Story Summary: Harry has lived with an obsessive mania revolving around 'what-ifs' and 'could haves.' This has led him to eventually apply his theories to real life and risk a journey to a younger Earth which seems to have evolved in his world's footsteps. At twenty-five, he arrives in his new world's year of 1973, where he intends to make waves in a very calculated fashion. He seeks out familiar people with the aim of forming bonds that will literally change the world.
Author Note: I have a dozen excuses for how long it's taken to get this chapter up and why it's much shorter than I originally intended. Fortunately I try to avoid making excuses whenever my memory serves me well enough to inform me that it's a terrible habit to indulge in.
WARNINGS: Neville's an angry boy, Draco's borderline alcoholic and Abe needs lessons in proper hygienic protocol.
Chapter 4: Earning Power
As his second year class scurried out the door, Neville couldn't even be bothered to keep the scowl off from his face. They act as though I'm as bad as Snape used to be. Though, to be fair, I haven't been exactly nice to them. It would help if they'd all stop whining that they want their Professor Potter, and where is he really, and he doesn't do the lessons that way, and he never makes us do this, and why can't we go outside? Nervier Hufflepuffs than Hogwarts had when I was in school...
Auror Neville Longbottom had taken a two week leave from his duties and he was using it to fill in as Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts, since Headmistress McGonagall was being driven spare by the unexpected absence of Professor Potter. It was apparently going to be a permanent absence, so he hoped she found someone to replace him soon, as he certainly wasn't going to deal with Harry's ex-students for the rest of the year. They were largely wide-eyed and either heart-broken or disbelieving; all of them were endlessly questioning and they asked the same things he kept wondering himself, providing an unpleasant echo of the thoughts he was trying to avoid in order to maintain professionalism. He hadn't believed it when he'd gotten a letter from one of his closest friends, saying that he'd decided to skip out on the world and had already gone and done it, so there. Standing in Harry's house, after pawing through all his books and papers, tearing open every drawer and even trying 'Accio Secret Plans,' he'd stared around dumbly as his anger started to build over the conviction that it was all stoppable, or a joke. Harry was gone and Neville wasn't at all sorry about the damage he'd caused in that great empty house, in his search or after he'd given up on finding something, anything that would say in some measure of legibility, 'this is how to get your friend back.'
'Please try to respect my wishes, even if you can't understand them,' the damned letter had said. Oh, he understood, of course. People had been lost, lives had been mangled and perhaps no one knew the allure of 'what ifs' better than Neville himself, with his parents aging in a mental ward. He understood Harry, and part of him was even hoping that, if his idiotic plan worked, some Alice and Frank Longbottom somewhere were going to live happy and normal lives; it just didn't stop him from also hating him, and wanting to strangle him, because he'd run away and left all his friends with bloody letters.
He couldn't grasp how Harry Potter, a person he'd idolized as a young man, had let himself retreat to cower in some imaginary corner of existence. During the war with Voldemort, the Boy Who Lived had been a blaze of fire and glory. Neville had gladly rallied behind him with pride. Now, the part of him that had been forged by their friendship nearly burned in shame and his nails dug into his palms as he recalled the rhetoric Luna had quoted at him when he'd confronted her about knowing of Harry's plans ahead of everyone else. It had been a nasty fight and when she'd tried to placate him by parroting something Harry had told Dumbledore's Army during the war, he'd lost it. If and when she spoke to him again, it would probably be in an imaginary language.
"So long as there are people here still loyal to him, he'll never be truly gone," she had told him of Harry, as Harry had once told them all of Dumbledore, as Dumbledore had once told Harry of himself.
Harry had said it years ago to raise courage amongst the nervous teenagers who had stood before him, questioning how there could be a Dumbledore's Army with Dumbledore dead. Luna now repeated it as an endorsement of cowardice, sanctioning his acts based on the idea that Harry Potter could never truly leave them, could he?
He shut his eyes tight, willing the answer away. He couldn't see him anywhere, the days were counting down on his Gringotts will for the number of days he could be completely untraceable before the reallocation of his assets and there certainly wasn't any pale thin neck being strangled between his hands as he wished there could be.
Perhaps he'd been harsh with Luna but his life hadn't been made up of fantasies for years. Neville wasn't going to indulge in some childish game of closing his to see if he could find his missing friend inside his imagination and then make Harry real enough that he could pretend he'd never left. He'd spent too many years doing the same with his parents.
The door banged open.
He looked up, startled, as the fourth year Slytherins crashed into the room. Eleven of them, brilliant according to Harry. He watched as though from a distance as they settled down, then came back to earth as he saw the looks in the eyes of a cluster of them. Four boys and a girl, and he recognized them as the ones Harry liked to brag and laugh about. His favorite students. As he met their gazes, he felt vindication flood him. They were furious, while every other student he'd seen thus far was merely disgruntled or helpless or couldn't care in the least in regards to the whole situation. All five of them were seething and he just knew it wasn't him or the school or the inconvenience of changing teachers that had gotten them ready to foam at the mouth like that; they were angry at Harry and from the look of them, they were ready to tear him apart, if only he'd show up. The smallest of the boys flinched as he smiled at them. The tallest, Grant Nott, gave him a slight nod after a moment, understanding that they were in accord.
