Pairing(s): Harry/Draco, implied Ron/Hermione, past Harry/OC
Author's Notes: Written for HD_Smoochfest at LiveJournal, for a prompt by dysonrules. Thanks for a great prompt, dysonrules! And thank you for the brilliant input and beta read, phoenixtorte. This story is much stronger because of you. All recognizable characters are the property of J.K. Rowling… but it sure is fun to write about them.
Stories from America
Part One: News
No one knows who I am here. It's the most wonderful thing about America. I can start again.
I miss Ron and Hermione. I wish things had been different. I should never have...
Not much point worrying about that, is there? The important thing is, I'm not that person anymore. I never will be again.
* * *
Draco had never liked traveling by international Portkey, and had even been known to use a Muggle aeroplane instead—first class, of course—but this time, his cover required it. And for this story, he was willing to put up with a little discomfort en route to Florida. His sources still had him a few steps ahead of the Auror department on this case, and that was just how he liked it.
Nothing was more satisfying than handing the Weasel a ready-for-release cover story and requesting that he kindly hurry up and make the arrest as described.
Now, he smoothed down his robes and offered a hand to a fellow Portkey-traveler who hadn't landed as gracefully as Draco had.
"You're too kind," murmured the blue-haired witch as Draco helped her to her feet. Really, blue hair? He had never understood the fashion for hair-rinse charms among the over-eighty set. He hoped his mother would never stoop so low.
"Not at all," he said. He was, after all, Solarius Karp, up-and-coming Potions Master. Solarius Karp, Draco decided, was kind to old ladies. Perhaps he even had an Old Gran of his own, back at home. That might be a handy icebreaker here in Florida, where witches and wizards of the world retired.
A loud buzzing noise had him swatting an insect away from his ears.
"Worst thing about Florida," the witch said. "Ruddy insects."
Draco nodded. From the thwack it had made against his hand, it had been a big one. He hoped he had killed it.
They had arrived in a wharf-side warehouse, safe from Muggle eyes… but, Draco knew, watched by those who mattered in the local wizarding world. At least, watched by those who mattered to Draco. Unfortunately, the warehouse smelled distinctly of fish. Draco wrinkled his nose.
He nodded to the other tourists, and then strode out of the warehouse. Bright Florida sun had him squinting his eyes as they adjusted to the light. He heard gulls and wondered if there were anyplace on the planet not infested by them.
As his eyes cleared, the waves lapping against the wharf came into focus. Clearwater, the settlement was called. He wasn't sure about clear—slightly murky around the edges, perhaps—but the saltwater smell of the ocean was certainly a welcome replacement for the fishy smell of the warehouse.
First things first. Draco refused to meet anyone in his current state, unkempt and disheveled from travel. Solarius Karp had things to do and people to see, but first he would settle into his hotel.
Draco hoped that the newspaper had booked him somewhere acceptable, for once.
* * *
Draco wandered the shops through Knottick Alley, Florida's own version of Diagon. His main purpose here tonight was to see and be seen. He made polite inquiries at the right shops and spent enough money in the others to draw attention. He exclaimed over a shriveled narwhal liver, letting his interest in rare potions ingredients be known. He looked over the various properties available for rent and made notes of the realtors' names.
An assassination attempt on a Minister of Magic, especially one as well beloved as Kingsley Shacklebolt, was nothing to be taken lightly. The story might even make for Prestidigiter-Prize material, if Draco spun his words right.
Draco always spun his words right.
* * *
He was not surprised when, resting in his barely acceptable hotel room, he heard a knock at the door. Draco re-tied his bathrobe and fixed his hair in the mirror before answering.
A bellboy stood in the hallway. He looked at Draco, appraising. "Message for y'all, sir," he said. His American accent turned the words into a drawl. The boy was attractive enough, Draco supposed—if slightly young for his taste—but the accent was ridiculous.
"Thank you," Draco said, taking the parchment. The bellboy continued to stand there. Surely he didn't expect to be invited in? Draco Malfoy might have a certain reputation back home, but Solarius Karp's preferences should be a complete mystery. "That will be all."
"Yes, sir," the boy said. "Y'all have a good night, now." He scowled, hesitating for another moment.
Oh, for Merlin's sake. "Hold on, I might have something," Draco said. He ducked back into the room and fumbled through his supply of American wizarding currency, finding what he thought was an appropriate-sized tip. On second thought, he added a bit extra. Solarius Karp was probably a good tipper.
The boy's face broke into a smile at Draco's generosity, causing Draco to rethink his earlier evaluation. But no… hotel staff gossiped, and Draco preferred not to have any rumours spread about Solarius Karp that were not of his own devising.
Alone again, he moved to the window and read the parchment in the light of the setting sun. It was the hoped-for information. He allowed himself a smile of anticipated victory.
* * *
Days later, having greased the right palms and made the right suggestions, Draco stood outside a small shop—not in Knottick Alley, but not far outside it, either. The sign read 'Scales', written in blue over the image of a silver Ramora. A Muggle wouldn't know it for what it was. In an aquarium in the window, a puffer fish flared its spines at Draco's approach.
He took a deep breath, and then entered.
The store was humid and warm, nearly sticky. The light was blue, filtered through and reflected off the dozens of aquariums that lined the walls and ceiling. A man lounged behind a counter, grinning at Draco, his skin tinged ghostly cold by the water-light. Draco knew that he must look like a corpse, himself. With everything tinted blue, it was difficult to tell whether the man's hair was Weasley-red or a respectable auburn. Draco suspected the former.
"Evan James?" Draco asked.
"How can I help you?"
Draco had been a journalist too long not to notice when someone avoided a question. "Let's start with names. I'm Solarius Karp. And you are?"
The man's smile widened. "Caught." He held out a hand for Draco to shake. "Mitch Morrow. Evan's assistant." His accent was American, although less broad than the bellboy's had been.
His hand, when Draco shook it, was damp to the touch, although perhaps that was due to the humidity. Even Draco was beginning to perspire. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Morrow. I'm afraid my business must be dealt with by Evan James alone."
"Someone from back home?"
"Your accent. It's like his," Morrow explained. "From ovah the pond." His attempt to sound English was atrocious. "Tea and crumpets and all that jazz."
But Evan James was English. Draco filed that away as something he hadn't known. There was surprisingly little information available on the fish breeder… and here was a possible explanation. An ex-pat Death Eater, peddling rare and dangerous potions ingredients to his friends back home?
Draco was going to need to be careful. He was too recognizable. "No," he said, responding to Morrow's question. "I'm afraid Mr. James and I are not acquainted. I was simply told that he was the best resource for certain… substances that I require."
Morrow's eyes narrowed. The effect was eerie in the watery blue light of the store. "Unless those substances can swim, you've got the wrong place. This is a fish store."
"Of course. In fact, I am here to inquire about a very rare breed. Circe's Lionfish?" If Morrow were, as Draco suspected, a wizard, he'd know it. If not, Draco could apologize and leave. The magical fish weren't on display, but then, they wouldn't be. Draco was willing to bet there was another showroom, one for wizards.
"I've heard of it." Morrow looked at Draco appraisingly. "If you've got a card or something, I can leave it for Evan."
"Certainly." Draco pulled a blank card out of his pocket and tapped it once with his wand, causing his assumed name and hotel address to appear.
"Hold on." Morrow flicked Draco's shoulder. "Bug on you. Some kind of beetle. Big 'un." He grinned.
"Thanks," Draco said, brushing his shoulder. Had Morrow really needed to flick that hard? On the plus side, he'd taken Draco's card. Not a bad start. But now, given what he had learned, it seemed a little surveillance was in order.
* * *
There were two exits from the store that Draco had seen: the customer entrance in the front and a shipping/receiving door in the back. Of course, Evan James could just Apparate directly home from inside, but if Draco owned a store full of rare, magical tropical fish, he'd want to set anti-Apparition wards. The best way to do that was inclusively, which meant even the person setting the wards had to step outside them in order to Apparate.
The front of the store opened onto a busy street. That was out of the question, unless Mr. James planned to walk home like a Muggle. The back, though, opened onto an ugly parking lot bordered by a park. The park led into a treed area, which had potential. If Draco were looking for a concealed spot for Apparition, he would go through the park and into the trees. He was counting on Evan James to feel the same. That would give Draco a decent look at him. Whether or not Evan James was a Death Eater, if he was someone likely to recognize the son of Lucius Malfoy, then Draco needed to reevaluate his plan.
Draco sat down on a bench in the park and pretended to read a Muggle newspaper. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat completed his disguise. Kept the bloody bugs out of his hair, too. He'd had to brush one off his arm already. Nasty, erumpent-sized Florida bugs. The sooner he was home, the better.
The bench, unfortunately, faced the trees rather than the parking lot—a logical choice, he conceded, if somewhat inconvenient at the moment. Draco was unable to find a natural-looking newspaper-reading position that allowed him to watch the store. Sighing, he lay down on the bench and pretended to nap, angling his head so he could see the parking lot. He slid his wand down his sleeve to have it at the ready; he might look like easy prey for thieves, but he had no intention of being robbed.
Draco would have to wait an hour or so in the heat before the store closed. At least the bench was shaded.
Long discipline kept him from napping. That and thoughts of the Prestidigiter Prize ceremony. He planned his acceptance speech. When closing time came and went, with no sign of activity at the shop door, Draco planned what he would do with his anticipated raise. When another hour had passed, he started adding adjectives to his story: the inconsiderate Evan James. The unpunctual Evan James. The get-a-bloody-life-and-leave-work-once-in-a-while Evan James.
He tried not to consider the prefers-to-walk-home-like-a-boring-Muggle Evan James, or the stupidly-Apparates-from-inside Evan James. Either of those two scenarios implied that Draco was wasting his time. He hated to waste his time.
Finally, the door opened.
Evan James wore sunglasses and a baseball cap. Dark hair curled out beneath the cap, a few weeks past the "needs a haircut" stage. His build was athletic but on the slim side, and his Muggle denims and t-shirt hung slightly loose on his frame.
From this distance, he didn't look like any Death Eater that Draco knew. That made things easier; he could go ahead with the cover he had so carefully put in place. He would take a closer look to be certain, of course, but it looked promising.
Evan James started walking towards the park, as expected. If he kept going the way he was, he would have to pass right by Draco and continue into the forest to find somewhere private enough to Apparate. Perfect. Draco shifted slightly, affording himself a better view of the path through his nearly closed eyes.
"Mmmmm, look what we've got here!"
Draco had been so intent on his prey, he hadn't noticed three teenaged boys approaching. Unforgivable. A rookie error.
"Geezer dresses like he's got money. Let's see. Got any money, geezer?"
Draco sat up, affronted. "Geezer?" He let his wand slide down his sleeve to touch his fingertips.
