Title: The Law of Transformation
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Angst, sex, violence, ignores the epilogue.
Summary: Harry Potter had shown himself, since the war, more than willing to make sacrifices so he could have his own way. But Draco thought this a rather extreme one.
Author's Notes: This is an idea I've been playing with for some time, but not a particularly deep or profound story. The angst isn't heavy, despite the warning.
The Law of Transformation
Draco Malfoy saw Harry Potter for the first time in four years when the Savior walked past his table in the small Muggle pub and ordered beer as if he were used to drinking there.
Draco was startled that he simply sat still when Potter turned around, waiting for his drink, and surveyed the room. His eyes passed over Draco's face, but he didn't scream in outrage. In fact, his face didn't change. He simply nodded in recognition and then turned around again, said something that made the Muggle laugh and presumably handed over money, and retreated to a table in the corner. A combination of his new seat and the position Draco was sitting in rendered Draco unable to see him well.
It was of prime importance that they catch the wizard who was teaching Muggles here "wizarding secrets" that involved actual incantations and the locations of vulnerable places like Diagon Alley, but Draco had been in the pub for five hours already, was bored out of his skull, and had already calculated the chances that his prey would show at close to zero. He made another quick calculation and then stood up and walked over to Potter's table.
"Potter," he said in a neutral tone, as much to announce his intentions as his presence. Potter was already looking straight at him and presumably didn't need a warning.
That got him a closer look and then a nod. Draco accepted the nod at face value and took a seat across the large table from Potter, studying him intently.
He looked much as Draco would have expected him to look: taller, fuller in the face, with his glasses finally banished to wherever terminally ugly Muggle devices went when their service was done. But there was something decidedly different about him, something that wasn't supposed to be there and made Draco uneasy. Yet he looked at Potter's eyes, his hair, his arms resting on the table, and his Muggle clothes several times without being able to determine what it was.
"My eyes are up here, Malfoy."
Draco snapped his gaze up again, feeling obscurely guilty, as though he'd been caught staring at a disfigurement. Potter smirked and took a sip of his drink, then leaned back in his chair. "I assume you came over here to discuss something," he said. "What is it?"
"What is it?" Draco asked, and his voice soared to an undignified squeak in the middle. He coughed, cleared his throat, and sipped his own drink. "Where have you been, Potter?" he asked.
Potter's forehead creased as if the question meant nothing to him. Draco watched the famous scar bend and ripple, though it was hard to see now, and not just because of the pub's dim lighting. "What do you mean? I've been in the middle of London. The Ministry knows that. I sent them my new address before I quit my job as an Auror."
Draco stared at him again. He hated being caught flat-footed, but Potter had always done that to him better than anyone else.
"Anyone home in there?" Potter asked, and leaned across the table to knock on his skull.
Draco grabbed Potter's wrist and irritably held his hand off. And he got a clue as to the difference, the wrongness, that marked Potter. His skin felt colder than it should have. Draco was sure that it had been practically blazing with heat the last time he touched Potter.
Granted, the last time was years ago, and not an occasion that Draco particularly wanted to remember. He dropped Potter's arm once he could be sure that it wouldn't flop into his drink, and demanded, "Then why did the Ministry tell anyone with business in the Muggle world to look for you carefully, during the last year?"
Potter didn't have the grace to look alarmed, or even slightly surprised. He slumped back in his chair, drinking, and shrugged with one shoulder. "I don't know. Like I said, I gave them my contact information, but no one except my friends comes to talk or visit anymore. They could have asked Ron or Hermione if they needed to find me."
The names were unfamiliar for two whole seconds; Draco's life had abstracted itself completely from the realm where that pair moved in the last few years, and he had to struggle to call up their faces.
"Why?" Potter added. "I haven't kept up with news in the wizarding world. Is there a reason that they'd need me back?"
There. Draco relaxed. There was something familiar, the cutting edge in Potter's voice. He shook his head. "Not that I know of," he said. "But what do I know? I'm just a lowly Obliviator."
Potter blinked, then curled his lip. "It makes sense that you would take that sort of job, Malfoy," he said. "But anyway, the Ministry is probably just trying to keep you on your toes, or they issued the order a while ago and forgot to retract it. There's no reason they can't find me if they want me." He chuckled at that for some reason, and lifted his mug for another drink.
Draco's eyes narrowed abruptly. There was something else wrong. He didn't—feel the connection to Potter that he had expected. It was nothing so visible as a twinge in his Dark Mark from being close to that scar, the way he had sometimes imagined he felt during their last year at Hogwarts, and which he had since convinced himself was pure make-believe. But he should have been able to feel Potter breathing across from him, swallowing, shifting, the way he would any other wizard. Instead, Potter "felt" like a Muggle. There was no extra presence beyond his body, no aura that said he was more vital and powerful than the idiots surrounding them.
He did what he ought to have done before and scanned along the length of Potter's body.
"Where's your wand?" he demanded.
Potter lowered his mug and gave him a lazy smile. "That sounds shockingly close to a proposition, Obliviator Malfoy."
Draco leaned back in the chair so that he wouldn't follow the impulse to spring out of his seat and stalk away, or attack Potter and make this into a non-issue. "It's not," he said, when he thought he could trust himself to sound adult and calm and temperate about things. "I want to know why you wouldn't carry your wand around. Even in Muggle London, there could be people who want to harm you."
"True, O Lord Malfoy," Potter said. He cradled his mug on his hand and grinned at Draco. The moments passed. The silence deepened. Draco curled his fingers harder around the mug and was amazed when it didn't simply shatter at the pressure of his grip.
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" he asked.
Potter ducked his head and shrugged with one shoulder. "I think it'll be interesting to see your answer to the question if I don't."
Draco really should have got up and left. He had more important things to do than play boyish games with Potter. But he found himself taking the challenge, studying Potter with a close gaze that made Potter grin back at him. Draco, reluctantly, found that impressive. Few people could stand up with grace to his close scrutiny.
Potter didn't seem to have grown any taller. Draco was sure he didn't have hidden compartments in his Muggle clothing for the wand, because Draco would still have sensed it. The subtle vibrations a wand could send out just weren't present. Potter hadn't taken brain damage, if his cheerful responses could be trusted, and he remembered Draco, so a Memory Charm hadn't hit him.
Draco reached across the table and gripped Potter's hand again. Potter rolled his eyes, but allowed it. This time, Draco didn't pay attention to the temperature of the skin beneath his fingers. He was reaching out with other senses, subtly feeling for the power that should have been leaking up through Potter's pores and veins and hairs and everything else that came out of his skin.
He shook his head finally and dropped Potter's hand. Disgust or discomfort might have made him pull away if he was sitting next to a friend; as it was, he felt free to look into Potter's eyes and say, "You've lost your magic."
"Give the man a prize," Potter said. He didn't look disgusted or uncomfortable himself, the way he bloody well ought to have been. He was beaming as though Draco was a rather stupid dog who had done a rather clever trick. "Yes, I don't have it anymore. I put it away." He took another drink.
"Put it away," Draco repeated, and stared into his drink, shaking his head. "You've gone mad and no one told me. Perhaps that's why the Ministry changed its mind about wanting you back."
Potter laughed. The sound broke around Draco like spring rain, and he wondered why. Did he miss the company of Potter—surely not—or the company of other people? "You ought to know that some things are possible with magic that wouldn't be for Muggles."
"The whole real world, for a start." Draco waited for impatience to strike him, so that he could make his excuses and leave. It didn't. He shrugged and decided that he might as well continue listening, and talking while he was at it. "You're absolutely dead. I believe you could walk past the Leaky Cauldron and not see it."
Potter nodded. "But if I ever decide that I do want my magic back, then I can have it. The goblins know a lot of things about storing valuables. They taught me how to remove the magic from my body and put it away in safe keeping. Maybe someday I'll decide it's worthwhile breaking the container. Right now, I have no reason to. I like my life." He smiled and stood up to go fetch another drink.
Draco thought about that as long as Potter was gone, and had an answer by the time he came back. "That's insane. No one could stand being deprived of their magic. I've read plenty of theories that the shock kills a wizard."
"Do you remember the articles that were coming out in the Daily Prophet before I left?" Potter asked.
"Why would you believe that I tracked the date of your leaving that closely?"
Potter laughed. "You wouldn't have, but you would have noticed. The reporters practically tore themselves new orifices over it."
"Fine," Draco said with a slight bob of his head. "I do remember. That doesn't mean that I know the exact date."
"What were the articles about?" Potter tasted his beer, licked his lips for a moment as if debating the taste, and then nodded and guzzled. Draco winced. He had never learned to like bad manners.
"About wizards feeling drawn to you," Draco said. "The same way they always were."
Potter sighed and put his drink down. "If it were that simple, I wouldn't have bothered leaving, never mind giving up my magic. People were being drawn to me against their will. Some of them felt drunk around me. Some of them wanted to worship me. Some of them attacked in a mad frenzy they couldn't account for later. It was my fucking magic. It acted like a drug on them."
"I like you better when your voice isn't bleeding bitterness," Draco told him.
Potter looked up, startled, and then laughed again. "Yeah, I do, too," he said. "Anyway. I couldn't be sure who, other than the Weasleys and Hermione, was being pulled to me via my magic. I didn't want to have that kind of impact on them, and I didn't want to constantly wonder if someone really wanted to date me because they liked me or because they liked my power. So I eliminated the cause of the problem."
Draco spent a few more minutes staring at him, waiting for the rest of the story. But Potter seemed to have finished. He drank the rest of his beer and looked as though he was considering having another, then shook his head and put the mug down. When he began to fumble for money that Draco knew would be decidedly Muggle even without seeing it, Draco snapped.
Potter looked up at him with one eyebrow arched. "I beg your pardon?"
"Bollocks you did," Draco said. He was light-headed with the emotion he was feeling at the moment, whatever it was; he didn't think he really knew. "You didn't just give up your magic and walk away from the wizarding world without effort."
"I never said it didn't take effort," Potter said. "Hence the bitterness you heard before. I had lots of arguments with my friends about whether this was the right thing to do, and other people tried to persuade me to stay for political reasons. But I'd had enough. At least here, no one knows who I am—except you, obviously—and I never have to worry that someone might be heading for me with either murder or adoration in their minds. It's nice." He finished with a small smile that Draco tried to see as obviously fake or pathetic. It didn't look that way, no matter how he cocked his head.
"But a wizard doesn't give up magic," Draco said. "That would make you a Muggle, not a wizard."
Potter, horrible Potter, smiled at him. "Yeah, I know. It's nice," he repeated.
Draco shook his head. "I can't comprehend this. There were other reasons to stay in the wizarding world apart from—the way you affected or didn't affect people. You gave up the best thing in your life because of what other people did. Based on the way you acted after the war, I would have thought you'd do anything before you let other people's actions make you into a coward."
Potter blinked at him, then said simply, "Who said it was the best thing in my life?" He turned away while Draco was still trying to think of an answer, including a candidate for what else could be.
Draco left his own drink behind and walked out of the bar. If his target had come in while he was conversing with Potter, he would have seen them, recognized Potter, and turned tail immediately. Draco had to go in and report.
And he had to try to understand why he felt so upset, as though Potter was a personal friend who had betrayed Draco by leaving the wizarding world. There was no reason to think of matters like that.
