Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: Written for the hd_worldcup challenge. I was on Team Fanon, and my Tarot card was strength. I would like to thank the moderators for posting such a wealth of fic. I would also like to thank my teammates for several look overs and great advice as this story was progressing.

A number of people outside of my team helped me with this story. I had originally started it two years ago and didn't know where to take it. So thanks for those people who looked at it then, in its infancy: snottygrrl and hija_paloma, both of you did, I know; I can't remember who else, I'm sorry. This is what it eventually became. Several other people read it over when finished and offered wonderful advice: rickey_a, karaz, gryphons_lair, and even regan_v, who hates Draco with a passion, but is kind enough to read my H/D. But I must save special thanks for gabe_speaks, because there's polishing and there's polishing. Thanks, dude. Much better thanks to your keen editorial eye.

There is a truly STUPENDOUS podcast of this fic done by raitala. Her Draco voice is so true. Link to her podcast of my work is HERE. Scroll down; it's at the bottom of the page.




Friday, September 20, 2004, 11:34 p.m.

I checked my wand. Fifteen spells left. Fuck. I had only fifteen spells to last the rest of the month. And autumn had come early this year. Which meant I had to choose between casting Warming Charms on my room or using my monthly quota of magic to do the most onerous cleaning chores at The Daily Prophet.

I clamped my mouth shut and stifled the urge scream "Fuck you" at the tens of dustbins I had yet to empty and acres of floors I had yet to sweep, because the bottom line was I needed this job. Four years in Azkaban hadn't dulled anyone's memories. I'd applied for no fewer than twenty positions and been bodily thrown out of sixteen places; the other four had set their dogs on me.

"Not my problem, Malfoy," Weasley had chirped after I'd gone back to his office empty handed, nursing a dog bite on my arm. "The rules of your parole state that you must have proof of employment no less than two weeks after your release. We see this as an attitude problem that another six months in Azkaban should cure. You're just not trying hard enough."

Not trying hard enough. Typical layabout Death Eater, just dying to get back to that luxurious cell.

When I'd appeared the next day with written proof that I'd been hired—thank you, Hugo Greengrass—Weasley's disappointment was so manifest that I half expected him to have a stroke from sheer frustration. But then he read I was being hired by the Prophet at starvation wages as the night janitor; I'd be little more than a glorified house-elf. "Perfect job for a ferrety little prat like you," he grinned. If he couldn't send me back to Azkaban, he'd make sure my life was utter hell outside of it.

One more floor to clean and then I'd be on my weekend. Fuck, my knees hurt tonight. Using my broom as a cane, I leaned on it to take some of the weight off as I made my way around the office. Each waste tin was emptied, the floor around each desk swept. Most people didn't even bother with their rubbish bins; they'd drop their rubbish on the floor. Let the Death Eater pick it up. Which I did. Because it was my job.

And that cunt Brown. Her idea of fun was to send everyone owls filled with glitter, so that a great deal of my time was spent sweeping it up. Brown wrote the Agony Aunt column. Her advice was always full of shit. I wondered how many lives she'd fucked up with her vapid replies.

One knee locked up. I stopped to rub it. "Move, you bastard," I begged. I'd been a little too cautious with the salve, trying to make it last another couple of days. The minute the weather turned, Chalmers probably chuckled with glee, knowing I'd be lathering it on. Open up, Draco. If I could make it out of bed, I'd be in that dickhead's apothecary shop tomorrow afternoon, silently holding out the bottle for more salve. That little bald toad would lick his lips, his hands fluttering in anticipation, followed by a squeaky, "Oh, yes, Mr Malfoy, I was expecting you. Shall we conduct our business in the backroom?"

Just once, just once I was dying to say out loud, in front of everyone, "No, you mother-fucking ponce. How about I blow you right here? Because you and I know I don't have the money to pay you for that salve, and if I don't get it, I can't walk. Considering that my mouth on your dick is the currency in question, unzip your trousers right now."

That last stint at St. Mungo's had given me a pathological hatred for Healers, who put me back in shape so that I could stand trial, the irony of which seemed to be lost on them. Being on the losing side meant turning a blind eye to that old saw: you don't hex a man in the back. I was damn lucky someone hadn't killed me—not that I could blame anyone, frankly. If my family had been subjected to the abuse that I saw that madman mete out—Oh, wait. Been there, been subjected to that. Given that they were healing me from curses aimed at me from Potter supporters, I half suspected that my suffering those weeks was little more than payback.

Death Eater in agony? Oh, he's not in that much pain. Let him go another twenty minutes. And, yes, I am paranoid, which to a Malfoy is just another way of saying "smart." It was a measure of how much I hated that place that I'd rather suck Chalmers' dick than go back.

My knee unlocked, and I hobbled over to Brown's desk, which was surrounded by little mounds of purple glitter. Muttering "bitch, bitch, bitch," under my breath, I swept up the glitter, sat down to take my break, and read today's batch of letters for my daily laugh. I loved reading the letters she received. The only thing more pathetic than the letters themselves were her replies. That she was well paid for penning such stupidity was not just a little galling.

Initially, I'd read them for the amusement factor, as amusement was pretty much nonexistent these days—bitter irony was about as good as it got—and I had learned to take my pleasures where I could find them. But after a few weeks, I had started to pen replies to the ones she hadn't gotten to yet, partly to have a bit of fun and partly because outside of the letters I wrote to my mother, it was the only time I could express myself. Abject humiliation twenty-four/seven had never been my strong suit, and my responses were pure Draco Malfoy.

Tonight's haul were no less hysterical.


Dear Lavie:

My boyfriend says I am a cow. What does he mean by this?"

Mooing in Manchester

Brown's response was typical.


Dear Manchester:

Brown had initially written "Dear Mooing" but then crossed it out. Merlin, save me from the world's idiots.


You and your boyfriend are having communication problems. You must sit him down and look him straight in the eye. Don't let him wriggle out of this.

She had inserted a little heart here, her signature logo. I made gagging noises for my own benefit.


Look him straight in the eye and say, "My love, we are not communicating. What exactly do you mean by this? What is the meaning of the word 'cow' when you refer to me?" I assure you that once the lines of communication are open, your relationship will be on a much firmer foundation. Let me know how this conversation goes. I care.

Love and oodles of kisses,

Lavie

Stupid bitch. I crumpled up her reply and threw it away. Not only had I been writing my replies to the ones that remained unanswered, but lately I'd been consigning her replies that had not yet gone into the post to the rubbish bin and writing my own. She'd already given her daily copy to the elves running the presses. These responses went directly to the writers.


Dear Clueless Bovine Stand-in:

What this means is that you are bugging the shite out of him and he's about to dump you. Have the first and last laugh and kick this bastard's arse to the curb, pronto. This is what you should say to him: "You have insulted me for the last time, you inarticulate twit. This barn door is closed." Once you have given this arse the heave ho, work on your self-esteem. Stop being a wanker magnet.

Cheers, Lavender

As an added bonus, I drew a circle with a slash though it, and then wrote "wanker" in the center.

Communicate? With a man who calls her a cow? Hex his balls off is more to the point. What was Brown thinking? Of course, the woman probably is a cow, but why should she put up with this idiot's insults? If you're going to insult someone, at least come up with a word that's more than three letters long. Bitch is total of five letters.

The next letter was much different from the typical tripe that came in through the transom.



Dear Lavie:

I am a male in my early to mid-twenties. I married rather young. My wife is a wonderful person. She wants to start a family, but I keep putting her off, and this has us going at it hammer and tongs. I have everything I thought would make me happy. Nice house, great job, fantastic wife. Things are brilliant. The idea of this exact sort of life kept me going throughout the war, to be honest. I want children, but recently I think I might be attracted to men and this terrifies me. Should we start a family? I hadn't had much sexual experience before I got married, and I'm wondering if I'm just curious. I mean, curiosity doesn't mean I'm gay, does it?

Sad

Brown hadn't answered this letter, which was not surprising; any problem beyond young women trying to trap young men into marrying them was out of her ken. She had a one-trap mind. She'd probably hand it to her assistant in the morning, an equally vacuous woman who matched Brown vapid for vapid, and who couldn't possibly give this poor pathetic tosser the answer he deserved.

Well, I could.


Dear Sad:

Are you out of your fucking mind? Please do not even consider having children if you have the slightest suspicion you're gay. Not unless your wife doesn't mind sharing your cock. With other men. Walk out your door, look for a man who licks his lips at the sight of your arse, and proposition him. This isn't Arithmancy. If another man's hand on your dick has you screaming, "Toss me off right now or I'm going to kill you," as opposed to screaming for the Aurors, I think it's pretty clear cut which way the wind blows. I assume that you and your wife have some sort of tacit understanding that you don't cheat on each other. Bollocks in this case. It would be far better to "cheat" on her with someone now, than find yourself in ten years stealing off to London to pick up strange men in bars for a series of one-offs because sex with your wife is like having it off with a milk bottle.

You might just be curious, considering you hadn't had much sexual experience before you got married.


which I assume was his way of saying that he'd felt his wife up and that was about as far as it went until his wedding night.
or you might actually be gay. If you love your wife, do her a favour and find out exactly what you want. She is young enough to start again with someone else. You want bitter? Denying you're gay and then finally admitting this to her when she's forty-five is sure to warrant her casting at least three different castration charms in your direction. And I wouldn't blame her.

Regards,

Lavender

Brown's response would have been some hysterical diatribe on the sanctity of marriage and veiled references that our role on this earth was to beget children, who would also eventually get married. I suspected she got kickbacks from wedding planners and nursery outfitters, because all her advice was geared towards marching down the aisle or towards the maternity ward.

Ah, well. No rest for the wicked; time to get back to work. I put that letter in an envelope, dropped both letters in the mail chute for the morning owl run, and began pushing my broom. Poor sod. I felt sorry for him. Not that I'd had ever any doubts about which way I hung. If the war hadn't fucked everything up, naturally, I'd have done the time-honoured thing and married to keep the Malfoy line going. Pansy and I had had it all figured out. She was to be Mrs Draco Malfoy, and once I'd fulfilled my familial obligations, I'd have gone out and done exactly what I'd advised Mr Sad-and-Pathetic-Tosser not to do—troll bars for men whenever I got a chance. At least one good thing about the Ministry's wholesale sequestering of all Malfoy assets, I could fuck whom I pleased. There was nothing to inherit, therefore, little need to marry. Although I still hadn't come to terms with the line ending with me, I had to admit my prospects were non-existent since Pansy had died.

Dear Pansy. That throaty laugh, always so quick with a quip…

If I hadn't been thinking of Pansy, I wouldn't have tripped over the dustbin. I wouldn't have hit my head on the desk in front of me. And I wouldn't have ended up in hospital with a concussion.




Saturday, September 21, 2004, 7:34 a.m.

Despite the pain and overwhelming sense of disconnect, I knew immediately where I was once I came to. That sharp, brutal smell of disinfectant and my fingertips itching from the over-starched sheets meant St. Mungo's.

