Title: A Giant Among Wizards
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Past minor character death, angst, some violence.
Summary: Draco opened a box he shouldn't have opened, and now he's growing magical powers that don't seem to intend to stop growing, and which he can't control. Enter former Auror trainee Harry Potter, looking for a new career—and interested in helping.
Author's Notes: This story has both angst and fluff. Mainly, I wanted to give Draco a chance at being the most powerful one for once.
A Giant Among Wizards
Draco gave Blaise a faint smile and bent down to pick up the last of the stack of boxes that his friend had helped him move from the Gringotts vaults. Technically, Draco could have carried them by himself, but the boxes had seemed heavier than ever in the wake of his father's death, and Blaise had understood. "I am. Thanks."
Blaise nodded, and stood watching him for a moment. Then he reached out and patted Draco's shoulder, as gingerly as though Draco had changed his name to Weasley. "Remember that Pansy and I are here, and you can call on us," he mumbled.
"I know," Draco said, as he had said many times since Blaise first made the offer, and watched his friend walk away, through the great front door of the Manor and down the gravel path that ran towards the gates. He paused once to wave. Draco waved back, and then made himself reach out and tilt the door closed. It moved delicately on its hinges, perfectly-balanced. It wasn't the amount of effort that he had to use to shut it that had caused him to hesitate.
It was the fact that, as the door banged closed, he was alone in the Manor for the first time in his life. For a moment, he wondered whether it might not be better to have the Dark Lord and the other Death Eaters back than to experience this.
No. It wouldn't. And you're stupid for thinking so.
Draco smiled in spite of himself and moved forwards, the clutch of boxes floating around him on the pallets that he and Blaise had conjured. The whisper of emptiness around him sounded like the whisper of dust—something Draco was only familiar with at Hogwarts, since the house-elves would never allow anything here to get dusty. Even though Draco planned to shut up the wings of the Manor where his father had spent most of his time, the house-elves would still go in every week to clean and make sure that the furniture and doorknobs gleamed and no nuisances lurked in the carpets and curtains.
Perhaps I should have taken up Mother's offer to go traveling with her.
But that wouldn't change the heart of the problem, as Draco well knew, which was that he had to be in the Manor without his father. Lucius had died in Azkaban two months ago, and there was so much to respond to and organize and retrieve and decide what to do with that Draco sometimes felt as though he would never be by himself.
But Narcissa had decided that the best cure for grief was seeing new things, and Draco had chosen to stay and see to the old. The boxes accompanied him upstairs, bobbing and dipping and sometimes bumping into the walls.
Along the way, elves appeared and bowed silently to him before vanishing again. Draco wasn't sure whether that was a ceremony they did on the day a new master formally took possession of the house—it wasn't as though he would ever have seen it—or if they were coming to help him and then leaving when they saw his face.
By the time that he got all the boxes up to the room where he intended to store them, he didn't care. He set the pallets down more roughly than necessary, and some jeweled trunks rattled as he did.
One of them went on rattling even after its pallet was sitting securely on the floor.
Draco stared warily at it, and then took a step over a large iron chest in front of him and knelt to put the wooden boxes of documents he'd been carrying on the floor. He moved towards the trunk with his hand on his wand. He wondered for a moment if his father would have left him something dangerous, and then snorted. Of course he would have. That was part of the reason why this organization after his death had taken so long, in fact, because the Ministry argued that some of Draco's inheritance was Dark artifacts Draco couldn't own, and Draco had had to prove that he could bloody well own them if he pleased, thanks very much.
This trunk hadn't been part of those negotiations, though. In fact, Draco thought, he had never felt anything wrong about it until now. And even then, the impressions he was getting from it—impressions of magic tingling up his spine and down his legs—were so faint that he wondered whether he was imagining them after days of investigating more powerful things.
He reached out and touched the hinges of the trunk. It stopped moving at once. That raised Draco's apprehension that a living thing might be hiding in there. He took his wand and grazed it gently down the hinges of the trunk, and then snapped it back abruptly and cradled it against his chest.
Something had sparked up the wand. No magical creature would respond like that to one, as far as Draco knew.
But that might mean that the motion came from an artifact that had recognized its new, rightful owner, and didn't like being separated from him for a moment longer than necessary.
Breathing heavily now with excitement, Draco fumbled for the front of the trunk. There was only a single lock, in a familiar pattern. When Draco opened a tiny wound in the tip of his finger with the wand and pressed the blood against the lock, the tumblers inside moved, and it clicked open. That was a common precaution his family had taken, to prevent someone not born into the Malfoys from taking over property after a distant relative or a spouse died.
The trunk's lid moved as easily as the front door when Draco pushed, just as perfectly balanced. It made no more noise than the door had, either. Draco turned his head and peeked down inside.
The trunk was filled with cloudy swirls of paper, obviously intended to cushion whatever was inside it from rough handling. For a moment, Draco thought that there was only paper there, and an old, rogue enchantment had made it jump. There certainly seemed to be nothing more. He hissed and started to pull his hand back.
Then the jump came again, and the paper shifted aside enough that Draco could make out a sleek head and a tapering tail.
A snake lay there, a snake of sculpted silver, with glittering green eyes and fangs of carven ivory. Draco swallowed, and swallowed again. There was thickness in his throat, and wonder heating his face up. He didn't know what this was, but he knew the Ministry would have tried to take it away from him if they saw it, claiming it was a living creature instead of an artifact.
And it was precious, beautiful, the most vivid and unexpected thing Draco had seen since his father's funeral. He wanted it.
He reached his hand down. Other than coiling back and forth a few times as though inspecting his hand from below, the snake didn't move. Draco picked the creature up, and felt the cool metal against his palms. He smiled. Whoever wrought the snake of metal had been clever. It would take its real temperature from the things that touched it, just like a living serpent would.
He leaned back on the floor and turned the snake over and over, watching the glittering patterns deep in its scales that the torches stabbed light into. He wondered who this had been made for. Perhaps his grandfather Abraxas, who had been fond of snakes and had always hoped to develop Parseltongue? Or perhaps his great-grandmother Estella Rosier, who had loved beautiful things, and whose portrait Draco had always found the most beautiful of any of his ancestors.
He held the snake upside-down and inspected it more closely. The belly was ivory, too, or else set with small and polished flakes of some white metal that he didn't recognize. Draco bent closer when he realized that there was a message incised in delicate letters into the last scale.
"The Serpent of Heart's Desire," he whispered as he read. "It will give you what you most want." He glanced at the snake, more perplexed than ever now. Was it meant to grant wishes? That was dangerous and tricky magic, and most people embodied creatures that could do it in old lamps, following tradition.
The snake stared back at him, head motionless now. Perhaps it only moved when it was separated from its owner. Draco turned it back over to stare at the tail, and the patterns on the back, thinking there might be a further clue to its nature there.
The snake lunged. Draco was aware of a sleek, swift slide along his arm, and then nothing but the sharpness as the snake lunged down and sank its fangs to the hilt in his shoulder.
Draco spat curses that didn't even make sense, and tried to throw the snake across the room. It didn't move, its fangs still buried, and Draco felt a tingling, numbing feeling creep rapidly away from the wound, towards his heart.
He might die, he would die, and although sometimes, in the first days after his father's death, he hadn't thought that would be such a bad fate, now he was certain it would be, and he started to fling himself in panicked circles.
One of them, although he never learned what motion it was, finally threw the snake away from him. Draco heard the clang as it landed on the far side of the treasure room, and then the rustling as it moved towards shelter. But he wasn't able to turn his head and see where it went; he was too busy staring at his swollen arm.
The swelling was silvery, and the center of the wound was actually the color of the hawthorn wood of his wand. Draco took a deep breath. The venom had stopped moving, that penetrating sensation of cold, and he hoped for a moment that that meant it wouldn't be so bad, that he could get to the Healers in time and they could help him keep his hand—
And then the cold returned. Draco slumped over on the floor, his head shaking so hard that his skull rattled against the open trunk. It hurt, but when he tried to get further away, merely bringing his arm into contact with the floor was agonizing, and he couldn't crawl. He tried, he pushed with his feet and wriggled with his belly, and nothing happened except that the room tilted around him and seemed to drop him directly into the dungeons.
It hurt. It hurt, and his jaw ached with the longing to scream, and his head throbbed relentlessly, and he knew that doing so would do no good, and there was something in him, slipping and sliding and breaking free, in a way that made him wonder if the snake's venom would actually make his heart explode from his chest—
What sort of legacy is that to leave to any Malfoy?
The spasms gripped him then, heels shaking up in the air and hands ringing at the ends of his wrists like shaken bells, and then the darkness.
Somebody was groaning, and it wasn't him. At least, Draco hoped it wasn't him, because he hurt all over and he wanted someone to be nearby so they could help him to his feet.
He rolled his head over and grimaced when the floor brushed his jaw. Yes, that was his open mouth uttering the groans. He would just have to do the best he could and stand up, then. He laid his hands beneath him, swallowed, and started to rise.
The world jolted around him oddly, and then something new pressed against his back and shoulders. Draco's eyes popped open and he turned his head, wondering if the serpent's poison had the side effect of making him fly—
It appeared it did. He was hovering near the ceiling of the room where he had intended to put the treasures from his father's vault, and the way his legs flopped and dangled behind him was uncomfortable. He bumped his head on a ridge as he shook it in wonder, and turned himself over with a flip of his wrist.
This wasn't so bad, maybe—as long as he didn't go outside. He thought he would drift away if he couldn't control his flight.
The world blurred, and then he was back on the floor. Draco stared at his hands and knees, and blinked. What in the world was going on? He turned his head, trying to find some explanation, and saw the wound the snake had left in his arm. It had retreated to a tiny silver hole, the size of the puncture wounds that the Dark Lord's snake had left when he ordered her to bite someone delicately.
Draco scowled. He didn't want to go to St. Mungo's with this and try to explain what had happened to him. The Healers would be on him in a second, and then the Ministry would get wind of it and demand to examine all the artifacts that Draco should be legally allowed to keep in search of a Dark one that simply wasn't there—
And the wound shrank as he watched, becoming a faint silver pinprick that Draco could have mistaken for a bee sting, and then vanishing.
Draco sat down slowly, waiting for something else wondrous to happen. Nothing did. Draco rubbed his wrists, and thought.
What sort of wishes, or heart's desires, were flying up to the ceiling and healing himself? Did the snake's venom bring old wishes to life, maybe? There was a time when Draco would have wanted to be the best Seeker, to beat Potter, but he couldn't remember a time when he had been seriously interested in becoming a Healer, or wished to heal faster.
He stood up and looked for the snake, wherever he had flung it. When he saw it, he reached for his wand. He was going to enchant it to float up in the air but keep it well away from him, in case touching it triggered another bite.
But that didn't work the way he had planned. Instead, the snake jerked up into the air with the merest motion of his hand, and a cube surrounded it as he watched, a transparent, glittering silvery cover that solidified into ice. Then it zoomed towards him and paused in front of him, turning around.
Draco shivered, and didn't even care who might be there to see. His eyes darted in several directions. Was this a joke? Had the ancestral portraits, or some strange provision of his father's will, come to life and started responding to him? But the longer he thought about it, the less Draco believed that. The portraits had never shown that kind of power before, and his father's will had been straightforward. It was the Ministry's fuckery that had made it take time to settle things, not Lucius's terms.
He reached out and cradled the ice in his hand. He knew without asking that it wouldn't melt, and it was a convenient way to study the serpent without touching it, although some of the ice blurred in ripples over the silver body. He wished that he could see it better—
The surface of the ice turned clearer at once, in a lens-like fashion, so the scales Draco was staring at seemed suddenly to loom closer, and he winced and flinched back before he thought about it. The ice clattered to the floor, still surrounding the snake, and not breaking apart like the glass it so resembled.
Draco closed his eyes and stood there, his hands knotted into his sleeves, afraid to make a gesture for the way that the magic would respond.
Because it was his magic. He knew that now. He had felt the flow of it this time, passing across his skin like wind or water, perhaps because the thing it was changing was so close and he wasn't distracted by his pain and wounds. He had wanted to see the snake better, and so he could. He had wanted to get up earlier, and the power had propelled him all the way to the ceiling.
Your heart's desire. He still didn't know what his father or any other ancestors might have used the snake for—although, thinking about the way his father had sometimes looked at his mother, he could guess—but the snake had given him greater magic. The power he had wanted, more than once, that would let him make a difference in the world and escape the chains that other people tried to put on him. How fervently had he wished, standing at the Dark Lord's side, to be someone that the Dark Lord couldn't control? The way Potter had seemed to him at the time, though as he learned more about Potter and Dumbledore's movements, the only real difference to Draco was their masters.
But now he had it.
And he had not the slightest idea how to control it.
Harry sighed and gratefully flung his cloak on the back of his chair. Then he rambled away from it, lighting the fire with a wave of his wand and setting the kettle to boil. It was the sort of thing that Kreacher would have done if he was there, but he divided his time between Harry's flat and Grimmauld Place. Harry encouraged him in that partially because he was courting Winky and Harry didn't want to listen to her squeaks of delight when Kreacher presented her with tarnished silver to clean, and…
And partially because, sometimes, he wanted to be isolated even from house-elves.
He flopped back in his chair and listened to the water boiling with half an ear, then conducted the rest of the tea-making with lazy flips of his wand when he was done. Hermione would have fussed at him if she was there, but perhaps Harry could have made her happy by showing her how thoroughly he had mastered non-verbal incantations.
Besides. He was too tired to move extensively right now.
Auror training was worthwhile. Of course it was. There was nothing else Harry had really wanted to do since his fifth year, and as he came into contact with the Aurors who taught him, he found them more and more inspiring. They were doing hard, thankless work most of the time, thankless because so many people couldn't ever know the details. They weren't Unspeakables, their cases got reported on, but the wizarding public had no idea how many times a year a Dark ritual nearly destroyed London or a magical plague almost broke loose.
And at the moment, Harry was wishing that he didn't know, either.
He leaned forwards with his elbows on his knees and opened his eyes, watching the fire as it danced and sparked. His eyelids lowered, but he shook his head and fought his way back up. No, he had to get this right. He had to think things through before he made his decision.
The cup of tea was ready to his hand. He sipped from it and dared himself to shut his eyes once, just to gather his thoughts. The weight of the cup kept him from falling too much into slumber.
His brow wrinkled as he thought about it. He could feel his skin warming, flushing, although that might be the nearness of the fire as much as the roaring indignation of his thoughts.
Did he want this? That was the question he had to answer, he thought, and the only one. Since the war, Hermione had told him that often, and Ron, too. Harry thought it was more relevant for Ron than for him. Ron was always talking about how he was only in Auror training to keep Harry company and how he'd prefer to quit and help George run the joke shop.
But maybe it meant something for Harry, too. He dug his hand into his hair and tugged a little, the way Teddy sometimes did when he wanted Harry's attention.
