Title: Locked Cupboards
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco preslash
Warnings: Descriptions of child abuse, angst, profanity. Ignores the epilogue.
Summary: Draco didn't want to be assigned to guard this Dudley Dursley person because Potter was out of the country, and he didn't want to hear the stories Dursley was so insistent on telling him about Potter's childhood—at first.
Author's Notes: This is a one-shot done for a prompt by auntbijou, which was: Harry and Draco are Aurors. Because Harry is out of the country on a Very Important Assignment, Draco is the one who is sent to guard Dudley Dursley when the Muggle starts receiving threatening owls from an anonymous source. And because Dudley has confessional diarrhea, Draco finds out that all his preconceptions about Harry Potter have been completely wrong. And it confuses the hell out of him. The fic follows the prompt pretty closely.
"Why am I guarding a Muggle?"
Draco made his tone as disdainful as possible, but Shacklebolt didn't seem impressed. He folded his fingers together and said, "Because he's receiving threatening owls, and a Muggle can't cope alone against the challenges of our world."
Draco rolled his eyes and tapped one foot on the floor. He knew exactly how much he could get away with where Shacklebolt was concerned, and he was nowhere near the limits yet. The Minister had a calm face and didn't look as though he was about to order Draco out the door. "It's because he's Potter's relative. You could at least admit that much."
"How clever of you, Auror Malfoy," Shacklebolt said. "I didn't know that you knew so much about Harry's family. But perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Obsession will grant a certain degree of knowledge to anyone."
Draco tried and failed to restrain his scowl, which meant Shacklebolt had won that particular round. He stared down at his tapping foot and muttered something about "not an obsession" that Shacklebolt ignored.
"You're the only Auror at the moment without a partner and without a pressing case," Shacklebolt said. "And you'll be staying in one place, the Dursley home. No need to go out and mingle with Muggles, which I know you find distasteful."
Draco muttered something this time about "changed since the war." But everyone in the Department knew that one was a lie—Draco had willingly taken a failing mark in the mandatory course in Muggle history and inventions—so Shacklebolt simply handed him the official description of the case and waved him out the door.
At least he could keep anyone else from knowing of his humiliation, Draco thought, and maintained a serene, disdainful expression all the way to his office. Then he scanned the file. The threats sounded disjointed and childish, and in several cases, Dursley appeared to have taken the mere presence of a flapping owl near his home as a threat. But Draco would still have to do it, because Shacklebolt had forced him to.
It should have been Potter's case. But Stupid Perfect Potter was the only Auror, evidently, that the Swiss Ministry trusted to extricate their arses from a situation that had got sticky. A British Muggle citizen had somehow became entangled with a secret plan by what seemed like half the Swiss wizarding population to sacrifice a dragon. Draco bitterly wished Potter joy of it as he stared at the Dursley file.
He spent a few hours brooding on his bad luck—he could spend days doing that if the mood took him—and then prepared to go to Dursley's home in a particularly Muggle part of Surrey. As he did, he told himself that this was at least the easiest assignment he'd had in years. How hard could sitting in a Muggle's drawing room and casting a few curses to frighten away owls be?
More difficult than acting as a torturer for the Dark Lord, Draco realized a day later.
He'd arrived at the Dursley home on time, and Dursley had taken him inside and showed him the small, narrow room where he would be sleeping. Draco had cast a few curses to frighten away owls, notified Shacklebolt that he'd arrived, and then slept. That much had gone according to plan.
But the rest of it. The rest of it.
No one had notified Draco (because there was no photograph with the file) that Dursley was physically repugnant. Draco hadn't even realized a person could carry so much fat and still walk upright. Dursley had opened the door for him himself, because of course nothing as civilized as a house-elf existed around here, and Draco had thought for a wild moment that he was seeing a hippo someone had trained to walk on his hind legs.
The whole environment was infuriatingly Muggle. Draco had expected the nosy neighbors and the quivering curtains when he stood on the doorstep with a glamour of Muggle clothes over his robes; it was exactly the same sort of behavior that went on in Slytherin House. But he hadn't expected the utterly plain furniture, the domestic photographs, the overpowering stainless steel in the kitchen, and the strangely perpendicular right angles. This wasn't just a Muggle place. It was a place from which all strangeness had been rigidly excised.
