[A/N Going way back in time here … This story was written back in 2007 as a last-minute pinch-hit for hd_holidays on LJ. A friend was modding the fest and had one of her very late entries fall out, so asked me to come up with something. I was on holidays, but said I would do my best. It would probably have been better had I not spent 26 hours of my limited writing time in two traffic jams (Australia, where they do things on a grand scale!).
This story is something that I have always wanted to rework into something bigger and more filled-out, however, it looks as though I won't have time to do that until about 2050. So I've cleaned it up a little and am archiving it here, instead. The prompt asked for an 8th year story where people came together in surprising ways, with affectiony bits and the media, and a bunch of other things I can't recall but which made it all logical at the time. The lovely jadzialove beta-ed it under extremely trying circumstances, and we actually made the deadline, which was nothing short of a miracle.]
AN ACT OF SIMPLE DEVOTION
You see him there, in the arms of his mother, his father leaning down over both of them. She looks about, perhaps she is looking for you. Later you will thank her, but not now. A small smile rises, unbidden. One family reunited. You're actually happy for him. If now is not a time for grace and forgiveness, when is?
Draco is still astonished. For half an hour he has sat there with his mother and father. They are all alive. Voldemort is dead. Potter actually won. His brain chants the short phrases repeatedly. He is sure they will sink in at some point, but for now they function more as a mantra of protection.
It seems to be working. The only faces that turn to them wear tired expressions of acceptance or relief. They sit in a strange detente with the school's defenders. Lucius and Narcissa had been notable holdouts from the fight. Narcissa had even been seen to punch Yaxley in the jaw as he stood over Draco. The nod of approval that she gave Molly Weasley after the red-haired woman killed Aunt Bellatrix has also not gone unobserved.
This is the end of something. Not of his way of life, that ended long ago, before he had even noticed; when his father went to Azkaban, when he was too slow to accept Dumbledore's offer, when Voldemort – how easy it is to use the name now – moved into the Manor. Maybe it is the end of his freedom. Maybe he even deserves it.
"We're alive. Potter won," he whispers.
His mother stands up suddenly. "Andi …" her voice is surprisingly loud in the hall full of quiet crying and soft praise.
A woman whom Draco has only seen once in real life turns to her. She is carrying a small child, with a shock of black hair. "Cissy …" and though her voice is barely there, the word carries to them across the hall.
And his mother runs, as he has never seen her move before, and grabs the older woman, and holds her. And everyone can hear her words: "I'm so sorry. Oh Darling, how are you? I'm so sorry. Forgive me. I'm so sorry …"
And the older woman clings to her, and cries, and his mother eases her and the baby to a bench, and holds them both.
We're alive. He's dead. Potter won.
Lucius's hand tightens on Draco's shoulder. "Where are Crabbe and Goyle?" he asks. "I can't believe they left you alone in this."
"Vince is dead," Draco is surprised at how easy that is to say, too. "Greg is somewhere in the castle. I should probably find him, make sure he's all right."
His father looks at him with a sorrow he cannot voice. "Yes, I'll tell your mother where you are."
Draco nods and walks away. He is not escaping from his father. Really, he is not. He is escaping from the incredibly difficult conversation that he needs to have with his father. It's quite a different thing.
Granger and Weasley brush past him as he leaves the Hall. He nods to them, politely. Surprised, they both nod back. He makes a mental note to thank them for saving Goyle – as soon as his mouth stops aching.
He walks the corridors, needing to climb the stairs. Most of the bodies have been cleared and only pools of blood remain. "Your father's leader turned this school into a charnel house," he whispers. "But he's dead. Potter won."
A sixth-year Ravenclaw is wandering dazedly about on the third floor. Draco takes her gently by the arm and leads her back towards the Hall. Halfway there, he runs into one of the St Mungo's Healers that are now arriving. He passes the Ravenclaw girl over, shrugging off the Healer's thanks, muttering that he is a prefect, it was his responsibility.
He retraces his steps and this time he makes it to the seventh floor, where he last saw Goyle. There is a sound from down near a broken part of the wall. Draco hurries towards it. Even when he hears the quietly hiccoughing breaths, he is still hoping. As he climbs over the rubble he sees his mistake. The very definitely not crying (despite his damp face) figure is much too thin, his hair much too black. And Draco doesn't stop to think before sitting beside him. "It's all right," he pats his shoulder awkwardly. "We're still alive. Voldemort is dead. You actually won."
Potter leans against him. Draco suspects it's so Potter can wipe his nose on Draco's shirt. He doesn't begrudge him that. Draco wonders how much of Potter's emotion is simple exhaustion. He wonders if it would look ridiculous if he joined in and had a good old-fashioned bawl.
Instead he puts an arm around Potter's shoulders, and attempts to smooth that black hair, and pats ineffectually.
After some minutes Potter draws in a long breath, which catches only slightly. He rubs his face with his hands, which are filthy. Draco passes him his handkerchief, which has survived the night in what can only be described as a miracle. Potter laughs shortly, and wipes his face.
"Keep it," Draco says.
"Thanks." Potter stands up, and offers a hand to help Draco to his feet. "And thanks for …"
Draco shrugs and accepts the hand. "You saved my life. Besides. I'm a prefect."
Potter smiles. "Yes, you are. We are students. This is a school. The war is over."
"Short sentences help," Draco advises.
Potter nods. "I need to sleep. Can you thank your mum for me?"
"Of course. Why?"
But Potter is already walking away.
You are barely awake when the message reaches you. Dawlish has moved while Shacklebolt is busy in the North, announcing the rebuilding of Hogwarts. It has been three days and you have done little but sleep, yet within thirty seconds you are dressed and have your wand ready. Spontaneously, you grab another as you run from your room. Molly and Ginny both call your name as you leap down the stairs, but there's no time. The minute you are outside, you Apparate.
"But you do not have the Minister's signature. He is in Scotland, he is not on leave of absence, this is not a legal document."
Draco knows what his father is saying is true, he also knows it won't make any difference. The three of them are arrayed across the open front door, his mother's hand reaching across his father's back to take his own. He has seen the lead Auror before, he has no doubt of his officiousness. The five behind him have their wands drawn and are there as enforcers. The terms are simple: the Malfoys are to be taken into custody, their goods and chattels forfeit.
His father is right about the inadmissibility of the warrants, but it won't matter. The peace in which they have been left for the last few days has been a precarious one. It will shatter with the first Prophet headline trumpeting their arrest. That will decide their post-War status: not anything that was actually done, but what is seen to be done.
This Auror will see to it that they wear the labels enemy, killer and collaborator. Draco does not know what his father did to this man, but he hopes that it was at least bad enough to justify the red flush that is suffusing Dawlish's jowls. Because he would hate to think that, after everything they have just been through, the Ministry could still be represented by people running on prejudice.
He has not even begun to smile at his own grim joke when a loud crack announces the impossible. Someone has Apparated to the door of the house – wards prohibit all but family, even the Aurors have walked from the gate – and that slight someone with his familiar scruffiness set to high has now interposed himself between his family and the men from the Ministry.
"This is not an authorised raid," Potter says.
"I have the authority to act in the Minister's absence!" Dawlish splutters.
Potter is calm (Draco is amazed). "No, you have authority to act on his part in emergency situations. This is not an emergency. This is you seeking revenge."
The red has reached Dawlish's eyes now. "He–" he points at Draco's father, "he is a Death Eater!"
"Yes, he is," Potter agrees. "And he will need to face justice. But his wife and son aren't. They're just as much victims as you were. They had just as little choice as you did."
Dawlish looks as though he would like to smack Potter. Draco half hopes he will, he doubts he could do Potter much harm, and the headlines will put serious holes in any case Dawlish makes.
Draco glances up at his father and is surprised to see him staring at Potter in confusion. His mother, though, is smiling gently.
Dawlish takes a deep breath and relies on the authority of his position. "This is Auror work, Harry Potter, why are you here?"
Potter's shoulders relax, from behind it looks as though he may even be laughing. "I received a tip-off from the Ministry. Talk about your rubbish timing, could no one have thought to slip me a warning last year that Voldemort was about to take power?"