Draco sought a quiet place to Apparate, shutting his eyes and counting to twenty before he did. Maybe when he arrived back home, the world would make sense.
But it didn't, or at least it only made sense until the next time that Draco saw Potter, walking along a street through a neighborhood where Draco had just spent half an hour Obliviating people who'd seen an escaped dragon flying past.
Draco froze, and then turned to face Potter, his fingers curled close to his palm. There was no sign that Potter had noticed him. He kept walking, looking around at the small shops that surrounded him as if one of them would provide him his heart's desire.
Draco took only a few moments to make sure that the street was clear of both wizards and Muggles before he followed.
Potter didn't look back, showing no trace of the Auror instincts that Draco knew he had. He went into one shop with windows so grimy that Draco wasn't sure what they displayed, and came out with a small package wrapped in white paper. He bought something vile-smelling from another place and ate it in two bites. Then he paused and looked around with a wondering expression on his face. Draco froze next to the doorway he was passing and turned about as if he were intensely interested in the rings the shop window showed, dust and all.
After a moment, Potter continued walking. Draco watched him out of the corner of his eye before giving chase again. His hair was longer than it had been when Draco saw him months ago, tangled in a complicated white thread that stitched back and forth as though Potter had forgotten when he was doing with it every three seconds. Now and then he tossed and caught the package he'd brought, which only gave Draco the clue that it wasn't fragile; he still had no idea what it could be otherwise.
And he found that he did want to know, very much.
Potter turned a corner, and Draco followed, presuming the next street was more of the same. Instead, he found a bare and deserted alley, with a few bins of decaying rubbish in it, a starveling cat that leaped over the wall when it saw him, and Potter, leaning on the wall and scratching the stubble beneath his chin.
"Malfoy?" Whoever Potter had expected, it wasn't him. He blinked and straightened up with a frown. "Well, I reckon the Ministry could decide that I need to be Obliviated, too, but you should know that my friends have copies of all my important memories, so I'll just get them back again even if Rosen wanted to me to lose them."
Draco stood there for a moment, blinking, wondering what the Minister had to do with this. Then he shook his head. "I'm not here on official business, Potter," he said.
Potter smirked at him.
"Not now," Draco corrected himself. "I've finished it. I saw you and decided to—to see where you were going." And why did he feel he had to explain himself, to a Potter at that? He flushed and fought the temptation to simply turn on his heel and leave, depositing both the mystery of his emotions and the mystery of what Potter was doing here in the rubbish bin of his imagination.
"Oh," Potter said, and then shrugged. "Nowhere exciting. I usually take a walk on Saturday afternoons. Well, today I bought a gift for a friend, but other than that, it's nowhere and for nothing in particular." He hesitated, then added, "You can come with me if you want. You know, since you already have."
Draco stood there and thought about it. Potter waited, saying nothing, seeming to realize that Draco was the one who had to make the decision. He tossed the package in the air and caught it again, but since Draco had seen him doing that a lot up until now, he couldn't even say that that gesture was impatient or dismissive.
"If I come with you," Draco asked, "then will I see anything that distresses me?"
"As a Malfoy or as an Obliviator?" Potter shook his head. "I told you, I gave up my magic. I'm basically a Muggle now. I won't be doing anything that you'd have to take my memory away for or report to the Ministry. But as a Malfoy, then…I don't know. How prejudiced are you against Muggles?"
"I work among them," Draco said, with a toss of his head towards the mouth of the alley.
"But they don't know that you do," Potter said quietly. "It's a position of power. This won't be."
"I'll still be with someone who knows who I am," Draco said. "Yes, I'll come with you, I'd like to," he added, because Potter still had a complex, distrustful expression on his face, and Draco felt the need to reassure him for some obscure reason.
Potter gave him a faint smile at that, nodded, and stepped out of the alley to continue walking down the street. Draco followed him, watching him out of the corner of his eye, and then came up to walk beside him as soon as the street was broad enough. Potter looked back at him in much the same manner as he had before, and his smile broadened.
They went through and into places that Draco had never seen before, some so crowded that he couldn't believe even Muggles lived like this, some so sparsely inhabited that he didn't know if he would have been able to track someone that he needed to Obliviate without being noticed, for all his caution and trained reflexes. Muggle signs hung in front of him and tempted him to find out what they meant by tubes and shows and other words that seemed to have some special, hidden meaning. The ground changed constantly, from scattered grass to cobblestones to patches of stone and back, always irregular, never the same.
Potter talked now and then, pointing out a restaurant where he liked to eat, a corner where he had met some friend the other day, a sliced-off square of greenery that he said one could get into through a back gate. Draco didn't bother to respond beyond grunts. He listened to Potter's voice and the way it seemed to blend into the city, becoming a part of the music of energy and engines and shouts and clacks.
Or, rather, didn't seem to blend in. Draco thought he could have walked through these streets with his eyes shut and still known, rather than missed or mistaken, the one wizard's voice.
Potter at least reached a poky little front door and took out a key to unlock it. Draco leaned on the wall beside him and shook his head. "And you never miss your wand?" he asked. Potter was struggling with the key, while a simple Alohomora would have done the task in a second.
Potter grinned at him, seeming to know what he was thinking without words. "Yes, sometimes," he said, and nudged the door with his knee. It gave at last, and they stepped into a corridor that was so crowded with dust it made Draco sneeze. Potter looked faintly ashamed of himself, which was a step in the right direction. He pushed a button on the wall, and lights blazed into being. Draco winced. If the Muggles were trying to have sunlight in their homes, they had gone about it entirely the wrong way. "But I made the choice to give up my magic. That's a lot different than someone stealing it from me."
He proceeded down the corridor to one of the doors that lined it, not bothering to take out a key for this one, simply giving it a hard shove with his shoulder. Draco winced at the sight of the flat beyond—it was even dustier—but followed Potter inside with some resignation. He had come this far, and it would hurt his pride to back out now.
"I can get you something to drink, if you want," Potter offered, turning towards a kitchen that seemed to sprout from the wall of the flat like a gigantic fungus.
Draco assessed the place in one quick glance. The carpet had previously seen life as a blanket for rats, the chairs stuffed into the corners didn't match the rest of the place and had probably been a gift from friends or the last things Potter had bought with proper wizarding money, the single window stared mournfully at stones across the way, and there was only one other door, which probably led to a bathroom. The dominant color scheme seemed to be orange and mold. Draco cast a cleaning charm on the nearest chair and perched on the edge. "Water will be fine," he said. All the Muggles in London had water, he thought; if it was poisoned, even the Ministry would hear about the deaths.
A creak, a clink, a sound of water running. Draco wrinkled his nose, and Potter caught him with the expression on his face as he came around the corner with a glass of water. At least it looked as though it had been washed out first, Draco thought as he accepted it.
"It's not that bad," Potter protested, and took the chair across from him.
"It's bad enough," Draco replied, and sipped the water. It tasted Muggle. "Don't you miss magic? And you say no one stole it from you, but that's not true. You took it from yourself."
"In order, yes and no," Potter said. "Although the second one wasn't a question." He smiled, the kind of smile that Draco had thought he would give at a much better joke than the one he'd just made. "I do miss magic, but it would have cost the people around me too much if I'd kept it."
Draco rolled his eyes. "You could have given it away and still remained around the people you were so concerned about."
"A Muggle living in the wizarding world?" Potter arched his eyebrows. "Or a Squib, as they would have been more likely to call me? Where's your brain, Malfoy?"
Draco shook his head, annoyed with himself for the stupid suggestion. He was entering too much into Potter's feelings, he thought, reacting as though his proposed solution was the only one or the only logical one. He put the glass carefully on the rickety table next to the chair, fearing what might have been in the water he swallowed. "All right. But you could have ignored those who came to you crawling on their knees and asking for a chance to serve you. The Ministry would have provided your protection against the ones who wanted to hurt you."
Potter watched him with a tolerant look. "This is because you can't imagine someone giving up magic, isn't it?" he asked. "Even with all I've told you, you don't think of it as justified."
"Because it isn't," Draco explained.
Potter shook his head. "Maybe if I'd grown up in the wizarding world, then I wouldn't have been able to do it. But I had eleven years—ten years, if I ignore the time when my parents were alive—of thinking I was a Muggle. So it wasn't as hard for me to go back to that as it would have been for someone like you."
Draco opened his mouth to combat the impression Potter appeared to have of him, as someone who was to be pitied because he couldn't survive in the Muggle world, and then shut it again. What did he care what Potter thought or decided about him? He had questions to ask, instead, before he could go away with his strange curiosity about Potter satisfied. "What do you do all day?" he asked, picking up the glass of water.
"Whatever I can find, whatever needs me," Potter said. "Sometimes I volunteer. I've been a waiter and a cook, I've cleaned up after hundreds of people at parties, I've made arrangements for people to come back to the country after they spent a long time in the States or on the Continent, I've sold books and tea and animals and paper, I've—"
"I understand," Draco interrupted. Potter would probably go on listing Muggle careers until someone stopped him, and Draco's mind was dazed and unsettled, once again, by the implications that Potter was living such a different life from the one Draco had always pictured him living. For that matter, Draco had never known that Potter thought he was a Muggle, either. "What are you doing now?"
"This is one of the periods I'm between jobs." Potter shrugged. "I visit friends, and one of them says that she thinks she can get me a position cutting things, or packing things, or something. I didn't pay that much attention. I'd like it, but I don't need it."
"Because of the money you changed?"
Potter nodded. "I wasn't sure how well I could find work when I didn't have the most basic Muggle documentation, at first. I needed something that could support me while I was waiting to find a job, and in times like this, when I don't have one." He rose and walked back into his kitchen, where the clinking told Draco that he was probably getting a glass of water for himself.
Draco stared at the dusty glass on the table, around the dusty flat, and shook his head.
Potter could live this kind of life if he wanted, but it was stupid of him to do so. Draco was content with the place he had, but if he'd had more, an untouched fortune and a heroic reputation and the skills that Potter undoubtedly showed at Quidditch and Defense and the rest of it, then he would never have given his life up.
That suggested something was more important to Potter than all that.
But Draco still couldn't figure it out, and so, when Potter came back and settled into the chair across from him with every sign of staying for a while, he asked.
Potter smiled at him. "Respect," he said. "Freedom. For myself, and for other people. If I can make a choice to live like this, with no one forcing me, then I don't mind it. My relatives didn't give me a choice when I was a child, and I didn't have a choice during the war, either. I couldn't have run away into the Muggle world and left everyone dangling there without my help." He said it so simply that Draco forgot, for a moment, that there would have been other alternatives, and nodded back. "I know what I'm sacrificing, now."
"And you want the minds and wills of others to be free," Draco said.
Potter beamed at him, as if he didn't understand sarcasm, and said, "Exactly!" Then he sipped from his glass and sighed in contentment.
Draco pinched the bridge of his nose, and tried to keep his voice as calm and clear as possible. "This isn't—you do realize that you have other choices, Potter, than to curl up and give away your magic?"
