Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, past Draco/Pansy
Warnings: Violence, angst
Summary: How many debts can one person owe?
Author's Notes: This is not that fluffy a story, but it also doesn't involve a lot of angsty introspection. The title is a French verb meaning, among other things, "to have to."
Harry came in low on his broom, skidding above the field for long moments before he managed to land, with a stagger. He grimaced as his feet crunched on old bones. This had been the lair of a predator at some point, he thought. Maybe feral dogs.
He crouched forwards and stared hard at the overhang in front of him. From a distance, it just looked like a little, rocky hill. It was hard to believe there was a cave in it, even if Malfoy's owl had described—
"Over here, Potter."
He'd been looking at the wrong part of the hill, it seemed. Harry stood up, shaking his head, and trotted forwards. Malfoy's hand stuck out from behind a large stone that hunched near the lowest part of the overhang.
Behind it was the burrow that the dogs, or whatever they were, must have used as their den, and inside it was Malfoy. Harry dropped to his knees beside him and considered him for a moment, figuring out the best way to move him.
Malfoy had a spiderweb of blood on the side of his face, covering a lump that looked like a dragon's egg. He breathed carefully, and he flinched when Harry reached towards him, which made Harry diagnose broken ribs. His left arm had so much bruising and blood on it that Harry thought it was broken at first, but Malfoy curled it in towards himself when Harry tried to touch it, which meant no more than a fracture at the worst.
"I'm going to surround you with webbing so I can fly you to St. Mungo's." Harry kept his voice a low, soothing drone, the way that he spoke to the mad cat Hermione had dumped on him for a while because she'd wanted to rescue it but didn't have time to rehabilitate it herself. "The webbing should keep your broken bones from moving. In the meantime, the best I can do is a few mild healing spells for the pain. Episkey," he added, holding his wand towards the lump on the side of Malfoy's head. "Congelo."
Malfoy gasped as some of the blood on his face disappeared, the lump shrank, and what Harry knew from experience was a soothing blast of cold air added some numbness to the picture. "Where did you learn those spells?" he whispered, as Harry set about conjuring the net of thick, rubbery blue strands that would dangle from his broom. It was the way the Aurors transported badly injured criminals and members of their own team.
"Sometimes, I paid attention in the Auror training program," Harry said mildly.
Malfoy gave a weak snort, and then clutched at his head. Harry nodded. "Just lie back." He moved Malfoy into the webbing with Mobilicorpus and then began attaching the strands of webbing to his broom.
"Surprised you didn't just Apparate with me," Malfoy whispered, eyes closed.
Harry glanced at him in surprise, but Malfoy didn't notice, because of that "eyes closed" business. Harry shrugged. "I would if there were other people with me to carry the net. That's what we do most of the time when someone's got wounded in a raid. But you said I wasn't to bring anyone with me, and I'm not taking a chance on Apparating you with broken ribs. I don't make many graceful landings as it is."
Malfoy nodded, groaned again, and concentrated on breathing. Harry hooked the strands of the left side of the net around his broom and then hopped onto it himself. Malfoy's owl had given clear directions, and had also warned Harry that there might be "dangerous wards" around the place, another reason Harry hadn't simply Apparated in.
He hadn't told Harry who he'd been fighting, or why he was hiding here. Harry could think of lots of possible explanations, but he saw no reason to talk to a man who was this deeply hurt.
They flew in silence, dodging in and out of clouds, an operation that autumn made easier. When Harry saw the lights of London in the distance, he murmured something reassuring to Malfoy, although he didn't know if he was awake or not. Harry had cast Warming Charms some time ago to keep Malfoy safe this high in the air, Malfoy had murmured thanks, and that had been the last communication.
"This is one less life-debt you owe me," Malfoy said suddenly.
Harry stared down, although all he could really see of Malfoy was the blue net swinging back and forth like a baby's cradle. "I know you sent me the letter because I owe you a life-debt and you felt you could trust me, sort of," he said. "But that line sounds like one that should be coming from my mouth."
Malfoy laughed tiredly, and didn't say anything else. Harry shrugged and kept flying. They were almost there, and he would see Malfoy safely into the hands of the Healers.
He did, with a faint glamour covering his face so that no one could make out the scar, and then started to turn away. He doubted Malfoy would want to see him when he woke, and whoever his enemies were, it probably wouldn't do him much good if Harry was found with him.
But Malfoy's hand fluttered and groped out, the way it had from beneath the boulder, and Harry took it. Malfoy opened his eye and looked at him. "Remember the debts," he whispered, and then let go as the Healers gave him a Sleeping Draught.
Harry shook his head as he strode rapidly out of St. Mungo's and back to his normal life. He owed Malfoy one debt, and Narcissa one, and Malfoy owed him two. That didn't seem like a large number to keep track of.
Draco heaved Potter over his shoulder, and then crouched down and fired another curse through the leaves of the great bush that covered the front of the space where they'd taken shelter. He heard one agonized shriek, and smiled a little. Potter might not have let him use that spell if he was conscious, since it was Dark.
But Potter had fallen with a small dart in his flesh, and now his breathing rattled and panted. He hadn't sent a letter to Draco the way Draco had owled him. Draco wouldn't have known where to find him at all if he hadn't used a spell years ago that would tell him when Potter was in danger, which had woken him out of a sound sleep this afternoon.
Anything to pay back the life-debts.
Draco crouched down between the bushes and looked around quickly. This was a small green space, including the weeds and grasses growing off to the sides. It was thick enough to shelter them, but only until Potter's unknown enemies managed to coordinate themselves to cast from all sides. Then the curses would stab them, and one would find them.
Not to mention what might happen with that dart in Potter while Draco was musing.
Draco used a spell that meant his fingers were covered in a kind of shimmery, glossy coat of magic that prevented direct contact, and tugged the dart out. The head was barbed and opened a bigger hole in Potter as it left, but Draco couldn't take the chance that it was pumping in more poison as it stayed there. And sure enough, he saw part of the shaft moving as he held it up, jabbing like the jagged fang of a snake. He curled his lip and threw it away.
Then he held Potter up and peeled back the lid of one of his eyes. Draco wasn't a trained Auror like Potter was, so he didn't know as many healing charms, but he had worked enough with poisons to recognize most of the signs.
Potter's eyes had a glaze across them that looked like ghostly webs. Draco nodded and draped Potter across his lap again, wrestling his arms off to the sides when they tried to get in the way. Removing the dart had been the right decision. He could counteract this particular venom, but not if more of it continually entered Potter's bloodstream.
He chanted the Latin spells to Transfigure blades of grass to berries of deadly nightshade strongly, unhesitatingly, all the while listening for signs that their enemies were moving closer. Nothing yet. Perhaps they were wary now that someone uninjured was caring for Potter, or perhaps they were cautious about the Dark magic that Draco had used. They had to know that was something Potter wouldn't use under any normal circumstances.
When Draco had the berries, he shoved them between Potter's lips and held his mouth closed when he tried to spit up around them. Potter's eyes fluttered open, and he stared.
He would have tried to whisper Draco's surname, Draco thought, but Draco shook his head and clenched his fingers down harder on Potter's jaw. Potter seemed to understand; his throat fluttered as he swallowed the berries, his teeth champing down now and then.
