|Lives of Quiet Desperation
Author: Lomonaaeren PM
HPDM preslash, DH SPOILERS. Draco’s only acting out a desire common to all people. Wouldn’t you want revenge on your worst enemy if you could take it? Besides, Potter is so pathetic he deserves it. Oneshot.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Angst/Romance - Draco M. & Harry P. - Words: 11,536 - Reviews: 46 - Favs: 84 - Follows: 3 - Published: 11-11-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3885699
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Lives of Quiet Desperation
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this for fun and not profit.
Pairings:Harry/Draco, Pansy/Blaise, background Ron/Hermione.
Warnings: DH SPOILERS, but ignores epilogue. Language and extreme selfishness on Draco's part.
Summary: Draco's only acting out a desire common to all people. Wouldn't you want revenge on your worst enemy if you could take it? Besides, Potter is so pathetic he deserves it.
Author's Notes:Written as a birthday gift fic hpstrangelove, who wanted a story in which Draco starts out genuinely wanting to be cruel to Harry. Sorry, hpstrangelove, as this ended up being more preslash than slash. The title is, of course, taken from Thoreau.
Lives of Quiet Desperation
When the moment came, it seemed that Draco had been waiting for it for years.
Oh, of course he hadn't made it the center of his life. That would have been too pathetic even for a Gryffindor. But he had noted, from the corner of his eye, when certain announcements appeared in the Daily Prophet, when certain people crossed his path and spoke enthusiastically or sadly about a former Gryffindor hero, and how much of the circumstances of his life could be traced to his poor relations with Harry Potter.
Thus, when the moment came that he could buy the building where Potter and his supposed business squatted and finally have a form of control over his rival, Draco didn't hesitate.
It was the smell. Draco had never wanted to know what would happen if one shoved together dozens of magical creatures in the same room and then subtracted some and added others over time. But it seemed that he was going to find out whether he liked it or not.
Feathers somersaulted over his head, blown about in the updraft of two dozen pairs of wings. Voices squeaked and squawked and hooted and yelled. Long necks poked through bars and mesh, stared at Draco, and then drew back again. He thought he saw a unicorn—or what would have been a unicorn if it hadn't been missing its horn—hobble behind the counter at the back of the shop. A Fwooper on a perch opened its beak to sing, but it had been silenced, thankfully. Draco gave a grimace and drew his leg away from a grave, pig-like creature that was inspecting it.
A soft growl alerted him just before a Crup dashed towards him. It didn't make any other sound, but attempted to jump on him and rip his throat out. Draco drew his wand in self-defense.
An exasperated voice snapped, "Accio Jamie!" before he could cast a spell.
The Crup flew backwards, snarling all the while, and landed in the arms of the man who had ducked out of the door under the sign. He straightened up, staring at Draco while he controlled the furiously struggling Crup with a few easy movements, and Draco got his first good glimpse of Potter in more than ten years.
His face was thin and pale, as though he hadn't been eating well, and his eyes were bloodshot with too little sleep. His hair was so mussed that Draco nearly thought it didn't deserve the title of "hair" any longer; "dustrag" would have been more appropriate. His glasses were held together with more will than magic. He wore an enormous, loosely-woven green jumper with an H in the middle of it, and Muggle jeans. Draco felt his lip curl automatically, but he tried his best to wipe his expression clean. His revenge wouldn't work if Potter felt the need to suspect him from the beginning.
"Potter," he said.
"Malfoy," Potter said, with blank surprise in his voice. Draco felt a prickle of irritation up his spine. Potter sounded as if he hadn't thought about Draco from the time they were students at Hogwarts together, while Draco had spent more than an hour each day thinking about him.
Well, that will change, Draco reminded himself. He was the one who held the keys to Potter's salvation—and damnation, though he didn't intend for Potter to know about that part just yet.
"Potter," he repeated, and this time managed to inject friendliness into his tone. He'd practiced that in front of Pansy, who had laughed herself sick, but Gryffindors were much easier to fool. At least it caused Potter's wary stance to change into a curious one, and he put his hand over Jamie's muzzle. "I'm here on business. I reckon you know that the owners of your building recently sold it, and several other Diagon Alley shops, to Dark Grove Shops?"
Potter nodded. The Crup tried to squirm out of his grip. Potter adjusted his grip expertly, without even looking down. "Yes. You're their representative, and here to direct me how to pay the new lease?"
Here came the first part of his revenge. Draco worked his face into an expression of sorrow. "I'm afraid not, Potter. You see, the owner of Dark Grove Shops is a very practical man. He has no use for idealism or for businesses that fail to turn a profit, I'm afraid. And your Rehabilitation, worthwhile though it is to accept failed pets and try to find homes for them, doesn't make that much of a profit."
Potter set his jaw. "I can pay an increased amount of money," he said. "But I have to stay in Diagon Alley. I've just got clients persuaded that it doesn't take that much effort after all to bring their animals here. If I move somewhere else, they'll decide it's too much trouble and be more likely to kill them or set them free to fend for themselves."
Draco pretended concern, checking a piece of parchment he held to give him time to control his face. "But don't you have the money to buy more shop space here?" he asked innocently, knowing full well that Potter didn't. He'd kept the Daily Prophet articles documenting Potter's downwards spiral as they came out.
The other wizard's cheeks flushed, and he looked away. "No, I don't," he muttered. The Crup in his arms had finally settled down, but still watched Draco suspiciously. "I spent a lot of money on getting Rehabilitation set up in the first place, and I keep most of what I still have to provide for the animals."
"Hmmm," said Draco. He felt a little wriggle of delight in his chest, because that was far from the whole truth. Potter had also gone through a few weeks of wild spending just after his best friends got married and moved to Australia, apparently because he was trying to buy new friends. When he'd been thrown out of one of the worst pubs in London, the Weasley family had finally intervened, but Potter had lost a good portion of the money in his Gringotts vault by then. He had enough to sustain himself and apparently his mangy menagerie, but he was no longer wealthy.
"Then I'm afraid you're out of luck," Draco said, looking up with a smile that he hoped hung somewhere between bright and sympathetic. Potter probably wouldn't accept a load of sympathy from him immediately. "Unless…"
He let his voice trail off. Potter sized on the hint eagerly, his eyes flashing as if he had just seen a phoenix with a broken wing he wanted to rescue. "Yes? Unless what?"