That was one reason he didn't really want to become an Auror. He visited Teddy and Andromeda twice every week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, the only day when he had purely physical training, which he excelled at and finished early. And Teddy recognized him now, knew his name, would run to him and let himself be picked up. Harry watched Teddy copy his eye color and explain his favorite books to Harry and make Harry gifts of stuffed animals that he insisted Harry name, and his chest ached.
He wanted to be there. Auror schedules, once he was fully trained, wouldn't allow for that, and the sheer nature of the job might not, either. It was possible that he would die on a mission, and Teddy wouldn't know him until he was old enough to have lost his childhood memories and hear stories from the Weasleys.
They wouldn't abandon Teddy and Andromeda, Harry knew that. They would take care of them if anything happened to Harry. But it wasn't the same. Harry wanted Teddy to know him as he wouldn't know his parents.
So that was one reason not to become an Auror. What were the others?
Harry leaned back in his chair and snorted. There was the fact that so many people persisted in misunderstanding what had really happened in his battle with Voldemort, sometimes even the ones who had been there. Harry didn't know any way to cure their ignorance. How was he supposed to convince them that he wasn't endlessly powerful, that he had defeated Voldemort by luck and love and his mother's sacrifice, not because he was the greatest wizard ever?
For a little while after the Battle of Hogwarts, the papers had bought that story. It made good copy, and Harry was willing to let them photograph him and interview him as long as they told the truth. But then Rita Skeeter somehow got hold of the prophecy, and the "power the Dark Lord knows not" got turned into magic. Harry shook his head. As though love isn't more magical than all the power in the world. All the power in the world couldn't save Voldemort when his fate came for him, could it?
So rumors circulated, and his Auror instructors expected miracles of him in terms of wandless magic, and didn't seem to see the effort Harry put in on his exams and essays and nonverbal spells as worthy of remark. He hadn't done it effortlessly, so what was the use of it?
Harry leaned back and shut his eyes. The more he thought about it, the more he didn't remember why he had decided to be an Auror in the first place.
Because McGonagall thought I would be happy that way, and after the war, I still thought I would be, and I didn't have any better ideas.
Not that he had many better ones now. Hermione would fuss at him for leaping into the unknown without a plan. Ron would be shocked that Harry was abandoning him. Teddy…
Teddy would be happy.
And so would he.
Harry nodded, and set about writing his resignation letter.
"This is…unexpected," Kingsley said, holding the letter as though he thought it might explode like a Howler or burst into flames, and staring at Harry.
Harry smiled back in the way that he'd practiced in the mirror this morning, gentle and sincere. His chances of getting out of this peacefully were lost if Kingsley thought he was only resigning because he was frustrated with the Auror training or the way that some people in the program had treated him. Harry did sometimes hate the way he had to manage his image since the war, but better that than end up with unintended consequences and all the newspapers inundating him with requests to explain some perfectly innocent phrase.
"I know," he said. "But I want to spend more time with my godson, and I want to do something where I can help people in a way that I can't, as an Auror." There. That sounded good, and it had the advantage of being the truth, besides. If his friends fussed at him, then Harry thought that would deflect their criticisms.
Kingsley looked at his letter again, and then sighed and looked up. "I can't blame you for wanting a bit of peace. But I also can't pretend that I'm happy to be losing the Auror trainee my instructors tell me is the most promising."
Harry blinked, then laughed. "I only pass the exams by dint of working until my eyes fall out of my head, sir. Anyone who praises me that much is probably having their praise inflated by my reputation."
"No," Kingsley said quietly, meeting his eyes. "I really don't think that's the case."
Harry blinked again. He didn't have a prepared statement for that. He cleared his throat and stood up. "Well. Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. And if you have someone who needs help but doesn't want to go through the Aurors for some reason, I'd appreciate it if you think of me."
Kingsley let him get to the door of his office before saying, "Actually…"
Harry cocked his head and turned around again, grinning. Kingsley liked to tease this way, pretending that he had said all he had to say and then adding the most important piece of the conversation. It drove the reporters assigned to follow him around and comment on the new Minister's progress mental, which Harry approved of. "What is it?"
"This letter arrived this morning," Kingsley said, and plucked a curling parchment from the edge of the largest pile on his desk. "I was wondering what to do about it. This is an individual who, due to his past with the Aurors, would probably find it hard to work with them for fear of prejudice."
Harry picked up the letter, and snorted in understanding when his eyes fell to the signature. Draco Malfoy, said the graceful, flowing script, but there were dashes of ink there that made Harry wonder if he was, indeed, desperate.
If he's asking the Ministry for help, he is.
Harry looked up at the rest of the letter.
I know that you have no reason to think kindly of me or want to help me, but there's nowhere else that I can turn, and I ask you to keep this correspondence private.
One of the artifacts my father left me is the sculpture of a snake which supposedly grants wishes. When it bit me, my magic went out of control. Not in the sense that I am now helplessly casting Dark spells, but in the sense that I seem to be more powerful than ever and yet unable to judge the effect of my spells before I cast them. My magic responds to the desires in my mind, not incantations, and the incantations are supercharged. I nearly burned down the Manor when trying to boil water.
I believe the Aurors would have materials in their archives that dealt with cases similar to this, perhaps even the same artifact. I am requesting that someone who is knowledgeable about the contents of the archives come to the Manor and converse with me on the subject. I would come to the Ministry myself, but leaving the strength of the wards isn't an option for me right now. They're barely containing the explosions as it is.
Harry nodded as he finished the letter. Yes, Malfoy was desperate, or he would never have revealed his weakness like this or mentioned an artifact that he knew the Ministry might claim was Dark.
"I don't know what I can do to help, though," he admitted, handing the letter back to Kingsley. "I don't know much about Dark artifacts or the contents of the archives. A Curse-Breaker like Bill Weasley might know more."
"I believe Malfoy about the wards," Kingsley said, folding his hands on the desk. His voice turned dry. "And I invite you to imagine the response, from both parties, if I asked Bill Weasley to take this case."
Harry winced as he remembered the last time he had seen Bill, how much deeper and more vivid the scars on his face had seemed when you didn't look at them for a while. "Right. But what makes you think that I can handle it?"
"The snake figurine he mentioned," Kingsley said, and unfurled his fingers to begin counting on them. "You speak Parseltongue." Harry's face flared, but he nodded. He had let most people think that particular stupid talent had disappeared when Voldemort was dead, but that wasn't something you lied to the Minister about. "And you have experience with Malfoy—especially experience in not immediately hexing him when he opens his mouth. You testified at his trial; he might feel more comfortable with you than with a random Auror who did not. Your resignation would help in disassociating you from the Ministry, in fact. And you have experience with powerful magic." His gaze rested meaningfully on Harry.
Harry threw up his hands, not caring if the gesture looked a little melodramatic. "Not you, too," he said. "Honestly, Kingsley. I really don't have any great power. I explained to everyone how I defeated Voldemort, and explained again when they looked confused. If Malfoy hadn't conquered Dumbledore the way he did, I would never have had a chance at all."
"Nevertheless," Kingsley said, "you know what it is like to do things no one else has done in recorded memory, such as survive the Killing Curse and return from death. I can think of no one else better to ask to take this case."
Harry bit his lip, but nodded. "I owe Malfoy a life-debt, too, and his mum," he mumbled. "Maybe that would reassure him that he wouldn't need to pay me anything."
"I intend to pay you," Kingsley said, and smiled at him. "This could be the start of a nice, new, less dangerous free-lance business, if you do well on this first case."
Harry blinked. Then he said, "Won't there be some people who resent that, sir?" There were already enough who thought that his acceptance into the Auror program with a less-than-stellar Potions NEWT was favoritism.
"If you do well on this case, then I'll hire you for others," Kingsley said, and shot him an imperturbable look. "If you don't, well, then I'll need to find someone else to handle Malfoy, and you'll do something else to help people. Perhaps I can hire you if you do that something else well enough. But tell me, Harry, do you think me the kind of man who's going to be put off using the talents of my best people because of accusations of favoritism?"
"No," Harry had to admit. He smiled a little. "Thank you, sir, for the chance. Did Malfoy say anything about whether I should come to the Manor at a particular time?"
Kingsley shook his head. "This is the only owl I've received from him, and now you know as much about his problems as I do."
Harry nodded. "Thank you, sir." And then he turned and stepped out the door, into an apparently new and intriguing life, and new and intriguing problem.
Malfoy probably won't like me showing up at his door without advance notice. I'll owl.
Draco stared at the letter in front of him and then closed his eyes, feeling sick. He wished—
No! I don't wish! I don't want!
But when he opened his eyes, it was too late to take the unconscious desire back, as it often was. His mind moved faster than his remorse did. The letter had already shredded into neat, tiny pieces, expressing his frustration.
Draco sat down at the table and ran his hands over his face. On the table lay teacups in pieces, scrubbed until they fell apart; teacups that were perfectly glittering and clean; and teacups that he couldn't put anything in, because he had wished they would remain clean forever and the magic apparently enforced that by not letting anything into them that would dirty them. Not to mention the small, sad remains of the second pair of arms he had started growing yesterday, when he wished for an extra hand to hold everything.
I don't really want Potter to come here, he admitted sullenly to himself. But anything is better than this.
And it was true that Potter owed him life-debts. (Draco intended not to think about the pair that he also owed Potter). That would make things a little more comfortable, and it might keep Draco from turning him to pulp in a fit of disgust.
Draco stood up and wandered over to the gardens. New flowers grew there, nodding pink ones and glittering purple ones with silver stars on the petals that Draco had wished for two days ago, to see if he could. And there was also a perfectly flat, empty space of nothingness where he had wished "to clear the ground" and his magic had misinterpreted him, the way it so often did. Or picked up on something else within his mind, which was working out to the same thing. Draco had never liked the trees that stood there, but he hadn't really wanted to destroy them. It was just something that he sometimes idly wished while looking out the window.
Wishes were dangerous.
He turned back and Summoned ink and parchment from the drawer that he had left open upstairs. Not leaving it open and Summoning the supplies would result in the desk shredding apart from the sheer force of the magic, and holes appearing in doors as the Summoned objects flew through them. Draco grimaced. He hated all the things it was now necessary to think about when using his magic, when ordinary Summoning Charms would just bring their objects zooming around obstacles.
His magic stirred, and Draco immediately closed his eyes and blanked his mind the way he had learned when studying Occlumency, because otherwise his magic would probably react in an attempt to change those things he had to think about. For all he knew, it would do it by erasing his memory.
The sense of power building up inside him eased. Draco opened his eyes, smiling a little bleakly when he saw the parchment and ink in front of him now. Potter might be better than no one, always assuming that Draco could hold back his temper around him.
And if not, I'll have to learn.
Harry spent a moment standing stiffly outside the iron gates of the Manor, and reminded himself that the war and, in most cases, the Death Eater Snatchers who had brought him here were years gone. They'd had more than a few problems with Fenrir Greyback, but the rest of them had only been ordinary wizards, made drunk by their love of power.
He was here, and the person he was didn't resemble, much, the boy he had been.
At last he could step through the gates and walk towards the front doors. A few white peacocks started to life and ran away, squawking and flaring their tails out as though they assumed Harry should admire them. Harry rolled his eyes. By the time that he knocked on the doors with the brass dragon's tail that the Malfoys had there for that purpose, he felt a bit calmer. He was here to talk to the Malfoy who kept peacocks like that, not the one with the Dark Mark on his arm.
Or would it be better to remember that they're the same person?
He was still thinking about that when Malfoy opened the door, and Harry blinked. "You look terrible," he said.
Malfoy stared at him. And yes, he did look terrible, with grey shadows under his eyes and redness crawling through the corners, but Harry could feel himself flushing anyway. That was the sort of comment that he might have kept to himself.
"You might as well come in, since you're here, Potter," Malfoy said, and closed his eyes and turned his head away as if tired to death.
Harry stepped quietly into the house. Malfoy shut the door behind him, and then began to lead Harry down a giant corridor done all in white that he didn't remember from his last time in the house. Then again, he hadn't been in much of a state to notice interior decorating then.
"I assume you know the situation from the letter," Malfoy said, not turning his head. "The first thing I'd like you to do, since you are you, is speak to that bloody snake and find out what it was made to do."
"Sure," Harry said, and kept walking. At least Malfoy hadn't shut the door on him right away for his crass comment. He thought the best bet for right now was only to volunteer what Malfoy asked him or the snake told him.
He studied Malfoy covertly, but couldn't see anything to mark the condition he'd complained about in the letter. Of course, magic that responded to the inner desires of your heart didn't necessarily hover around your head and proclaim that that was what it was doing, either.
"The snake is in here," Malfoy said, and opened a paneled oak door with a pattern in gold on it that made Harry's eyes water, and which he thought Aunt Petunia would have liked to copy for her house. Fans of extravagance unite, he thought, and ducked through the unexpectedly low archway into the room beyond.
It looked like a dining room, but Harry had to admit he only thought that because of the long table in the middle. For all he knew, it was the table Malfoy used to cut up Potions ingredients. There was a cauldron there, and some shredded green leaves beside it, and a small jeweled trunk that Malfoy picked up and held out.
Harry kept his hands behind his back. "How do I know that it won't bite me?" he asked.
"It's a bloodline Malfoy artifact," Malfoy said, his voice dropping into the kind of drawl that Harry associated with invitations to midnight duels. "I highly doubt that it would concede to bite someone of inferior heritage, Potter."
He didn't say "inferior" with a sneer, and that made it worse. "And you know that it's a bloodline Malfoy artifact, but you don't know how to deal with it?" Harry shot back. "Why don't you tell me how you came by that knowledge, then?"
All the blood fled Malfoy's face, and his eyes narrowed. That was the only warning Harry had before he found himself flying backwards, plastered against the wall near the door they'd just come through, and struggling to force air into lungs that felt flat.
Draco didn't mean to. But that was the case with everything lately, and he was getting sick of the excuse even with himself.
He had only thought how nice it would be to squash Potter like a bug. It didn't mean that he wanted to do it.
But of course, blink and his magic worked. And now he had to stand there with his teeth gritted and think about Potter flat on the floor with his lungs working again, because otherwise the magic would just keep working off that first semi-conscious wish and not believe that he really wanted to let Potter go.
That's one of the most annoying things about it, he thought distantly, as he watched Potter slump to the floor and suck in air as though it was Firewhisky. It listens more to my dreams and desires than to the conscious decisions. I wonder if it's supposed to work that way, or if one of my ancestors put a curse on the snake.
That was one of the things he hoped Potter could find out for him, so he forced himself to wait until Potter was no longer heaving before he crossed the room and knelt beside him. "Do you need help?" he asked. His voice was neutral, because he desired it to be, and he could feel the magic lifting inside him and making it so, stripping the emotions and inflections away from his words.
"No, but you do," Potter said, blinking at him.
Draco felt the magic move again, but this time, he hadn't verbalized the wish to himself, so he didn't know what it was going to do until he saw the shimmer around the sides of Potter's skull. He had thought that he wanted Potter not to speak to him like that again, and the magic was attempting to change his mind so he wouldn't.
That was one reason that Draco didn't trust himself around other people at the moment. How long until he lost control and the magic lashed out and did damage that he couldn't reverse? He held his breath, something that sometimes helped his concentration, and willed the magic back.