Draco smiled as he watched the spiderweb across Potter's eyes start to crack. His enemies had used metalanguor, a potion that took over and slowed all parts of the body in various ways: the eyes, the ears, the lungs, and ultimately the heart. Nightshade was strong enough to counter it. Metalanguor was a magical poison, and it needed a normal human body to work on. Nightshade took over, changed its environment, and killed off the metalanguor.
Now, of course, there was only the fact that he had to save Potter from deadly nightshade poisoning. But he knew how to do that.
He wrapped his arms around Potter and murmured, "Do you grant me permission to work with you?"
Potter, his eyes dilating fast, gave the barest of nods.
Draco laid his wand across Potter's throat and whispered the words that would give him access to Potter's magical core. The magic tingled and spilled up his wand, and Draco flung the power as hard as he could against the anti-Apparition wards that arched over the entire area. The enemy wizards had raised them immediately after Draco had Apparated in.
The wards fell in shards around them. Draco immediately Apparated them, ignoring the shrieks and the stabbing light of spells. They landed with a bump in his own Potions lab, and he dumped Potter on the stone floor, scrambled up, and ran for the nearest shelf of antivenins. He worked often with deadly nightshade and kept plenty of the antidote on hand in case one of his experimental potions turned out to contain more than he could handle.
When he had dripped the potion down Potter's throat, Potter's breathing eased, and Draco could take stock of his other wounds. They were minor, scratches and defensive bruises. Draco nodded. It had been the dart and the metalanguor that threatened Potter's life, then, and Draco's guarding spell had tugged him out of bed the second Potter had got hit with the dart. Following the spell's tugging, Draco had managed to Apparate directly to him.
He leaned down to cast a Lightening Charm and lift Potter in his arms. "You'll rest in the Manor tonight," he murmured to Potter. "I'll take you to St. Mungo's in the morning. Not a word of this to anyone, mind. I have a reputation to maintain."
A smile seemed to blow across Potter's lips. "That's one," he said.
Draco understood after a second of blinking. One life-debt gone, Potter meant, since Draco had owed him two. Or one left.
Draco shook his head and left the lab to bundle Potter into bed. Strange that he hadn't thought about that before now.
On the other hand, he had been rather busy, conjuring and then battling poisons. Perhaps it could be excused.
Harry Apparated outside Malfoy Manor and spun around, his wand already in the attack position, his reflexes battle-ready and snapping like sparks up his spine.
There was no one there, nothing awaiting his curses. Harry straightened and blinked, looking around. Then he peered at the earth and cast several charms on it, wondering if there were glamours that concealed hidden enemies. Or perhaps he hadn't reached Malfoy Manor at all, which the Patronus had told him to come to, and was standing in the middle of a desert. His shoulders started to hunch with paranoia—
"There you are, Potter."
Harry turned around, blinking. There was a slur to the voice that he couldn't imagine without a broken nose to account for, but Malfoy stood there without a sign of one. Then he tilted the bottle of Firewhisky in his hand far enough forwards for Harry to see, and Harry exhaled hard and trotted over to the iron gate that separated them.
"Do you want to let me in and tell me what you need?" he asked. "Because your Patronus sounded pretty bloody urgent, but I don't see the urgency here."
Malfoy laughed and flung the gate open. It moved smoothly, Harry took the time to note, without the loud and annoying creak it might have used if no one had been coming in and out. "You're here to listen."
Harry looked at the bottle, and the expression on Malfoy's face, and thought of some of the nights that Ron had had him over to complain about Hermione. Then he nodded and followed Malfoy through the gate into the Manor.
Malfoy took him into a room that Harry had never seen before on his flying visits to the Manor, mostly to make sure that Malfoy wasn't hiding Dark artifacts in his cupboards, and which he immediately thought of as the rubbish room. The walls were grimy and hadn't been painted or papered or paneled. There was a low fire with a lot of soot in it. And empty bottles piled up on the hearth.
Malfoy flopped down into a chair that looked comfortable, for all the cracks in the upholstery. Harry sat down in the one across from it, and found himself leaning back, not because he wanted to but because the dent in the cushion compelled him to.
"This is another debt I'm calling in," Malfoy said, and wagged the bottle he held at Harry. "You aren't to tell anyone."
Harry nodded. "I didn't tell anyone about what you did for me, either, or what I did for you."
Malfoy relaxed, although Harry had thought the reassurance might not work, given that this particular service was nothing on the scale of saving Malfoy's life. But if Malfoy thought it was, who was Harry to argue with him? He had his own particular thoughts about all this debt business, but he didn't see the need to inflict them on Malfoy, either.
Malfoy leaned forwards and said, "It's about Pansy. She—she decided that I wasn't good enough for her anymore." He took another deep sip of Firewhisky, only coughing on the last few drops, which impressed Harry.
Harry raised his eyebrows. Malfoy continued, "She said that someone who spends all his time brewing expensive potions—when he's not busy posting those potions or flat on his back in bed from inhaling too many fumes—isn't the husband for her. She wants someone who will pay attention to her. Talk to her. Cry for her." A sneer so ugly crept into Malfoy's words on the last few that Harry winced.
But he said nothing, because he knew that Malfoy needed an audience, not a critic and not a counselor. Malfoy fixed him with a steady eye a moment later and nodded, as though silently commending his sage thought.
"I'm not like that. She knew I wasn't when she started dating me." Malfoy waved his bottle back and forth. "It was one of the things we agreed on. That we were honest with each other. That we wouldn't pretend to anything more than we felt, and that we would let each other know in an instant if we fell in love with someone else." Malfoy paused, his head wobbling. "No fear of that with me."
Harry just nodded again, and his thoughts touched briefly on Ginny, and briefly on the people in the wizarding world, both among his friends and among the public, who had thought he would get married in an explosion of fairytale bliss after the war.
"But she decided that she did want the emotions, and she told me that she's been dating Blaise on the side for months." Malfoy's hand hit the arm of his chair, which gave a warning crack. "It's not so much the sexual aspect of it. I didn't care about that. We didn't do it that often. But she said she would be honest, then she cried on me because I wasn't honest enough with her about what this life would entail, and then it turned out she was lying after all. I can't abide hypocrisy. That most of all."
He went on, sometimes ranting, sometimes mumbling, and sometimes pacing back and forth in front of Harry and waving his bottle hard enough that little drops of whisky starred Harry's face. Harry raised a Shield Charm in front of himself and listened. He didn't think that he understood the whole of Malfoy's secret inner life, or anything like that, just from listening to this. He was smarter than that.
And so was Malfoy. He wasn't expecting Harry to do this for free. He would have one of his debts forgiven.
It went on, and on, until Malfoy was sprawling and snoring in his chair. Harry stood up and let his hand rest on the bloke's shoulder for a minute, wondering if he should leave him here and let himself out. It was all Malfoy had asked him to do, the listening, and he knew that Malfoy wouldn't be pleased if Harry was here when he woke up.
But in the end, he called one of his house-elves and had Malfoy put to bed instead, and, after asking the elf where the Hangover Potions were, left a vial next to the bed.
Because Malfoy had saved his life, maybe, or because Harry had listened, or because he wanted to and it was the sort of thing he would have done for anyone he had listened to like that. He didn't know. He didn't think he necessarily had to come up with an answer. Who said that he did?