"You keep harping on that." Potter's voice was cool. He set his glass aside and leaned forwards. "I don't see that I did. The people who came near me, even the ones who were braced and prepared, were still affected by my magic. They didn't see me. They saw the hero they wanted, or the enemy they needed, or the Auror they envied, or the man they were willing to listen slavishly to. I could persuade someone whose mind was dead-set against me to do whatever I wanted, as long as they stayed in my general vicinity. I could have made them take Unbreakable Vows or give me their children." Potter shuddered. "That kind of power is disgusting, and no matter how long I worked or how hard I tried, I couldn't find any way to control it. I gave it up because of that, because there may have been other choices, but they weren't ones I could make."
Draco combed his fingers through his hair, and then stopped because he remembered what those fingers had been in contact with. "Potter, there are still ways to live with yourself, even assuming that all that is true and other people wouldn't have forgiven you for enchanting them. Plenty of powerful wizards have existed down the years. Merlin. The Founders. Grindelwald." He left the last name unspoken, but from the very slight twitch of his lips, Potter had picked up on the obvious omission from the list.
"Yes," Potter said calmly, "but getting trapped in a tree, founding a school, or dying in prison aren't the ways that I want to end my life." He sipped from his glass of water, then added, "Or killed by someone who hates me, for that matter. If my only choices are Founder or Dark Lord, I'll take Muggle."
Draco sighed and started to say something else, but his watch chimed from within his pocket just then, and he pulled it out to look at it. He couldn't help the way his eyes narrowed when he saw the time, but Potter didn't make a sarcastic comment about it, which showed he had changed in ways beyond the obvious. Draco stood up and stared down at him. Potter looked serenely back, as if it were normal to have his schoolboy enemy standing within his dingy little flat.
"You could clean this up, at least," Draco said. "Not look as though you're living in a—a rat haven."
"Rat haven," Potter said. "I haven't heard that one yet." He chuckled, but stopped abruptly. "And why would it matter to you? The way that I live hasn't been of concern to anyone but my friends for a year now."
"Do your friends like the way you live?' Draco asked. He had a bit of time before his appointment to meet Pansy for dinner, and he thought he deserved an answer to this one question, for putting up with Potter for so long.
Potter cocked his head to the side. "No," he said, "but they understand it."
Well, perhaps two questions. "But what can the motivation be?" Draco waved his hand at the chair, the kitchen counter, the cloud of dust he had sent drifting into the air when he stood. "Unless you want to discourage visitors, but I can't imagine that you get many of them, and the ones you do have probably don't take no for an answer."
Potter smiled at him. "Rather like you."
That annoyed Draco enough that he left, striding through the front door, and enough that he didn't remember until he was out of the building that he could simply have Apparated from Potter's flat. He wouldn't have wards up to prevent such things, after all.
The staring idiot. Doesn't he realize that someone who knows where he is could drop a hint with the Death Eaters and send them straight at him?
Draco frowned. For some reason, he didn't like to think about that happening to Potter. Of course, as the last wizard with whom Potter had been in contact who wasn't on an approved friends list, he would probably be questioned.
He cordoned the thought neatly off and Apparated to meet Pansy. He didn't bother to check for Muggles being nearby, because he already knew they weren't. Anyone coming along would warn him by choking to death on the dust.
Draco hadn't had much to drink with dinner that night a few weeks later, but enough to think that it would be a lark to pop in and surprise Potter. He closed his eyes, fixed the look of the room in his mind—he hoped absently that Potter hadn't changed the drifts of dust too much—and Apparated.
When he appeared, the first thing he noticed was the smell: not the mildew and mold that he had internalized so well the last time he visited, but the blood.
His eyes sprang open, and he did the first thing that came to mind, which was drop to the floor and roll to the side. A curse flew above his head, cementing the wisdom of this procedure. Draco dropped flat on his stomach behind a chair and looked around cautiously.
Potter was leaning against the counter of his kitchen, his hand raised above his head. He held some Muggle contraption in it, something that Draco didn't think had enough jagged edges to be a weapon. A long line of blood ran down his side. Draco's gaze rose, tracking it, and discovered that the skin under his armpit was simply gone, as if blasted off.
Two dark, cloaked shapes were closing in on Potter. They wore the white masks that Draco would hate and fear until he died old and alone in bed.
Potter watched them come with a grim, resigned expression that Draco didn't understand. His fingers tightened on the Muggle device, as if he would flick it at his attackers, and then one of the Death Eaters cast a spell that made it fly out of his hand. Potter lunged after it with a desolate cry. The second Death Eater got his wand in place for a perfect shot, and Draco knew it would all be over in a few seconds.
There was really no other choice. Draco rose to one knee and hit both of them with a wide-spreading Memory Charm; the way Potter was tumbling over the floor meant it was unlikely that Draco would hit him. The Death Eaters turned around, dazed, fumbling with their wands. Draco hit them with Stunners, Disarming Charms, and binding charms while Potter was still searching under the chair where his device had tumbled.
Potter reeled over onto his back and stared with his mouth open. Meanwhile, Draco straightened up, pocketed the two enemy wands, and looked back at him in silence.
"Er," Potter said. He ran a hand through his wild hair, making it stand on end as though he had stuck a Lightning Comb into it. "Thanks."
Draco shook his head in disgust, and then the words he hadn't been planning to speak burst out of him. "Idiot! What did you expect, living here alone with no protections, no wards?" He strode over and knelt down beside Potter, Stunning the Death Eaters again as they began to stir. His first version of the spell always was weak—a fault he could cope with, since he knew about it. He didn't know healing charms as well, though, and the most he could do was conjure a gauze bandage and a clean cloth and give them to Potter to press against the wound. "We have to get you to St. Mungo's."
Potter pulled away and stared at Draco as if he had suggested copulation with a dog. "They won't take me," Potter said. "I'm a Muggle."
"Not really," Draco said, clinging to his irritation as best he could. He had never seen so much blood. The Dark Lord had favored curses that broke bones or heads, damaged the internal organs, or caused pain without leaving a mark. His hand tightened with a spasm on his wand, and he swallowed. There was a reason that he hadn't even tried to become an Auror when he had started considering Ministry jobs. "They certainly won't refuse to treat the famous Harry Potter. And we can stop off at Gringotts on the way, retrieve your magic. You said that the goblins had it. They can give it back to you." Draco knew he was babbling, and bit his tongue, hard, to make himself shut up.
Potter shook his head, stubborn as a Crup puppy trying to get out of its basket. "No. I can call—look, I can call for help." He held out the Muggle device he'd brandished as a weapon, and Draco eyed it warily. Now that he looked at it more closely, he could see that it had a bright square on it, and some buttons. It was probably a communication device. "I have a mobile."
"You aren't a Muggle," Draco said. "And you could bleed to death by the time they get here." Muggles couldn't Apparate, so it stood to reason that they could easily be too slow to save Potter.
"No, I won't," Potter said. "Not now that you gave me something to put pressure on it." He proceeded to do so, although his hand was shaking and he removed it from the cloth altogether a second later to get to his "mobile." Draco rolled his eyes and put his own hands to work, casting a few Finites to end any Dark magic that might be on the wound and an Episkey in the vain hope that it would work. Perhaps the blood flowed a little more slowly after that, but not much more so.
"You're so…" Draco said, and let his voice trail off as Potter spoke into his mobile, because he didn't understand and he suspected that Potter could spend bloody years explaining it and he still wouldn't understand. He turned his head and stared at the two Death Eaters in the middle of the carpet, wondering how they had found Potter.
He became aware that Potter had stopped talking, and turned back to find him staring expectantly at Draco. "What?' Draco demanded. "Have you thought about what you're going to tell the Muggles when they ask who these men are and what they did to you?"
"Religious fanatics, worshipping some Dark power," Potter said simply. "Muggles love stories like that. The right newspapers will carry it, and the right people will ignore it. I want to know—" He hesitated. "I want to know how they found me."
Draco nodded. "I'd like to know that, too."
Potter stared at him.
It took longer than it should have for the pieces to fall into place; Draco was out of practice at responding to hatred and suspicion since he dropped out of public view and took the Obliviator job. But it came to him then, and he tightened up and surged away from Potter. Potter took over the task of pressing the cloth against his wound, eyes wide and wary.
"You think I led them to you," Draco said quietly. If he had said it any louder, he would have been shouting.
"What else am I supposed to think?" Potter sighed and glanced away as if disappointed. "I know that you didn't mean to. But there's no other way they could have found me. I know that none of my friends would have led them here, and I haven't had any other visitors in the last month who were wizards."
"Yes, accuse me," Draco said. He was aware of a dull, hollow feeling in his chest, as though someone had set up a gong there and was striking it. "That's so much better. It's so easy for you to suspect me. Almost like home, isn't it?"
"This is home now," Potter said quickly, gesturing in a way that made blood fly from his wound and Draco think that if he desired revenge for Potter's stupid thoughts, he would be getting it pretty quickly. "If you try to convince me again that I should have magic, then I'm going to scream. Everything is different."
"Except the way you think about me."
Potter's face crumpled, and he stared at him. "But you're the only visitor I've had aside from my friends," he said.
Draco turned around without speaking, until he came to the point where he would actually have to Apparate. Then he paused and fought with himself, because part of him felt that Potter didn't deserve the warning. But he had still interfered when he saw that the Death Eaters meant to kill Potter.
"Put wards up," he said at last. "They won't have kept this knowledge to themselves, and you could be in trouble again soon. I don't enjoy having to save your life, you know." He leaped into nothingness without waiting for Potter's reply.
Someone knocked on his door a fortnight later. Draco lifted his head and narrowed his eyes. Very few people knew where he lived, with the exceptions of Pansy, Theodore, a few colleagues in the Ministry, and probably the Minister himself, who would have access to all those records if he wanted them.
He waited to see if the knock would repeat, and it did. Draco rose to his feet at last and threaded his way across the floor, wand in hand. He wasn't worried about the intruder breaking in before he got there. This wasn't Malfoy Manor, which he'd been forced to sell, but its wards were strong enough. He was thinking more of the inconvenience of losing his favorite hiding place and having to start over.
A glance through the seeing ward above the door showed him Potter. Draco stood there for a long while before he decided that even Pansy was unlikely to use that glamour for a joke, and opened the door.
"I thought you didn't come into the real world, Potter," he said.
Potter tapped the glasses on his face, which Draco only then noticed that he was wearing. Sloppy, he scolded himself. In a wizarding world with active Death Eaters, he couldn't afford to be less than paranoid. "Hermione made these for me. They let me see the magic that I have to avoid. But I'm afraid that I can't stay long." He thrust a bottle of white wine at Draco and then slouched past him without waiting for an invitation. "I came to apologize, though."
Draco turned the bottle around before he answered. His eyebrows rose. Elf-wine, thirty years old. A more than adequate gift. "Really," he said.
"Yeah." Draco turned around to see Potter standing in the middle of his drawing room, hands in pockets, trying to keep himself from gaping at the flat and failing. Then he cleared his throat and turned his attention back to Draco, as if that would make his gaping any less obvious, or less welcome. "I found out the next day that the Death Eaters had put a tracking charm on Hermione and followed her to my flat. She didn't know it was there. It wasn't on purpose, no one was really at fault."
"Thirteen days ago," Draco repeated musingly. "And yet, you didn't come and see me."
Potter flushed all up his face, in a neat wave that Draco thought he could have watched happen more than once. "Sorry for that, too," he muttered. "I had to decide what to bring with me—" He nodded at the wine. "And how to say sorry, and whether I wanted to venture into the magical world or not. But that's no reason for me to have waited so long. Yeah, it was shitty of me."