They all wanted a piece of Harry, either to beat or bury.
Harry jumped back as the red crusted...whatever it was...dropped from the ceiling of his en-suite bathroom and onto the floor. He supposed he could just leave it be but he really didn't like the idea of bathing under it. The floor was covered in a supposedly cleansing goop which he was supposed to use Scourgify on in twenty more minutes and he grimaced at the mess being furthered. Dobby probably could have handled the ceiling with a thought but Harry had sent him out after the things attached to the tub had attacked the small elf, asking him to familiarize himself with this new Hogsmeade and note any differences so that corrections could be made on the map. That left the wizard alone with the 'green and blue throbby things' Dobby had been worried might eat them.
It turned out to be a valid concern, as they were flesh-eating slugs, attached to the bloodstains around the tub and walls, and so resistant to magical removal until they could be pried off of their food. Which he supposed sort of explained all the bloodstains, too. Remind me to never fall asleep in the bath here... He'd had his share of odd mornings but muggle-dueling with slugs for the right of territory over a bathroom was definitely going on the top twenty list. After their physical removal, he'd banished them with magic and done a mild exorcism spell on the bloodstains Dobby hadn't been able to handle the day before. Soon enough there was just residual slime around the edges...until he'd looked up.
Heaving a sigh, he sat down upon the newly cleaned carpet and resumed his random blastings of cleaning spells at the ceiling. Not for the first time since he'd dropped into his new world, he thought of his cozy clean Ravenclaw corridor in Hogwarts. Shaking his head to clear away the cobwebs of nostalgia, he turned to his priorities for the next few days. He wished he knew how to make certain all his guesses were right so as to prevent any of the great blunders which might occur if they weren't.
If History decided to repeat itself, the coming Halloween weekend would be a Hogsmeade weekend for Hogwarts students. It would be his first opportunity to see the thirteen year-old Marauders, Lily Evans and Severus Snape of his new world. There was going to be a celebration Saturday night, Halloween, which would be a village-wide revelry that seventh year students had been allowed to attend in his old world. Meeting future Death Eaters was going to be a given and he was quite looking forward to it.
By the time he'd finished cleaning and taken his bath, lunch was on the little wooden table waiting for him and Dobby. Walking out of the en-suite bathroom in black wool pants taken from the satchel Dobby had brought for him from their former residence in their former Hogsmeade, he looked around and saw that the elf was still missing. Frowning as he wondered what he had gotten up to, he consulted the map and found that Dobby was in the Fairfeathers' bakery, close to the two dots labeled 'Isabella' and 'Mathilda,' with another dot labeled 'Mattie' nearby. He bit his lip, half worried about Dobby and half curious as to whether the baby Mathilda was actually a Mathilda Junior. Setting the map down, he picked up his scarlet Weasley sweater from where he'd set it on the bed and slipped it over his head, then picked up a thick white cotton button-down shirt and slipped it over the sweater; it was a somewhat eccentric style of dress but it would work in his favor, holding him in people's memories better. Besides that, he'd started wearing Sirius' shirts over his own when he was eighteen and was hardly inclined to stop now. And to think that when I left them at the house for the term, packed and ready to be dragged through dimensions with me, McGonagall said she was glad I was finally willing to let him go. Hah!
He sat and ate quickly, just finishing his meal when Dobby popped into the room with a toothy grin on his face. "I guess they had your favorite rolls then?" he asked with a gesture to the map that lay on the bed.
"Oh, yes, they was having the sugared apricot cinnamon rolls Dobby is loving, but that is not all that is good. Guess what work Dobby is to be doing?" the elf asked as he bounced over to the table and set a brown paper bag upon it. "Guess! Guess!"
"Um...making pastries?" he asked in bemusement. While Harry had made no secret of his own intention to find odd jobs wherever possible, he hadn't put much thought into whether Dobby would be seeking employment, particularly since they were in an age unfriendly to elves.
"No! It is being better than that, even!"
Harry frowned, wondering what Dobby could get hired at that he enjoyed more than cooking. In their old world, it could have been a number of things, as the elf was a talented and hard worker. An elaborate wood craftsmanship job would have been his first guess, as Dobby had become known for them after his help rebuilding Hogsmeade - but it was highly unlikely in their new world that anyone would trust a house elf with such a task. Maybe someone had seen the elf sketching somewhere... "A portrait commission?"
Befuddled, Harry shook his head at his enthused friend. "Alright, I give up. What is it, Dobby?"
Dobby, standing on the chair across from Harry, leaned forward with both arms on the table and his eyes seemed to be watering with tears of joy. "Babysitting!" he squealed in glee. "Dobby is to be babysitting!"
Harry stared for a moment and then began chortling. Only Dobby would be so thrilled at spending time with rugrats. Still laughing a bit, he returned Dobby's bright smile. "Congratulations, Dobby."
"Thank you Harry Pott- er, Plunkett!" he shouted, nearly forgetting Harry's alias in his excitement. "It is to be the babies we met the other day. They is being so sweet, Harry Po-Plunkett. Dobby is not knowing why Mrs. Fairfeather was so happy to find help but he is being more than glad to give it!"
