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Chapter Fifty—Coming to an Understanding
"You know that you're going to be next, Greg."
Greg leaned against the wall and looked around the room. He didn't think there were many threats here. His Lord had already showed that he controlled the fires and the wards and the walls of Grimmauld Place. That was good. It meant there was one less set of threats that Greg had to protect him from, so he could focus on the ones that would hurt his Lord more.
But he always had to check, just in case.
"Greg? Did you hear what I said?" Lord Potter leaned forwards from his chair, a faint frown on his face that made Greg snap to attention. "They sent me a letter that said your trial is on Monday."
Greg turned back and nodded. "I'm sorry, my Lord. I didn't mean to ignore you."
"I'm not so much worried about that," Lord Potter said. "But your defense strategy is going to be harder to plan." His eyes flickered to the side. Greg was puzzled for a moment, and then figured out what he was looking at.
"Are you talking about this, my Lord?" Greg pulled back the sleeve on his left arm so that his Dark Mark showed. Lord Potter flinched as though Greg had thrown pepper in his face, like one of his cousins had done to Greg once. Greg reminded himself to remember that Lord Potter was sensitive to the Dark Mark like that.
"Yes," said Lord Potter, after a moment. "I didn't…you know it will make the trial harder, because you were a Marked Death Eater."
Greg waited, for something more, and then finally went on when he realized that Lord Potter expected him to be upset, or something, about that particular comment. "I know it will make it harder, my Lord. But you'll fight for me."
This time, his Lord was the one who waited, and finally shook his head and spoke when he seemed to realize that Greg didn't see anything more he needed to say. Well, he didn't. "It's going to be hard. You might have to testify. We won't have as many witnesses as we did for Professor Snape. It might…it might come to you having to give up your wand for a long time, if you don't go to Azkaban."
Greg felt bliss melt across his mind. So that was why his Lord was looking at him with those dark, desolate eyes lately. He hadn't been about to end the bond and throw Greg out, the way Greg had assumed. He just thought his trial would be hard.
"I don't care, my Lord," said Greg, and folded his arms and bowed his head. It was a gesture of submission, and he didn't care if his Lord didn't know it. It was for him, for himself. "You'll fight for me. That's what you do. You'll fight for me, and you win."
"But it'll be hard—"
"I trust you," Greg interrupted. Honestly, it was the only thing that needed to be said.
Lord Potter frowned at the fire. Then he tugged at his hair. Greg didn't say anything about that. It wasn't his duty to provide personal grooming advice to his Lord. And his Lord might need it, but he would benefit more from the spells and other weapons that Greg had in his arsenal.
"Then I suppose there's nothing more to say," Lord Potter murmured. "If you trust me so absolutely." Greg didn't say anything, but he was glad that his Lord had finally seen sense. Then his Lord turned towards him. "You would tell me if you ever wanted to be released from the bond?"
"You won't do that," Greg said, and his pulse was so fast he thought he was going to faint like some silly first-year. "You gave me your word."
"I did, of course," Lord Potter said. "But that wouldn't mean anything if you wanted to be free."
Greg relaxed as much as he could when his Lord had just given him a scare like that. It wasn't as bad as having an assassin lunge out of the shadows, but it was nearly as bad. "I won't change my mind."
"You're sure?" His Lord seemed to have decided that he could Legilimize Greg just by leaning forwards and looking in his eyes. But Greg knew better than that. His Lord wasn't Professor Snape. Besides, he could learn everything he needed to know about Greg's state of mind and emotions just by listening to the bond, so that was the way he would do it. Lord Potter was efficient.
"I'm sure," said Greg, and looked one more time around the room for assassins before he took up his guard position in front of the door again. But then someone knocked on that door. Greg turned around and cocked his first.
"Greg," said Lord Potter, sounding annoyed. "Very few people could get through the wards."
"But Blaise was in this house," said Greg, and gave Lord Potter a look that he hoped was kind. His mum had always said that he wasn't good at expressing kindness, but then, he'd been in Slytherin and one of Draco's brutes. He'd never needed to be. "So someone else could be in this house to threaten you, too."
Lord Potter opened his mouth, and then closed it again and shook his head without saying anything. He was obviously so impressed by Greg's superior logic that he couldn't say anything. Well, that was one of the first times that Greg had ever impressed anyone with his logic, so he was smiling when he opened the door.