"Oooh, T.J., you made him angry. He ain't old."
"S'got white hair. What was I supposed to think?"
"Doesn't matter. Get his wallet."
The one called T.J. grabbed Draco from behind. "Where's your wallet, guy?"
"You don't want to do this," Draco said. Only fair to warn the Muggles before he turned them into lizards.
The boys laughed. "Yeah? You gonna—"
Evan James flew out of nowhere, tackling the boy who had been speaking. Draco took the opportunity to flip T.J. over his head. T.J. landed on his back in front of the bench. Draco knelt on his chest, still-concealed wand pressing into his neck. "Don't move," he said. "I'd prefer not to explain what will happen if you do, but believe me, you won't like it."
In the meantime, James had finished with Draco's other two attackers. One lay dazed against a tree, another was crouched over, nursing a nosebleed. Draco doubted that a nosebleed alone would have stopped him; he wondered what else James had done.
His mind raced. There had to be a way to spin this to his advantage. He had to meet Evan James as Solarius Karp. Why would Solarius Karp have been napping on the bench behind James' fish store?
Spying. Sometimes a grain of truth made the best lie. He opened his mouth to thank James for his help—and stopped, dead, mouth hanging open.
Evan James had lost his hat and sunglasses at some point during the fight. The face looking back at Draco belonged to Harry Potter.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked.
Draco blinked. His brain had stalled sometime around the moment he spotted the lightning bolt scar. Harry's whereabouts had been a mystery for the past six years.
"Did they hurt you?" The green eyes were concerned.
Draco released his hold on T.J. and stood, slowly. "Get out of here. All of you," he said. "Now!" Since it was now two against three, not three-on-one, he felt certain they would comply.
The boys scrambled to their feet and ran, leaving Draco facing his rescuer.
There was no way out of this that Draco could see. "Potter," he said, removing his glasses. He was rewarded by seeing Harry's jaw drop.
"Malfoy? What in the hell are you doing here?" Shaken. That was the only word to describe him. Harry's lips had gone pale and his eyes were wide. Shaken. Almost… scared.
This might be an opportunity, if he could keep Harry off-balance long enough to take advantage of it. "Sunbathing. You?"
Harry's face actually went slightly red. "It's not sunny here. There are trees."
"Brilliant, Potter. Are you always this astute?" Draco rolled his eyes for effect. "You were obviously about to Apparate. If you take me with you, I'll explain. If you don't, I suppose you'll just have to wonder how I found you, won't you?" No need to admit that it was pure coincidence.
Harry worried his lip with his teeth… which probably shouldn't have been as distracting as it was. At least he had lost that stunned look. Draco waited, forcing himself to appear relaxed.
"Fine," Harry said. "You explain, then you leave."
Draco smiled. "Of course." He gestured for Harry to lead. This had the double benefit of allowing Draco to keep an eye on him and… allowing Draco to keep an eye on him. Merlin. The Saviour of the Wizarding World had grown up nicely.
Things were shaping up just fine.
Part Two: Tabloid
I've met someone. It's not like with Ron. He's interested in me, too; I can tell. Thing is, we met when I was interviewing him for a job at the store. It complicates things a bit. He really is the best one for the job, but if I hire him, we can't...
Sometimes I get tired of doing the right thing.
* * *
Draco could not reasonably convince himself that Harry was involved with an attempt on Kingsley Shacklebolt's life. His sources had led him astray, which was aggravating. However, an expose on Harry Potter's secret life since the war was worth at least as much front-page coverage as Shacklebolt's would-be murderer. Possibly even the hoped-for Prestidigiter Prize.
Yes, Draco decided as he nosed around Harry's flat. Things were shaping up just fine. When they had first arrived at Harry's flat, Harry had demanded explanation that Draco had promised. Draco had stumbled a little, allowing Harry to think that he was shaken up from the fight and from Apparating. If it took playing 'Draco in distress' for Harry to lower his walls, then that was what he would do.
Harry Potter was nothing if not predictable.
"Ice or no?" Harry called from the kitchen.
"Ice," Draco specified. He wasn't sure whether Harry was being a good host or just badly needed a drink.
There was a fireplace. Odd for Florida, Draco thought, unless one knew that the person inhabiting the flat was a wizard. On the mantelpiece sat a series of photos. Some of the people in the photos, Draco recognized. The Weaslette, laughing, with her arms around Longbottom. The Gryffindor trio… sometime during sixth year, perhaps? He reached to touch the frame, and then lowered his hand. Sixth year.
There was another photo, in a picture frame made of seashells, featuring Harry with Mitch Morrow from the store and a dark-haired girl. She looked vaguely Hispanic, and appeared in several of the other photos, along with people Draco didn't recognize.
He picked up the photo in the seashell frame and peered at it. The uncanny thing was how close a match it was to the photo of the Gryffindor trio. Harry in the middle, bracketed by Ron and Hermione… or, in this case, Morrow and the girl. Morrow's hair really was Weasley-red, and the girl's thick, dark hair framed an intelligent face.
He wondered if Harry was aware of the similarity, or if it were something he had sought out unconsciously.
"That's Anna. My roommate," Harry said. "She's training to be a medic. Long hours. The other one is Mitch. He works with me at the store. I assume you know all this already, if you've been following me."
Draco set down the photo. He glanced at Harry, who wore a guarded expression as he handed Draco his drink. Harry hadn't removed his sunglasses when they entered his flat… the tinted lenses had faded to clear as soon as they were out of the sun. Interesting charm, that. And now, Draco could see that the glasses weren't so very different from the ones Harry had worn at school. A shame. Decent frames would do so much more for those eyes.
Draco sipped at the glass Harry had given him. Ogden's Old. Not the best, but acceptable. It was a relief to find that Harry stocked decent Firewhisky rather than some Yankee swill.
Harry downed his in one go. That told Draco rather a lot about his current mental state. Perhaps Harry was not so predictable, after all. "Need another, Potter?"
Harry stared at him for a moment, then marched back into the kitchen. He returned with a half-full bottle of Firewhisky, poured himself another three fingers' worth, then set the bottle on the glass-topped coffee table. "Talk," he said, dropping onto the couch.
Draco seated himself in an extra-wide armchair. It was the sort of chair that was made for curling up in, and he found himself wanting to do just that.
"Nice place," he said. It was true. There was a reassuring absence of Gryffindor red. The room somehow had the feel of a beach house, done in shades of beige and blue. Calming.
Not that it seemed to be having that effect on the man across from him.
"Just tell me how you found me," Harry said. He hadn't downed his second drink in one shot, but the level in his glass was already lower than in Draco's, and Draco was still on his first.
"Who are you hiding from?"
The overhead light flickered. A charge crackled in the air and brushed Draco's skin. "Malfoy," Harry said. A warning.
Draco hesitated. Time to decide. Truth or lie.
"I didn't," he said. "Or rather, not on purpose. Believe it or not, Potter, I was actually looking for Evan James. He just happens to be you."
"Why?" Harry took another swallow. Second drink gone. He poured another. If Harry made a habit of going through Firewhisky this fast, the Saviour of the Wizarding World had a serious drinking problem.
"Kingsley Shacklebolt was poisoned last week," Draco said. "Venom from a very rare breed of fish. Circe's Lionfish. Ring any bells?"
Harry looked at him sharply. "They are rare," he said. "Shacklebolt?" His hand shook, rattling the ice cubes that were melting in his glass. Third drink, first set of ice cubes. Draco wondered if he should be concerned.
"He'll live. It was touch and go for a while."
Harry nodded. "That's good. He's a good man." He lifted his glass, then, as if he had changed his mind, lowered it without drinking. They sat in silence for a long moment. "Do they have any idea who?"
"The usual suspects." Draco shrugged. "Investigation's stalled through Ministry channels. I thought I'd try another angle. Do you always drink this much?"
"Only on special occasions." Harry drained his glass, as if proving a point. He poured another. They weren't singles, either. At this rate, Draco had better talk fast. There was a looseness in Harry's movements that hadn't been there a few minutes ago. "So why are you here?"
"I don't betray my sources," Draco said. "Let's just say that I have reason to believe that the venom came from overseas. More specifically… your store."
"Impossible." Another swallow. The liquid level had dropped perceptibly when he set down his glass.
"Why? Don't tell me because you don't have the fish. I know you do."
"I don't sell them," Harry said. His speech was less clear than it had been. He blinked before continuing. Clearly, Potter did not habitually drink four large glasses of Firewhisky in half an hour. Draco didn't know whether to be relieved or insulted. "I don't sell the venom. I have been known to provide some, free of charge, to the Department of Mysteries—only at Hermione's request and under her shupervision. Supervision."
Which confirmed Draco's suspicions. Harry might breed a fish that appealed to his Gryffindor sense of danger—recklessness, really—but he was too responsible to make it publicly available.
"Who else has access?"
"No one that I don't trust," Harry said. He peered at Draco. "'S'a bug on your shoulder. Lemme see."
Draco swatted it away. "Try to stay on topic. We're talking about who has access. Morrow, right?"
"And Gerret Hale, my custodian. Known them both for years." Something in the way he said it gave Draco pause. The flush on Harry's cheeks had risen too quickly to be due to the alcohol.
"Known them… how well?" Draco's reporter instincts kicked in too late. That was the wrong question He saw it by the way Harry's face hardened.
"Well enough. We done here?" Harry downed most of his remaining drink.
"You wanted to know how I found you," Draco said. "Satisfied?"
Harry shook his head. "Not nearly." He pointed a finger at Draco, still holding his glass. "You're a reporter. I know. Kept track of you. You'll write this… tell them… but I'll be gone. Again. Be someone else. Damn it, Draco, I liked it here. I had people again."
Draco blinked at the use of his given name.
"You mean Morrow and Anna," Draco said. "They're like the weas--Weasley and Granger, aren't they? Potter, if you miss your friends that much, why don't you come home?"
"S'not like Ron," Harry said. "Mitch loved me back."
Well, that was interesting. Draco, for once, didn't know what to say. Even the fact that Harry had an ex-boyfriend, as opposed to an ex-girlfriend, would guarantee page one… add in the Weasley connection and Draco was looking at pure journalistic gold.
The flush drained from Harry's cheeks. He set his unfinished drink down on the coffee table. "You should go," he said, enunciating. He leaned his head against the back of the couch, eyes closed, neck a tense line.
"Probably," Draco said. He stood. He was a reporter, not a leech. Taking advantage of someone who was this much of a mess was just wrong; Harry had already given him more than he probably intended. But Draco wasn't ready to leave quite yet. "Think about why you're running, Potter. If I were you, I'd have that answer before I took off again. There are things you can run from and things you have to face, and a smart man knows the difference."