My head pounded, and I must have landed on my right knee when I fell because it hurt like six different kinds of fuck. The combination of the starch and the residue from a Disinfectant Charm played havoc with my sinuses. I sneezed, which made everything hurt a million times more. I didn't know whether to clutch my knee or my head.

"Are you awake, Mr Malfoy?" a stern voice demanded.

I opened my eyes slowly. The Matron stood over me. The knuckles of the hand that clutched the bedpan to her stomach gleamed white.

"If you're going to be sick, do it right now. I do not want to be changing sheets."

Based on the vicious grip she had on the bedpan and expression on her face, she'd lost someone to Death Eaters during the war and needed little excuse to beat me to a bloody pulp with it. Vomiting on the sheets would probably suffice. She wasn't looking at my face but my arm. At my Mark.

I shoved my marked arm under the sheet and waved her away with the other. I closed my eyes.

"Stay awake," she barked. "The Healer needs to examine you again. He suspects you have a concussion."

Concussion sounded right. I'd been beaten several times in Azkaban, and this fuzzy pain felt like the time an Auror had crashed a chair over my head. I opened my eyes.

"A Healer has already seen me?" I croaked out.

"Yes. He saw you when they Flooed you in, but there was an emergency and he was called away. He'll be in shortly. It's been a busy night," she sniffed, with the silent rejoinder, "we're always too busy to heal the likes of you lot."

"Fine," I murmured. "Just anyone but—"

"Malfoy," Potter replied as he stepped into the room.

Of course. Potter hadn't changed much. He was still too thin, his hospital coat hung on his frame. The scar, still prominent, lay half hidden under that flop of dark hair, which had already begun to go grey. The only visible difference was the absence of his trademark glasses. The Prophet's love affair with Potter continued to this day. I hadn't been out of prison more than six days before I knew that Potter had married the Weaslette just after I'd been locked up, was in his final year as a resident at St. Mungo's, she was Seeker for the Holyhead Harpies, they lived in Hogsmeade, and they owned a Labrador retriever named Wibbles.

While I wasted away in Azkaban—my career choices limited to deciding whether to starve or suck some shithead's dick—Potter decided to become a Healer. Made sense in a pathetic and completely predictable way. Potter's fanatical need to save people would have a natural, daily outlet in healing.

He came over to my bed and held out his hand with the practiced air of someone who did this about a hundred times a day. I shook it briefly, smiling privately at the irony. It took thirteen years, four years of it in a prison cell, for Potter to shake my hand

"Someone at the Prophet found you passed out on the floor. He assumed you were drunk—"

"I was not drunk!" I yelled. Christ, that's all I needed to get fired. Someone spreading rumours I was getting trolleyed on the job.

"Keep your knickers on. He saw the bruise on your temple when he turned you over. Tripped at work and bashed your head in, did you?" Potter voice was cool, professional, detached. No one listening to the two of us would think that we'd known (and hated) each other for thirteen years.

I took a deep breath, trying to stop the panic. I was okay then. They knew I wasn't drunk. "Apparently. I remember colliding with a dustbin and then nothing."

"Sit up," Potter commanded. "You're a bloody train wreck, Malfoy. What did you do to your neck?"

"Shaving," I ground out.

"Need to bone up on those Shaving Charms. Looks like you shaved yourself with a scythe. Blindfolded."

Felt like it too. I used cheap Muggle razors these days; I couldn't afford to waste my precious monthly allotment on Shaving Charms. When I'd shaved this afternoon, my hands were so stiff from the cold that I could barely grip the razor, never mind wielding it with any precision.

"Here." He healed the cuts with a slight flourish of his hand. "Now, follow the tip of my wand."

Ever since we met, there had been nothing but anger in every single exchange between us, perpetually set to simmer. But I ignored it; the more compliant I was, the sooner I'd get to go home. I obeyed, trying not to wince with the effort of tracking the tip of Potter's wand as it went back and forth across my field of vision. Potter then touched the tip of his wand to my forehead and the fuzzy pounding stopped.

"Slight concussion, but nothing a few days in bed shouldn't cure. Accio clipboard." A clipboard with a sheaf of papers on it came flying in through the door. Potter wrote a few words and signed the paper. "Here's a work slip. What do you do at the Prophet?"

"I'm the night janitor. I clean up other people's muck."

To his credit, Potter didn't smirk and tried to hide his surprise. "Oh, um…stay off work for a week."

Like I could stay off for a week. If I didn't work, I didn't get paid. "Right," I said and took the paper anyway.

"Anywhere else bothering you? I've been here twelve hours and still have a heart attack and a case of pneumonia to see before I can go home. If you're good, we're done."

He stuck out his hand to say goodbye. The last thing I wanted to do was spend any more time in Potter's presence, but since I was already there, I might as well take advantage of his expertise, if meant postponing Chalmers' monthly blowjob. Besides, I'd gladly swallow my pride over a mouthful of that pervert's come.

"My knees hurt like fuck, especially the right one. I must have fallen on it."

Potter didn't say a word, but his mouth tightened. I bit back a snotty retort and instead gritted out what I hoped sounded like a fairly polite, "Please."

"Swing your legs over the side of the bed," he demanded, with very much a "let's get this over with" tone in his voice.

I winced as I swung my legs over the mattress. Potter's mouth tightened further.

"I'm not faking it, you fucking jerk," I snapped.

"Right," Potter barked back and muttered "Hippogriff" under his breath. He waved his wand over my knees with a quick, cursory swish. Then waved it over them again. And again.

"Matron Swift," Potter called out, and the woman who hated my guts poked her head in. "Get Vickery to see the patient in room ten, and Saunders the patient in room five, if you please."

"Are you sure, Mr Potter?" she asked, all the while glaring at me.

"Quite sure, Matron. Thank you," Potter added with a distracted air, still waving his wand over my knees in some intricate pattern.

I mouthed, "Fuck you" at her before she whipped her head back.

"I saw that, Malfoy. Refrain from verbally abusing my staff. The only reason I'm not kicking your rude arse down the hall is because you aren't 'faking it'. Your knees are seriously damaged, Malfoy, and not just from tonight. You've got extensive arthritis in both knees. How do you even walk?"

"Not well," I admitted, feeling somewhat vindicated in a thoroughly childish way. "Hurts like a son of a bitch all the time."

"Does this feel better?" Potter's wand danced over my knees in a complicated series of wand motions.

Oh, jesus christ! For the first time in four years the pain in my knees was gone. I looked up and could only stare at him.

"Better?" he asked again.

I nodded.

"Only temporary, I'm afraid. It's going to take some pretty extensive treatment to get you to the point where you're at least comfortable. Owl me for an appointment next week."

"Will do that," I lied.

"Good," Potter said absentmindedly as he continued to wave his wand. Potter still sounded like a halfwit, although it appeared to be more a holdover from his childhood than any evidence of incompetence, if my grateful knees were any indication. "How in the hell did your knees get so damaged?"

What could I say that was close enough to the truth to shut him up? Maybe less was better than more.

"Azkaban gets pretty cold during the winter, Potter," I responded, trying to muster up a remnant of my old sarcastic drawl.

Potter looked up. "I've treated lots of people who were in Azkaban. Not one has extensive arthritis in both of their knees. I need to know what happened so that I can treat you."

Oh, fuck it. Just fuck it. He wasn't going to let me go until I confessed all. Right. Potter was a big boy.

"I had one of the dampest cells in Azkaban. It flooded twelve months out of the year, and for six of those months the ambient temperature of the floor was about six degrees. I could have ice-skated on it. My guard's sister was killed by a Death Eater. Not me, mind you. Aunt Bella, I think, but that didn't matter. If I wanted to eat three meals a day, I had to apologise to him on my knees for an hour. Then I had to suck him off. He wouldn't let me eat until he came. Sometimes that took fucking forever. Ergo, the fucked up knees."

Potter's jaw dropped somewhere around "suck him off" and didn't close until I'd stopped talking.

"I… I…" he stammered and then shook his head.

"You don't believe me."

He didn't answer, just kept looking at me with that gormless look on his face. I half expected him to say, "Surely, you're joking, Mr Malfoy."

"The guard has a mole on the inside of his thigh. His right ball is bigger than his left. He also has a weenie dick, no bigger than four inches long. Erect. Check him out, Potter. You'll see I'm not lying." Simmer had boiled over and it was now full blown rage. "Maybe he'll even let you watch him rape the next poor fuck under his watch. Go heal your heart attack."

Potter's face went white.

I wasn't embarrassed by this confession. I had come to re-evaluate what I'd formerly thought of as pride. The sort of pride that I used to foster—Malfoys didn't suck dicks they didn't want to suck—meant that I'd eat only two days a week (thankfully, the weekend guard liked pussy). So, I came up with a new sort of pride, one that kept the "Draco" in me intact. Every loathsome act I did, I did in the name of survival. I got weekly letters from my mother, and just seeing that "Dear Draco" in her beautiful, cultured script reminded me of who I was. That I was worth fighting for. I just had to remember that I was a Malfoy and that sucking dick didn't mean I was any less of a Malfoy.

And it was that key truth, amidst the blowjobs, the beatings, and the daily humiliations, that somehow kept me going. Pride became going down on my knees and sucking that guard dry because in four years I'd get out. Every blow job was one blow job closer to freedom. On my last day, I smiled at him. Because I'd won. Because he'd been dying for me to go for him in a rage. Nothing would have pleased him more than casting an Avada Kadavra at me in "self-defence."

That same pride will carry me through my wretched parole, and I will give the Weasel the same smile and the finger just before I Apparate out of his office for the last time. That same pride was going to get me out of St. Mungo's and back to my room, where I would hole up in my bed with a book for the next two days and not worry about glitter on the floor, or dustbins filled with garbage, or whether my knee would give before the end of my shift, or whether Potter believed me. He could take his shocked sensibilities and go fuck himself.

What did he think happened in Azkaban? That the guards and prisoners threw little soirees and bridge tournaments to pass the time? I eased myself off the bed and stood upright. I could stand up without falling over and it didn't hurt. Fucking yay. I threw my hospital gown on the floor, grabbed my clothes from the chair next to the bed, and began to get dressed. Maybe I could wrangle two lots of salve out of Chalmers if I gave him such a spectacular blow job he'd think his dick had moved to France and was sipping champagne under the Arc de Triomphe.

As much as I would have loved to have stormed out of the room, I was still pretty shaky from the concussion. High dudgeon was out, but striving for some dignity was still possible. Something else I'd learned at Azkaban: dignity is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Not looking at Potter once, I hiked up my trousers, cinched my belt, and held my head high. As I slowly walked out of the room, I said, "Go to hell, Potter," even as I wondered whether I had strength enough to walk to the Leaky.

I had reached the lift when I heard Potter calling my name. I punched the button in rapid succession three times. Come on, you fucker, I prayed, hoping that would make the infernal thing come faster. I didn't want to face Potter again, not in my current state. Just that short walk nearly did me in. Sweat poured down my back, soaking my shirt. I really, really didn't want Potter to see me like this.

"Malfoy, you idiot." He grabbed my arm. "Apparate home."

I brought a clammy hand up to my forehead and wiped away the damp clinging there.