But when he stood outside and looked back at the Manor before Apparating, the sensation he felt was not one of a debt forgiven.
Draco shook his head. "I'm not here because you summoned me," he said, as Potter lifted his head and stared at him. "I'm here because the Prophet is quick with its news and I knew that none of your friends would come."
Potter shrugged a little and leaned back against the pillows. "Well. Thank you."
Draco took a seat on the neat stool next to the bed that St. Mungo's provided for visitors and gave a quick glance around the room. The signs were there if you knew what to look for. No food next to Potter's bed. Another stool pushed back until it had collided with the wall. And the silence, the echoing silence that seemed to breathe out from Potter and lie around him like a great beast.
Draco faced him and raised his eyebrows expectantly.
Potter shrugged. "Nothing to talk about, if you know this much."
Draco only leaned back in turn and crossed his legs at the ankle. Potter and he weren't made to sit in silence like this. So spreading the silence like a net and waiting for it to fill up would be an effective interrogation technique.
But Potter waited for a long time, longer than Draco would have thought he could, staring at the far wall with his eyes narrowed. Draco watched him, and catalogued the way his hair curled around his neck, the slowly whitening knuckles of his hands, the way he suddenly ducked his head and snorted.
"The debts?" Potter finally said.
"I don't have any idea what question you're asking."
Potter turned to him. "The debts had me listen to you once," he said, so intensely that Draco was glad he was already sitting down. "And I didn't spread any word of it around. So you'll keep quiet about anything I rant about here."
Draco inclined his head. "If you need to rant."
Potter didn't stare, didn't mumble, didn't try to qualify the word now, the way Draco had thought he would. He nodded, and looked again at the far wall as if he couldn't imagine a more sympathetic audience, and began.
"Ron and I have been having arguments about Ginny since she and I broke up, but he's still my best friend. And he'll always be that way."
Draco thought of the story in the Prophet, and kept silent.
"But lately Ron has decided that I'm 'going away' from them." Potter laughed, a soft, rasping sound that Draco had never heard before and which made Draco look at him. "That I'm growing more distant and less interested in them, and that I'm not as emotional any more, and that I don't take as many risks." Potter shrugged, his jumper nearly tearing across his shoulders. "I thought he would be happy about the risks. He and Hermione never liked it when I endangered my life."
For a moment, he quietly breathed. Draco did the same thing, and tried, idly, to see if he could get his breaths to equal Potter's in placement and pace.
"But he thinks that I'm not present." Potter gave a little snarl, another sound that made Draco peer at him. "That I don't think about him and Hermione anymore, that I'm always thinking of something else when I'm around them. I don't know where he got that from, and I don't care. He's wrong."
Draco blinked. He had to admit that he could see no particular change in Potter, unless the change came from his ability to be around Draco without hexing him. He still got himself in trouble and committed as many criminals to Azkaban as ever, to hear the Prophet tell it.
"I think about them a lot," Potter said quietly, and Draco's fears that he would break down crying or similar faded. Potter was just sitting there, and staring. Granted, it was intent staring, but not the disaster it could have been. "But I don't tell them every thought that passes through my head, the way I used to. Of course not. Why would I? We're adults now, and we work in separate professions, and we're interested in different things. Ron and Hermione don't tell me the details of every little row they have, either. They don't need to. I trust that they have them, and that they're not going to break them apart."
He leaned back again and shut his eyes. "So Ron and I got into an argument, and he threw a hex at me. It was an accident, he didn't mean to—"
"That sounds defensive."
Potter opened one eye and one hand, flipping Draco an obscene gesture without any hesitation. "I was standing at the top of a flight of stairs, and I fell. Cracked my head pretty hard. That's why I'm here, and of course the Prophet reports it as old friends fighting or similar. Ridiculous." He shook his head, and then winced.
Draco looked at the stool pushed back against the wall.
Potter sighed. "Yeah, well. It turned out I tore my chest up badly, too, but I could have closed the wound. I've studied spells that work for that now. But Ron insisted on bringing me to St. Mungo's, and then got angry because I didn't blame him for the hex. That part really was an accident. I blamed him for the stupid argument, and the way that he keeps accusing me of not really being his friend anymore when I'm doing everything I can to stay with him and Hermione. When he heard that, he tossed the stool back and stormed out." Potter moved his head back and forth. "I thought he would get tired of being stupid soon and come back. That's what's happened every other time we fought."
Draco held his peace on the matter, and watched Potter rotate his head as though he thought that would ease the pain in the back of it. Draco thought it less than optimal behavior for someone with a concussion, but it was Potter's head.
"It's been a few hours," Potter said, closing his eyes. "I need to give him more time. But I do think—it's strange. I can usually see what Ron means even if I don't agree. But this time…I can't. I don't know what I'm doing wrong."
"Nothing," Draco said, and smiled slightly when Potter stared at him. "The sort of life you're leading now involves you paying off your debts. I enjoy that."
Potter smiled faintly back and rolled over on his side so that he faced Draco. "There's that. I reckon we're at the end now, though? You've called on me for two debts, which includes your mum's, and paid two debts back to me."
Draco paused. He stood. He did not nod, because too much rode on the simple motion of his head.
Then he said, "Debts are calculated on many mechanisms, Potter. I probably won't feel the magic tugging me to your aid any more when you're in trouble. Do try not to consume any more metalanguor poison."
Potter nodded. The bright eyes never moved away from him.
Draco said the important thing. "But we are not the victims of our debts, and we can calculate them however we want."
Potter's smile made Draco want. Because he wanted, and because he could, and because he knew Potter would never tell anyone what happened in these conversations, either, he stepped up to the bed and laid his hand on Potter's cheek.
"Don't worry if Weasley doesn't come back," he said. "He probably will. And there are other ways to be friends."
"Don't worry about Parkinson," Potter said, and stared some more at him. "You'll find someone you deserve."
Draco nodded, and took back his hand, and left.
"You couldn't have sent the owl at a better time, right?" Potter muttered, as he strode rapidly into the potions lab and came to a stop over Draco. "Like when I wasn't in the middle of celebrating George and Angelina's engagement?"
Draco shifted his head to the side and rolled his eyes. Then he tapped the table in front of him, where he'd written out an explanation of his current problem, one that involved the potion that had sealed his lips shut. Potter looked at his nearly invisible mouth for a moment, nodded, then faced the note.
"All right," he said, after scanning it. "I think I can follow these instructions."
Draco grunted. He hadn't called on Potter for help because he was a good brewer, not exactly. He had called on him for help because the reversal potion for this particular disaster demanded verbal incantations that he couldn't speak himself, and because Potter was the only one he could think of who might not laugh at Draco's predicament.
For the moment, it seemed as though he was entirely content not to. He swooped about the lab, gathering up the alfalfa, the dried white roses, the shreds of Augurey feathers, the striped foot of a bat, that the reversal potion needed, and bringing them to the table. Draco watched him, the way that Potter's shoulders hunched beneath the Auror robes whenever there was a too-direct gaze on him, and the way that he glanced back at Draco after finding each ingredient to ensure it was the right one.
Draco nodded, and Potter brought the ingredients to the table and began working through them.