Add in the bedroom that was less than a tenth of the size of Draco's own quarters at the Manor, the marks on the bottom of the door and the windowsill which suggested some hasty redecorating had taken place—Draco suspected the removal of anti-wizard propaganda—and the tiny bed, and Draco was ready to kill someone by the end of his "successful" night.
He sat with Dursley at the morning table and watched him stuffing his face with food. He himself had taken a single cup of tea and a piece of toast with butter; it was better for Malfoys to eat lightly in the morning. So far, Dursley had eaten porridge, toast, eggs, bacon, a sloppy brown Muggle concoction that Draco didn't know the name of and didn't wish to, four cups of tea, and a quarter of grapefruit. He was cutting another quarter of grapefruit, too. Draco watched in fascinated revulsion.
"Reckon you're another one like Harry," Dursley said suddenly, all but his first words to Draco since he'd greeted him last night. "He hardly ate, either."
Draco glanced up with one eyebrow raised. "Did he?" he asked indifferently. He reckoned that it was only natural that this Dursley person would try to talk about Potter to him, because Muggles had the habit of thinking all wizards were alike. Draco continued speaking only because he was bored. "I suppose he was a picky eater. He doesn't show a sign of such choosiness now." Draco sneered automatically as he thought of the Muggles falling over Potter with plates full of rich food. If Dursley's eating habits were a reflection of his childhood, Potter had to have been spoiled for choice.
"Oh, he wasn't picky," Dursley said, sounding faintly shocked. He gulped another piece of grapefruit as Draco watched, then continued, "My parents just didn't like him eating much, that was all."
Draco blinked. "What? Did he make a mess?" The unhealthy tidiness of the house wasn't, he was sure, due to Dursley's personal habits. Someone else had made this place into the severe cage it was, and Dursley simply continued what had obviously become a habit.
Dursley actually looked both ways, as though he assumed one of Potter's fans would be standing at the edge of the table, greedy for details about his life. "No," he whispered hoarsely. "My parents kept him from eating."
Draco cast a spell that would tell him whether the tea was laced with alcohol. Nothing showed, but then again, Draco's spell was subtle and some of the concoctions that Muggles called by the same names as wizards used were undoubtedly too crude to register with Draco's magic.
"I'm not kidding," Dursley insisted, seeming to see the disbelief in Draco's motions, since Draco knew his face wouldn't have expressed it blatantly enough for Dursley to read. "I think it's horrible now, but I didn't at the time. I was a kid. Otherwise, I would have stopped it."
Draco shook his head. He simply couldn't comprehend what he was hearing, and there was a question he wanted to ask before Dursley spoke again. "Why are you telling me this?"
"I've been waiting to tell someone." Dursley traced a finger through the remnants of the food on his plate. He probably wouldn't have known what Draco's curled lip meant even if he'd looked up and seen it. "I mean—one of your lot, not someone else like Mum or Dad. Maybe one of you can do something."
"Do something?" Draco echoed faintly. He felt as if he had woken up in the middle of a most peculiar dream.
"Well, to change him, or help him, or something." Dursley frowned. "Or to make up for it. I mean, you can turn back time, can't you? You could come back and rescue Harry, and then it wouldn't have happened." He nodded, looking pleased with himself.
Draco rolled his eyes and didn't bother to hide it. Shacklebolt hadn't said that he had to be polite to the Muggle, after all. "Turning back time is advanced magic, Dursley, and not the sort that someone can do casually. Besides, all the known devices that can carry someone back to a different period of history were destroyed a few years ago when a disaster occurred in the place where we stored them."
"Oh." Dursley stared at him, nonplused. "A bit stupid to store them all in the same place, eh?"
Draco did work to conceal his stare. He said something intelligent. Perhaps the world can end now. "At any rate," he said, "I fail to see why Potter would need an intervention like that. I know his childhood was happy."
"Do you?" Dursley asked. "How?"
Draco hated feeling off-balance. Dursley had fit so well into the perfect stereotype of a Muggle, though perhaps one who ate more than most of those Draco had envisioned, and now he was upsetting things. Draco saw no reason why he should give up that comfortable image for the sake of confessions that weren't, couldn't be true. It sounded as though Dursley was trying to say that his parents had abused Potter, and Draco knew he would have seen it if there were signs of abuse in Potter's past. He had been through the mandatory course to recognize child abuse; they all had.