His grin showing more teeth now, Harry thought he could imagine just why the woman would want freedom from two toddlers. He'd met a few and knew they were only sweet until something got their dander up. Still, this would not only make the tireless Dobby happy, it would give Harry hours in which he could move behind the elf's sights. Finding himself with time free of his friend's supervision on a regular basis sounded quite alright, considering the number of things they disagreed over. Little Hangleton, for one. "So, did she give you any trouble about getting paid?"
Dobby took on a more serious expression and said plainly, "Dobby thought she was going to faint. Then she started muttering to herself about things which Dobby is not repeating in front of his wizard, and she said something about the cost of buying her own House Elf, and then she nodded at Dobby and offered him fifteen knuts an hour. Of course, Dobby refused her. It is far too much to be paying for work that is fun. So instead Dobby is being paid six knuts an hour," he finished brightly.
"I wonder if," Harry said wistfully, "twenty-one years from now, Hermione Granger will still start 'SPEW.'"
Dobby giggled. "It was certainly always making the Hogwarts Elves spew," he laughed guiltily behind his hands.
Harry chuckled back, pleased to see his friend's childish humor. "I should see about a job, too. I don't need a reputation as a layabout or a trust fund baby on tour."
"Is Harry Plunkett knowing where he is wanting to look, yet? The jokes shop is sounding fun."
"Yeah," he agreed, "getting to work with Mr. Zonko, before he lost his sense of humor, would probably be amazing. But then it would cut off the opportunity to connect with the more serious students."
"The Death Eaters," Dobby said matter-of-factly.
"Potential ones," Harry nodded. "One thing's for sure; if I got work in a prank shop, my chances of befriending Severus Snape would be a lot more than halved."
"Dobby's wizard can not always be as people wish him to," Dobby said with one of those concerned frowns that Harry thought was supposed to make him feel something besides chided and edgy. Sorry, perhaps.
"I know," Harry reassured, "I'm not going to be playing poster boy for anyone, don't worry. If I did, it would really defeat the point of all this, you know?"
Dobby nodded, still giving him a worried look.
"I've just got to make the right first impressions. On everyone. Tricky mess that is," he muttered quietly. "I do have a few ideas though..." A wicked smile came to his face that immediately set Dobby at ease. "Oh, but I'm going to have fun playing with Abe this morning!"
"Afternoon," Dobby calmly corrected his wizard.
Harry assumed a defensive scowl. "Not in the Hog's Head, Mister. Afternoon doesn't crawl through this muck until five. It's morning until the fat goat-"
"If that's what you'd like to call it I won't hold it against you."
Dobby sighed heavily. "Harry Plunkett is forgetting something."
Tilting his head a bit in curiosity, he asked, "And what might that be?"
"Mister Aberforth is over thirty years younger here."
Harry sat up straighter. "Do you think - does that really change the bar's schedule?" He bit his lip, thinking of the Abe he knew, a man who never liked to waste his own time. "He likes to sleep in," he weakly argued, "he's hardly awake when he opens the bar. He stumbles until ten!"
Dobby nodded pragmatically, humoring his wizard's point. "Yes, Harry Plunkett, in the future."
"Oh. Oh, oh - I have to go." He stood up quickly, looking about him as though he knew he needed to grab something but wasn't sure what it was or where to find it.
"Harry Plunkett's wand?"
"Right! Bed," he said as he both pointed and walked towards it, then he stopped midstride and stared at the neat coverlet in confusion. "Um.." He snapped his fingers and whirled back around. "Sink, I left it on the bathroom sink." He went in and retrieved it and came out to find Dobby staring at him with a bemused expression.
"Is Harry Plunkett alright?"
"Yes, yes, just a lot to think of." He tucked his wand behind his ear before thinking better of it and slipping it into a deep inner pocket of the white button down.
Dobby cast a suspicious look around the room. "Dobby has heard that mold spores can be harmful to the mind but he was not thinking they worked so quickly..."
"I'm fine, Dobby," he insisted as he went out the door.
Sitting patiently at the table, Dobby waited.
The door opened again.
"Forgot my shoes..."
When Harry came out passed the privacy curtain of the first floor hall and into the Hog's Head bar, he sauntered out with less obvious caution than he'd used before, going straight to the bar after a peripheral scan and sitting down as he covered a small, faked yawn with his hand. Within a moment, Abe was standing in front of him and Harry offered up a shy smile. "Good morning." The man grunted. After having spent a ridiculous amount of time living in the Hog's Head in his old world, Harry easily recognized it as moderate amusement. "Afternoon?" he guessed with a sheepish grin, resisting the urge to overdo the act by ducking his head.
"Some time 'round there," Abe agreed. "What'll it be?"
"Meade," Harry answered easily, as he intended to keep answering until a greater knowledge of alcoholic beverages wouldn't smudge his good boy character. A mostly clean mug was slammed down in front of him before Abe began pouring into it. "Thank you, sir." Another grunt, and running it over his memories, he recalled that this one normally came when Abe wanted to ask a question but didn't feel it was his place. Curiosity, that was the sound. Harry opened his mouth before Abe could. "Mister Aberforth?"
After looking at him for just a single second as though he were something completely foreign, he asked, "Yeah? What is it, kid?"
"I was wondering, yesterday, when Mist- um, when Hagrid," he said with forced unfamiliarity, as though he were afraid he was being horribly rude by not saying 'Mister' first, "was here yesterday, you'd already told him about me."