Draco left him hanging on hooks for a long moment before he nodded acceptance and moved past Potter to set the wine on the nearest shelf. One wave of his wand cast the Stasis Charm that would be necessary to preserve it; elf-wine was more temperamental than others and had more things that could go wrong with it. "Apology accepted. Now, sit down and tell me what happened."
Potter hesitated. Draco watched him with a tolerant eye. "Yes, the furniture is covered with treated silk," he said at last. "No, you won't damage it by sitting on it."
Potter took the chair that was furthest from the fireplace, a deep green one that he sank into with a little sigh. "That's the last thing I need."
Draco looked around the room, trying to see it as a stranger would see it. The colors were dark and rich, gem shades, green and blue and muted purple where the two colors met; Pansy had compared it to being underwater. The fire threw light that caught and gleamed on the marble bookshelves, the ebony desk in a corner, the mahogany tables next to the chairs. Draco himself took the chair he'd been sitting in, a blue one, and studied Potter. "Did you put up the wards as I told you to?"
Potter nodded, abashed. "Or, well, Hermione did."
Draco hissed out a stream of air between his teeth. "What will it take to make you retrieve your magic, if not the desire to protect yourself?"
"Something else," Potter said, with a flash of his eyes. "Anyway. The Muggle authorities got there soon enough, gaped at the Death Eaters, and took me to hospital. I missed work the next day, of course." He shifted and then winced, and Draco abruptly recalled his wound and another reason that Potter might have taken a long time to get back to him and apologize: he'd been subjected to barbaric Muggle medicine in order to recover. Idiot. "They asked me a lot of questions, but they could see that I hadn't used a weapon against them. I made up a story about a third fanatic who decided it wasn't a good idea and turned on them, and they bought it because they didn't have any other explanation." Potter grinned briefly. "You ought to see the warning they have out against devil worshippers, especially after those two disappeared from custody."
"So someone took them," Draco murmured. "Someone who knew where they were going, someone who knew enough about Muggle infrastructure to guess where they would be and how to get them out."
"How to get them out I agree with, but he could have had a tracking charm on them, too." Potter stretched his arms over his head and then leaned back on the chair, regarding Draco curiously. "You look really worried about this."
Draco rolled his eyes. Potter understood things so differently from other people. Draco had never understood his understanding, which was why he had thought it deficient in school. He knew now that it wasn't, but he still didn't have the concerns that Draco thought he ought to, living in the Muggle world and far away from any magical protection. "Someone planned more than I thought possible. If the Death Eaters had taken the opportunity to launch an attack against you, it could have been spontaneous, happening any time after they realized that you weren't as protected as it should be."
Potter scowled. "You sound like Hermione. She's always going on about wards and alarms and all the rest of it."
Draco had never thought he would feel a sudden rush of sympathy for Granger, or that it would be so painful. "Anyway," he said, "the tracking charms and the way they retrieved their comrades afterwards argues that they planned instead, and there's someone with a brain behind their operations."
Potter paused. "I thought they captured all the Death Eaters with a brain," he said, exactly as if he hadn't captured most of those Death Eaters himself.
"New ones have been joining, of course," Draco said. "I can think of several people our own age who would be tempted and who would have the intelligence to make something like this work."
Potter stared at him. "Why would anyone join?" he whispered. "Voldemort's dead."
"How out-of-touch with the news of the wizarding world have you been?" Draco demanded, exasperated. "They've found several new Death Eaters, luckily the sort who think it would be smart to launch attacks on the Minister in the middle of the day. But the more intelligent ones have been in hiding. These Death Eaters are the ones who think that the Dark Lord had interesting ideas but the wrong means of executing them. Trade on a name that's already established, and you can recruit followers faster than if you don't."
Potter shook his head as if dazed and bent forwards so that his scarred forehead rested in his palm. "It's stupid," he whispered. "Voldemort's gone, and the pure-blood families still have plenty of power."
Draco snorted. "Yes, exactly, which is why I'm working as an Obliviator, Pansy was lucky to find a garment witch to apprentice to, Theo has to sell his potions under a pseudonym—"
"I know that some individuals lost out!" Potter looked at him with eyes that shone more clearly than most stars Draco had seen. "But you still have your lives. You can still find jobs. A few of your parents are in prison, but not all of them. You know it's not as bad as it could have been."
Draco paused, then inclined his head. "I can acknowledge that," he said. "I'm still free, and, as you point out, I can work. But some of the others can't, and some of them think that any loss of Galleons or prestige is irreparable."
Potter's lips twisted bitterly. "And what do they think murdering me is going to accomplish?"
"It would be a first step," Draco said. "Something they could do that Voldemort couldn't do, that none of the old Death Eaters could do. It would inspire people as a symbol. The same way that you did during the war. You've always been a symbol, Potter."
He hadn't expected the way Potter's lips tightened and he nodded.
"Why do you think I got rid of my magic?" he asked. "It wasn't the only reaction it encouraged, but one of those reactions was to see me as the symbol of their dreams, the answer to their prayers. I thought that people would have more choice about what to believe if they weren't influenced by someone outside them."
Draco laughed harshly. "They'll always be influenced by something, Potter. Their friends, their parents, their Hogwarts House, the latest book or Skeeter article they read, how hungry they are or how many Galleons they make a month. You can't control that, and it's not yours to atone for."
"That almost made sense," Potter said, staring at him in wonder, and then went on before Draco could do more than splutter indignantly. "Well, fine. They wanted to kill me, then. I don't want them to succeed."
"Then move back to the wizarding world and get your magic from the goblins," Draco said. It seemed the obvious solution to him.
"I've put up alarms on my building now," Potter said. "I've bought a dog, an unfriendly one that barks at any stranger. And me, half the time," he added, with a rueful smile and a rub of his hand along his arse. Draco imagined the dog biting him there, and had to work to suppress a smirk. "Hermione put up anti-Apparition wards for me. It's the next best solution to moving, and I don't want to. I put up with a lot to acquire that flat and pay for it. I'm not running away from the first threat that comes knocking."
Draco paused. He had to admit that he admired that attitude, but not enough to watch Potter die for it. "What makes you think that they won't try again?" he asked softly.
Potter pierced him with an amused glance. Draco blinked as the past seemed to meet the present, and sitting across from him was the man who had faced death at the hands of wizards two weeks ago as well as the schoolboy who had gloated when Draco's schemes failed. "I said that they were the first threat," Potter pointed out. "That implies I know there'll be others."
Draco shook his head. "But you're not taking it seriously enough. You're acting as though anything is better than getting your magic back, and your magic is what would most effectively enable you to defend yourself."
Potter sighed and stood. "Look, I came to thank you. I wouldn't have survived if not for you, and I know that. But it's clear that you don't understand my motives for getting rid of my magic."
Draco shook his head again.
"Then we have nothing more to talk about," Potter said, and stalked across the drawing room towards the entrance hall.
Draco stood. He should have let Potter walk away, he thought. That would serve him right. When he realized that he was absent the only person who would talk sense to him, he would come crawling back to Draco quickly enough.
But apparently he wanted some things more than he wanted to prove Potter wrong—what a change from Hogwarts—because he heard himself saying, "Can't we talk about something that's not Death Eaters and whether your decision to become a Muggle is wrong? I had the impression that we had changed at least that much."
Potter paused, as though someone had cut the string that was leading him out of Draco's home, and then turned around and stared at him. Draco looked back, not sure what the expression on his face looked like to Potter—a rather more pressing concern than what it would look like in a mirror—and not sure that he would stay even if he liked it.
Then Potter relaxed, cocking his head, and said, "You know, it is nice, sometimes, to speak to someone who isn't one of my close friends but remembers the wizarding world."
Draco smiled at him. He didn't know that he was going to do it until he had, and then Potter was staring at him with his mouth slightly open. Draco shook his head. "And of course, no one else who's not a friend visits you."
"Why would they?" Potter countered, stepping back towards the chair and resting a hand on the back of it as though feeling the silk. "Besides, you're forgetting. There were some who visited me a fortnight ago." His hand strayed towards his arm again, but this time Draco thought less of dogbites and more of the wound that he had seen there the last time he was with Potter.
"I know," Draco said. "Anyway, I want to know how well-informed you actually keep yourself. Did you know that the Cannons have a genuine chance of winning their games this year? Of course, that depends more on a number of genuinely awful and stupid decisions by the other teams than on their innate skills."
Potter laughed. Draco stared at him. He hadn't imagined that that sort of sound could come from him—a carefree sound, one that didn't even seem as though he had studied to remove any hint of strain from it.
Potter sank back into the chair. "I don't believe you," he said. "Ron would never have neglected to tell me that, no matter what other pieces of news he tends to forget about until I remind him."
Draco felt a small and entirely inappropriate thrill that he was Potter's first source for something like this—it was a trivial fact; it should be, at the most, a trivial feeling to Draco—and nodded, taking his own seat again and picking up his glass of wine. "Well, first the Falmouth Falcons' new Seeker injured himself, and then the reserve Seeker decided that she was moving to Russia. And the Cannons chose a Seeker this time who's less of an idiot than the ones they usually have…"
Draco found himself leaning against the front of Potter's building, panting, the next time he tried to Apparate to his flat. Only then did he recall Potter's mention of Granger giving him anti-Apparition wards.
Draco cursed heartily and stood up, staring at the front door as it opened. Potter leaned out and cocked his head at him. "Malfoy," he said. "I thought I felt someone nearly Splinch themselves, but in an aristocratic and elegant way. What's the occasion?"
There were many things that he might have said to that, but Draco contented himself with holding up the bottle of red wine he'd brought. His reward was Potter's eyes narrowing skeptically.
"I don't usually drink red," Potter said.
"You don't usually drink anything but tap water, based on the state of your flat," Draco snapped back. "Are you going to try it, or not?" He was prepared to turn his back and Apparate away again. Yes, he had come here to seek out Potter, but there were other friends who would be perfectly delighted to see him and entertain him for an evening.
Potter gave him a very small smile, shaking his head as though Draco's exasperation was his reward, and stood back to let him in. "Who knows?" he added, as Draco passed him. "It might even be good. In a terribly decadent and foul-tasting way."
Draco gave him a long, level look. It didn't make Potter stop grinning, but it meant he followed Draco down the corridor to his flat without speaking.
Potter's flat hadn't changed beyond the acquisition of a new table to replace one the Death Eaters had presumably broken and the glimmer of the wards that Draco could see the moment he stepped inside, and had already felt. Well, and the brute of a dog that lumbered out from behind the table and stared at them.
"What is that?" Draco asked, unable to keep himself from eyeing the dog with disfavor. It had a neck like a mastiff, but had to be at least part elephant, given the wrinkly grey skin that covered it, with patches of sparse fur clinging here and there. Of course, everything was explained when Draco saw the mad red eyes. Ugly and murderous—of course it would be the irresistible combination for a Gryffindor.
"That's the dog I told you about," Potter called, stepping into his kitchen to find glasses. At least, Draco hoped that was what he was looking for. There were several impressive bangs that promised nothing good.