"I know considerably more about Potter than you do, or think you do," Draco said, "and I declare your story ridiculous."
"Fine, then." Dursley lumbered his enormous bulk out of the chair and towards the drawing room where a horrid Muggle device sat that showed inane people who seemed to spend their time flirting with obvious lines, playing violent games that made Draco long for the elegance of Quidditch, or trying to sell unexciting products to their unseen audience with faked enthusiasm. "I've tried. I won't try again."
Draco rolled his eyes and leaned back in his chair with his cup of tea, shuddering as he heard the "telly" go on. He looked out through the windows to the neat road, lined with neat houses all alike, and tried to imagine Potter growing up in this house.
He had to admit it was hard to envision. But at the same time, it was even harder to think that Potter could have lived some life of silent misery with his Muggle family. They would have known his history. Why wouldn't they fawn on him, even more than wizards, because the events would be more wild and mysterious to them? Why wouldn't they coddle him, the heroic orphan, the survivor of an attack that had killed his parents, and thus worthy of sympathy?
Potter never looked less than poised, less than perfectly confident, less than the war hero.
You were different before the war, too.
Draco put down his cup on the table with what he could admit was unnecessary violence and left the room.
Draco sensed it the next day. But that wasn't the point. He knew he would never have sensed it at all if not for Dursley's stupid words, which meant that Dursley shouldn't have spoken them to him.
There was a small cupboard beneath the stairs. Draco had noticed it on his initial scan of the house, when he was looking for hiding places for enemies—and for Dursley, in case he had to perform the heroic last stand—and had discounted it. For one thing, it was far too big for Dursley's bulk. For another, it was locked.
But now he could sense a prickling magical energy from the door of the cupboard that reminded him of the residue he had sensed when visiting a scene of long-ago murder or torture. Draco lingered beside the cupboard, darting his head back and forth, though that was stupid. He would hear Dursley coming long before he would see him, and therefore before Dursley would see what he was doing.
The magical energy was real, his wand told him. The skittering, painful nature of it made Draco frown, but that didn't change its existence.
He wondered what had happened in this house. Perhaps some Muggle had died here long ago, but that made no sense. As far as he knew, Muggles didn't leave magical residues behind them, any more than they left ghosts.
Well, this family had produced at least one magical member, Potter's mother. It wasn't impossible that they could have had a Squib baby or something that had died of the sheer Muggle-ness that was this house.
That explanation satisfied Draco until he went on his regular morning walk around the wards and realized that the house wasn't that old. Twenty-five or twenty-six years, at most. No family had lived here long before the Dursleys and murdered a Squib baby. The Dursleys were the first family.
Well, maybe this Petunia, Dursley's mother, had had a Squib baby. Draco knew that Dursley's parents were off on a holiday somewhere—an extended holiday, one that Draco thought they didn't intend to come back from soon. Perhaps in Spain, or Italy? Draco should read the report again. It had included photographs that he remembered better than the words, and he found that he wasn't putting murder past the two people pictured there in his mind.
Then what about child abuse?
Draco thrust the thought savagely into its own locked cupboard at the back of his mind and slammed the door shut after it. Potter wasn't. Draco knew what abused children looked like. Potter would have been more affected. He would have displayed more of the signs. Draco was sure of that. People didn't simply walk unscathed out of hard childhoods, and Potter bore scars only from the war.
Of course, that conclusion left him wondering how well he really knew Potter, and no matter how he pushed at that thought, it wouldn't be locked away.
"So. I have to try again."
Draco started and raised his eyes to Dursley's face. They'd been sitting in the room with the horrid Muggle invention, and Draco had been watching the windows for some sign of a threatening owl. Since he'd been here, not one had come. Draco didn't think that was coincidence, but he hadn't yet decided if the person who was sending the owls was warily watching him or simply thought that the Auror presence would be withdrawn sooner if they did nothing.
"What do you mean?" Draco asked.