Abe narrowed his eyes. "Yeah," he growled, "it's my bar, I'll say what I want."
Harry's eyes widened. "Of course you can! That's not what I meant. I'm sorry. What I meant was that you'd heard more about it than what Dobby and I told you."
"Gossip spreads like wildfire 'round here. If you're gonna keep being a spectacle, get used to it," he said carelessly, and began to wipe the bar down with a mostly dirty cloth.
He wished he could make himself blush but perhaps it was better he couldn't. It may have been the first time Harry Plunkett had heard that from Abe but Harry Potter had been dealt the like at the Hog's Head a number of times, until it had all actually sunk in. "I was wondering-"
"Then get on with it, for Merlin's sake!"
Harry's smile was, perhaps, a bit too brazen yet for Harry Plunkett. "How apprised are you of job offers around here? I don't like to spend without earning."
That made Abe stop, staring at him a second with his head tilted as though he were trying to interpret an abstract sculpture. When he straightened his neck back up, he 'humphed' rather loudly and then leaned his elbows against the bar so that he and Harry were eye-level. "You got any skills?"
Harry smiled enigmatically. "A few."
It earned him a raised eyebrow. Message: I'm unimpressed and you'd better not be (insert imaginatively crude expression here) with me, kid.
Message received. Sobering up, Harry quickly began listing the things which made him worth an employer's time. "Defensive, Deceptive and Protective Warding are the skills I usually sell. I've also got Dueling, Defense and Arithmancy Masteries, Potions, Charms and Ancient Runes Commendations, a Silver Rose in the field of Herbology and a Platinum Vipertooth in Care of Magical Creatures." He made sure not to slump, knowing that all the stuffy traditional medals, trophies and pendants which would prove his claims, were upstairs waiting, snuck into his clothes satchel by Dobby. Those damn pretentious baubles... "I've also got some talent in Divination," he told the gobsmacked bartender, "but nothing really impressive."
Abe gave a loud snort that sounded mildly painful. He then turned his head and spat beside himself onto the floor behind the bar. "Nah," he said when he turned back to face Harry, "nothin' impressive 'bout you at all. Sorry, kid."
"Oh," Harry said in a slightly hurt tone, "really? Are you sure no one needs any-"
"Nope. Not a soul I know can use you. Should have gotten into the liquor business, kid. It's the only thing reliable," he said with a sage nod, resuming his swiping down the counter with the filthy rag he'd been holding.
Harry nodded back, trying to look a bit lost now that he'd supposedly had his hopes dashed. Really, he had been hoping for something; he'd wanted to see Abe fall over or at least swear profusely in exclamation. Perhaps I really am unimpressive, he thought wistfully, wouldn't that be a kick to Hermione and Neville, after they'd gone and made me take so many unnecessary tests of merit?
Alas, his dream of being completely unremarkable was batted away from him as first a short burly looking man with a great ginger beard sat to his left and then a high and wide-browed blonde in tailored robes sat to his right. Just as he was looking from the assessive hazel eyes on one side to the plaintively curious baby blues on his right, someone tapped him on the shoulder and he turned about to look up into an angular face framed by a shaggy mop of black hair. He was surrounded.
Giving a hesitant smile, he asked, "Can I help you gentlemen?" All three leaned toward him a bit more and he bit back a laugh. Let the negotiations begin.
Lying to his wizard was something Dobby would never do. However, misleading Harry Potter, when done for the wizard's own benefit, was a matter he felt only slightly guilty over. After all, Dobby had never told Harry Potter whether he was babysitting the Fairfeather children today and his wizard had not asked. If Harry Potter assumed that was what Dobby would be off tending to, then it was simply a sign that his wizard held no interest in Dobby's hours away. Dobby could be reached with just one call from his wizard, wherever he was, so there was no danger in the minor deception.
Sitting on the bed in their room, watching as most of the other dots in the Hog's Head on the Hogsmeade map began gravitating towards Harry Potter's, Dobby set the parchment down face open upon the coverlet, feeling satisfied that his wizard would be busy for a good length of time. Pulling his knapsack over directly in front of him, he began rooting through his beloved socks and sweaters, reaching into the bottom of the bag for the clothing which would stand out against his searching fingers, because it was rolled into neat little balls. His thumb brushed over the only item of silk he owned and shifted over to a few more rolls of fabric to grasp around a rough woolen one. Pulling it out, he held the edges and shook the black elf-sized robe free.
Maintaining the guise of a human was easy enough but he could never form a completely flawless imitation of what wizard's wore through magic. It was probably because he'd much rather be walking around in a bright fluffy sweater.
Dobby rushed into the newly clean bathroom with the hand which held his robe raised, causing it to fly out behind him like a banner. He popped up onto the sink and stood before the still slightly grimy mirror which hung against the wall and was nearly tall enough to serve as a full-length mirror for him. Changing his sweater for the robe, he looked at his reflection intently as he concentrated on making the change in appearance from elf to wizard. After only a moment, he'd resumed the same guise he'd taken on the day before, olive green eyes peering out mischievously from behind dark red bangs. His ears felt crushed and his waist pinched but it was well worth it.
