."

He stepped aside and the Emerald King stepped forward...towards the Beast of Shadows.

He could feel the echo of the Paladin's hot mouth on his, the curl of his tongue. He gripped his sword tighter as he marched down the hill into the valley, and did not quail as the green glowing eyes of the Beast fixed on him.

+ + +

"Harry."

The pain circled around Harry Potter's head, drilling out from his scar and bleeding into the spaces behind his eyes and encircling his ears. He stared at the forms he'd been filling out for the past half-hour, trying to find where he'd left off. The chattering of his fellow Aurors was unbearable. It seemed he could taste the sharpness of their gossip.

"Harry."

He had to get this work done, it was just stupid paperwork, but he couldn't focus on it. The waves of pain which made up his constant headache ebbed and surged, ebbed and surged. Harry gritted his teeth and tried hard to deal with it.

"Harry!"

With a pained flinch, Harry turned around in his chair and barked, "What the fuck do you want?"

Ron stood there staring at him with shadowed eyes. He inclined his head and Harry stifled a sigh as he got up, leaving the now quiet bullpen and striding into the office of the Deputy Chief Auror.

Ron settled behind his desk, clasping his hands loosely atop his desk. He sat there, just looking at Harry with a stony expression. Harry stared back, not willing to lose this particular battle, even if it was with his best friend. Ron sighed, and leaned back in his chair.

"It's the scar, isn't it?" he asked and Harry bit the inside of his lip so hard that that particular hurt nearly overrode the pulsating in his head. Ron dipped his chin and continued to gaze at Harry. "It's still hurting you. Badly."

From between clenched teeth Harry replied, "I have it under control, Deputy Chief."

A strange expression flitted across Ron's face, as if Harry had raised his wand against him. Then, without breaking his gaze from Harry's defiant one, he pulled open a drawer of his desk, and took out a thick sheaf of untidily arranged parchment. He set it atop his desk with a delicacy belied by his tall, broad-shouldered frame.

"Reports," he said, tapping the thick fingers of one hand against the side of the stack. "Complaints. From perps, from victims of crimes, other divisions." He leaned forward suddenly, his scrutiny intent on Harry's face. "Your behaviour is erratic and troubling. You look like shit, you're not eating right. You're not getting enough sleep. Harry, you do not have this under control."

"It's a lucky thing I've got you nagging my arse about it then, right?"

Ron swiped his hand over his face. Harry was in enough pain to not care too much... but this was Ron. He had to try and care, even a little.

"Muggle pills don't work," he finally said, staring at the floor and gripping the arms of his chair. "Potions don't do shit. I've tried every remedy in the book, Ron, and trust me when I say there are hundreds. Nothing works, so all I can do is cope."

"Mate--"

"This is the best I can do," Harry said, blunt but not unkind. "If you need to sack me, go on. At this point, I hardly give a fuck."

Ron said, "My orders from the Chief are 'fix Potter or it's St. Mungo's for the berk'. Personally, I'd rather you not end up at St. Mungo's, even if you are a monstrous berk."

"Thanks," Harry said, dry as wood-chips. "I really appreciate that."

Ron's sigh was louder this time. "There's a specialist. He's helped Teddy manage the pain he has every full moon. Maybe he can help you."

"Wait." Harry leant forward, squelching the nausea that occurred at times in conjunction with the headaches. "Teddy's...been having pains? Werewolf, like?"

Ron's smile was a study in exhaustion. "Yeah, mate. He doesn't go through the full transformation, but it's shit on him. He's controlling it well these days, though."

"Nobody told me," Harry said, feeling his top-lip beginning to curl in anger. "Why is this?"

"You couldn't have helped him at the time. Besides," Ron calmly twitched his ginger eyebrows, completely ignoring Harry's flared nostrils. "You've got your own mess to deal with."

He pulled a white card from underneath a ledger and pushed it over the surface of the desk.

"I've heard he's good," Ron said as Harry deflated rapidly, staring at the name on the white card. "Still a shit, but very good."

The name on the card, in fact the only lettering visible, was Draco Malfoy.

Harry picked up the card, staring at it as he got up out of the chair. He stopped at the door when Ron called his name, turning slowly as to not upset his head any more than it already was.

Ron seemed uncomfortable. "Does this…I mean, the whole Deputy Chief thing. Are you upset over it?"

"No, mate," Harry said without a pause. "Far from it. In fact, they should have taken it from me earlier. I'm a shit organizer and even worse at tactics. We all know that."

Ron nodded, and smiled. It seemed suddenly a far warmer atmosphere than it had been between them for weeks…probably even months. Harry realized he should have said something earlier.

He could have said a lot of things earlier. His head had just been busy feeling like it was being used as a battering ram, was all.

"I'm rearranging your caseload. You're on light desk-duty for the next three weeks." Ron returned Harry's folder to his drawer, waving his wand to activate the locking wards. "Go see Malfoy," and he somehow managed to say that without grimacing too much. "Go get fixed."

+

WIZARDING OFFENDER-PAROLE FILE

MALFOY, DRACO LUCIUS BLACK

B. JUNE 5 1980

HERITAGE: WIZARD, VEELA

CRIMINAL RECORD: CHARGED WITH CRIMES AGAINST THE WIZARDING STATE: AIDING AND ABETTING A TERRORIST GROUP; USE OF AN UNFORGIVABLE; ENDANGERMENT OF UNDERAGED WITCHES & WIZARDS

SENTENCING CONSIDERATIONS: AGE AND FAMILIAL CIRCUMSTANCE. CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED APPLIED

ORIGINAL SENTENCE: TEN YEARS IN AZKABAN

MODIFIED SENTENCE: ATTAINED VEELA HERITAGE WHILE INCARCERATED. GIVEN PAROLE AND SERVED THE REMAINDER OF SENTENCE AS COMMUNITY SERVICE IN MUGGLE HOSPITAL. DEVELOPED CHRONIC PAIN MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES THROUGH MUGGLE INTERACTIONS. SPECIALISED EXPERIENCE FOR WIZARDS/WITCHES/MAGICAL CREATURES/HYBRIDS

AFFILIATIONS: THE SOCIETY FOR THE HUMANE TREATMENT OF WEREWOLVES; ST. MUNGO'S INTENSE CURSE UNIT; INTERNATIONAL MAGICAL COMMUNITY FOR THE STUDY OF PAIN

(ADDENDUM H. POTTER) SUSPICIONS: USE OF VEELA NATURE TO CONVINCE THE UNSUSPECTING OF A CURE FOR THEIR CHRONIC PAIN (MENTAL INFLUENCE). POSSIBLE SCAM. NO CURRENT REPORTS FROM PATIENTS TO SUPPORT THIS POSITION.