Harry was quiet for long enough that Draco thought he might have fallen asleep. "Never been smart," he said finally.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Don't get maudlin. It doesn't suit you. Some people," he said, pausing for effect, "simply should not drink."
"Piss off, Malfoy," Harry said. This time, Draco waited. After a moment, the tenseness left Harry's neck and shoulders. His breathing slowed and deepened. Draco didn't move. Another few breaths and Harry's head lolled to the side.
"Hello, Potter. Good to see you, too," Draco said. "Why yes, it has been a long time. I'm a reporter now, did you know? Quite famous. And yourself? Ah, still a stupid prat, I see."
The only response was a slight snore.
He shook his head. The article was already writing itself in his mind. He paced, letting it develop. Potter's pathetic existence. His replacement friends. His fascination with rare and poisonous fish. Certain other fish had hallucinogenic properties, Draco knew; he wondered what a little more digging might unearth. He would allude carefully to the question of alcohol abuse, leaving it to his readers to draw their own conclusions at his description of their hero, sprawled drunkenly on his own couch.
He could see the headline now: The Cost of Victory.
Prestidigiter Prize material, indeed.
Draco wasn't a leech, but he was a reporter. Maybe just one small look around. After all, he owed it to Harry to get the facts right. Besides, he had shared information with Harry, telling him about Shacklebolt. Harry had passed out before Draco could properly press him for details about his own life in return.
And what was that all about, anyhow? The man that Draco remembered would never drink himself into oblivion with a known enemy in the room. It was as though Harry thought he had nothing to lose. Or… as though he had already lost it.
Draco sat on the couch beside Harry, resting his elbows on his knees, looking sideways at his old rival. "Is that it, Potter? I show up, you throw in the towel? Pack up and leave, start over somewhere else? That's not like you. You want this new life so much, fight for it." He paused. "It's no fun if you don't fight."
There was no response from Harry, just the steady rise and fall of his breathing.
Draco snorted. "Evan James. Sentimental Gryffindork. Choose another name like that and I'll find you in a heartbeat. Solarius Karp… now that had flair. Too bad you'll never get to meet him, Evan."
He wasn't sure why he felt the need to talk to Harry—or rather, at him. "This is stupid," he said, standing abruptly.
He moved back to the mantel, taking more careful note of the faces in the photos, filing them away for future reference. These were Harry's friends, the people he cared about. The photo of Harry with Weasley and Granger was a puzzle; either his roommate knew who he really was, or else she had so little idea of what had happened in England that she wouldn't recognize their faces. Or Harry's, for that matter.
Draco knew that the war against Voldemort hadn't been front-page news over here, but surely people would recognize Harry Potter? It wasn't like the man was easy to miss. The trademark messy hair. The scar. The ridiculous fashion sense.
He looked back at Harry, who hadn't moved. Couldn't keep from looking at him. It was like picking at a scab.
"You're going to wake up with a sore neck, you know," he said. "But I suppose that will have nothing on the hangover."
He wandered into the kitchen, mostly so he didn't feel like he was watching Harry sleep. The kitchen was bright and sunny, with a window that looked out on a patch of ocean, if Draco craned his neck and squinted and ignored the three other apartment buildings in the way. A stack of papers sat on the counter, so Draco rifled through them. Nothing personal; mostly bills. Harry paid for his Muggle electricity on time and subscribed to cable. Draco felt vaguely chuffed that he knew what that meant.
A glance in the cupboards revealed a wide selection of foods that came in boxes. Not many raw ingredients. Harry and his roommate were either busy or poor cooks. A note pad by the telephone showed that someone liked to doodle. Draco couldn't remember noticing whether Harry drew on his notes at school. He memorized the phone number that was scribbled on the pad; he would call it later, to see who picked up.
He felt downright gleeful. Well, why shouldn't he? He had just stumbled across the story of the year. Of course he was excited. The anticipation that warmed his stomach, that just made sense.
Besides, it was fun, snooping through Harry's things.
He passed through the living room again, on his way to the part of the flat that he hadn't explored. The bathroom was reasonably clean, with more girly things than boy things on the counter. On a hunch, Draco opened the medicine cabinet. Prescription sleep-aid medicine for Evan James, largely untouched. Interesting. Also telling that Harry went to a Muggle doctor, rather than a wizarding one, especially when his roommate was training to be a Medic.
The first bedroom Draco glanced into seemed to be Anna's. He moved on.
Harry's bedroom was smaller, the bed neatly made. At a glance, it seemed impersonal. Pale blue walls, dark blue bedspread. Not much clutter. Seashells were carefully arranged on the window ledge and dresser; they didn't have the polished look of store-bought shells. Draco assumed that Harry had collected them himself. He had a sudden image of Harry walking along a beach, early in the morning. He'd have his hands in his pockets, his head down.
The window was open. There was a hint of salt in the air.
The photo on the bedside table… at first, Draco thought it was Harry and the Weaslette, but the style of the clothes bespoke an earlier time. Those had to be Harry's parents. He looked closer. In the photo, Harry's father looked younger than Harry was now. And happy. They looked happy together.
Discomfort stirred in Draco's gut. Harry kept a picture of his parents here, where it might be the last thing he saw before he went to sleep, the first thing he saw on waking. This was more private than a cable bill.
Draco resolved to leave that detail out of the article, at the same time as his treacherous brain was figuring out the best way to work it in. On a hunch, he opened the bedside table drawer.
Jackpot. Harry kept a journal.
An excited buzzing had him swatting the air again. Did Harry have a bug problem in the apartment? It seemed clean enough. It had to be a Florida thing—Draco just couldn't seem to get away from the sodding insects. He didn't see how Harry could stand to live here.
He started to close the drawer but hesitated. His fingers lingered brushed over the spiral-bound notebook. Snooping on the surface had been one thing; this was entirely different.
But if he was going to do Harry justice, he needed to know how his mind worked. And Harry certainly wasn't about to open up to him. He wouldn't quote anything from the journal directly; he would just use it to inform his research. He snatched up the notebook, ignoring the clamminess of his hands and the pounding in his chest.
A crocheted blanket lay across the foot of Harry's bedspread. There was something very Weasley about that. It didn't look bad; quite nice, actually. Just rather… homemade. The blanket was built of little crocheted squares sewn in rows, each a different shade of blue. There didn't seem to be any pattern to the colours. They rippled together.
Draco touched it. The wool felt soft and warm against his skin. Without reflecting too closely on his motives, he picked up the blanket, and then carried both it and the journal back to the living room.
Harry hadn't moved, except perhaps to slump more severely to the side. He was snoring steadily now, which Draco found amusing. At least it wasn't too loud.
He didn't resist or react at all when Draco lowered him into a more comfortable position against the armrest, nor when Draco removed his shoes and lifted his legs up onto the couch.
Draco even removed Harry's glasses and covered him with the crocheted blanket. "Better?" he asked. Never let it be said that he didn't have a heart.
He glanced uneasily at the journal on the coffee table, then back at Harry. "You don't mind, do you? Just speak up if there's a problem." He sat at the foot of the couch. It felt nearly domestic, Harry napping at one end of the couch, Draco sitting down to read. Except that they were basically strangers and Harry was passed out in a drunken stupor, not napping, and Draco was snooping through his private papers. Except for that.
He picked up the journal.
He couldn't make himself open it.
"Damn it, Potter, how do you do that?" He glared at Harry, who slept on, oblivious, and yet somehow managing to prevent Draco from reading his journal. "You are insufferable, do you know that?" He slammed the journal down on the table.
Harry stirred and groaned. At that moment, Draco heard the doorknob turn. "Gah!" He stared at Harry, who seemed on the verge of waking, and at the journal.
There was nothing for it. He pulled out his wand and shrank the journal, then stuffed it into his pocket. He composed himself just as the door opened and Anna walked in. "Hello!" she called from the entryway.
"M'here," Harry mumbled, or something like that. His eyes worked to open.
"Shhh, it's all right, go back to sleep," Draco said, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder. Things would go so much more smoothly with the roommate if Harry weren't awake to contradict him. To his relief, the soothing worked. Harry sighed and settled down again, mouth slightly open, breathing deep and steady.
"Evan?" Anna stood in the hallway, staring at Draco. His estimation of her went up a notch when he saw that her wand was already drawn and pointed at him. "Who are you?"
Draco held his hands in plain sight and stood, slowly. "An old friend," he said. Which was true, except for the 'friend' part. "My name is Solarius Karp." He hoped that Harry would have the sense not to contradict him, later. The false name was for Harry's own protection, after all. 'Draco Malfoy' was connected to Harry Potter; 'Solarius Karp' was not.
"What's wrong with Evan?"
"He's had rather a lot to drink," Draco said.
Anna raised an eyebrow. "He doesn't drink."
"Not very well, no," Draco said. She didn't smile, but she did lower her wand. Draco sighed and ran his fingers through his hair in a way that he knew was especially appealing. "Look, I'm afraid he's had a bit of a shock. I had to bring him some bad news about… someone we both knew. He didn't take it well. Chugged back a quarter of your bottle of Firewhisky, then passed out. I, er, didn't want to leave him."
Any one of those sentences, taken individually, was true. If she drew an incorrect conclusion, that was hardly his fault, was it?
Her face, while he had been speaking, had run the gamut from shocked to horrified to pitying. "What happened? Did someone die? He doesn't—I don't know very much about his old life, I'm afraid."
"I'd rather leave it for him to tell," Draco said. "Not my place, you know?"
"Of course. No, you're right. Thanks for looking after him," Anna said. She moved to the couch, looking down at Harry with concern. "I'll make sure he's okay." There was something maternal about the way she looked, and something very young about Harry, curled up under the blanket, sleeping with his face pressed into the sofa cushions. Draco had a feeling Harry was in good hands.
He nodded. "I'll see myself out."
"Thank you… Solarius," Anna said. "Does Evan have—is there a number where we can reach you?"
"He knows how to find me," Draco said.
Once outside the flat, he sagged against the wall. That had been entirely too close.
Part Three: Contract
M. stayed here last night. Still here, actually. Too much Firewhisky at the store opening party. One thing led to another, and…
I suppose, technically, he was already my employee. The store opened yesterday, after all. Hermione would have a thing or two to say about that.
You know what? I don't care. I trust him. He makes me happy. Maybe this doesn't have to be a big deal. Maybe…
* * *
The owl came early the next day. Harry, apparently, was an early riser, even with the hangover he must have. The note was short and to the point. "Bring it back."
"Well, he's noticed it's gone," Draco said to the owl as he offered it a treat. "What do you expect he'll offer to get it back? Exclusive interview, maybe?"
It wasn't likely that Harry would believe him, but Draco still hadn't read the journal. It felt… beneath his dignity, somehow, to do so. He ignored the image that insisted on popping into his mind: Harry, face finally peaceful in sleep. That had nothing to do with why Draco hadn't read the journal.