Dawlish is confused. "Someone in the Ministry sent you out to protect the Malfoys?"
Potter shakes his head. "I think it's more they sent me out to protect you. You have a lot of friends there, they're glad you're back, they want you to stay back, with your credibility intact."
There is a long pause. Dawlish frowns. After a minute he nods his head. "We'll be back for Lucius, with a proper warrant."
Draco is astonished when his father replies: "That is reasonable. I have cause to be judged."
Dawlish nods at him, the barest glimmer of grudging respect in his expression. "Your wife and son …"
"Both saved my life during the War," Potter interrupts before Draco's father can speak. "The full story will be in The Quibbler next week. It would look bad for the Ministry if they were to be charged now."
Draco was wrong, he had not been astonished before, because that would leave no word to describe what he is now.
Dawlish nods again, the politics are clear now. "I am satisfied with that, I think Kingsley will be, too."
And then Potter hugs the grim-faced man and Draco is left, again, to reassess his criteria for surprise, shock and astonishment.
"Thank you. I appreciate this," he says.
Dawlish pats him on the back, startled. "Cheers, Harry," he says, with bemusement in his voice (but, Draco thinks, full awareness that he was just hugged by the Daily Prophet's daily cover boy, in front of five minions who will no doubt be discussing this development at the pub later). Then turns, gathers his men, and begins to walk to the gate.
Potter turns around. Draco stares at him unabashedly.
His mother reaches out her hand and takes Potter's. "Thank you, Mr Potter," she says. "That was very gracious."
He inclines his head towards her, shakes her hand, then turns to Draco's father. "I can't save you, Mr Malfoy."
"I don't expect you to, boy. Nor do I actually deserve it. I made my choices and my choices lost, I have you to thank for that. Now I also have you to thank for the fact that my family won't pay for my mistakes. It's irritating on many levels."
Potter begins to laugh. "I'm quite pleased about that, you know," he says frankly. "You fucked up so much, for me, for everyone, even your own family. It makes me happy to think that at the very least I piss you off."
Draco's father makes a stiff bow. "I am pleased that I could bring a smile to your face. If you will excuse me." He turns and leaves, managing to swish both his hair and pyjamas.
Draco would brand the small smile that appears on his mother's face treachery, except that he is wearing a matching one. Potter, though, is looking at them seriously.
"He will go to Azkaban," he says. "Kingsley's already rebuilt the Wizengamot, it can't be bought now. It will count for him that he took no part in the final battle, and that he seemed ambivalent at the end, but there was too much before to wipe the slate clean."
Draco's mother nods. "I know. He knows. We will deal with it as it comes. But this," she shrugs her shoulders to indicate Potter's actions, "this means a great deal to him. And to me. Excuse me, our time is limited." And with that, she, too, turns and leaves.
Potter turns to Draco, and he is smiling slightly again. "How are you, Malfoy?"
"Getting there. Still feel as though I haven't slept for a year, which is not that far off the truth."
"You are, too."
"I will, same to you. Still on the short sentences?"
"Yep. You've moved on."
Potter grins ruefully at that. "I have a terrible feeling that the next few months are going to require me to be eloquent."
Draco finds himself grinning, too. "We're doomed."
"You're not wrong." And Potter reaches out and takes Draco's hand. He reaches into his pockets for something and drops in into Draco's palm.
"My wand?" Draco is not expecting that.
"I think it's safe to hand it back, you don't seem to want me dead anymore."
"No." Draco smiles more genuinely. "And it was only ever maimed."
Potter has not removed his hand from Draco's. Instead he curls his fingers around the edge of the wand and Draco's palm, and looks at the way their hands compare. "Were you surprised you lived?" he asks, not looking up.
"Merlin yes," Draco answers honestly. "I spent over a year expecting to die each day." He pauses, because he remembers his mother's description of the final battle. "You?"
"I've spent the last three days excited about everything. It's all new. All fresh."
Draco laughs at this. "Fantastic. Most people would be a little upset at having someone try and kill them for the second time, to you it's a refreshing change of perspective."
"Something like that," Harry confesses. He looks into Draco's eyes now. "Take care, yeah?"
Draco clasps the hand in his. "You too."
He lets go. "See you, Malfoy." And with that, he Disapparates.
"Bye." Draco sits down on the stone balustrade. That, he thinks, was distinctly odd.
You are amazed at how easy it all is. You say something and it happens. If only people had been this willing to listen to you three years ago, maybe … No, you don't think the maybes, because they only lead to anger and despair.
Instead you concentrate on the nows. Now Kingsley has the Ministry up and running again. Now Umbridge is facing trial, as are many of her ilk, and lesser evils have been cleaned out. Now the Ministry is filled with many of your friends. Now you have Ginny. Now you have a job, and more friends than you know what to do with.
Of course there is a Gryffindor reunion in the Leaky Cauldron today, Draco sighs to himself. Because having not left the house for a month, these are exactly the first people he wants to see. He walks past the boisterous table and quietly orders a butterbeer and pumpkin pasty from Tom. He'll wolf them down and be on his way before any trouble can …
"Malfoy!" A large freckled hand claps him on the shoulder.
"Hello, Weasley," he says, with as much politeness as can be mustered.
"You actually sent a thank you note. I was amazed. Hermione told me that I should be less amazed, but I could have sworn you were an utter prick, yet it turns out you're an utter prick with fantastic manners!"
Draco's shoulders slump. "Beaten into me at a young age. My mother will be thrilled."
"Hey …" And now Ron Weasley is craning around in front of him to show that he is smiling. "Malfoy, I'm joking. It was a really nice thing to do. Bonkers, but nice. How is Goyle, anyway?"
Draco answers him simply. "Abroad. His mother whisked him out of the country before anyone could come for him. They sent a to us with a house-elf."
Weasley frowns. "Don't quite know how I feel about that. On the one hand he was a mini Death-Eater who wanted to kill Harry, on the other hand, he was a bloody idiot who never exhibited an original thought in all the time I knew him. Seems a bit much to hold people like him responsible."
Draco laughs, his first real laugh in weeks. "We should take note of this moment, I think it's the first time we've ever agreed on something."
There is a pause, then Weasley joins in.
"Listen," he says, after a minute, "I was sent over to bring you back to the table. Hermione wants to be slightly pleasant to you for not giving us up at the Manor, and Neville says he can live with it."
Draco is so startled that he looks directly over at the group of his former schoolmates. Potter is there waving him across, Granger, too. Luna, who looks much, much better since she left his cellar (he remembers that he has one of her radish earrings at home) is simply waving at him. "Yeah, all right," he says before his brain has time to engage and talk him out of it.
Weasley throws his hands in the air. "I am a GOD of persuasion!" he announces to the pub.
Draco curses his own face when it betrays him with a smile.
"Yes, Ron, you are!" Potter declares as they near them. "Come on Malfoy, sit your arse down. We are consuming alcohol and discussing the future!"
He slides across the bench and Draco is surprised to see Ginny Weasley on his other side, Dean Thomas next to her. "The future?" says Draco. "I'll drink to that."
"Now that you have one," Ginny Weasley adds quietly.
Longbottom holds up a hand before Draco can make any reply. "Don't mention the War. Today is Drinking Day. Besides, Malfoy," and now Longbottom is speaking to him directly, "we tallied it up and you're a draw. You let Death Eaters into the school, but you protected Harry, Ron and Hermione. You were revolting at school, but you were kind to Luna when she was a prisoner at your house. Your father's a nutter, but your mother's pretty brave. You're incredibly annoying, but that's not criminal."
Draco frowns at him. "I'm trying to work my way through the many insults to find the grain of friendship underneath," he says at last.
Longbottom grins. "I never said you weren't funny. I mean, I said lots of other things about you, but they were all valid at the time."
"Bloody hell, Longbottom," Draco realises. "You're witty. What happened?"
"Led a rebellion, got tortured, killed a snake. Does wonders for the confidence. Anyway," he turns back to Ginny Weasley, "no baiting."
"All right." She leans past Potter and puts a hand out. "I'll never forgive your father, but your mother saved Harry. So, truce?"
And Draco cannot think of a single reason. He takes her hand and shakes on the bargain, glad she doesn't insist on spit. "Truce," he affirms.