Harry turned over the page, which he had copied from the Auror files. Behind it were sheaves of parchment which he had added for his own purposes, mostly consisting of photographs: Malfoy's Medick Alley office, a narrow building which seemed as if it had shouldered its way in between two others, just as obnoxious and tall and slender as its owner; the trickle of patients, some walking in of their own accord, some escorted there by St. Mungo's staff. Malfoy started work at ten in the morning, and went on to about six or seven in the evening, a few instances as late as ten. He took a meal at three, with his mother or with Pansy Parkinson. Mostly, however, he ate at his office, and he ate alone.

Harry snapped the folder shut, not flinching at the way the sound-waves seemed to bolster his headache; it was something he was used to, anyway. He shrunk the folder and tucked it into the pocket of his woolen great-robes. He was sitting directly across from Malfoy's office, at a neat little cafe with exactly three tables and six chairs set out on the wide pavement. Wizards and witches passed by and gave him wide smiles; some even addressed him by name, and Harry responded with bare nods. Any more movement and the sensation in his head would escalate.

He got up, and crossed the road at a slow pace, and climbed the few steps to stand at the front door. He opened it, and stepped inside a reception area much wider than it would appear from the outside. From behind a desk set cattycorner in front of an L-shaped set of shelves, Narcissa Malfoy rose slowly. It was very incongruous to see her there, dressed in her elegant robes while standing in a neatly kept but slightly shabby office.

He wondered if his headache was finally causing hallucinations.

"Mr. Potter," she said, adjusting the silken wrap around her shoulders. "Good day."

"Good day," he said, very carefully. "I wasn't aware that you worked here." The photos he'd asked a Junior Auror to take had indicated the presence of a young female assistant with a penchant for fauxhawks and armfuls of bangles.

Narcissa seemed on the verge of a dismissive sniff. "I do not. However, Miss Chopra is on a well-needed vacation. I am merely assisting my son for the rest of the week. How may we help you?"

Her cool gaze indicated that she was quite sure they would be unable to help Harry Potter. Harry blinked slowly through the morass of his headache.

"I have an appointment at six o'clock," he said. "Under the name of Gary Lee."

Narcissa stood there for a few long beats, gazing at him with an unreadable expression. Then, she glanced down at the open appointments' book open on the desk without moving her head.

"I see," she said, and then sat down, picking up a quill and drawing a line in the book. "You are quite on time. Please, you may enter the inner office."

"Thank you," he said, and he may have sneered a little out of sheer reflex, because the coolness of her expression became freezing. A massive throb occurred right next to his left eye and he strode towards the only other door apart from the entryway. He didn't knock, but pushed open the slightly ajar panel, looking around a room that wasn't like any specialist's office he'd ever seen. It was arranged more like someone's living area, with a long couch and a few armchairs arranged in front of the Floo. Large, shapeless beanbags were strewn in the corners, and the only concession to the concept of a working area was a small desk and a filing cabinet near the entry. It was a well-lit space, but not overly bright. It was quite soothing for his already troubled head.

There was another door close to the Floo, and this one seemed to let into some kind of washroom, for he could hear the sound of running water.

"Hello?" he called, stepping inside fully.

"Please take a seat, Mr. Lee, anywhere you like." Draco Malfoy's voice floated out of the washroom, and Harry blinked at the low cadence of his voice. Harry walked over to one of the armchairs and settled in it, crossing one foot over the other and locking his fingers laced about his knee.

"All right, Mr. Lee." Malfoy stepped out, drying his hands on a white towel and then releasing it. The towel stopped in mid-drop, folded itself and zoomed back into the washroom. "How may I--"

He drew up short as he spotted Harry sitting there, and his eyes widened. He adjusted the lapels of his robes, and then walked very slowly over to the couch, and sat in it.

"Mr. Lee," he said, slowly settling back. "Or would you rather I call you by your real name?"

Harry didn't answer immediately. He just looked at Malfoy's face, noting the differences wrought by years and age and experience...and the obvious change of his Veela heritage that had not been captured by Junior Auror McFarlane's admittedly wondrous new camera.

He was still tall and pointy and pale, yet there was a lightness about him that was hard to define but very easy to look at. His hair looked just about the same as it did in school, but a lot less like a stiff helmet of blond hair.

"You can use my real name," Harry finally said.

"I wonder why you felt you needed to hide your identity." Malfoy's hands rested loosely atop his thighs. It was hard for Harry not to suddenly focus on the fact of Malfoy's legs. They were just there, long under his robes and looking quite strong. Harry blamed his headache.

"Did you think I would turn you away?" Malfoy asked and Harry shook his head a little.

"No."

Malfoy's eyebrows raised a little, and he took on an expectant air, as if Harry would then provide an explanation. Harry, who had no intention of expounding, remained as still and as expressionless as possible. Malfoy's anticipatory demeanour melted into one of faint exasperation after a few moments, and it seemed as if he was barely restraining himself from rolling his eyes.

"Well, then. If this visit is in regards to my activities as a Pain Management Specialist, then I am eager to clear up any--"

"Relax," Harry said, a little more sharply than he had intended. His headache pressed and pulled, and tried to make more space in his skull for itself. "I'm here as a patient, Specialist Malfoy."

"Ah." The line of Malfoy's shoulders tensed and then relaxed in the space of one second. "Then I will do my best to help you, Auror Potter."

Harry pressed his lips together, and they both sat there just staring at each other in lock-eyed challenge. Harry was quite willing to sit there for the entire session, if necessary, and then go back to Ron with news of his unsuccessful treatment. Suddenly, Malfoy did roll his eyes, and shook his head.

"Look, Potter, I really have no time for this, so do get on with it." He narrowed his eyes at Harry. "What is actually wrong with you?"

Harry was surprised into answering, "My head. The scar, that is."

Malfoy's gaze flickered to where Harry's fringe covered his forehead in its usual messy manner.