A wizard's life was what he had grown to emulate in his old world and after experiencing the freedom and respect which came with it, he was not at all prepared to give it up. Besides, a wizard, even a half-breed one, could find the sort of employment which would satisfy both Dobby's mind and purse. A wizard could meet opportunities and hold powers which an elf could only dream of. A wizard could stand beside Harry Plunkett in times when a House Elf would be no help.
Giving his reflection a conspiratorial smile, Dobby apparated away from Hogsmeade with a snap.
"Walter Fen," the ginger-bearded one said as he held out a hand for Harry to shake, "ya say you got a Vipertooth in Creatures? Don't that take speaking talent?"
"It requires a competent level of clear communication with one or more dangerous species," Harry politely confirmed.
"Fascinating," the dark-haired man in front of him said in an absent tone which implied it was anything but, "now, tell me, what skill level is your Deceptive Warding at?"
Harry shrugged. "I can hide your house so that you'll never find it."
"How useful," the blonde said with an eye roll, "I do hope it won't take long." Becoming serious, he said smoothly and straightforwardly, "I'm hiring Defense experts as security over a two week trip. I've already assembled a team of three but additional precautions are seldom unwise. I would require you to pass a screening exam, of course, as well as present proof of your Dueling, Defense and Creatures credentials."
Harry refrained from blinking, even as he wondered if the man was a Malfoy. His no-nonsense address, the fact he'd held Harry's eyes the entire time and his slow, cultured manner of speech distinctly reminded him of Lucius. "And where would your trip be taking you, sir?"
The man sneered, as though scenting cowardliness. "Through a tropical reserve with anti-apparition wards. Further information is not for those uninvolved in the venture, of course. If there is a challenge you would hesitate to face, then you aren't qualified."
He wondered if a Malfoy would ever conduct his business even as openly as this. Draco was this bold but Lucius held his sense of decorum as closely as his wand.
"Alright, you've got my interest. When do I try out? And, sorry, but what's the pay?"
The man smirked and that did it for Harry. Malfoy, indubitably Malfoy.
He retrieved a calling card from an inside cloak pocket and passed it over. "Owl me and we can arrange to work out the details privately. Something about discussing money in a room that smells of goats doesn't agree with me."
Harry couldn't have stopped his smile if he'd wanted to, as the man reminded him more strongly than ever of his snarky best mate. Looking down at the card, he was surprised to find it read Gregoras Bulstrode, in fine emerald script. Of course, all the purebloods are interbred so that hardly means anything. He almost stood and held out his hand as the other man seemed about to walk away, then he reminded himself that an introduction with an unknown name was worth less than nothing to a purebloodist, which both Bulstrodes and Malfoys notoriously were, even in this new world. Instead he gave a respectful nod and pocketed the card.
As Gregoras made his exit, Harry turned to the remaining two who were supposedly interested in his services. They each looked a bit bitter and angry at having been ignored while someone else manipulated their prospect. The ginger one, Walter Fen, the only one who had started by introducing himself, recovered first. Grabbing Harry's bicep as though to keep him from being snatched away, he asked, "Tell me, lad, what were your creatures then?" as though they'd never been interrupted.
"I proved myself to have kinship with Hippogriffs, Thestrals and Griffins."
Aware that everyone in the room was now staring at him, he nodded. "Once you've mastered one animal language it's actually rather simple to gain a rudimentary understanding of another." The dark-haired man who'd been standing in front of him for so long huffed impatiently and then stalked off but Harry was hardly concerned.
"Really?" the man breathed.
Sure, if you're a parseltongue. "Yes. At least," he amended, "it was for me." Adding on an innocent shrug, he made a mental note that he also needed to look into a Wizard's Dueling House soon, as all this placid passive-assertiveness was starting to make him feel a mild itch for what would normally become an explosively dangerous throw-down with Draco, who understood the need to blow off steam with acts of power and violence better than anyone else Harry had ever met. I'll have to get used to pummeling strangers instead. Luckily Harry Plunkett is supposed to be a paranoid bastard and it's now public knowledge that I've got a Dueling Mastery.
"I could use a spot of help training some Granians. They're meant to be fit for a carriage, mind you, and that takes impressing more manners on them than they'd like. Just hatched a month back, growing like weeds and eating half their weight every day. They're a handful, my boy."
Harry, who knew what it was to tame a Griffin for battle, only smiled cockily at the idea of a flock of inbred grey winged horses. "How many?"
Draco had been sopping drunk for two days. This was not terribly unusual but it was the first time in a long while that he'd gone so long without having an idiot friend bounce through his fireplace to either join him or drag him out somewhere. He and Longbottom had both taken two week leaves from their Auror duties, so he at least didn't have to worry about needing to get to work for awhile. Longbottom had gone his own way, of course, off to do responsible things while the filthy, sycophantic Malfoy heir went about corrupting his own liver, as corruption was simply the Malfoy trade. Never mind doing honest work for years and having put his neck beneath the guillotine for the Wizarding World during the war, no, he was just an ex-Death Eater atoning, Longbottom was the hero Auror, so he could be left to do the martyr side of heroing, too.