"Not allowed to. I Apparate and your Weasley will have my nuts back in Azkaban faster than you can say, 'Welcome back to your cell, Malfoy.'"

"Not allowed to?" Potter repeated. "How were you going to get home?"

"Walk to the Leaky, Floo home from there," I whispered and leaned against the wall before I fell down.

"You don't even have a cloak," muttered Potter, leading me to a chair. "Stay there and don't move. If you feel faint, put your head between your legs."

Suddenly, Potter was shaking my shoulder and asking me where I lived. I must have dozed off. "Knockturn Alley, a room above Mycroft's used bookstore," I mumbled. Potter dragged me upright and hugged me tight. The pull of his Apparition wrenched my stomach out from under me.




Saturday, September 21, 2004, 8:07 a.m.

The smell of mould hit me once my stomach caught up with me. Ah, home.

"You live here?" Potter sounded less than impressed.

I didn't bother to answer. Knackered beyond belief, I crawled into bed with my clothes on, intent on sleeping for at least sixteen hours.

"Malfoy, it's colder than fuck in here."

"Ten points to Gryffindor," I murmured and curled the blanket tight under my knuckles. A Warming Charm filled the room; heat washed over my cheeks. Oh. Oh. I couldn't help but arch my face towards it. Warmth.

"That charm will last four hours. You'll need to cast another one or your knees will bind up again. Okay? And next week. Your arse in my office, Thursday at four."

I didn't answer, just smiled into the heat. I fell asleep to the pop of Potter Apparating.

The weekend respite helped a bit. You can injure Malfoys, but it's hard to keep us bastards down completely. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that between the constant headache and lingering nausea, hauling myself to work was a fresher hell than usual. As a result, I didn't even bother with letters that week. Brown must have had a stroke wondering why her workload tripled. Stupid bitch. Probably creamed in her pants thinking that she was all of a sudden amazingly popular.

I shuffled through my shift each night, too tired and green about the gills to eat anything more than a couple of pieces of bread wet with jam. By Friday, my pants were hanging off my hips, and my knees were as buggered as they had been before the concussion. Back to the usually agony, I resigned myself to visiting Chalmers' House of Dick and Potions the next afternoon.

Which is why I was completely torn on seeing Potter in my room early Saturday morning. I'd hauled myself up that suicide staircase by sitting on each step and pushing up with my hands to move my arse up another riser. All I wanted to do was climb into bed and crash. Getting into some shouting match with Potter, which was inevitable as far as I was concerned, was the perfect end to a completely shitty week; however, the thought of getting even a modicum of relief from the pain…

Even if I could have pretended, for just five minutes, that my knees didn't hurt like holy fuck, it didn't matter. He must have heard me, swearing out loud as I made my way up the staircase. The slightest pressure on my knees gave me complete and total agony. The only possible reason that I hadn't been hit with some vicious spell to silence my oaths was because my neighbours were probably still paralyzed with drink from the previous night's drunk.

"Malfoy, you stupid fuck! I knew I couldn't trust you. Where in the hell were you on Thursday? It's freezing in here. I thought I told you—"

I tried to move forward. Pain.

I would have collapsed if he hadn't caught me. He murmured some incantation, and my knees stopped throbbing. Slinging an arm around my waist, he helped me to the bed so I could lie down.

Potter filled the room with glorious, wonderful heat, and I slumped back into my pillow. More wonderful heat. Once my parole was finish, I promised myself that I'd force Mother to move to the tropics. I couldn't imagine what full-on winter would be like here. By January, I'd probably be afraid to close my eyes; I might freeze to death in my sleep.

"Stop using this right now." He jerked his head at the salve sitting on my nightstand. The salve I whored my mouth for. Potter continued to grumble while he sat on my bed and did more wondrous things to my knees with his wand. "I know it makes you feel better, but in the long term you'll do more permanent damage to your knees. You just won't feel the damage as you're doing it. How in the hell do you afford this stuff?"

"How do you think?" I said wearily. "I suck someone's dick for it."

He didn't say anything for short while. "Stop using it, okay?" And I could hear the blush in his voice.

"I need to work. I can't walk without it."

"I'll give you something different. For free. You don't need to…" He shut up for the next fifteen minutes. I lay back and closed my eyes, letting him work his magic. Oh, it felt so good. Better than sex. Or what I remembered of sex. Real sex. Not whoring myself for, well, whatever the currency was that day.

His wand touched my forehead. "Your concussion isn't as bad as I thought. You can go back to work on Monday, if you want."

"I've been working all week anyway," I said. "I need the money."

The bed springs eased as he stood up, then silence. I opened my eyes. Potter stood there looking at me.

"You don't know how weird this is. Listening to you telling me that you're ignoring my advice because you need the money."

I shrugged again and shut my eyes. I felt like I hadn't slept in years. "You don't know how weird it is having you heal me as opposed to trying to kill me."

He laughed. "You're right. It's weird all around. Warming Charm every four hours for those knees. Set an alarm."

"Can't." I yawned and snuggled down into the covers. "Low on my spell quota for this month."

"Spell quota?"

I was halfway asleep when I said, "Running low. Can't do Warming Charms. Your best buddy, Weasley, limits the kind of spells I can do and how many. Vindictive fucker…" I turned towards a sudden blast of warmth and fell back asleep.




Saturday, September 28, 2004, 2:24 p.m.

When I woke up, the room was still warm. Potter had Transfigured my one chair into a recliner and lay there sleeping, his wand clutched to his chest and a frown on his face. Bloody hell, if Potter wasn't sleeping well, with all of his precious "tees" crossed—evil Dark Lord vanquished, married to a Weasley, career choice massaging nicely pathetic hero complex—then what in the hell were the rest of us whose "tees" had effectively been smashed to bits supposed to do? Idiotic malcontent.

I flexed my knees and knew instantly what he had been doing with his wand. My knees were still pain free. Potter's expertise as a defeater of Dark Lords had translated nicely into being quite a good Healer. I got up to rummage through a couple of bags on the table. Potter had bought sandwiches and soup. Good job. That would save me a couple of Galleons.

As I laid everything out on the table, Potter woke up.

"The pumpkin juice is for me. Recall you weren't much for it in school. Thermos has some tea in it." He yawned, not bothering to close his mouth.

"Could you conjure up another chair and warm up the soup?" I asked. To his raised eyebrows I reminded him, "Spell quota."

He cast the spells and then said, "What's this about your spell quota?" He'd turned his face away so I couldn't see his eyes.

I took a sip of soup. It scalded my tongue but I didn't care. Warmth. "You don't want to know, Potter. Trust me."

"Yeah, I do," he insisted, but he wouldn't look at me, making far more of a production out of eating a sandwich than even his atrocious manners called for.

How Gryffindor of him.

"Be careful what you wish for. As you know, your Weasley is my parole officer. He has the authority to limit what spells I can cast and how many. I get a hundred spells a month. Nothing defensive, nothing more than simple spells and charms, which essentially means I'm a Squib with benefits. I can't Apparate, and I can Floo only within Diagon and Knockturn Alley. I don't go out if I don't have to, because ninety percent of the population would gladly like to see me writhing under the most unspeakable curses known to wizarding kind—before killing my Death Eater arse, of course. I am a virtual prisoner in my room. I work, buy food, and read. The sum total of my existence."

He paused, his sandwich in mid-air. "So, if I wanted to kill you right now, you couldn't defend yourself."

"Got it in one. Go to town. I doubt you'd be prosecuted. In fact, if they haven't yet named a holiday in your honour, killing me will probably cinch it for you. My spell repertoire? I can clean your knickers or give you a very close shave before you AK'd me. They certainly didn't teach that in any of our DADA classes. Shaving Charms at thirty paces. But then I always thought our education at that school was incredibly shoddy."

"Don't make jokes," Potter snapped.

"Making jokes is the only way I stay sane. You want serious? Let's be serious. I wouldn't place any bets on my chances of surviving the next two years. Weasley has plotted this all out. He can't off me himself, because not even he is immune to prosecution should he let loose and cast an Unforgivable, but short of putting a bull's-eye on my back, he's made damn sure to pave the way for anyone else."

Potter shouted, "He wouldn't do that."

And we were back to the status quo. If Potter got any angrier, my windows would shatter. How in the hell did he survive the war and still be this naive?

"Have it your way."

We didn't say anything for several minutes. Pansy would have been most amused at this: Potter and I sharing a meal in my hellhole. I can see the item in the Prophet now.

The Honorable Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater and current pariah, had Harry Potter, war hero and Healer, over for lunch the other day. Mr Potter's clever wand work made short order of the rats that usually cohabitate with Mr Malfoy, and a jolly good time was had by all. The sandwiches weren't half bad, and the soup hot. At least one chicken gave their life for this feast
.

"What's so funny?"

"Thinking about Pansy and what she would say about all this. You and I not two feet from each other and not killing each other, having lunch. Boggles the mind, doesn't it?"

"A little," he admitted. "Why does he limit the number of spells, Malfoy?"

"You are not going to let this drop, are you? Bugger. Because he's a vindictive arse who can't take his revenge out on Voldemort, the person who actually killed Fred…or George…or whoever it was who died—thank you for killing Voldemort, by the way—so he takes it out on me. You should have seen his face when he realised that my job would be picking up after people. Practically peed in his britches when he saw my wages. The fact that I have to choose between being warm and shaving makes his day. One hundred spells and/or charms to last me a month. You do the math. That's roughly three spells a day, plus a few."

I got up, made for my bed, and eased my way under the covers.

"I supposed I shouldn't complain. He generously allows me to choose which spells or charms I get to use, so if it's really cold I can warm my room, but that means I only have two spells left to use at work. And those fucking rubbish bins in the basement are heavy. So that's a Levitating Charm, two if it's a busy day. Spells and charms all gone." I turned towards the wall. I could get another couple of hours in before hobbling over to see Chalmers.

From behind me came a furious, "He's not like that!"

"You're repeating yourself. Sod off," I yelled and pulled the covers over my head.

"Fred's death… It sort of did things to him," he said, loud enough so that I could hear him even under the weight of a couple of blankets.

I threw back the covers and with a groan so fierce I wouldn't be surprised if I'd cracked a rib, turned over to face him.

"I didn't kill him. And I honestly don't see how making my life miserable," I sat up and shouted, "miserable, will bring him back. You want to talk about loss? You want to talk about Pansy dying in Azkaban from pneumonia because they couldn't be arsed to get her a Healer. Just a little cold, they said. "

The last time I saw her was at my trial, the Aurors dragging her away after her testimony, struggling against them, screaming 'I love you, Draco' over and over, her voice slurred from all the Veratiserum they'd fed her. I couldn't shout it back. I was gagged. And out of all the indignities I have suffered in the last five years, that one rankles the most.

"He's not like that," I mimicked. "Bloody hell if he isn't! He sent Goyle back to Azkaban because he couldn't get a job. Greg hung himself with his sheets the minute they shut his cell door. I hobble into the Weasel's office once a week. He sees me barely able to walk, and I think it gets him off, seeing me practically crippled. Probably hightails it to the loo as soon as I leave so he can have a bloody great wank. So don't tell me, don't tell me…"

What was the fucking point?