And then Potter blinked and shook his head and snorted. "Nice try," he said, voice rasping. "But I know how to resist that one."
Draco stared. "What?"
"I could feel the magic trying to tell me that I should speak to you respectfully," Potter said, and stood and stretched. Draco felt ridiculous crouching on the floor, but he tried to stand up without any desire in his heart other than to approach Potter's height again. Perhaps the magic would shrink Potter if he didn't. "It was like the Imperius Curse. I couldn't resist being thrown into the wall, but that? I know how to handle. My mind is mine and no one else's." He grinned at Draco, a savage smile that Draco had good memories of, because it usually meant Potter was about to unleash his frustration at Draco one way or the other. Of course, at that age, Draco hadn't realized that would mean ending up frustrated in a different way later. "Seeing into Voldemort's crazy mind probably helped, too."
Draco stared at him. "You didn't."
Potter tapped his forehead; his fringe had grown like a forest and hid all of the scar, so Draco only knew approximately where it would be. That was a strange sensation, too. Once, that had been the first place on Potter where his eyes would lock, every time. "It was because of the scar, not because I was a master Legilimens or anything like that. But I could see what he saw, sometimes, and hear what he heard. And I could especially feel his emotions when he was angry or joyful. Which was all the fucking time," he added, rolling his eyes.
Draco coiled back and spoke before he thought. "You're hardly a professional Ministry representative."
"My owl did mention that I'd resigned from the Aurors," Potter pointed out, and stepped towards the trunk again. "And I know you can write, Malfoy, so I assume you can read, too. Now. Let's see if this snake has anything to say."
Draco followed him, feeling so dazed that his magic was quiet. It was—reassuring, in some ways, to know that there were limits to his power, and conquering Harry Potter's resistance to the Imperius Curse was one of them.
Harry let Malfoy open the trunk, and then bent down to stare into it. The silver serpent inside reared out at once and aimed for him, but Harry had stepped back before he realized that the aim wasn't a lunge. It had merely oriented on him, the way Harry thought a human would on someone who could speak his language.
He focused closely on the snake, and then began to speak. Parseltongue wasn't as easy since the end of the war, but he could still manage it as long as he was really regarding the snake he wanted to talk to and not any humans who were in the way. It helped that Malfoy hovered behind him, clearly wanting no contact with the snake again. "Who are you and what do you do?"
The snake's jeweled eyes glowed for a moment, and then it snapped its jaws shut. The hissing that emanated from it came from somewhere in the body. Harry wondered if the wizards who had made it had implanted the gift for Parseltongue on purpose or if that was merely something that happened when they gave it the ability to hiss, as long as a Parselmouth was speaking to it. "I grant the Malfoys what they wish for most."
"But you did not give this one what he wishes for most," Harry said, carefully. The snake's words were strange, for what could have been any one of multiple reasons, and the consonants slurred and slid around as if it had a strong accent. "You gave him magic that hurts him."
The snake turned its head to the side. "What he wants," it said stubbornly. "He wants to hurt."
Then it sank back down inside the box and did a good impression of a magical object that was never meant to move. Harry risked reaching out and touching the back, since it had said it only bit Malfoys. Nothing happened.
He sighed and turned to Malfoy, taking a moment to study his face to make sure the words would come out in English. "It said that it gives your lot what they desire most. I told it that the magic hurt you and couldn't possibly be what you wanted, but it insisted it was."
Malfoy closed his eyes and touched his hair cautiously, as if to check it was still growing. He looked pointier than he had, Harry thought, as though some of the fat had melted out of his face, but it suited him in some ways. "A fat lot of good that was," he muttered. "You might as well not have come at all."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I'm still assigned to try and help you," he said. "I want to help you, because otherwise you'll probably kill someone, and then you'll end up in Azkaban, and everything I did to help you during your trial will be useless."
Malfoy stared at him then, eyes popping open as if he didn't remember he'd closed them. "What?" Harry said, when the stare had gone on for some time and he had no idea what Malfoy was getting out of it.
"I don't remember you talking to me like this in school," Malfoy said. "Why would you do it now, when I have extremely powerful magic that you know can hurt you?"
Harry laughed in spite of himself. "You think I haven't faced scarier things than you, Malfoy? I killed a basilisk when I was twelve. You could probably make a poisoned fang appear through my arm if you wanted, but you're not Voldemort, and you're not the basilisk, and you're not Quirrell with Voldemort attached to the back of his head, either. I want to help you, but it's going to be hard when you sit there with your lower lip stuck out as if something's going to land on it." He winked a little at the stunned Malfoy and turned away. "Now, show me your library. There are some books I want to look at, and I know you'll have them."
Draco stared at Potter's head bent over the book, and then turned and stared at the shelves on the far side of the library. He thought about Summoning a tome, but it would probably end with the whole shelf falling on top of him, and that would displease Potter.
Draco shook his head. The thought about himself had only come late, and it seemed that it might not have come at all. He didn't know why. He didn't understand many of his own emotions since Potter had walked through the front door this morning and disordered his life.
He walked across the room and picked up the book that he had thought about Summoning, checking over his shoulder to see what Potter thought of the motion. Potter had marked his place in the book he was reading with a finger and scribbled madly along on parchment he had asked Draco to lend him, clucking his tongue. That told Draco exactly nothing, except that Potter probably hadn't noticed his motion at all. He sighed heavily and picked up his book, an old one on the Malfoy bloodline heirlooms and artifacts.
It was on the way back to the table that he thought he probably shouldn't be reading at all. Potter could handle that end of the task well enough—or so it seemed, and Draco didn't intend to call in Granger as a minder unless Potter's pretensions to research became frankly insupportable. He needed to study himself and figure out what the snake had meant by him liking to be in pain, liking to hurt. He was the only one who could answer that question, after all, as he was the only one who had been inside his head.
He took a seat at the table and closed his eyes, attempting to empty out his mind the way he would when he was a child and getting ready for bed. The scratch of Potter's quill and the soft noises of house-elves preparing tea faded until he could feel the buzz of thoughts in the back of his mind like bees beating against a windowpane.
So. Did he like pain?
Of course not. Of course he didn't. That made no sense. He had gone to extreme lengths to avoid pain during the war, although he couldn't always do it when he was the Dark Lord's torturer. He hadn't been able to kill Dumbledore, either. He was one to turn away from hurting someone else with a sickness in his heart. His father had commented on it several times that last year he was free, unable to believe he had raised such a weak son. He didn't want Draco to be a mindless murderer, of course, but he expected him to defend himself when it came down to someone whose life would cost him his family's.
And he hadn't been able to.
That old panic tried to grip Draco and choke him. He refused to let it. He stood in its path and stared it down until it subsided. And then he returned to the question of pain.
If he was honest, and he knew he should be if he was to overcome the curse the snake had placed on him, he could not remember a time during the last two years when he wasn't in pain. Dealing with his father's trial, imprisonment, and death, his mother's defection, his own tribulations and the accusations against him, and the endless arguments with the Ministry about what lands and money and artifacts he would be allowed to keep…
He sneaked an eye open to look at Potter, who still had his head bowed over a book. Perhaps that wouldn't be pain for someone like Potter, who practically existed to martyr himself.
But for someone like Draco, raised to expect a quiet life with house-elves tending to his every need? It had been.
His hands clenched on the table in front of him, and the table trembled from the magic that would smash it to splinters if he truly desired to hurt something. He soothed the feeling by focusing his mind on something else.
That was why he had looked forward to the end of the arguments, and being allowed to legally take home all the artifacts he'd brought with him to the Manor three days ago. It would mean the end of the pain, the beginning of the peace.
But if he found it hard to imagine existing without that pain…
Perhaps this was a way of ensuring that things didn't change. As well as a way of ensuring that he would have power. Perhaps he had no notion of what he was without something to struggle against. In early days, his father's expectations. In Hogwarts, Potter. In the war, the Dark Lord and the constant battle for survival. After the war, the Ministry.
Who was his enemy now, if not himself?
He looked up and shook his head. He still wished the snake had not bitten him, and he still thought uncontrollable magic was no one's desire, but he could understand it better, now. This was something else for him to fight.
The magic curled in his stomach, a blast of power that was as difficult to channel and predict as smoke. But Draco closed down one hand into a shallow fist, and held it up in silent challenge.
I will defeat you. And in the end, I will be the master, not you.
"You'll be staying here."
Harry blinked and looked up from the book he'd spent the morning—no, wait, the afternoon, too, if the light coming through the windows could be believed—looking through. Its ideas about artifacts were unexpectedly fascinating, and he wondered if he could persuade the snake to take back its gift to Malfoy. Probably not, but it was an idea.
"Um, no," he said, as his stomach rumbled. "I'll stay for dinner if you'll let me, but I didn't plan to live in the Manor fulltime. I have a life to get back to."
"Someone else needs your help more than I do at the moment?" Malfoy folded his arms and studied him.
Harry raised his eyebrows. He didn't think it was his imagination that Malfoy stood more confidently than before, that his arms were folded at a more familiar angle, that his smile was cooler. That might help, too, if Malfoy faced the magic with confidence instead of fear. "I have a godson to visit," he said. "And friends to visit and reassure. Not to mention a lot of people who will want to talk to me about my decision to quit the Aurors."
Malfoy blinked, but said, "You can firecall and visit them from here. And I need you on hand in case my magic tries to kill me."
"You think it would do that outside of you wishing to die?" Harry stood up and stretched.
Malfoy gave him a long, slow look, and twirled his finger in the air. "I wouldn't know," he said, words stretching like Harry's arms, "seeing as I don't know anything about it yet."
Harry had to nod. "But I might need books that are elsewhere, and you wouldn't want me around at every hour of the day," he said.
"You'd be surprised," Malfoy said. "You have experience dealing with powerful magic. You survived better than I thought you could this morning. You can speak to the snake and resist the power that might alter your mind. I need your help." He spoke the last words without chipping his teeth by grinding them, which also impressed Harry.
"It was luck, and love, that let me defeat Voldemort," Harry said gently. "I'll do my best to help you, but if you think that I won the battle because I'm stronger than anyone else, you're going to be disappointed and you should discard that idea right now."
Malfoy took a step back and regarded him appraisingly. "The papers report otherwise," he said. "Why haven't you told them that?"
"You do live in the wizarding world, yes?" Harry asked. "You are the same Draco Malfoy that I went to school with?"
Malfoy's eyes and teeth both flashed in the same way for a moment. "Not the same one," he said.
"Point taken," Harry said, grinning at him. "When you see that bloke who sold a whole story to Rita Skeeter in fourth year that he knew was fabricated, then you might have him tell you how hard it is to sell the papers the truth, or a story they don't want to believe."
Malfoy studied him in silence, then said, "It would still be mad to have you leave so often when I can give you a room here and you can remain with me. I won't keep you a prisoner, but I would prefer that you take your meals here, and make your studies as often as you can in my library. Call it hospitality, call it practicality. I want you to try and help me as soon as you can when another—attack begins."
"Even though I'm telling you the truth about not having powerful magic myself?" Harry asked.
"The facts that I stated about you are still true," Malfoy said, and turned away. "You've still dealt with it more than most other wizards. From the time you were twelve, if that tale about slaying a basilisk is true. How did you survive that?"
"Phoenix tears," Harry said, following him out of the library and down another corridor that led—somewhere. Harry knew Malfoy Manor wasn't the biggest house he'd ever been in, but it seemed the most maze-like. He wouldn't be surprised to see Malfoy open a door and step out into a full water garden complete with a fountain. "Not something I can trade advice to anyone else on, unfortunately." He thought for a second, and then added, "Well, and I survived the immediate battle because of the Sword of Gryffindor dropping out of the Sorting Hat."
"No wonder the newspapers don't believe you when you try to tell them the truth," Malfoy said.
It happened again at dinner.
Draco was trying, he really was. Light conversation with Potter made him think more about the past and the chances of his favorite Seeker being on a World Cup team than what he wanted, and that was all to the good.
But then he looked down at the spiced chicken salad that the house-elves had served him, and couldn't help wishing that it was spicier.
There was a moment when the salad glowed, and the magic sucked strength from his muscles so that Draco almost slumped face-first against the table. And then the salad burst into flames, and cascades of whirling red pepper appeared in midair and sifted down, across the table and into all the food and Draco's hair and eyes.
Potter sprang to his feet and shouted something, a quick Ventus Charm from the breeze that blew against Draco's hair and eyes and soothed some of the burning sting of the pepper. Aguamenti quickly followed, and Draco used the water the way it was meant to be used, to wash out his eyes. He nodded his thanks to Potter and dried himself with the towel that a distressed and squeaking house-elf handed him.
Potter took his seat again and spelled some of the pepper off the table. The salad was a total loss, burnt so quickly to ashes that the fire had had no time to catch on anything else. For a moment, Draco sat there in silence, and Potter sat with him.
"Never thought I'd get the chance to dump freezing cold water on you and have you thank me for it," Potter said at last.
Draco stared at him, but didn't wish anything. He thought he was getting better at doing that consciously. But to have full control of his mind at all times was very nearly as tiring as dealing with the consequences of his powerful magic. He closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Yeah, I know, there's a time and place for jokes, and you don't think this is one of them." Potter sat down next to him, and hesitated. Draco knew he did, even though he wasn't looking at him. Apparently he hadn't lost that Slytherin faculty for telling when goody-goody thoughts were running through the heads of Gryffindors.
"If you're about to suggest that I talk to Granger, save your breath," Draco muttered, keeping his eyes shut. "I'm not that desperate yet, and I would find her manner of talking to me less than soothing."
"Actually," Potter said. "Um." He hesitated again, then plunged ahead. "I was wondering if you would mind if I tried Legilimency on you. That might help me to see what kinds of thoughts are running through your mind and what the magic is going to pick up on next."
Draco turned and stared at him. "Not so goody-goody after all," he said, when the shock had finished blocking his throat and he could speak.
"What?" Potter blinked.
"Private joke," Draco said. "There's a time and place for those, and this is one of them." Potter met him with a grin that Draco privately thought had a large amount of relief in it. It was as though Potter didn't know how to deal with him when he wasn't whinging. Draco leaned forwards. "Where did you learn Legilimency, Potter? The only thing I ever heard about you and the Art was from Professor Snape, and that was that you couldn't Occlude for shit."
"I've learned things since the war," Potter said vaguely. "Things that I didn't want to tell the Ministry, because they would regulate it."
Draco laughed in spite of himself. "I always thought that you were as Slytherin as any of us, Potter, and only lacked the courage to admit it."
Potter rolled his eyes. "When have you known me to lack courage? No, the Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin, but I had better places to go." He grinned even more widely at the silent spluttering that that declaration condemned Draco to, and then reached out and let his hands hover in the corners of Draco's vision, so that the movement wouldn't startle Draco. It annoyed Draco that that was necessary, but not as much as having to scrape Potter off the wall again would have. "Now. Agreement or not?"
"How good are you?" Draco asked warily. Professor Snape had been the best Legilimens that Draco had ever encountered, and even his intrusions into Draco's thoughts had left Draco feeling as if his mind had bruises.