"Harry deserves to have something better than what happened to him happen," Dursley said firmly. He paused, lips moving, as he evidently worked out that sentence in his head to see if it really made sense. He was satisfied before Draco was and bounced merrily on. "Magic must be able to fix things. What is it good for, otherwise?"
"Magic can't fix everything," Draco said defensively, before he realized that he was arguing magical theory with a Muggle. He blew his breath out in a rattling surge and shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Potter wasn't abused."
"They made him do all the chores," Dursley said in a whisper, as in confessing a horrible secret. And Draco reckoned that it would be, if it was real. "Cooking. Cleaning. Washing the windows. Weeding the garden. They were all lazy." He paused as if listening to an invisible audience, then sighed and said, "We were all lazy. He worked hard, and sometimes his magic did things for him, and then we called him a freak."
Draco turned his head boredly to the side.
"I beat him up all the time," Dursley insisted, his voice rising. He brought one fist down on the arm of the chair, rousing an echoing bang that made Draco leap in spite of himself. Dursley liked that and smirked at him, the bastard. "You should ask to see the scar that runs down the side of his spine. The long one, the one that curves a little." Once again his mood changed and he stared at his hands as if he was wondering how they'd got so fat. "It's from where I pushed him into a glass window."
Draco tried not to react, but his mind called up a vision of one time that he had walked into the infirmary and seen Potter asleep there on his stomach, recovering from a wound that had nearly killed him. (Well, one of the many wounds that had nearly killed him). Of course Draco's eyes had gone first to the enormous bloody hole that stretched across Potter's shoulders as though someone had tried to carve butterfly wings into his flesh, but then they had found that curious scar.
So it was real. So what? Dursley might have been there when his cousin got it. That didn't mean he'd given it to Potter. "I fail to see why you think that I'd do something about this," Draco said. "I don't like Potter."
Dursley's stare made him feel uncomfortable; his next words made Draco feel almost inhuman. "He was abused. It doesn't matter whether you like him or not."
Draco sighed. "I'm here to resolve the threat to your life," he said. "Potter's far away. He's a successful Auror—what I am, what you would call the police," he translated for Dursley's uncomprehending stare. "He's made friends and dated people. He saved our world. The abuse obviously doesn't bother him as much as you might think it does."
Dursley closed his eyes and made sounds under his breath as though he was counting to ten. "He still didn't deserve what we did to him," he said. "There were bars on his window and a cat-flap through the door. Those are the marks on the bedroom he had, the one you have now. My parents kept him locked up during the summer, and fed him, when they fed him at all, through that flap. Would you like that?"
Draco shook his head. "Again, it doesn't matter," he said. "It's long over and done now, and there's no way to change the past. I told you, not even magic can heal everything."
Dursley stomped heavily out of the room. Draco gave it a count of five and then went after him.
When he got into the kitchen, Dursley, who was putting some bread into the Muggle device that performed the function of toasting, kept his back turned to Draco and didn't say a word. That suited Draco just fine. He was here to be an Auror, not a healer.
And if he dreamed that night of the scar along Potter's back growing teeth and biting sharply into the other man's spine, making him cry out and arch the way he had when the Healers were trying to take care of the bloody wound on his shoulders, it was still only a dream, and Draco only lay awake half the night staring at the ceiling.
Only half the night.
The next morning, Dursley muttered darkly and continually to himself and refused to address a single word to Draco. Draco drank his cuppa and poked at the bacon on the plate before he began the impossible task of trying to defend himself from the scowl across the way—impossible, because he didn't know why he should care, and he didn't know what Dursley was accusing him of.
"We were enemies in school, Potter and I," he said. "Even now, we're not friends. I doubt that he would like you telling me all this. He would much prefer that you confessed to one of his friends."
"I don't know when I'll see them," Dursley replied in a voice that was as solid as the rest of him. "I only know that you were the first wizard I've seen since I started realizing that what we did to Harry was wrong. I can hardly talk to my parents about it, and they're hardly going to confess, are they? So I just assumed you were a decent human being who would care. Sorry to be so wrong," he added with an insincerity that made Draco's teeth itch, and then jammed his fork into the kipper in front of him.