Draco glanced over his shoulder as if he were afraid that someone was watching him from the door of the shop, and lowered his voice. "Here's the truth, Potter. This bloke who runs Dark Grove? I work for him, but I don't much like him. He doesn't deserve the success he's had. And while I don't have much reason to like you, either, I think you're using this space less wastefully than he would. If you'll do something for me, then I'll make up the increased rent on the building from the part you can't pay. What do you say?"
Potter bit his lip, conflicted. Really, he looked less mature than he had the day he defeated the Dark Lord and handed Draco's wand back, Draco thought. Maybe the loss of his best friends had made him more vulnerable.
All the better, then. Draco intended to crush Potter, but only after a long and taunting play session beforehand. The more weaknesses he could find and exploit, the more final his defeat would be.
"All right," Potter finally said, his voice so low that Draco had trouble hearing it. "What do you want me to do for you, Malfoy?"
"You've probably noticed that my reputation was not quite as good as it could have been, after the war," Draco said. In truth, his reputation with the "light" part of the wizarding world and theDaily Prophet was still in tatters, but those weren't the people who mattered. The wizards and witches Draco dealt with from day to day didn't give a fuck what he'd done in the war, as long as he fulfilled their orders and paid up his own debts on time. "I want—your companionship. If someone sees Harry Potter accepting me as a friend, they're more likely to think I really want to make up for my crimes."
Potter's eyes half-lidded, and the look of vulnerability induced by his bitten lip was suddenly gone. He was staring steadily at Draco, and the Crup had started growling again. "Which you do?" he asked.
Draco sighed in feigned exasperation. He had anticipated this turn of the conversation, too. He really had planned for everything. Potter had no idea that he was a mouse racing about under the cat's already uplifted paw, free to run only as long as the cat allowed it to do so. "I still don't think badly of all the choices I made," he said. "But obviously, the majority of the wizarding world does. And I'd like to acquire a good enough reputation that someone other than the prat who owns Dark Grove will hire me. Please?"
He made the word cling to his lips on the way out. Potter smiled in response, seemingly convinced that Draco really didn't want to be here asking for his help, but had no choice.
"All right," he said. "What do you want? That I spend time with you? That I visit your house? What?"
"A visit to the Manor should do for now," said Draco, pretending to pause and consider it judiciously, though of course he had already decided on everything he wanted beforehand. "That's enough for the first payment. As I said, this bloke irritates me. It'll be a positive pleasure to deceive him." He gave a curt nod and turned on his heel.
"Wait, Malfoy!" He glanced over his shoulder to see Potter reaching towards him, but he had to retract the hand to hold onto the Crup. Draco was glad. This phase of the plan didn't include Potter touching him. That would come later. "What's this bloke's name? I don't think I've heard of Dark Grove Shops before."
"Hugh Wartson." Draco shuddered dramatically. "If I'd had a name like that, I'd take it out on the world, too."
Potter laughed, his eyes crinkling up at the corners. Draco felt another surge of satisfaction. Yes, this was going to be about the maximum possible pleasure for himself and the maximum possible pain for Potter. Draco wished he could be there for the moment when he first realized his own stupidity.
Well, he would get to see plenty of the later ones.
"I'll owl you, Malfoy," Potter said, and waved him out of the shop. The moment Draco stepped through the door, the animals began cooing and calling, apparently trying to get Potter's attention. Draco wrinkled his nose. Useless, most of them. Wizards and witches in the market for a pet wanted chicks or pups or kittens, not adult Jobberknolls and Fwoopers with hoarse voices.
He rubbed a finger lightly over the parchment he held, which bore the spreading black tree shape of Dark Grove Shops and the name Hugh Wartson in neat letters, just as he had told Potter.
No one save a few select people—none of whom would contact Potter—knew that Hugh Wartson was imaginary, a front for Draco Malfoy.
Draco had high hopes that he would at least get to see Potter's face the moment he realized how foolishly he'd trusted. And if his descent into the depths of despair went public at unexpected moments…Draco could hardly hope what decisions Potter might make under the confusion of grief and a few liberally-applied potions, could he?
"You ought to know," Draco said, folding his arms. Pansy said hmmm and bounced Margaret on her lap again. Her elder daughter, Celandine, aimed a practice wand at her mother's back. Draco caught her eye and winked. He would actually like to see Pansy hexed, at the moment.
"Celandine, so help me God," Pansy said, not even glancing around, "if you curse me, I will break that wand, blind you, and leave you outside at the next full moon for werewolves to find."
Draco shuddered at the words, but Celandine squealed, dropped the wand, and ran up to lean her head against her mother's knee. For some reason, Pansy's threats pleased her more than bedtime stories could, and she would act up until she received a particularly creative one. She only ever fussed when Pansy repeated a lesser favorite too many times or changed the wording of one she loved.
Pansy smoothed her hair, smiling. Draco studied his goddaughter for a moment. Like Margaret, she had brown skin and dark hair, but her eyes were Pansy's, stubborn and hazel enough to look gold or blue in certain lights. Celandine stared back at him, and then stuck out her tongue.
"Celandine Parkinson," Pansy said calmly, "for that I am going to stew you for dinner and keep your bones in a corner for your sister to look at when she grows up, so she knows not to be a naughty girl."
Her daughter bounced up and down, kissed her cheek, and then rushed off to play with the practice wand again. Draco shook his head. He had to admit that he didn't understand Pansy at all, these days. She and Blaise had two children and were completely faithful to each other as far as he could tell, but they weren't married. Why would anyone keep to only one lover without vows to bind them? Draco couldn't tell, but then, that was probably the reason he had trouble understanding Pansy.
"Idon't understand why you want to do this, Draco." Pansy adjusted Margaret again, since she had fallen asleep. She was the quietest little girl Draco had ever seen, and mostly listened with big eyes while her parents or sister talked. "Potter was a nuisance in school. He hasn't hurt you since then. Why take revenge on him?"
"You can't understand how much I hated him, Pansy," Draco said flatly. "I've tried and tried to tell you, but you won't listen."
"Hmm." Pansy blinked at him, a somnolent look Draco hated. It seemed to say that she knew all the adult secrets of life, while he was stuck as an adolescent. "But does Potter return your hatred?"
"If he doesn't, that's the more reason for me to hurt him." Draco dug his fingers into his knees. "He's forgotten about me. I can't forget about him. He owes me for the time he's spent taking up the inside of my head."