"Excellent. Have my glass, I'll share with Harry." And she passes him a tumbler of Firewhisky.
"Good," says Potter. "Ladies and gentlemen, charge your glasses."
Those who need to refill theirs do, and they stand, Potter and Ginny Weasley with their hands on the same glass. Potter makes his toast. "I give you the future, and a vow that we will never fuck up so badly as to go through all that again."
Draco has no hesitation in making this toast.
An hour or so later, they have reached the stage of deep silliness. It is Luna's turn to toast again, and Draco is expecting another vow to the eradication of domestic Nargles. Instead she raises her glass "To the Coming Hufflepuff."
"To the what?" Ron splutters. "And where? And how can you see that?"
Luna rolls her eyes at him. "The Hufflepuff who is yet to join us," she explains. "We need one to make the set complete, now we have a Slytherin."
Draco finds every eye upon him. "Er … it's just drinks …" he mutters. "And we're not at school."
Ron looks at him appraisingly. "New world order, mate," he says, smiling. "I reckon we can be role models."
Through the slight blur of Ogden's Old that has softened his companions recently, Draco can see their still anticipation. "I make an excellent role model," he states. "And you should look into recruiting Finch-Fletchley, his family own a very nice yacht."
"The Muggle-born?" Hermione's eyebrows are both raised.
"It's a very nice yacht," Draco avers. "Comfortably sleeps twenty."
"To the Coming Hufflepuff!" Ron leads the replies to Luna's toast and they dissolve into laughing conversation on the relative merits of all the Huflepuffs they know.
Draco can feel Potter's elbow pushing against his ribs, he turns to him. "Are you really in?" Potter asks him.
Draco nods, and speaks for Potter's ears alone. "Enough fucking up. I need to rebuild the family name. I need to rebuild me."
Potter takes his hand, no formalities, just holds it. "Are you all right? They tell me your dad's handling it all well, but how are you?"
Draco is completely disarmed by the hand around his. "Father is pragmatic about the whole thing. Says it's fair for the crap he put Mother and me through. Expects about twenty years, happy the Dementors are gone. We look at it in very similar ways. There's enough money to not worry, even with all the rebuilding and any reparations we will need to pay. I can go back to school or stay home and be tutored through my NEWTs. It's all comparatively painless. Except for Vince's funeral. That was actually pretty hard." Potter's hand tightens reassuringly. "There were only eight of us there. Mother came with me, she sat with his mother and aunts, and his little brother was there, he's only seven. No one else from school. All I could think was what a stupid waste. Seventeen years old, and nothing to show for it."
"The fiendfyre did actually help with the defeat of Voldemort," Potter muses.
Draco frowns. "So that diadem was … connected?"
Draco smiles grimly. "He'd have failed to see the irony in that."
Potter agrees. Then he pats Draco's hand familiarly. "I see you're up to medium-length sentences now."
A grin forces its way out. "Yeah. It's coming along."
"Good," says Potter, and pours another round.
You sometimes wonder if there's a tiny bit of treason in you. While you've publicly backed Kingsley in all of his reforms, you have expanded the group and now meet once a fortnight. Most of the old Dumbledore's Army faces are there, and a few additions, including Malfoy. You never say the words, no one ever acknowledges that they are part of an organisation. You meet in public – for all intents and purposes a bunch of young people, some still at school, just catching up over a few bevvies. And for the moment, while the right people are making the right decisions, that is all you are, despite the fact that no one ever brings a casual acquaintance along. But if things change, you are ready.
"Happy birthday, Ginny!" The Fortescue's function room is filled with the collective-that-has-no-name-after-the-trouble-that-got-them-into-last-time. Glasses are clinked about merrily.
Draco is introducing Theodore Nott to Justin. "He's basically a less compelling version of me," he explains. "Same tragic story of misguided father, alienated youth …"
"You are such a pillock, Malfoy," Nott says, but with some affection. "He's right on one thing, though, damned if I'll let the idiocy of my father's generation blight my life."
"That's what Draco was saying," Justin says with a smile.
Granger appears over Justin's shoulder, a bemused expression on her face. "All right, Draco," she says. "I've waited for as long as I can. You have to tell me how you knew about Justin's family."
"Draco was my Charms tutor in third year," Justin tells her cheerfully.
"No. Really?" She laughs outright.
Draco grins at that. "I was as good at Charms as you, Granger."
"Oh you were, but Justin's parents are as Mugglish as my own. So why didn't he get the full Malfoy treatment?"
Draco rolls his eyes. "Oh Granger, you can be obtuse. One: his family have a pedigree stretching back to the Conquest. Two: they also have money. Three: I just didn't like you."
She smiles radiantly at that. "Well, if I'd known it was mostly personal, I'd have thought far better of you."
He makes a little bow, and accepts the good-natured laughter of the other three.
Theodore throws a casual arm around Justin's shoulders and begins to recount the tale of Draco's fourth year anti-Potter campaign. Even Hermione finds herself laughing at some of the early versions of the Diggory badges. "There was a brilliant one that started with an image of Potter's head and ended up with a brillo pad. Underneath it said 'Support Diggory, in the interests of personal grooming'."
Potter is passing by as Theodore finishes his story. He casts a mock glare at Draco, who can't help grinning back. Potter stays, fitting into the space beside Draco and accepting that he is to be the butt of the conversation.
"I'm a martyr to my genes," he admits. "Whirlwind hair and eyes that half work."
"Such a modest Saviour," Theodore adopts the Rita Skeeter term du jour, solely to see Potter grimace.
"Nice coloured eyes, though," Justin grins, perhaps emboldened by a few drinks at this point.
"Yours are nicer," Theodore says quietly. Justin looks up at him, surprised, and Theodore takes advantage of the arm he still has in place around the smaller boy to lead him away.
Hermione and Draco exchange raised eyebrows.
"What was that?" Potter is a few beats behind.
Draco grins. "Oh Harry, you're from the Middle Classes, not the Middle Ages, move with the times."
Harry catches up. "Oh." He thinks for a minute. "That must be a hell of a yacht."
Draco would be worried about the fact that he has just snorted with laughter were it not for the fact that Hermione has expelled a mouthful of butterbeer through her nose. "Grace and dignity, Granger, you're famous for them!" he laughs with her.
"Nah," she laughs, "I'm taking the year off swotting and plan to devote myself to faffing about, snogging Ron and getting pissed."
"Yes!" Draco punches the air. "At last, a chance for first in Transfiguration!"
"Dream on, ferret boy. I've had a year of intensive training in everything from Shrinking Charms to Defence. What do you bring to the scholarly competition?"
Draco smiles wryly. "You would not believe my Disillusionment skills, and I'm yet to meet the household item that I can't convert into a brilliant hiding place."
Hermione's grin slips for a moment, but then Harry's arm is around Draco's shoulder and he is speaking lightly: "It's true, Malfoy, but remember, she also spent most of the last year bent over a substantial selection of stolen library books. I think you're stuffed on theory. You should cut a deal, pay her library fines to Madame Pince in return for tutoring."
Draco flashes him a grateful look and rolls with the idea. "Granger, I'll pay your fines and give you access to the Malfoy collection for the rest of the hols in return for Transfiguration and History help, and – to sweeten the deal – I'll give you any help you need in Charms."
Ten minutes later, Draco has accepted Granger's counter demand – the negotiations accelerated by the arrival of Ron – of fine paying, library access, remedial flying lessons (because Ron is not going there), a new broom and a list of Narcissa's cosmetics in return for help in Transfiguration and History, with some remedial Apparition thrown in.
Ginny appears at Harry's elbow, smiling very brightly. "All having fun?" she asks.
"Absolutely! Happy birthday, Gin!" Hermione says.
"Excellent! Malfoy, do you mind if I take my boyfriend back?"
And it's only now that Draco realises Potter still has his arm around his shoulders and that he has been leaning against him for the last quarter of an hour. To judge by the look on Potter's face, it's as much of a surprise to him.
"Sorry, Ginny," Draco says sincerely. "We were carried away with the glee of not trying to kill each other anymore. It devolved into comedy surprisingly quickly."