Draco stood there, one hand raised as though he was going to knock again. He looked at Greg, and Greg looked at him.
Draco smiled a little. Greg knew that smile. Draco was going to order him to do something, and Greg would do it.
But he had a Lord now, and that meant he couldn't do it. So he stood there, and felt the shield mark sparking on his arm, and got ready to hit Draco if he had to. He didn't really want to, but then, he didn't want Draco to threaten his Lord, either. So things worked out.
Then Lord Potter said in a changed voice, "Draco?" And he sighed something that could have been long and complicated, except it sounded like all the long and complicated stuff was compressed in a small area instead, and said, "Let him in, Greg."
Greg stepped aside. He was glad that he hadn't had to beat Draco up. Draco wasn't his Lord, but he used to be something like it. So Greg was glad that things had worked out this way instead.
Lord Potter had his chin on one fist, and was looking at Draco as though he needed something from him. Greg glanced back and forth between them, ready to go fetch anything they needed, even if it was just tea or something.
Then Lord Potter made his decision, and glanced at Greg. "Will you stand guard outside the door, Greg?" he asked. "I need to talk to Draco alone."
Greg didn't ask if Lord Potter was sure. Draco was still in the bond, so Lord Potter would feel it if Draco was ready to attack him.
And he can stop him. Greg was sure of that. He had stopped Blaise, and Blaise was braver than Draco.
"Of course," he murmured, and stepped outside and shut the door, making sure that it was firmly closed behind him. If this had to be a private conversation, then he wouldn't let anyone else in, no matter how much they might need something. They weren't in the courtroom right now, anyway, so there weren't that many people who would need his Lord.
Except him. Greg would always need his Lord.
But he had his promise that his Lord wouldn't send him away. Greg relaxed against the door, and kept vigilant watch up and down the corridor.
"What is it?"
That particular question, in a voice so soft and warm, almost broke Draco. He had to swallow back a peculiar stinging around his eyes, and answer as honestly as he could.
"It's not—not something about my parents or changing the deal that you and my father have, if that's what you think," he said, after coughing harshly for a moment. "I just want you to know that. I've come here for a different reason."
"Okay," Harry said. He had lounged back in the chair once Draco spoke those first words, and for a second, Draco thought he might have imagined the concern in his voice. Then he saw Harry's face, and relaxed all in a rush.
Nothing like that. He's glad that I don't have something to say about my parents. He was worried that was it.
Draco sat up a little as the cool, soothing weight of relief replaced a few of the burdens he was carrying, and nodded at Harry. "I came here because I wanted to speak to you about—about the past."
"You don't need to apologize to me for what you did during the war." Harry's voice and eyes were both shadowed. "We all did things we aren't proud of." He glanced at Draco. Puzzled, Draco looked down, and realized that Harry's gaze centered on his chest.
"What—oh, that spell." Draco shivered. He had to admit that his memories of that were hazy, but scary.
"I had no right to do that." Harry crossed his arms and shivered in turn. "Without knowing what I did, without knowing whether there was a chance that I was going to kill you—"
"Who was the one who said that we weren't going to apologize for things that happened during the war?" Draco risked a smile. "I don't need you doing it to me, either. Besides, I was going to use an Unforgivable on you when you defended yourself with that spell. I think we should both let it go, insofar as we can."
Harry paused as though he wanted to argue about it, and then seemed to recognize the inherent ridiculous of that. He snorted a little and nodded. "Fair's fair, then. What did you want to discuss?"
"I changed my mind about the things my father wants." Draco knew it wasn't a very elegant beginning—probably a confusing one, from the slow blinks Harry was giving him—but he needed to start somewhere, and defining himself in opposition to his father's ideals was how he had first learned what he wanted, himself. "The things he stands for, pure-blood ideals and a family above all else and getting ahead in the Ministry through political power. I changed my mind about wanting that." He gripped the arms of the chair, his nervousness ticking higher as Harry said nothing. He really needed some support, here.
"How much of that is just because of the bond? And the trial?"
"I don't know how much is because of the bond," Draco said. "Honestly. The—the way it affects my thoughts, I don't know much about. I thought you might know more about it than I did. Or maybe Professor Snape, since I think he attacked the bond from his side to provide protection for his mind."