"The scar," he said. "That very famous scar. How long have you had this pain?"

"It's always been a part of my life," Harry admitted, hating that Malfoy was now fully aware of this weak spot. "Since Voldemort's death. It just became more constant, and more intense. It's gotten worse recently."

Malfoy gave him a look Harry could not read, but all he said was, "I see."

"I have tried every potion and pill that I could get my hands on," Harry told him, mostly in challenge. "I really don't have any hopes that you can cure me."

"I can't," Malfoy said and Harry actually blinked at him. "The types of pain I deal in are incurable by any standard, Muggle or Wizard."

Harry scowled. "Then--"

"I only guide people in managing their chronic pain. It can be done. I can help." He seemed vaguely smug and satisfied with himself as he sat forward in his seat, a smile relaxing smugly on his thin lips. Harry felt a strange species of nostalgia cascade over him.

"How?" he asked and it was Malfoy's turn to blink. Harry offered a mirthless smile. "I suspect you use your Veela heritage to convince people that they're not in pain, right?"

"I keep forgetting that you're in the Auror business now," Malfoy said, and leaned back again; his smile was gone. "Given to bursts of wild suspicion and baseless accusation."

"I keep remembering you're a Malfoy," Harry retorted, "and there's no way I'm putting myself in your hands without knowing what I'm getting into."

Again, Malfoy gave Harry a look he simply could not read, but this one came accompanied with a flash of strange warmth. It washed over Harry's body, starting from the crown of his head and competing for dominance with his headache before sliding down his neck, over his shoulders and down his chest.

He shook himself, and hissed, "Stop that."

Malfoy flinched, and the warmth dissipated like mist under the morning sun. He seemed more surprised than Harry, and exhaled quickly.

"My apologies, Potter," he said. "This may come as no comfort to you, but that...what just happened, I mean to say, that doesn't happen with any of my patients."

"You're right, it's no comfort." Harry rubbed at one temple and then sighed. "So. Explain what it is you actually do."

"Very well, Potter." Malfoy spent a moment arranging his clothing in a rather fussy manner. "Let me give you the short version. The methods I use involve mental pain control, assisted by the Veela gift for suggestion and Legilimency-based imagery."

"Mental pain control," Harry repeated, doubtfully.

"I see you require the long version." Malfoy sighed. "It's something I saw done in the Muggle hospital I was assigned to for my community service." His expression relaxed and turned inward, as if he was reliving a comforting experience. "It worked, and they didn't have magic to help them."

Harry tried to think through the constant curtain of his pain.

"So...how does magic come into this?"

Malfoy leaned forward, eyes bright. "Our magic...it's capable of so much. It protects us, feeds us and cures us. Why not something like this?"

"Nothing works," Harry said, but Malfoy shook his head.

"Because you haven't tried to turn your magic inwards. Do you see?"

Harry did, a little. "And so your technique--"

"It's just a vehicle." Malfoy's conviction was palpable, and almost infectious. Almost. With great deliberation, Harry held himself away from hoping. "A method...a way to think your magic into helping you. You're the wand."

"And this produces feasible results?" It couldn't work, Harry thought. It was far too outrageous.

Malfoy said, "There are cases that even I can't help with, Potter. But for you..." he shrugged. "What's one more try?"

Harry bent his head, thinking deeply. Without looking up, he said, "I've always been good at throwing off Imperius, and other methods of mind control. I'm also trained to resist the Veela allure. Try anything funny, Malfoy, and I will make sure this little business of yours burns." He lifted his chin, meeting the other man's gaze directly. "Are we clear?"

"Perfectly," Malfoy said. "Are you ready for your first session?"

"What's the cost?" Harry asked, resigned to hearing a substantial amount for his 'treatment'.

Malfoy's grin was sudden and surprising. "Haven't you heard? I've gone all altruistic. Horribly shocking. My services in this little business are free."

+ + +

The trick is, Potter, is to give your pain a form you can picture...a form you can interact with. Can you do that? Do you have enough imagination to do that?

I think so. I didn't have time to develop things like 'imagination' when I was targeted every year in school, but needs must.

You seemed to have had time to develop a rather interesting sense of humour, I find.

Oh, I always had that, Malfoy. You didn't seem inclined to discover that about me.

Hmm. Interesting. All right, imagine a courtyard, in an old castle. One quite like Hogwarts, but older. This is your stronghold in your head. The one place you have freedom from the pain. The one place that you can launch your attack.

And this is fight we must win.

+

As the sun rose, the darkness was pushed away and the courtyard swam into view. The grey stones were worn and cold, and the man standing there stared at the empty area. It was so quiet and still.

He was alone. Dressed in tattered robes clutched tightly to his nude form, and he was alone.

"No. You are not alone," someone said behind him, and he turned around in surprise. A tall, blond man stood there, dressed in rich finery. His high-collared robes were an iridescent green this moment, and blue the next. His lips were painted dark green, and peacock feathers seemed to be growing along with fine strands of hair.

"I know you," the first man said, smiling a little. "I know who you are. In a different place."

The finely dressed man gave him a slow, solemn nod. "In another place, we are indeed different. Here, we are not the same. You have immense power in this space. Name us."

"You are the Peacock Paladin, my guardian," the man, the king said with calm confidence. "I am the King of the Emerald Court."

The Peacock Paladin seemed distantly amused beneath his veneer of gravity. "The names you have bestowed are...pleasing to me. Now name your great enemy, that dragon which has tormented you for so long."

The Emerald King felt something move in the back of his mind, something monstrous and made of slippery smoke.

"The Beast of Shadows," he said, and his voice trembled. The Paladin just looked at him, his pale gaze without expression.

"I will help you call forth your weapon of great destruction," he said, after a few beats. "With it, you will bring the Beast of Shadows to heel." The Paladin held out one hand, and the wide sleeve of his robe fell back to reveal the layers of elaborate feathers growing on his arm. Fascinated, the King of the Emerald Court did not realize that he had taken the Paladin's hand until he felt a quick squeeze of his fingers.

"Call it," the Paladin said, urgently. His grey eyes were bright; the King thought he saw very fine feathers in his eyelashes. "Call your weapon. It is here, it will come."

"I--" The King's throat felt dry, and the Paladin squeezed his hand again. "I call the Luminous Sword."