The Dark Lord, of course, hadn't cared at all. Draco winced away from the memory of that, and tried not to shiver.
"Smooth," said Potter. "And quick. I can't promise that it won't hurt, at least a little, but I know what I'm looking for. I'm convinced that half the reason Legilimency victims hurt so much afterwards is the faffing around the Legilimens does in their minds, to impress them with his power." He snorted. "Fuck that. We both know that you're the more powerful one around here."
That made Draco's breath catch painfully in his chest. He swallowed it back and turned to face Potter fully. "Do what you have to do. Just remember that I can crush you like a bug by willing it."
Potter didn't glare a challenge back at him, which might have triggered the magic before Draco could hold it back. He only nodded, apparently taking the threat seriously, and leaned forwards to stare into Draco's eyes. Draco stirred. Snape hadn't done that, and neither had the Dark Lord. Both of them would command Draco to look at them and then step inside their thoughts. The only difference was the pain.
Then he saw the motion of Potter's wand from the corner of his eye. That reassured him, a little bit, that this was a feat Potter couldn't manage without it.
"Legilimens," Potter said softly.
Potter broke the surface of his mind like a diver plummeting beneath clear water, and Draco bit back the questions, because they would probably only distract Potter in the performance of a delicate spell. But he wanted to know if the reason Potter stared at him from so close was to calm his victims down.
Probably. Stupid Gryffindor.
Stepping into someone's mind was always an alien experience. That was another reason why Legilimency hurt so often, Harry thought; people thrashed around and tried to make the thoughts they were reading match their own, or just searched for memories and did nothing else. He floated, waiting for his perceptions to adjust and his body to calm down before he reached out and tried to make sense of his environment.
No, he was Draco here. Harry had never yet read someone's mind and not had that happen, even when the mind belonged to another Auror he loathed.
Draco had a mind that looked like a neat office someone had been ransacking in search of a secret Potions recipe. Thoughts drifted everywhere in piles of tipped parchment, and the walls were broken and cracked and splashed with red paint. Red usually signaled painful memories, and Harry moved carefully through them in search of what he wanted, alert to the smallest hum of unusual magical power.
The office gleamed underneath the piles that he nudged aside. The order of Draco's mind was still here, then. It could be put together, if he had the will and the ability to do so. Harry was glad of that. Such messes bothered him. Sure, they happened to some people, but no one deserved them.
He finally heard the sound he'd been waiting for, the "song" of magic as he perceived it, and spun around.
There was a drifting cascade of paper in the back of the office, and invisible fingers were lifting it and patting it into place on the desk that stood there. As Harry watched, the hands went after another pile, oblivious to the first one, which slowly slid back to the floor. Here and there, red gleamed.
Harry nodded. The magic that had touched Draco was essentially benevolent. It didn't want to hurt him; it really did want to grant his wishes, the way the snake had said. But it was chaotic, and as long as he couldn't control it, then it would continue making small repairs and never notice that they didn't work out the way it wanted.
Or he wanted, for that matter. Harry was fast coming to the opinion that Draco didn't know himself or his desires very well.
Why should he? What you have was hard-won, and it still took you forever to quit the Aurors, a decision that should have been obvious from the start.
Harry nodded wryly, and then closed his eyes and began the slow, wary pull back from Draco's mind. Any thought of taking the magic away as he would a curse had gone. The magic was intertwined, intimately and deeply, with Draco's being, so much so that it didn't even appear as a hostile power the way Harry had sometimes seen the Imperius Curse or Veritaserum. Draco needed to learn to live with it, to control it, instead of hoping to shrug it off.
Well. Harry had some ideas about that, too.
And he realized, as he opened his eyes, that he was really looking forward to this. Sadistic, in a way, because it was profiting off Draco's pain, but he wanted to help people, and he was enthusiastic about it as he hadn't been about Auror work in a long time.
This was the right choice.
Draco winced as Potter's hold left his mind, but mostly because that sensation would never be comfortable no matter how many times he experienced it, not because it was horrible. He had to admit that Potter had been more delicate than either Snape or the Dark Lord.
Maybe he's right and he had less to prove.
"It's not going to be separated from your magic again," Potter told him, his eyes gentle and steady. He was wincing a little, too, as though the brightness in the room hurt him, but Draco didn't think Potter would have looked away at the moment if Draco had paid him. Of course not, he wouldn't take Malfoy money, Draco tried to think, but the joke fell flat, and he couldn't look away, either. "It's not something you can hope to give back to the snake, or—separate from yourself. I had hoped it was. That was what I was reading the books for this morning, for times when someone's managed to reject the heirloom or the gift the heirloom would have given them. This is your magic, now, though, and it doesn't fundamentally want to hurt you. It just doesn't know how to help. It's growing pains."
"How bloody reassuring," Draco snapped. "I reckon you're going to tell me next that I should meditate and grow into it?"
Potter shook his head. "I was just thinking that you need to learn how to master it, and ignoring it and not using it aren't options for that. And you're behind the wards that can protect you from other people right now, and I'm immune to the worrying things that your magic can do to me. Why don't you practice on me?"
Draco checked Potter's eyes for a moment for signs of mind-altering potions, and then shook his head hard enough to sting his face with his own hair. "Are you mental, Potter? I can still pin you to the walls, break your bones, and you think you're immune from danger?"
Potter just tilted his head. "I thought we'd established by now that you can't really change my mind," he said. "And that's what I fear, Malfoy. Being turned against my friends, against my principles. Made to forget. The changes in my mind. You're not going to do that, because you can't. And that means there's an absolute limit to your power. I don't think you'll find anyone else that's true of as easily."
Draco grimaced and raked his hair off his forehead. No, that was certainly true. "You still don't know that I won't hurt you."
"That's the point," Potter said, meeting his eyes. "You have to learn to desire more precisely, I think. To hurt me up to a certain point, not just to send me flying across the room and pin me up against a wall. That lacks a certain elegance, don't you think? A certain je ne sais quoi?"
Draco did some more staring. "I can't believe you know that phrase."
"Andromeda speaks French," Potter said, and shrugged away the colony of questions that sprouted in Draco about that by leaning forwards. "Learn to want specific things, not general ones."
Draco grimaced. "That still involves turning all my unconscious impulses into conscious ones. I don't think I can. And at the very least, it's going to be exhausting, and it might not net me any gain in the end."
He flinched as Potter surged to his feet, and for a moment, Potter's chair rose as if it would club him on the head, Draco's magic flailing for any weapon near at hand. Potter ignored it, leaning in until his nose brushed Draco's.
"Who's the coward now?" he taunted. "Who's afraid of a little hard work because it might make him sweat and pant? If you don't work, you won't control it! That's the simple equation, Malfoy. That's all there is to it. I know you'd like it to just vanish and leave you alone, but that won't happen. So I thought you might like to know there is a solution. If you aren't too much of a coward to try it." He folded his arms and regarded Draco with the same expression of cool superiority that Draco had always hated when watching Potter talk about Slytherins.
Draco rose along with Potter, and kept rising for a moment before he concentrated and dropped back to the floor. "You're fucking on, Potter," he spat. "Think you'll make me back away? There's nothing you can come up with that I can't beat you at."
Potter's expression melted at once into a grin, and he slapped Draco on the back. "That's it," he chortled. "I had to make you want to beat me more than you wanted anything else, and your magic knows that this is the only way you can do it, so it won't try to interfere."
Draco stared at him again. Then he said, "That's going to be exhausting for you," while his throat and heart worked. No one except his parents and Professor Snape had wanted to do something so hard for him.
Potter cocked his head. "But that's what makes it fun."
Harry leaned back in the bed that Malfoy had provided him and shook his hand out. He'd spent more than an hour scribbling down a list of various ways that he could encourage Malfoy to duel him and hold back at the same time. He looked around for the basin of water that the house-elves had brought in earlier, found it near to hand at the side of the bed, and began to scrub his fingers free of ink.
All the while, he looked with satisfaction at his list. Some of the suggestions on it probably wouldn't work, but that was why they had a lot, so they could go on to the next one.
I'm glad that I'm here, Harry thought, and dried his hand on the corner of the sheet, since the elves hadn't brought hand-towels. Maybe they assumed that wizards would always use Drying Charms instead.
The pillow was comfortable, the bed more than large enough. Harry flipped over on his left side and extended his hand, the way he always did, to tuck it under the folds of the blanket beside him. He yawned, yawned more strongly, and felt sleep creeping up on him faster than it had since he'd tried to become an Auror.
This time, his head was filled with excitement and formless, churning images of fun instead of the grotesque ones he'd spent all his time staring at in Auror training. This time, he was able to anticipate tomorrow instead of thinking about study and the way that he would have to handle things without a grimace.
This is the right career for me, Harry thought, and fell asleep.
Draco was up before Potter the next morning, but he reckoned that was no surprise. Potter was probably used to sleeping in and waking up whenever he wanted, to lie in bed surrounded by the tributes that the wizarding world had sent him that particular night. In fact, Draco was only shocked to walk into the dining room where the elves usually brought his post and find no cascade of cards and gifts for Potter, only a single letter. He laid it ceremoniously aside and started eating his breakfast of fresh fruit.
He'd finished half the grapes and all the strawberries before he heard Potter's footsteps on the stairs. Potter burst through the door and nodded to Draco before he plumped himself into his chair. "Did I have a letter this morning?" he asked, as he tugged the bowls of fruit towards him. Draco wasn't actually sure how he managed to put any on his plate, with the way that his hands were constantly flying.
"You did," Draco said, handing it across. Potter promptly abandoned his attempts to bury himself under melon chunks and grapefruit halves to stare at the name written across the front of the letter. Then he grinned and tore it open.
Draco sipped his tea and tried to avoid making eye contact. Inside him, the magic stirred, and Draco's vision began to blur. Draco told himself that he did want to see, just not to stare at Potter enough to make him conceal the letter, and the magic eased. Because that desire was real, Draco thought, not something he'd manufactured to appease his power.
Bitterness scalded his throat. How was Potter's idea about how he should tame his desire and his magic ever going to work?
"This is from Andromeda," Potter announced, looking up. "Just confirming my visit with Teddy."
"My aunt," Draco said, and licked his lips. "And my cousin. Why are you visiting them so much?"
"Because Teddy is my godson," Potter said, and went back to constructing pyramids of fruit. "And Andromeda appreciates the help in taking care of him. She lost her daughter and her husband and her son-in-law in the war." He shook his head so that his shaggy hair hung around his ears, and sighed. "She's pretty cheerful most of the time, but if she falls into depression some of the time, and wants help raising Teddy, how can I blame her?"
"She could have asked me," Draco said, and his magic lifted a single proud head inside him. "I would have helped her, if only for the sake of the Black blood that she and I share."
Potter looked up at him, then snorted and began to roll grapes down his fork towards his mouth. "Why should she? Your side of the family never acknowledged her, while I was there from the beginning of Teddy's life, and Remus and Tonks trusted me to take care of him. There was no reason for her to think that you were any different than your parents."
"She could have asked." Draco vaguely knew that his fingers had grown strong enough to crack the edge of the dining table, although he had only imagined doing that and hadn't really wanted to, but he didn't care. His attention was on Potter the Infuriating. "She could have looked at all the articles and interviews I gave the papers and realized that I didn't want to be like them, and she could have approached me."
Potter swallowed a grape with a damp squelch and raised an eyebrow. "So she should have been the one to take the chance? Not you? The humble petitioner approaching the Grand and Feared Malfoy?"
Draco imagined humbling Potter—
And Potter flew out of his chair and hung by an invisible rope from near the ceiling of the dining room before he could take it back.
Draco swallowed and concentrated hard. He could hear Potter gasping, and knew he had to act fast before the apparent rope there cut off all Potter's air.
But try as he might, he couldn't make Potter come back down. His desire to show him who, exactly, was "high" and who wasn't was still stronger than his frantic fear of being prosecuted by the Ministry if he killed Harry Potter.
"You have to help me, Potter," he yelled to the choking man, his hands cracking the arms of his chair this time. "I can't want something different! This stupid plan of yours isn't going to work!"
But Harry forced himself to think past the initial fear. He had undergone a test like this in Auror training. Not so high above the ground, that was true, but he had done this, because all of the trainers, especially that sadistic bastard Smedden, had said that they should know how to escape every deadly trap there was.
He held his breath for the moment, ignored the intense pain in his neck, and twisted to the side, casting a Cutting Charm above him. It would have worked on an ordinary rope, but there was nothing here. The spell shot through empty air and earthed itself high up on the ceiling. Harry absently hoped that it had cracked the frame of one of the nasty Malfoy portraits that had stared down their noses at him this morning.
Then he stopped thinking about that, and thought more about the fact that he was choking to death.
Well. An impulse darted into his mind, and since he could do nothing else to help himself, he went with it. He let his head loll forwards and his tongue dangle out of his mouth, while his hands hung at his sides.
He heard Malfoy gasp, and the next instant, the terrible pressure on his neck eased and he began to fall.
I was right, Harry thought as he twisted, his mind working independently of his body and instincts by now, with all the things that Auror training had fought to instill in him. His hands and body were the things that cast the Net Charm beneath him, in the form of a sticky, transparent web looped between the wall and the table. When he thought I was dead, then his fear of what people would think overcame his desire to hurt me.
He hit the net and bounced violently enough that he thought he would go over the side for a moment, but then hooked an arm through the webbing and rolled. That wrenched his shoulder, but not more than his neck had already been wrenched. He lay there, gasping, for as long as he thought he needed, then slid down the net until he reached the table. From there, it was easy to drop onto a chair and touch his feet to the floor again. Harry leaned his head on the wood of the table and sighed.
"I almost killed you."
Harry looked up and blinked. Malfoy was on his feet across the table, hands outstretched as if he simultaneously wanted to touch Harry and was afraid that he would hurt him if he did. He dropped them and bowed his head a few minutes later. His cheeks were mantled with a thick flush of shame.
"But you didn't," Harry said. "And I know that you aren't a killer, that even when you were offered the chance to commit a murder that you were told would make your family safe, you didn't do it." Malfoy stared at him, but Harry reckoned he could explain that later. "I was counting on that. You might kill me accidentally, but at bottom, you don't want me dead, for all sorts of reasons. If I had started to die, then your magic would have yielded to your other desires. And that happened."
Malfoy closed his eyes and stood so still for a moment that Harry forced himself to stand. When people were that quiet, it was never a good idea to leave them alone for too long.
"You're insane to stay around me," Malfoy whispered. "If my magic snaps out fast enough, I might kill you, meaning to or not."
"That's a risk I choose to take," Harry said steadily. "And what happens if I leave? You stay here behind your wards for the rest of your life? You kill someone else? No, you've already achieved one method of control. If you can substitute one desire for another, then you can get the magic to do what you want."
"It's too dangerous," Malfoy whispered.
"Not for me, and I'm the one taking the risks." Harry wobbled the distance over to Malfoy, leaning on the table, and took his hand. "I've come up with a lot of different ways we can practice. Not that one, admittedly, but lots of others. What do you say that we go outside? That way, we can have more room. And I don't think I can eat anything with my throat like this right now."