"All right," Draco said. "All right." He wouldn't have cared so much if these accusations were coming from a fellow wizard, because most of the wizarding world had given up on expecting him to be "decent" years ago, but for a Muggle to hold himself superior to Draco in any way, even morally, was a bit rich. And this Muggle had admitted that he participated in beating Potter up. "But he still had it easy compared to some people, right? I mean, your parents didn't beat him. They didn't keep enough food from him to actually starve him. He had a bedroom—"
"From the time he was twelve, sure," Dursley said, and gave Draco a single sullen glance before returning his attention to his breakfast.
Draco thought about spelling the food to fly off the plates and seeing if he would get Dursley's attention then, but he was more mature than that. No one was ever going to accuse him of immaturity again, at least, no matter how much they accused him of indecency. He took a deep breath and spoke with exacting politeness. "What did they do before then? Make him share your room? I can see how that would be a punishment for you both."
Dursley shoved his plate back far enough that only a quick charm on Draco's part kept it from falling to the floor and then stomped heavily out of the kitchen. Draco followed, an acid speech on his tongue about leaving one's guardian behind.
Dursley was standing beside the door of the locked cupboard, the one that Draco had felt the prickling energy from the other day. Draco narrowed his eyes and tried to ignore the shiver that ran down his spine.
"He slept here," Dursley said. "This was his bedroom." He reached into a pocket of his gaping, overflowing Muggle clothes—the same kind of clothes that Potter had once worn, Draco realized suddenly—and wrestled out a key, which he stuck into the lock. Then he swung the door of the cupboard open.
Draco stared at the sloping roof, the cot inside, the remnants of broken toys, the dust and the spiderwebs.
"This was his room," Dursley said, and he was breathing fast now. Draco didn't think it was just from the exertion of walking ten feet. "Where Mum and Dad locked him every night when they went to sleep, because they didn't trust him not to come out and smash everything. He had to lie here while we were watching the telly or opening Christmas presents. He never had a Christmas present, or a birthday present, or new clothes. He wore my old clothes. He wore a pair of glasses my Mum picked up for him from a pile of rubbish, and she didn't do that until someone else noticed. They called him a freak and they laughed at him and they told him his parents were drunks. God, Malfoy! What does it take for you to start calling that abuse?"
Draco shook his head. He would have liked to say something, but he had nothing quick or witty or clever that he could call to mind. His tongue felt as though it had swollen to fill his mouth, and his acid little speech was scorching the back of his throat now.
He ended up turning his head away from the disapproval in Dursley's eyes and saying nothing.
"Yeah, I thought not," Dursley said, with heavy sarcasm. "I heard him talking to himself once, when he was weeding the garden, since he didn't have anyone else to talk to during the summers. He was saying that he hated the stuck-up wizards at school more than anyone, because he wanted to feel at home in your bloody little mess of a world, and they made him feel like we did. He mentioned your name. It was wrong and stupid for us to do that. But at least I grew up and changed my mind about what I did. It doesn't sound as though you ever did."
And he turned and walked away with a weighty dignity.
Draco stared again into the cupboard, while, in his mind, new keys seemed to fit into new locks and turn.
This was not destined to be a case where Draco would receive any share of honors or glory, for several reasons. The next morning, he received an owl from Kingsley—the only amusing thing that had happened in nearly twenty-four hours was Dursley leaping out of his chair when he saw the bird—that they had caught the person sending the threatening owls. They weren't addressed to Dursley at all, but Potter. The sender was a former Ministry secretary who Potter had caught stealing, someone who had access to the records and could dig his Muggle address out.
But not someone smart enough to realize that he might not live here anymore, Draco thought, shaking his head as he laid the letter down.
"Well?" Dursley demanded.
"They caught the one who was threatening you," Draco said absently. His mind was far away, on the track that he had been pursuing most of the day and night. It was one thing to have this new knowledge, but what was he going to do about it? "I'll be leaving in a few hours, as soon as I receive new orders."
"Thank fuck," Dursley said, and snatched his plate so that he could eat in the room with the horrid contraption. Draco turned towards him and opened his mouth, remembered that there was no need to anymore, and shut it again.
He was leaving, yes, and that meant he had to decide what he was going to do about his new knowledge even sooner than he'd thought. Draco sighed and pressed his fingers against his temples, moving them in circles so slow that he had to concentrate to keep them up.