Light grew between their fingers, flaring out in bright beams. The Paladin removed his hand, and all but one of the beams disappeared. That single beam narrowed and became a sword resting as light as a leaf in the King's palm, but when he tightened his hand around its hilt, it felt dangerously solid.

He looked up to see the Peacock Paladin staring at him with an intent expression that was quickly wiped away.

"Will you stand with me?" The King asked. "It is my battle, I know...but will you stand?"

The Paladin nodded, a slow sweep of his elegant head.

"Aye, my king. I stand at your side."

The Emerald King felt armour melt into existence about his body, even as he turned and marched resolutely to the winding staircase at the back of the court. The Peacock Paladin walked at his side, his footfalls inaudible. The staircase ended outside in an abrupt manner, and the Emerald King gazed in dismay at the wasteland extending away from his castle. He stepped forward, at once moving from his castle as if carried on the wings of a bird, to land lightly in central thoroughfare of a once massive town. There were hints of buildings that might have been sturdy and yet airily beautiful, but now the only evidence of structures were piles of grey bricks, tumbled into forgotten gardens.

"Is it very bad?" The Paladin's voice was soft.

"It is bad," The Emerald King confirmed. He felt the sad arch of the frown upon his lips. "Paladin, do you think I have the strength to reclaim my lands?"

"I know you will try your best," the Paladin answered. He sounded calm, almost unconcerned. "Let us go forth."

The Emerald King focused on picking his way through the dusty streets, blinking rapidly at the wind which picked up malicious handfuls of grit and tossed them in his face.

"My King," the Paladin said and, at the concerned tone of his voice, the Emerald King stopped, turning to look at him. The Paladin plucked a long feather from his hair, then reached out and brushed the eye of it against the Emerald King's exposed features. Stunned by the slow movement of the feather across his lips and nose, and the way the Paladin stared right into his eyes as he did it, the Emerald King almost didn't notice the fine mesh which knitted itself into existence over his face, a glimmering visor.

"Thank you," he said, and the Paladin inclined his head slowly.

The Emerald King spun around at a furtive sound emanating from one of the largest ruins: the sound of something big and agile pulling itself over brick and cobble. He took a deep breath, feeling fear collect in a thick heap in his chest. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of colour as the Paladin shifted beside him.

From beneath the shadows of an archway slumped at a drunken angle he saw two shining green eyes slit open, regarding them with great malevolence.

"Ready," the Emerald King whispered, and hefted the Luminous Sword. The Forgotten Shield, strong and light and made of abandoned dreams, wafted into place over his other arm. "Come on," and at his murmured urging, the Beast of Shadows erupted from its hiding-place with a heart-chilling scream.

It lunged at him, a monstrous lizard with scales made of dirty smoke and fangs dripping with rust-red saliva. The Emerald King twisted out of the way, striking down with his sword as the Beast's body coiled between him and the Peacock Paladin. It was a clumsy strike, and the sword glanced off the Beast's neck. It shrieked again, and the sound hammered into the King's head, so much so that he released the sword, let the shield fall and scrambled at his helmet, because it hurt.

"Peace, my lord," a voice said behind him, and the Paladin rested his hands on the King's shoulders. Even through the metal of the guard-braces, the King could feel the warmth of his touch, sinking through the armour and lying against his chilled flesh. The pain sank away for just a moment, but it was a moment the King would use.

The Luminous Sword and the Forgotten Shield reclaimed their place on his hand and arm, and he sprinted forward, baring his teeth as he raised the sword. Feathers blew around him, swirling around his sword-arm, spiralling up the blade which glinted in the grey light. The King felt them, an airy layer heavy against his back as he shoved his sword into the jaw of the Beast of Shadows.

The Beast reared back, twisting and screaming, and the King shuddered as he fell back, watching the monstrosity writhe. It seemed to leave pieces of itself as it flailed on the dusty soil, chunks of scaly shadow that faded away after a few beats.

Breathing hard, the King of the Emerald Court started as the Beast's twisted form simply flickered out of sight, appearing once more inside one of the wrecked courtyards. It seemed faded, and a harsh snarl floated towards the two men. The Beast sank into the shadows, still growling so much that the Emerald King could feel the vibrations climbing up from the broken cobbles through his sabatons and greaves; he could hear the faint clinks of metal against metal as they shivered. The Emerald King stepped forward, and the Luminous Sword gleamed green in his hand. Then, pale fingers reached out and rested on his gauntlet.

"Emerald King," the Peacock Paladin said in his low, deep voice. "It is best to seek quietude after this hard-won battle, than try to win the entire war at once."

The King took a deep breath and then relaxed. He opened his fists; the Luminous Sword wafted away like steam and the Forgotten Shield grew smaller until it disappeared. He smiled at the Paladin, a tired movement of his mouth. The Peacock Paladin didn't smile outright, but there was a softness around his grey eyes and his mouth. The King glanced down at himself, and noted that while his armour had gone the way of his weaponry, at least his robes were not torn rags as they had been before. They were dark and loose, and he could feel the weight of a cowl hanging at his back.

"I'm going to bring you up now," the Paladin said, stepping forward and placing his hands on the Emerald King's shoulders. It was oddly intimate, like a dance and the Emerald King averted his gaze, hoping that the warmth in his face wasn't too apparent. His bones suddenly felt light and he tensed at the realization that they were floating in the air, rising up through the iron-coloured clouds. The King snapped his gaze back to the Paladin's face; his eyes felt wide.

The Peacock Paladin's smile was slightly mocking. "Do you think I will let you fall, mighty King?"

"I--"

"I would never let that happen," the Paladin said, his voice rough, and he pressed his lips tightly together for a moment. "Now, easy. After three, do you remember? One. Two."

The King of the Emerald Court closed his eyes.

+

Three.

+

Harry exhaled slowly. His hands rested on the arms of his chair, and his body felt loose and comfortable. The room was not too cold and not too warm. The pain was still in his head, but there was a curiously muted quality to it, as if it were in the next room.

Harry felt a small smile twitch at the corners of his lips. It felt awkward, as if it wasn’t quite sure what to do on his face.

"Something has amused you." Malfoy's tone seemed to deliberately lack inflection. Harry opened his eyes and raised his head, looking across to the other armchair. Malfoy was seated, long legs crossed, his gaze fixed on Harry's face.