Pansy muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "Childish," but Draco wasn't about to listen to her, not when she had settled for a boring life of children and not-quite-husband and legal work. He only wanted her to listen to him, and comprehend the very simple concept that defined Draco's life at the moment.
He had the chance to pay Potter back. That was worth anything. When he'd finally done it, then the last grudge from his childhood days would be settled, and his real life could begin.
And whenever he needed a bit of cheering up, he could think back and contemplate Potter's pain and sorrow. He would feel a warm glow well up in his chest. That comforted him.
"WhatI'm worried about," Pansy said abruptly, pulling Draco out of his contemplation, because she was like that, "is your lack of knowledge."
Draco laughed. "I've studied everything about Potter's life! TheDaily Prophet hasn't been shy about reporting his peccadilloes, and he hasn't tried to cover them up. He admitted he was practically an alcoholic for those weeks after his friends left. He knows he's fallen from grace. He's a Gryffindor, Pansy. Do you really think he can outwit me in deception?"
His old friend regarded him from over Margaret's head of soft dark hair, her eyes sober. "I was referring to how little you know yourself," she said. "Your own emotions are all tangled up in this, and—let's face it, Draco, you're an idiot when that happens. You can destroy your business enemies because you don't hate them, you just want their money. But Potter's different."
Draco glared. "It's been ten years since Hogwarts, Pansy," he said. "Yes, I admit I was a bit of a fool when I tried to get Potter back for that hippogriff bite, or when I made those Potter Stinks badges. But give me credit for having learned how to plan since then."
"You haven't learned your heart."
Draco rolled his eyes. He treasured Pansy as a friend, he really did, but then she would start talking about emotions and hearts and all that nonsense, and he would be reminded that, treasured friend or not, she really was a girl.
Potter started and turned towards Draco; he'd been examining the statues that Narcissa had had installed on the terrace around the Manor. He relaxed a little when he saw Draco. "The peacocks look as though they might, though," he said, stepping inside and handing his cloak to the house-elf who appeared without any sign of awkwardness.
"Ridiculous affectations." Draco didn't have to feign the roll of his eyes or his glare through the front door into the gardens before it shut. He had never understood why his father thought milk-white peacocks a sign of wealth. On the other hand, Draco's attempts to chase them away hadn't worked; there was some sort of spell that always ensured at least one breeding pair and a clutch of eggs survived in some remote corner of the gardens. Draco was contemplating bringing in silver foxes, which might be decorative and do some good with the peacocks. "My father's idea, not mine."
"You're very different from your father, aren't you?"
Draco felt a little thrill run through him when he saw the thoughtful look in Potter's eyes. This was exactly what he had hoped to encourage, this foolish Gryffindor trust and "reevaluation" of him, even though he hadn't changed at all, but he had thought it would need to wait a few more visits.
Then he remembered that Potter had made a career, during the past decade, of rescuing lost and unwanted animals, and giving second chances to magical creatures no one else would consider worth a moment's time, and stifled a snort. Potter probably saw him as just another of those lonely creatures.
That altered his game-plan, then. Instead of appealing to Potter solely as someone who had a good reputation to regain and slowly luring him in to consider Draco as a potential friend, Draco would appeal as someone broken and helpless—someone in need of rescuing.
"I—yes, I am," he said, letting his voice break in the middle, and turned away. "I'm sorry," he added a moment later. "I have no good memories of him. Or, rather, I used to consider him strong, and then I saw during the last year of his life that he wasn't strong atall."
"I'm sorry," Potter said back to him. If it had been one of Draco's Slytherin friends saying that, it would have been parroted, mocking. Potter just sounded sincere. A hand clasped Draco's shoulder and turned him back around. "He was killed by Aurors trying to escape Azkaban, wasn't he?" Potter asked softly, his eyes searching Draco's.
"Yes, he was." Draco allowed himself a moment to recall the complete and utter disgust that had touched him when he realized Lucius, wandless and without a plan, had still thought he could face down Aurors. Draco had ducked his head and worked harder than ever on plans that would build his wealth back up but keep him out of the Ministry's line of sight. Not for him the snares which awaited the overly-confident. It was the reason he had taken years to go after Potter. When Potter's building came up for sale, he had recognized the perfect opportunity. "I don't like to think about it."
"I understand." Potter put an arm around his shoulders, as if Draco were about to faint, and steered him out of the entrance hall into the dining room just beyond. Draco was startled to see him pause and swallow, as if he were the one who'd had to sit here and watch while the Dark Lord tortured and killed people right in front of him.
Draco's determination hardened just a little more. Saint Potter always had the hardest life, didn't he? Well, not any longer. He'd never known real pain. Draco would teach him to recognize it.
"You won't mind if I tell the Daily Prophet about your visit, will you?" he asked Potter. "I have to visit their offices tomorrow morning on business for Wartson, and it'll be the perfect chance to mention, casually, that Harry Potter considers me worthy of his company."
A complicated mixture of emotions crossed Potter's face: resignation, amusement, irritation, and finally agreement. He shrugged. "Why not? It's what I chose. I'll do anything to keep Rehabilitation open."
"Why?" Draco asked. He knew why, but there was some pleasure in watching Potter respond just as Draco had known he would do, like twisting the key in a clockwork toy's back to watch it run.
Potter's face opened. His eyes were suddenly brighter, his movements more animated. Draco was glad he had paid a few people to spy on Potter in his shop, or the sudden change might have caught him by surprise.
"We've always treated magical creatures as if they were tools made solely for our gain," Potter said intensely. "In a few cases, the relationship is so old and ingrained that we probably can't change it, like with house-elves." His gaze went off to the side, though the elf who had taken his cloak had already vanished. "But in others, we can. We can stop treating unicorns like game animals. We can stop considering centaurs and merfolk beneath us, when they're every bit as intelligent as we are and can communicate just as well—"
"For someone who can speak the language," Draco felt compelled to interject.
"And how is that different from a wizard who only speaks French or Italian?" Potter shook his head. "We would make an effort with translation charms for them. We can damn well make an effort with centaurs and merfolk, too. Centaurs speak English, besides, even if it's mostly riddles.