"Thank you for helping me, Potter. Now be a good little martyr and please go away." I pulled the covers over my head, trying not to think of Pansy dying like that. Alone.




Sunday, September 29, 2004, 5:43 a.m.

When I woke, faint light winked through the curtains. Dawn then. Had Potter put something in the tea or was I just so exhausted that I could more or less sleep through twenty-four hours? The room had gotten cold again, the tip of my nose was positively frozen. Potter must have had a field day conjuring after I fell asleep, because I was sweltering under about forty pounds worth of duvets and blankets I didn't own.

I lay there for several minutes, savouring the fact that I actually felt rested, my knees didn't ache, and neither did my bad shoulder; he must have done something to that too. Oh, Merlin's balls. I even had an erection, something that hadn't happened in years. Blinding pain has a way of killing your sex drive.

I eased my arse up to pull down my trousers and then tented my knees. Fucking yay, I could tent my knees. My erection bobbed, begging for attention. It was so unbelievably normal, morning wood is something every twenty-three-year-old man should have, that I almost cried, because it hadn't been my normal for a very long time.

I spit in my hand and began to palm myself. Christ on a raft, it was killing good. My other hand cupped and fondled my balls. I took it as slowly as I could. God knows when I'd get another one. I teased that orgasm for a good fifteen minutes. A gentle swipe here and there over the tip, a wicked thumb caressing the underside, and when I just couldn't stand it anymore, I brought two fingers up to my mouth, sucked on them until they were shiny with spit, and then I pulled on my dick, hard and rough, while shoving those wet fingers deep into my arse.

"Motherfucking, hell," I groaned out as my body arched off the bed in surrender before flopping back down on my pillow. "That was good."

"Glad to hear it, Malfoy," Potter drawled and cast yet another Warming Charm.

I must not have heard him pop in, so intent was I on getting off. I didn't blush. I couldn't even imagine what it would take to get me to blush these days. I reached for my wand, and used one of my precious spells to cast a Cleaning Charm.

"I don't get too many erections these days, Potter. I decided to strike while the iron was hot. Thanks for the extra blankets. You look like shit," I said cheerfully.

"Fuck you too. Your concern is underwhelming, Malfoy." He began rubbing his eyes, like they hurt, and his shoulders curved forward, as if in defeat. "How are the knees? Happy from your little wank?"

"Very." I grinned. "And I am a god at Cleaning Charms, as you can imagine, considering my current job. Here." I flung back the covers so that he could get a good look at my knees.

"Pull up your trousers, Malfoy. Your dick is obviously in fine working order."

I laughed and did as he asked.

Laughed. That felt normal too.

As Potter waved his wand over my knees, I watched him. Like I'd always done. Well, to be honest, we watched each other. We'd spent nearly seven years watching each other. I knew this man's face and body almost as well as my own. One evening at dinner in our sixth year as Potter and I stared each other down across the hall, mutual loathing so thick you could have cut it with a knife and buttered your bread with it, Pansy remarked: "It's a blessing you two are obsessed with each other, because if only one of you were obsessed with the other, well…that would be totally sick and sad."

"You look terrible," I said again.

"Yeah, I know I do," he said. "Your knees are responding, which is a good sign. They're not too far gone. There's a new treatment for arthritis that's tailor made for you. You'll need to soak in a bathtub for thirty minutes a night. Here." He pulled a small vial of his pocket. "Three drops in a hot bath, and I mean hot. Will help with that shoulder too." He stood. "I'll get you more when you need it." He blushed. "Owl me. Okay, I need to head off and get some sleep. Rotten night… Wait a minute. Do you even have a bath, Malfoy?"

I shook my head. I shared a shower so prone to mold that I often wore my shoes when I bathed.

He brought a hand up to his forehead and began muttering to himself. "Christ. Ron will have a right seizure, but he's coming home with me. I have about ten bathtubs. Plus, I can spell the fireplaces to keep him warm…knees will never heal if he stays here…"

He was talking to himself.

"Potter, have you finally gone around the twist?"

He looked at me. "Perhaps. I lost someone tonight. It's always bad when that happens…but tonight… Old classmate. Michael Corner. You remember him? Drank himself to death. So much alcohol in his system that I almost got drunk myself trying to save him."

I barely remembered Corner but something niggled.

"Went out with your wife at one point in school, didn't he?"

Potter nodded.

"Sorry." What else could I say? It had got to the point that I was almost shocked when I heard that any of our former classmates were still alive.

"So you're coming home with me. No arguments. No snark. Nothing. You'll stay with me until we find you another place to live. You're going to have to do this bath shit for at least three months for your knees to heal, so you need a place that has a bath. Understand? And you don't have to blow me to get this medicine." Potter's voice kept escalating until he was shouting by the end. "This is so fucked. My best friend? I don't even fucking recognize him. I mean he sounds like Ron, but what comes out of his… People are still dying, you're giving blow jobs so you can eat…walk…I am so sick of this…I thought it would be over when…"

Both hands went up to his face and pressed his eyes, as if willing himself not to cry, but when he pulled his hands away, his eyes were clear.

"Ready?"

"Why are you doing this, Potter?

Standing there with his shoulders slumped forward and his eyes opaque with exhaustion, he looked both very vulnerable and very old.

"General all-purpose saviour complex also applies to former hated classmates cum Death Eaters, apparently. It would make my life a hell of a lot easier if I could just ignore you and let you shift for yourself, but I can't. It's what I do, Malfoy. I need to look myself in the mirror every day. Given the tests I've done, I can't imagine the sort of pain you go through just to walk to the loo, never mind working like you do. You don't have any cartilage left in your goddamned knees. You hear me?"

He had shouted that last part, as if he was trying to convince me. He clenched his eyes shut and when he opened them, he'd regained some semblance of control. "Ron thinks you deserve it. I'm not sure how I feel, but I do know that I'm too bone weary to get any enjoyment out of your suffering, and you're too desperate to turn down my help. I think that says it all in a nutshell."

I reached for his outstretched hand.




Four years in Azkaban leaves you virtually bulletproof, but I have to admit to being thoroughly shocked when Potter Apparated me to Grimmauld Place. I assumed that we'd be Apparating to his cottage in Hogsmeade, although later I realised how insane this idea was. As if his wife would countenance having a Death Eater in the house. I'd visited here many times as a child, my mother showing off her well-mannered, precious son to that perfect harridan, my great aunt. I seem to remember reciting bad poetry while wearing a dreadful blue velvet suit. My mother didn't often have lapses in taste, but when she did, they were rather spectacular. I hadn't been there in over fifteen years. Dark magic had permeated every inch of the house and would bite the back of your neck whenever you entered a room. That was all gone now. But it was still gloomy and dank, and the hallways smelled of dead rats.

"The first bedroom on the right will be yours. It's a corner room, so it gets both the morning and afternoon sun. It stays warm all day. Has an attached bath." Potter rattled away as we made our way slowly up the stairs. He waited for me as I took a stair at a time. My knees didn't hurt so much as they didn't work very well.

"I thought about putting a bed for you in the lounge, but there's no bath, so you'll have to manage the stairs, I'm afraid. Here you are."

He opened the door to the room that was to be mine for the next few weeks. I barely recognised it. When I was a child this room had been a veritable tomb, with acres of dark purple wallpaper that hadn't been changed since the late 1800s. Someone had stripped the wallpaper off of the walls, painted the room yellow, and then had been a little heavy-handed with the chintz. Mediocre, but better than the funereal purple. I peeked in the en suite bathroom. There was a bathtub big enough for two. One thing about those Victorians, they liked to scrub off their sins in luxury.

"Thanks, Potter. This is nice… in a thoroughly middleclass, plebeian way."

Potter's easy-going body language—adulthood hadn't cured him of his tendency to slouch—disappeared. His shoulders stiffened, and his fists bunched up like he was going to hit me. "Let's compare it to that complete shithole we just Apparated from, where the window sills were pitted from the rats gnawing on them. Malfoy, if you want to be healed, I suggest you bag the snide comments for the duration. My compunction to help you still could be completely undermined by your unfailing ability to be a total son of a bitch. Be civil or you're out on your arse. I'll try to do the same, okay?"

I gave a terse nod in defeat. At least Potter wouldn't be demanding blow jobs to heal me.

"Good. When do you have to go back to work?"

"Tomorrow night. I need to be there at ten. I work graveyard."

"We can get in a couple of treatments before you put stress on those knees. I want you off your feet until then."

It was almost amusing the way Potter's voice was so confident when issuing medical orders. He'd never been this confident in school, just a blundering way that always masked his power. I had constantly underestimated him because of this. There'd be the blush, the stammer, and then he'd do something like slice you open. His magical prowess always shocked me. My mistake. Voldemort's mistake.

A flick of his wand later and a fire roared in the grate. "That should last you until I wake up. Off those knees," he reminded me and pointed to the bed.

"Anyone ever tell you how bossy you are?" I grumbled as I made my way over to the bed.

"No, they don't," he said in some surprise. "If you're starving, there's some bread, butter, and jam. I wasn't expecting guests, so you'll have to make do with toast. I'll get to the shops sometime soon. Can you fend for yourself? Like I said, tough night. I need to go to bed. We'll do your first treatment when I wake up."

"Go. I'm fine," I assured him. I wasn't tired in the least, but lay there for an hour until I was sure Potter was asleep. Then I got up and started snooping. An assortment of threadbare tee shirts and socks with no mates filled the drawers, and several dress shirts missing half their buttons hung in the closet, draped haphazardly with a jumble of ties in patterns so atrocious that I suspected Potter had selected them while blind drunk. I could spot his abysmal taste like it were a fifty-pound Snitch. Potter was letting me sleep in his room.

Dear god, Potter's martyr complex knew no bounds.

All of the other rooms on this floor were bedrooms like mine. That heavy, ornate Victorian finery so favoured by my great aunt had been replaced by several coats of paint and lots of cheap chintz in cheery pastels. Based on his ties, Potter's colour spectrum was limited to red and gold, so I assumed this was the Weaselette's handiwork. She was probably a devotee to decorating magazines filled with articles titled, "Banish Those War Time Blues: Cheer-up with Chintz."

The rest of the house was as I remembered. The downstairs contained the cavernous dining room, with seating for twenty-four and enough silver urns and bowls to outfit your typical castle; the lounge, which had been denuded of dead rat smell; and the library—oh! the sight of all those books had me salivating. The kitchen was down another flight of stairs. A quick jam sandwich, a trip back to the library to snag a book, the slow trek back up to my room, and I spent the rest of the morning and a good part of the afternoon reading.

A quick knock around four o'clock and Potter stumbled into my room. He'd stripped down to his shorts and a tee-shirt to sleep and hadn't dressed yet.

"How are you doing, Malfoy?" He blinked and ran a hand through his hair. Amazing that he still did that, the careless carding of his fingers through that wild mop of his.

"Per your instructions, I've been giving these sad knees a rest. You still look like shit," I commented. And he did. Brackets of exhaustion framed either side of his mouth. "Go back to bed. I'm fine."