He considered for a moment before composing his reply.
"Meet me. Fisherman's Horn, six o'clock." He chose a Muggle pub so that Harry couldn't Apparate out once had had the journal.
This was going to be a brilliant story.
* * *
Harry slouched into the pub ten minutes after Draco got there—still early, according to the time Draco had suggested. He looked distinctly ill. Must have been one hell of a hangover. Draco wondered how much he remembered about the night before. The most interesting comment, the one about Mitch—unlike Ron—loving Harry back, had been made when Harry was well on his way to passing out. How likely would Harry be to discuss that sober? Something like that… Harry Potter's unrequited love for the one of Britain's foremost Aurors… that was news.
"Potter," Draco said by way of greeting.
"Malfoy." Harry dropped into a chair. Stubble darkened his face and his eyes were bloodshot. "Where is it?"
"Safe," Draco said.
Harry leaned across the table so that Draco could see his wand poking out of the sleeve of the denim jacket he wore. "Don't give me that crap," he whispered. "This hasn't been a good day. Just hand it over."
"I can't," Draco said. "It isn't here."
At that, the fight seemed to drain out of Harry. He sagged back in his chair, eyes closed. "No, I suppose not," he said. "When's the publication date?"
Draco snorted. "Don't flatter yourself, Potter. The wizarding world hardly cares about your nightly ramblings that much." Which was probably not true, but it helped his case.
Harry's eyes popped open. He sat up straight again. "Morning."
"Morning ramblings. You would know that if you had read them."
Draco waved a hand. "Well, it just so happens, I didn't. Not that I expect you to believe me, but I didn't plan to take your book."
"No, you just happened to be snooping in my bedside table and it fell into your hand before you left. But why take it if you weren't going to read it? That doesn't make sense." Harry stared at him as though trying to get inside his mind. "It's not as though you respect anyone's privacy."
That was a bit rich. Harry Potter, accusing anyone of being a snoop? A bit like the pot calling the cauldron black. Had he forgotten sixth year completely?
A waitress appeared before Draco could speak. Probably just as well. He ordered a pint of Muggle ale. Harry raised an eyebrow at that, but shuddered when the waitress asked if he'd like the same. He ordered a soft drink.
A hell of a hangover, indeed.
"Well?" Harry asked when she had left.
"Had a change of heart, I suppose," Draco said. He faked a yawn. "Or perhaps I started to read it, but it bored me to tears. Did you ever think of that?"
Harry's mouth quirked up on one side.
"What, you doubt me? Do you want me to read the thing, Potter? Keep grinning like that and I will." He was starting to regret this meeting. Perhaps he ought to hang onto the book for just a while longer. He might overcome whatever uncomfortable morality was keeping him from reading it—surely it was only temporary. Draco had never been overly troubled with morals before.
Harry held up a hand. "Wait. Don't say anything." He stared past Draco.
"I thought I saw—never mind. You couldn't—no. It doesn't make sense."
Something wasn't making sense. Draco was pretty sure it was Harry. "Couldn't what, Potter?"
"Nothing. Never mind. It was just a bug. I'm being paranoid."
Draco snorted. "You've got enough of them around here. I don't know how you stand it."
"So we've established that you're not here for the wildlife. What do you want?" Harry asked.
Draco had his answer planned. "Facts. And I don't want to wade through the mental vomit of your diary to get them. You grant me an interview—a fair interview, Potter, no dodging questions. I want the truth. In exchange, I'll return your precious journal, unpublished and unread."
Their drinks arrived. Draco nodded his thanks to the waitress, never taking his eyes off Harry while he waited for a response.
Harry shook his head. "I don't understand. You could probably dredge up what you want from my journal."
True. Draco had no doubt that, based on the contents of the journal and his own observations of Harry, he could write a front-page expose. But that was trashy journalism. A soul-baring interview with a former nemesis… that was the stuff Prestidigiter Prizes were made of.
"I want to give you a chance to tell your story properly," Draco said. He took a sip. Bitter, but not terrible.
"Out of the generosity of your heart."
Draco shrugged. "Perhaps not. Do my motives concern you that much?"
Those green eyes narrowed. "They always have."
"Potter, you flatterer. So do I get my interview?"
Harry leaned back again. His stillness seemed measured, deliberate. Draco could almost hear him weighing his options. "I don't want to tell my story properly," he said finally. "I don't want to tell it at all. If I did, I'd still be in England. I'd be Harry Potter, not Evan James. But it seems I don't have a choice—you'll get your story either way."
Draco nodded. This was better. Now Harry was starting to catch on.
"I'll do you one better," Harry said.
* * *
Draco sat on the bench behind Harry's store, where Harry had agreed to meet him. He wasn't sure who had won. That bothered him.
Harry had proposed an information exchange. Facts about him in return for Draco's information about the poisoning. It seemed that Harry wasn't quite as willing as Draco was to dismiss the story. Not that Draco didn't care who had supplied the poison, or why his sources had led him astray… just that there was a bigger story right there for the taking. After his expose on Harry, Draco would return to the poisoning story.
Harry wanted them to track down the poison supplier together. "That was the story you wanted first," he had pointed out. If it led anywhere, Draco was free to publish their findings so long as he kept Harry's involvement out of it.
Either way, Draco got his interview. Not just an interview—a series of them, until he had the information he needed. His call. All he had to do was promise to sit on the story for a week. Draco knew that Harry was hoping he wouldn't publish it—that he'd go with the poisoning story instead, and be satisfied. He also knew that the week's head start was to give Harry time to do a runner. By the time Draco went public with the news of Harry Potter's whereabouts, Evan James would no longer exist.
Draco thought he could work with that. Harry's hopes aside, the best-case scenario here was that he got two front-page headlines. The worst-case scenario was just one.
Why, then, did he feel like even hung over, Harry had managed to get one up on him again?
He held Harry's book in his hands. Harry wanted it back. Draco was Slytherin enough to know his opponent—he knew that Harry wouldn't go back on his word. Draco was going to get his interview. Still, it galled him to let an opportunity like this one slip through his hands. Literally.
Draco was early. Harry shouldn't be out for another ten minutes. He wanted to know what he was giving away. But if Harry came out and caught him reading it, it was game over.
Well, he didn't have to decide now, did he? Was he a wizard or not?
Draco set the journal down on the bench beside him. Muttering a quick spell, he tapped it with his wand. A duplicate journal appeared beside it, identical to the first. He shrank it and tucked it into his pocket. It never hurt to have insurance. If Harry's interview failed to live up to expectations, Draco had something to fall back on. And, in fact, he had promised to return the journal unread and unpublished. He had said nothing about uncopied.
Thus justified, he settled into wait for Harry. It didn't take long. Harry stepped through the door and into the parking lot, just like the first day, when they had taken on the muggers together. Muggle muggers. That it even crossed Draco's mind to snicker at that was a mark of how nervous he was.
He waited for Harry to turn his back so he could wipe his hands on his shorts. It didn't happen. Harry stood in the parking lot, holding the door open. He waved Draco over.
Something came up at the store? Draco didn't mind. Maybe Harry would let him take a look at the lionfish. His readers might appreciate a description. A photo would be even better. He couldn't imagine Harry objecting to that.
Harry had even agreed to let Draco take a picture of him to go with the interview, so long as he got to approve it. Draco wasn't much of a photographer, but bringing someone in was out of the question. He would manage.
Draco crossed the parking lot. It was a simmering hot day; he was glad to reach the cool confines of the store.
"I thought we'd start here today," Harry said. "You might as well see where I work. The real part, I mean. Not just the front." Draco had admitted to being in the store under an assumed name. Better to have that established up front than to have Harry find out from Morrow and get angry.
Draco nodded. "Sounds good. Here." He passed Harry his journal.
Harry took it, looking slightly surprised.
"That was the deal, wasn't it?" Draco asked.
"Yeah. I just—thanks," he said, tucking it into his pocket. He ushered Draco inside. "What do you know about magical tropical fish?"
Draco rattled off the facts he had obtained through his research, ending with Circe's Lionfish. "They're rarely seen in the wild, and quite difficult to breed in captivity," he said. "That was why my sources led me here. To Evan James." He allowed himself a brief smile as they walked together down a set of concrete stairs.
Harry had the grace to look sheepish, but not for long. "Not difficult. Impossible to breed in captivity," he said. "Like most magical fish."
"They don't know they're in captivity," Harry said. Draco heard pride in his voice. They reached the bottom step.
Water lapped against it. Water that Draco had neither heard, nor seen, nor smelled before he reached that step. A moment ago, it had looked like he would step down onto concrete. Now, it looked as though he would step onto a shallow, sunlit beach. Sand and rock shimmered under the water, only an inch deep by the step, but quickly dropping down as Draco looked out.
The basement had grown larger, too. It was as if Harry had captured a lake.
"A sea," Harry corrected, as if Draco had spoken aloud. Perhaps he had. "Salt water."
"This is incredible," Draco said. "How did you do it?"
Harry smiled. "That would be telling. Let's just say it has a lot to do with being so near the ocean, and I wasn't able to do it overnight."
Harry might brush it off, but Draco knew it took incredibly powerful magic to create an illusion this strong. If, indeed, it was an illusion. Draco wasn't sure.
The reporter in him wanted to know how and why. Another, deeper urge had him crouching on the step and dipping his hand in the water. Ripples formed where his fingers touched it. It felt cool to the touch. It felt real. "Incredible," he said again.
Harry crouched beside him, grinning. "Do you want to see the fish?"
It took a series of charms and spells. Draco remembered the bubble-head charm from the Triwizard Tournament. Harry didn't cast that one, just told Draco to use it when he was about to go under. There were others. A warming charm. One that Harry said would make their skin impervious—that was important. Many of these fish were poisonous, Circe's Lionfish not least among them. There were other spells that Draco assumed had something to do with the illusions or whatever it was that allowed Harry to have a sea in his basement. Finally, Harry decreed them ready.
The last step was one Draco hadn't expected. Harry stripped down to his boxers. "Saves drying them, later," he said, piling his clothes on a higher step. He seemed completely unselfconscious.
He had reason to be, Draco decided. Far from appearing scrawny, unclothed, Harry had the lean, tapered body of a swimmer. The Florida sun had darkened his skin to a rich, even tan. Draco averted his eyes.
"You can go in like that if you want," Harry said, sounding amused. "Your clothes might get heavy."
Not to be outdone, Draco removed his own clothing, down to a pair of green silk boxer shorts. Harry snorted. Draco ignored him. His skin looked silver-pale beside Harry's.
Harry nodded approvingly—at his decision to play along, or at something else?—then took a few quick, splashing steps into the water that quickly rose to the level of his thighs. "Whenever you're ready," he said, before diving in.