The simplest thing would be to ignore it. Dursley could sit and think for the rest of his life about how stuck-up and ignorant wizards were, but was he going to tell anyone else? Draco thought not. He certainly wouldn't owl the Ministry and complain, which was how most Aurors got questioned about something that might have happened on their cases and which they weren't willing to talk about. His horrid parents, who would be back soon, wouldn't tell anyone else either.
A bright spark leaped across the table from the end of Draco's wand, and he started. He hadn't meant to cast that, especially not one strong enough to leave a scorch mark on the wood. He cast a quick Reparo.
But it happened again the moment he thought about the Dursley parents.
Draco gritted his teeth. So, no, he couldn't ignore it. He would have to tell Potter that he knew, sooner or later. If he simply set rumors in motion and waited for someone to help, he could be waiting for years. Potter would be frantic to find the source of the rumors and contain them, and when he did discover it—as Draco had no doubt he would; Potter was a good investigator—then he would wreak some terrible vengeance. Draco's mind had taken a strong enough drubbing from the facts that Dursley had revealed to him. He would rather not take another that Potter might hand out to him.
And there was another reason.
That last fact Dursley had revealed, the fact that Potter thought Draco treated him like his relatives did, stung most of all. Draco knew the difference between his attitude during their Hogwarts years and Dursley's, and while it might be an academic difference for some people, it was important for him. He would have gladly seen Potter crawl before the Dark Lord's feet, long before he knew what the Dark Lord was—beyond impressive words that his father spoke—but he would not have thought of locking him in a cupboard or making him do all the chores. Potter was a wizard, and deserved to be treated with the honor due one. The Dark Lord would have made him a slave of some kind, sure, but not—
Not an abused child.
The words seemed to increase Draco's headache when he finally thought them. He sighed again and arrived at the decision that he had known he would be making all along. He would go and see Potter when the git got back from his case in Switzerland.
Potter's voice was wary. Draco knew why. They never usually visited one another unless Shacklebolt had paired them for a case or assigned them, for some reason, to deliver files or reports to each other. Potter kept his body poised on his side of the door, as if he would dart across at any moment and defend the gap that led into his office.
Draco looked at him with knowledgeable eyes, and he could see it, now, the marks revealed as clearly on Potter's body as the scar on his back was. Potter was alert, yes—too alert, wary. He was still rail-thin, as if with lack of food. He watched people out of the corners of his eyes, and rarely smiled. Draco had even wondered about his ability to stay in a smaller space than normal, to take up less air than most people would think was his right, and now all he could think of was that bloody cupboard.
It didn't make what the Dursleys had done the source of every unexpected fact about Potter. But there were a lot of them, and Draco had to integrate them.
"Potter," he said, and then cleared his throat, because his voice was soft and dry. "I had something I wanted to speak to you about, something that happened while you were out of the country."
Potter studied him with skeptical eyes for a moment more, then shrugged and stepped back. "Oh, well. I reckon you'd better come in, then." He started to pick up a file from the desk, but paused when Draco locked the door.
The stillness of his body was too profound, Draco thought, and he wasn't surprised when Potter turned around a moment later with his wand in his hand and his hand reaching neatly back behind him for some other weapon.
"If you meant to kill me, Malfoy," Potter said with quiet force, "you wouldn't have done it in the Ministry, where there are too many people who can trap you. So perhaps you mean to injure me. Ron will be back in five minutes."
Draco privately knew that Weasley wouldn't, since he'd sent a memo that would involve him in a wild goose chase through the archives for the rest of the morning. But he didn't see the need to mention it. He kept his face smooth and put his wand down on the chair beside Potter's door. Potter's eyes went to it and then came back to his face.
Wild, Draco thought as he stared at them. They're the eyes of a wild creature. He wondered how he could have been so mistaken before as to think that Potter's poise was the only side of him.
"I don't mean to kill you," he said. "I learned something on the last case that I didn't feel right keeping to myself."
Potter's brow wrinkled and he stepped back, putting the desk between them, although his grip on his wand did relax. "What?"
"You heard about Medlicote sending you threatening letters?" Draco thought he should start with the simplest part of the case first. He wasn't sure how much Potter was aware of.
Potter nodded. "Of course."