Potter and he had done that side of it before and Draco was glad to be rid of it. The first time he'd met Potter as a friend, the night he'd promised loyalty to the bloody Light, he had hardly been able to stop staring at him, at how tired and worn he looked and the way he seemed to be burning from within. The boy he'd thought he'd known in school hadn't been there at all, and he'd marveled at the changes. When Peter 'Wormtail' Pettigrew kidnapped him and took him to Potter as an offering in his own bid for forgiveness, he'd been stuffed in a sack and felt sure that if he wasn't accidentally suffocated or bludgeoned to death by the idiot Pettigrew, then surely he'd be killed by Potter, his hot-headed rival who actually had reason to do it. What a surprise he'd gotten instead...
January 4, 1998
Cold air brushed through the rough weave of the cloth he'd been crumpled into but even as he cursed Wormtail for being stupid enough to risk killing what the idiot thought was his only offering to the Light, the better part of his brain was shrieking and clamoring in panic, insisting he think of something to save himself with, in an instant. He'd been drugged, his at first sluggish senses had worked that out quickly enough. It was possible he had Jelly Joint hexes cast on his knees and elbows, or else either the cold or the drugs were having more of an effect on him than he wanted to deal with. Narrowing his eyes, he supposed it could also just be the poor circulation his limbs were getting. The thought of being brought to Harry Potter's door as a present and not even being able to stand up and face him like a man had him silently cursing through Silencio'ed lips.
He was practically being dragged and what really galled him was that he was sure it was only out of laziness, as there had to be a lightening charm on him, or possibly the sac, or else the fat and weak Pettigrew would have never have made it out the front door with him. Assuming he took the front door. Taking a ragged breath of recycled air, he tried to calm himself. Complaining would do no good, not then. His time was running out and he needed to think, unless he wanted to let either Pettigrew or Potter kill him.
He snorted in bitter humor at the thought of fighting to save his life. What life was that again? The life of a fugitive, a murderer, a shamed son? The life of Severus Snape's apprenticed lackey? Of the vicious Dark Lord's whipping dog? Yes, of course, it was perfectly logical to fight his way from a fellow Death Eater's grasp, traitor though he was, and run to who exactly? His enslaved parents? His insane Lord? Such a peaceful home he had to escape back to. Perhaps it would be better to simply let Potter kill him.
Draco flinched as he wondered again what the incompetent man carrying him had given him to put him to sleep. Suicide was not an acceptable option for Malfoys. They were fighters and if his father could withstand Azkaban and his mother could brave out living as a captive of the Dark Lord, he could handle riding in some cheap little sac and confronting his childhood rival. So what if Potter was being touted as the leader of the Order of the Phoenix? Who could really believe that stupid ol' Potty was the Defender of Diagon, as the Prophet boasted, or the devil incarnate, as a few rookie Death Eaters had muttered to each other? It didn't matter at all that Draco himself was a young recruit and had the boy's personal loathing. He wasn't scared. Not unduly anyway.
The nauseating swinging he'd been enduring suddenly came to an end and he swallowed, hoping that Wormtail had just decided not to go through with things after all. If that were the case, he'd be magnanimous enough to only maim and not murder the repugnant man.
The click of a boot against pavement registered before his own steady movement. Pettigrew was walking in a purposeful stride and Draco just knew that their destination was in sight. He was being carried to his death and what had he done? Wasted his last moments. He squeezed his eyes shut, thought of his parents who loved him and his friends who sometimes looked a bit sad about having abandoned him. A voice in his mind that he normally tried to subdue came to the forefront of his turmoil as his greatest comfort, telling him that this was justice and at least if he was punished, he'd be absolved of his sins, so long as he accepted it as his turn. He'd gotten Dumbledore killed after all, just when the man had offered him freedom and safety, and it had severely crippled the common wizard's cause, which every day he felt was more his own than his enemies.' Justice, he heard the quiet voice insist, this would bring him peace.
He wanted to snarl that he didn't want justice or peace, he wanted freedom and to hex half the living world. Unfortunately he was still silenced and even if he weren't, the breath was knocked out of him as he was unceremoniously dropped to the hard ground. Moisture seeped through the cloth and he grimaced even as his heart tried to fly out his throat in panic at what this meant.
Was Potter standing there before them? He didn't hear anything besides Pettigrew's whiny breaths and the flickers of insects in the night. Who would open the bag? Would they open it at all? Perhaps the matter of confirming his identity would be solved after lighting the sac on fire, so that he'd be burning to death, deed done, without the Great Gryffindors ever having to look him in the eye first. But no, he thought, that wouldn't entertain them much with the silencing spell on. Could the Avada Kedavra go through the bag then? It could go through clothes of course so he had to assume that what he'd been considering his last shelter from the world awaiting him was in fact less than useless, except as the mercy of a blindfold. Malfoys may accept mercy with gratitude and pursed lips but only for their lives or money. 'An indignity today to the dignitaries of tomorrow,' that was what his father said. If he were going to die, if tonight was his last night as a Malfoy, he wanted to face his killer, even if he couldn't stand.
There was a rattling outside and Draco felt something like conviction as he recognized Potter's voice, gruff as it was.
"H-Harry! I-I've come alone, like I said. I've br-brought him," Pettigrew said in a plaintive whine.
"Let me see," Potter said in a hard tone.