Draco tried to keep his eyes away from the blank patch in the middle of the gardens as he stood outside, facing Potter, his back to the Manor. Potter had looked at the nothingness for a moment, as though accepting and assessing it, and then faced Draco again.
There was a time I would have hurt someone for that attention.
But that time was not now, and Draco shook away the impression that it was, standing with his eyes firmly on Potter. Potter raised his wand, and a stone wall appeared between him and Draco, hiding the way his eyes shone just when Draco was starting to appreciate it.
Draco blinked. "As a first test, that seems too simple," he told Potter.
He could hear Potter's shrug across the wall. "I want you to try to destroy it—but by taking away one stone at a time instead of making the whole thing vanish or fall over." The voice dropped to a level that tugged at strings in Draco's gut, strings that he hadn't felt pulled before. "Can you make yourself want that? Or do you just go for grand bouts of destruction?"
Draco narrowed his eyes and leaned in, focusing hard on the bloody wall. The stones were simple grey blocks, like the flagstones that Draco remembered in some of the older corridors in Hogwarts, and not patterned. But they made up the wall, and Draco wanted them out of the way, wanted to see Potter's smug face and the look that would change to awe as he watched—
The stones blew into the air like flour from a bursting bag. Draco staggered back, imagining a Shield Cham over himself to prevent contact. He heard the pattering thud-thud-thud and then silence before he risked another look.
Potter was standing in the same place as before, a Bubble Shield Charm surrounding him. He folded his arms and shook his head at Draco before raising another wall. This time, Draco thought he had also cast Sonorus on his voice, which was louder and more taunting—or maybe it was just Draco's burning cheeks that made it feel that way.
"That was impressive. But let's try something more delicate, all right?" A long pause, and then Potter seemed to have picked up on the fact that Draco didn't want to let the magic go. "Bloody hell, Malfoy, how do you ever wank if can't touch something small?"
Green light burst from Draco and at the wall before he could blink. He had a confused impression of more light, noise, someone shouting, and then the wall was gone as it had been before. Instead of lots of falling stone, this time, there was melted slag all over the place, and Potter stood on the other side of it. Or knelt, Draco saw. He had come up on one knee, so he must have needed to duck, but he was still watching Draco with that same soft, steady, unimpressed gaze.
"Good thing for you that I've survived the Killing Curse a few times, and anything else is a bit of a lark after that," he said. His voice was as steady as his eyes. "I'm awed by your power, Malfoy, don't get me wrong. But power is nothing without control." For a third time, the stone wall went up between them. "Imagine that you have a personal grudge against the smallest bottom stone. Or imagine anything else that you want to. It doesn't matter how silly it is. No one else is going to know."
"You won't sell the story when you get out of here?" The question fell from Draco's tongue before he could consider it.
"Yes, because I have such a fondness for the papers."
That eased the constriction in Draco's chest a bit. He studied the stone wall again, and tried to persuade himself into hating the bottom stones, but that didn't work. He just stood there and felt the magic pulsing inside him, ready to transplant him back into the Manor if he thought about it, because he really wanted to go inside and forget the whole business. And fuck anti-Apparition wards; he knew his strength was enough to break them if he wanted to.
But Potter will only harass me back outside if I don't pass his stupid test.
Draco glared at the wall. Any wizard could charm a stone like the bottom ones out of that wall, and here he was, stuck without his wand, reliant on house-elves for the smallest charms to heat and cook his food, and this stupid wall was the only thing standing in the way of an afternoon inside in the cool—
The stone vanished, melting away as though Transfigured to air. A few more near the bottom followed it, and as Draco watched with his mouth hanging halfway to his chest, the wall sagged and fell.
Potter stood up beyond them and clapped. The applause went on so long that Draco could feel his teeth trying to lengthen with the impulse to bite, so he folded his arms and glared. "That doesn't mean that I can repeat it," he said.
"I know that," Potter said, and smiled at him. Another wall went up between them. "This time, just taking a few stones out of the wall won't make it fall over. You'll have to take that big stone near the bottom, and only it."
Draco blinked. He had been so busy being angry at Potter that he hadn't realized that the magic hovering around him now felt brushy, feathery, as though Draco was surrounded by a multitude of invisible foxes' tails. Yes, it was less than it had been, or at least less was coming to his call.
He was achieving that fine control that he had thought a moment ago he might have to give up forever.
Potter was actually doing what he had come to do.
Draco smiled as he focused on the large stone Potter had talked about, and didn't try to deny the smile. After all, they had a few meters of wall between them. It wasn't like Potter could see it.
Harry collapsed on his bed and closed his eyes, using his sleeve to mop at his brow for a moment. They'd spent most of the day outside, collapsing stone walls and melting walls of snow and baking mud until it turned to brick. Malfoy had got impatient more than once, but Harry had reminded him that the point was to find a whole bunch of different ways to do the same thing; otherwise, he would get bored, and his magic obeyed his emotions far more than it did the conscious things he wanted to do.
Now they were done, though, and the pain had faded from Harry's neck after he cast some Healing Charms on it. He sat up and stretched, then reached for his boots. He was going to visit Teddy and Andromeda for dinner, and he would get plenty to eat there. He was going to check himself in a mirror first, because otherwise Teddy would ask inconvenient questions about the bruises on his neck, and Harry wasn't quite ready to explain what he was doing to a three-year-old. Andromeda would be trouble enough.
Someone knocked on his door. Harry looked up and raised his eyebrows. Although it was for very different reasons, he hadn't thought either Malfoy or the house-elves would knock. "Come in!" he called.
There was a pause, and then the door swung open with no one touching it. And no cracks or flaming debris sprouted from it, either. Harry grinned and bowed his head in acknowledgment as Malfoy stepped cautiously inside. "How did you convince your magic to do something that delicate?"
"I reminded myself that it was my property and I didn't want to damage it," Malfoy said, and paused when he saw Harry's boots. "You're going somewhere?"
Harry gave a theatrical shiver. "It's really remarkable, the way you manage to build those walls of snow without using any magic," he said.
Malfoy lowered his head much like Harry had, and bit his lip. "I thought you would share dinner with me," he said, "and that I could serve you something that would make up for almost killing you this morning."
"You couldn't help that," Harry reassured him. "I know that. I'm not holding grudges. And I'll be happy to eat dinner with you tomorrow, but today is one of the two times a week I visit Teddy and Andromeda."
Malfoy studied him for a moment as though looking for lies. Harry met his eyes without flinching. Yes, it was possible that Malfoy's power would go through his mind and root out deceptions, but so far, Harry had been able to resist his mind magic. He would worry about that when it happened.
"Go, then," Malfoy said, and turned his head, his back stiff as he glided out of the room.
Harry shrugged a little and left. He would have to hope that he could court and cajole Malfoy into some better sense tomorrow. There was little he could do tonight. Teddy and Andromeda were waiting.
Draco sat at one end of the long dining table, and scowled at the place setting the elves had left for Potter at the far end. As far as they were concerned, Potter was a guest, and so he would receive the proper plates and cutlery and glasses even when he was not here. A portion of the sweet pepper dish Draco had hoped would make up for this morning lay cooling on the plate.
In front of the empty chair.
It shouldn't strike him this strongly, Draco told himself. Potter had indeed told him that he was going to visit Draco's cousin and aunt. There was no reason for Draco to assume Potter would stay in the Manor all the time.
That he knew what he wanted was unreasonable only increased the magic's circling need to attend to it, however.
Draco could feel the power stretching around him, as solid as the falling stones this time. He wondered for a moment what it would do. Perhaps drag Potter out of hiding in the Black house, and force him back to the Manor.
But that didn't happen, because that wasn't what Draco really wanted, at all. Potter would glare at him and refuse to eat a bite. Draco wanted him happy, laughing, a little drunk, explaining what he planned next for Draco's problem or waving his hands as he tried to excuse himself for his actions all those years ago.
Draco pushed himself back from his chair and left the room, his magic dragging around him like chains.
"Harry? What's the matter? You've seemed hardly attentive since Teddy went to bed."
Harry started a little. He was sitting in Andromeda's drawing room, a dark room with handsome black-paneled wooden walls and furniture that gleamed like ebony, with black cushions that could have been covered with panther skin for all Harry knew. Andromeda leaned forwards next to the fire, which cast enough light to let Harry make out her concerned face and reaching hand.
"Just thinking about leaving the Auror Corps," Harry said, and smiled at her. "And what I've taken up in the meantime." He hadn't mentioned anything about Malfoy during dinner, for fear of stirring up bad memories for Andromeda where Teddy could see, but he had no reason not to say it now. "Malfoy's under a curse. I'm helping him."
"Which Malfoy—" Andromeda began, and then stopped. "Of course. Cissa's husband died a few months ago. The son." She stared into the fire.
Harry watched her. Andromeda had picked herself up and continued living since the war, even with so many deaths to mourn, but her sisters and nephew were a sore subject for her. Harry could hardly blame her for that.
"I suppose you don't see my sister at all?" Andromeda's voice was a breath, and only having known her for a while enabled Harry to hear her. But she turned her head to watch him, and if she hoped for a good answer, Harry wouldn't have known it from her face. He thought she was much prettier than Mrs. Malfoy, with her black hair and black eyes that actually reflected a human emotion now and then.
"No," Harry said, and managed to smile at her. "I think she's traveling the world. I'm sort of surprised that Malfoy didn't go with her, but I reckon that he had enough to do curating the collections of his father's possessions and taking care of the house."
Andromeda gave him a fleeting smile and pulled her hair out of her face with one hand, while her eyes went back to the fire. "Strange to imagine Cissa's boy in a position of responsibility," she murmured. "But he would have to take one sooner or later. I don't think Cissa prepared him well enough for the outside world."
Harry opened his mouth to defend Malfoy, realized that he had opened his mouth to defend Malfoy, and shut it promptly, shaking his head. Sure, things were going well between them, but that wasn't worth starting a row with Andromeda about.
She'd caught the headshake. Harry smiled at her, embarrassed. In some ways, she could be as sharp as McGonagall, although he knew McGonagall far better, and knew what he could and could not get away with. "Malfoy's been easier to work with than I thought," he admitted. "Once I showed him that we couldn't just take the curse off, I had to come up with some plans to make it easier to live with. And he actually listened to me." He kept himself from reaching up to stroke his bruised and glamoured neck, but barely.
"That's good," Andromeda said. "And unexpected. What is the curse?"
Harry hesitated, but the news would get out sooner or later, as soon as Malfoy was ready to reveal his power to the world. And he really didn't think Andromeda would spread it any further if he asked her not to. "He got bitten by a magical heirloom and given anything he wished for. What he wished for was power."
"I haven't heard about him becoming big in the Ministry," Andromeda began, and then her eyes widened. "Magical power."
Harry nodded. "I think he's different from his father. Power in the Ministry was something Lucius wanted." Strange to call him by his first name, he thought, but it would be necessary as long as he was dealing with Malfoy. "So it manifested this way."
Andromeda leaned back and stared at the ceiling for a moment. Then she said, "When do you think it would be safe for him to have visitors?"
Harry was so surprised that he nearly let his glass slip from his hand. Only Andromeda's head-tilt reminded him that she spent all day cleaning up after Teddy and wouldn't want to clean up after him, too. "I don't know," Harry said at last. "I think we'll need to work for at least a week to make sure he has minor control of his magic, though. And I thought more in terms of inviting you over for a brief visit."
"It can be extended." Andromeda had sat up, and her eyes looked like obsidian. "Since my sister has abandoned her son in his time of need, it's up to his aunt to do what she can."
"I don't think he would like to hear you referring to his mother that way," Harry began cautiously. He didn't actually know that Malfoy would hate it, but, well. He had snarled and snapped at Harry—and tried to hang him—for far lesser offenses. And Harry remembered the way he had responded to Harry insulting Narcissa in their fourth year, right before Crouch turned him into a ferret.
"Aunts have a privilege that curse-breakers don't," Andromeda said, and smiled at him with the same kind of air she often used on Teddy. Harry blinked a few times, but didn't see what he could do about it. "Now. You have seven days to think how you'll break it how to him, and four days to bring me a progress report. You'll be here for dinner on Sunday as usual."
And then she changed the subject, and refused to let him return to Malfoy for the rest of the evening. Harry went back to the Manor wondering what Narcissa would be like, if he ever did meet her properly instead of in the middle of desperation and the Forbidden Forest.
If one sister is this firm, I can't imagine that the other one is much softer.
"Andromeda will probably visit in a week, if that's all right with you."
That was the first thing Potter said as he sat down at breakfast the next morning, and it made Draco snap his mouth shut. He had been about to offer a scathing comment on whether Potter really preferred the company of an old woman and a toddler to Draco's. And then Potter had to spoil things by saying that.
"Why would she?" Draco snapped, determined to make his voice as nasty as possible even if he hadn't got to use his insult. "I don't think I need an aunt who's never paid attention to me making decisions for me."
Potter glanced up from his porridge, which he was anointing with more honey than Draco had known existed, and shrugged. "She said that she thought she should do something for you, since you're—alone and under a curse." Draco wished impatiently that he knew what words Potter had mentally edited when he spoke.
The magic stirred around him, and the curtains on the windows trembled. Potter raised his hand as though catching and crushing a moth, and shook his head at Draco a moment later. "Mind magic doesn't work on me," he said.
"I know that." Draco's face burned as hot as the candles that had lit his lonely dinner last night. He focused on the food, and told himself that what he really wanted was breakfast in peace. The magic paused, and then retired, probably because it knew that the only way to provide that was to do so.
They ate in silence until Potter asked, more gently, "Do you want her to visit?"
Draco glanced up. "Oh, I do get a say in this?" he sneered.
For a moment, Potter's lips twitched as though he wanted to smile, but the next moment, the smile was gone and he spoke as gently as though Draco had just been sentenced to Azkaban. "It just occurred to me that—well, I thought your mother was wrong for ignoring her just because she married a Muggle. But you can't be much more comfortable with her showing up suddenly, even if it's for different reasons. If I tell her that you want to be left alone for a while, I think she'll understand."
Draco gestured with his spoon up and down his body. "I don't think it'll be safe for her one way or the other. It's the magic that makes the decision, not me."
Draco jumped. Potter had risen to his feet and was glaring at Draco from across the table. He wasn't that tall, but apparently Aurors got some kind of special training that made them seem as if they could be. Draco flinched in the wake of Potter's shadow, but at least he managed to keep from staring elsewhere or looking down at his porridge this time.
"You make the decisions," Potter whispered harshly. "Not your magic. Remember, Draco. Desire. Will. Intention. You have to believe that you're the one making the choices, or you won't be."
Draco swallowed slowly. The way Potter phrased things made sense, even if he had loomed them into Draco's face like some school bully.
And maybe he never stopped being one, Draco thought, but his spite was weaker than his acquiescence. As he nodded, he realized that he wanted to believe Potter, that he could go back to being in control, even if it would be more of a struggle to do than he liked.