"He did." Harry took off his glasses as though they needed scrubbing, and treated Draco to a vision of his eyes without them. Draco would never have thought a myopic green gaze could be so beautiful. He cleared his throat and tried to keep from showing how they affected him. "But you know that it won't be easy for you to trick or bribe people in the Ministry after this trial. Are you saying that you want different things than your father just because of that?"
Draco shook his head firmly. "The way you stand up for us in the courtroom is what inspired me. I want someone to protect me like that."
Harry's jaw tightened, and his gaze turned to the door this time. Also this time, Draco was faster at seeing what he was about. "Not the way Greg does," he added hastily. "I don't want to be ordered around and be your bodyguard."
"Good." Now Harry ran his hand through his hair, which had absolutely no effect on the general state of it. "One of those people I have to handle so carefully is all I can stand." He hesitated, then added, "What would be different about this from the way your parents protected you?"
"Because they care about me as their son, but also because I'm the Malfoy heir," Draco said. He thought of his father in the holding cell, giving the blood-ghost his blood to save Draco, so that their family wouldn't die out. "I can't separate those things. They're always both there. And I know that Father will expect me to keep up the traditions if he goes to Azkaban and I don't."
"That's probably what's going to happen."
Draco met Harry's eyes once, then turned them away. "I know," he whispered, and then tried to raise his voice and deepen the sound of it, because twinges of warmth came through his shield mark, and he didn't want Harry just feeling sorry for him. "I know, okay? But I don't want to be just the vessel of my father's ambitions anymore. I want a life of my own."
"I don't think the bond can give you that."
Draco winced and stared down at his hands, closed together in the rich leather of the chair arm. This was kind of humiliating to admit. At least he knew that Harry wouldn't respond to it with the roars of laughter that a lot of other people would. "I want—my parents shaped—my parents still made me want some kind of protection. I can't be on my own, not right away. I have so many things to learn. I don't want what my father wants for me, but what does that leave? What am I going to do if not work in politics or sit in the Manor and watch the Galleons accumulate in our vaults? I need to learn about the Light."
"Well, okay," Harry said, sounding baffled now. "But I don't know if I even know what that is, except the opposite to Dark Arts and Dark magical creatures like the Dementors. Do you want me to show you how to use a Patronus?"
"No," Draco said, and looked up. "I think you care about me just because I'm Draco. And you care about me because you think I could be an okay person. I mean, by your standards, not just by any standards. Protect me for a while. Teach me. Please?"
The softness, the gentleness, in the way Harry said his name was dangerous. Draco hurried past it as quickly as he could. "I know you can't do it forever, and someday I'll have to stand on my own. But just for now, could you do it?"
Harry frowned a little, and the shield mark on Draco's arm spread gentle warmth along his skin, as if it was cradled in a Healer's hands. "So you want to use the bond as a crutch for a little while, until you're ready to be independent?"
Draco nodded immediately. "I don't want to be like Greg. I'm not like that." He shuddered a little, at the thought of spending every day for the rest of his life at the mercy of someone else. "But I haven't done that great making decisions on my own either, and I'm tired of my parents doing it when I know they just want me to do certain things. And I don't want to use the bond for a political advantage like Pansy does. I don't know what kind of political advantage I would even want."
Harry smiled. "So you want to be a vassal for a little while, but not forever, and see where that leads you."
"Right." Draco met his eyes and took a gamble. "Just like the way you probably want to be a Lord for a little while, but not forever."
Harry hesitated as though Draco had offered to pour cold water down his back instead of giving him a valuable insight. Draco held back his immediate angry reaction at the thought that Harry might reject him. They still had their past to deal with, and, well, Harry had never shown a tendency to jump at Draco's valuable insights before.
"It would be hard to give up being a Lord, after having the bond," Harry mumbled.
Draco snorted, and then shook his head and elaborated when Harry stared at him in surprise. "But once you were free of the bond, you would probably wonder why you wanted to keep it. If Professor Snape could come up with a way to free his mind of the bond, can't you do the same thing? You're the one who's in the center of it, and you can feel the way it affects everyone's mind." He added, when Harry stared at him as if he was speaking a language from the other side of the world, "You already gained control of it in a way that Pansy and maybe your friends thought you could. This shouldn't be that much more difficult."
"This is like asking me to take away the ocean from an island I'm standing on," Harry said, and rapped his fingers on his leg. "Not only is it impossible to do for sure, but if I do it, then the island isn't an island anymore."