"Am okay," he yawned deeply, obviously demonstrating to me he was not okay, that he was still exhausted. He leaned on the doorframe, slid a hand under his tee-shirt and scratched his stomach. "You need to do your treatment."

"Treatment?" I repeated, not really paying attention, because all I could focus on was the vee of dark hair on the lower half of Potter's stomach, which I knew very well led down to Potter's dick. Bloody hell, my first wank in years and now I was desperate, giving serious thought to what Potter's bits looked like.

Prison sex had been limited to what the arse wielding a baton and a wand said, so I considered my sex life as having been nonexistent for several years; therefore, it was not surprising that anything remotely male and not wearing an Azkaban prison guard uniform would probably have me more or less drooling. I worked alone, and the only other person I saw outside of Chalmers and the odd shopkeeper was Weasley. And the day that wanker gave me an erection was the day I'd kill myself.

I raised my knees to hide my erection and turned back to my book. "Go back to sleep for another hour. I'm not going anywhere. I have two more chapters to finish in this book."

"Right," he agreed and lumbered out of the room to go back to bed.

I didn't savour this wank. I practically tore off skin to make myself come as fast as possible.




Sunday, September 29, 2004, 6:47 p.m.

"Snape told me it wouldn't scar." Potter pointed at the scar on my chest.

"He lied. It used to bother me, but once the scars started piling on, it didn't matter anymore. Want to compare scars?"

I lay in the bath, completely submerged except for my head, while Potter did some more diagnostics on my whole body. I felt a little like a penitent at Lourdes. If Potter donned a cassock and started muttering Aves, I wouldn't have been surprised.

"I'd still beat you, hands down. That acid hex left as nasty a scar," he murmured, as his wand traced over my collarbone.

"Your wife gave me that."

"Before or after you tried to kill her?"

What was the point of replying? We'd all cast curses at each other, maimed each other, and tried to kill each other. The fact that Potter and company did it in the name of light and I allegedly did it in the name of dark was immaterial to me by this point. The "good" people were killing themselves with drink, the "bad" people were hanging themselves; Potter's sleep didn't look any sounder than mine. Halfway through the war I'd lie awake for hours wondering if the "right" side felt any less disgust and horror at what one did in war. I suspected Potter and his minions suffered the same paralyzing guilt and dread that we did. How depressing as all hell to realise that we were all equally scarred. Forever.

"How much longer do I have?"

He didn't respond for a while and then said in a voice not much above a growl, "Another ten minutes. Keep your shirt on."

"Potter, your choice of words leaves something to be desired."

I'd never had much personal modesty before Azkaban, and after Azkaban I could have paraded down Diagon Alley stark bollocks naked without batting an eyelash, but this was unsettling. Thank god Potter was having a minor hissy fit, because Potter in one of his typical snits was a sure fire erection buster. Which suited me fine, as he was still traipsing around in his underwear. He was too thin, but teenage scrawny had grown into adult sinewy in a rather fetching way, and there was a hint of a nice arse beneath those boxer shorts. Pansy would have been most amused.

The thought of Pans and I sharing a good laugh at me conjuring up nausea-inducing visuals of Millicent to combat inappropriate erections was interrupted by Potter's snapping at me. "Did you really want to kill her? Ginny, I mean."

"Did she really want to kill me?" I snapped back. "I'm done." I grabbed a towel, dried off, exited the bathroom as fast as I could manage, and climbed into bed.

Sod him. Why was it when the winners killed it was sanitized as being the price of victory, and when the losers killed it was always murder?




Monday, September 30, 2004, 6:13

I was writing a letter to my mother when Potter Apparated into the kitchen from work. I would write every Monday and she'd respond every Saturday. We hadn't missed a week in nearly five years.

"I found some parchment in the lounge," I said, by way of a greeting. "I took some. Hope you don't mind. I needed to write a letter." I know I sounded curt, but I was still as pissed off as hell. Eight hours of snooping through every drawer in the house had done little to assuage my anger.

"Of course not, but what are you doing up, you stupid git? It's only just past six."

Potter didn't sound angry anymore, just tired. Was he perpetually exhausted all the time? He didn't bother waiting for a reply, but began rummaging around in a cupboard at the far end of the kitchen. I heard a muffled, "Yes," and then he appeared with a bottle of Firewhiskey. He hoisted it in the air by way of invitation.

Apparently he wasn't the type of hold a grudge. Unlike me, who would cheerfully nurse a slight into the next century.

"Sure," I shrugged, my voice only a little tight. I was half-expecting Potter to throw me out when he'd finished his shift. But I guess his need to save me was greater than his need to punish me. I could understand that, considering my need for him to heal me far outweighed my need to tell him to fuck his nice, warm room and wand waving. Fucked-up arch enemies, please step this way.

I clenched my pen and then forced my anger to dissipate with the loosening of my hand. "A nightcap would be nice. I've been up most of the night. It works better if I sleep during the day on my days off. I just wanted to finish this letter to my mother, then I'm off to bed." I wrote "Love Draco" followed by several X's and O's. I underscored the word "love" twice.

"The fish and chips still warm when you came down into the kitchen?"

I nodded. Potter had left take-out for me on the table before he left for the hospital. I would never understand this man.

"Your mother's managing then?" he asked, and poured me a healthy glass full of Firewhiskey and handed it to me.

"Thanks. Yes, she's managing."

If "managing" is code for living in exile and pawning her jewellery for cash to pay for food. Thank Merlin's knickers my mother had been a jewellery whore and my father had indulged her vice. Solicitors were trying to free up Malfoy bank accounts in Rome, but the Ministry was putting pressure on the Italians to keep us impoverished. As if poverty were a pathway to penitence.

"She's living in France. The Ministry isn't interested in her, per se, but if she steps foot in England, they'll arrest her. We have money in Italy, which they want, so if mother comes home, they'll arrest her and hold her hostage until she forks it over. Get that scowl off your face. That's how it work, Potter, whether you like it or not. I'll join her in France when I'm done with my parole. Cheers," I clinked glasses with him and drank, trying not to think about the smirk on Weasley's face when he denied my request to spend Christmas with my mother. I hadn't seen her since my trial.

"How was your night?" I asked to be polite. Leaving me the fish and chips had been thoughtful and completely unexpected considering. "No loathsome Death Eaters with dodgy knees and foul mouths upsetting your staff?"

"Not last night," he grinned. "Just the usual assortment of broken bones. Oh, a ten-year old boy accidentally spelled donkey ears on his younger sister because he thought she was being an ass. Funny, how accidental magic can be so literal."

"Yes," I replied and took another swig. Potter might have the fashion sense of a house-elf, but his taste in Firewhiskey wasn't too shabby. "When I was six, I went into a rage and accidentally transformed Greg into a full-blown pig for nicking my dessert when I wasn't looking."

"Accidentally, Malfoy?" Potter sniggered.

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it. He was a very cute pig." I laughed out loud. "Mrs Goyle didn't forgive me for years."

"I bet," Potter said dryly. "You must have a right horror as a kid, Malfoy."

"I was an absolute angel," I lied.

"Tell that to Goyle," Potter shot back.

I took a large mouthful of Firewhiskey and concentrated on the drink licking my insides. Because I couldn't tell Goyle anything. One of the most inept wizards I've ever had the privilege to call friend. He made Vince look like a genius. He could barely sign his name without a cheat sheet. I shivered again, and brought the glass up to my cheek and rolled it back and forth, to give me a second to pull it together.

"I must admit that the house-elves gave a sigh of relief when I went off to school. I'm surprised you don't have an army of brats by now, Potter."

"You'd think, wouldn't you? Another?" He held up the bottle. I nodded. "Do you see yourself getting married?"

"Now?" I snorted. "Shall we count the woes? If my stellar salary of twenty Galleons a week doesn't have every eligible woman within three hundred kilometres running for the Scottish border, there's always the charming tattoo on my forearm. I would peg my prospects at none. That said, the one bright spot in losing absolutely everything is that I don't have to participate in a sham marriage and explain to my blushing bride why I only want to fuck her from behind. Not only am I an impoverished former felon with the magical ability of a three-year old, as an added bonus I suck dick. I'd say I have the pariah market sewed up."

Potter's eyes bugged out at me, and then he squeaked into his drink, "I…I…didn't know…you were…"

Oh, bloody hell. An excellent reason why I shouldn't drink. I love the sound of my own voice at the best of times, and when I've had a few I always say something I shouldn't. Potter couldn't have looked more horrified than if I'd told him we were twins who'd been separated at birth.

"That's right, Potter, I'm a natural blond," I deadpanned, hoping to salvage with humour what was turning into possibly one of the more awkward moments of my life. I should have known that to Potter anything but missionary and female was anathema.

"No, I meant—"

"You dense prat, I was trying to be funny. I don't usually broadcast it for obvious reasons, but yes, I am gay. If you want to start fumigating your bedroom let me know, because while you're doing that, I'll Floo back to my homophobic-free hovel."

"I'm… I'm okay with it. Really." He finally looked at me. And it wasn't with the disgust that I have expected but curiosity and something else I couldn't define. "When did you know? Did you wake-up one day and all of a sudden know?" His index finger curled round and round the edge of his glass.

"I woke-up one day and saw Oliver Wood in full Quidditch regalia." I smirked and raised my glass.

"Not put off by the red and gold?" Potter teased.

Did Potter always have a sense of humor and I somehow missed it despite my constant scrutiny?

"Red and gold? All I saw was lots of leather and an arse I tossed off to more times than I care to admit."

He actually laughed. "He's coaching the Harpies these days. Newsflash, Malfoy. Ginny says he's impossibly straight."

"Newsflash, yourself, Potter. He is not impossibly straight. My arse should know."

His eyebrows shot up at that, but it was followed by a wry grin and a shake of his head.

The sun finally broke above the horizon. We watched it inch its way into the kitchen, drinking in a companionable silence; a concept almost as impossible to wrap my mind around as joking with him about my wanking sessions over Oliver Wood's extremely nice arse.

"Did you come out to your parents?"

I nearly dropped my drink. "Are you mad? With my father? Until I turned sixteen, I couldn't even admit it to myself. Malfoys aren't poufs. No wonder I was such a sarcastic and snide teenager."

Potter choked on his drink. "Malfoy, you're a sarcastic and snide adult, and I don't think it a stretch to assume you always will be."

I gave him the finger, but with a smile on my face.

"Looking back I suspect he knew I was gay. Sunday letters from home were the proverbial nightmare. Inches and inches devoted to outlining my familial duties. You didn't get much by my father. No, indeed."

I never ate breakfast on Sundays. I'd sit there at the Slytherin table, waiting for the owl from Malfoy Manor to make his graceful swoop and drop father's weekly missive in my lap. Once the letter had been delivered, I'd leave the Great Hall and head straight for the loo to read my letter. By the postscript, I'd be having the dry heaves. He made damn sure I understood, as if there were any doubt on that score, that I was expected to marry well, marry early, and fuck my wife senseless so that we would pop out legions of pureblooded children. The fact he had had only one child was somehow immaterial. Every Sunday, I'd pick myself up from the floor of the bathroom, determined never again think of another boy. Lost cause. Apparently, you can take the Malfoy out of the pouf, but not the pouf out of the Malfoy, because I'd soak my sheets every night to lurid dreams of a most decidedly non-heterosexual nature. I pity the house-elves responsible for my linen. But for Pansy… Pansy, she was… I gripped my glass hard.