Draco waited. When Harry didn't surface, he felt oddly anxious until he remembered the bubble-head charm.
He waded in, more slowly than Harry had done. The water felt downright cold, an icy band around his shins, rising higher with each step. Now knees, now thighs. Draco gritted his teeth at the thought of what came next.
Firm hands gripped his legs from below and yanked. Draco felt himself pulled under. He splashed to the surface, sputtering and thrashing. "Potter! I'll kill you." Thoroughly wet already, he cast his own bubble-head charm, and then dove under, seeking Harry.
There—ahead, dodging through the seaweed. Draco swam after Harry. Harry remained teasingly ahead, an elusive shape pulling Draco deeper and deeper into the… whatever this was. Illusion. Aquarium. Sea.
It was incredible. Draco forgot his pursuit when they reached the reef—a bank of magical coral that glowed every colour imaginable, pulsating and changing even as Draco watched. He let himself drift, content to observe. A school of pale Unicorn fish swam by, their ivory horns no longer than Draco's baby finger. Tiny Sea Dragons hovered close to the reef, clinging with their tails, using their miniature wings to propel themselves into hiding at Draco's approach.
Harry waved Draco closer. Draco swam to his side. He couldn't help but notice the way Harry's hair floated and waved in the water. Harry looked like he belonged down here. Draco wondered how much time he spent here, each day. If Draco had a place like this to retreat to, he would do it every chance he got.
iHarry Potter has an ocean in his basement./i It wasn't a bad opening line. Of course, it would take a different angle than the 'Price of Victory' article… this would be more along the lines of "The Boy Who Lived a New Life". But he could make it work.
Certainly, Harry would be happier with it.
Suddenly, Draco felt Harry grip his arm. He looked up, startled, as Harry let his grasp slide down Draco's arm to his hand. Harry gestured with a finger to his lips—not necessary, since they couldn't speak through the bubble-head charms, but Draco got the idea—then pointed with their joined hands to a place on the reef.
The Lionfish darted out of a narrow opening, its spines quivering. Its natural deep purple colour shimmered, then rippled as it adjusted itself to blend with its surroundings. A herd of Sea Dragons swam closer. The Lionfish rippled again, then suddenly took on the appearance of a Sea Dragon.
That was the reason why Circe's Lionfish was so rarely seen in the wild, Draco knew. It could disguise itself to look like anything. Few had Harry's advantage of long-term observation, to see it in its natural form.
Draco had seen many unusual things in his life. So far as he knew, not even his father had ever seen Circe's Lionfish in its natural environment—or something approximating it, he reminded himself. He squeezed Harry's hand in appreciation. Even through the bubble mask, Harry's smile lit up his face.
Draco's sources had told him that Evan James was one of the only breeders of Circe's Lionfish in the world. They hadn't made clear to him what an amazing accomplishment that was.
Somehow, he wasn't surprised that Harry Potter was the man responsible.
They swam together, their fingers still joined. Harry seemed to have forgotten, intent on watching the fish. The fish were beautiful, it was true. Draco found himself more intent on watching Harry.
An Angelfish swam close to Draco, close enough that he could hear it sing. The music seemed to be part of the water, hypnotic and ever-changing. It swam away. He tried to follow, but was stopped by Harry's grip on his hand. Harry shook his head and tapped his left wrist. Surely they hadn't been down for an hour yet?
And then Harry was tugging him away from the reef, into the shallower waters. Draco's bubble-head charm wore off just as he broke the surface. The sky above them changed as they waded out of the water. It took on edges. Before he was ready, Draco found himself drawn up onto the first of the concrete steps. One more step up, he knew, and the water would disappear. He wasn't ready for that.
Harry's hand was still in his. At a slight pressure, Draco pulled his eyes away from the magical sea and toward Harry, who was staring at him, an intent look on his face. By tacit agreement, neither of them had spoken since coming out of the water.
Beads of water trickled over Harry's skin. His wet boxers clung. Draco realized that he needed to break the moment before he embarrassed himself.
He squeezed Harry's hand, then let go. One step up and the magic was gone. "That was really something, Potter," he said, his voice uncomfortably loud in the close, echoing stairwell. "Don't suppose you know a good drying charm?"
Unsurprisingly, Harry did.
* * *
The swim had led to dinner, Draco's initial interview taking place over take-out curry in Harry's flat. Harry seemed disinclined to go out, and much as Draco was loathe to admit it, spending an hour swimming had worn him out. His muscles felt pleasantly leaden. He was quite happy to collapse onto Harry's couch and eat curry from take-out boxes while they talked.
And they did talk. It felt more like a conversation than an interview, as was Draco's intent. He didn't take notes or record Harry's words; if he did, Harry might remember that he wasn't talking to a friend. The swim had changed something. Harry was open with him. He liked it.
It was the best thing possible for his story.
That was probably why Draco felt resentful when the door opened.
"Evan! Look who I found," Anna called from the entryway. She stopped when she saw Draco. "Oh."
"Anna, you remember Solarius," Harry said.
She nodded, looking wary. At that moment, Mitch crowded in behind her, followed by another man, someone Draco didn't recognize.
Through introductions, it emerged that the new man was Joshua, and while it was not explicitly stated, Draco gathered that he was Mitch's date. He glanced at Harry to see how he took this development. Harry's face was neutral—too much so. It wasn't natural.
iMitch loved me back,/i Harry had said. Past tense. Draco wondered just how past.
"I know you," Mitch said, looking at Draco. "Solarius Karp, right? From the store. What are you—?"
"Doing here?" Draco finished. "I'm afraid I owe you an apology," he said. "I wasn't completely honest with you. I needed to track down Evan over a… private matter. I thought going through the store was the best way to do it. Evan, of course, recognized my name on the card you gave him and looked me up at once. We're old friends."
It fit well enough with the story he had given Anna. He also let his voice slide a little on 'old friends', implying that perhaps they had been more. He could do that much for Harry, at least, if Harry's ex insisted on bringing attractive new dates back to his flat.
And Joshua was attractive, with his tight-braided hair and his toned arms. His large, dark eyes did nothing for Draco, who preferred a brighter colour—and why did green pop into his mind?—but there was no denying that the man was fit.
Draco hated that the others were here. He hated that he and Harry had to play Solarius and Evan, rather than continuing their conversation. Hated feeling like a fifth wheel; Anna let slip that she had brought Mitch and Joshua back to the flat, thinking they'd make up a foursome for cards.
He hated cards. "I should be leaving anyhow," he said. "It's getting late." He faked a yawn, which quickly turned into a real one.
Mitch's eyes darted from Harry to Draco. "No, seriously, stay," he said. "We don't want to kick you out. I want to hear about Evan's school days; you probably know gobs of stories. Besides, I just learned this awesome card game for five."
He was making an effort; Draco would say that much for him. But he wasn't sure he was up to a long evening of 'Solarius' making up stories about 'Evan's' school days.
"I'd like it if you stayed," Harry said quietly. And Draco found himself staying.
Mitch's card game was simple enough. Draco caught on quickly and was soon winning. He didn't like cards. That didn't mean he wasn't good at them.
"Evan, dude, you brought in a ringer," Mitch complained.
Harry smiled. "Solarius always was good at strategy," he said.
Draco glanced at him to see if he meant that as an insult, but Harry's smile seemed real enough.
Joshua and Mitch glanced at each other. Mitch shrugged. Joshua turned to Harry and Draco. "I'm not sure if strategy comes into it, but there's a beach volleyball tournament tomorrow. Our team could use a couple more players, if you're interested."
Draco wasn't even sure what volleyball was. He was about to decline when Harry spoke up. "Sure. Why not?" He didn't acknowledge the sharp kick that Draco delivered under the table.
Just for that, Draco spent the next two rounds taking all of Harry's best cards.
Wine flowed freely around the table. Draco was amused to see that Harry stuck to water. When Mitch wandered into the kitchen and brought out the bottle of Firewhisky, Harry actually blanched.
"It's not funny," Anna said, rounding on Mitch. "And I don't think there's any need for that, either. You know Evan doesn't drink it. We can enjoy a civilized evening for once without it ending with someone holding your head over my toilet."
For once? But it wasn't that statement that had Draco staring so much as the fact that Anna seemed to be channeling Hermione Granger. He blinked.
"Astonishing, isn't it?" Harry murmured.
"Truly," Draco said.
Anna, who obviously had no idea what they were talking about, glared.
Mitch laughed and stood up, pulling Joshua with him. "Anna, my darling, I love you. But the night is young. I think Joshua and I will be off. Greener pastures and all that jazz." He nodded to Draco. "A pleasure to meet you."
Handshakes and hugs were exchanged, then Draco, Harry and Anna found themselves sitting together in the suddenly quiet living room.
"I should—" Draco started, at the same time as Anna spoke.
"I think I'll turn in," she said.
They looked at each other. She gave him a small smile and a nod. "Long day," she said. "Really. It was good seeing you again, Solarius."
"You, too," Draco said. He waited until she had gone down the hall and entered her room before he turned to Harry. "Was that her leaving us alone?"
"I think so," Harry said.
Draco laughed. "If only she knew."
There was something slightly off about Harry's answering smile.
Draco cast a muffling spell, thinking they might continue their earlier conversation. When he looked up again, Harry was staring down the hall, a wistful expression on his face. "She's a good person," he said. "I wish—"
"You wish you could tell her who you are," Draco said. "Why don't you?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"No, obviously I'd know nothing about being judged based on a name," Draco said, more sharply than he'd intended. The wine had made him careless.
Rather than rising to the bait, Harry simply shrugged. "It doesn't matter." He turned to Draco. "There's something I want you to see."
Draco raised an eyebrow. Harry lit a fire in fireplace with a wave of his hand and sat down on the carpet in front of it. He pulled his journal from his pocket. "Thanks for returning it," he said.
Draco held his breath. He sat down beside Harry, expecting him to turn to some particularly significant passage and share it. Instead, Harry tossed the book into the fire.
Draco stifled the noise of protest he had been about to make. "Why?" he asked instead.
"It was a liability," Harry said. "I'm the last person in the world who should be writing down secrets. The journal… it helped me work through some stuff. It did help. But it was a bad idea." He shrugged. "Lesson learned."
Draco still had a copy of the journal shrunken in his own pocket. It seemed to burn in response as the original blazed in the fireplace.
He could destroy it. He should. But it was now the last surviving record of Harry's thoughts and secrets. Someday, Harry might want to see it again. Perhaps if he just kept it safe.
Harry had pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, watching the journal burn. Firelight reflected off his glasses, hiding his eyes.
On impulse, Draco reached for Harry's glasses and pulled them off. "That's better," he said, riding over Harry's protest. "I wanted to see what you were thinking."
Instantly, Harry's eyes went opaque. Too late. Draco had seen the vulnerability there. He placed a hand on Harry's shoulder. After a moment, Harry sighed and relaxed. They watched the fire together.