Harry sat up a little straighter. "It was nothing. Just felt like smiling."

"I see. How do you feel?"

Harry thought about that for a few long moments. His headache pulsed and grumbled.

"I'm not sure yet," he finally said.

Malfoy nodded, and then beckoned to a small round table next to the door. It tottered over quickly, and he reached for the quill, scratching quickly in the open book which lay atop the table.

"If the pain worsens, try to remember a detail of the mental imagery that helped you in this session." Malfoy sounded perfectly clinical. "Such as the sword. Or your armour. Or--"

"The peacock," Harry said, almost under his breath. Malfoy's hand stilled, the quill trembling ever so slightly. "You…him, I mean. The protector."

"If you wish to use that particular manifestation, then you are free to do so." Malfoy returned to writing. "I will schedule you for another session next week. Is that acceptable?"

"Why a peacock, though?" Harry wondered aloud, ignoring Malfoy's question for the moment. "I mean, obvious references to your home and all that, but it's still odd, I think."

Malfoy didn't move his head, keeping it angled down towards his book, but he glanced up at Harry out of the corners of his eyes. The effect was one of secretive good-humour.

"It's not that odd," he said. "Or rather, not in the way you think."

Harry watched him, but made no comment. It was a tactic that made some suspects very uncomfortable, to have the weight of his regard on them. Malfoy shifted a little in his seat, lifting his head to look Harry directly in the eye.

"Veela have distinctive forms," he said, "with particular characteristics reminiscent of birds. Some are like hawks. Others like hummingbirds. It's even more apparent when the veela is posturing for--" He broke off abruptly, staring at Harry in what appeared to be a dawning sort of shock before his expression went blank. Then he returned his gaze to his notes in a rather intense manner. Harry raised his eyebrows and waited, but Malfoy kept his focus on his quill.

"Next week is fine," Harry said, getting up out of the armchair. The line of Malfoy's shoulders was rigid, but he offered Harry a brisk nod, looking up as he did so. His expression was carefully composed.

Harry turned towards the door but paused, tilting his head.

"You know," he said. "I've been told that my pain is psychosomatic. That it's not real."

Malfoy's smile was brief, but not snide nor mocking. He shrugged, still looking down at what he was writing.

"It's real enough to you, isn't it? There's been a lot said, I find, about ailments that are not understood." He nodded again, a quick dismissal if Harry ever saw one. He inclined his own head in return and stepped out of the room. He was so caught up in intense mental meanderings regarding Draco Malfoy, that he bid a polite farewell to Narcissa, and exited Malfoy's offices before he realized the state of his pain.

It wasn't gone…but it was noticeably diminished.

+

"Hey, Harry," Ron said from his office door and Harry glanced up from the cold case-files he'd been reviewing. The pain in his head bared its teeth and so he pictured the glowing sword in his hand, surrounded by a whirlwind of bright feathers. It backed off, muttering and Harry smiled at Ron.

Ron blinked back at him.

"Yeah, Ron?" Harry got his feet, brushing the front of his dark robes. "Need something?"

"Uh," Ron said. "Yeah. An extra eye on some mag-sigs, if you can, before I send them back to Forensics."

Harry nodded, and headed towards Ron's office. He brushed past his friend, took a seat in front of Ron's desk and pulled the stack of large snapshots towards himself. These were taken with a specially constructed camera to record traces of magical signatures after a crime, or mag-sigs. At times the mag-sigs were faint, but they were very much like Muggle DNA: they were unique to each wizard or witch, even among twins.

"These two look pretty close," Harry pointed out as Ron sat in his own chair, rather slowly. "These are separate events, right? The rooms look different, but they could be in the same house."

"Two separate events," Ron said, very quietly. "Different homes."

Harry grabbed the magnifier Ron had atop his desk and fitted it over his head. The magnifier resembled large and bulky goggles with only one telescoping lens over the left eye. Harry squinted his uncovered eye shut, adjusted the magnification with quick taps of his wand until he could see the details of the ghostly mag-sigs, the warp and weft of magic done by the perpetrator. Harry inspected both crime-scene mag-sigs carefully, counting points of similarity between both. No less than twenty-three matching points was admissible in Wizarding criminal cases. It was painstaking work, but rather significant to their cases.

"I've gotten twenty-five points, even with distortion," Harry said. "Same person, as far as I can see. I'll count again."

"Go ahead." Ron's tone was the same soft tone as before, and Harry looked up at him, feeling his eyebrows twitch up slightly.

"Alright there, Ron?"

"I'm good, mate," Ron answered without a pause. "And you? How's the head, I mean?"

Harry stared at him, and then removed the magnifier, looking down at it in his hands as he made unnecessary adjustments.

"Malfoy knows what he's doing," he finally admitted, and heard the grudging streak colouring his voice. He paused for a long beat, but Ron was patiently quiet.

"He's brilliant." Harry looked up at Ron, smiling wryly. Ron smiled back. "He is. I feel better than I have in years."

Ron nodded. He didn't say I can tell, your aura of utter wank has diminished significantly, but Harry could read hints of it around his eyes, and the play of smile over his mouth. Harry allowed himself to roll his eyes, a little.

All Ron said out loud was, "I'm glad to hear that."

"So am I." Harry placed the magnifier back on his head and returned to confirming his mag-sig count. "Hey," he said, as casually as he could, "Do you all still have dinner on Sundays together?"

The Weasleys descended en masse on the Burrow nearly every Sunday, usually with the addition of spouses, children, Andromeda and Teddy. It was typically a loud affair, with people shouting at the top of their voices and about nine different conversations going on at once as food was passed from hand to hand. The constant ache in Harry's head seemed to ensnare the sounds and vibrate them mercilessly around his skull, beating on bone and crushing blood-vessels. Harry hadn't had dinner with them in over two years. He hadn't been able to stand it.

"Yeah," Ron said, dragging his voice thoughtfully through all the letters of that one word. "Why?"

Harry shrugged. "Just wondering if I could drop by soon. Not this Sunday," he warned, glancing briefly at Ron. "But soon."

"Harry," Ron said, and the gentleness in his tone was almost too much to bear. "Your chair's been waiting for you at the table, mate. No one sits there, not even Tedders. That's your space. Mum's even put a special charm on it, gave the old man a massive shock the other day."