He cast the spells that prepared the cauldron with a thrum of waiting magic, a Preservation Charm for the more delicate ingredients and a Stabilizing Charm to keep the Augurey feathers from reacting immediately to the bat foot, without paying much attention to Draco. Then he stepped back and kept his eyes on him as he reached for the mortar and pestle that would crush up the feathers.
Draco nodded, and watched, this time, the slow and graceful motion of Potter's hands as he operated the mortar and pestle. There was no inherent ugliness or lack of grace there, the way Draco used to think there was in Hogwarts. He wondered, for a moment, whether Potter had been too afraid of Snape then to show his true skill.
Or perhaps he simply hadn't cared about it.
After a few minutes of silent working, except when he had to glance at Draco or chant the spells that were necessary to hold the delicate ingredients stable in relation to each other, Potter began to speak. "You should have seen the Dark wizard we arrested yesterday," he murmured, holding up a crushed rose petal to his eyes to make sure it was translucent, as the recipe called for. "She thought she could make a love potion with squid ink."
Draco burst out laughing, and then stopped when he heard how odd the muffled noise of it sounded against his half-disappeared lips. Potter grinned back at him, and snapped the properly transparent petal into the cauldron.
"Yeah, I thought that would amuse you," he said comfortably. "What an idiot, huh? And then she tried to dose Dawlish with mouse shit, under the impression that it was Peruvian Darkness Powder." Draco paused in the way he was reaching out to make sure that Potter had diced up the bat's foot, and so did Potter, but he only looked evenly at Draco and continued after a few minutes. "It's just lucky for her that Dawlish is allergic to everything to do with mice, and he started sneezing, and she nearly got away."
So it went for the rest of the hour and a half that it took to make the potion, Potter's easy stories about stupid Dark wizards that he seemed to know would amuse Draco, and his shifting so that he could brush shoulders with Draco, and the gentle hand that came to rest on Draco's shoulder when the potion sent up the purple cloud that Draco had said, in his notes, would mark the finishing stage.
"I'll have to spell it directly into your stomach, since you can't swallow it," Potter whispered into his ear, as companionable as though they'd spent hours of their childhood together. Well, in a way they had, Draco thought, tilting his head back so he could make out the dark green color of Potter's eyes. "Are you going to be all right with that? I've done this spell before, but not with anything more complicated than a Calming Draught."
Draco started a little, and looked back at his notes. Potter nodded. "I can make it again, if I get it wrong. I was more worried about whether the potion would have a bad effect on you, if I mess up."
Draco leaned back, for one thrilling second, and let the side of his neck come into contact with Potter's shoulder. Potter seemed to accept that as affirmation, and waved his wand, and spoke the spell.
Draco felt a sharp chill in his stomach, and then his lips loosened. He sighed in relief, licked them both with his tongue to make sure that no pieces of skin had gone missing, and said, "It worked."
Potter gave him a reserved smile. "Good. Well. I should get back to the party. George was just about to open Ron's gift when you called me away. I hope they waited." He took a step out of Draco's reach.
Draco followed him, and touched him on the side of his neck, where Potter had touched him. Potter met Draco's gaze, his own eyes bright with questions.
"You know that you didn't owe me any debts, now," Draco said.
He waited a moment before reaching up and gently removing Draco's hand, leaving him in his lab to contemplate what had gone wrong with his first potion, while Potter went back to his party.
Harry shut his eyes and sat there, his head bowed. His hands were stretched out on the table in front of him. Now and then he reached over to touch the right with the left, and had to open his eyes to know when his fingers rested on the mottled, gangrene-colored skin.
He knew he had been lucky so far, always lucky. Even when his parents died, lucky. How many other babies had failed to live because their mothers hadn't been killed in exactly the right moment and exactly the right way to enact the love sacrifice? And how many other people would have survived all he did during those years in Hogwarts, and still come back from it? And then all those mishaps while he was in the Aurors, including the poisoning with metalanguor that Malfoy had saved him from.
But luck always ran out. And the curse that had hit his right hand in the middle of battle and changed it into a pulsating, numb, ruined mass was the sign of it.
The Healers would amputate. Harry had spent hours listening to them argue it, and no hours arguing back. They had only done that much as a show for Ron and Hermione, he thought. His best friends had argued passionately that there was a cure somewhere, that something could be done.
And it could be, the Healers had explained, but only when the curse victim came in immediately. Harry had continued fighting, had arrested his suspect and brought him back to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and written an entire report before he decided to come in.
Too much time. The hand had rotted.
He heard the door open behind him, and swallowed. He'd been left alone in this small room of St. Mungo's, usually reserved for people visiting patients, long enough. He stood up and turned around, ready to face the Healer who would escort him to the ward where they performed amputations. Harry didn't even know what it was called. He'd never had cause to go there.
He staggered when he saw Malfoy instead, carrying a flask that steamed and hissed with viscous drops sliding down the glass sides. Harry nodded to the flask and unleashed his tongue despite himself. "Who's unlucky enough to have to drink that?"
Malfoy had seen his hand. He looked at it instead of replying.
When he did, he talked like he was in a dream. "I'm supposed to meet someone named Dean Watkins here," he murmured. "Where is he? He told me that this was the time, this was the place, the only time and place that no one would suspect anything."
Harry shrugged. "I probably scared him off. I've been sitting here for a long time. Excuse me."
He started to step past Malfoy, who stopped him with an easy turn. He didn't touch Harry's hand, but Harry snatched it back towards himself anyway, cradling it. He thought of the Malfoy who had comforted him in hospital when he and Ron had had their row, and he couldn't bear the thought of touching that man with a hand that looked like this.
"The Putrescent Curse?" Malfoy asked, gentle as Hermione had tried to be when she broke the news.
Harry nodded. He flinched again as Malfoy reached out, but his fingers only hovered above the warty, toad-like back of Harry's hand. His face had an expression of intense but clinical interest. Harry wondered crazily if Malfoy thought of writing this up for a Potions journal.
"You needed help," Malfoy said, as though speaking to himself, his features still gentle. "You should have come in right away. Why didn't you?"
"I didn't know it was this bad," Harry said. "That it would get this bad, I mean," he said, because Malfoy's glance was sideways and Harry could read it perfectly well: only someone mad would think this warty mess a normal consequence of a curse.
"I see," Malfoy said, and set the potion down on the table. It hissed and fizzed, and spat some more liquid over the side. Harry watched, shuddering a little when the drop moving down the side added a scar to the table's many. "You should have done something about it before this," Malfoy went on severely, taking a few thick leaves of some silver plant from his pockets. "Then I wouldn't have to look at it."
That gave Harry the first genuine smile he'd felt on his face since the Healers told him his fate. "They're going to cut it off," he told Malfoy. "Then you won't have to look at it anymore."
"No, they aren't," Malfoy said, and tossed the silver leaves into the potion. It fizzed some more in return, and changed colors until it was a thick violet and blue, streaked with silver like the leaves.
"It's too late even for that?" Harry stared down at the hand, and wondered if he could get used to his entire body looking like that. He reckoned that he could use glamours if he had to. It would be the end of—well, some things, but that was no one's fault but his own, when he had waited so long.