Oh, my girl…

No more than six months into the war, she and I had just come back from a mission. It was only a matter of time before someone died and we both knew it. The gloves were about to come off. Our side needed a big victory and that meant sacrificing people to kill people on the other side. The only thing one could hope for was that our body count would be lower than theirs. I wanted nothing more than to hide for a couple of weeks, just two weeks, just enough to breathe again without being afraid that my next breath would be my last. I had to settle for a quick fag and some sleep. Pansy and I sat side by side on a cot, my head resting on her shoulder. She put a fag in her mouth, then one in mine. Bringing her wand up she lit both and said, the just lit fag perched between her lips: "It doesn't matter to me, Draco."

"What are you on about, Pans?' I murmured in between puffs, as I concentrated on the simple hypnotic rhythm of that in and out, in and out.

"That you're an utter ponce. I love you anyway. Fuck 'em, darling. When the war is over, we'll get married, and you can fuck me from behind, pretending I'm some dark-haired young hotty you picked up. We'll have three sexy, green-eyed boys and three flaxen-haired girls with wicked gray eyes. You'll have your boyfriends and I'll have my boyfriends. Perhaps we might even share. In fact, I insist on it, because I know you'll snag all the really good-looking ones."

We laughed over that, hugging and crying, because all of a sudden it was going to be all right. Stupid naive us. And it could have been all right. But for the war, we'd have taken our place in wizarding society and owned it.

Potter's kitchen suddenly seemed small and claustrophobic. The loss of Pansy was horrible enough, but with her also went my hope of continuing the Malfoy line. Not even I, with balls of steel honed in the freezing cells of Azkaban, could face that my family's name died with me without the benefit of several shots of Firewhiskey.

"You look tired, Malfoy. Come on. Time for bed."

I startled at the low rasp of his voice. The sun was full up now, the Firewhiskey back in the cupboard, two empty glasses on the sideboard.

"You look tired too. You always look tired, Potter. Why is that?"

"Occupational hazard. Come on," he repeated.

I followed him up the stairs.

"I'll wake you at six, okay? You'll need to do your treatment, and I'll cast some additional spells so you can get through work okay."

I nodded.

"Night, Potter."

"Night, Malfoy."

I shut the door behind me and climbed into bed, not bothering to undress. My dreams were many, and I remembered none of them.




Potter woke me up at six like he promised and then promptly shoved me in the bath. The tee-shirt and boxers were once more in evidence, and to combat what apparently had become my standard bath-time erection, I conjured up images of a naked Millicent Bulstrode brandishing a whip and riding a Hippogriff. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Why couldn't he wear clothes for Merlin's sake, instead of clomping around in his underwear? I resented like hell this attraction. If I wasn't a walking target, I could meet men and possibly shag someone once in a while. I put this ridiculous yen—grab Potter, throw him against a wall, and rut against him like he was the last man on earth—down to very slim pickings. Correction. No pickings.

"Potter, we've to stop meeting like this."

He ignored me. I was on my stomach this time as he trained a wand over my back.

"What does that shit you pour in the bathwater do?"

"That elixir grows cartilage; unfortunately, not nearly as efficiently as Skele-Gro. You have quite a lot of scarring on your kidneys. Does it hurt to piss?"

"Sometimes," I admitted. "If I drink a lot of water, it doesn't bother me too much."

"I know I'm going to hate this answer, but I'm assuming you didn't have this problem before you went into Azkaban?"

"No, I did not. Somehow I missed Chapter Ten in The Death Eater's Guide to Bridge. The guard jump shifted his bid, I didn't pick up on it and bid two hearts when I should have bid four spades…"

"Malfoy…"

"We could have had a Grand Slam and won the rubber…"

"Malfoy. Stop it. It isn't funny." Potter was furious, although I didn't quite understand why. His kidneys didn't ache when he pissed.

I turned over.

"So, he decided to practice his Irish step-dancing on my kidneys. Depends on your point of view. Potter. If I make jokes about it, then I control the story. Even the ending. Makes you or breaks you. They didn't break me, as much as they tried."

Again, the man completely flummoxed me. He smiled, but tried to hide it by ducking his head.

"No, they didn't," he agreed. "You're still the most obnoxious, wicked prat ever born."

"Emphasis on the wicked, no doubt. And I saw you smile. Don't deny it."

"Most definitely on the wicked. And I didn't smile."

"You're a fucking liar, Potter," I smirked.

"Pot kettle. And your thirty minutes are up. Why don't you dry off and lie down on the bed. I'll see what I can do about those kidneys."




Millicent Bulstrode. Hippogriff. Millicent Bullstrode. Hippogriff. Millicent Bulstrode having sex with a Hippogriff. The minute I stopped thinking about Millicent doing the nasty with a Hippogriff, my dick started thinking about Potter's shy smile.

This was a losing battle, because who in their right mind wants to think about Millicent Bulstrode having sex with a Hippogriff?

This was ridiculous! Of all people. Potter! I would never—could never—admit this to another soul. Of course, Potter's opinion of me was absolutely rock bottom. I mean, could I go any lower in his eyes? Let's face it. Once you're a Death Eater, everything else pales in comparison. Oddly enough, I couldn't care less that Potter thought I was an amoral Death Eater shitbag, but I didn't want him to think I was a sexual pervert. I dried off in record time, turning my body to hide yet another Potter-induced erection. There are only so many images of Bulstrode/Hippogriff sex one man can take without being violently ill. I wrapped a towel firmly around my waist, sprinted to the bed, and flopped down, stifling an oomph as I crushed my dick into the counterpane.

"No need to show off my handiwork and run around like that. Take it easy."

Handiwork? I stifled a groan and the overwhelming desire to grind a hole in that fucking counterpane.

"Can I pull down the towel a little?"

"Sure," I managed to squeak out in a voice just shy of a falsetto.

"Malfoy, you're too thin."

"Pot kettle. Doesn't your wife feed you? The shirts and whatnot in the dresser. Are you living here? What about the dog?"

The questions tumbled out. Now that I thought about it, what was Potter doing living here? Aside from the remnants of dead rat in the hallway, the house looked and smelled lived in.

There was a brief silence, then, "How do you know about Wibbles?"

"Your faithful readers at the Prophet gobble up the most trivial details of your life. I'm surprised I don't know what brand of toilet paper you use. And Wibbles?" I snorted in disgust. "Possibly the most pathetic name for a dog I've ever heard. If she goes for your jugular one day, don't be surprised. I would if I were a dog and you named me Wibbles—"

"If you were a dog, you'd be one of those snappish terriers that bite people on principle. Wibbles is at George and Angelina's. Ginny's on tour; she'll be back at the end of next week. Wibbles goes over to their house when she's gone. I can't walk her when I work nights. Just too knackered. I…I stay here when Ginny's away. It's easier Apparating to St. Mungo's from here, as opposed to Hogsmeade, especially since I'm working nights. I'll go back to Hogsmeade when she gets back into town. You should have a new flat by then. I thought I'd Apparate you around on Saturday afternoon after we've had a sleep."

If that didn't sound like a total lie, I wasn't a Malfoy. When you've perfected the art of lying, you can spot it a mile away. Can't be arsed to Apparate from Hogsmeade to St. Mungo's but has no problem ferrying me around on his arm for a look see at flats? I didn't have to be a fucking whiz at Arithmancy—and it just so happened I was a fucking whiz at Arithmancy—to know that something was wrong with this equation.

"Does that sound like a plan? Checking out flats on Saturday afternoon?"

"Sure, Potter. Hovel hunting on Saturday sounds great. I've already circled some adverts in the Prophet that look promising. Not that I can afford any of them, but perhaps I can negotiate the rent. You should be well rid of me by next week."

That didn't get the response I expected, in fact, I didn't get any response at all. I half expected at least an enthusiastic yippee or four.

Potter mumbled something in Latin, and again there was that easing, that lifting of pain that made me want to shout hosannas so loud they could hear me in Cardiff. I'd learned to accept a certain level of pain, and in some ways I didn't even feel it anymore. No, that was wrong, I felt it, but it had a permanence about it, like I'd suddenly sprouted another arm and damn well had to get used to it. But the absence of it was so glorious that I couldn't imagine being that stoical again.

"Potter," I said out of the side of my mouth, "putting aside for a brief minute the mortal enemies thing we have going, never again will I disparage your magical abilities. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can't tell you how…how…"

And I couldn't. Potter's inability to form complete sentences must be catching; I couldn't say another word. To be freed from all the physical pain that had made my waking hours hell and my sleeping hours incomplete. Sleeping when you're in that much pain, well… all you can really do is succumb to exhaustion; you don't sleep so much as collapse.

I got up on my elbows and looked at him. I may hate him, but that didn't mean I wasn't grateful. "Thank you," was all I could get out.

"You're welcome, Malfoy." Potter pulled up the towel that he'd rucked down around my arse. "I never thought you'd…you know…well…thank…thank me…"

He was doing that mumbling and swallowing and blushing thing of his. Dear god, why was he blushing? Next was the inevitable hair carding, which only served to make his hair stick up in half-crazed clumps all over his head.

"Yeah, uh, you're welcome." More blushing and he pulled the towel up higher, which meant the lower half of my arse was exposed. Then he stared in horror and pulled it lower to cover what he'd uncovered and blurted out an "Uh, sorry." Then he blushed again, even deeper. "So. Okay," he mumbled and fled the room.

I got dressed slowly, more than just a little puzzled by Potter's reaction. Surely, basic courtesy from me wasn't that earth-shattering?

Please, please, Merlin, don't let it be the gay thing.

Was Potter afraid I'd take his medical ministrations as a come on? Had he noticed my erection? I blushed for the first time in four years. Please, fucking Merlin, don't let him have seen that. I would just have to wank myself raw every night before I got up and play a running loop of the Bulstrode/Hippogriff love fest scenario in my head so that my dick behaved when I was around him.

I really needed to get laid. Obviously my years in Azkaban as that guard's boy toy had not affected my libido, for which I was very grateful. But why did Potter have to be the only male in my limited radius that I didn't loathe with a passion?

He wasn't in the kitchen when I went downstairs either, nor did I expect him to be. I guess it was my night to rustle up dinner. Not a major catastrophe. I'd gained some basic cooking skills while in prison. I'd been assigned to kitchen detail in Azkaban. Apparently, my facility in Potions was supposed to mean I could cook.

A quick reconnaissance of the refrigerator showed that our evening fare was limited to a bottle of gherkins that probably dated from 1926, a shrivelled orange, sausages, and eggs.

Twenty minutes later I hammered on Potter's door. "Dinner," I announced.