"Ordinary dogs don't look as though they're related to the Dark Lord." Draco moved to the side, cautiously aiming for the chair he'd used the last time he was here. The dog swung its head to watch him go, a low growl rumbling up from its throat. Draco tightened his hand on his wand. Come to that, if the brute attacked him, he had one advantage that Potter didn't. He had only to cast a Stinging Hex, and he would give the beast something else to think about.
"Maybe he is," Potter said, and Draco heard a wrenching noise, followed by the breaking of glass. He closed his eyes in resignation, but it must have been only a cup, because the next moment there came the soft whisper of wine from its bottle. "But as he didn't kill my parents or give me this scar, I'm inclined to give him another chance."
"Where did you get him?" Draco managed to sit down. The dog continued to watch him, then audibly sniffed and lumbered behind the nearest table. It kept its eyes on him as long as its head was visible, silently warning him not to move.
"I found him wandering on the streets." Potter came back in with the two glasses and an indignant expression. "Someone just abandoned him. Can you imagine?"
"Yes, very easily," Draco said, and accepted the glass that Potter handed him. It was overfull, and an ordinary cup besides, an insult to the age of the wine, but Draco could always sip, and he had never expected Potter to have the right kind of glasses anyway.
Potter gave him a half-hearted glare and sat down near the window, kicking idly at a rug on the floor. "Anyway, I think he'll warn me of the Death Eaters. He barks at everything." He gulped, and then coughed harshly.
"He didn't bark at me," Draco pointed out, and sipped, silently providing Potter with a model of how it was done—not that he was paying attention.
"So he didn't." Potter cast an annoyed glance in the dog's direction. "Or try to bite you, either. I reckon that means that I'll have to hope he bites the Death Eaters. At least he's big enough to hang onto them and drag them down." He took another swallow of wine, this time nodding. "Hey, this is good."
"Of course it is." Draco leaned forwards with his hands clasped between his knees and spoke quietly. He hadn't come to Potter's home to speak to him specifically about this, but since the subject suggested itself, he didn't want to pass up the chance. "You know that what you're doing—your attempt to live without magic—is ridiculous."
Potter rolled his eyes. "We've been over this. You have nothing new to say, I have nothing new to say, you don't understand my reasons, it's tiresome. I want to talk about something else." He licked a drop of wine from the corner of his lips—Draco wondered why he had noticed that—and leaned forwards. "How many people have you fucked?"
Draco choked on the wine and dripped some of it down his shirt, which was a crime. Potter watched him with an innocent smile that didn't fool Draco for an instant, and Draco stared at him with narrowed eyes. "You did that on purpose."
"Well, yeah." Potter rolled his eyes.
"You don't really want to talk about it, that means," Draco said. "So, we can discuss how you don't seem to understand the reality of what the Death Eaters have become in the wizarding world. They are not what they were, but what they are is dangerous enough. A dumping ground for every disaffected teenager or someone who thinks the war could have gone differently and cost less than it did—"
"Which is why they target me. I understand." Potter leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him while he admired them. He watched Draco staring at him, and smiled at him, winking once. "I just don't really care."
"You must," Draco said. "This is your life we're talking about."
"And I'll defend it how I like," Potter said easily. "I told you, we've had this conversation before. And if not with you, I've had it with my other friends. Anyway. I was serious. How many people have you fucked?"
Draco's hand tightened around his glass before he set it aside. No need to commit other things that were a crime to wine. "That depends on what you mean with the word," he said. "A vulgar name for sex, or the more specific act."
"Will that get me two different numbers?" Potter grinned, swinging his legs. "I'd like to hear them both."
Draco bore down with his teeth to keep from bursting into laughter. It wasn't funny, he told himself. Potter was showing him—and the wine—a profound lack of respect. He had every right to be angry.
But he wasn't. Perhaps because it had been so long since even Pansy had bantered with him like this, he found he didn't mind nearly as much as he should.
"Fine," he said. "They are two different numbers." He paused until Potter was nearly falling off the chair, and then added, "And you don't get to hear either."
"I'm grieved," intoned Potter. "Grieved and shocked. And I asked so politely, too."
"It doesn't matter," Draco said, reaching for the wine again. A small sip restored the world to rights, though he wondered about the glass that was probably on the floor of Potter's kitchen. "I'll define it how I like."
"I'll tell you how many people for me," Potter volunteered. He leaned back in his chair, cradling the arm that had been wounded against his side. He watched Draco with ravenous eyes for a moment, then grinned hard at him again.
"Why are we talking about this?" was what Draco asked instead, pressing his forehead against the cup before he remembered that he probably didn't want to do that, not when the cup had never seen the right end of a house-elf. He leaned back in the chair in turn and studied Potter, looking for clues.
Potter simply regarded him with that slightly defiant look, his head tilted to one side, as though he was patiently waiting for Draco to figure out a puzzle that wasn't beyond his abilities. He started tapping his fingers on the arm of the chair after two minutes, though. Draco hid his grin. It was nice to know that he was still more patient than Potter, who had displayed talents today that Draco should certainly be jealous of, including stubbornness and the ability to find the ugliest dog in the world.
"Fine," Potter said, as though this was a major concession. "I thought that I'd shock you and distract you by bringing up a topic that you would never talk to me about, so you'd leave the other one alone."
Draco arched his eyebrows. "Strange that you should say that."
"Why is it strange?" Potter stared at him as if he couldn't imagine the answer.
"I'd think you had a little more gratitude for someone who saved your life," Draco said, pitching his voice low. "Of course, perhaps that's happened so often for you that you no longer take much note of it."
Draco blinked, expecting neither the Muggle curse nor the way that Potter flung himself out of his chair as if it had become burning hot and paced about the flat. It was a short trip, since he seemed determined that Draco shouldn't see the corridor that led to his bedroom and bathroom, and therefore pretended that only the kitchen and drawing room existed. He watched Potter pace, and, because Potter's words had put the subject in his head, he watched the jeans-clad legs shifting back and forth, the pull of muscles in his back, the way his hair flopped about.
Then he remembered how close he had come to losing the chance to watch all those things, and shook his head with a grimace. Even if Potter was fit, which he was, who would want to date a man so mad he'd let go of his magic in the first place, let alone refuse to pick it up again after an attempt on his life?
"Listen," Potter said finally, spinning around. His voice had calmed down, at least. Draco gave him a slow nod, prepared to accept that he might not be as mental as Draco had thought—maybe. Potter sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Everyone who associates with me knows how much danger I'm in, all the time, at any given moment."
Draco stared at him with a slightly open mouth, then realized it was slightly open and shut it with extreme force, disgusted with his own lack of taste. "But you were surprised to hear about the reformation of the Death Eaters, and that they were targeting you," he said slowly.
Potter shook his head. "Surprised to hear they'd taken the same name. But—look, I knew that my danger would increase when I gave up my magic, all right? I didn't lose all common sense. I just chose things that I wanted to honor above it."
"That's new?" Draco asked.
Potter laughed at him with his eyes, but only let go another of those hard smiles and continued, "Most people who visit me a lot know that, and Hermione would have put up anti-Apparition wards before now if I'd let her, but I thought it would draw too much attention, that much magic in a place so obviously Muggle. Anyway—I forgot that was a new thing for you, to be so close to the danger and think that I'd die. Sorry."
Draco could see the origin of that odd apology, he could even make out that most of the words had sense, but it wasn't enough. He drank the last of the wine and leaned towards Potter. "You would have died, without my help."
"Well, yeah," Potter said, with a bob of his shaggy hair.
"You're still speaking as though you wouldn't have, though," Draco said. "As though someone else would—would come along and do the same thing if I hadn't, or as though one of the Death Eaters would have tripped over his wand and impaled himself through the heart with it."
"Stranger things have happened," Potter said softly, and now he wore a pained smile. "The Chamber of Secrets, for example. Remind me to tell you about that sometime." He shook his head and continued before Draco could say that he wanted to know now, if the story wasn't simply Potter killing the basilisk with the power of his pure goodness, as he had always assumed it was. "People help me. I have good luck. I think I've come to depend on those. Maybe too much."
Draco seized the one grain of sanity in the sack of madness and nodded several times. "You need stronger magical protections on your flat, Potter."
"These wards are the strongest anyone could raise without getting into legal trouble with the Ministry!" Potter protested, giving Draco a sideways glance, as if he'd expected him to be familiar with every one of the Ministry's rules, since he worked for it.
Draco stood up and crossed the floor to Potter, touching him and trying not to flinch at the coolness, the absence, beneath his skin. "You need your power back," he whispered. "You know you do. It'll guard you better than anyone else ever could."
Potter shook his head, and the anger that had shone briefly through his mask folded up again and spluttered into ash back inside him. "You don't understand," he said. "You don't know what it was like. It made my life difficult, it made the lives of everyone around me-except my friends, who knew me well enough to resist the influence of my magic-horrific, and I won't go back to that."
"Then stronger magical protections," Draco said. "It's really the only choice, and you know it."
Potter tilted his head back, eyes fathomless as they met Draco's. "Why do you care, Malfoy?"
"Because I saved your life," Draco said, going with the first words that sprang to mind instead of trying to wait for the best ones the way he usually did, "and I don't want my time and energy to go to waste."
Potter's smile was soft and private this time, as though Draco had reminded him of a cherished personal memory. Draco felt his hand twitch at his side. He wondered if Potter's skin would still lack the warmth that magic gave to it when he smiled like that.
He kept his hand down. He had no interest in doing something that Potter would interpret wrongly merely to gratify a fleeting curiosity.
"All right," Potter said, the smile vanishing as his eyes focused on Draco again. "But again, we're up against legal barriers. The Ministry considers me a Muggle now. They won't hesitate to leave me out of magical protections unless a wizard actually attacks me, and they could legally send an Obliviator after me." He gave Draco's wand a calculating look that made Draco have to set his teeth together. "So how can I possibly have powerful spells around this place, given all that?"
"There is a legal loophole," Draco said coolly. "People aren't allowed to cast spells as strong as the ones that you'll need, but artifacts can. And I have one that I'm willing to sell to you."
Potter gestured around the flat. "You think I have the money to pay you? Especially the way that it'd probably translate into Galleons."
Draco shook his head. "My price is a promise. You owe me a favor, and when I bring the artifact by and show you how to use it, then I'll tell you what it is."
Potter considered him, thoughts flickering across his face, through his brain. Draco didn't know him well enough to read every change, but well enough not to be surprised by the direction his words took when he did speak. "This favor won't hinge on asking me to do something illegal or something that could get someone else hurt?"
"No," Draco said, and stared hard at him.
Potter made a waving-away gesture, though he still flushed pink as he muttered, "Sorry. All right. What is the artifact? I don't have much room here." He glanced over at that monstrosity snoring in the corner to emphasize the point.
"It's a white stone in form," Draco said, and smirked as he watched Potter's eyes narrow over the last words. "It won't take up any room, and once it begins to cast its magic, it isolates itself from the eyes of outside observers. Don't worry. It's easy to control."
Potter nodded, but still watched him through the rest of the visit as though he was trying to figure out what Draco's ulterior motive was.
In fact, Draco would have been glad to know that, too. He knew, of course, what the artifact really did and what favor he wanted to ask of Potter, but he still didn't know what had possessed him to make the offer.
Ah, well. He reckoned that his life could use a shadowed corner or two; he had lived so much of it of late in the eyes of the Ministry, clear and plain to them if no one else.