She gives them both a rueful look. "Comedy I can live with," she says. "Come on, Harry, my turn to monopolise you."
Draco catches the look on Hermione's face as Ginny leads Potter away. He tells himself that she is more than a little drunk tonight. That's all.
You are there when the sentence is read out. Seven years, with the possibility of probation after five. Lucius is clearly surprised at the leniency, and you can see Narcissa's smile fleet across her features. Draco looks directly at you. He knows that your testimony was not the whole of your efforts. He smiles at you. You smile back.
Draco runs to catch him. Potter has slipped from the courtroom before the Wizengamot has officially wound up. He stops at Draco's call, and waits beside the lift.
"Harry, I … you …" Draco sighs. "Thank you." It's the only sentence he can manage right now.
Harry grins, and Draco quickly gathers him into his arms, a tight, fast embrace. "Thank you," he repeats.
Harry is blinking in surprise. The lift bings and opens, and he steps in. He grins again, but this one is different somehow. The lift doors close, and Draco walks back to find his mother.
You give yourself a firm talking to. It doesn't mean anything. Anyone would be grateful in a similar situation. It's just politeness, just friendship. The next two get-togethers of the collective prove that. Ginny is soft in your arms, and he is warmly attentive to everyone around him. Hermione says that he's organised a mentoring programme back at Hogwarts. You wish you could stop by to see it, but Auror training is taking up too much of your time during the week.
She is enjoying his friendship and mocks you and Ron for your lack of intellectual conversation, misses you both at the same time. You and Ron miss her, miss each other. But it's time for the grown-up world now. And as part of that grown-up world, you are one of the first to hear.
Draco is leaning against the wall outside his father's room at St Mungo's. His hands are still shaking the smallest amount, but that didn't start until he had finished his visit, so he counts that as a win. They are letting his mother stay inside, and the two Aurors on guard seem ashamed. They know that their counterparts have let this attack occur, they can only hope that it was ineptitude rather than malice.
He does not blame these two. He can barely blame those who were responsible. His father won't give names, but he guesses they were old allies striking back at what they see as betrayal. Two broken legs and some ribs – it's an uncomfortable week, that's all. And when he goes back, it will be protective custody, with less time to walk in the open air, less interaction with other inmates. Draco wonders if this was the real goal of his father's attackers, to cut him off that little bit more. Or did they just fail to kill him the old-fashioned way?
His jaw has just begun to clench when Harry appears and takes him by the hand. "Come on," he says, and leads them down the hallway.
"Where are we going?" Draco asks, following.
There is a small visitors' room with two sofas. Harry leads him to one and sits him down, wrapping his arms around him. Draco takes a shuddering breath and relaxes against him.
"Will he be all right?" Harry asks.
"They say he'll be fine," Draco answers.
Draco breathes deeply for a few more minutes before replying. "I think so," he says, and sits up, away from Harry's arms. He looks at him. "What about you? I haven't seen you since school went back. How are you holding up?"
Harry shrugs away the question. "Perfectly all right. Training's going well. Shacklebolt's doing a great job. Our friends are all keen and involved. Good."
"Back to short sentences, eh?" Draco points out.
They sit for a while. Eventually Harry speaks again. "I want to focus on rebuilding, but I'm barely eighteen. They all listen to me, because I'm the Boy Who Lived Twice, now. But there's only a handful of them who really seem to believe the things I do. Which makes me wonder, are we going to fuck it all up again, or do I just have no idea what I'm talking about? And just when I relax, just when I think 'Well, there's no Voldemort to act as a rallying point now,' something like the attack on your father happens, and I think that for all there's no Dark Lord, there's a hundred petty little proponents of evil who'd be only too happy to see us go back down that path of bigotry and distrust."
"I heard Umbridge got a slap on the wrist," Draco admits.
Harry snorts. "She 'admitted' everything; brought paperwork to support her every decision, made it all seem like a clear case of following orders. Didn't mention her joy in it all."
"I …" Draco hangs his head. "I completely cocked things up there. I thought that supporting her was just about getting back at you. Didn't realise what it would do to the school. In a way it was worse than letting the Death Eaters in, at least there I was legitimately coerced. I don't have an excuse for supporting her. I knew she was a fool. It just seemed, I don't know, an easy way to score points."
"That's it, isn't it? If she'd stood up at the beginning and said 'I plan to exterminate Muggle-born witches and wizards', no one would have followed her. But she spoke about order and regulations, and people didn't bother to question what that order entailed."
Draco nods. "And then she didn't directly kill anyone."
"Just handed them over to Death Eaters and Dementors."
"And you can imagine how shocked she was when she realised they were not treating their prisoners with the dignity she expected." Draco's voice drips sarcasm.
Harry leans against him. "You were fifteen. Your father had taught you nothing about the world as it really is, and you loved him. I can't fault you on that. My father wasn't perfect, either. The only reason I grew up questioning everything was because no one ever loved me enough to teach me certainty."
Draco leans his head against Harry's, dimly aware that at some point they have linked hands. "I'm sorry, Harry," he says.
Harry's fingers tighten around his. "It will be all right," he says. "There are enough of us to make a stand next time. Stop things early."
"But you're still worried."
Draco can feel Harry's cheek lift with his smile. "Mostly I worry that it will be me who becomes so convinced he's right about what's best for everyone that he turns into a monster. Because they'd let me. They'd lie to themselves for the longest time and, by the time they woke up, it would be too late."
"I wouldn't let you," Draco promises. "I'd stand in your way and stop you right at the beginning, before you went down any roads you'd regret."
"I know you would," Harry turns his face and kisses Draco's gently.
"You'd do the same for me," Draco smiles, and kisses him back.
It's an easy pattern to fall into. You travel to Hogsmeade every fortnight to have lunch and an afternoon with Ginny, then meet up with the collective for drinks. You walk them back to school, then walk back to Hogsmeade with Draco, who's boarding in town rather than dealing with the politics of the Slytherin dormitory. Each time the walk back takes a little longer, sees more diversions from the path, and there are sometimes bruises on your arms from the way he grips you as you taste his skin. When you walk him all the way back to his rooms one night, you're not surprised.
"This is a terrible idea," Draco tells Harry. It's not what he wants to say – he wants to say yes and more and now and here – but it's what he should say.
"Why?" Harry is amused.
"We've been doing ethics in Muggle Studies. Snogging someone else's boyfriend is barely acceptable, shagging them is out of the question."
Harry laughs at that. "You're not a Muggle, neither is she. Besides, when did you take up Muggle Studies?"
"Compulsory," Draco sighs. "Though I have now learned about the Harrier Jump Jet and I have revised my opinions on Muggles entirely. I want one!"
"A Harrier Jump Jet! Have you seen them? They take off and land like helichopters. Fantastic things. And with gun mounts."
Harry shakes his head. "You may never have one."
Draco is pleased, he has changed the subject. "I think that I could come up with a Disillusionment Charm that could cover both me and the jet, and then I could just fly about invisibly, blowing up eyesores."
Draco nods enthusiastically. "The BT Tower, Hagrid's hut, Slough – I'd evacuate everyone, of course, and find them attractive new accommodations."
Harry kisses his cheek. "You sound like Prince Charles."
"Never again compare me to a member of the Royal Family, if you would like to live," Draco grumbles. "Chinless Germans the lot of them."
"You have a nice chin," Harry nibbles at his jaw.
"No." Draco steps inside the door of his flat, holding Harry out with one hand. "No, this is definitely outside the remit of my truce with Ginny."
"It's not about Ginny," Harry smiles, playing with Draco's hand. "It's about you."
"And you, and therefore Ginny," Draco points out.
"She doesn't own me," Harry is still smiling, but his voice carries a note of protest.
"They all own you," Draco points out. "That's why you come to Hogsmeade so often. Things are more relaxed here."
Harry's eyes carry something Draco can't quite read. "That's not it at all," he says. He grins wickedly. "I like your door."
"It's very nice. I'm about to close it on you." Draco kisses his cheek. "Good night, Harry."
"See you next weekend," Harry replies, and turns to walk away.
Draco watches him go, and it's not until his footsteps can no longer be heard that he realises next weekend is not a meeting weekend.