A muffled noise of a sort told me Potter had heard me, but he didn't come down for another forty-five minutes. By that time, I'd finished eating. We collided on my way to the lounge to Floo to work. He blinked when he saw me, like he was surprised to see me.

"Your dinner's in the oven. I couldn't waste a Warming Charm. The eggs are probably like rubber by now.

"Thanks, sorry. Fell back asleep. Thought you'd left already." He tried to card his hair and tuck his shirt in his pants at the same time, nearly falling over in the process.

"Potter, are you all right? You're acting strange. Granted, it's difficult to tell—"

"Fine, I'm fine," he protested, righting himself. "You'd better go. You don't want to be late. Wait, are your knees good?"

"Yes, they feel great. Not pre-nine million blow jobs great, but pretty good."

He shook his head. "Don't," he whispered. He put a hand on my shoulder, and with his other hand hid his eyes. "Please don't."

This was fucking awkward. Although it did rather scotch the notion that Potter was a closet homophobic troll and yet couldn't admit it because that was too un-Gryffindor.

This is what I hated about people like Potter. You always had to second guess them. If Slytherins were confusing, there was a damn good reason. Like they want in your pants or something normal like that.

"Potter, you idiotic tosser," I chided. The hand squeezed my shoulder a little. "Look at me."

He dropped his hand from his face and—Merlin's balls, did he sleep at all? Healer, heal thy self. If the bags under his eyes were any bigger he'd need a full-time Sherpa to lug them around. "I assume that you have enough burdens on your shoulders; you don't need to carry mine. Like I said, Azkaban either makes you or breaks you. I'm a little cracked and chipped, I admit, but essentially I'm whole."

I brought my hand up to his shoulder and squeezed. Dear god, it was nearly as bony as mine. He let go of my shoulder and put his hand over mine, lacing our fingers together.

"You seem so… How can you…" The hand tightened.

"Potter, are you all right?" I repeated.

I meant it in the smaller sense, like do you have a hangnail, are your shoes pinching your toes; but he took it to mean in the broad sense—I've decided to have a nervous breakdown in your lap. Hope you don't mind.

"I… I don't know anymore. I thought I was okay, but now I… I think about Ron a lot and how the war's changed him. And Fred…you know…stuff…"

Well, I didn't know what "stuff" meant. My "stuff" pretty much boiled down to making rent and surviving the inevitable attack of some nut with an axe to grind.

"How do you do it? How do you not let it get to you? What happened in Azkaban…"

Potter was the master of unfinished sentences. It was a little disconcerting that, these days, I never had any problem finishing his thoughts.

I frowned. "Of course it gets to me. I just refuse to let it get me, if you know what I mean. Being a first-class son of a bitch helps an enormous amount."

That was probably not the most sensitive thing to say, but it was the truth. The Slytherin reputation for being inherently cruel and vicious was nonsense. What we were was uncompromisingly honest, which was often cruel. Except for when we were lying, of course.

Potter began laughing. Laughing so hard that he was weakened by it and had to lean against me to stay upright. I could feel all the tension leave his body as he chuckled and guffawed.

"Potter, you lose it, and Weasley will never forgive me. You know he'll blame me and have my guts for garters."

He pulled away a little and wiped tears of mirth from his eyes.

"Yeah, would." He gave my hand one more little squeeze and then moved completely away. "Owl me if you have any trouble with those knees."

"I will not. I can manage. You're off tonight?"

"Yeah."

"Go back to bed and take some Dreamless Sleep. I know I've said this repeatedly in the last couple of days, but you really, really look like shit."

"Anyone ever tell you how bossy you are?"

"Bossy? Malfoys? We aren't bossy, Potter. Giving orders is an art form we've honed over the centuries."

"Oh, for god's sake, go to work. More like you've honed being insufferable wankers over the centuries. Wait, one more little check," he waved his wand over my knees. "Just for good measure. Have a good night, Malfoy." He gave me a little smile and headed off to eat his inedible dinner.

Somehow I walked to the lounge without hobbling and Flooed to work. When I arrived, I adjusted my dick in my trousers. That smile of Potter's was a killer.




Tuesday, October 1, 2004-Thursday, October 4, 2004, 6:13 p.m.

The next five days morphed into a routine. Now that I could actually walk, I'd complete my eight-hour shift in three, move on to the letters and write a few dozen cranky responses to mostly clueless people who were looking for attention and a few thoughtful (but still cranky) responses to those hapless few who had legitimate problems and were so desperate that they actually were looking to Lavie Brown of the Prophet for help.

Obviously the last port in a storm. Were I on fire, I wouldn't have expected that moronic bint to Accio a bucket of water and douse my flaming carcass, but there you are.

The rest of the night, I'd read whatever book I'd filched from the Black library. I'd Floo back to Grimmauld Place around six a.m., Potter would stumble in from his shift about seven, we'd share a mountain of toast between us, too knackered to say a single word to each other, then he'd run the bath, doctor it up with the magic elixir, wave his wand (sigh, not the wand I wanted, but one that I needed), I'd think of Millicent Bulstrode doing a pole dance topless in see-through chaps, and then we'd go to bed. I'd fall asleep with my body flush from the bath, my knees healed from the spell, and my dick soft from the fabulous wank I'd give it before nodding off. (Now that I didn't have to do Warming Charms, I could allot one of my daily spells to cleaning up after my wank. Oh, happy day!) We'd get up around five, eat dinner, chat about his patients from the night before, and suffer through the daily Firecall from Granger, where he'd spend twenty minutes assuring her I hadn't killed him yet. My, but that woman was shrill. I nearly felt sorry for Weasley. Then he'd run another bath, perform another spell, and it was time for work—another night spent in saving wizardkind from Lavender's Brown vapid advice, not to mention the tiresome emptying of a few waste bins and the sweeping up of that blasted glitter.

And while I might not have any friends left (because they were all dead), I found it odd that Potter seemed as bereft of friends as I was. No wife sending owls, no going out for a pint with that cretin Weasley and his irritating wife. He seemed perfectly happy giving me baths, waving his wand over my knees, and frying up bangers while I mashed the potatoes. It was so unnerving that by Thursday I said something during my bath.

"Potter, what gives? No owls, no social life. Not even from the wife. Granted you're not the most scintillating conversationalist, but still. And I have to admit that while I suffice as a medical curiosity up to a point—how many hours can a relatively normal British wizard kneel on a freezing prison floor before fucking up his knees—but really, why no social life? You're not that boring."

Potter ducked his head, a sure sign he was trying to marshal his thoughts. I lay there saying nothing, waiting. Funny thing about Gryffindors; were it me, I'd just tell him to bugger off without a thought, but he was actually thinking how to be somewhat polite while telling me to bugger off. When he raised his head, he focused on a stretch of tile about two feet above my head.

"Had a bit of a dust-up with Ron over you, if you must know. He's got the whole family furious at me, plus all of our friends. Hermione's learned to keep out of it when we have a row, so aside from the nagging Firecalls every night, she's staying clear." Then he looked right at me and polite went out the window. "Ginny? None of your fucking business."

I managed to hide my surprise with a seemingly nonchalant shrug. The warm water rippled over my shoulders. "I'm not worth it, Potter. So I've been told repeatedly over the last five years. It would make Weasley's year if I got killed. And Granger? I thought she was intelligent. I suppose I could poison you. Hadn't thought of that. But seeing how you do the lion's share of the cooking, it makes poisoning you rather problematic. And let's face it; you could probably outrun me even with a broken ankle." That got a laugh from him. "Really, the most damaging thing I could possible do to you would be to perform a half-arsed Shaving Charm. Which, considering your usual state of dishabille, I doubt anyone would notice."

"Probably not," he admitted. "Water hot enough?"

"Yes, my nuts are pretty much par-boiled by this point. Why are you doing this? And don't give me that pathetic song and dance about you saving people. Granted, you've got something of a kink in that direction, but this borders on psychotic. Slipping me some free tonic is one thing. Giving me your bedroom and feeding me is quite another."

"You're done. Here." He bunched up a towel and threw it at me. I raised my hand and I caught it. "You haven't lost that ability," he murmured and then walked out the room.

I certainly didn't feel guilty that he and Weasley were at loggerheads. That it was over me was fairly amusing. This was another one of those occasions when I missed Pansy dreadfully. She and I would have had a good laugh over this. Weasley was as vicious and cruel as the worst of the Death Eaters, and Potter knew it. I could imagine his freckled rage at the thought that Potter was healing me, cutting short my deserved penance. Having provided Fenrir with the opportunity to maim his brother, any physical agony I suffered as a result of my incarceration was good enough for me. As if losing all my friends, status, money, and my father weren't enough.

I took my time dressing, giving Potter enough time to eat before Flooing off early to avoid me, and it was with some surprise that I saw he was still home, frying up some rashers and eggs when I entered the room. His hunched shoulders were so tense, I could see the vertebrae outlined through the thin cotton of his tee-shirt. Not even so much as a nod in my direction, he continued to flip the bacon and run a spatula under the eggs, just as if I weren't there; however, I noticed that there was enough food for two.

The eggs were nearly done, so I manned the toaster and slathered the bread with copious amounts of butter, the way we both liked our toast. He served me up a healthy portion without a word. It wasn't until he'd mopped up the remnants of his yolk with the last bit of toast that he said anything.

"Tell me why. Tell me why you became a Death Eater."

He grabbed my arm and clenched his fist around my Mark, tight.

I had been waiting for this question since the first night I'd stayed here. I was curious why a fight with Weasley had finally lit a fire under his arse.

That year Voldemort grew in power, I learned that glory, as defined by my father and his cadre of power-mongering cronies, was worthless in a Voldemort world. Mercy became far more important as the war crawled on; as I cast a Cruciatus on a helpless Muggle while Voldemort's bony hand clenched my mother's shoulder, the inference clear; as I stood in the ruins of the castle just trying to stay alive and watched my boyhood friend rail against all the slights and putdowns he'd suffered from over the years. I hope his three seconds of glory were worth it before he was reduced to ash.

Have mercy on me, I silently asked when sentenced to Azkaban, unable to deny that I had nearly killed Weasley and had let the Death Eaters into the castle through the Cabinet in the Room of Requirement. When the head of the Wizengamot asked me why I did what I did, I answered as only I could: "For my family."

Of course they put it down to insufferable pride. But there was no pride involved. There was only survival at the basest level. And if that meant casting a Cruciatus on a helpless Muggle versus having Voldemort cast one on my mother, so be it. Have mercy on me.

"Does it matter?"

I didn't pull my arm away, and he eased up on his grip just the slightest, but didn't let go.

"Maybe. Maybe now it does. Because it seems like I'm being forced to choose between you and him."

No guessing as to who the "who" was.

I pulled my arm away

"Choose him," I said, and began to clear the table.

Without warning, he grabbed both of my shoulders and whipped me around. Ignoring the dishes flying out of my hands that clattered to the floor and shattered, he threw me against wall and pinned me with both hands. "Tell me."