"That's it?" Potter squinted doubtfully at the artifact Draco had brought by as if he knew that it was too small to contain the power he must feel lapping quietly at his senses-
And then reality returned home to Draco, and he held back the scowl. Potter wouldn't feel the power because he no longer had the senses that would have let him feel it. He had sacrificed everything. Standing close to someone who had burned himself out in an attempt to handle a too-powerful artifact, Draco could feel a faint, sympathetic tingle, as if he had a missing finger. Potter was like a Muggle, utterly bereft, like his neighbors that Draco could sometimes hear in their own flats but had never seen.
Draco put that thought aside for now, and nodded, rolling the white pebble in his fingers. The silver ring at its base was smooth and round, and shone free of tarnish, bright enough to mirror Potter's face as he stared down. "Yes. Let me show you how to use it."
He knelt and placed the stone in the corner of the window. He had identified that as the most open place in Potter's flat other than the door itself, and Granger's anti-Apparition wards already centered on the door. He breathed gently over the stone, and it became a rotating spark of white on its silver base.
"Malfoy?" Potter asked suddenly. "What was the favor that you wanted me to do for you?"
Draco smiled, because he had his back turned and he could, and watched the stone revolve faster and faster, churning the air around it into light. The light traveled under the silver and came out on the other side in a skein of silken delicacy, rather like a spider might weave if it were made of pure power. The skein draped over the window, running back and forth, an ice-bright tracery, and then spread out over the walls and towards the kitchen. Draco watched it a moment longer, then relaxed and turned to face Potter.
"Well?" Potter had one hand braced on the kitchen counter, leaning forwards as if he expected Draco to cast a spell he'd have to dodge.
Draco waited a few moments, studying Potter as he did so. Potter was trying to play casual, and perhaps doing a good job of it to someone who hadn't spent as much time around him in the last few months as Draco had. But Draco could see the way that one shoulder was higher than the other, and how Potter had parted his lips as if he was going to either snarl or speak Parseltongue. His fingers curled on the counter, ready to push himself off and away in any direction. Draco smiled. He was glad to see that Potter's body retained the Auror instincts that the Ministry had tried to train into him, whether or not Potter had the magical knowledge.
"When you smile like that, I know the news is bad."
Draco locked eyes with Potter and said calmly, "You said once that you would never pick up your magic simply to defend yourself, but you might pick it up again for a different reason."
"It's not exactly picking up," Potter began, and then shook his head and gave up with a sigh. "Fine. So what?"
"I want you to promise me," Draco said, "if the time comes when that reason applies, you'll reassume your magic without protest. Without argument. Without hesitation. Without slowing down."
A shadow passed over Potter's face. Draco leaned forwards to see it better, but Potter turned his head away and moved into the kitchen. The dog stuck its head out from behind the chair to watch them.
"Why?" Potter asked, back to him.
"It oughtn't to be hard," Draco said. "Since you told me that you would become a wizard again for the right motivation anyway. And it's a small favor to be asking for the magical artifact. I already told you that I didn't want money."
Potter gave a nervous little twitch of his head. "Things would be simpler if you would let me pay you."
"You couldn't afford me."
Potter turned around with a serpent-like motion, his hands really clenching on the counter this time. "Why do you care?"
"You already asked that," Draco said, leaning on the wall and watching him. He had cast the spells that would render his robes impervious to dust, as well as moving the dust away from that section of wall as much as he could. "And I already answered."
"You saved my life," Potter said, waving a hand as if he would clear smoke between them away. "That's an answer for why you wanted to give me this protection. It's not an answer for why you care so much about me being a wizard."
Draco felt the first traces of his gathering smile fade. He took a step towards Potter. Potter didn't move, not even as Draco stepped up to him until he was less than an inch away, their chests touching, their clothes brushing, their eyes unwavering. Potter stiffened, but continued not to move, when Draco leaned down to whisper in his ear.
"I care because wizards should stay wizards," he breathed. This was the first time he had ever put the belief into words, but it had been with him a long time, so he didn't feel that he was making a special sacrifice in laying it out for Potter. "Because magic is a gift from the universe that shouldn't be thrown away so easily. Because you were not meant to be a Muggle, and your becoming one of them annoys me." He moved away with a single gliding step and considered Potter from that distance. "Understandable?"
Potter stared at him with eyes that the pupils had nearly drowned. But just as Draco began to think that he was about to faint and that meant Draco had to intervene, Potter inclined his head once, in a sharp bob, and then nodded more normally.
"Yeah," he said. "Fine. It makes sense. It makes you mental, too, but I don't think you care about that."
Draco gave him a pleasant smile and turned away. Potter was free to think what he liked, as long as he was protected and as long as-
He turned back. "You haven't made me the promise yet."
Potter lifted his head like he was trying to add a few extra inches to his height. Their eyes met and held, and Draco wondered what would happen to someone who stepped between them right now. He was wagering on their catching on fire.
"I promise you," Potter said, throatily. "If the situation that I've already defined as the reason to take up magic again comes my way, I'll do it without hesitation."
Draco closed his eyes and nodded.
Draco shut his door behind him and thought about the bath that awaited him. It was going to be hot and long, and he was going to scrub as hard as he could at his face.
He didn't often have an Obliviation go as wrong as this one had. It was supposed to be a fairly ordinary removal of a memory from a Muggle family. They had seen a wizard Apparating out of their flat, an Auror trainee who'd panicked, and unfortunately, it had happened in broad daylight and when they weren't on mind-altering substances of any kind. One of the important aspects of Draco's job was judging when he needed to use the Memory Charm and when he didn't. Some Muggles could explain the situation to themselves without help.
But this one...
The Memory Charm had brought him into the mind of the man he'd cast it upon, as it sometimes did.
That mind had been a field of nightmare.
Half-suppressed memories of guilt and torture, broken fingers and slamming bodies, blows to the face and the ribs. And even more suppressed memories of doing the same thing to the two people he shared the flat with, his wife and son, laced over with glittering threads out of nightmare, the shadows that proclaimed I didn't do that, I couldn't have done that, and allowed him to get through the day without questions. Draco had waded straight into the center of it, and he didn't have the defenses that had let the man hold back the flood for so long.
He shuddered and scratched at the skin on the back of his neck before he forced himself to pull his hand back. He had done that scratching in his first weeks as an Obliviator, and it had ended up with scabs and a spell to bind his hands. He wouldn't do it again.
He had barely turned towards the bathroom when someone knocked on the door.
Draco arched his back in defense without thinking about it, and then shook his head. The wards would have warned him of any remotely hostile presence long before it touched their edges. That meant this was someone who wasn't hostile. And Draco knew that none of his friends would have troubled him this late at night. They understood propriety. Neither would the Ministry, but that was because they didn't care enough about his work to need a report the moment he'd finished it.
That left one person. Draco walked over and flung the door open. "Tell me that you brought wine this time," he said.
Potter slipped past him, carrying, yes, a bottle of wine and something larger and wrapped in what looked like silver paper. Draco gave it a suspicious look, but Potter didn't give him a chance to ask the obvious question. "How are you feeling?" he asked, turning around and pinning Draco with anxious eyes.
Draco stared at him. "How did you know that I would be feeling like shit tonight?" he demanded.
"I told you that I maintained an interest in the wizarding world," Potter said, carefully setting down the object wrapped in the silver paper. It smelled of something familiar, but once again Potter took Draco's attention before he could concentrate and identify it. "This time, I just had them keep an eye on you instead of Death Eaters."
"There are many people in the Ministry who would say that those are the same things," Draco murmured. His stomach rumbled.
Potter stared around with wide eyes at the ceiling and walls, then turned back to him, shaking his head. "Why, look at that. We aren't in the Ministry."
"Wanker." Draco forced his way past him and approached the package. He reached out to tear back the silver paper, but Potter caught his hand.
"You'll damage it if you just rip the foil off," he murmured, and then eased it back with a care that would have done credit to the package containing a Crup puppy. But Draco, his gaze fixed on the round surface visible beneath a heavier, almost log-like shape, knew it wasn't that by now. He had to gulp back saliva.
What was revealed was a shimmering combination of meat and cheese, red and yellow and white and glazed here and there with something that could have been extra sauces, which weakened Draco's legs. He sat down hard on the edge of the couch and looked hopelessly around for a plate and cutlery. Of course, he could just dig in with his hands and start eating that way, but he doubted Potter would appreciate it.
"Here." Potter came back from the kitchen with a plate and a fork and knife in his hands, along with a bowl and spoon for good measure. Draco grunted, grabbed them, and began tearing the lasagna apart with a ravenous speed that he thought surprised even Potter. At least, his lips twitched.
Draco wanted to ask some more questions, but he had to fill his stomach first, and that meant filling his mouth at the same time. He swallowed continuously, but there was always another bite, as good as the first, as deep, as warm, as half-explosive with the thickness of the cheese and the sheer smoothness of the sauce. Potter lounged on his couch and watched him eat with a grin that Draco glanced up at whenever he could, to drink it in and remember it.
It was less desirable than the lasagna, of course, because anything was right at the moment. But that was the reason Draco wanted to remember it, so he could savor it for later.
Potter brought him a glass of water first, and then a glass of wine, without being asked. He moved as gracefully and confidently through Draco's kitchen as if he belonged there, and when he was able to take a smaller portion of the lasagna later, after his first hunger had been satisfied, Draco watched him. His stomach was tight with another kind of hunger by the time he laid down the plate and scraped his fork against it in sign of surrender.
"Oh," Potter said. "Done, already?" He grinned at Draco and bent over to pick up the plate, turning towards the kitchen again.
Draco grabbed his arm. Potter turned towards him, blinking. He seemed to recognize the expression on Draco's face, but also not to know how to deal with it, as if he had done everything necessary just by bringing over the lasagna and feeding it to Draco.
And Draco knew that some people would have said so. But there was too much he wanted to know.
"You can cook?" he demanded.
Potter smiled, slower than before, an upwelling of delight that made Draco shift closer. "Yes," he said. "I just don't often have someone over worth cooking for, that's all. You've never visited on the nights that one of my friends did."
Draco shook his head. Too many questions he wanted to ask, and the one that finally made it out was, "So now I'm worth it?"
"Yes," Potter said, unabashed. "Of course."
Draco curved his hand around the back of Potter's neck, holding him there. Potter's gaze shifted to puzzled, but Draco murmured, before he could think about it too much, "Why don't you cook like that for yourself?"
Potter sighed. "Not this again. I promise, Malfoy, it's not as though I'm starving myself because I don't take the same food that I give other people. I just don't feel like cooking for myself, that's all. It's best when I can share a meal with someone else."
"Share," Draco breathed. His head felt as light as though he hadn't eaten, but the contentment and warmth still flowed through his limbs, and it was no effort at all to lean towards Potter. "What else can you share?"
"Time," Potter said, his eyes falling to Draco's lips. "Space. Friendship." He was the one who closed the distance, though he kissed softly enough to give Draco a plausible reason to pull away if he wanted one.
Draco didn't want one. He slung a leg over Potter's hips and rolled him to the couch, safely beneath him, where he could bite and pinch and hold. Potter arched into him with a soft laugh, soft as the dust in his flat, soft as the hands that plucked beneath Draco's shirt a moment later.