Warmth and wine and tired muscles lulled Draco into a daze. He wasn't sure how much time passed before Harry spoke. "You're not like I thought," he said.
"I suppose," Draco said, "that makes two of us." He'd have liked to return to dignified silence, but a huge yawn split his face.
Harry laughed. "Past your bedtime," he said. Then he looked down at his hands. "You could stay."
"Not—I meant on the couch. Where I, uh, the other night. There seems to be a blanket." The blue crocheted throw that Draco had placed over Harry was neatly arranged on the back of the couch.
"A Molly Weasley special, if I'm not mistaken," Draco said. When in doubt, change the subject.
"Why would—oh. No. I made that myself," Harry said.
Now that was unexpected. "You made it?"
Harry nodded. "Molly taught me to crochet," he said. He shrugged. "Once, I was stuck in the hospital for a while. Gave my hands something to do. It got to be a habit. Kind of relaxing."
Draco decided not to ask which hospital stay that had been.
Harry was watching him. Draco realized that he still hadn't answered the original question. "Thank you," he said. "But no. I'm up now. Might as well go back to the hotel."
Harry nodded, looking neither disappointed nor pleased.
"Tomorrow?" Draco asked.
Harry nodded. "We have a volleyball tournament, remember?" He laughed at the look on Draco's face, and then sobered. "After that, we talk. Your turn."
Maybe Harry was being friendly only because Draco hadn't yet told him all he knew about the poisoning. Maybe not. Regardless, Draco found himself looking forward to tomorrow.
Part Four: Journal
I think I'm in love.
* * *
Back in his hotel bed, Draco enlarged his copy of Harry's journal and turned it over and over in his hands, not opening it. A crocheting saviour. A basement sea. An ex-boyfriend who looked disturbingly like the weasel.
Secrets in a book that Harry preferred to burn rather than share.
Sighing, Draco tucked the book under his mattress, then went to sleep.
* * *
Draco dove for the ball and missed. Again. This was nothing like Quidditch. His feet felt clumsy, strangled by the sand. Sweat dripped from his hair into his eyes, with no cool, flying-induced breeze to blow it back. He was filthy and sweaty and disgusting.
"Just don't let the ball hit the sand," had been Harry's cryptic instructions. Hardly helpful. Draco couldn't even figure out what the positions were, let alone what he was supposed to be doing.
There was a net. There were disturbingly attractive, barely-clad men on each side of the net, lobbing a ball back and forth. Volleyball, he decided, would be far more enjoyable as a spectator sport. Far, far more enjoyable.
"Switch!" Joshua called. That was Draco's signal to rotate out. Thank Merlin. He flopped down onto the sand beside the court, joined a moment later by Harry. Harry, who wasn't sweating nearly as much. Harry, who looked like a bloody bronzed god in his bathing trunks. Harry, whose fault it was that Draco was here in the first place.
"I know what you're doing," Draco growled, not even bothering with a muffling charm. "You're trying to kill me. You're going to tell me all your secrets, then kill me before I can write the story."
"Keep your voice down," Harry said. He cast the charm to keep their conversation private. "Besides, you're wrong. I wouldn't do that to you."
Draco glanced up, not sure whether or not Harry was joking.
Harry met his gaze quite seriously. "I have no intention of telling you all my secrets before I kill you."
"Tosser." Too tired to sit up, Draco used his toes to flick sand at Harry.
Harry laughed. He passed Draco another bottle of that disgusting orange drink called alligator-aid, or something like that. "Drink this. It will help."
It was lukewarm, but Draco was thirsty enough to guzzle it anyhow. He raised himself up on one elbow, tilted his head back and drank, eyes closed. It did make him feel better. "Thanks," he said, handing the half-empty bottle back to Harry and collapsing into the sand.
Harry was staring at Draco, his face bright red. What was—oh. Draco allowed himself a half smile and a stretch. He felt catlike and lazy, content to be admired without doing anything about it. Lovely to know he still held his own, though, even in the land of the tanned.
Harry made a strangled noise and left.
Fascinating. So much for Gryffindor courage.
Draco dozed in the sun. He was easily the worst player on the team, and felt confident that no one would object if he missed his turn.
He woke with a start when someone sat down beside him. Blinking, he looked up into the freckled face of Ron Weasley. No. His eyes slid into focus. It was Mitch.
Draco pushed himself up to a sitting position. His skin felt strangely cool. He shivered.
"Here," Mitch said. He pulled his wand from a pocket in his bathing trunks. "Finite Incantatum," he said, waving it over Draco. "Evan cast a sunblock charm when he saw you were asleep. Pale English skin and all that jazz."
"Thanks," Draco said, subtly easing his hand away from his own wand, which was never out of reach. It had taken all of his restraint not to attack when Mitch pulled his wand. Stupid, thoughtless Americans who had never lived through a war. He hoped Mitch knew better than to pull his wand on Harry.
He hoped that on any number of levels.
"He's a good guy, Evan. I guess you've known each other a long time?" Mitch asked.
Ah, here it was. The third degree from the Weasel's stand-in. "You might say so," Draco said.
"We dated a while," Mitch offered.
"He told me." Let Mitch make what he would of that.
"You ever—anything serious?" Mitch asked. He picked up a twig and fiddled with it.
Draco considered not answering, but it was too much fun playing along. "Things were quite serious between us at times," he said. It was true, in a way.
"Huh." The twig snapped.
Draco suppressed a smile.
"Are you going back to England soon?"
"Depends how things go here," Draco said.
Mitch nodded as though he had been expecting that. "Look, it might not be my place to say this. It's just that Evan's had a rough time. I think he was involved in that war you lot had a few years back. He gets nightmares."
Draco nodded. That was hardly surprising. "You would, too," he said. Did this man have any idea of what Harry had been through? Clearly not.
Mitch glanced at him before continuing. "He doesn't talk about a lot of stuff from back home. I guess what I want to say is, I'd hate to see him get hurt again, if you know what I mean."
"Did someone hurt him?" Draco gave Mitch his best innocent look.
"You tell me." Mitch stood up and glowered at Draco. "I meant what I said."
Draco nodded. "Of course. And you're quite right, too." He waited until Mitch turned to go before continuing. "It's not your place to say."
Draco caught Harry's quizzical glance from across the volleyball court. He smiled and waved. Then he winced as Harry, who had been looking the wrong way, took a ball to the head.
Bloody dangerous sport, volleyball. Nothing like Quidditch.
* * *
Over dinner and more than one shared bottle of wine, Draco filled Harry in on everything he knew about the poisoning incident. Harry was particularly interested in the question of access—who could have gotten to Shacklebolt? Who prepared his food? The Minister had been poisoned at a gala event. Harry wanted a copy of the guest list.
Draco promised to get him one, although he wasn't sure what Harry thought he could do from here.
They moved on to Draco's own investigation. He had decided to focus on the poison itself, since his knowledge of potions told him it was extremely rare. He explained to Harry how his research had led him to Evan James—and, of course, to Harry.
When Draco told about the other cases where he had beaten the Auror department to the suspect and sent memos to Weasley, Harry laughed, then grew serious. "It's dangerous, Draco. I hope you're not taking chances."
So he was 'Draco' again. A sure sign that Harry was intoxicated. Draco poured the last of the wine into Harry's glass and signaled for the bill.
The restaurant had offered them a view of the ocean. Draco wanted to be closer. After settling up, he led Harry outside.
"Where are we going?" Harry asked. He stumbled on the way out of the restaurant.
"For a walk," Draco said. He was several glasses of wine past Apparating, and he judged himself to be not nearly as drunk as Harry. "Sober you up. Lightweight."
Harry laughed. "Thought you'd had enough of the beach today."
"It's nighttime. It's different." That couldn't be more true. The sand felt cool beneath his feet—he had slipped out of his sandals—and everything was shades of black and silver.
They wandered to the water's edge. Harry didn't take his hand like he had when they were swimming, but he walked close enough that their arms sometimes brushed.
They moved along the beach, away from the city lights. Harry walked with his feet in the water; Draco kept his feet dry. Neither of them spoke.
Suddenly, a pale shape loomed out of the water. Draco gripped Harry's arm. "Stop." With his free hand, he drew his wand and pointed it at the shape.
"What's wrong?" Harry cast a Shielding Charm around them and dropped into a crouch. He was tensed for battle, pointing his own wand ahead. This was the wizard who had defeated Voldemort.
The shape had vanished under the waves. "I thought I saw—" Draco hesitated. Inferi. A dead body in the waves. Something. He shivered.
It surfaced again. "There," he said.
Harry stared at it, then burst out laughing. "That's a piece of driftwood," he said.
Driftwood? "Lumos," Draco cast, and peered ahead. Harry was right. He had panicked over a chunk of wood.
How very Hufflepuff of him.
"What did you think it was?" Harry asked. He must have read something in Draco's face, because his smile disappeared. "It's all right," he said. "You've seen too many things. I know." He didn't move, didn't touch Draco, but somehow Draco felt strengthened by his gaze.
Draco walked over to the offending piece of driftwood and hauled it onto the beach. Harry didn't say anything, didn't try to reassure him that they were in a safe place. They both knew better. Safety wasn't about place.
"It's a nice piece," Harry said.
Silently, Draco agreed. It was a large piece, as big around as a man's leg, hollowed and shaped by the water. Its smooth lines and curves had been bleached by the sun, and now the wood shone silver in the moonlight. It was beautiful.
"Just an ordinary piece of wood," Draco said.
"Until the water takes it," Harry said. "Then it turns into this."
"Swept up by the current and turned into something remarkable?" Draco grinned as he waded back into the ocean to wash the dirt from his hands. "Shaped by hardship? Hmmm. Remind you of anyone?"
Harry snorted. "I'm driftwood? Is that really the best you can come up with? Corny, Draco. Very corny."
"I'm a writer. I'm telling you, it was good. Besides, maybe I meant myself, not you." He splashed water at Harry. "Do you even know what a metaphor is, you uneducated cretin?"
Harry shrugged. "Met one once. It was scary. Had horns and teeth and stuff."
"I'm a tired moron," Harry said, dropping down into the sand. "Have we walked far enough?"
"For now," Draco said. "We still have to walk back, you know." He sat beside Harry, looking out at the water.
"Aren't you sober enough to Apparate yet?"
Draco thought for a moment. "Just about," he decided.
"I can wait." Harry let his head drop onto Draco's shoulder.
Draco sat very still. "Er… Harry?"
"Finally," Harry said. "I wondered when you would use my name. No one does anymore."
"Might that be because you changed it?" But they were off topic now, the topic being the fact that Harry's head was resting on Draco's shoulder.