"Good," Potter said, and sank back into his chair. Draco eyed him, wondering if Potter would show him the trick to go back and forth between intimidating and normal. "So, all right. You did tricks with stone walls yesterday. This is going to be more yielding."
"I don't like it."
Harry rolled his eyes. "You don't like what I did to your gardens, fine," he said, walking around the bank of the pool that he'd scratched into the ground and then filled with water. "I think it still looks better than that bald patch you created when you were trying to rein in your amazing powers by yourself."
Malfoy glared at him, and Harry's feet left the ground. Harry clucked his tongue and kept his wand down at his side. "You keep picking me up. Even when you fling me somewhere or try to hang me, that happens first. I think it shows a lack of variety."
Harry's heels met the ground so hard that he grinned. Even more than he wanted Harry to shut up and stop insulting him, Malfoy wanted to be thought sophisticated and interesting, not boring.
"Show me what I have to do," Malfoy snarled.
Harry stepped back and waved his hand at the pool. "I wouldn't dream of it," he said haughtily. "I know that you are much more powerful than I am, and that means that you'll have to do this yourself."
Malfoy stared at him, then jerked his head down in what Harry could pretend was a nod if he wanted to. "All right. You've made your point. What do you want me to do?"
"Concentrate on lifting the water out of the pool," Harry said, and grinned at him. "You know, the way you like."
Malfoy glared at him in a way that made Harry glad he had suggested they focus on water rather than fire, and reluctantly faced the pool. The water leaped out of it and hung over the sandy bottom.
Harry nodded. "Good. How did you convince yourself that you wanted to do that?"
"I imagined that it must be easy to do if I could lift your scrawny weight up," Malfoy said, and concentrated intensely on the water. It did nothing. Harry therefore felt free to decide that the concentration must mean he was trying to avoid looking at Harry.
"Good enough," Harry said. "Now, try to divide the water. You want half of it to drop back into the pool, and half to stay in the air."
Malfoy looked at him. "What good will that do?"
Harry showed him his teeth, since his smiles seemed to motivate Malfoy. "Show that you can do as you're told."
He didn't get further. Once again, the air in his throat seemed to freeze, though at least this time he wasn't literally jerked off the ground and hanged. Harry tapped his wand against the side of his throat, and saw Malfoy's eyes widen and then drop as he realized how close he had come to, once again, killing Harry. He shut them and shook his head, and the block in Harry's throat vanished.
"Very impressive," Harry croaked. "Using the same trick twice in a row. Lose control like that, and all the Aurors will have to do is follow the line of strangled bodies all over London."
With a roar, Malfoy spun towards the pool and lofted his arm. Half the water splashed back into the basin, and the half hanging in the air spun into a ball, rotated as if it were the globe of the world, and then soared over and splashed down on Harry.
Harry, hair matted to his head, clothes dripping, eyes running, stared at Malfoy. Malfoy smiled brightly at him.
"I couldn't think of anything I wanted more in the world," he said, and then began to laugh, with at least some of an exultant edge.
And Harry, once he had spat out some water, laughed back.
Draco sat down to dinner that night in a quietly positive frame of mind. He had managed to do all the tricks with the water that Potter had wanted him to do: moving it in different directions, conjuring it, changing its color, turning it into something else. At least he knew that he wasn't completely useless in Transfiguration and the Aguamenti charm if he ever needed them.
Strange, the way I'm thinking.
He found himself eyeing Potter as the git took a seat across from him. Potter had declared that the table was too long for them to eat all the way apart, and he might as well sit right next to Draco and not have to shout their conversation. Besides, there were tricks he wanted Draco to show him that he could do with the food.
"What?" Potter asked, catching his glance and tossing back the brandy that Draco had chosen to follow dinner. Draco winced despite himself. Potter must have a stomach of solid iron.
"I was thinking of this goal of mastering my magic as though it was the only goal I would need to meet," Draco said. "But of course I'll venture back outside the wards and see other people—including my aunt—once my control is restored." He tried to smile, but failed, because now that he spoke aloud, it sounded stupid. Potter would probably dismiss him and go on to drink all of Draco's brandy without him. "Of course I will. People who shut themselves up behind their wards for years at a time are mad."
"Or recluses." Potter leaned near enough to show Draco the rich flush along his cheeks. "Or have good reason for doing so."
Draco blinked. "How would you know? Didn't you live in the Muggle world before you came to Hogwarts?" It was a silly little thing to fasten on, but even though Potter was good enough to ignore his own babble, Draco didn't feel he had to return the favor.
"I thought about it," Potter said, and poured himself another glass. Draco covered his wince by picking up the bottle and adding less to his glass than he wanted. Just because one person at the table was crass was no reason for both of them to be so. "After the war, I mean. I wanted to seal myself up inside some little house and never come out."
"Why?" Draco asked. "You had all the fame and fortune you could ever want awaiting you. Do you know how much I would have killed for that?" His voice soured despite himself, and he wished that Potter could see, could understand—
Potter lifted a hand to his temple and gave Draco an even look.
Draco flushed brighter than Potter was and looked down at the table. "Sorry," he whispered. "I think of something I want to do, and the magic reaches out. I can't help it."
"Helping it is what you're learning to do." Potter took a more temperate sip this time. "Instead of trying to force me to think about whatever it was, why not talk about it in words? Not everything you have to learn is using the magic. You also have to learn when not to use it, and when to use it more delicately."
Draco hesitated, then shrugged. "All right," he said. "Can you imagine what that good reputation would have been like for my family after the war? We could have done anything. And that means that I don't understand why you'd reject it." His hands curled into light fists, but he didn't let fantasies of strangling Potter or anything else pass across his mind.
"That's exactly why people like you were shouldn't have it," Potter said, and took another decorous sip. Perhaps Draco hadn't hidden his winces as much as he thought he had.
"People like us," Draco said. "Because God forbid that Death Eaters should be in good standing, and God forbid that you wouldn't have the chance to play hero again by speaking up at our trials." He licked his lips, the salty and sour taste on them, and turned his back so that Potter would have an expanse of unresponsive cloth to look at.
"You'll notice that I said, people like you were," Potter said, and emphasized all the words in a way that made Draco's spine itch. "Not like you are now. You should learn the difference between past and present tense."
Draco whipped back around. "And you should learn the difference between someone you can fight and someone you can't," he snarled, and reached for Potter's arms this time, delicately, imagining him rising from the chair and hanging in an invisible but firm grip. Because that was the best way to impress him, and show him that Draco could pick him up without flinging him into a wall or strangling him.
Potter rose straight out of his chair. He didn't blanch or flush, to Draco's chagrin. He just looked him in the eye and smiled.
"Good," he said. "I thought you might be ready for this step when you were showing me how you could move your fork and knife without touching them, but they're objects and won't be much hurt if you drop them. I would."
"How can you be so bloody calm all the time?" Draco demanded, and lofted him almost to the ceiling.
"You see, when one's a champion Quidditch player and the youngest Seeker in a century," Potter began.
Draco canceled the magic holding Potter up with a burning, blinding desire to make him shut up. He didn't know what he would do next, only that he would do something to make sure that Potter didn't hit the floor. But Potter would know that he owed Draco his rescue, and he would finally shut up and pay his respects.
Potter reached out with his wand and one hand, and whispered something. In the next moment, his fall slowed, and he settled back into his chair as though he were gliding like a parchment broom. He nodded to Draco and reached for his brandy glass again.
Another bolt of the same burning, blinding desire shot through Draco, and the glass exploded. Potter raised a Shield Charm so fast that Draco was half-convinced he had done it wandlessly himself, until he saw Potter lowering his wand to his lap. He gave Draco a chiding look as glass and liquor rang off the shield and tinkled or splattered to the floor.
"That wasn't nice," he said.
"I don't want to be nice," Draco said, and rose to his feet, stalking over this time. His magic trembled and reared inside him like a wave threatening to break, but his longing was to do something physically to make Potter look at him with the awe that he was due. "Don't you understand? Anyone else would have run by now, or never would have volunteered for this insane position in the first place! Why aren't you running?"
Potter rose to his feet, but otherwise showed no fear. He simply watched Draco come, and shook his head when Draco was close enough to smell every drop of his brandy-tinged breath.
"Because you need someone who won't run," he said. "And I'd think that you'd be tired of making people afraid of you."
Draco stared at him, then reached out and slapped Potter's Shield Charm, which had come with him. It broke, but Potter caught his wrist as it continued through the movement and flipped Draco over. Draco found himself draped on his stomach across Potter's chair, while Potter sat comfortably on his legs and back in a way that didn't keep Draco from breathing, but didn't let him move, either.
"Tell me what's wrong," Potter said, all concerned counselor.
Draco shut his eyes. He thought he should leave Potter to figure it out on his own—surely it should be obvious for someone who came up with all the brilliant ideas on his test list—but once again, the desire was for the words and actions to come through him, not through Potter's brain or the medium of Draco's own formless magic.
"When has anyone ever been afraid of me?" The words tore themselves loose with a gasp that made Potter shift his weight. Draco couldn't even spare the time to tell him that he could still breathe, it was just so urgent that he say something else instead. "My father's name, maybe, and when I was a kid, I was stupid enough to think that was the same thing. The Dark Lord. But not me. They've hated me and despised me, but they weren't afraid of me. Maybe Weasley would have been, but then he hooked up with you. And you were always there, opposing all the ways that Slytherin would have won without you. And those people who were there during our real seventh year saw me humiliated and ordered around all the time. They weren't going to be afraid of me, either."
His voice ran out. He hung there, panting, and finally managed to get it back long enough to say one thing. "This magic would have been the chance for real power. I think that's why the snake gave it to me. I wanted to be strong in my own right, not because of the shadow of my family or the Dark Mark on my arm. And now I have it, and it's not enough. It can't conquer your mind, and it can't make you cower."
Potter swung his legs off Draco, and came around to kneel in front of him. His eyes were intense, his face for once without any hint of mockery. Draco glared back at him and wondered if this was just a sort of deep game, if Potter was perhaps laughing at him internally but not showing it because he knew that the Minister wouldn't approve.
If Draco was just a job.
"Don't aim to conquer people," Potter said softly. "Don't aim to make them cower. Try to make them be polite to you, that's fair enough. That's what everyone's owed. But no one's owed more than that unless you do things that are worthy of it. Why should anyone respect you just because you have powerful magic?"
Draco spluttered for a moment, then said, "Because I crush them into the nearest pavement?"
Potter shook his head, and his face had gone gentle in an alien way. Draco flailed around for a bit in his memory, and then managed to remember it. It was the way Dumbledore had looked at him when he was offering Draco and his parents sanctuary from the Dark Lord.
"That isn't a good enough reason," Potter whispered. "That's the reason that some people were afraid of Voldemort, and he lost in the end." Draco forgot to flinch at the name, because at the moment, Potter looking at him and talking to him like this were scarier. "That's the reason some people thought I should be put down or closely watched after the war, because they assumed I would have a lot of power and use it to take over the wizarding world. But I broke free of their expectations, and did what I wanted to do." He held out his hand towards Draco, fingers splayed. "You can, too."
Draco gulped. "No one else really knows about this yet, except for you and my aunt and whoever saw my owl at the Ministry. Who has expectations for me?"
Potter gave him a radiant smile, snatched his wrist, and hauled Draco to his feet. "I do." He clasped Draco's shoulders, shook him a little, and said, "I think you can be great. Really great, a real giant, not simply the strongest."
Draco stood there for a buzzing moment, his tongue stuck to his dry palate, and the only thing he wished for was that the moment would last.
But in a moment, Potter broke free, winked at him, said, "Tomorrow, I'm going to have you working with fire," and strode out of the room, leaving Draco with the warm remnants of his surprise.
Harry stepped out into the gardens again, and grinned at the sky. There was already fire circling there, the Winged Flame Charms he had cast out the window of his room. He stretched his hands up to them, and they came down, flying around him like plumed serpents, brushing against and nuzzling his fingers, before they took flight back to the higher regions of the air.
"What are those?"
Harry spun around. Malfoy had just stepped out of the Manor and stood with his eyes locked on the Winged Flame Charms as if he had never seen them before. Well, Harry had to concede generously, he might not have. The Aurors had invented the charms, and for the most part, they kept such spells to themselves. If criminals learned how to cast them, then the Aurors could face an important disadvantage in battle.
"Winged Flame Charms," Harry said. "I thought it would be useful to have fire that would stay off the ground and wouldn't burn anything unless you commanded it to."
Malfoy shot him a quick glance, and then turned his head and looked back at the flames. They were hovering at the moment, a blurring around them that Harry could only compare to the wings of hummingbirds. Then the blurring turned backwards, and the flames shot across the gardens and hovered again at the far edge.
"They look dangerous," Malfoy said neutrally.
Harry shrugged a little. "I suppose they could be," he said, attempting to convey that he'd never thought about it before. Really, he was getting a bit tired of the doubt implied in Malfoy's voice. He had done all he could to give him some non-dangerous fire, and he had expressed faith in him last night. Malfoy might need stronger expressions than that, maybe. Harry couldn't give them until he saw more than just potential in the way Malfoy used his magic. "And I want you to choose what you're going to do with them. Just something other than letting them fly around in circles."
Malfoy exhaled slowly, still not taking his eyes from the fires. "How can I control them when you cast them?"
"Do you want to take control of them from me?" Harry asked, delighted. That was a challenge that wizards working with a wand might balk at. "That would work, and it would show a mixture of delicacy and strength, because I can refuse to let your magic affect mine."
Malfoy frowned. "No, you can't."
"When it comes to something mental," Harry countered softly, "I can. And I think when it comes to something magical, it's the same way. It was different with the stone walls and the water," he added, anticipating Malfoy's next objection. "Those weren't magical other than the means they had of getting onto your grounds. Once I cast the spell, it was done. But these fires are different, the way they fly and the way they don't burn anything solid."
Malfoy spent a few more moments biting his lip, and then inclined his head and held out his hands towards the Winged Flames. Harry didn't think he needed the hand gesture and might well have to learn how to function without it, but he kept silent for now. He edged out of the way, too. Just because he was resistant to Malfoy's power on some levels was no reason to get fried in case he was wrong about how impervious he was on the magical level.
Malfoy's hands clenched, and his fingers scrubbed minute windows, from the motions they made. Then he exhaled harder than he had so far, and something seemed to shoot out of him, something thick and wriggling. Harry could barely trace its passage through the air, but that made it all the better. It was fast enough to overtake the nearest Winged Flame Charm and grab it, wrenching it sideways.
And then things got interesting.
Harry shuddered as he felt the wrenching at the core of his being—his magical core, maybe. He fell to one knee and grabbed onto the grass. Otherwise, he thought, the shudders might fling him off the planet.
Malfoy watched him. "You're immune to my magic seizing control of yours, are you?" he murmured, barely loud enough for Harry to hear.
Harry grinned at him, and fought back.
Malfoy jumped as the shudders turned back on him. Now he must be the one who felt as though he stood in the middle of an earthquake shaking the ground, Harry thought, and if some of Harry's satisfaction was mean and petty…well, sometimes it was hard not to be that way, around Malfoy.