"Of-of course!" Draco flinched downward as the fastenings above his head were man-handled by Pettigrew. As the traitor's fat warty face was revealed to him, a sneer of disgust took hold of his features. The bag dropped from his field of vision and he looked forward impulsively, something telling him that he needed to understand his situation as quickly as possible. He froze, sneer slipping into a mask of disbelief and fear. Potter was standing there with a perfect poker face, stiff and holding his wand in a white-knuckled grip. He looked different somehow and after a moment details started feeding themselves into Draco's mind, telling him that this wizard wasn't familiar at all, too gaunt, too hard, too angry to be little old Scarhead. "Ou-our deal, Harry? The Malfoy child in exchange for Order protection?"
"The Order has nothing to do with this!" the new Potter snapped, briefly taking his eyes off of Draco. They returned to him slowly as he continued speaking to the traitor. "This earns you my protection only, Wormtail. One last chance and if you cross me, it's your life," he said in a quiet voice that had Draco believing in his ability to murder. It took him a moment to realize that the wizard had said it looking straight at him and that he wasn't quite sure of just which Death Eater the deal had been spoken to.
"I under-understand, Harry. Slip of the tongue." The lump of wasted wizard gave a nervous chuckle and if Draco hadn't been so distracted, he would have given his best Malfoy glare.
"Yes," Potter said with a veiled edge, "that happens a lot to you, doesn't it?"
There was a moment of panicked gasping that nearly diverted Draco's racing thoughts from the implications of Potter's ambiguous statement. "Pa-past is passed, Harr-ry. Things were - I was - you must understand!" Pettigrew squealed in fear. Then, something strange happened and Draco actually did turn to look up at the bloody ugly half-wit. He took a deep breath and then spoke with, of all things, calm. "I'm here about the future. Harry, I know that nothing can bring James back-"
"Or my mum? Wouldn't you want her alive? Or Sirius?" Potter was looking more and more familiar as he looked ready to either pounce on Pettigrew or spout steam.
"Nothing can change what's happened," he continued bravely, "but I'm here to help change what's still to come. Please, I've brought you the betrayer of Hogwarts. By coming here I'm signing my life over to you, whether you keep your word or not there's no going back for me."
"How long did you spend practicing that in front of the mirror?"
Pettigrew flushed scarlet but maintained his solid stance, one Draco would have never imagined him assuming in the first place. "A few days," he admitted shamelessly.
"Right," Potter said, and the muted Draco looked back to him. "You don't need to give me the rest of your spiel. Not yet at least. I've already told you, Wormtail, you're getting this last chance. But it's going to be on my terms and if I ever see one whisker out of alignment I'll put you down before you've seen it coming."
With the return of the new hard Potter, the old quivering Pettigrew revived quite quickly, trembling and muttering ascent. Draco tuned out the groveling and decided to simply mind the wizard in charge, who was staring down the rat with little effort. Of course, it never did take much effort to intimidate Pettigrew.
"I'm going to have to take precautions. You should already know that, though. I'm the only one here for a reason and if I'm going to be accepting a traitor back into the Light's confidence, I'm at least obligated to make sure you won't turn on me." Pettigrew forewent answering and instead trembled and gibbered senseless noises. Potter raised his wand, not improving the performance of the Death Eater's mental faculties. "Stupefy!"
Draco's heart stood still as Pettigrew fell to the ground, leaving him more alone with Potter than he'd like to be. He raised his eyes to meet the other wizard's and tilted his chin up defiantly.
Potter's lips quirked up. "Scared, Malfoy?"
'You wish,' he would have liked to reply. He nearly choked when Potter's expression changed from that of someone about to have fun committing acts of torture to the look of something soft and foreign. He took a few steps closer to Draco, who still sat helplessly in a crumpled heap on the ground, and then he crouched down so that they were at eye-level.
"I'm going to have to stun you for transport," he said in a flat tone. "When you wake up you'll be in a basement cell. It's a bit clammy and bare - but completely safe."
His eyes widened at somehow hearing what he wanted to, with the exception of the 'cell' bit. Surely it was a joke. He narrowed his eyes in a glare, not about to be suckered into Potter's little game. Giving a fierce glare, he felt almost as though he were on familiar grounds as Potter reciprocated with a smirk, as though about to insult him. He was actually startled as the stunner he'd just been warned about hit him.
When he woke, he felt strangely rested, in spite of his aches. It took a few minutes of wondering why his bed felt so odd before he bolted up and looked around, memories flooding him. He was in a small bedroom with sparse furnishings and a cement floor. There were two doors in the room and as he remembered that he was supposed to be imprisoned, he stood to check. One door led to a small bathroom and the other led to a second door that had been hidden behind it, comprised of iron bars. He grasped the cold bars and took ragged breaths, trying to catch up to his new situation without having a panic attack.
Potter had brought him to someone's basement. He was supposed to be 'safe' here, the way that an animal is 'safe' in a zoo. Was Potter collecting Death Eaters? He shook his head. Ridiculous and not at all helpful. Of course, everything about his past two days had been unbelievably out of form. If muggle children began parading passed the bars pointing and staring in wonder, then he'd know.
After a few minutes he heard footsteps coming from further down the hall beyond his barred door. Potter came into sight, balancing two wands on a tray of food in one hand and holding out a ring of keys in the other. "Sorry about the security," he said in a way that was almost believable, "it's just a bit necessary though. I'm sure you understand."