It's nothing to do with Ginny, you tell yourself. She is small and soft and wants you to always be her hero. She glories in the fact that you are brave and capable. She loves it when people point to you and whisper.
He is nothing to do with that. He is as tall as you, and his lips are demanding, his hands can lift you away when you annoy him. He is as strong as you are. He doesn't give a damn that you are Harry Potter, he just lets you touch him, and he touches you, and it is between the two of you, without the whole world looking on.
Draco cannot believe that Theo Nott has never had a conversation with Hermione.
"You described her as a know-it-all Mudblood," Theo reminds him.
"Yes, yes, yes," Draco waves his hand dismissively, "but we weren't on a first-name basis then. Besides, she does know an awful lot, and has a genius for revision timetables. She is a one-woman guide through the NEWTs." He looks about. "Hermione! Theo needs to talk to you!" he calls in her direction.
She slips away from Ron's arm and wanders across the pub. "Hello Draco, Theo, Justin. What are you yelling about, my favourite Malfoy?"
Draco gasps, only half-mockingly. "Hermione, are you actually drunk?"
"I am very close to it," she admits.
"I have been extolling your virtues to Nott, here, and now your virtues are not here!"
Theo and Justin accord Draco's pun the groan it deserves, but it makes Hermione laugh. Which makes Draco laugh, and neither of them notice when Theo and Justin walk away to a saner conversation.
Hermione is looking over Draco's shoulder when her face becomes more serious. Draco turns to see what she can, but it is just Harry watching them and smiling. Ginny is in her usual place beneath his arm, and is smiling brightly.
"You and Harry have been spending a lot of time together lately," she observes.
Draco shrugs. "As it turns out, we've very similar interests. It's a good thing Professor Snape didn't live to see this day, it would break his heart."
"Is he really as recovered as he pretends?" she asks, and Draco realises that she is nowhere near as drunk as she has pretended.
He wonders how to answer her. (Harry's as cheery as Harry can be seems too pat. Harry likes to be pushed up against oaks and snogged until his glasses fog and both of us are desperately wishing we wore track pants instead of trousers seems a bit too much information. Harry came to see me last weekend and I had to lock us out of my flat and give my key to my landlady to prevent me falling onto my back for him is definitely not what she wants to hear.)
"He's working on it," Draco says instead. "I think he still suspects that things are going to fuck up again soon, so we're all a part of his bulwark against disaster. He was encouraging Ernie Macmillan to start writing letters lobbying parts of the Ministry on their legal relationships with Magical beings last week. I think Ernie was more astonished to hear Harry advocate writing than anything else."
She smiles. "That's good. I think he needs to be active, needs to feel he's part of something. What do the two of you talk about when you're off alone?"
(Laughter, desire, door paint …) "We actually visited Dervish and Banges' museum last weekend," Draco laughs. "Have you ever been in there?"
"Ooh!" Hermione claps her hands girlishly. "Did you see the Kineskaleidoscope? Where the colours become music and tastes?"
Draco nods enthusiastically. "And the Logophone; Harry kept reciting Rita Skeeter headlines into it."
She laughs. "What music did they turn into?"
"Atonal mish-mash, he was very sad, he was hoping for bad Celestina Warbeck covers."
"He's been very good for you," Hermione smiles approvingly.
Draco is just a second too slow to stop honesty from reaching his face. He hopes that she is a little drunk after all. "I'm thinking of starting a religion for tax purposes. Have you felt the light of Potter as your own personal saviour?"
She pokes him in the ribs. "Don't be ridiculous. When was the last time anyone in your family paid taxes?"
Draco thinks for a moment. "If we're speaking non-metaphorically, about 1815. One of my great-great-something grandfathers was keen for the Ministry to erect anti-French wards around Wellington's residences. He petitioned Grogan Stump personally. He'd married a French witch and was all for protection that would see any French persons approaching the Duke Confunded so they believed they were a duck."
"You're making that up!"
"Not at all!" Draco protests. "Octavius Malfoy's diary recorded that he would far prefer the sound of quacking to nagging."
Ron appears at Hermione's shoulder. "You two are laughing far too much. Share the joke," he encourages.
"Draco's family has been obsessed with domestic fowl for generations," Hermione explains.
"Do not be afraid to let the love of Potter into your life," Draco counters.
"Mad, the pair of you," Ron concludes. "Buy you a round?" he offers.
"Actually, I think this one's mine," Draco replies.
Ron raises a finger. "Wizarding Wheezes is doing very well, thank you. No need for patronage."
Draco raises two fingers in a particular fashion. "You've bought the last three drinks we've shared, you can let me buy one!"
"Fair enough. I'll have an Ogdens with a splash of fresh water."
"Same," adds Hermione.
"Back in a tick." Draco wends his way to the bar and has just placed his order when someone taps his arm. He turns about, expecting Theo or maybe even Dennis Creevey, who has taken an odd liking to Draco now that he is moving in the right circles (perhaps a little motivated by Draco occasionally slipping him a watered-down whisky). It's not. It's Ginny.
"Hey Draco," she smiles up at him.
"Hello, Ginny. Can I get you one, too?" He indicates the bar.
She shakes her head. "I'm fine. I've just been writing up an article on the last days of the War and I wanted to check something."
Draco's "Sure" is not the most comfortable word he's ever uttered.
"Witch Weekly's account of the Fiendfyre says that Ron and Harry both wheeled about to save you and Goyle, but when I asked Ron he said that he went back because Harry wouldn't leave you and you wouldn't leave Goyle. Who's more accurate?"
Draco looks closely at her, but there is no anger or hatred in her eyes. If anything, he'd say that was acceptance. "He wouldn't leave either of us," he corrects her. "He wouldn't leave anyone to die like that."
She smiles resignedly. "Ron, then. Thought as much." She hugs him swiftly and tightly. "Thanks," she says, and walks away.
Draco does not watch her go, because that will lead his eyes to Harry, and he cannot look at him right now.
You hear the news late this time. Dawlish has you and the other recruits duelling until 4pm, you are not surprised when a Prophet photographer stops by during the exercises. To be fair to Dawlish, he is as shocked as you when you return to the offices and are updated. And he nods readily when you tell him you have to go.
Draco is drinking alone in the Hog's Head when Harry comes running in. Aberforth leans over the counter and collects the Galleon that Draco had bet against the barman's confident prediction. Draco doesn't mind losing as much as he thought he would. He spares a glance at the young man beside him. "You're covered in soot," he says.
"The Post Office hasn't cleaned out their Floo recently," Harry replies, brushing the worst of it from his clothes. "I checked before I came, your father is all right. It's just Rookwood."
Draco feels the tension in his body ease ever so slightly. "And the culprit?" he asks.
Harry shakes his head. "No one is talking. It was a blow to the head, but the evidence had all been disturbed by the time the guards arrived. The other inmates say they were trying to revive him."
"Will it be investigated?" Draco takes a sip of his drink.
"Shacklebolt, Robards and Dawlish say yes, but there are some voices saying that it's a waste of time and effort, given that everyone who had access to him is already serving a life sentence."
Draco nods slowly. "Right. Thanks for letting me know. I have to get back now, two feet of Potions essay to finish before morning."
"I'll walk you home."
Draco's mouth tightens, but he doesn't say no. As they leave the pub two small children run past with a barrow. "Money for the Guy!" they shriek. Draco tosses them some coin.
"I could help you with your essay and we could watch the bonfires," Harry offers.
"You're terrible at Potions," Draco reminds him. "Besides, it's a Thursday. You have work in the morning."
"Dawlish won't mind if I miss a day."
"Depends whether or not he has a photo op lined up. Are you planning to install him as the next Minister or do you have another grateful puppet lined up?" Draco's voice is harsh even to his own ears.
Harry reaches out and links his fingers through Draco's. "He knows the game I'm playing, and he plays it well. He's not a bad man, just ambitious. When things go wrong, I want him to be in my corner."
"When did you become so cynical?" Draco wants to take his hand back, but not just yet.
Harry laughs grimly. "I've had a few life experiences that have made me see things a little more clearly than I used to."