Even if Malfoy had also shown Harry depths of character and personality that Harry had never known he had.
For a long moment, they struggled, the Winged Flame Charms swinging back and forth above them like tiny red chandeliers. Then Harry knew he had lost, because the charms descended around him and the flames whispered along his skin again, but this time they had real heat behind them.
Malfoy panted at him, eyes wide and bright. "Are you going to say that you're immune now?" he asked.
Harry shook his head, and held his eyes. Malfoy's brightness vanished; he half-hunched his head, as though he was trying to turn Harry's gaze away. "What?" he snapped.
Harry extended his hands. The flames were all around him, ringing his neck, outlining his hands, covering his fingers with red-and-gold gloves. "Did you notice what's going on?" he asked.
Malfoy jerked his head again. "I would have noticed if you had seized control of them back from me, Potter."
Harry sighed. "I know that," he said, and wondered if Malfoy's snappishness would ease at all. "But you're surrounding me with the fire, and not burning me. You've finally achieved the level of control that you couldn't when you were trying to hang me."
Malfoy jumped back, his eyes wide, and the flames promptly flickered and burned out. Harry nodded. That was another mark of his control, although Malfoy might not think so. The charms were dependent on the will of their caster, and they went out when Malfoy, and not Harry, turned his attention away from them.
For a moment, they stood, locked eye to eye and with Malfoy still panting. Then he turned and ran into the house.
Harry frowned thoughtfully after him. He would have thought Malfoy more triumphant in the face of a victory he'd struggled so hard for. Unless he didn't understand how remarkable it was, but Harry didn't think he had to worry about Malfoy undervaluing himself.
Harry was still in a thoughtful frame of mind when he went back to the house and found lunch waiting in his rooms. He wanted to talk to Malfoy, but it would have to wait. The strangeness in the garden this morning and their conversation last night were enough to overwhelm anybody.
Except him, maybe, but Harry had to admit that he had less sensitivity to strangeness left after the war.
Draco sat on his bed with his hands huddled around his head.
Even he didn't understand why he had run away rather than stand there and let Potter heap praise on him. Hadn't that been one of his dearest hopes when he was in Hogwarts? To hear Potter acknowledge that he was better?
But he wasn't in Hogwarts any more, and hadn't been for a long time.
Draco rolled over, and his magic plumped the pillow he was lying on before he really knew that he desired it. Draco shut his eyes and sighed. In some ways, it was very nice to have power like this, and he understood better than before why he had wished for it.
In other ways, it didn't help at all.
He had won Potter's regard, but it wasn't the power itself that did it, or the situation of being helpless, which Draco had thought it was at first. He did it almost accidentally, by controlling his magic. Potter had helped him with that, but he didn't have contempt for Draco because of it.
Draco rubbed his forehead. He liked the way Potter looked at him, but he didn't want to become dependent on it. And he was afraid that he could, which was why he had run away from him in the garden.
He sighed and stood up. He would gain nothing by hiding here, and he thought he could manage a meal in one of the Manor's kitchens or dining rooms without running into Potter. That meant he could go and eat, and stop acting like a child.
And I'll greet Potter like a normal person if I meet him on the way.
That almost made him hope that he would meet Potter on the way, but he never did. He had probably decided to take lunch in his rooms. The house-elves would assume that Potter going there meant that, anyway, and would gratify his wishes.
The coward, Draco thought, and ate delicate slivers of perfectly-cooked chicken in among the leaves of his salad with self-righteousness that tasted nearly as good as the salad did.
"But what are you doing there?"
Harry hung his head off the bed and grinned at Hermione, whose bewildered face hung in the fire. "Curse-breaking."
"I thought you said what Malfoy was suffering from wasn't precisely a curse?" Hermione sounded as though the broken pieces of the tale were all scattered on a table in front of her, and it depended on her to reassemble them and so save the world.
Harry rolled his head, making Hermione roll, too, a dizzy motion along the side of the bed. Then he decided it was too dizzy, and sat up. "Not precisely. But it's good enough to treat it that way. Just something he has to learn to get control of, instead of reject or break."
"Oh." Hermione paused, and rubbed at her forehead the way she did on the rare occasions when he managed to baffle her. "If you're sure that you know what's going on and approve, Harry…"
"Yes," Harry said firmly. "I chose this, and Malfoy's been a lot better than I expected. We're getting along really well, in fact."
"Really?" Hermione apparently had to add this new piece to her puzzle, and by her expression, it wasn't a corner piece. "I can't imagine—what do you find to talk about? Or do you just stick to discussion of his magic and his problems with it?"
"Last night it was Voldemort."
Hermione paused again, then said, "I give up. Well, just stay safe, Harry, and I'm glad that you let us know where you were and that it's going well. Remember that Victoire's birthday party is next weekend."
Harry nodded. "Thanks for the reminder," he said, although it was the second one Hermione had delivered. "Tell Ron again that I'm sorry for leaving him in the lurch in Auror training."
"He could see that you weren't happy," Hermione said gently. "Who knows, he might not stay himself. Sometimes he talks about helping George out in the joke shop like it's the best thing in the world."
"Yes, but if it was his job, would it be fun anymore?" Harry pondered.
Hermione met his eyes, and they exchanged one glance filled with Knowledge of Ron, before Hermione waved to him and shut the Floo connection. Harry sat up and focused his thoughts back where they belonged, on Malfoy.
He had already mastered the fire, which Harry had assumed would be a difficult challenge, certainly enough to last him the whole of today. What else was next? Harry knew what his list said, but he was minded to go beyond it. Asking Malfoy to handle wind might be a logical step, since that way he would have experience with all the elemental forces, but those weren't the kinds of spells that Malfoy cast on a daily basis.
Harry nodded. Yes, he thought it best if Malfoy used spells that would open doors and summon objects and boil water—all of the things that wizards used household charms for. Well, maybe not boiling water, not for a Malfoy, but Harry doubted it was much fun to be left without Alohomora and Summoning Charms when you'd known they existed for your entire life.
Satisfied, Harry turned to write a letter to Andromeda. She had wanted to know how Malfoy was getting along; well, Harry would tell her. And caution her that it might be for the best if she didn't bring Teddy with her, not at first. Harry trusted Malfoy, but Teddy had gone into a stage lately where he was easily frightened.
"I hope you don't mind, but your Aunt Andromeda is coming over for dinner tomorrow."
Draco dropped his spoon, which he had been handling carefully with invisible tendrils of magic by thinking about how nice it was not to have to feed himself, and stared at Potter in shock. Potter smiled back at him and continued eating his own soup, garbanzo done to perfection by a house-elf in Draco's kitchen that his mother had purchased from a Spanish family.
"What?" Draco said at last, because he was incapable of anything more eloquent.
"I invited your Aunt Andromeda to dinner," Potter repeated, and then lifted his eyebrows. "What's the matter, Malfoy, did your magic grow wax in your ears this morning?"
Draco laid his spoon, which he had picked back up, down on the edge of his plate and smiled at Potter. "Can you explain to me why you thought that it was perfectly fine for you to do that without informing me?" he asked.
"I'd told you already that she'd probably be coming over, and that she was forceful enough not to be denied," Potter said. He spoke slowly, with a suspicious kindness, that made Draco want to hurl something at his head. Luckily, the only objects nearby were the bowl full of soup and the spoon, and the first one would ruin Draco's dinner and the second one wasn't heavy enough, so they both stayed firmly in place. "I didn't think it mattered which day I decided on, and she agreed. That's the real sticking point, whether she would agree to come, not whether you would." He took another swallow and gave the soup an approving look.
"Have you considered that I might have excellent reason not to meet another one of my aunts?" Draco kept his voice low, but his chair shoved back from his chair despite himself. His magic was trying to make it easier for him to march around the table and shake Potter with his hands, if that was what he wanted.
"Another—oh, right, Bellatrix." Potter laid aside his plate and gave Draco a sympathetic glance. "Well, I've had an awful aunt, too. I understand. But I promise that Andromeda is really nothing like Bellatrix. If she was, I don't think I'd be able to stand her, either."
"My aunt didn't torture you in the name of making you learn Occlumency," Draco snapped, picking up his spoon again. Apparently, the owl was flown, and Draco wasn't so ill-bred as to send his own owl after Potter's in order to retract the invitation. "What reason do you have to resent her?"
"That she killed my godfather."
Potter was paying an attention to his soup that was too fierce for it, no matter how good it was. Draco paused, then set his spoon aside again. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.
Potter shrugged. "You couldn't be expected to remember. And I meant what I said. Andromeda is nothing like Bellatrix, even if she looks a little like her. When you're able to meet Teddy, you'll like him."
Draco frowned. "Why wouldn't I be able to meet my cousin?"
To his private relief, that made Potter look up at him and grin. "He's shy right now. And anything he doesn't understand frightens him further. I thought we could work on Summoning objects tomorrow. Andromeda would be impressed if you could do it correctly. But it would probably make Teddy jump to see things zooming around without a wand."
"You think I can master Summoning Charms that fast." Draco tapped his spoon against the edge of the plate, heard the hideous chiming, and made himself stop. He had never much liked this china, but his mother had insisted on using it, and he had kept it in memory of her when the Ministry reparations had meant he had to sell off most of the other sets.
"You've done everything else in a day," Potter said, and once again he was back to that intensity that he seemed to assume at odd times. "Yes, I think you can do it."
Draco looked away and cleared his throat. "Well," he said. "Good, then. I hope I can impress my aunt."
He looked back in time to see Potter toasting him with the glass of Firewhisky that he had requested with dinner, and which the house-elves had supplied with speed that made Draco wonder what Potter had been drinking alone in his bedroom on other nights. "I do, too," Potter said, when he'd swallowed. "Because I like her, but Merlin, the way she guards Teddy."
Draco cocked his head. "Who's going to stay with him when she comes over tomorrow, then?"
"Oh, she trusts Ron and Hermione well enough to ask them the favor for as long as an evening," said Potter easily.
That only made Draco feel as though someone had jammed a poker up his arse. A poker that was on fire, no less. His aunt trusted a Weasley and a Muggleborn more than him. And perhaps she would have been right to do that when their families still had reason for being estranged, but he was determined to show her, now, that she should give the bonds of blood more consideration.
"I knew I could get you to agree," Potter said, and offered him another toast.
Harry winced as another glass bowl crashed against the shut door from the kitchens. Malfoy's brow creased, and the doors flew open. The second bowl that was coming shot through them and whirred into the wall at high speed, like a drunken wasp. Harry flicked his wand and cast Reparo before the shards could hit the ground.
That did nothing to improve Malfoy's temper, of course.
"Why is this harder than crumbling a stone wall?" he snarled, spinning towards Harry and tapping his foot on the floor. They were in the dining room where Malfoy obviously hoped to serve Andromeda dinner that night, and several other hastily-repaired pieces of glassware and crockery sat on the nearby table. "That's advanced magic. This is a bloody fourth-year spell, and I can't manage it!"
"Language," Harry said, raising a finger.
An invisible rope tightened around his neck a moment later, and he chuckled before it could take his breath. "Just trying to prepare you for Andromeda's visit," he said. "It's the kind of thing she'll take notice of."
Malfoy slumped back against the wall and folded his arms. His hair stirred for a moment as though someone was stroking it. He'd probably wished for comfort, and his magic moved to provide it without his even realizing it, Harry thought. Yes, Malfoy's power could be a gift and blessing—if he could learn to control it. "Answer the question, Potter."
"Because your magic is actually better at stronger, more brutal things than delicacy now," Harry said. And then he rolled his eyes. "You know that, Malfoy. You know that the spells that correspond to more precise wandwork are going to take you longer. And the incantation for the Summoning Charm is simple, but the wand movement is pretty spectacular."
"To a fourth-year," Malfoy said, and glared at him. "How long did it take you to master that charm you used in the Tournament against the dragon, anyway?"
"Almost too long," Harry said. "And we still have a few hours until dinner. I think you can do this."
"How?" Malfoy stared at the table again. "By repairing my mother's good china half-a-dozen times?"
"If that's what it takes, that's what it takes." Harry took a step towards him and touched the air above his shoulder. He thought it might be a bad idea to touch Malfoy physically right now, with the magic swirling above him. "You can do this. I have faith in you."
Malfoy stared at him hard enough to make Harry flush. "That's a worse idea than walking into the Forest and facing the Dark Lord unarmed," he said at last.
"I wasn't unarmed then, either," Harry said lightly. "I had the power of faith." He thought mentioning the Resurrection Stone right now couldn't do much good.
Malfoy laughed, and then clapped a hand over his mouth and flickered his eyes downwards suspiciously. Harry dared to pat his shoulder this time. "Don't worry, I'll never tell anyone that you found something the Chosen One said funny," he said.
"Wanker," Malfoy said, but there was no heat behind his voice this time. His eyes fixed on Harry's hand instead, on his shoulder. Harry followed his gaze, and then met it.
Malfoy's eyes were half-lidded, his hair ruffling as from the touch of a stroking hand again. He leaned in and took Harry's hand off his shoulder himself, without waiting for Harry to do it. His voice was low as he said, "You shouldn't touch me like that in front of my aunt. She'll get the wrong idea."
"How about the right one?" Harry said the words without meaning to, just knowing that they were the right ones to say, the way that mentioning Voldemort in front of Malfoy a few nights ago had been the right thing to do.
Malfoy stared at him. Then he held up a hand, and Harry stepped back, half-fearing that a cup would come smashing into his head.
Instead, the doors into the dining room shut. Then Harry heard the rushing motion of a piece of cutlery being Summoned. He swallowed, but didn't take his eyes off Malfoy's to turn around and watch, although this was the kind of thing they had been trying to achieve all morning.
"Watch," Malfoy whispered, and that either broke the spell or gave Harry permission, he wasn't sure which, so he could turn around and watch.
The doors into the dining room opened. A stream of forks and spoons and knives came through, as tame as though they were working for Mrs. Weasley, and settled into complicated arrays in front of three chairs. Plates followed them, and delicate saucers, and different kinds of bowls for different courses. Harry had no idea what half of them were called, but he was sure that the way they settled into position in front of the chairs was correct down to a nicety on all points of pure-blood etiquette.
"We're having duck," Malfoy whispered against Harry's ear. "Do you like that?"
"I like everything I've tried here," Harry said, and dared to turn around and let his hand glance off Malfoy's shoulder in passing. "Shall we firecall Andromeda and tell her that we're ready for company?"
Of course, Draco had to veto Potter's idea about immediately firecalling. He wasn't dressed, and neither was Potter, and he was sure that his aunt would descend on the house in full Black glory, since she could hardly claim glory of any sort from her married name.
That's the sort of remark that shouldn't pass your lips this evening.
Immediately, Draco felt a little tightening in the back of his throat, and was sure that he couldn't say an uncomplimentary word about his aunt's Muggle husband. He smiled. He was beginning to appreciate the advantages of the magic the snake had gifted him with.