"They won't because I won't let them," Malfoy said, and drew out a cork from within his pockets, jamming it into the mouth of the flask, which he shook up and down. The colors swirled and changed so fast that Harry had to look away, sick to his stomach about something besides his hand for the first time all night. "Here," Malfoy went on, and Harry glanced back to see that he was holding out the flask. "Drink this, and your hand can be rescued."
Harry stared at the flask, then at him. Malfoy's eyes had sharpened, that dream-haze fleeing. He looked as calm and as sober as he had when Harry helped him with the potion that restored his voice.
"You brought it for someone else," Harry said. "Someone who probably needed it. And why should you just happen to be carrying the ingredients that would transform it into something else?" He shook his head. "I've already ruined enough. Don't let me ruin your relationship with one of your clients." Or whatever else you want to call them, he thought, but he really didn't want to hear Malfoy's name.
Malfoy stepped towards him. "Watkins didn't show," he said. "He didn't need the potion, not in the way you mean. And those leaves are powerful enough to change the potion from a cure for what ailed Watkins into a cure for what ails you."
Harry dry-swallowed. He didn't know what to believe. He knew little of Potions theory, but enough that he didn't think the potions could be transformed like that. Surely not. It didn't make sense.
With the light from Malfoy's eyes shining and playing across him, he still reached out his hand, as if mechanically, to accept the flask.
Malfoy turned his head to watch his hand as he did, so it was hard for Harry to make out the expression on his face. But if he was right and he could save the hand, Harry thought, as he curled the rotted fingers in towards him and swallowed the stinking concoction, then he had the right to as much privacy as he wanted.
Pain shot up his fingers and flung him to the floor. It was the most sensation he had had in the hand since the Putrescent Curse, though, and for that, he held onto his tongue with his teeth and didn't scream. This was St. Mungo's, not his office with its wards, and he knew noise here would attract attention.
Malfoy crouched down next to him and rested his hand on Harry's knee. Harry watched it, that healthy and whole hand that could brew potions and cast Dark curses and hold onto him as they escaped from Fiendfyre, and kept watching it while the pain racked him, drew and quartered him, made him shiver and hurt him and reunited him, whole and healthy, at the end. He lifted his right hand before his eyes.
It looked red and scraped raw, as though newly emerged from a cast. Harry blinked. Malfoy reached out and pinched the center of his palm, and Harry felt.
He leaned to the side, his head coming to rest against Malfoy's shoulder. He felt Malfoy stiffen, but he didn't shy away, the way that Harry had thought he would. His other hand moved over to touch Harry's head, fingers idly tracing the outer shell of Harry's ear as though he had never felt one before.
"Thank you," Harry whispered.
"It's too deep for any debts," Malfoy said.
Harry hadn't been thinking of the life-debt. He just reached out and covered Malfoy's hand with his, where it lingered on his ear. They sat like that until they heard the footsteps of the Healers coming near, and then Malfoy rose and Disillusioned himself in a manner that told Harry a lot about the nature of his business with Dean Watkins.
It didn't matter. Nothing mattered except that Harry tilted his head back and held Malfoy's eyes, and made the silent promise of whatever he needed, whenever he needed it, in the future, and forget the debts.
Malfoy hesitated, smiled thinly at him, and slipped through the door. Harry was left alone with his two miracles, the healed hand and the bubble of joy inside him.
"You have no reason to be following me."
Draco was proud of himself. He had a long stride, and he was using it to cover ground now, to get out of Diagon Alley as soon as he could before someone else noticed him. But Potter was right behind him, and he stayed there, and even came up and marched along at Draco's side as if that was completely human and normal and not something that was likely to get them questioned by all who knew them.
"What's wrong?" Potter asked, the way he had when he'd first noticed Draco, reaching out to catch insistently at Draco's hand.
Draco couldn't help the way he twisted to the side, snatching his hand from Potter's touch. Potter stiffened, and for a moment, Draco could see the chains that bound them falling to dust, the intangible links not made of a steel strong enough for this.
But Potter only caught his hand again, before he could blink, and then said, "I don't care what you do to me. I'm only going to go on asking what upset you, and sooner or later you'll tell me, if only to be rid of me."
Draco grimaced and shook his head. He wanted to say that what Potter proposed was ridiculous. He wanted to break away from him and Apparate grandly from the middle of Diagon Alley, showing the people whose curious glances came from the sides and behind and ahead that he had nothing to do with Potter.
But he did. Of course he did.
"Come with me," he said briefly, turning away from Potter and heading for the place he would have visited already had he been alone. "I'm not talking about it in public."
Potter seemed agreeable to that condition, at least, though he trod closely on Draco's heels as he followed him. Draco wished that he had a flexible tail or ears, to lash about or flatten in dislike. That would be his next project with a potion, perhaps, something that could show what he meant and how seriously his enemies should take him.
It sounded pleasant. But not nearly as pleasant as the expression on Potter's face was when they stepped into the ice cream shop and he realized where they were.
"Fortescue's?" Potter asked with an undertone to his voice that would be appropriate for his Weasley former girlfriend on seeing a mouse.
Draco nodded, decided that if nothing else, the revelation that he went for ice cream when he was upset might detach Potter from his side, and strode up to the counter. There was a perceptible hesitation during which a lot of unuttered sighs seemed to fill the space between them, and then Potter followed. Draco would have shaken his head at the sign of that deep stubbornness, but they were still too much in public.
"Chocolate ice cream," he told the woman who had opened the shop again shortly after the war, although as anyone could tell her connection to Fortescue was only in the name. "The richest that you have. And don't put any cream on top, or vanilla, or anything else that would diminish the taste."
The witch was wise, and able to gauge his mood from a glance at his face, which was more than Draco could say for Potter. She poured the ice cream into a bowl, and followed it with a thick pouring of fudge that made Draco relax as he watched it. He could feel Potter standing off to his side, but not the things that he might say, the words that lingered behind his lips. That was good. It meant that Potter might not have those things to say, and that he would listen to Draco the way he silently seemed to promise.
Potter waited until Draco was done and had paid, cradling the ice cream between his hands. Then he started to turn away from the counter. The witch frowned, and Draco raised an eyebrow at him, liking the way Potter examined Draco's bowl as if it held crushed beetle guts. "You should order something, Potter," Draco said. "It's only polite."
The witch was made of sterner stuff than some of the wizards who fainted at the very mention of Potter's name, and only looked all the more eager to have him patronize her establishment once she realized who he was. She primped and patted at her hair, and simpered at him, but held out the menu.
"Vanilla," Potter bit out, staring at Draco the whole time. "Nothing but."
The witch sniffed and began scooping it together. Draco sniffed, too. He knew the words were meant as a slap at him and his decadent chocolate, that if they had been on better terms, then Potter might have chosen something more decadent.
But they were on the terms they were on. Those were the only possible ones. Draco reminded himself of that, and used his spoon on the chocolate, then on his tongue. He had to close his eyes. The melting flavor struck him and reached deep into his throat, and by the time that he resurfaced to find Potter choosing a table, he no longer remembered half of what he had been upset about.
He recalled when Potter patted the seat across from him, and Draco had to sit down and think. Then his hands tightened on the bowl and the spoon, and he shook his head.