"Well, he sent them to your old home at first, and he wasn't very specific," Draco said. "The Ministry thought that they were addressed to your cousin instead. So I went and babysat your cousin so the nasty owls wouldn't harm him, and I learned a lot of interesting things."
Potter's face abruptly lost every bit of color it had. Even those cautiously shining green eyes seemed dimmer than they had been. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and caught the edge of the desk as if to keep himself from falling.
"Well, go on, then," he whispered.
"Potter, what?" Draco asked. He hadn't expected this reaction—furious shouting, maybe, or airy denial, but not a crumbling, as though Draco was the executioner and Potter knew that his crime merited the death penalty.
"Go on and taunt me." As Potter spoke, though, strength was creeping back into him. He looked, Draco thought, like someone who had been told that he had a deadly disease but might have a few years to live. He lifted his head and stared at Draco with a twisted smile and brightly burning eyes. Draco was glad for the last if not the first. It wasn't right for Potter to look so defeated and broken. "You want to know how old I was when they started calling me freak? Or when they were letting Dudley beat me up so badly that I should have gone to hospital? Or maybe you want to see the scars." His hands went down to his robes as if he were about to strip them off right there.
Draco shook his head, though he felt a flare of soft disappointment when Potter's hands dropped away from his robes. He didn't want to see his chest—not like this, at least. He had to admit that Potter was fit, and looking at him not terrible.
But, right now, he couldn't stop looking in the way that Dursley had taught him to look. For the vulnerability underneath the hardness, for the way that Potter was like an eagle with broken wings. Draco didn't know that he could get rid of that kind of sight. What he wanted to do was learn to live with it.
"I don't want to taunt you," Draco said. "Although I know most of those things. Dursley told me how he gave you the scar on your back." Potter curved a hand around as if he would touch his spine, and stilled it only with an effort. Draco licked his lips, his throat feeling heavy with fascination. He would never have noticed that motion before, or at least not known what it meant. Yes, he was seeing deeper and further into Potter than most of his friends did, and certainly further than random Aurors did. "But Dursley told me lots of things under the impression that I could somehow go back in time and use magic to rescue your child-self so that you wouldn't suffer anymore."
Potter snorted. "I hope you disabused him of that notion."
Draco tried a small laugh at the pun, but Potter didn't seem to notice that he'd made one, instead watching Draco intently. Draco waved a hand vaguely. "Yes. I did."
Potter nodded, satisfied. "Then why come and talk to me about it?"
Draco fidgeted in place. Potter was watching him with the same kind of disinterested curiosity that Draco wished he could have felt, had wanted to think he felt, immediately after Dursley told him the truth. As if this was only a series of facts Draco had collected, and nothing to do with him.
Draco got another sudden burst of insight, this time about a way that Potter might have dealt with his past.
"Because it changes the way I think about you," he said at last, speaking the truth. "And I want to know what you think about it."
"I think that I'm bloody lucky you actually learned about it and not someone else, who might have decided to tell," Potter said. "As long as you can keep it to yourself, I have no objections to you knowing it." He waved his wand at the door, which unlocked itself. "Don't let me keep you, Malfoy."
Draco stepped forwards and seized his shoulder. Potter had his wand pressed against Draco's chin in an instant, and Draco got to see Potter's trembling eyelids and the way the muscles worked in his throat from an inch away.
"This isn't going to vanish," Draco snapped. "I'm not going to forget what I saw."
Potter rolled his eyes, and it was the most infuriating thing Draco had ever seen. "I wouldn't expect you to perform a Memory Charm on yourself," he snapped back. "Just keep it to yourself. It doesn't have to change things."
"But it has!" Draco said, and he had lost his temper and was yelling, and he had no idea how that had happened. He had managed to remain calm, cool, restrained, even in the face of his shock when Dursley told him all this awful shite, even when he didn't want the burden of the knowledge, and here he was yelling at Potter because Potter had asserted that things didn't need to change, which was what Draco had wanted. "Every time I look at you, I see how it's affected you! It was horrible! There's no going back and changing it, maybe, but there's helping you recover and live with the—with the results." Potter's face had paled; now it flushed, and he acted as though he would speak. Draco overrode him. "I can't pretend that I don't think about you more now, and more sympathetically, and I won't, you selfish git. You're going to talk to me about this, and work with me on this, and see what we can do."