Draco does take his hand back and opens the front door of his block of flats. "I miss hopeful Harry," he says, not looking back. "And righteous Harry had a certain charm in retrospect."
Harry follows him up the stairs. "They're still here," he replies. "They're just more complex now."
Draco reaches his door and turns around. "Harry, go home."
Harry leans in and kisses him gently but firmly, until Draco's back is against his door. "No."
Draco turns his face away. "Go. I can't let you in and still look Ginny in the eye."
Harry takes a step back and looks at him quizzically. "Are you asking me to choose between you and Ginny?" he asks.
Draco laughs sharply. "No, Harry, I'm telling you to choose her. I'm saying we should stop this thing because it's not fair to her and she's a sweet girl who loves you."
"No." Harry shakes his head. "She's a sweet girl who loves an idea she had of me. It's not the same thing."
"That's not true."
"That's what she told me." They look at each other for a long moment before Harry goes on. "She did ask me to choose. I didn't tell her about this," he raises a hand to forestall Draco's protests, "but we spoke on Sunday and she said that I needed to decide where I spent my time. I asked her why she wanted to be with me, and, in the end, she realised, she didn't. Not with the person I actually am."
"So she left you."
Harry laughs. "I've explained the whole thing cock-eyed," he says, shaking his head. "I told her that if she made me choose, I had to choose you. All the rest was making her feel better about it."
Draco is sure that Harry's traditional lack of skill at logic has reasserted itself here. "You mean you're here because you broke up with her."
"No," and Harry is using his serious voice now, the one that brooks no argument. "I'm here because I wanted to be with you, and I was worried about you, and my whole plan of talking with you about this sensibly on the weekend seemed less important than making sure you were all right now."
"This is very bad news." Draco's eyes are lost.
"Why?" Harry's voice is a whisper.
"My Potions homework is doomed for a start." Draco unlocks his door, and Harry follows him through it.
You had no idea. None. When his hand brushes your flies as he is undoing your belt, you have to bite your lip to keep from coming then. And then you are both saying sorry to each other, as you trace the fine marks you inflicted down his chest and he kisses across the bridge of your nose and you both seek forgiveness for a time when you had everything wrong.
You tug his pants down over his slim hips and they join his trousers in a crumpled heap and you are so nervous as you make the final gamble here, but before your brain can decide whether the terror or thrill of the moment is dominant, he has pushed you backwards onto his bed, and his pale hair is tracing a line down your ribs and your brain gives over entirely.
"Draco …" Harry can barely get the word out, and instead pushes Draco's face away with half a second to spare.
Draco watches Harry's face, his frown so like pain, but his lips curling upwards in joyful revelation.
Harry pants, "Where did you …?"
"… Learn that? Pansy and Theo and bananas, it's a long and sordid story, but with an educational moral."
Harry hauls Draco's mouth to his own. "Don't make me laugh," he says. "This is not a time for laughing." His hands take different directions, with one gripping Draco's hair and the other following his long back down past the curve of his arse and along his bent thigh. "So perfect," Harry sighs, and traces his way back up the inside of the same thigh.
"Harry," Draco's voice wants.
"What do you like? What can I do?"
Draco can't help but laugh at that. "I have no idea. I think I thought you'd push me to my bed and have done with me …"
Harry flips their positions over then, so that Draco is beneath him, and Draco can see the victorious look on Harry's face in the twilight. Draco's lips crush beneath the younger man's mouth, and his hips arch as Harry's hand moves between his legs. "I can do that," Harry promises.
Later, they bang their heads in a poorly timed move. Draco's leg goes to sleep and his foot cramps. Harry pretends he is not holding his breath as he watches Draco's eyes open in sated wonder. Draco reminds himself not to doubt Harry's promises.
You had a strange idea that the next morning would be a gold-tinged idyll with everything perfect and the world's problems wholly solvable. In fact, you are sticky and have strained at least two muscles and at some point you seem to have chewed on his shoulder, if the bruising is any guide.
But the sun is up, and you can see him, and he is so much more beautiful than in your imagination. The lines you saw as slight are stronger than you'd thought, with lean muscle and pliant skin. And he is smiling. He's holding your arm across his chest and smiling in his sleep.
You know that now would be a bad moment to shout your defiance of the world's ills. So you do it very, very quietly, on the inside.
"Morning." When Draco opens his eyes, there is another set looking down into them.
"Morning," he smiles, squinting upwards. "I long suspected."
"Your hair does look like that all the time."
Harry pinches him at the same time as kissing him. "It's your fault," he tells him.
Draco laughs. "Today, yes, but I am not taking responsibility for the previous eighteen years."
"It's seven a.m. What time do you start today?" Harry is lazily tracing the path of Draco's collarbones.
"Ten-thirty, but I need to be at the library by nine, so Slughorn doesn't crucify me in Potions. And you need to go to work."
"Ten minutes by floo, five minutes to get dressed. Plenty of time," Harry assures him.
Draco can't help laughing again. "I was so right to mock your personal grooming. You need to shower, you need clean clothes. You need a hot beverage and some breakfast. You certainly can't go to work smelling like that."
Harry kisses his chest. "What do I smell like?"
"Me," Draco whispers (please don't let that be blushing, he prays to any sundry deities).
Harry kisses his lips. "Good."
"Shower," Draco whispers.
With a grin of purest evil, Harry leaps from Draco's bed, dragging Draco with him. "Cleanliness is the only sensible choice for both of us," he declares. "You'd cause a scandal if you showed up at school like that."
Draco realises, right at this moment, that he will have to break Harry ever so slightly.
"Is this the bathroom? No, wardrobe. How many robes do you need, Draco? This door? Brilliant. How hot do you like your water?"
"Middling, you madman. Let me go for a moment, need the loo."
Harry slaps Draco's bum as he turns around, Draco skips out of reach and locks the lavatory door behind him. He's not unaware of the ridiculousness of planning a whole future in the space of a minute's pissing time. But then, he has a future because of half a second of Harry's planning.
But Harry is also the Saviour and the Boy Who Lived Twice, and will, by the weekend, doubtless be Britain's Most Eligible Bachelor – Fresh on the Market. And Draco Malfoy is not Ginny Weasley.
Draco is pleased with the simplicity of his plan; it reflects well on the sixty seconds of its creation. He's even more impressed with his timing. He keeps it all to himself, until he has Harry covered in soap and come and panting, dropping in his arms.
"This is between us," Draco whispers in his ear. "This is me and you, not for the world. I am not having any jumped-up journalist condemn you for sleeping with the son of Lucius Malfoy."
Harry looks up at him with dawning worry. "But I want you beside me," he says. "I want people to know."
"They already know we're friends," Draco is adamant. "This is just for us. Promise me. I'm not going to be the reason behind any front-page scandals for you."
The look of pain in Harry's eyes almost makes Draco relent. He settles for clarification. "I'll still be here for you. But just for you."
Harry looks as though he wants to speak, but he settles for kissing instead. Draco takes that as a win.
You wonder for a day if he's right. Dawlish asks after him, and while you know it's because your boss is not a complete idiot and is, at heart, compassionate, you also know that the nod of approval at your reassurance would be coloured with layers of meaning if the truth were known.
And in a way, you like it. He visits you on Wednesday nights now, because Thursday is a late start. You spend most weekends north, the rest at home with him. You've even convinced him to walk out into Muggle London with you. Once.
But you want to touch him and turn to him and talk about him, and the only place he has let you hold his hand in public is the Tate, because no one else is sappy enough to care about Pre-Raphaelites.
So you come up with your own plan.
Draco starts noticing the headlines in late November. At first they are small articles in the social pages. Harry Potter, surprise guest at party, later seen escorting eligible witch to Ministry function. The standard amicable break-up stories are run through November, and there is a small paragraph on December third, noting that Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom are working on their post-War issues together.
Draco doesn't mind, he expects Harry to have a social life, and he has made it very clear what his own role will be in the public side of that. Harry has obeyed Draco's edict. If anyone suspects the full story, it may be his landlady, but she is very keen on Galleons and he has plenty of those. Hogsmeade weekends continue much as they ever do, save for the fact that Neville indeed seems to be guiding young Miss Weasley through a number of personal issues, most involving giggling.