"I still think you could do it," Draco said, and refused to flinch from the glare that Harry sent him. "You just need to have the will. And I think you do. You may not remember how disgusted you were when you first became our Lord now, but I do."
"I remember it," Harry corrected him. "But I'm remembering it without feeling it, you know? I know that my vassals need me."
Draco snorted. "It sounds to me like we're both using this bond as a crutch."
Harry sat up straight and glared at him. Draco flinched a little, because the shield mark on his arm was almost vibrating, as though a bee had got down inside it and was zooming back and forth within the triangular shape.
Then Harry sighed and relaxed, letting his head fall back against the chair. "You may be right. Anyway, I know that I won't be a Lord to anyone except Greg forever. Severus wants out of it when the trials are done. I can't imagine that Pansy will want to have it forever, although it may be convenient to make people underestimate her when she starts being active in politics." He looked at Draco again, a long, slow look that Draco squirmed under. "And here you come, with your vague requests for teaching."
"Didn't you ever want to teach me a lesson?" Draco knew he sounded a little desperate. He wiped the sweat off his brow and tried to continue in a calmer tone. "Make me pay for something I did in school?"
"Well, yeah," said Harry, folding his arms and turning to stare into the fire. "But that wasn't about teaching you to be a better person. It was about teaching you to leave me the fuck alone."
Draco winced. This wasn't going so well. Maybe he shouldn't have brought up the past…
But it lingered with them, over them, as inescapable as the bond. Draco would have to talk about it sooner or later.
"I want to know how you're so effortless with it all, you know," he mumbled to Harry, not much caring if he paid attention right now or not. "How did you decide to just sacrifice your life for everyone? And stand up to the Dark Lord? I couldn't have done that if my life depended on it. Maybe not even if my parents' lives depended on it. But you did it like it was easy."
Harry turned and stared at him. "You think that was easy?" he said, and there was something almost like a gasp under the words. "It was the hardest day of my fucking life, you berk!"
Draco had to laugh despite himself. "Here we are arguing, and the bond isn't unhappy with us. I suppose that means you can interact like normal people with your vassals once in a while?"
Harry paused and blinked. Then he said, "Okay, fine, but that doesn't mean I have anything to teach you."
"I want—I want to be independent, and feel fine that I am," Draco said. "I want to not care so much about what other Slytherins and the public think. I want to be able to walk around freely and not have anybody stare at me."
That got him a look so long that Draco squirmed under it. "Really?" Harry said, and he drawled it in a way that he could only have learned from Draco himself.
"Well, all right," Draco said. "People staring at me some of the time would be okay. But not for the reasons they are now."
Harry frowned. "Fine. But I don't know how I could really get you a good public reputation, and that's what you're asking for."
"Let me stay your vassal for a little while," Draco said, very quietly. "And talk to you about things, and maybe you can teach me the Patronus Charm. But I don't want—I don't want you to just walk away from me."
Harry lifted his arm and traced the shield mark with one finger. "Do you know how hard walking away from Zabini was? And he was actively trying to kill me."
"I did punch you once."
"And yank on my broom, and dress up as a Dementor and all the rest of it, yeah, I know." Harry waved a hand, but he was looking at Draco more thoughtfully than he had been, and Draco relaxed a little. "But just staying with me and talking is something I think I can do. It'll mean putting up with Ron and Hermione."
"Oh, but you do that so well," Draco said, and waved his hand. "I'm sure that your ability won't desert you in the next little while."
"I meant you need to put up with them."
"Teach me that, and I'll say that you're a better educator than Professor Snape." Draco smiled blindingly at him. "You can teach me anything, if you can teach me that."
Harry lowered his head into his hands. Draco stiffened, thinking he might have gone too far, but reassured himself when he could feel a faint warmth coming through the shield mark. Sure enough, Harry's shoulders were quivering, and he lifted his head and shook it at Draco with a faint smile.
"Yes, you win," he said. "At least your sense of humor can counterbalance Pansy's, if she gets out of hand."
"There's our first bargain," Draco immediately said. "You teach me to put up with Weasley and Granger, I teach you how to put up with my fellow Slytherins."
Harry hesitated only once before he leaned across the distance between their chairs. "Agreed."
Draco solemnly took his hand, and shook it, trying not to think about other hands, and missed chances. That was the past. This was the present.
And, he thought, feeling the warm tightness in his stomach when Harry smiled at him, possibly my future.