Potter's lips parted. His eyes were still bright, his face ruddy with color, and it reminded Draco a little of the way he used to look when they were schoolboys and he was angry—but not completely, not really. Potter was an adult now, and his skin was more flushed, more luminous, more real. Draco found his hand rising and had to clench it into a fist so that he wouldn't cup Potter's jaw.
"Look," Potter said, though his tone was rattled and unconvincing, "you can't—you can't demand to be a part of my life because of something you overheard."
Draco decided to ignore, for a moment, the fact that he had not overheard this information but very deliberately been told it. That distinction wasn't the important part. "I can, and I will," he said. "Because it's obvious that you need help, still, and that you haven't let anyone else in." Potter looked mulish, and Draco made a guess in the dark. "Not even Weasley and Granger know that you used to sleep in a cupboard, do they?"
"Look," Potter said, which Draco knew was an admission that they didn't.
"No," Draco said. "So. We're going to work together, you and I, and we're going to learn how to let you live with this, and how I can learn to live with seeing you."
Potter braced his back against the desk and studied Draco once more. Draco felt it went on and on for minutes and minutes, but he didn't see how he could quite object when Potter was only looking. He held his tongue instead, and waited.
"I can't convince you to drop this," Potter said at last, resigned.
Draco shook his head. His heartbeat was quick and deafening.
"And you're not going to tell anyone else," Potter said. "Because otherwise you're going to find out what your balls taste like."
Draco did manage to smile then. "Who would think that the Magnificent Auror Harry Potter knows anything about Dark Arts?"
Potter smiled back, seemingly against his will. "All right. Listen. This is how we'll play it. Meet me after work on Friday, and we'll—I don't know, go to my house, or yours, or a pub, whichever is most comfortable, and talk about this." He mopped his brow as though wiping away sweat, though Draco had seen none, and sighed. "Bloody hell," he muttered. "This is weird."
Draco agreed, but he couldn't say it aloud. He probably couldn't have done more than nodded if Potter had really been asking for his agreement. His throat, watching Potter turn his head to the side and eye him, was too full.
There had been a locked cupboard in his own soul, one full of cankered resentment of Potter—one reason he had never liked working with Potter even when Shacklebolt assigned them to. Draco liked to think he had become different since he had seen that the end of the war had changed the world and decided to live in it instead of fighting it. He was an Auror, he could get along with or ignore the Muggleborns around him, and he didn't say the word "Mudblood" aloud anymore.
But there had been his hatred of Potter. What he had wanted most of all was some attention from Potter that wasn't compelled, that was given freely and wholly and seriously, and he had let his hatred fester because he knew he would never get it and Potter had no reason to give it.
The child that had lived in the Dursleys' cupboard was not the same as the one that had lived in that little locked, cramped, ridiculous cupboard of Draco's soul, but they were similar enough that Draco still had to fight for long moments, through wonder and dismay and confusion, before he could nod.
"Fine," Potter said, rolling his eyes. "Go away now."
Draco moved towards the unlocked door, a bit dazed, a bit hopeful, and wondering whether he should be that impatient for Friday to come when it was only Tuesday.
"Oh, and Malfoy?"
Draco paused and looked back. This could be the moment when Potter turned true to type and presented him with an insult, but he didn't think so.
Potter was once more leaning on his desk, but this time in front of it, so it didn't serve as a barrier between them. And his eyes were bright in another way—how many ways there were, Draco couldn't tell, but he looked forward to finding out—and had the same piercing quality Draco had felt his own having since he learned so much about Potter.
"Thanks," Potter said quietly.
Draco managed a full courtly bow this time, at which he fully expected Potter to snort. Potter just went on staring instead, and Draco smiled and let himself out.
He strode through the corridors of the Ministry, not caring about the odd looks he attracted. He had a bit of Potter's attention, the promise of more, and a way to live with the discomfort that had gathered in the back of his mind. Maybe he could even do what Dursley had asked and help Potter live with things.
Maybe, Draco thought, and his mind danced like sunlight over the memories of Potter's dusky flush and close peering…
Maybe there was even something more.