So when Draco steals Harry's December 10 Prophet before Floo-ing back to Hogsmeade, he suspects nothing. He waits until he's home before reading it, while tying up his shoes. Ten minutes later his laces are still undone and he is contemplating Floo-ing back.
"Boy Who Lived to Party" is the banner headline, followed by "Special investigation by Rita Skeeter" and "Hero Harry all hands in our exclusive photo essay, lock up your daughters – and sons!"
There follows no less than eight pages of shots of Harry at parties, in pubs, at clubs, and apparently at a Muggle rave in a field somewhere. In some of them he is just nursing a drink, in most he is dancing – enthusiastically, if not necessarily well – and in a disturbing number he has his lips locked with a witch or wizard and his hands definitely doing enough to garner editorial attention.
Draco takes it all quite well until he reaches page seven. For pages one to six he has several theories. Harry is laying a false trail. He is just being a young person. He is delivering a very round-about commentary on what he thinks of Draco's non-disclosure policy.
On page seven he sees Harry snogging a fair-haired boy, who turns about to reveal his face. "Justin?" Draco shouts, throwing the paper across the room.
He has his shoes done up, his notes in his bag and a good head of steam by the time he retrieves the paper and rips page seven from it. He uses his broadest quill to draw a circle around it and a giant question mark through it. He slips it into an envelope with Harry's details on the front and sends it with his fastest owl.
Hermione is sitting with a book at the front entrance to the castle as Draco walks into Hogwarts. She smiles as he draws near. "You've read the news, I take it," she says.
He sits down beside her. "I don't know what's more disturbing," he says lightly. "That we harbour a serial groper in our midst or that he truly believes he looks good in that blue shirt."
"Ron says that he's been led astray by Justin." Hermione's tone indicates she thinks this unlikely.
"I should never have mentioned the yacht …" Draco plays along with a rueful grin.
"Ron also says he's quite happy to deliver a smack to the head if you'd like."
Draco shrugs his shoulders. "Nothing to do with me, Harry's his own person."
"Of course he is," Hermione agrees equably.
"I used to call you a know-it-all," Draco tells her after a minute.
She pats his arm. "I know you did. I used to call you much worse."
She is there again at lunch, and in the library after Arithmancy, when Harry's Owl appears. Draco lets her read it. She raises an eyebrow. "I can create my own front-page scandals?" she asks, reading from the parchment.
Draco sighs. "I should never have told him about my long-running fascination with Aberforth and his goats."
Hermione pats his arm for the second time that day, and reminds him that Ron's smacking offer still stands.
The Hog's-Head-casual-and-not-at-all-militant collective is torn between conversation topics two days later. On the one hand there is the general need to give Harry affectionate grief. On the other, Luna is expounding her theory that the Death Eater attacks have been connected to auspicious dates and is predicting another one.
"It makes sense," she says. "Draco's father was attacked on the equinox, Rookwood was killed on Guy Fawkes, and now there is the Solstice, Christmas and New Year approaching. At least Hanukkah was last Monday."
"So we're striking Jewish wizards off the list of suspects, but Ramadan starts December nineteenth this year, so we'll keep the Muslims in," Hermione says, mostly jokingly. It is hard to imagine the small, devout British communities ever acting in ways that are against the law.
But Theo and Draco listen to Luna in all seriousness. Draco knows that the guards around his father have been screened, but no one knows where Theo's father is.
Justin arrives late and moves quickly to Theo's side. Luna stops her theorising to give him a guarded look. "So, you two are back together then?" she asks.
"We never broke up," Justin replies blithely. "I just happened to be at the same wedding as Harry two weeks ago, and we'd both had a bit too much to drink by the end of the evening. Perfectly harmless, just looked a bit dodgy from the photo."
"Right." Luna nods.
Theo exchanges a look with Draco, then allows himself to be led away by Justin.
"That boy is a sore disappointment," Luna observes.
"Hasn't let you see the yacht?" Draco asks.
She gives him a quick flash of a smile. "Why is it that every time you say yacht, I hear euphemism?"
Draco is still laughing when Neville and Ginny join them. "Hello, you two," Neville says by way of greeting.
"Hello you two, too," Luna replies. "How are you both?"
"Great," Neville grins.
Ginny smiles up at him. "Great," she agrees.
"And what do you think about the European Treaty discussions?" Luna asks Neville, who answers in detail.
Draco is looking at Ginny closely. "Really?" he asks quietly, knowing it's only been six weeks.
She nods. She leans nearer to him and speaks quietly. "The thing is, I don't fight battles that I have no hope of winning. So I quit now. And the funny thing is, Harry was right. Who he is and who I had in my head didn't have that much in common."
"Who did you have in your head, Ginny?" Draco is curious.
"Prince on a white horse with a shiny sword," she grins. "Which is why a conflicted Seeker with more than a few abandonment issues was never really going to work out." And she glances to her left, then looks back at Draco with an even broader grin. "Neville's fitting the bill pretty well, so far, though."
Something behind Draco catches her eye, and he turns to see Katie Bell holding a piece of mistletoe over Harry's head and kissing him. She finishes and, laughing, hands the plant to Justin, who takes her place.
"Neville is also not completely bonkers," Ginny tells Draco seriously. "I am starting to see the attractiveness of this quality in a man."
Theo Nott appears at their side. "Can I borrow him?" he asks Ginny, indicating Draco.
"By all means," she replies graciously.
"I need a favour," Theo tells him.
"Sure …" Draco says, suspiciously. And then he is being dragged over to the far corner of the counter and pushed up against the wall and Theo's thumbs are in the belt loops of his trousers and Draco is making a noise that sounds something like a small frog faced with the decimation of the Amazonian rainforest.
After three or four sweaty moments, Theo stands back and pushes back his hair. "Thanks," he says, and spins on his heel, off to collect Justin who is frankly staring at them.
Harry is looking at him, too. Draco shrugs in bewilderment, and Harry has that poised for action look that Draco has learned to dread. Before he does anything, though, Hermione throws a packet of crisps at the back of his head and follows them up with an arm around his waist and dragging him into her conversation with Ron.
When everyone else is gone that night, back to school or back to London, Harry quietly asks Draco why he kissed Theodore Nott.
"Didn't," Draco replies. "He kissed me. Apparently you've started quite the trend for wayward snogging."
He is happy to see the shadow of guilt that moves across Harry's face.
"It keeps the press away from you," Harry tells him. " I thought you'd appreciate it."
Draco purses his lips. But that night he leaves a trail of teeth and nail and fingerprint marks that brand Harry's body from neck to hip.
You wish he'd talk about it. But he pretends that he isn't reading the papers at the moment, despite the fact that the whole Wizarding press is now stalking your every public appearance. You do convince him to be outside with you, though. In the first week of his holidays you manage a concerto and a lecture on the History of Transfiguration Spells.
And people see you bid him goodbye decorously in public places.
And no one sees you late at night when his legs are clenched around your waist and you are sure that this is the single most vital thing that you will ever do.
You just hope, desperately, that you are not about to cock it all up irredeemably.
Draco is an earlier riser than Harry, so he is the one who is organising breakfast on Midwinter's morning when the DA Galleon Neville gave him months ago starts steaming gently on the cold windowsill. Draco deserts the house-elves and their toast and walks quickly over to read it. The serial numbers are gone. "Nott home attack" has taken their place.
He grabs Harry's jeans and shirt as he runs into his bedroom. "Wake up. Theo's house, they're under attack, we need you now!" he shouts.
Harry catches the thrown clothing in mid-air and has already snatched up his wand and glasses from the bedside table before he suddenly looks up, hearing what Draco has gone on to say. "No, wait!" he yells, but Draco has already Disapparated.
Theo's house is on fire. Draco recognises the burning section as the new kitchen, which Theo's late mother had been so thrilled to add to the old farm house. "Aguamenti," he casts and attempts to at least slow the flames' progression. He sees figures moving at the back of the building – they are familiar, Neville, Ginny, Katie and Hermione are running through the early morning light.
He abandons his efforts and runs towards them. "How many?" he asks.
"Just arrived," Neville pants. "Couldn't see anyone from the back. What about from the front?"