"Dragons have a reputation as being incapable of domestication. So we have to subdue them. Even dedicated Dragon-Keepers like Charlie Weasley believe that. But there's another course, isn't there? Learning to live with and around them. The only reason we restrict them so sharply right now is that we intruded into their territory in the first place. If wizards didn't insist on living in mountains where dragons nest, we'd spend far less money and time defending wizarding settlements. But God knows, we can't hold back. We just take whatever we want." Potter snorted. "And then people don't want to deal with the consequences of their actions. That's where Rehabilitation comes in. I teach those magical creatures I can to trust wizards again, so they can find new homes. I teach some others to survive in the wild. If they can't do either, then I want to offer them a permanent home."
Potter's eyes shone. Draco felt another, quite different, kind of thrill run down his spine. "How did you find this cause?" he asked, though he already knew the answer to that, too.
Potter folded his arms. "After the war, the wizarding world didn't need me any longer. I had to find someone who did."
And that's his biggest weakness, really. To be needed. To serve as protector. That's what I'll use as his downfall.
"I see." Draco tried to sound as if he respected that choice, even though he didn't really understand it. "Shall we have dinner?"
"Really, Potter," he drawled, sliding through the door of the shop. "You were there. Is the story that fascinating to you?"
Potter started and blinked over at him. "Oh, hullo, Malfoy," he said. "No, just thinking about other things. Do you have your part of the first payment? I have mine, unless I miscounted the Galleons."
Draco frowned as Potter turned away from him and picked up a sack of coins sitting on the counter. The other man's manner was brusque, his movements sharp and too coordinated, as if he had cause for suspicion. But he didn't. Draco knew he didn't. The dinner had been perfect, with Draco playing the broken-winged bird and Potter reaching out to him more than once, covering Draco's hand with his and murmuring condolences for the loss of his parents.
"Your payment is twenty-five Galleons," he said. "Or it should be. Wartson demanded a hundred."
Potter choked, which was satisfying. Before, he'd only had to pay fifty Galleons on the building, and only twice a year. This quarterly payment could very quickly drain his vault. Draco laughed, gently, and held up a bag of his own, which swayed and clinked. "Don't worry. I have the other seventy-five."
"I still owe you, Malfoy," Potter said gruffly, and handed his bag over. "A visit isn't enough to cover the costs you're putting up."
"I know that." Draco tapped his finger against his lips. "There's—well, there's a place I contemplated inviting you, just because I know you wouldn't betray its location to anyone else. Would you like to come?"
"An important place?" Potter hesitated, searching his face with eyes that had gone soft again. "A personal one?"
Draco nodded to both questions. The expression on his face was one of pathetic hope. He had practiced it until his enchanted mirror cooed at him and asked him what was wrong. It made the perfect bait for Potter, who was too "pure" to be tempted by money or attention.
"Of course," Potter said. "I'd love to see it."
Draco smiled without showing his teeth. He would have revealed his shark's grin otherwise. "I'll expect you at the Manor this afternoon."
The grave itself was marked with a large marble headstone, cut with Narcissa's name, the dates of her birth and death, and the single phrase Now there is peace. She had left very precise instructions for what she wanted done with her body, and Draco had followed them all. He had closed her eyes with his own hands and arranged her blonde hair inside the white silk shroud. He had ordered the wizard who came to bury her to remain at a distance after the initial digging was done, so that Draco could say farewell by himself.
And if he had looked into his mother's still face and hurled silent rage at her, well, there was no one to tell he'd done that.
"What happened to her?" Potter whispered, when they had stood without speaking before the gravestone for long moments. Draco felt the git's hand reach sideways, attempting to touch his fingers. Draco bit his lip to keep from laughing and let Potter clasp them. Potter didn't try to play with them, but simply held Draco's hand, providing the warmth and strength he probably imagined Draco needed.
"Suicide," Draco said simply.
Potter snapped straight and turned to look at him, eyes wide and bright. "What—why?"
Draco shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe she missed my father." He did not say that Narcissa had planned to kill herself for more than two years. She had given the house-elves instructions to plant the hedges one spring six years ago, and had often gone out to watch the progress of their growth. She had even visited marble quarries looking for the perfect headstone, though Draco hadn't known that then. He'd teased her about looking for a new, younger husband. Narcissa had always smiled and changed the subject. He'd thought she was embarrassed.
Until he came home to find her lying on the carpet in the drawing room, the will with its neatly tied ribbon on the table beside her, her dress covered with blood from the curse that had cut her throat.
"I'm so sorry," Potter said, and his breath was warm and gentle on Draco's face. He cupped Draco's cheek and turned his head. That sincere expression that made Draco want to vomit was back. "Shall I tell you something? I don't know if it will make you feel better, but—I want to share this because you shared your mother's grave with me."
Draco listened, unmoving, while Potter described his parents' graves in Godric's Hollow and how he'd gone to visit them with Granger during what should have been their seventh year in Hogwarts, while they were hunting the Dark Lord. His voice shook with emotion as he described the phrase on the stones that had made him temporarily think the Potters had been Death Eaters, and how he still took them flowers on Halloween, the anniversary of the day they died.
"You don't go more often?" Draco asked, surprised and a bit uncomfortable. He had pegged Harry Potter as the kind of person who would seek out his parents as often as he could, if only because he could be sure they were people who had loved him unconditionally, not for his fame.
Potter shook his head. "It's not good for me," he said. "I had to work hard not to let myself get caught up in the past when Ron and Hermione left, and I still didn't succeed for a period of about three weeks." His smile was bitter. "You've heard about that, I suspect."
Draco kept diplomatically silent, the way a friend would.
"I think about them a lot," Potter admitted softly. "More than I should, probably. I do wish I could have known them. But I've seen them, sometimes. That's enough."
Potter gave him a disconcerting look, so calm and intent that Draco had to glance aside. "Not yet, Malfoy," he said. "Maybe I'll share that with you, too, someday, but the story's just a little stranger than the visit to my parents' graves was."
He clasped Draco's shoulder and added, as he turned to depart, "Feel free to tell the Daily Prophet that I had no idea your mother killed herself. And that I'm sorry."
Gryffindors,Draco thought. Only they go around expressing grief over the deaths of people who didn't matter to them.
Draco rolled his eyes. He and Blaise were sitting on opposite sides of the library in Pansy's house; Draco had dropped by for a Firewhiskey, since he knew that Pansy would be out with the children. Blaise took more of an interest in his current plans, and Draco wanted an admiring ear right now.