If it had been a different time, if Potter hadn't brought food, if Draco hadn't saved his life, they might not have done this. But one could go so far back along the chain of events, Draco thought hazily. If Potter hadn't given up his magic, if Draco hadn't become an Obliviator, if he hadn't found Potter in the Muggle world...
They kissed, and Potter's mouth was as warm as if he had eaten some of the lasagna. Draco slid one hand into his pants, and Potter bucked and writhed before getting his own back with a tight hold on Draco's dick. Draco closed his eyes and grunted, rocking back and forth. Potter's calluses provided all he needed in the way of friction.
"Damn," Potter said beneath him, rubbing against Draco and squirming against his chest and locking his legs with Draco's so that they jerked each other off with their hips as much as their hands. "Oh, damn." His eyes were lost and wild when Draco looked, behind those glasses that allowed him to see and bypass magic, and his mouth was loose, and he seemed intent on filling it with Draco's tongue again as soon as possible.
Draco gave in to that request, and to the tight scratch of Potter's fingernails against his hip, and the twist of his legs, and the demands of his own body, rising, riding the warmth, the tide of sparks that expanded in his belly, then whirled and exploded, filling him with heat to the furthest corners of himself. He groaned into Potter's neck and licked down, nibbling on the skin as Potter sobbed.
"Come," Draco whispered to him.
Potter did, as though the command had been an Imperius, pressing frantically against Draco's arms. Draco quieted him with another kiss and then reached out with a lazy hand and grasped his wand. The blanket that he kept over the back of the couch unfolded itself and dropped neatly over them, tucking in at all the little odd gaps where cold air might come through to sting their fingers or toes.
"This is the kind of thing I can still do because I still have magic," Draco told Potter, and fastened his lips on the edge of his neck where it met his collarbone for a lazy suck.
"Bastard," Potter said, shutting his eyes with a long groan. "Stop talking."
Draco did, but that was because he had his head on Potter's chest and his hands on Potter's hips and his legs intertwined with his, and that meant he could go to sleep.
He woke up in the morning when Potter tried to creep out from under him. There were advantages to sleeping on top, one of the reasons that Draco liked to do it as often as possible. He planted one hand in the center of Potter's chest and shoved him flat again. "Going somewhere?" he asked casually.
Potter glanced at him hard. He'd lost his glasses, and Draco made a mental note to find them before Potter left, so that he wouldn't walk straight into someone's wards and be butted outside magical London before he could leave on his own. "Thought I'd leave before you regretted it," he said.
Draco laughed, because it was that kind of morning, and twisted again. He was the professional Obliviator, while Potter was no longer a professional Auror, which meant he held him down easily. "What made you think I would?"
"Because-because most people did," Potter said, his head jerking as though touched with lightning. "Either because they didn't really want to, because it was my magic, or because it was too dangerous to be with me. So I thought I'd take the decision out of your hands, because I don't regret it, and I don't want to be around when your expression changes."
Draco clasped his neck and kissed him. Potter struggled unhappily for only a moment before giving in with the same kind of groan he'd used last night and slinging one leg around Draco's waist. Draco allowed him to rub both of them to half-hard interest before he pulled back, shaking his head.
"You don't have your magic right now to overpower me," he said. "And I've already shown that I'm equal to the danger you find yourself involved in, for various reasons, in various ways."
Potter shrugged and glanced away. "Yeah, but we're only friends," he muttered. "I didn't-I didn't do any of the traditional things that I'd think you'd want, because you're a pure-blood and all the rest of it."
Draco burst out laughing. Potter scowled at him, but that only made him laugh harder. He sprawled over Potter's chest, giggling, and Potter pushed at him, but Draco let his weight fall limp, so he pushed down like a ragdoll until Potter gave up. Draco let the laughter trail off naturally, and then cupped a hand beneath Potter's chin, tilting his head so that he could kiss his eyelids.
"What made you think that I'd want such traditional gestures from someone?" he murmured into Harry's ear. "What made you think that I was a traditional pure-blood at all, working for the Ministry in a profession often viewed as scum for having to interact with Muggles all day? The first time I saved your life should have been an indication that I'd changed my tune." His hands scrabbled into cloth, and only then did he consciously realize that they'd got each other off and slept together all night without removing their clothes. He converted his light groping into an imperious tug. "Let me see you without this."
Potter-no, he would need to be Harry right now, wouldn't he-stared at him with an open mouth and wider eyes. Draco snorted and kissed him.
That seemed to impress Harry enough to kiss him back. "God knows why you want this," he muttered, tugging his mouth away and beginning to take his shirt off. It didn't succeed, probably because he was trying to grope Draco at the same time, and Draco rolled his eyes and helped. Harry's chest was still broad and muscled despite the recent lack of Auror work, and Draco helpfully licked the edge of one of his muscles to bring it more into definition. Harry's eyes rolled, he cried out, and then he stared hard at Draco and said, clearly, "But I'll do my best to be worthy of it."
"Gryffindors worry too much about worth, and not enough about speed," Draco said, and sat back on his heels. His trousers clung to him unpleasantly, given the come from last night, but he waved his wand and banished it easily enough.
He didn't do it for Harry until he said "please," though.
Draco ignored the Howlers he got from a few people. Of course Harry would have told his friends, and of course some of them would disapprove because Draco wasn't "good enough" for him. Draco sent them owls and arranged a few meetings, and although he didn't know how he and Weasley got away from each other without black eyes, at the very least they had a better understanding at before. That didn't stop Weasley or Granger from "happening" to show up like chaperones every time that Draco visited Harry's flat for the next few months. Then Harry understood the coincidences and lectured them. Draco got to stand by and look genuinely innocent during those, enjoying the way Harry's mouth moved, rather than only trying to look innocent because he'd told Harry the truth. It was fun.
Of course the rest of the Weasleys firecalled Draco and sent various letters that explained how they distrusted him. Draco offered to come over and set their fears to rest. This wasn't well-received. But after he managed to survive a meeting with George Weasley during which he found and defused every single prank or booby-trapped piece of furniture before it went off, he had a level of respect from the family jokester that spread outwards quickly, and sufficed to guard his back from the rest of the Weasleys until that happened.
Of course a few people from the Ministry learned the truth, probably from overhearing certain things Weasley said, and stared at him strangely. But Harry had been right when he said that the Ministry no longer tended to keep surveillance on him at all times. Looks and a few guarded hints were all Draco got from that quarter. When he showed that he understood them perfectly well and still wanted to continue his "risky" course, they shrugged and gave up on him.
All told, by the time and Harry had been seeing each other-a prim phrase for a lot of groping and a lot of blazing rows where Draco told Harry to pick up his magic again and Harry refused-Draco had settled into smug and happy territory.
He had forgotten there was one more direction from which someone might object.
They took him just as he Apparated in at the base of the stairs leading up to his front door.
Someone disarmed him in the first seconds, despite Draco's attempt to clutch his wand close to his body. The Ministry had never thought it necessary to combat-train Obliviators the way they did Aurors. Draco regretted that for the first time as he felt his wand fly away and then hard knuckles slam into his face.
He let his head snap back in response and struck out with a fist of his own, hitting someone in the mouth. That person staggered, and Draco ducked, rolled, and tried to come up running.
Nothing doing; someone else curved an arm around his waist, and then a boot met his ribs. Draco curled around the wound in silent agony, which left his face free so that someone could break his nose. Then a third attacker, or at least it felt like a third attacker from the weight of his boots, cracked Draco's untouched ribs for him. Draco kept his mouth shut, even though it wanted to open in a shout of agony. Too much chance that they would get a potion down his throat if he did that.
As bad as it had been so far, Draco knew that a potion could make it ten times worse. He'd spent several years learning during Hogwarts, under private tutelage from Snape, just what kind of ten times worse.
He forced open watering eyes and saw one of his attackers bend down above him. The white mask and black robes of the Death Eaters swam into his sight. Of course, Draco thought, momentarily resigned. Being associated with Harry Potter would make him a target for them as well, and if they had learned what he'd done to two of their not-so-finest, they'd also be angry at him for that.
"Draco Malfoy," the leader said, in a voice that teased the edges of familiarity without crossing them. "You are sentenced to death for the crime of consorting with Harry Potter."
Draco didn't see why he needed to say anything-they already knew all the important facts-but they evidently didn't agree. One foot nudged him in the broken ribs, and he grunted around the shards of pain that filled his vision with purple.
"How will you defend yourself?" The leader's voice fell to a menacing whisper. "Will you disagree with us? Pull out a previously unknown spell? Stand up and show us that your Malfoy skin is clean of such a taint?"
He sounded genuinely interested, which made Draco feel the first real fear, going through him like an icicle. Dealing with fanatics he thought he could withstand. But dealing with someone as mad as this might mean he died.
He had to make them do something he could survive. And it had to be something that would move them away from his front door as soon as possible. Harry was coming this evening. Without magic, he couldn't face them.
"I did have a plan," he whispered. "One that you've ruined, now, because there's no way that Potter will leave me alone long enough to execute it once he sees these wounds."
Someone in Draco's peripheral vision lifted his foot again, but the leader waved him away and crouched down in front of Draco, tilting his chin up when he couldn't lift his head on his own. Draco shivered and groaned pathetically. All the while, his brain ticked along, trying to decide whether he should show more or less pain than he really felt. They might move him in either condition, either because they wanted to prevent him from dying before he talked about the plan or because they thought he wasn't in danger.
"Tell us," the Death Eater whispered.
Words began spilling from Draco's mouth, the kind of story he could make up in his sleep, about gaining Harry's trust, seducing him, making him part of the ideals Draco had never abandoned by corrupting him. The leader listened avidly, but didn't move. Draco felt his shoulders bunching together as if he had wings and could take flight. What was he going to do? This had been the one plan he could think of without his wand, and he still didn't see or feel the wand. If he couldn't get them to move-
Draco's first thought was that one of the Death Eaters had turned against the others, because the fire seemed to spring to life in the middle of them. The one whose cloak it caught whirled around, stamping and shrieking and tearing the cloak off him. Not that it mattered, because the fire had already leaped to his hair and his hands and his shirt. It burned faster than any Draco had ever seen before, fiercer, brighter. He stared in fascination and blinked when a single dark figure isolated itself against the light.
Harry. With a familiar wand in his hand and an unfamiliar furious expression on his face.
"Incendio!" he snarled again, and more Death Eaters caught fire. Then he lifted a Shield Charm before Draco could even draw his breath in to warn him about the wizard creeping up behind him, and turned around in the middle of a daze of sparks.
Fires sprang where his feet touched. They sprang where his hands gestured. Of course, nonverbal magic was a simple explanation for that, but the last thing Draco knew, Harry hadn't had any magic, let alone the power to do something like this. He found himself watching with devouring eyes, the way Harry flew and danced through the flames as though this was something he was born to do.
The Death Eaters had no chance. Draco didn't know how many of them there had been from the beginning, but he'd seen at least four or five. Harry laid out that many within two minutes, countering their spells so effortlessly that Draco was still staring more than ten seconds later, expecting to see a duel. He moved with a fluid economy of motion, not darting everywhere, but crouching when he had to, leaping when he had to, and always keeping his body as a barrier between Draco and the Death Eaters.
Draco forgot about the pain his ribs as he watched. Harry was magnificent.