On second thought, perhaps it was better not to discuss that. Better just to listen to the waves. It was nice here. If Draco had to pick up and start a new life somewhere, this might not be a bad place to choose.
"Why did you come here?" he asked. He felt something crawling on his leg. Ick. He twitched it away, rather than disturbing Harry.
Harry sighed. "That's right, it's your turn again, isn't it? Dinner was my turn to ask questions, now it's your turn." He lifted his head from Draco's shoulder.
"We don't have to."
"No, that was the deal," Harry said. But Draco didn't like that he sounded resigned. And he really didn't like the fact that Harry was sitting apart from him again.
He turned to look at Harry. "Why don't you just talk, then? Tell me what you want to tell me. I won't say anything. There must be something you've been dying to talk about, all these years living as someone else. I'll listen."
Harry's forehead creased, as though he were trying to work out what Draco meant.
"You can lean on me again if you like," Draco said, trying not to sound too needy. "It might be easier for you to talk if we're not looking at each other."
After a moment, Harry did. There were, Draco decided, things you could say on a moonlit beach that you couldn't imagine saying anywhere else.
Harry was silent for a long while. True to his word, Draco stayed quiet, ready to listen. "This isn't what I was going to say," Harry started. "I tried to think of a way to work it in at dinner. I've changed the wards on the store. You can get in now, even without me. If you wanted to meet me there, I mean. Just be careful, all right? Remember the spells."
Draco let that sink in. Why would Harry think he needed to go into the store without him? Then he understood. It was about sharing. That was Harry's safe place. He was letting Draco in. "Thanks," he said. He squeezed Harry's hand. He was a journalist and an ex-Death Eater; trust was a new sensation.
"What I tell you," Harry said finally, "I'd like your word that it won't appear in the article. The rest of it, all right. If you give me a week's warning, you can write it. Not this."
Not entirely sure what he was getting himself into, Draco promised.
Harry seemed satisfied. "There was someone, back at school," he said. "He meant more to me than he should have."
Harry swatted him on the back. "Not everything is about you, you git. I'm talking about Ron. He was my best mate, yeah? But the thing is, as we got older… well, it was easy to brush it off. We were running for our lives most of the time, of course things were going to feel extreme, and none of us expected to live very long." He was quiet for a moment. "Nothing happened. Not like that. But I wanted… more than he was able to give me. And after the war, he figured it out."
Another pause. "He didn't hurt me. He wouldn't. Not on purpose. But it was different after that, with him and Hermione. Like it was always there, sitting between us, even if we didn't talk about it. And they were all I had. They were my family."
"Is that why you left?" Draco asked, forgetting his promise to keep quiet. Harry's head shifted on his shoulder.
"I don't know. That, maybe, and the media. Every time I moved, it was news. When I didn't do anything, it was news—what's wrong with Harry Potter? Or speculation. What would I do, who would I marry. I just… wanted not to be me. If things had been better with Ron and Hermione, maybe I would have made it. Who knows? I ran. Travelled for about a year, then landed here. I met Mitch. Well, you've seen him. You can imagine how that one played out."
Draco could. He put an arm around Harry's shoulder in sympathy. Things that were possible on a moonlit beach.
"It could have been worse, I guess, when we both figured out I was trying to date two people at once. There was the real Mitch, and then the one in my head… who was a stand-in for Ron. I was a mess. I should never have—I'm just lucky he forgave me. I didn't deserve it."
"We've all done unforgivable things," Draco said. "The good people forgive us anyway. Believe me. I'd know." He paused. "He cares about you, you know. Even warned me off you today."
Harry laughed. "Why'd he do a thing like that?"
"I think because he knew I wanted to do this," Draco said. He pulled away from Harry, then gripped his jaw lightly. Now or never. He looked Harry in the eyes, seeking permission, and then kissed him.
It was tentative at first. Not for long. Harry responded, pressing against Draco, opening his mouth and deepening the kiss. He tasted like wine. Draco let him lead. He soon found himself sinking back into the sand, Harry above him, pinning down his wrists as he explored Draco's mouth.
Unable to move his hands, Draco arched against Harry. "Want to touch you," he said, when Harry came up for breath. Harry released his wrists.
He let his hands roam over Harry's body, exploring shoulders broadened by swimming, skin toughened by the sun. Harry moved lower, tracing and lightly biting Draco's neck, and then using his tongue—Draco's hands tightened into fists, digging into Harry's shirt and skin, and that must have hurt, but Harry didn't pause. He was undoing Draco's shirt, now. Draco shoved his hands down, finding Harry's waistband, fumbling at the fastenings. It was all taking too long.
"Can you Apparate?" Harry asked, his voice vibrating against Draco's throat.
"No. Here," Draco said. It wasn't fair that Harry could still form whole sentences. Draco redoubled his efforts to get Harry's pants down and was soon rewarded with a string of incoherencies.
They rubbed against each other like bloody teenagers. It was over as fast as most teenaged encounters Draco remembered, too. This was not, generally speaking, the impression he preferred to make on a first date. They had barely even undressed. Blame it on the setting, but somehow, panting in the sand with Harry lying half on top of him, he couldn't bring himself to care. He let his fingers wander through Harry's tangled hair, soothing and exploring.
"Don' wanna sleep here," Harry said finally, his head heavy on Draco's chest.
"It's all right," Draco said. "I'll take you home."
* * *
Harry was still fast asleep when Draco woke up the next morning. He was pressed up against Draco, breathing steadily into his hair, his arm draped over Draco's chest. Draco rolled over to look at him, noting with some satisfaction that look of utter, relaxed contentment on the other man's face. He had, he thought, accounted for himself somewhat better in Harry's bed than on the beach.
He stretched. His fingers brushed something under the pillow. He pulled it out. It was the small, crocheted square that Harry had insisted on giving him last night—Slytherin green. Draco closed his hand around it. Sap.
He wasn't sure whether he meant himself or Harry.
"Good morning," he whispered. Harry didn't stir. Draco smiled and pressed a kiss to Harry's forehead. Let him sleep. With any luck, Draco would be back before he woke. "I'm going to the hotel," he said quietly. "There's something I have to do."
He slipped out of bed to dress. Harry mumbled a protest, but gave no other sign of waking up. The man slept like the dead. Good thing that hadn't been public knowledge among the Death Eaters; the war might have ended quite differently.
Draco didn't want to leave a note, but he did bring the crocheted square along. That way, if Harry awoke before Draco returned, he would know Draco was thinking of him. "Back soon," he promised.
And when he returned, the second journal would have been destroyed. No more secrets between them.
Part Five: Front Page
Nightmare last night. First one in a while. I think I scared Mitch.
He wanted me to talk about it… he knows I've got secrets. Obviously. He says the stuff I've told him doesn't add up to half a life. The brilliant thing is, he usually lets me get away with it… laughs it off, and says he'll take me anyway.
But last night, he wanted me to tell him what I dreamed. How could I? It's what I always dream. Voldemort. Things that happened; things that could have. Ron and Hermione, dead. Cedric.
It will never go away. I was shivering, I couldn't stop, and I told Mitch I didn't think I'd ever be warm again… I'm not sure I was all the way awake, then. He said he'd make me warm, and he held onto me, but he can't reach all the way through. He just can't. And I think he knows that, and it bothers him.
I wish I could tell him the truth.
* * *
Draco had the Daily Prophet delivered when he was away. He paid extra for the service that would find him wherever he stayed. It was no surprise, then, after he had stopped at a Starbucks to refuel, to see the newspaper folded on the mat before his hotel room door.
The surprise was the headline. 'POTTER SUSPECT IN POISONING CASE'. In smaller print, just below, the article promised 'Details of Harry's Sordid Life in America'. And a picture… Merlin, a picture of them on the beach. Last night.
"No," Draco said, picking it up. It was a joke. Some kind of sick joke. It had to be.
The byline belonged to Rita Skeeter.
"No," he said again, scanning the article. It was all there. Harry. Ron. Mitchell Morrow, touted in large letters as Harry's employee. There were things in the article that Skeeter had no way of knowing—things Harry had only told Draco. She had been spying on him. He had no idea how, but he was bloody well going to find out.
She had followed the story when he had let it drop. He had been playing house with Harry instead of doing his job, and now Harry was going to pay for it.
Feeling sick, he opened the door. His room had been ransacked.
Draco didn't need to check under the mattress to know the journal was gone.
Harry was going to kill him.
No. That wasn't what he was going to do at all. He was going to disappear.
Draco Apparated back to Harry's building, not caring who saw. The wards on Harry's flat were the only things keeping him from Apparating directly into the bedroom. He raced up the stairs, but the door was locked. Banging at it only brought a sleepy, disheveled-looking Anna.
"I'll see if he's here," she said, blinking at Draco. "Didn't you spend the night?"
Draco pushed past her, straight to Harry's bedroom. The bed was rumpled and empty, the Daily Prophet face-down on the floor. "Damn it." He was going to kill Skeeter. No. He was going to Crucio her to within an inch of her ugly, poison-quilled life.
"You can wait," Anna offered.
Draco shook his head. "He won't be back."
* * *
The store. Harry had to go to the store; he wouldn't just leave without making some arrangement. Draco Apparated to the parking lot, then ran around to the front. It was early—the store was still closed—but Draco saw Mitch inside, hunched over the till. He hammered at the door. Mitch looked up in panic, but he opened the door when he saw Draco.
"What is it?" Mitch asked. It was uncharacteristically rude, for him. Had he seen the paper? Not likely. What were the chances of an American wizard subscribing to the Daily Prophet?
"I need to see Harry," Draco said, pushing past him into the store. "Is he here?"
"This early? Not likely," Mitch said. "You two have a fight?" There was a strange gleam in his eyes.
Draco sagged against the counter. The store had been his last hope. "Can I wait? I'm sure he'll be here today. He'll… need to talk to you."
"Look, man, I'd love to let you stay, but I really can't. I've got a lot to do."
"I won't be in your way."
"Sorry," Mitch said, gesturing towards the door. "Come back later, okay? I'm sure you'll fine him… floating around. Just… you gotta go, now."
Something dawned on Draco. He looked up, his hand tightening on his wand. "I called him Harry," he said. "When I came in. You shouldn't know who Harry is."
Mitch swore and reached for his wand, but Draco's reflexes, honed by the war, were infinitely faster. "iPetrificus Totalus!/i" Mitch went rigid and fell against the desk.
Draco lowered him to the floor. "You and I need to talk, but first, I'm going to find Harry." He locked and shuttered the shop with a wave of his wand. "Don't move until I get back." Floating around, Mitch had said. Sick bastard. But it told Draco where to look.
He raced to the back of the store, down the corridor and down the concrete stairs. Just as before, the sea appeared when he reached the bottom step. A dark shape floated face-down in the shallow water. "Harry!"