Potter had rolled his eyes, but gone away to dress, and come back in formal robes that made Draco give him a slow look before he could stop himself. They were dark green with golden buttons, and a discreet black edging at the end of the sleeves that seemed as if Potter were accompanied by small black swirls of lightning whenever he moved his hands. Draco asked him why he hadn't worn them before, and got an eye-roll in return and no answer.
Because it should be obvious. Because he hates wearing them, and he hoped that nothing would happen here to make him do it.
That made Draco feel a particular, powerful tingling in the back of his throat, and he licked his lips before he could stop himself. That Potter hated the robes but had brought them along and worn them anyway because he thought he might need to…
It was another sign that Potter was doing things for Draco he didn't have to do, things that most people wouldn't.
Draco turned away before it could overwhelm him and stood stiffly facing the door of the dining room as it opened and his elves escorted his aunt in.
He was glad that Potter had prepared him. Andromeda Black Tonks really did look a lot like Bellatrix Black Lestrange, and Draco would have started back without warning. But Andromeda wore a glinting dark blue gown that Bellatrix never would have, because his mad aunt hadn't known what fashion was, and she walked with a delicate, mincing step that reminded Draco comfortably of his mother. He bowed to her and held out his arm to escort her to her seat at the table.
Andromeda watched him with disconcerting frankness as he did it, and that wasn't like either of her sisters, Draco thought. Bellatrix would have looked for signs of disloyalty to the Dark Lord, and his mother for warnings that he might embarrass the family. Andromeda just looked as if she might judge him for himself.
"Didn't you grow up the handsome one," she murmured, barely loudly enough for Draco to hear.
Draco flushed, and coughed. From the glance that crossed his like a sword, he was fairly sure that Potter had heard.
But Potter didn't laugh. He only drew back his own chair and stood behind it, solemnly waiting until Draco had seated Andromeda.
Draco wondered, in passing, where he had learned those formal manners. Perhaps from Andromeda herself, or perhaps that was the kind of thing they taught in Auror training these days.
"Thank you, nephew," Andromeda said, arranging the folds of her skirt around her and glancing at the table. Because Draco was looking for it, he found the flicker of quiet approval deep in her eyes before she turned and smiled at him. "What are we having today?"
"The first course is tomato bisque," Draco said, and decided that he could venture a small joke, since his own formal robes were a dark grey. "It shouldn't cause anyone fear for their clothes even if it spills."
Andromeda stared at him, and Draco held his breath. But it must have been a stare of incredulity rather than offense, because the next moment, she had tilted her head back and begun to laugh, and the laughter showered on Draco like sweet rain. He relaxed and smiled at his aunt, seeing now why Potter wanted to spend time around her.
The meal sped through the courses: soup, duck, a delicate selection of fresh fruits delicately arranged, and a dessert that mostly consisted of lemon cream with small chocolate-covered nuts placed discreetly in the middle. Draco had wondered how the last would go over, since he had no idea if Andromeda liked lemon, but her face relaxed as she ate, and she was soon talking to him about his mother, about his little cousin Teddy, about the planned alterations she was making to her house and gardens now that she had a baby living with her. Safer and more neutral topics than Draco had thought existed, all of them.
And he was so focused on his aunt and behaving well in front of her that his magic didn't act up once. What he wanted right now was quiet, and so it gave that to him.
When she had eaten the last bit of the lemon cream, Andromeda leaned forwards and stretched out her hand, slender and with shining dark nails, to rest on Draco's cheek. Draco went still and eyed her. He'd been in the middle of a sentence about Teddy; he wondered now if he had said something offensive without meaning to.
"I hope that you can come and see your little cousin soon," Andromeda told him softly. "I've been told by people whom I trust that it's not safe yet." She glanced over at Potter, who, Draco realized, hadn't said one word during dinner. "But when you can, I would be happy to have you know him."
Not offensive, then. Draco inclined his head, while his heart bounded and surged. Instead, he would get to meet a child that Andromeda and Potter between them had to protect pretty well, maybe even get to watch him grow up. "Thank you, Aunt Andromeda."
"I like the sound of that," Andromeda said, and smiled at him. "I never had anyone to call me that before." She stood up and collected Potter with her eyes at the same time. Or maybe that was the manners Draco was becoming increasingly convinced Andromeda had been the one to drill into Potter. "Will both of you walk me out?"
Potter came over to take Andromeda's left arm, while Draco was on the right. Andromeda admired the portraits and statues they passed, and then turned around when they came to the front door and pressed both their hands.
"I had a wonderful evening," she said. "Harry, don't forget that you're going to visit us on Wednesday. And don't forget that you're going to come with him, Draco." She nodded to him, a regal motion that made Draco's chest swell, and she walked out the door without a farewell, before Draco could even make the effusive speech of gratitude for the invitation that he could feel welling up in him.
Potter waited until the door closed behind Andromeda before springing off the ground and clasping his fists together as he howled. Draco started back. Hadn't this been what Potter wanted to happen?
But Potter grabbed his arms and shook him back and forth, grinning. "Do you realize how long it was before she would even invite me over with any regularity? She protects Teddy so…fiercely. I can understand why, but for her to approve of you that way, it's wonderful. And your magic can behave itself! You can control it!" He let Draco go and ran across the corridor to pound his fist into the marble wall and hoot like a house-elf, ignoring the way the portraits hissed at him.
Draco stared at him again. Then he crossed the corridor to come up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder, fingers almost overlapping Potter's collarbone. Potter turned around, mouth full of reassurances. "I think that you're going to do fine. We'll go out somewhere tomorrow, Diagon Alley or something like that, and test the way that your magic works around other people, but I really think that you can do this—"
Draco had to shut him up. Or he was grateful. Either way, it was something he could think of only one way to express.
He kissed Potter.
Potter blinked once, his mind apparently scrambling along trying to keep up with what Draco had done, and then kissed him back.
Potter's mouth was searching and sweet, his fingers strong as they dug into Draco's neck and shoulders and hair, looking for a handhold. Draco broke free briefly to redirect Potter's fingers onto his nape, where they couldn't do much damage, and then he returned to the kiss.
It only grew stronger as time went on, and Draco couldn't remember kissing someone this long before without needing air or getting bored. The portraits had gone silent in shock. He and Potter had slid to the floor at some point, and now Potter knelt over him, insistently touching Draco's hip but not going any lower than that, and biting at his chin every few seconds, too.
Draco pulled back at last, and rested his hands on Potter's chest. Potter seemed to understand what that meant, and grinned at Draco, laying his head on Draco's chest so that Draco had to look at his face mostly upside-down.
"I don't—understand," Draco whispered. "I don't understand how you wanted to kiss me back."
"You've achieved great things," Potter promptly said. "I don't think anyone else could have got control over their magic back that fast. I would have been in denial all over the place, or throwing up and sick with fear. You're a lot more admirable than I thought you were, and you're a lot more—I don't know, grown-up, too."
"It's hard not to grow up when your father dies and you're left to handle things," Draco said, and trained some of Potter's curlier hair to grow around his fingers.
"I wouldn't know," Potter said, but he went on speaking before Draco could apologize for accidentally emphasizing Potter's orphanhood. "And you listened to me, and you didn't blow up at me, and you put up with some pretty awful things from other people before this, too. I wouldn't blame you if you just wanted to stay behind your wards and sulk for the rest of your life. That you didn't is…wonderful."
"You were the one who brought me out of it," Draco whispered, and lifted Potter, pulling him by his grip in his hair, until Potter's head was in his lap. "Who else would have had the patience to let me almost hang them and burn them to death?"
Potter just grinned at him, and then moved in for another kiss.
"You can do this."
Harry kept his voice low and encouraging. It had stopped being an effort to do that with Draco about a week ago, he thought. In fact, he wasn't sure that he'd had any problem with it after he'd read his mind.
Draco, his face locked into graven lines, nodded and walked on. His hands were trembling. Harry found one and held it, ignoring the stares that people gave him. It was hard to tell who was staring because of who Draco was and who was staring because of how close they seemed, anyway.
"I don't like the way they look at me," Draco hissed at him.
"I know. Just keep walking."
They'd walked the whole length of Diagon Alley once, and they were on their way back through now. Harry could feel the subtle tremble of Draco's magic around him. It was hard to describe, but he'd learned to sense it, rather like seeing a small hidden animal out of the corner of his eye and then keeping track of it even though he had to move his head at times. Just keep walking, keep your eyes ahead, and it worked, Harry thought.
And so far, Draco had restrained his magic despite the stares, someone throwing rubbing at him, and more than one person calling him by his last name in sharply peremptory tones. It was the last one that was the hardest for him to resist, maybe because he hated being ordered around. Harry had wanted to turn and shout at those people that there was a right way and a wrong way to talk to Draco Malfoy, and they'd crossed the line.
But then, they didn't know Draco like he did. And Harry had had to work to keep his hand off his own wand several times.
Now they were in the middle of their walk back. Harry started to relax. Maybe they would make this all the way through, and—
Something exploded sharply against Harry's back, and from the way Draco staggered, a similar blow had hit him at the same moment. He whipped around with his hand rising and his fingers crooking like claws, and Harry saw a figure start to lift from a group of laughing wizards in response.
Harry reached out and let his hand hover just above Draco's arm. He didn't dare touch him. Draco had to be able to control himself when Harry wasn't around, when people might confront him or laugh in ways that Harry couldn't protect him from. "He's not worth it," Harry hissed. It was more rubbish, he thought, feeling the wet seep and smelling the strong scent of rotting vegetables from the middle of his back. "Remember that. Your ability to move around and do what you want is much more important."
Draco paused with his head turned, as if he was sniffing the smell of the vegetables more than listening to Harry. Then he flipped his fingers open, and the rising wizard dropped down. Draco turned away and spoke in a voice to Harry that people inside the shops as well as outside them could hear. "I find myself with little taste for this kind of company, Harry. Let's go back to the Manor."
And that was worth it, Harry thought, worth everything, as he nodded soberly in agreement and tried not to laugh at the gapes directed their way. Anyone who might think he was only out with Draco for a Ministry-ordered walk or because of some other effort to appeal to the public had been disappointed.
"I agree, Draco," he said, and took Draco's arm in the moment before Draco wandlessly Apparated them back to the gates of the Manor. Harry staggered as they came out of the Apparition, the way he always did, and then burst out laughing, his head bent, his hands on his knees. It had never occurred to him to worry about what Draco's magic would do when they were in flight through the small black place that Apparition occupied, he thought dizzily. Well, compared to being hanged by the neck, it seemed a small threat.
"What?" Draco snapped, crowding close, and pulling Harry up to face level with a jerk on his arm.
Harry blinked at him, remembered that Draco still had a reason to think that someone laughing near him could be laughing at him, and let his fingers rest on Draco's cheek for a second. Then the giggles took over again. "Their faces!" he said.
It took a second, but Draco broke into a tentative smile. "They did rather look as though a Crup shat on their cloaks, didn't they?" he agreed.
Harry kissed him, and that both gave them something more pleasant to do with their mouths, broken by the occasional chuckle. And even better, Draco pinned Harry back against the wall by the gates and kissed him long and slow, tongue licking in and out between his teeth.
It was wonderful. Harry staggered into the Manor more supported by Draco than supporting him, and Draco's smile was long and low and lizard-like.
But a very beautiful lizard, Harry thought giddily.
"Teddy, this is your cousin Draco."
Andromeda had already said that, Draco thought, and it appeared to have affected his young cousin not at all. He just looked out from behind Andromeda's legs at Harry and Draco, shook his head, and ducked back again.
Draco closed his eyes when he felt the flutter of power rise in him, and breathed out slowly. Yes, his magic might be able to make Teddy like him. A child that young wasn't likely to have the defenses against magic that changed the mind which Harry had.
But that was only the impulse of a moment. It wasn't what he wanted, not at all. What he wanted was Andromeda's approval, and Harry's, and for Teddy to be comfortable around him.
The power subsided. Draco nodded and opened his eyes. That had turned out to be the key to controlling a surprisingly large portion of his magic: thinking about two things he wanted and deciding that the long-term, future one the magic couldn't help him with was more important.
And there was another thing he could do to at least acquire Teddy's attention, though Draco had to admit it might be impossible to end this first visit with him and Teddy being best friends.
"Teddy, watch," he said, and waited until the small, fascinated head had popped around Andromeda's legs again before stretching out his hand, shutting his eyes, and concentrating the magic down into a tiny point. Produce something worthy of a child's attention, something better than any toy he's ever played with.
The magic shoved, and Draco shivered. Doing something small and precise like that always shook him more than simply spreading it across the sky in sloppy strokes, as if he was having to cope with the magic going through a keyhole instead of an open door.
When he opened his eyes, he was disconcerted to see a small, white plush dog on the palm of his hand. He had assumed that he would create something more wonderful, and he held it out to Teddy with some misgivings. Teddy had plenty of dolls and plush animals already, if the wide drawing room in Andromeda's house was any indication.
But the dog turned its head and focused on Teddy, and then gave a little bark and leaped off Draco's hand. It ran up to Teddy, wagging its tail and sticking out a fuzzy pink tongue to lick his hand. Teddy goggled, then giggled and picked it up, spinning it around.
"It's a dog!" he told Andromeda, in case she might have missed that.
Andromeda blinked, and looked at Draco with more than the cool expression of encouragement she'd maintained since Harry and Draco came here to visit Teddy. "I assume that this is a pet that won't have to be fed or given water? Or walked?"
"Oh, it can be walked," Draco said, lounging back on the couch and watching as the dog ran around Teddy and barked gently at him. "But yes, none of the other things are necessary. And it'll be able to speak. And respond to Teddy, grow with him, not limited by its enchantments as so many of the toys are." He spoke with confidence now, his magic moving inside him to give him the answers. Yes, this was what he had made, and while it was a toy, it was far more complicated than anything sold in the shops, nothing that money could buy.
Andromeda regarded him continuously for so long that Draco started to think that was the worst thing he could have done, instead of the best. But then she smiled like a sunrise breaking and said, "Well, Teddy, that's a very generous gift from your Cousin Draco. Are you going to thank him?"
Teddy looked up, the puppy in his arms, and smiled. "Thank you, Cousin Draco," he said, before dashing into another room. The dog leaped out of his grip and ran right beside him, barking in a way that Draco was fairly sure Andromeda could enchant quiet, if she wanted to.
He caught a glimpse of Harry smiling from the corner of his eye, and turned his head to him. Harry leaned over and kissed him right in front of Andromeda, in response.
Andromeda spent a moment with a quiet face, as if deciding how to react to that, and then said, "Quite right. I didn't bring out the biscuits," and went into the kitchen.
Draco lounged back on the couch and shut his eyes. Harry laid his hand in Draco's, and Draco felt a lazy, passing wish that Harry would tell him what he was thinking.
Harry murmured, "I think I'm going to like this job of curse-breaking for people instead of catching criminals. And coming to the Manor at night. As long as you want me around, of course."
It was a future, Draco thought, as he stretched over to kiss Harry in response. One that his magic couldn't compel, because he knew that Harry was immune to all effects that might resemble Imperius.
A free future.
God, that sounds good.