And if he thought Draco was magically going to forget this sight without a Memory Charm, or agree never to discuss it again, then he was a magnificent idiot.
Harry slung the last Death Eater into the wall with a combination of fire and wind and then turned around and dropped to one graceful knee beside Draco, resting a hand on his forehead and then on his side. Draco hissed in spite of himself as the touch compressed his cracked ribs, and Harry drew back at once, letting his fingers hover instead. From the look on his face, that didn't really hinder his ability to learn about the wound.
"You're badly hurt," he said softly. "Four broken ribs. I can take you to St. Mungo's, but I don't know if you want that. It would-it would reveal what had happened, and they might take you for a Death Eater, too."
Draco reached up and grabbed his wrist in a crunching grip. Harry gave him a doubtful look, and Draco shook his head.
"Say-what you mean," he gasped. It was abruptly getting a lot harder to breathe. "You don't want to go to hospital because it would reveal that you had your magic again, and that's the kind of revelation that you want to keep just between us."
Harry flushed all the way up his neck and bridled, leaning down so that he could snarl in Draco's face, "If you think for one second I'm more worried about myself than you-"
Draco tilted his head back and inhaled. The air that swept into his nostrils and lungs took his mind off his wounds right away. It was smoky-tinged and sweet, with a sharp salt undertaste that made his mouth water. Such power could hold him, cradle him, sweep him up. He reached out and skimmed one hand lightly down Harry's side the way Harry had done to him, not because he thought that Harry was wounded but because he wanted to feel that incredible magic in the air before he felt it on skin.
Harry jerked back, and a shutter that Draco hadn't realized was open fell closed across his face. He nodded. "All right. Come on, then." He dipped, cast a murmured spell, and straightened with Draco in his arms, held close so that he couldn't jostle the broken ribs.
Draco closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Harry in return. "That was your condition for picking up your magic again, wasn't it?" he murmured against his neck. "You would only do it if you saw someone else in danger, not to save your own life."
"Right in one," Harry said, turning around with a motion that spun them straight into the Apparition.
Draco opened his mouth to say something else, something that he had figured out when he saw Harry dancing in the midst of the flames like that, but the Apparition was the beginning of a long fall that, gently, ate him alive.
St. Mungo's was boring. Full of Healers and questions and fussing and stories. Draco gave the same tale over and over again, both to them and to the Aurors who came to speak to him, explaining that the Death Eaters had approached him months ago and wanted his cooperation in a large raid they hinted was about to happen, because he still bore the Dark Mark and they needed it. He'd refused, and this was payback. The words became well-worn in his mouth and brain.
He might have started believing them himself if not for the much more incredible vision dancing in his mind, surrounded by swirling dark hair and flames that bowed to him as if he obeying his will.
He had a number of visitors, if one wanted to call them that: the Healers; the Aurors; Daily Prophet reporters; Pansy, who came to scold him for his stupidity; Blaise, who hugged Draco regardless of his broken ribs and then yelled at him for half an hour; and Ron Weasley, who scowled at Draco but never did say why he'd come.
Harry wasn't among them.
Draco allowed himself half a minute of pain about that before he thought deeply and understood the reason. The real reason didn't make Harry any less stupid, of course, but it was real, at least to Harry. So Draco tolerated being locked up and metaphorically spat on in hospital, healing and waiting for the minute he could leave it.
When he could, he went to Gringotts and asked a few questions. Then he brushed past a Muggle in the street and felt their skin casually against his.
Then he Apparated to Harry's flat.
New spells had been added to Granger's anti-Apparition wards, subtle ones that directed Draco's attention away and told him no one was home and made him shiver with cold and loneliness as he stood there. Draco cast Finite after Finite and then finally made it to the door, which he hammered on with a harsh fist.
Growling and barking from Harry's ugly dog echoed in his ears. Draco leaned against the wall and prepared to wait. It was always possible that Harry was genuinely out, and in that case, Draco would just sprawl across his path and make him have to cross him. Harry wouldn't Apparate into the flat, not when that would constitute cheating by his own personal moral code.
The word was as unnaturally cold as Harry's skin had been when Draco first touched him. He swiveled his head and smiled at Harry. "I should thank you for saving my life," he said.
"But you don't want to, because you're angry I didn't visit you in hospital." Harry nodded and arched one leg high to step over him. "I know. And this is probably the end of our...friendship, too. I know. I shouldn't have behaved like a jerk."
Draco seized his leg and held him there, watching for a moment as Harry sawed back and forth before he smiled and stood. In a moment, he had Harry pinned against the wall outside the door, leaning his head along his neck. He sniffed. Yes, the coldness was back as if it had never gone, but underneath that, now that he knew what he was looking for, he could smell that combination of spells that had made him dazed with wonder even when he was fighting blood loss. He wasn't now, except the loss of all the blood rushing to a specific part of his body.
"You don't understand," Draco murmured. "I figured it out. Everything. You didn't deposit your magic in Gringotts."
Harry arched his neck to bring them eye-to-eye. There was a terrible gentleness in his face. Draco hated it on sight.
"You don't have to do this," Harry whispered. "I know that it's only the magic drawing you to me. I should have figured it out when you kissed me just because I'd brought over lasagna when you'd had a shitty day. That's not something someone like you does, Draco."
"Someone like me?" Draco questioned mildly as he hooked his fingers under Harry's shirt and pulled it out of his trousers. Harry inhaled shakily as Draco's touch traced around the bottom of his ribs. Draco smiled and shifted to bite down on his shoulder. Harry's hands came up to cradle his head.
"As a matter of fact," Draco murmured into his flesh, though he pulled back far enough for Harry to hear him, "I don't know a lot of people who would do something like bring me lasagna after a shitty day. Much less care enough to keep track of my days and when they were shitty. Much less respond so enthusiastically and beautifully when I kissed them. So, yes, Harry, I do want this. I do want you." He sighed as more warmth flooded the skin he was touching. "Like that. Yes."
Harry abruptly reached up and caught his wrist. "You don't understand, Draco," he said, shaking his head. "Yes, all right, I never got rid of my magic. It was a spell that kept it pinned under the surface."
Draco nodded, pleased with the confirmation. "Not even a Muggle feels like that," he said.
Harry stared at him. "When did you touch-no, never mind." Draco let his smile widen, because there had been jealousy like sour wine in Harry's voice. "But it was still there. It must have leaked through and influenced you, somehow. It's influencing you now." He reached up and held Draco away from him. "You think you're attracted to me, but it's just the magic, fucking with your head like a drug. I thought staying away from you while you were in hospital would make it stop, but I must not have stayed away long enough."
Draco sighed. "You really must give people some credit for independent decision-making, Harry. I never sensed your magic. I thought you were a fool for giving it away. I want you despite that, because you're a good cook and you talk about weird things and you have bright green eyes and you're stubborn."
"But what if the magic is a factor?" Harry insisted. "I saw the way you looked at me when-after I rescued you. The magic was influencing you then."
"Only because you're gorgeous when you fight," Draco said. "I feel like myself, the same way I always do when I'm around you. I still think you're an idiot. I still think that you should have used your magic to defend yourself when those Death Eaters broke in." He allowed his anger to shine in his eyes, and Harry turned his head away. "Do you realize how stupid you are," Draco whispered, "to have had the tools at hand to live all along, and you would have died if not for me?"
"I was trying to keep my promise to myself," Harry muttered, scrubbing his hand along his face. "I couldn't, in the end." His voice turned smoky with bitterness.
Draco bit his ear. Harry cried out just the way he had when Draco had done it before and lifted his hands. Draco caught them and snugged them to his shoulders, then leaned in to nuzzle violently at the side of Harry's neck.
"You couldn't keep it because I made you promise that you would use your magic if your special exception to the rules ever came up," Draco murmured. "And you kept your promise and saved my life at the same time. I have an objection to Death Eaters killing me. Thank you for saving my life." He rocked forwards with definite intent, and felt Harry's cock stir to life, jutting at him. Harry's eyes fluttered, his breath escaping his teeth in a sharp sound.
"I don't think it's influencing me," Draco said. "I'm not throwing myself at you like the people you described, either, with no sense of surroundings." It was getting hard to talk, what with his body surging forwards in tidal waves, but he twisted his head to the side and bit Harry again on the neck, and watching Harry flush and toss his head back gave him the strength he needed to continue. "Otherwise, I would have broken out of hospital and come straight for you. That was the sort of thing people did in the past, didn't they?"
Harry's face was flushed and mottled all over, but he managed to nod.
"Good," Draco said, and took his mouth in a kiss and his cock in the rocking motion. Harry shuddered and accepted him, mouth opening wide so that his tongue could flick against Draco's, his legs falling open to cradle Draco's hips.
With his magic, it was even better than Draco had imagined. That delicate combination of smells surrounded them, and small flickers of fire and color danced at the edges of Draco's vision. Harry's skin heated to the point that Draco thought his hands might melt into it. His tongue curled in impossible positions, and Draco could feel the power brushing past him, around him, prowling in circles.
Harry was capable of throwing him across the room, melting his bones with a glance, dizzying him so badly that he would never stand again.
With or without magic.
That that much power leaned back against the wall and let Draco rut him to completion outside his filthy Muggle hovel...
Draco shuddered in climax, the warmth inside his body and out, flowing over his tongue and caressing his cock, and Harry followed him, tilting his head back desperately, feeding from Draco and to him, his fingernails stings of pleasure in Draco's buttocks.
"You'll consider moving back to the wizarding world," Draco murmured as they lay tangled around each other in Harry's too-small bed, the window open to bring in a tiny hint of fresh air and exhale a whole lot of dust.
Harry had seemed on the edge of falling asleep a moment before, but now he tensed. Draco caressed his hair and waited patiently for the objection.
"It'll be just like it was before," Harry whispered. "People falling all over me and trying to kill me. And you-Draco, you could be a target, now that you've escaped the Death Eaters once. How are we going to live like that?"
"It seems my fate to bring common sense into your scatterbrained corner of the universe," Draco murmured against his temple. "Has it occurred to you that, if you can tamp down your magic so much no one can sense it, you could do the same thing, but to a lesser degree? There has to be a middle ground between holding back everything and flooding the atmosphere with so much power that everyone's head turns. Hold back some, and then people can keep their free will around you."
"I...didn't think about that," Harry said.
Draco licked his ear. "Of course you didn't. You need me to think for you."
Harry made a grumbling noise, but didn't actually disagree aloud. Draco looped his arms more tightly around Harry's body and thought in the few minutes between the time Harry fell asleep and he did.
There were so many people who wouldn't understand that he couldn't even list them all. There were so many problems facing them that thinking about them made him cringe. He would have to put up with Harry's guilt complex on top of it, and probably at least a few more bouts of him being afraid that his magic was influencing Draco before he stopped worrying about it.
But Draco knew that things changed. It was the only law of life he had ever discovered that made any sense.
And the people and the problems and the guilt complex meant nothing against what he had seen in Harry's eyes this evening, and the magic dancing around him, and the feel of Harry under him on his couch and on this bed, and the way Harry had let him into his life despite having no reason to do so.
Draco closed his eyes.
He would have an advantage over everyone else in the wizarding world, as long as he knew and could remember that.
And he had only ever needed a slight advantage to secure a victory.
He fell asleep calm, certain, and content, surrounded by Harry's magic.