He should have remembered that Blaise's interest also caused him to express more doubts.
"It's fine," he said. "Potter's had dinner with me a few times now, lunch once, and visited my mother's grave. I'm building a bond with him. It's all quite important and special to a Gryffindor. And I was right about his having very few friends. He sees me more than anyone else. I'm worming my way into his life."
Blaise snorted into his Firewhiskey. Draco glared at him. He knew that Blaise ordinarily could hold his liquor well, so that sound had to be one of amusement at his expense.
"What?" he demanded, when Blaise only sat staring into the fire, shaking his head, and swirling his drink in his glass.
"I owe Pansy ten Galleons," said Blaise, glancing at him. "She told me that you had no idea what you were doing with Potter, no conception of what kind of firework you were about to set off if you played with him. And I see plainly, now, that you don't. You gloat and plan like a spider who doesn't realize it can't capture a swan. The swan will smash its web apart."
"You have the oddest taste in metaphors, Blaise," Draco said, and put his glass down. "I came to be listened to, not made fun of—"
"No, you came to be praised." Blaise leaned forwards, his gaze even. "And that's the problem, Draco. You want our admiration for something that I, personally, don't care about, and which Pansy thinks will ruin you. Why should I be glad that you're bragging about it, that you can't see what's in front of your face?"
"I know everything about Potter." Draco folded his arms. "If you've gathered some new piece of information, then give it to me. I'll be more than willing to trade you something valuable in return."
Blaise shut his eyes and muttered under his breath. Then he said, "How much do you know about that series of embarrassing things he did when his friends left for Australia?"
"Everything from the names of the pubs to the date of the night they threw him out," Draco answered smugly.
"So." Blaise gave a little shrug. "Nothing important, in other words. Notwhy he reacted like that, or why he hasn't done it since."
"He missed his friends, obviously." Draco rolled his eyes. "Give me a harder riddle."
"Ask him about it, then," said Blaise. "You say you're luring him into acting comfortable around you, into valuing your companionship. Ask him why the loss of those Weasleys was enough to drive him into that, when he had to know he still had friends in Britain and he'd see them again."
"Iwill," said Draco.
Blaise nodded, and then deftly pulled out a chess set and coerced him into a game. Draco had fought Blaise to a draw many times, but only ever won a game once; he gave in to the lure to see if he could do it again.
But he did not forget the shocking lack of support he'd received from his best friends. They had both listened to him over the years as he plotted and planned this. Why couldn't they understand how important this was to him?
Harry froze for a moment, then put down the Ashwinder egg he'd been wrapping in cooling charms. He faced Draco, his eyes narrowed and searching his face. Then he cast a spell that made the Open sign on the front of the shop turn about and display a Sorry, we're closed version, complete with a pathetic-looking Runespoor twined about the letters.
"Come on," he said.
That was how Draco found himself in the rooms above Rehabilitation, stuffed into a ragged green armchair that smelled strongly of Kneazle, watching Potter prepare tea in the small kitchen. A gray bird he didn't recognize sat in a cage hanging from the ceiling, continually cocking its black beak from side to side to study him with one dark eye. Jamie, the Crup puppy, seemed to have accepted Draco's presence in Potter's life, but watched him with much the same expression as the bird. A ball of white fur was sleeping in one corner.
"Can't get away from animals even in your own home, eh, Potter?" he muttered, accepting the cup of tea the other man handed him.
"Theyare my home," said Potter flatly, and sat on a red couch across from Draco. There was a spectacular yellow patch in one corner of the couch that Draco fervently hoped was not the Crup sick it looked like. "Now. What made you decide to ask me this?"
Draco frowned and brought the cup of tea to his lips to give himself time to answer. The scent was incredibly strong, but the taste was weak, or at least elusive. "Why wouldn't I want to know?" he asked. "That's not the kind of thing the Daily Prophet reports on, you know, or at least not with any subtlety. One of the benefits of being friends with you is that I should get to know the answer to questions like that."
Potter's eyes were extraordinarily hard to face when they seemed to be peering into the back of one's soul. Draco was almost relieved when Jamie jumped into Potter's lap and stared accusingly at him. It was easier to frown at the dog.
And it gave him a chance to rearrange his face into an earnest expression and say, "Please, Potter. You have to give me some credit for curiosity, all right? And for observation. This isn't your first choice, is it? You'd be living in a snug little house with the Weaselette and four kids with another on the way if you could."
Unexpectedly, Potter smirked, even as his eyes grew more intense. Then he said, "So there's more than one thing you need to know.
"All right, Draco. Hermione sent her parents to Australia during the war—changed their memories and convinced them they were really other people, people who didn't have a daughter. It was the only way she could think of to keep Voldemort from capturing and torturing them for information."
Draco had to admit that Granger had good ideas. He would have been impressed if he would ever allow himself to be impressed by anything a Mudblood did.
"She turned out to have made the charms stronger than she thought." Potter grimaced and ran a hand through his hair. Draco wished he wouldn't. He already had a hard enough time looking at it without a frown of distaste. "They didn't remember her, even after she made repeated attempts to break the spell. In the end, she did manage to get them to remember her when she was nearby—but she couldn't get them to leave Australia, and when she went back to Britain they forgot they had a daughter again.
"So she and Ron moved out there." Potter shrugged. "I knew she'd have to go, and that Ron would choose to follow her. That wasn't the problem. They can visit, though not easily, and of course we can talk by Floo all the time.
"The problem was that we had an argument the night before they left." Potter's eyes looked inwards for a moment, but Draco didn't think that was a sign of weakness; Potter was simply recalling memories sharp enough to obscure the room around him. That made him uneasy. A weak man should have been sobbing by now, or staring about him with glazed eyes. Potter was not. But Draco knew he was weak. "Ron really wanted to see me marry Ginny. He pressed me to marry her before he and Hermione left—they had just got married, you see—and, when I wouldn't do that, to set a wedding date.
"I was half-pissed, and torn apart with grief even though I was trying not to show it, and I got angry when Ron pressed me. I told him something I'd known for some time, and broken to Ginny privately, but hadn't told anyone else because I was figuring out how to deal with it. I'm bent."
Draco nearly dropped his teacup.
Luckily, he didn't, because that would have been an unforgivable slip. He curled his fingers tighter and made a strangled noise in the back of his throat.