Harry felt a lump form in his throat, so large that he couldn't speak. He had to content himself with a quick nod, and returned his full attention to the mag-sigs once more.

+

The King of the Emerald Court struck out at the Beast of Shadows, and staggered back as the Beast rushed at him with a chilling growl. The trees of the Highest Forest rose around this small clearing in disheartened decay, their grey trunks as massive as rooms; their crowns were devoid of leaves, skeletal shapes reaching up into the colourless sky. The midday sun was cold and small.

The Emerald King held up the Forgotten Shield, grimacing as the great Beast fell against it heavily. He collapsed to his knees, his shield-arm shaking under the awful weight.

"Let me help you!" The Paladin's voice was very distant, yet the Emerald King shook his head, swinging his other arm over the shield to strike at the Beast's hoary head with the Luminous Sword. The Beast of Shadows thundered its displeasure.

"Emerald King!" The Paladin sounded distressingly shrill. "You must allow me to--"

"No! This fight is my own!" The Emerald King slung his sword around in a wild fashion. The Beast, that sly thing, dodged his suddenly ungainly advances with mocking ease. "No one should suffer if they help me!"

"And yet," another voice said, oily and grating. The King realised with deep horror that this was the voice of the Beast. "And yet. How they suffer whether they help you or not." The Beast cackled, and there was something so terribly familiar about that harsh sound, but the Emerald King had no time to think about that right now.

The King tried to retreat, to gain some space to plan and fight, but the Beast lunged at him, knocking him off his feet. He found himself on his back, the breath knocked out of his chest. The Beast towered over him, a tall, reptilian shape: its teeth jutted out of the wide, flat head, and it bent toward him, a sour laugh curdling in the depths of its scaly chest. The Emerald King tried to raise his sword, but one of the Beast's massive clawed feet pinned his arm to the dead soil. The King cried out as the pain scrabbled hungrily up that arm and shot right into his head.

"I can help you." The Paladin sounded so close, but the Emerald King had no idea if he was able to help now. "Just let me."

The battered King struggled, barely able to parry those ragged teeth. The Beast laughed again, triumphantly.

"Help me, if you will," the King finally muttered. He gasped, and then coughed as the breath of the Beast washed over his face. It smelled like dead, rotting things.

The King heard a curious whistling sound, and three arrows suddenly embedded themselves in the Beast: in the side of its flat head, in its chest and right on the largest toe of the foot that pinned down the King's sword-arm. Both the Beast and the King stared at them in surprise for a long beat, long enough for the King to realise that they were not arrows at all; at least, not in the strictest sense.

They were feathers. Peacock feathers, their vibrant eyes still quivering slightly from the force of impact. Even as the Emerald King watched, the feathers began to rotate, slow deliberate turns. The sharpened ends of the shafts sank even further into the Beast's shadowy flesh.

The Beast screamed, and reared back, blundering against the massive trunks of the trees. The King struggled to sit up and the tall form of the Paladin flew over his head towards the Beast, robes fluttering.

The Paladin struck at the Beast with his own sword, which looked very similar to that of the King. However, the King could not see the bow from which the arrows had flown.

The Peacock Paladin shouted at the Beast, but the King had no idea what he might have said. The Paladin's face appeared strange: more narrow than usual, skin pulled tight over cheekbones, eyes completely black. Even his fingers and hands appeared claw-like, the skin oddly yellow and wrinkled.

The King managed to shift himself to one knee and laboriously push up to standing. His sword-arm throbbed in agony, but he gritted his teeth against the pain and hobbled forward. The Peacock Paladin fought magnificently, but he was not as strong as the Emerald King. At the very least, he was giving the King some time to recover.

The Paladin leapt back from a swipe of the Beast's claws, barely managing to avoid the strike. As it was, his beautiful clothing was ripped from the left shoulder down to his right hip, and three lines of blood welled up onto the pale skin of his chest. Grimacing, he traced a large arch in the air with one palm, starting over his head and sweeping downwards. A large silver bow flickered in the wake of his hand, and as soon as it materialised, he grabbed it firmly and then yanked a feather out of his own head. He notched it, drew and released.

A thick tentacle shot out of one side of the Beast's body, slapping away the feather with a thick sound. Other tentacles, much thinner than the first, followed and wrapped around the Paladin's neck and waist with shocking speed. The Paladin dropped his sword and bow, trying to tear away the tentacles from his neck, but his face began to grow red as they tightened without mercy, his all-black eyes bulging out of their sockets.

"No!" The Emerald King tried to run forward, but he fell. His sword and shield clattered away from his numb hands, and melted into pitiful puddles.

"Do you think he is worth saving?" The Beast sounded so familiar, and the King shuddered as he laid face-down in the dirt. He knew that voice so well. "Do you think you're worth saving, you supposed King? Two broken and bitter men. One raised to die, and the other raised in the midst of death. Can this guardian of yours ever help to save you from yourself?"

The Emerald King raised his head slowly and looked up into the Beast's face. It had changed, but it was more terrible than before. The Beast now wore its true appearance.

The Beast had the face of the King.

The King was distantly aware that tears were streaming down his dirty cheeks. Something brushed against the fingers of his left hand, and he grabbed it instinctively. Breathing hard and rising to his feet under the incredulous absinthe gaze of the Beast, he held up the thing he had picked up and stared at it as it lay in the middle of his palm. It was a small unimpressive feather, dull brown and faintly mottled, so unlike the brash ones the Paladin favoured.

The Paladin still struggled within the clutch of the Beast, and the King could see his weakening movements out of the corner of his eye. He inhaled deeply and then blew on the feather. It wafted up, whirling in a corkscrew motion.

"I don't know if I'm worth saving," the King said, watching the feather rise and rise. "I may have been, once. But I'm sure he is. Can he save me? I don't know. Probably I should give him a chance."

"You fool," the Beast said, but it had no time to continue, because the feather was falling back at high speed with a faint yet piercing whistle.

"This is my place! My lands!" The King roared, and the distant whistle became a high shriek. "I won't let you win here!"

The brown feather, now transformed into the Emerald King's mighty Spear of Fate, struck the Beast at an angle in the centre of its chest and ran right through. The Beast's screeches echoed around the uncaring trees and it flung down the limp body of the Paladin, trying to yank itself off the carved shaft. The spearhead was deeply embedded into the ground behind the Beast, and would not budge.