"I don't think I want to ask questions," Potter said softly, his eyes on Draco's face. "What about, you just talk, and I'll listen? And you can say whatever you want, that way, spill it out to an audience and no audience at all. There is one thing I want to know beforehand, though," he added, just as Draco was opening his mouth to take advantage of the invitation. "Are you all right? Will you be?"
Draco considered it, his hands stroking the sides of the bowl of the ice cream. He concentrated on the coldness in his palms, the way it seeped into his fingers, and nodded. "I thought a few minutes ago that I wouldn't be. Now I will."
He didn't say how much of that change had to do with the man sitting across from him, but although Potter probably knew exactly how much of it he commanded, he was decent enough not to smirk. He simply nodded and sat back, playing with his ice cream more than eating it as he listened.
Draco looked down and shook his head a little. "Blaise firecalled me. He said that he wanted to talk about Pansy. I knew he was dating her now, and I thought that it might be an attempt to avenge her honor or something like that. Or that she was sending him to say all the things to me that she's too much of a coward to say for herself.
"It turned out that he wanted to rip into me for all the 'wrongs' I'd done her. She knew what I was like when she started dating me." Draco considered the bitterness in his voice and decided it could stay, neither more nor less decadent than the chocolate sauce on his ice cream. "But Blaise scolded me for not talking to her more, for not taking her out to expensive restaurants and spending money on ingredients instead, for putting myself in danger when she didn't know where I was." Draco snorted. "Half the time I didn't know where she was, either. Spending time with her parents or some other friend from Slytherin, I assumed. We were adults. We hardly needed to keep tabs on each other's movements.
"Well, I stood there and took it for far too long. Then I hexed Blaise and walked away." Draco hissed under his breath. "I came here because I thought I'd buy something for myself to get rid of the foul aftertaste."
Astonishingly, Potter smiled—and in the way that someone would who understood, not someone who was making fun. Draco looked at him in wonder.
Potter reached across the table and laid his hand on Draco's.
Draco considered the hand and decided it could stay. He took another bite of ice cream with his free hand. "Blaise followed me here, and continued the confrontation in public. That's something he's never done before. It's against the bloody rules of our friendship, and Slytherin friendships from Hogwarts in general. He called me a coward and an idiot and unworthy of a fine woman like Pansy before I hexed him quiet."
Potter's mouth hung open for a bit, and then he closed it and nodded. "So it's the confrontation being public as much as anything else that did this to you," he said, making what looked like a gesture at Draco without actually lifting his hand from Draco's.
Draco raised his eyebrows. "You can say it, Potter. Made me desire ice cream. He did not actually give me cancer."
Potter smiled, but mechanically, as though his attention was elsewhere. Draco touched the back of his hand with the cold spoon, which made him jump and withdraw. "And do you have anything to say to me?" he asked, his voice light. "That I shouldn't have taken up with a fine woman like Pansy in the first place?"
"Oh, I might say that," Potter murmured. "But it would have a few adjectives in different places."
Draco blinked at him, and didn't know what to say to that.
"No," Potter said, and leaned forwards, hands folded in front of him as though he was making an important speech. Not that Draco had ever seen Potter making an important speech, because he knew better than to attend spectacles like that at the Ministry, and he knew better than to look at the photographs of Potter doing it in the Prophet, too. They couldn't tell him what the real Potter was like. "What I'm thinking is whether you'd like me to go and fuck Zabini up for you."
Draco looked into the ice cream. Then he said, "A Slytherin would mean Dark hexes if he said that."
"I don't," Potter said. "Well, Dark hexes are an option, I suppose, since I would also use one that would mean he couldn't tell anyone who did it, but I was thinking a better choice was my fists."
Draco stared at him. Then he said, "Blaise would hate that. And think I set you on him."
Potter smiled. "I could make sure to tell him that I came of my own free will before I kicked his arse for you."
Draco contemplated that. He pictured the many expressions that would cross Blaise's face, and how he would be responsible for them. He closed his eyes and took deep, slow breaths, and then opened them and said, "No."
Potter continued to peer into his face for a long moment, evaluating possibilities and insights unknown to Draco. Then he leaned back and nodded. "All right."
Draco studied him warily. "That's it? You're going to agree not to do something you so badly wanted to do?"
"I would have done it for you," Potter said. "And you don't want me to. Why should I go ahead and obey my own personal wishes when yours are the important ones here?"
He sounded baffled. Draco looked back at his ice cream and continued eating it, and Potter finally did something other than play with his, now that Draco was there to set him the example.
They parted in front of Fortescue's, with Potter holding his hand on Draco's shoulder for a moment as though he thought Draco needed his support—or wished to give it to him if Draco wanted it. When Draco didn't make a motion towards him, though, Potter smiled, pulled back, tipped him a wave, and walked away from him towards the Apparition point that lay at the mouth of Diagon Alley.
Draco watched him until he disappeared.
Harry slammed the door behind him and clapped his cloak down on the couch, then flopped down next to it and stretched out. He had always been glad that he'd got a big couch, so he could do that. It seemed that otherwise, they only made wizarding furniture for people about the size of Mundungus Fletcher.
"I know what happened."
Harry tensed up, and then relaxed and sighed. He would ask Malfoy how he had passed through the wards later, but for right now, he wanted to complain. "I'm not surprised you do," he murmured. "The news must have run on wings through the Ministry."
"Well, in this case I had something of an advantage," Malfoy murmured. Harry opened his eyes to see Malfoy perched on the edge of the finest, and also most uncomfortable, chair Harry owned. Harry would have smiled if he could have found the energy for it. "I was visiting an old acquaintance not far from the Minister's office, and I heard the shouting."
Harry closed his eyes again, and managed a dusty chuckle. "Well. That means I'm not the only person whose wards need replacing."
"I would imagine not." Malfoy moved. Harry listened to him coming closer, and wondered if he should care. The Minister would certainly say he should, and so would the Aurors who had "reported" him in the first place, and maybe even his friends. But Harry thought Ron and Hermione would understand. They knew what he owed to people who helped him, knew he valued people who saw him for himself all the more for their rarity.
Malfoy knelt down next to him and rested his hand on Harry's shoulder, then on his scar, as if checking for fever. Harry opened his eyes and turned his head. Malfoy's expression was calm, grave, with only tight lines around his mouth to tell Harry how angry he was.
Malfoy leaned towards him, and whispered, "How much of you getting sacked was about me?"
Harry met his eyes, and answered with honesty that made his throat creak. "No more than a quarter, if that. The Minister has been—unhappy with me for a while. Since I got myself poisoned with metalanguor, probably. I haven't been solving as many cases." He started to stop there, but Malfoy was looking him in the eyes, and leaning forwards with his hand pressing lightly on Harry's eyebrow ridge, so in the end Harry sighed and kept going. "I've been having more of a personal life. Thinking less about obligations. Spending less time at the office. Sometimes finishing my paperwork late. The Minister thought I'd gone soft."
"Soft?" Malfoy said the word in a voice Harry didn't recognize, but the pressure on his face neither increased nor moved away.
Harry half-shrugged. Not even that made Malfoy move his hand. "He thought I wouldn't arrest criminals as often if I wasn't thinking about them all the time. Either that, or if I was sometimes thinking about them in inappropriate ways."