Potter laughed at him. "You didn't know that?" He shrugged. "I should have picked a better time for telling him. But Ron was half-pissed and grieving too, and he took that as an excuse to be angry. He'd always been slightly uncomfortable around gay wizards, I knew that; he didn't deal with it that well when Seamus, who'd been in our year, admitted he'd dated a few blokes. So he yelled at me that I was breaking his sister's heart, and if I didn't promise to marry her right away he'd never speak to me again. I yelled back, one thing led to another, and it turned out they did leave in the morning with Ron swearing up and down that he wasn't my friend, and he'd do his best to turn Hermione against me, too.
"I thought I'd lost my best friends forever. And since he'd blurted the truth out to the rest of his family, I was convinced they didn't want me, either. So why not drink myself to death?" He snorted into his tea. "It sounded like a good idea at the time. You'd be amazed how many things do, when you're constantly pissed."
He shrugged. "Eventually, Ginny found me and told me not to be an idiot. Her parents were disappointed that we wouldn't get married, but it wasn't the end of the world. They got me to promise I wouldn't touch alcohol again, and I haven't. Even more eventually, Ron and I made up."
Draco stared into his tea for long moments. How would he use this? He had to decide how he would use this. Draco had slept with a few blokes in his time, but still, that didn't mean he could automatically seduce Potter.
It depended on whether Potter was a virgin or not, of course.
He lifted his eyes and stared at Potter challengingly. "Have you had any lovers?" Ask it bluntly. Potter would think his "friends" did that.
"Are you applying?"
Draco, to his mortification, felt a blush color his cheeks. "No! I-" He set his tea down, too hastily, only to find that the ball of fur curled in the corner had become a Kneazle, who stared at him with brilliant orange eyes and then lowered its head to lap at the liquid.
Potter laughed silently, his mouth open slightly and his eyes alight with amusement. If he had lolled his tongue, he would have looked like a happy dog, Draco thought sourly. "Yes, I have. But I know how to choose them, so I pick blokes who will be discreet and won't go to the papers." He shrugged and leaned back in his seat, blowing on his tea, though by now it must have gone cold. "I'm single right now, and have been for a few months. Rehabilitation went through a busy period there, for a while. The one thing Peter—that was my last lover—couldn't take was the amount of time I spent with the animals."
Draco nodded absently, taking deep breaths as he calmed himself down. So this had shifted his view of Potter, shattered it, even, but he could recover. He could make plans to accommodate this new fact, get Potter even more emotionally dependent on him than he'd been thinking, and then abandon him to such devastation that he might well commit suicide.
Yes, that would be best.
But he needed time to think about it, and he needed someone to listen to him. He had to visit Blaise and Pansy first, before he made a final decision.
"You don't seem as frightened by this as I would have predicted," Potter's voice said, from right in front of him. "Are you gay, too?"
Draco started. Potter was standing over him, looking down, his brow furrowed. He reached out one hand as if he would cup Draco's cheek.
Draco shied away, understanding instinctively that he couldn't be touched right now. He wouldn't be in control of the seduction, should it begin. "I—I'm bisexual," he said. "But I—I'm sorry, I shouldn't have approached you like this. And I just, I'm sorry, I need to think."
Aware that he was babbling, he got up and stumbled out the door of Potter's rooms. Potter just watched him go. When Draco glanced back, he saw the Kneazle sitting on Potter's shoulder and Jamie prancing protectively around him. Potter stroked both animals at once in a marvel of coordination, but his eyes were steady on Draco.
Draco turned and fled.
Draco staggered as a small but solid weight hit him at high speed. He heard a little girl's shriek, and then Celandine grabbed his legs and swung herself behind them. She was laughing and gibbering with terror at the same time, which puzzled Draco. Of course, he had never been that sort of child.
He looked up, and saw Pansy walking towards them both. Margaret was crying in her arms, which might have explained Celandine's terror. Presumably she'd woken her sister, and Pansy's threats had been a bit too real this time.
"Draco," Pansy said, her eyes not wavering from her daughter. "Could you visit later? Now is not really the best time."
"I need your advice, though!" Draco said, unwilling to believe that Pansy wanted to attend to her daughter so much she was ignoring him, her oldest and dearest friend. "I—Potter is confusing me. I need to know more about him. You work for the Daily Prophet. Have you heard anything?"
Pansy gave him a long, slow look. "Draco," she said, "I worked for the Daily Prophet last year. I'm balancing accounts at Gringotts now. Besides, I thought you were the one feeding the papers all the stories about Potter they seem to have lately?" Her hand abruptly snaked out and grabbed Celandine's wrist, dragging his goddaughter from behind Draco. She did nothing but tap her lightly on the bottom, once, and let her go again. Celandine, though, looked away, her lip quivering, and then took hold of her mother's robe and refused to look up.
"I was sure you worked for the Daily Prophet," Draco was left to say, blinking. He was aware he sounded stupid. He didn't know what else he was supposed to sound like. He had counted on Pansy to help him, and now it seemed she wouldn't be able to do so.
Pansy gave him a long look, and sighed. Shifting, she cradled Margaret with one hand and took Draco's wrist in the other. Then she shuffled into the next room, moving slowly enough that both Draco and Celandine could keep up with her.
Draco collapsed into a chair, refusing to look up as Pansy bustled about. Maybe she could advise him, but he doubted it. It seemed she didn't know any more about Potter than he did.
Pansy gave Celandine a cup of pumpkin juice and Draco a cup of tea. Then she sat down in the chair across from him and said, "Draco. Look at me."
"I don't—" Draco began.
"Look at me, or I won't help you."
Reluctantly, Draco lifted his eyes and looked at Pansy. One corner of her mouth was twitching, and he wondered what was funny. But then she glared at him, and he suspected she was more angry than amused.
"I've wanted to say this for a long time," she said levelly. "But it didn't seem right, not when you'd lost your parents and had an occupation that suited you. Taking over businesses, making money, what did I care as long as it kept you busy? I wanted to see you happy. This seemed to make you happy.
"And then you started obsessing over Potter. Again. It didn't make sense in school, and it makes even less sense now. You aren't the only one who was wounded by his actions during the war. Or did you forget that my father also went to Azkaban?"
Draco swallowed. He hadn't forgotten, but the imprisonment of Hector Parkinson, who was still in Azkaban, just didn't seem to matter as much as Lucius's death had, or Narcissa's suicide. After all, it hadn't happened to him.