The King ran towards the Paladin, grabbing him by the shoulders and dragging him out of the way of the Beast's flailing limbs. He knelt, trying to be as gentle as possible as he arranged the Paladin so that his head rested on the lap of the King. The Paladin's eyelids fluttered, but he did not open them. The skin of his neck was bruised. To the King's worried eye, it seemed broken.

"These are my lands," the King whispered, and pressed his hand to the Paladin's damaged skin. He concentrated, thinking of how it normally appeared, a pale expanse. The Paladin shifted and moaned as his flesh healed under the King's fingers. The King even heard a low cracking sound, as if the bones were shifting back into place.

"One," the Paladin murmured abruptly, eyes still closed. "Two."

"Shh, not yet," the King said, and moved his fingers to brush them over the other man's chapped lips. "Rest awhile." He glanced at the Beast, slumped and trapped on the Spear. It eyed them threateningly, but made no move.

Time crawled towards them and then raced ahead. Minutes spun into hours and twisted back to seconds. The sun above disappeared and stars wheeled against the lush blanket of night. The wounds on the Paladin's chest closed, leaving clots of dried blood.

The Paladin's eyes flew open and the Emerald King stared down at him, entranced at the fine feathers which were scattered among his eyelashes. The full black of the Paladin's eyes began to bleed away, revealing the grey. His lips moved, but only a faint whisper escaped. The King bent close, placing his ear close to the Paladin's lips.

"Three," the Paladin said.

+

Harry flinched back to a reality that always felt drab in comparison to the world created in his mind with Malfoy's help. He reeled a little in his chair, gripping the arms. In the opposite chair, Malfoy sat rigidly, his eyes wide in his face. As Harry watched, he relaxed very slowly, and blinked.

"How do you feel?" Harry whispered, leaning forward. One of Malfoy's hands fluttered up to touch his neck, pressing carefully at the skin there.

"That's usually my line, Potter," Malfoy said, a bit absently. He winced, and Harry got up quickly, going to stand up in front of him and bending forward. He tugged Malfoy's hand away, frowning at the reddened stripes in his neck: faint, but still quite apparent.

"I didn't know you could get hurt in that state," Harry said. Malfoy glanced up at him out of the corner of his eyes.

"I didn't know either." He sounded amused. "Your mind is a dangerous place, Potter."

"That's not funny," Harry said and noticed that he was still holding Malfoy's wrist. He moved his thumb slowly, stroking across Malfoy's palm. "Are you okay, though?"

"I will be. Are you?" Malfoy was still looking at him sidelong. His hand was very warm in Harry's.

Harry thought about that. He imagined the Spear, and how it remained nearly immovable where it was buried. The pain fought against it, but for now it was neatly trapped.

Harry smiled. "I think…. I'm okay."

Malfoy rolled his eyes a little, but it was no dismissive at all. He tugged his hand away from Harry's and got up, heading towards his little bathroom.

"And Potter," he said over his shoulder. "Stop telling yourself that you're not worth saving."

"Malfoy--"

"We'll meet next week, as usual," Malfoy said, shutting the door of the bathroom very firmly. Harry stood there, wondering if he could go into that small room with Malfoy, maybe rest his hands carefully on those narrow hips, hidden so carefully under the obviously expensive but simple Wizarding robes he wore. Most of the Paladin's clothing was fitted in interesting ways, revealing the shape of his body quite easily.

Harry sighed, and then stood thinking for a long moment. Then, he walked over to the door, standing very close to it.

"The Paladin is so powerful, and beautiful," he said, tone very soft. "I admire him for his bravery and strength."

The silence from the other door was thick, almost as solid as the door itself.

Harry said, "See you next week, then," and left as quietly as he could.

+

The Highest Forest was some distance away from the Emerald Court, but the King stood at the window of one empty sleeping chamber, staring fixedly in that direction. The glass of the window allowed him to see all the way to where the Beast still remained impaled on the Spear. Its extraordinary form flickered at the verge of shadow even though it was illuminated by the strong rays of the morning sun. It twisted and writhed, and the King felt the ends of his lips turn down as a wave of pity washed over him.

"Sire." The Peacock Paladin's tone was uninflected, and the King turned around. The frown on his lips vanished as he stared on the Paladin's clothing, his gaze travelling up and down that tall body: the long, high-collared robe without sleeves, worn over the long loose skirt which revealed and covered so effectively at the same time. Atop his head was an extravagantly arranged crown, made of very small green and blue feathers. The robe, a soft yellow like the rising sun, fell in a straight line to just past his knees. The skirt, a metallic blue, fluttered around his ankles as he walked towards the King.

"You always dress like that," the King said with a smile. The Paladin gave him a sidelong glance. "So…bright."

"My attire is not pleasing to you?" The Paladin glanced down. "I can change it, if you like. Or you can change it to something you prefer."

"I wouldn't change a thing about how you look," the King declared. "It suits you, perfectly."

The Paladin's mouth curved up in a bare smile. "Do you think so? I find that I try to make myself more…" He thought for a few beats. "…more eye-catching than usual when I find myself in your presence."

"I must admit, I'd like to see you out of your clothes," the King said as baldly as he could manage, and watched in interest as the Paladin's lips parted in surprise, and his cheeks pinked.

"My liege—"

"If you want me, you can have me." The King of the Emerald Court kept his gaze locked with the Paladin's. "I want you." He wanted to say and I want to have you, but as brave as he tried to be, the King couldn't bring himself to presume that much.

The Paladin took a jerky step back. "Emerald King, you may have your affections confused with…gratitude."

"That is possible," the King admitted. "I have much to thank you for. But we can test that theory over and over again."

The Paladin shook his head, an action which was in direct contrast with the way he now moved forward swiftly, cupping the King's face in his hands and pressing their lips together. The King sighed, raising one hand to curl around one of the Paladin's wrists, anchoring him there as the Paladin's mouth moved against his, and the tip of his tongue stroked at the seam of the King's lips. He parted them eagerly, welcoming the taste of the other man into his mouth. The Paladin tilted his head, deepening their kiss and the King pressed his hips forward, humming in aroused content to feel the hard erection rubbing against his. He let his hands roam over the Paladin's chest and then up under his robe, enjoying how warm his skin felt.