"Is that the exact word he used? Inappropriate?" Malfoy leaned backwards, on his hands, in a way Harry thought had to be uncomfortable. Harry rubbed his own eyebrow, missing the pressure of his touch, as he replied.
"Yes. He said—well, that we'd been seen together, and that an Auror shouldn't consort with a former Death Eater. Yes, consort was also the exact word he used," he added, when Malfoy stared at him.
Malfoy half-bowed his head. "Then it does seem as though the responsibility of relieving you of your job falls partially on my shoulders," he said softly.
"Don't," Harry snapped, sitting up. "It's not true. You've done good things for me. I would rather have the use of my hand back than my job. And maybe the Minister is right, that I've been careless. I wouldn't have let someone get close enough to curse my hand, once. There's no place for a careless Auror in the field."
"Was he right about the rest of it?" And Malfoy's eyes met his.
Harry looked back, and smiled, now sure that he was saying the right thing, the way he hadn't really been since Malfoy began to pull back from him.
"No," he said. "Never that." He reached out and helped Malfoy towards him, although he wasn't sure what would happen when he got there.
Not that much, as it turned out. Malfoy held his face for a few minutes, turning Harry's head back and forth, stroking his cheeks and the ridges of his eyebrows as if he couldn't get enough of that place. Harry lay there and looked up at him. He had never believed all the people who said that his eye color was exceptionally striking, but he hoped at the moment that it was true.
Finally, Malfoy bent his head down and kissed him, nothing more than a flutter and brush of lips that seemed to question whether such a thing as a kiss existed. Harry reached up and framed Malfoy's head in the air with his hands, not touching him, letting Malfoy set the pace of their contact, and draw back when he had finished the kiss.
"So there's still the question of debts," Malfoy said, his face more flushed than Harry had expected.
"There's a question of what we could owe each other," Harry said. "Which is what we want to owe." He sat up and reached out, skittering his fingers up the inside of Malfoy's arm, pleased when his breath quickened. "We can figure things out in the future. We should have lots of time."
Malfoy gave him a faint smile, and let himself out. "You need to do something about your wards," he said over his shoulder as he started to shut the door. "Right now, anyone you like enough can pass through them. Imagine my surprise when I found out that particular loophole held in my case."
Harry waited until the door was shut, cast a strong general warding spell on it, and lay back, smiling.
Draco quickened his step, but that had never been enough by itself to escape Rita Skeeter.
"Mr. Malfoy!" She jogged up to him, waving a hand as though he could possibly have overlooked her. "Do you remember me? I interviewed you last year on the changes to the Potions mastery exams!"
And also you collaborated with me to try and take Potter down in school, Draco thought, but there were reasons that neither of them would say that aloud, and he felt almost fond of her despite himself. In truth, the beetle Animagus form she had suited her. She was persistent, hard to crack, and even harder to kill. She shoved a camera in his face now, the moment she saw him slow down, and beamed at him.
"I heard that Harry Potter was sacked for you," she said. "That you've been lovers for months, and that someone even saw you eating ice cream together in Fortescue's together last week. Was that your first date?"
Draco opened his mouth, and then saw Potter step out from behind the door of Madam Malkin's. Draco could have kept the smile that threatened to split his mouth open secret, but he saw no reason to do so, and Skeeter turned around, ears almost seeming to prick up like a hunting dog's, to pounce on her newest victim.
"Mr. Potter!" Draco could hear the glee in her voice at not having to use the Auror title. "Is it true that you quit your job for Mr. Malfoy?"
Potter came to Draco's side, and gave him a long, level glance. Draco nodded back and leaned on the stone wall of the building behind him, arms folded. Potter gave Skeeter a smile that she didn't seem to realize was deadly.
"I was sacked," he said, loudly and clearly, so all the people trying to pretend they weren't breathless around them could hear. "That's what happened to me. If you want a clear answer as to why, perhaps you should ask the Ministry."
He turned around and began to walk away. Biting his lip, because the urge to laugh was almost too much for him, Draco began to walk sedately beside him.
Skeeter seemed to believe that they would give her something more for a second, and paused behind them. Draco resisted the urge to look back. It would only encourage her, and he liked the image of her pathetically holding her parchment and quill out better than he would probably like the reality.
Then they heard the click of her shoes as she hurried after them. "But you were seen together before then!" she called out breathlessly. "You were probably—you must have been dating! Tell me, Mr. Potter, what keeps you from dashing out Mr. Malfoy's brains when you were rivals in school?"
Draco thought he could feel Potter tense, but the face he turned on Skeeter was still smiling and pleasant, and somewhere along the line, he had learned that all interviews were about the art of the façade, Draco knew. "You would know as much about that rivalry as I would, Madam Skeeter," Potter said. "Since you were one of the first to take advantage of it."
Draco flinched, but Skeeter flushed, and stopped her pursuit. Of course she could control what the people in the papers read, Draco thought, still walking away, but they eyewitnesses she had probably counted on to corral Harry and Draco and spread any words they spoke had suddenly become a liability. A moment later, Draco heard her Apparate.
Potter continued walking along briskly, instead of Apparating, and Draco kept him pace and company. "What have your friends said about this?" he murmured out of the corner of his mouth.
Potter snorted, keeping his gaze locked on the cobblestones of Diagon Alley ahead of them. "Shouting of the first order. They don't really believe it, but someone did tell them about Fortescue's, and they're trying to figure out if I lied because I knew they wouldn't approve, or if it has something to do with the life-debts."
"It had something to do with them."
Potter shifted his gaze to look at him. Draco looked right back, and Potter looked down, at his own feet, and smiled a little.
"Yes," he said. "It did."
He put out his hand, and Draco accepted it, threading his fingers through without thinking much about how or whether they would fit together. He accepted that they would, and so he was free to notice how long Potter's fingers were, the calluses at the base of his palm, the way that he turned his hand back and forth as though begging Draco to notice all of it.
"Are your friends going to make your life so difficult that you won't want to continue this?" Draco asked, when a long, peaceful time had passed, and Draco had almost forgotten they could Apparate, that there were places other than Diagon Alley on a calm winter morning.
Potter made a noise like a horse drinking water. "No. They're surprised, and they like to come up with explanations for things that fit within their nice parameters. At that, they're hardly alone," he added, dipping his head a little behind them to the place where Skeeter had been. "But eventually, they'll accept my explanations."
"Could I hear them first?" Draco asked, turning to face him and stopping. Potter stopped to face him, his eyes bright and his expression so calm that Draco would have started smiling if he wasn't already.
"Of course," Potter said, and leaned forwards.
He kissed with his eyes open, and so did Draco, their hands touching cheeks, their fingers still tangled, so it was only one pair of hands that was free to rise and explore their faces, and there was no one else there.
Harry shut his eyes. He had known, at some level, that this would probably happen, but it was still doubly bitter to have to accept. He licked his lips, tasting the tang of steel and ashes.
Hands encircled his hips, and tugged him away from the square of parchment that lay on the table. Then Malfoy bent down and kissed the back of his neck, and Harry turned around. He knew better than to ignore that.
Malfoy murmured and muttered into his lips before he kissed him again, and eased Harry back onto the couch, mouthing at his neck and throat and chest as he tugged Harry's shirt open. And then, maddeningly, he stopped, and leaned back on his heels. Harry scowled. "Why did you stop?"