Pansy's voice dropped, but did not grow less hard. "The minute you told me you wanted to hurt him, I knew this would probably happen. You would hurl yourself at him as if he was a stone wall and you could knock him down. You can't, Draco. If you'd taken the time to learn about him, to ask other people instead of relying on what you could learn from Daily Prophet articles and self-interested black market wand-runners, you would have realized he's turned into someone else since school. You can hurt him, yes, but not in the old ways.
"You're incredibly spoiled, and selfish, and you've been that way for years now. I'm not going to tolerate it any longer. You can't hurt me, or Blaise, or the children. You can't hurt Potter. But you could hurt yourself. Do you want me to tell you how?"
Draco had to lift the cup and take a swallow of tea before he could speak again. "I'm listening," he whispered.
"Good. You can hurt yourself because you don't understand strength that's not economic, Draco. Money and power are all very well, and I know you understand your clients and your rivals. But step outside that arena, and you're helpless. You've never bothered to learn how to love someone else. You've asked me why Blaise and I stay together, as if it weren't obvious. You're always looking for self-deception in the emotions of others, instead of considering that they might honestly feel them.
"Try to tangle with Potter, and you're walking all over that emotional Gryffindor ground. Potter might feel sorry for you and let you into his heart, but you'd let him in, too. You already have, because I've never seen you hate anyone like this. You're trying to fight him on his ground, Draco. He'd win, and you'd lose. Do you understand now? Unless you actually knew yourself better, you'd expose your own weaknesses before he'd show you a single one of his."
"He already did," Draco said, stung and determined to prove that he wasn't quite so much a failure as all that. "He's told me his secrets, because he believes they were fair payback for my showing him Mum's grave."
"And did that actually give you any better idea how to manipulate him?" Pansy gave him a long look.
"That's not the point—"
"Yes, it is." Pansy rubbed one hand over her forehead, and then moved Margaret aside so that Celandine, who had come over to her after finishing the cup of pumpkin juice, could have room to climb up into her lap. "It always was, Draco. You want him emotionally broken? You should be manipulating him easily, forcing him to depend on you, so that when you leave he'll shatter."
"That was my plan," Draco reminded her. He didn't want her to think she was so clever that she had thought of angles he hadn't arranged to cover already.
"But you aren't accomplishing it."
"What's Uncle Draco not accomplishing?" Celandine asked, peering at Draco under her mother's arm.
"Everything except being an idiot, dear one," said Pansy, her eyes fixed on Draco. Draco swallowed his instinctive protest and clenched his teeth. When Pansy looked like that, she had a point to make, so maybe he should listen.
"Well," said Celandine, with the decisive nod of someone who had been in the same position many times, "he should stop acting like an idiot." She reached over as if to tickle her baby sister.
"I'll cut off your fingernails, plant them in the ground, and then feed them to you when they grow," murmured Pansy. "They'll slice your throat to pieces."
Celandine pulled her hand back and looked innocent.
"Has anyone ever told you that your family life is extremely dysfunctional?" Draco asked crossly.
"At least," Pansy said quietly, "I have one."
"I—you're not married—"
"Which was my choice. What choices have you made since your mother died, Draco? You've just huddled in your house so you could avoid making them. We're your only friends left, because you let the others drift away. You have a few reliable business contacts, and that's all. In the past month, to hear you talk of it, you've seen more of Potter than anyone else except us." Pansy shook her head. "You've made bad decisions for years now. And I don't want to see my best friend suffer any more."
Draco opened his mouth, and then closed it again, swallowing something he told himself was not tears. Pansy hadn't spoken to him that directly and that affectionately for years. He—he had to consider that she might be right.
"What do you think I should do?" he forced himself to ask, softly. Humbly, even.
"Go to Potter," Pansy said. "Explain things. Use honesty. If he punches you, you still have the chance to be friends afterwards. Gryffindors are like that. If he rejects you, then you're out of the emotionally dangerous ground."
Draco pointed a finger at her.
"Pointing's not polite," Celandine informed him.
"She's right," Pansy said, and stroked her daughter's hair when she received a beaming smile from her. "Say what you mean to say, Draco."
"Your voice sounds like you think there's a third option," Draco said testily. "What's the third option?"
"You'll see if you talk to him and it happens, won't you?" Pansy said maddeningly, and for the rest of the visit, she wouldn't let Draco mention Potter. They talked about Gringotts instead, and his business contacts, and the latest exploits of Blaise's mother, who had just made her twelfth marriage. Draco was astonished, when he went home, to figure out that it had relaxed him.
And then he was alone in the Manor, and he had to think.
It was empty except for the house-elves, but what did that matter? It was his preference, wasn't it, if he did want the lovers he had taken in the past few years to remain at a distance from his home? He just didn't feel like sharing the silent corridors with them, or the numerous rooms that were shut up most of the time, except for once a week when the elves cleaned them. The house felt as if it were sacred to the memory of his mother.
Yet his mother was dead, and Draco had told himself that he didn't care anymore, that he didn't even care about the unknown reason she'd committed suicide.
And he had brought Potter here, hadn't he?
He walked into the dining room where he had watched the Dark Lord send the Killing Curse at a Hogwarts professor and the Dark Lord's snake eat her, and flinched, as he always did.
And then he thought Why? Because the Dark Lord and the snake and the Hogwarts professor were all dead, ten years gone. Draco had seen the first two die along with the third.
Why were their shadows still so powerful for him?
Draco closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. Then he turned on his heel and strode away from the dining room, into the gardens.
Twilight was coming on, long summer twilight that made the benches gleam as if their shadows had been polished and the hedges sway and glimmer with secrets. Draco ran past them, heading for the circle of hedges that surrounded his mother's grave. He didn't know why he should be running instead of striding. The question burned in him like the air in his lungs and then blew away again.
He burst through the one clear path and flung himself down in front of the marble headstone. There was her name, there were the dates, there was the familiar phrase Now there is peace.
And Draco found himself screaming at her for the first time since that day he'd found her body, rasping the words out between angry sobs.