Draco arched an eyebrow and asked, "Nervous about having a Death Eater in your house?" Then he blinked in surprise at being able to say it, which meant that Potter had probably removed the Silencio from him.
"Cautious," Potter corrected with an amused smirk. "Stand back." Eyeing the food, which smelled rather tempting, Draco stepped back and allowed Potter to enter his cell unmolested. The other wizard set the tray down on a small side table and though Draco eyed the two wands with more hunger than he felt for the food, he remained still at the implications. Potter had brought both their wands. The other wizard walked to one of two arm chairs in the room and sat back, waiting. Draco retrieved the tray and set it on the stand beside the low twin bed, feeling disinclined towards sitting in close-quarters with Potter before learning what the rules of whatever game this was were. He sat on the bed, facing Potter, and picked up a soft buttered roll to chew on as he waited for the pendulum to fall.
Potter watched him with sharp eyes and then suddenly cocked his head to the side and gave a small smirk. "I never expected I'd have to make civil conversation with you. I'm not sure where to start."
"How about what the hell's going on?" Draco asked with more boldness than he felt.
The smirk turned into a sad smile. "Well, that's a bit complicated. It's easier answered by you, actually. Malfoy, do you enjoy being a Death Eater?"
He felt a deep cold sweep over him. "You mean do I want to be a spy for you?"
"No. I'd never ask that of you or of anyone. Not even Wormtail has that in his deal."
A rage born of helpless frustration was beginning to burst. "Then what in Merlin's name do you want from me? If you aren't going to kill me or use me then what's this all for? Are you just going to keep me here in a cage like some pet as revenge? Where am I, anyway, the new Azkaban?"
"No. Not officially. I've named it 'Hedwig's Roost.' My home. Also unofficially. It's under the Fidelius, so if you or Peter were to leave you would not be able to find your way back. I'm the only one with free access to the house, so there's no danger of anyone from the Order dropping in or the house being seized by Aurors or Death Eaters, if that's what you're thinking. I told you it was safe here and I meant it."
"Quit stalling and answer my first question!" Draco snapped, feeling more edgy with every calm word Potter offered.
Potter sighed, looking weary. He leaned forward and gave Draco an earnest look. "Dumbledore's last spoken wish was for your protection. What I want from you is cooperation, so that I can fulfill his wish without jeopardizing myself or the Order. I don't expect you to-"
"Believe you? That's good. I don't."
"-work for me or the Order, not if you don't want to. Just don't get in our way."
"I'm not a charity case, Potter!"
He gave a smile then with a glimmer of challenge in his eyes. "Good. I'd been hoping you wouldn't be."
Draco drew as much of his pureblood propriety around him as he could, given the circumstances. He tilted his chin up and his own eyes shone with a surety which he didn't quite feel. He was never one to back away from a challenge, and certainly not one issued by Harry bloody Potter.
Justice, that inner voice echoed once more, this could bring him peace.
Amnesty, what he'd been craving since Dumbledore had first offered it to him, had been awarded by Potter of all people. It had seemed so impossible and he had worked so hard over the years to make sure he could keep it, to show that his sins were truly washed from his skin. Of course, just spending so much time alone in a house with Pettigrew should have been punishment enough to clean my slate.
He shook his head as he realized that he was coming dangerously close to sobriety. "Kreacher!"
A whimpering noise came from the corner, followed by the pattering of little feet across the carpet of the library floor. The decrepit house elf stopped before where his master lay on the plush fur rug before the fire and rasped, "Yes master? What is the disappointing whelp wanting?"
Draco closed his eyes. Harry wanted him to be kind to the thing. This was the only burden he'd been asked to bear. He very carefully did not draw his wand and hex the damned thing cross-eyed. "Brandy, Kreacher," he said blandly. "Now."
"Yes, master, of course. Pathetic drunken waste," he muttered as he slinked away, "all over that wretched half-blood disgrace. Such ruin; Kreacher's young master was so fine once. Where has Kreacher gone wrong? The shame..."
Killing Kreacher would be bad. I must behave. I must not torture him, either. It would break Harry's heart, the soft stupid sod. I don't want him to - Draco's eyes snapped open. He was most certainly too sober as he remembered that Harry wasn't going to be doing anything, as he was gone. Gone forever, having left Draco alone with the blustering diseased world he could barely stand not to hex. His hands shook even after he clenched them into fists, and he fought not to scream some obscenity after the path of Kreacher's muttering.
He swallowed and took a few unsteady breaths through his nose. Kreacher, his eighteenth birthday present and life-long responsibility to look after, in spite of the crimes the elf committed. Harry had gotten generous with second chances, after losing Dumbledore. At least, Draco thought it was about the late headmaster. They hadn't had any communication until several months after it had happened so for all he knew, it was about the muggle relatives he hated being roasted on a public street one day or even about some random thing Lupin or Moody had said to him. Harry couldn't be bothered to take advice, of course not, but he listened to it, Draco had noticed, and he tended to listen best to those two, as though they had all the great answers to magic and the universe wrapped up in riddles inside their graying heads.
"Shame they're dead," he croaked aloud to himself, since I don't think they'd have approved of this move of his at all.