Draco shakes his head.
"Where's Harry?" Hermione hisses.
"He's coming," Draco replies.
Neville has already begun to run around the house. Wands drawn, the others follow him. As they reach the front, they hear Theo shouting inside. Neville blows the door away from its hinges just as Harry arrives. The two of them lead the charge inside, with Draco and Hermione close on their heels and Ginny and Katie trying to follow and direct the new arrivals they can hear outside at the same time.
The inside of the house is a disaster. The furniture is pulled away from walls and parts of the ceiling have been torn down. They hear Theo yell "At the back!" and run towards his voice.
There are five strange figures in the rear hallway. One of them is holding Theo's aunt and younger sister, another has just pushed Theo to the ground. The four young people send Stunners directly to those two, and are grimly satisfied when their victims are thrown back. The three remaining figures raise their wands, one is determined to fight, and Harry leaps in front of Draco and Hermione, but the other two assailants have broader plans. They grab handfuls of their comrades' garb and Disapparate before another spell can be spoken.
Hermione rushes forward to check on Theo's aunt and sister, Draco picks Theo up from the ground. "Good thinking," he tells him. "Are you hurt?"
"Few bruises," Theo shrugs. "Who made it?"
"I only saw the first six, but I could hear more pooling in after us. Everyone who's awake, I think."
Theo smiles, and turns to join Hermione, reassuring young Josephine, thanking his Aunt Lettice for her bravery.
"They got away," Harry mutters beside Draco.
"But we know more about them now," Draco tells him. "They know the Notts. That kitchen was his mum's pride and joy. It's the last thing she made before she died. You'd have to know them pretty well to know where to start like that."
Theo is back. "They were looking for my dad," he says. "We should call the Aurors."
"Already done," Harry admits.
They are all outside watching the latecomers put out the last of the fire (Draco is surprised at how relieved he is to see it is mostly cosmetic damage) when Robards himself shows up, with Dawlish and Williamson leading his support.
"What's going on?" Robards demands. "We were told you were under attack."
"They were, sir," Harry answers. "We arrived just in time to stop the attack and put the fire out, but the culprits escaped."
"You arrived, Potter? Why are there thirty children here at the scene of my crime?"
And Draco is genuinely interested to hear Harry's explanation. But Dawlish speaks, instead.
"Looks obvious, sir. This lot were all friends at Hogwarts, half of them are still in their nightclothes. I'd say that it's a house party. Did they put you all up in the stables, or is that just Potter's hair?"
Draco's amazement abates not a drop when Theo's grim and forbidding aunt declares, "Of course I made them sleep in the stables. How would decent people have a moment's rest with all these giggling fools in the house?"
Robards misses the slight nod that Harry and Dawlish exchange. Draco doesn't.
Theo is chuckling quietly behind Draco. "She can scare the bejesus out of out of anyone," he says, as Robards begins to apologise for the time it took his Aurors to arrive. "You all came," he adds, smiling. "I thought Potter's plan was mad, but, you all came."
And then Justin comes barrelling from around the back of the house where he has been on fire duty and grabs Theo, and Draco, Ron and Luna step away from the two boys since it's clear that their personal moment will take a little time.
Michael Corner makes a valiant late bid for the collective acting award for 1998. "Do you need us here, sir?" he asks Robards. "Only since the party is clearly over now, we may as well all trek back to my place for breakfast, before we need to be back with our parents."
"Did any of you see anything that would identify the culprits?" Robards asks. There is general head shaking. "Just the family, then. And well done, the lot of you."
"Excellent," Draco speaks loudly, having spotted the one small flaw in the plan. "We'll just head back to the stables at the right rear of the house to pick up our belongings, then, before we Apparate off."
They have walked out of earshot before Luna starts the giggling. "No, really, Draco, it's just my nerves," she insists. "That was very helpful and I'm sure that it fooled them completely."
"Shut up, Luna," Draco says without malice.
"I can't believe we missed them," Neville grumbles.
"We're getting closer," Harry points out. "Luna's date connection was right and Draco thinks that there are personal elements to this that mean they must know the Notts."
"Are you going to be in trouble at work?" Ron asks Harry, and all the others quieten down to hear his reply.
He shrugs. "Don't know. At some point Kingsley is going to work out what is going on."
"And what will you tell him?" asks Hermione.
"That this isn't a threat to him. We're not a militia."
"Except we are," Lee Jordan's voice carries to all of them. "When it comes down to it, we really are."
"No," Harry smiles at them. "You're thinking about this from the wrong direction. What we are is the future of the Ministry. Most of us will be working for them within two years. We are the wave of change for the good that will clear out all the crap that has been allowed to fester there."
"So, just like a revolution, but with business dress and legislation?" Lee grins.
"You might say that," Harry allows. "I couldn't possibly comment."
"What about whoever's behind these attacks?" Neville is still angry he didn't think fast enough to capture at least one offender.
"We'll find them," Harry vows, and although no one is sure exactly which 'we' he is referring to, they trust that he is right.
And Michael Corner's house-elves provide a truly spectacular breakfast.
You are nervous now. The week between Christmas and New Year's seemed like a good time for your plan to conclude. But as the final days of the year draw in, you consider that maybe he was right and you are wrong and you should just have spent your energies on finding him an astonishingly rare gift.
And when you wake up and he is not beside you and there is no smell of breakfast cooking, you know that today is the day that The Quibbler has run the story. You walk out slowly.
"Draco?" Harry's voice is much quieter than usual, Draco notes.
He glances up from the tabloid he is reading and beckons him over. "Sit down. Food's late, I told the elves to take an hour for themselves so I could read uninterrupted."
"No, no, it's all fine, I'm just astonished that you could convince Ginny to give a quote for it. And is the 'close personal friend' Ron or Hermione?"
But Draco can't look up yet, because he is too close to laughter, and he is not letting Harry off that easily. "I like this bit," he says. "'If he'd just find a nice boy or girl to settle down with,' says Molly Weasley. But I think that my favourite is where you have – and I think it has to be Hermione, actually – say: 'There's only one positive influence in his life at the moment, but he's too concerned with the PR issues to take up Harry's offer of a relationship.' And then the writer, and it's definitely Luna, speculates that Harry's very close friend is talking about Draco Malfoy, 18, son of Narcissa Malfoy, philanthropist. Mother will be weeping with laughter at that part."
Harry kneels in front of him and wraps his arms around his waist. "Draco …" he whispers.
Draco puts the paper down and runs his hands through Harry's hair. "I'm not angry," he confesses.
Harry's smile as he looks up is so broad that Draco's cheeks ache in sympathy.
"In fact, I'm a little bit impressed at the levels of manipulation you've gone to here. Especially since," he picks up the Prophet, "the other papers have run excerpts today. That's a lot of organisation for you."
"Let's not forget weeks of relentless partying," Harry adds.
Draco swats him on the head with the paper. "You will receive no sympathy for your strumpetdom."
"So will you do it?" Harry asks.
"Get me off the front pages, provide guidance from my wayward ways. Be the support that I need to stop myself going wholly off the rails," Harry quotes the article. "Save me from myself."
"Saving each other is practically our hobby," Draco points out. "But if you want to make it into my job, I suppose we could always make sex our hobby instead."
"That would be fine," Harry agrees.
"No Church of Saint Harry for you!" Draco declares loudly. "You have ruined all of my marketing plans. The only people I could convert to Potterism now would be rampant hedonists, and I don't fancy the sort of chapel they'd want built."
"What are you on about?"
"Rubbish, Harry," Draco leans down and kisses him. "I'm talking rubbish. I seem to do that a lot."
Harry stands, lifting Draco out of his chair and onto the edge of the table. "No, you're very clever," he tells him between kisses along his jaw.
Draco stops him for a moment. "It's not about the papers, you know. It's not about who knows or what they think of me. It's just about you. And as long as this is how you think of me, that's enough."
Harry tucks Draco's hair behind his ears and smiles at him. He shakes his head. "Could never work. Any plan that relies on me being subtle? Doomed to failure."
And with that he reaches behind Draco and pushes the papers off the table and the pair of them onto it, and Draco is forced to agree.