"Howcould you? Why did you do it? I didn't know! I didn't know that you felt that way, that you wanted something more from me than just a little attention now and then! Whenever I worried, you told me you were fine! You were fine with Father's death, you were fine with any changes I wanted to make to the Manor, you were fine with my brewing illegal potions in the cellar and then trading them for unicorns' blood! You just smiled at me whenever I asked. And all the while you were choosing your headstone and growing these damn hedges and telling me you liked the scent of the flowers—which you can't even smell now, you can't—"
Draco shut his eyes, leaned his hands on his knees, and was silent. He reminded himself of what he had already known: that Narcissa wasdead, beyond hearing, and that words wouldn't bring her back.
But death hadn't put an end to his wondering about her reason. It hadn't put an end to his fury that his mother had done that, and left him all alone.
I'm not alone. I have Blaise and Pansy and my godchildren.
And who else?
Names blew through his head like dried leaves in the wind, and tumbled away. Draco swallowed. It felt as though he were trying to swallow the toenails Pansy had promised to plant for Celandine.
No one else. Everyone else—blew away.
Draco knelt there, and realized all over again that his mother was gone and he would never know why. He had ordered the house-elves to tear the house apart searching for a suicide note, and then he had searched himself, in case the note was concealed behind some powerful magic the elves couldn't break. But there was nothing.
Nothing but the circle of hedges behind the Manor, and the marble headstone, and the will that contained instructions on burying her.
Draco swallowed again, and this time he was only swallowing broken glass. He opened his eyes and spoke again, more softly, to the headstone.
"I don't know why you did it. I'll never know. But I don't think—I don't think I can spend my life in wondering. You're dead. I'm not. And since I'm not, I have a life to lead."
He reached out and let a hand brush against her name and the date of her death. He didn't touch the words she had wanted carved there. There had been peace for her. Never any for him.
He got up and went in search of the one man who might be able to give him some.
"Malfoy," Potter said quietly. He wasn't smiling; on the other hand, he wasn't screaming with rage and accusing Draco of treachery. He stood aside so Draco could come in.
Draco stumbled into the shop. He was shivering. He wrapped his arms around himself and fought to keep from looking at the cheerful banner on the back wall. He heard Potter shut the door.
Then Potter gave a little whistle, and the unicorn trotted away towards the back rooms, while the gray bird took flight. Jamie remained, but Potter had set him on the floor, and the Crup just trotted up to Draco and looked quizzically at him.
Draco stared back.
It was Potter's arms wrapping around him that set him off.
He was suddenly mumbling words that had no sense and no coherent order, and Potter was murmuring back that he knew, and Draco was being guided back into the rooms where he'd had his upsetting cup of tea earlier that day. Potter pressed him onto the couch this time, but didn't make him tea. He turned around, still holding Draco.
Draco looked dazedly up at him. Potter looked gentle, but stern; there was no hint of a smile on his face.
"I already knew part of it," he said. "Have you come to confess it?"
Draco swallowed. "What did you know?"
"That Dark Grove Shops hadn't actually bought several shops in Diagon Alley, and that the rent hadn't increased on any other building." Potter shrugged, which was an interesting experience when both his arms were around Draco. "You never visited any other shop. I asked the owners. And none of them had heard of Dark Grove, either. It seemed an amazing coincidence that Hugh Wartson would want to buy Rehabilitation and only Rehabilitation, if he was so careful of profit. If he really wanted to move a few shops into Diagon Alley, there are empty buildings. You didn't cover your tracks that well, Malfoy."
Draco winced. His surname contained too many memories of Potter spitting it at him in school. "Call me Draco," he murmured.
Potter's eyebrows rose, but he nodded. "You are Wartson, aren't you?"
"And this was some sort of elaborate revenge plot on me?"
Draco nodded again, wondering when the punch or the rejection that Pansy had talked about would come.
Potter let out a long, long sigh that seemed to take all the air in his body. Then he sat there for a while, thinking. Draco was happy enough to sit there with him. He thought absently that Potter put out more heat than anyone he'd ever met.
"All right," Potter said at last, so suddenly he startled Draco. "This is what it's going to be like. I want to give you a second chance. It's what Rehabilitation does, but Rehabilitation does it because I wanted to do it. I was giving the whole of life a second chance, after the Weasleys made me realize I might have killed myself early. A school rival isn't even the strangest person I've tried to trust."
"I don't want just your pity, Potter," Draco snarled at him.
"Call me Harry," said Potter, with a faint, sweet smile that shocked the breath out of Draco, and refused to let him go. "I would never just give you pity. You're misunderstanding me. I run Rehabilitation to save magical creatures, yes, and because they're the ones who need me most." Draco felt a warm nose nudge his leg, and looked down to meet Jamie's bright eyes and slowly wagging tail, until Harry caught his chin and tilted his face up again. "But I also run it because I enjoy doing it. That's what I've learned. I don't have to indulge all my pleasures or be a self-sacrificing martyr, which was always my problem. Voldemort's gone. I can live a normal life, and the best way to do that is to balance helping people and enjoying myself. Or do both at once. It's so sensible," Harry added, sounding baffled, "that I don't know why people don't just do it all the time."
"But I don't know what I can do to make it worth your while," Draco said dolefully. "Give you back your money, of course, but—"
"I'd like to see what sort of person you become," Harry said quietly. "Sharing in that will be privilege enough. And—well, why not admit it? The worst you can do is punch me." He gave another of those strange shrugs, and then leaned in to kiss Draco.
Draco spent a moment wondering frantically what he should do, before he decided to relax and enjoy it. The kiss was soft and sweet and very slow, with Harry seeming determined to memorize each small part of Draco's lips before he moved on to another.
When he finally pulled free, Draco felt light-headed. He let his brow drop to rest on Harry's shoulder, and breathed deeply.
"I'm gay, and you're very attractive," said Harry. "Not all the time, not all the way through, but there were glimpses, especially when we had dinner together and you showed me your mother's grave. And the fact that you came to me and confessed like this. I wouldn't have thought you could do that." Draco felt a moment of blind, blazing gratitude to Pansy. "So. I'd like to stay with you, and work with you, and see what happens. Maybe not everything I'd like to happen, but I don't know that yet. I've tried to stop second-guessing the future."
His thumb rubbed Draco's lip. "Stay with me, Draco?"
And Draco nodded, and so made the decision.
There was not yet peace, but there might yet be. And, secure in Harry's arms, with Jamie leaning his warm weight against Draco's leg and the soft cooing of birds in the background, Draco thought he might have begun to learn it.