Malfoy smiled. His lips were bright, and so was his face, but nothing was brighter than the eyes that he fastened on Harry. "I wanted to make sure I had your full attention," he said. "And I wanted to give you something to be angry at that wasn't that letter." He paused delicately, and tilted his head forwards. "You are angry at the letter, aren't you? What did it say?"
Harry closed his eyes. His blood shuddered through his veins, and it took him a long moment to remember why he had thought the letter of any importance. "Oh," he said. "They told me that they aren't going to give me my job back. Yeah, I could go in front of the Wizengamot, but most of the time, they don't concern themselves with things like this. And they're mostly friends with the senior members of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement anyway, so they would just say that they can't disagree with the decision of more experienced wizards, blah blah blah."
He opened his eyes to silence. Malfoy rose to his feet and stood there watching him thoughtfully. Then he said, "I think it only fair to show you what you're going to gain, since I've cost you so much."
Harry opened his mouth, then shut it again as he watched Malfoy stripping his shirt slowly from his shoulders. He would be a fool to object to this show for any reason. He leaned back and swallowed, his hands massaging his knees.
Malfoy was pale. Harry had expected that, but not the scars that sliced across his chest, or the way his hair swung and swished as he bent down to unlace his boots, or the way that he managed to bend and look at Harry from under his own arse, making Harry laugh. When he stood back up again, all his angles were bare and revealed, but there was still the drowning, intoxicating look in his eyes if Harry wanted unfathomable depths.
"You're right," Harry said softly.
Malfoy turned his head to the side. "Always pleasant to know that. What about, in this specific instance?"
"When I see you," Harry said, "all I can think about is what I gained."
And he stood up, kissing Malfoy, as usual, with his eyes open, his hand on his shoulder, his other hand tangling with his, because no matter when they did this, Malfoy was reaching up to touch him, Harry was reaching up to touch him, they were reaching to touch each other.
Draco woke with a gasp. He could feel his heart hurrying the way it did when he had a nightmare, but since the war, most of his nightmares tattered and fluttered out of his grasp before he could recall them, and this one was doing the same. He turned his head restlessly to the side, and encountered Potter's lips.
Potter had slid into bed behind him, and he was kissing Draco's shoulders with the kind of single-minded passion that Draco had learned to expect from him. He arched his shoulders and rolled them, and Potter's mouth obediently slid down his spine towards his arse.
Draco sighed. He would have loved to continue this, but he was tired, and he had a hard day of brewing ahead tomorrow, a commission from a demanding client. He reached over his shoulder and tried to make his headshake say all his words couldn't, and Potter chuckled and stilled, winding his arms around Draco.
"Go to sleep," he whispered. "I wanted to do that, and that was as far as my desires went for right now."
Draco closed his eyes and let his head droop to the side. The pillow was soft against his cheek, and his own eyelashes were softer, and Potter's hand was lighter than all of those, but his body was warm behind Draco.
"You really think that I could learn to brew?"
Malfoy looked up at him, eyes so determined they outshone steel. Malfoy would say he was being romantic if he said that, but Harry thought it was just realism. He braced his hands on the table and looked down at the green cauldron in front of him.
"Yes," Malfoy said. "With careful instruction. You're—good enough at everything, when you want to be. And what else are you going to do, now you have no job?" he added, burying the dangerous statement in the middle of a sentence where Harry could take time to react to it if he wanted.
Since he wanted, Harry tilted his head to the side and pasted on his most engaging grin. "I thought I could sell the Ministry's secrets to the highest bidder. God knows that I learned enough of them, in the years I was there."
Malfoy watched him, and his eyes saw and accepted the surface lightness, and the bitterness Harry knew smoldered beneath. "Do you want to?"
Harry bit his tongue. Malfoy was the only one who knew what he meant, the only one who would react to that announcement not with horror but with something like support, if Harry wanted him to. He was the only one who would reach out, the way he did, and glance his fingers down the side of Harry's flank, as though soothing, supporting, understanding.
And more than that.
In the end, after a slow, pulled, painful moment, Harry shook his head. "No," he said. "It would only lead me back into conflict with the Ministry, and that's the exact thing I don't want, right now. I want—I want to learn Potions. To do something different, something that doesn't owe anything to my previous life."
Malfoy's smile was like the moon darting through clouds. "I like the connections you have to your previous life," he said. "It's taught us both notions of proper value." He stepped back from the cauldron. "If you're going to learn Potions, the first thing you have to learn is cleaning charms. There's no sense in trying to brew when your cauldron, or your hands, or your robes, or your table, is dirty. You never know when a fleck of something is going to drop off one of them and contaminate your potion."
Harry smiled at him and went to wash his hands, as well as listen to the cleaning charms that Malfoy began to recite at his back as if reading from a book. The floor felt settled under his feet, and he looked at the racks of potions and vials on the wall and the shelves with a new curiosity. When he had washed his own hands, he came back, and watched Malfoy's hands as they flashed through a skillful sequence of knife and flying, chopped roots.
This was a new summer, no matter what season of the year it was outside.
Draco leaned forwards, and kissed Harry's throat. This time, Harry twisted and met his lips, and Draco knew it was finally time. If their debts had led them here, they could count this as the final payment.
Or not. Because there was no limit to the kinds of chains and bonds and entanglements that life-debts could involve one in, in Draco's experience. It was the people who thought they ended and talked about how to repay them that were the fools.
They lay twisted on his bed, the same place where Harry had come to him and soothed him back to sleep a fortnight earlier, and they were both naked, and it was like sporting with a shark in the sea. Harry—his name was a gift on his own tongue, hissed into Draco's ear—had scars everywhere, and muscles shifting along his spine and shoulders, and hands that spanned Draco's spine, or seemed to. He hissed and kissed and licked and flicked, and Draco lay on top of him and slid into him while feeling as though he was the one pinned down and taken.
Harry laughed up at him, seeming to see the thought and understand it, then drown and consume it. He rolled over and lay asprawl across Draco's hips, shifting to take Draco back inside him as he slipped out. He lifted his hips little by little, and kept the motion to such a slow pace that Draco groaned. Harry's nails scraped at his hips; he bowed his head, and kissed Draco bit by bit, taking his lips, nipping at them, eating.
Draco didn't know how long they were like that, shifting and wrestling, rolling to the edge of the bed and back again, their movements slow but still athletic, strong enough to make him want to take Harry in his arms and hold him there for the simple pleasure of seeing if he could break free. But he felt the end coming, and rolled Harry beneath him again. Harry went, perfectly pleased, smiling up at him with eyes like summer and hands like spring as he caressed Draco's chest.
Draco came with a long, drawn-out sigh, Harry with a shout that seemed to gurgle up between them. Draco could find some profound metaphor there, if he let himself think about it, he thought, as he lay on Harry, not bothering to pull out. But metaphors were beyond the reach of his brain at the moment. Similes were about all he could manage.
Harry kissed like he loved, hard and fast and strong.
Draco kissed back like he loved, languid and thrusting and slow.
They kissed back like they both loved, and fell asleep in a messy tangle of bodies owed, love owned, debts in the tension of unending dance.