Draco hauled him up, onto the steps, fighting against Harry's sodden weight. The moment they were both on the stairs, the lake disappeared. Draco held Harry pinned awkwardly, trying to keep him from slipping down as he checked for breathing.
"No. No, you stubborn git, you are not dying. Anapneo!" A gush of water flew from Harry's mouth. "Now breathe! Rennervate!"
Harry didn't wake up. He wasn't breathing. Damn it. Draco didn't even know where the wizarding hospital was, in Florida. It wasn't as though he could Apparate to St. Mungo's.
Or could he?
He gathered Harry up in his arms and Apparated them both to the Portkey station he had originally arrived at. "I need a Portkey to England, now!" he screamed into the crowded confines of wharf-side warehouse.
"Sir, I must ask you to leave," a woman in a uniform said.
"Highly irregular," Draco heard from elsewhere.
"Do you know who this is?" he asked, leaning in close to the uniform. "This is Harry Bloody Potter. He's dying. Now get me the damned Portkey." He held Harry tightly, too tight, trying to force some of his own warmth into him.
The woman wearing the uniform paled. "You don't need a Portkey, you need a hospital."
Draco felt pressure building in his chest and behind his eyes. "I don't know where your hospital is!" He sounded about five years old. He didn't care.
She put her hand on his arm. "Let me take you," she said. He jerked away. She replaced her hand. "Trust me," she said.
His arms were trembling now, trembling so hard that he was afraid he would drop Harry. "Yes," he said.
* * *
It wasn't that different, really, from St. Mungo's. Perhaps hospitals everywhere smelled the same.
Draco had paced himself out hours ago. Now he sat on a plastic chair, head in his hands, waiting. He wondered if chairs in wizarding hospitals shouldn't be more comfortable; maybe the discomfort was part of the point. He could transfigure it, he supposed. Maybe he would. Later.
Someone sat beside him and handed him a coffee, hot enough that it nearly burned his palm through the cardboard cup. He looked up to see Anna sitting there, wearing her hospital uniform. She looked like he felt.
"You saved him, you know," she said. "You got him here on time. He's going to be all right."
He felt something go out of him. Something, perhaps, that had been holding him together, because his hands started to shake again. Anna took the coffee back before he spilled it.
"It was lionfish venom," she said.
"Circe's Lionfish." He should have killed Mitch when he had the chance. He'd done the next best thing, though. He'd sent Weasley after him.
She nodded. "But Evan—Harry—is strong. He'll recover." She shook her head. "I can't seem to remember to call him that."
Draco nodded. There didn't seem to be anything else to say.
Anna pressed the coffee back into his grasp. "Drink this. You look like you need it."
He held onto the cup long after the coffee went cold.
Hours passed before he felt her return to sit beside him.
"Malfoy." The voice wasn't Anna's.
He looked up, startled. "Granger." Of course she would come. Of course. He should have thought.
"Ron said you saved him," she said, looking at the floor. "Thanks."
That was a bit much, really. "I didn't do it for you."
She shrugged. He thought of the things Harry had told him; how he had grown apart from his friends. It was obvious, to see Hermione's face now, that she cared about him a great deal.
"Anna—his roommate—says he'll be all right. She works here," he offered.
"I spoke to him." Her eyes widened as Draco stared at her. "You didn't know… he woke up. Just for a little while."
"Did he ask—?"
She shook her head. "Only for Ron and I. And Sirius. He was confused."
"I'm sure he would have." She touched his hand. He stopped himself from flinching away. "He wrote to me, you know. The first owl I've had from him in ages. It didn't say much, only that you were there, and… well, with Harry you have to read between the lines, you know?"
"I'm not sure about that," Draco said. "I think Skeeter spelled it all out pretty clearly."
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know how she did it. I… I copied his journal. But I swear I never shared it. Never even read it. I don't know how…"
There was something grim in her smile. "See any beetles recently?"
Part Six: Letters
It's over. I think it was over a while ago; it just took us a while to notice.
He's not Ron. I tell myself I never wanted him to be, but I don't know. I'd catch myself saying things he couldn't possibly understand—inside jokes, whatever.
He's not angry at me. Says he isn't, anyhow. He says he hopes I can find someone that I can 'let in', because it isn't him. He has no idea what that means.
I don't feel like writing anymore this morning.
* * *
Draco picked up the newspaper—he had it delivered to the store, now. That was where he spent most of his time, either caring for the fish or else in the office, reading up on them. He had lost a large percentage of the aquarium's population in the weeks after Harry left, before he figured out how to regulate the temperature and feeding and everything else about the large-scale illusion in the basement. He refused to lose more. He wanted Harry to have something to come back to.
Mitch Morrow was gone. Weasley's investigation had put him in Azkaban for the sale of illegal substances and for attempted murder. Apparently it had never been about Harry—or Evan. It had been about the money. Draco wasn't sure if that made it worse or better. It didn't matter. He ran the shop alone.
It had hurt, Harry's refusal to even see him in the hospital. Anna had taken pity on him and let him into the room, once, but when Harry woke up, he turned his face away from Draco and refused to speak.
Apparently it didn't matter that Draco had saved his life. What mattered was the betrayal. Hermione had explained that Harry knew all about Skeeter's animagus form—he would know that Draco hadn't shared information with her on purpose. But he had copied the journal, and apparently that was enough. When Harry was finally released from the hospital, he had disappeared, just as Draco knew he would. Harry's life as Evan James was over, anyhow.
But Draco had stayed. He had had plenty of time to examine his motives in the months that had passed. It wasn't about penance, he was sure of that. He had stopped writing because he wanted to. He had stayed because he couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
He ignored the pitying glances Anna directed at him because to do otherwise was to acknowledge that Harry wasn't coming back.
And then, when he could stand it no longer, he had put quill to paper one last time.
He dropped the newspaper on Harry's desk. No need to read it. He knew what the cover story was. He had written it, after all.
There are two things I need to tell you. This was all my fault, and I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm more sorry than you can possibly know.
That's a journalist's job, you see. We put the important things at the top of the page, so people don't have to read on. I'm hoping you'll read on anyhow.
Me finding you—that was the worst thing that could have happened to you, wasn't it? A face from home, someone who knew who you really were. Someone with the power to destroy what you had built. And me, of all people—I won't flatter myself that I was your worst enemy, I think we know who that was, but I like to believe I made the top ten.
I remember what a mess you were that first night. Like you had already lost. I'd have liked to believe that you were wrong about me, but it turns out that you knew better.
I copied your journal. Please believe me when I tell you I never read it, and that I was going to destroy it. That morning, when I left your bed, I was on my way to do so. Because I didn't want to have that between us. By that point, I was allowing myself to believe that there might be an 'us'. And that mattered to me. It mattered very much.
Do you want to know why I never read it? So do I. It went against every Slytherin instinct I have… and you know me well enough to know that my instincts are very, very Slytherin.
Why I copied it… that's more straightforward. It was too much temptation for me. When I handed the original back to you and you looked so surprised and pleased, I felt like hell. The copy was in my pocket. I don't know how Skeeter got it. Not entirely. She broke into my room, but how she knew to do that… the details don't matter. She was following my investigation somehow.
(Skeeter, you bitch, if you are reading this—and I know you are—my letter to you is in your desk drawer. Enjoy. There are things you don't want the world to know about, too, aren't there? Let's just hope this inspires every hack reporter out there to try to find them out. If not, rest assured, I'll tell your story. It's only a matter of time.)
I don't know if I would have written the article. I'll never know that, now. I was thinking about it. I was trying to find a way to do it that you'd have been happy with, but there was no such way, was there?
Harry, you let me into your life. It took you years to build it, and in just a few short days, you let me in. At first, I thought I knew why. I thought you wanted me to see your life. You wanted me to see it so I wouldn't want to uproot you. I thought it was your way of trying to control my story. Now I think maybe you just wanted someone to see your life. Someone who knew you.
It turns out I didn't. Because the man I got to know is not the boy I remember.
He's someone I hope to meet again.
You left. I understand why. But I want you to know, I'm taking care of your fish. Someone has to. I've saved your things. I'm using the blanket; I hope you'll forgive me that. It reminds me of you.
I'm going to do my best to keep your life here going. I'm going to keep it open for you, in case you want to come back. And if you do… maybe we can figure out together what happens next.
My editor is going to cringe. This is my last article; I'm sure it's not the story he hoped for. I'm writing for an audience of one. Here's what I need to tell you: take all the time you need. I'll be here. I'll be waiting.
Please come back.
He hoped that, wherever he was, whoever he was, Harry might see it.
Draco was done traveling. He knew where he belonged.
Part Seven: Promises
Some things shouldn't be written down.
* * *
Draco dragged himself out of the water. Something was bothering the lionfish; they were more skittish than usual. He made a mental note to check the saline balance of the water; that could be the problem.
He sat for a while on the bottom step, dripping, watching the artificial light dance over the artificial water. It felt real enough, for all that he knew it wasn't.
What was he doing here, anyhow? How long was he going to wait?
"As long as it takes," he said aloud. Because it was the truth. He wasn't going anywhere; he had nowhere to go. In some ways, the life he'd had before was no more real than this lake. But this wasn't right, either. He was living Harry's life. It had seemed like a good idea; it had felt right, for a while. But he wasn't Harry, and Harry wasn't coming back. Maybe it was time to move on.
"I'll find someone to take care of you," he promised the fish, but he knew it was a lie—or at least unnecessary. He wasn't going anywhere. He had promised Harry he'd stay for as long as it took, so that was what he would do.
He never liked heading up the stairwell. Somehow, when the concrete closed in around him and the lake disappeared, he always remembered the day Harry had nearly died. He put it off. "It's not like I've got anywhere to be," he said.
"Talking to yourself now?"
He turned. Harry stood three steps up from him, his hands in his pockets. He was even more tanned than before, as if he had been living in the sun. He closed the steps between them and sat beside Draco, looking at the lake. "I missed you," he said.
That was it? That was what he had to say? "Missed me? It's been months! I thought you weren't coming back!"
"So did I," Harry said. He turned to look at Draco, and those green eyes reached all the way inside him the way nothing else ever had. "But you waited anyway."
"Of course I did, you idiot, but that doesn't mean you can just come waltzing back in here whenever you feel like it!" Except, of course, that was exactly what it meant. That was what Draco had waited for. So why was he shaking?
Harry was far too calm, considering the circumstances. He reached past Draco and dipped his fingers into the water, then brought them back up and tasted them. Draco stared at his lips. "Too much saline," Harry said. "You need me."
"I need—" Draco wasn't even sure where to start. "Of course I do. That's the point, isn't it? You left!"
"I tried," Harry said. For the first time, he seemed unsure of himself. That, it turned out, was all Draco had needed to see.
"Come here," he said, and reached for Harry.