He stepped forward, still kissing his Paladin, who stepped back, and they danced in a wild circle, grabbing at each other until the Paladin fell back unto a low, soft bed that not had been there a few moments before. The King went down with him, straddling him to suck a mark into the curve of the Paladin's neck as he pushed the yellow robe off those pale, broad shoulders.

"Potter," the Paladin whispered in his ear as he grasped the hem of the King's loose shift, rolling it up past his bare hips and wrapping his fingers around the King's hard cock. "Harry," he said, moving his hand just the way the King liked.

"Draco," Harry tried. The name sounded even better than it had in the Valley of Eternal Eventide. Then it was all easy, so very easy. They'd had years of knowing each other's bodies through fighting in school, and now the intimacy of their joined minds felt beautifully natural. Draco rolled them over, and Harry parted his legs, arching up and clutching as Draco ground down on him.

They were nude now, and the morning light was gone, replaced by stars overhead whirling in their bright paths. They were clearly visible even though there was a stone-constructed arched ceiling overhead. Harry could see them through his half-closed eyes, lost in pleasure as Draco licked and sucked gently on his cock, working his way up and tracing his tongue under the flared head. He cried out when Draco's slick fingers breached his hole, spreading him open, but not in pain. He was so ready, so impatient. Draco fingered him carefully, and Harry wanted more.

More, he thought. He hooked his hands around the back of his thighs and pulled back, exposing himself to Draco's hot gaze and hotter cock. Harry inhaled sharply at the way the head of Draco's prick rubbed against the furled skin and he released a breathless whine as the thick head of it pushed into him, splitting him wide, opening him up. He was panting by the time Draco entered completely, the both of them still for a moment until Draco pulled back again and thrust slowly once more.

"Oh," Harry breathed and released his thighs in favour of running fingers through Draco's hair, and down his back. Draco moved in and out of him, gripping the back of Harry's legs with the same desperate strength that Harry was using to hold him close, sweat gathering between their chests.

Now and again, Draco's cock stroked against that sensitive nub inside him and Draco's breathing was harsh in his ear. Harry choked on his cries of Draco's name, writhing as stripes of his own come splattered over his belly and chest. He gasped at the sensation of Draco's release smearing his insides.

Draco kissed him deeply. They rolled over into a deeper night, and rolled again into dawn, Draco on top once more. However, Draco kneeled over him and it was now Harry's prick, again standing proud and leaking, pushing into Draco.

Harry gripped his hips, both of them panting as Draco sank down slowly. "I want this…for real. Out there, I mean."

"For fuck's sake, Potter." Draco groaned, and sat fully on him. "Not now."

Harry held him in place, preventing him from moving and stared up, ignoring Draco's hard glares.

"Please," he said and Draco rolled his eyes, and then looked down on him with a smile made of aggravated affection.

"You're impossible," he said.

"We're having sex in my head," Harry pointed out. "We're both impossible."

Draco exhaled and slid down, resting flat against Harry. He pressed his forehead against the damp junction of Harry's neck shoulder, and clenched his hole around Harry's prick. Harry made a strangled sound, and he felt Draco's sly little smile against his skin.

"We'll see," was all he said and sat back up again, moving his hips in a way that made Harry fumble at the soft covers. Draco arched a pale brow and the sun rose again, falling on his face. On the wall behind him, there were shifting blue-green shadows which seemed like outstretched wings.

+

The King of the Emerald Court rose from where he had been entwined with his Paladin, and waved the sleep and sex from his skin. He called his armour to his body, every inch covered in strong light metal from helm to sabatons, and strode towards a massive balcony which faced the Highest Forest. He lifted his arms and waited as the Luminous Sword and the Forgotten Shield glimmered their way into his grip. Silently, the Paladin stood beside him. He dressed as if for battle with his face-paint, and robes which were arranged in complex layers, one iridescent colour above another. The Emerald King stuck out one elbow slightly, and the Paladin's fingers rested on the metal of his armour. They stepped off the edge of the balcony.

When they landed amongst the ancient trees of the Highest Forest, the Paladin removed his hand and they strode forward together. When the Emerald King glanced up, he thought he could see hints of deep green among the dry brown.

They emerged into the clearing where the Beast remained i¬¬mpaled by the Spear. The Emerald King stopped walking and so did the Paladin. The King could feel his guardian's curious gaze on the side of his visor.

"My king?"

The King of the Emerald Court let go of his Sword and his Shield. They hummed as they disappeared. He shrugged; the armour shivered and then softened into the material of his long, loose robe.

"Wait," the Paladin said, his tone concerned, but the King held out one hand.

"I think I'll be fine," the King said, and stepped forward. The Beast watched him, green eyes wide and as the King advanced, it seemed to shrink on the Spear, as if it needed to hide itself from the King's gaze.

"Stay where you are. Don't come any closer," the Beast of Shadows grated out and the shadows with which it clothed itself began to wisp into nonexistence. "Don't!"

"It's going to be alright," the King of Emerald Court said quietly, and held out his hands as if trying to calm a panicked animal. The Beast bared its teeth, but they seemed so small, harmless. The shadows burned away, and the Emerald King stared at the broken expression of a man who had been lost so long ago. "Don't you trust me?"

The man, who was once a Boy Who Lived Too Much, squeezed those famous eyes shut, and clutched at where the Spear still pierced his chest.

"It's unbearable." The Beast sounded so tired. "It was always like that. Every fight. Every murder. Every bit of hate and fear that couldn't go out, but had to stay in. It's so bitter, isn't it? It burns your throat, like gall."

The King of the Emerald Court nodded.

"I won't go," the Beast promised and his smile was as sharp as knives. "You can't get rid of me. Never."

"I'm not going to try." The King took the Beast's poor face in his hands and kissed that feverish forehead. The Beast let out a sound that was both a scream and an echoing sob. Its body faded, but did not disappear. It floated off the Spear and fled, skimming along the ground and disappearing among the trees.

"One," the Paladin said from behind him, and the King of the Emerald Court closed his eyes and smiled. He could hear the leaves growing again, and he felt the Paladin's hands on his shoulders. "Two."

The King said, "Three."

fin

Don't forget to go back to H/D Holidays on LJ and leave feedback!