Fight or flight. Fight or flight. My mind raced, before common sense took over. With wonky knees and the threat of Azkaban if I Apparated, I couldn't choose either. I stopped pushing against him and slumped against his hands. I might not be able to physically best him or hex him or even deny his inexplicable hospitality, but I'd never backed down in a staring match with him in my life and I wasn't about to do so now.

"For my family," I said once again and hoped he got it. "Because of my family," I added. "My turn. Why are you doing this?"

"Because… Because…" His fingers dug into my shoulders, hard enough to leave bruises, and then loosened. He fell against me and began holding me… no, it was more desperate than that, squeezing me as if I were some life preserver. I'd been so starved for any sort of human contact—real human contact, not a dick in my mouth or knuckles splitting against my jaw—that my arms closed around him without thinking about it.

"You're too thin," he muttered in my ear.

"Pot, kettle," I muttered back.

Dear Merlin, Potter was a complete nutter. He began rocking me, like I was a child, even though we were the same height. I found myself swaying with him, soaking up the comfort and heat of another body against mine. He hadn't showered yet, and he smelled of starch from his hospital coat and sweat from restless sleep and sweet tea from the half-finished cup on the table. He then manoeuvred his leg between my thighs so that we were that close. Which meant that another minute of innocent cuddling and I'd be humping his hip bone.

I pushed him away, gently, and shuffled to the table. He followed with a nearly identical shuffle, exhaustion evident in every small scuff of his feet against the worn linoleum. We sat there for a couple of minutes, saying nothing. Potter's hands were laid out in front of him, clenched tight into painful fists. Because in every previous interaction with him I was trying to maim him, best him, or ridicule him, I'd never really understood that hovering quality that both Granger and Weasley adopted whenever they were around him. Some of it, I suppose, was that Voldemort was trying to kill him, but sitting here with him, I saw that it was part and parcel of who he was. Unbelievable grit walking hand and hand with aching vulnerability. If you weren't trying to kill him, you wanted to comfort him, apparently.

Looking at his hands, I wondered if he had farmers somewhere in his ancestry; his blunt, thick hands were more suited to a plough than a scalpel. Clenched like that in the service of whatever emotion had generated that embrace, it made me want to cover those fat fists with my own hands. And I'm not exactly the comforting type, now am I?

"Well?" I wasn't going to let this go. Now I needed to know. Why Draco Malfoy, convicted felon, even stood a chance against Ronald Weasley, Order of Merlin First Class.

"I…" he began, but kept his head down so I couldn't see his face. "Ron is turning into someone I don't know. And yeah, I lost family too, but he says that I didn't know my parents. But somehow that's worse in my mind. He's so bitter and—fuck!—I don't know how you could even walk with that sort of damage, and to see another human being suffering like that and not doing anything about it, and limiting your spells so that you're a sitting duck—Christ!—you couldn't even run from someone trying to hex you and…"

The usual Potter ramble. He'd get there eventually.

"I… I was wrong about Snape. I might be wrong about you."

Snape's twenty-year history as a spy for Dumbledore had even reached my ears, shoved down my throat by both Aurors and Azkaban guards.

"I doubt you're wrong about me."

He finally looked up.

"Snape and I have only one thing in common. We were both sixteen when we became Death Eaters. Beyond that I don't see any similarities. I certainly wasn't a double agent. I assumed he was always working against the Dark Lord from what I've gathered."

It wasn't a question, but Potter treated it as such.

"No, he joined voluntarily. Like you." He gave me a minute glare and then softened his study of me.

"And?" I rolled my hand around in the air.

"He came back to Dumbledore because he felt responsible for my mother's death."

Potter didn't say "my parents' death." Well, well, well… Snape had had an itch for Lily Potter. Contrary to all appearances, the man did have a beating heart.

"Why did you join?" he pressed.

I had never verbalised this to anyone, and even I could see the supreme irony that the first person I was justifying my behaviour to was Harry Potter. I flexed a knee and didn't feel any pain. Damn him to hell, perhaps he deserved it.

"From the time I was this high…" I put my hand out, two feet above the ground, "…dinner at Malfoy Manor usually involved some nightly discussion about how Dumbledore was out to destroy the wizarding world as we knew it. How my father and his friends were the last line of defence against Armageddon. Get that look out of your eyes right now. He was my father, and up until I was seventeen, I trusted and loved him. I still love him. Do you think it strange that I aped his beliefs? I was surrounded by people who parroted them. He wasn't some pariah. He was honoured and feted and people licked his boots, basically. He was, essentially, the Minister of Magic. Do you think that utter idiot Fudge did anything without my father's say-so? What in that scenario would give me any clue that he was fucking vile and possibly evil?"

Potter shook his head, and his face had that mulish expression so typical of him: eyes narrowed, cheeks flushed, his arms wrapped tight around his torso, his mouth all but disappeared into a compressed thin line. "It's all I can do not to punch you right now, Malfoy. Surely—"

"We don't all have the moral compass you do," I interrupted. "I'm not a goddamned saint. I lived in a cloistered world. My parents' friends had been Voldemort's acolytes. Do you think I heard about the atrocities committed in the first war? Give me a fucking break. I heard about disastrous policies promoted by Dumbledore that would entail fraternizing with Muggles, which was the first step in the destruction of the wizarding world. Remember how accepting your Muggle relatives were of you?"

It was like talking to a wall. I hadn't moved him one iota. His mouth remained pursed in an unforgiving grimace, his eyes still flat with disgust. Although I suppose it a good sign that he'd crossed his arms. It would be at least a good second before he could whip out his hand and clock me. Based on the scowl, a broken nose wasn't too far off.

"You will remember, Potter, that I made to shake your hand, which you refused. Do you think I would have done that had my house been Voldemort central then? My father denied being a Death Eater in public, and he denied it at home as well for many years. It wasn't until later that I found out that he had lied, and by then I wanted to join. I had spent six years watching Dumbledore bend every rule, ignore any wrong doing that involved you. How in the fuck was I supposed to know the stakes? You knew, but none of the rest of us knew! All we saw was the blatant favouritism."

He didn't say anything to that.

"Right," I spat out. "Anyway, Dumbledore has only himself to thank for my joining Voldemort. I'm not saying I wouldn't have anyway, but…"

At that he pulled away from the table so violently that his chair fell on the floor. He stared at me and his had appeared, as if it had always been there. Forget the broken nose. We were talking about the very real possibility of Unforgivables at this point.

"Do not—" He pointed his wand at me. "Do not fucking blame Dumbledore for that." And he pointed at my Mark.

"Go to hell, Potter." I waved my arm in his face. "I accept full responsibility for this. I see it every time I empty a waste tin or raise my arm to do a simple spell, because that's all I can do these days. Each time I see it I say to myself, 'Draco Malfoy, you stupid, stupid fuck.' But he wasn't exactly blameless. We were all puppets. I just had a different puppet master."

His jaw dropped, but before he could say anything, I pressed on.

"Yes, his puppet. You and your friends were Dumbledore's puppets and me and my friends were Voldemort's. The young and the stupid. When you came upon me in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom"—I could never think of that episode without cringing—"I was at my wit's end. One more failure and I doubt that my parents would have escaped punishment. That was Voldemort's favourite carrot. The stick was particularly 'stickish.' Imagine wondering whether your mother would become another Alice Longbottom if you didn't get that Cabinet to work.

"Then you cast a spell on me—Dark Magic too, I might add—and if not for Snape, I would have died. And you get a ten-minute lecture. You do not get punished. You do not get expelled. Any other sixth-year student who had acted so stupidly would have had their arsed kick out as soon as you can say Accio idiot. He didn't pull me aside and say, 'Draco, I know Potter nearly killed you, but in the larger scheme of things, this is small potatoes.'"

That did nothing to mollify him. Potter's physical stance was still in attack mode. He made a snort of disgust. "This is such bullshit, Malfoy. You got your Mark the summer before our sixth year."

"Yes," I agreed. "I was trying to impress my father." I had decided to subject myself to the Mark the night my mother owled me to tell me that my father had been incarcerated after confronting Potter in the Ministry; to revenge myself on Potter became paramount. Little did I know what that meant. The selling of one's soul does not come cheap. "It wasn't so much that I was marking myself for Voldemort. I was…" A fool. "I'd always fallen short with him. Losing to you at Quidditch every single bloody match didn't help. I was desperate to please him. I was sixteen years old and he was my father and then he was in Azkaban and I blamed you and Dumbledore! What better way to show my faith in him. Stupid? Fuck yes!"

Potter's shoulders fell a fraction.

"The tower?"

"The first inkling I had that maybe my father was wrong about Dumbledore. Once again, thank you. You could have lied to the Wizengamot. Snape was dead; no one could have contradicted you."

"I couldn't lie," he confessed and then dropped his wand hand. "No matter how much I wanted to."

"Thank Merlin's balls, Potter. I was beginning to think you weren't human."

He didn't smile, but his shoulders settled into their usual slouch. "Why didn't you out me when we were in the Manor?"

"Interesting choice of words, Potter." He blushed. "You cannot know what I saw in that year, what I did in the name of self-preservation. I whored myself to that madman, true, but given what I'd seen? Only a flaming idiot would choose Voldemort over you. I'm venal and cunning and cruel and possibly vicious on occasion, but I am not stupid. You won. Again. Perhaps the only time I was truly rooting for you, and believe me, I was rooting for you. Oh, and thank you again for saving my life. You could have consigned me to Vince's fate, but you didn't. I saved you from Voldemort, you saved me from Vince. I'd say we're even."

Why was I justifying myself to him? After my meeting with the Weasel I'd come back here, round up my clothes, and head home to my mouldy, judgment-free hellhole.

He shivered even though the room wasn't particularly cold. "I don't want to become like Ron."

"Then don't. I told you my reasons. If I had appeared on your doorstop, with my lovely Mark still tender, would you have welcomed me with open arms?" Now it was my turn to snort. "Hardly. Wouldn't any child naturally gravitate towards what he trusted and understood? That it happened to be wrong in a most profound and colossal way doesn't excuse me…. You know what? Fuck it! Maybe it does. For Merlin's sake, think about what you're saying. I should have known? I shouldn't have trusted my own parents? I should have told my parents to go to hell? Could you have done that?"

He didn't answer.

Baring your soul is exhausting. I was absolutely knackered, and I had to stay awake for at least another eight hours.

"It was too late by the time I realised that Voldemort wasn't the saviour of the wizarding world, that the only thing he was interested in saving was himself." I held up my arm so that he could see my Mark, as fresh and defined as the day it had been burned it into me. "I didn't have Snape's fortitude. I did what I could, when I could. Like at the Manor with you. I also did things that the Ministry will never know about because I had to. I have no doubt that had you been in my shoes, you would have refused him. Saying no to him meant a first-class ticket to torture and then death—if you were lucky. I'm not that brave."

"You're pretty brave." His voice was as scratchy and tired as mine. He gestured with his wand in the direction of my knees.

"No, I'm not. I'm a survivor. That's all."

I made to get up, because I was so done with him and his righteousness and…

"At the Manor. That took bravery." One hand gently pushed on my shoulder so that I fell back into my seat and the other was held out for me to shake. "Thanks," he mumbled. "For, you know, at the Manor."

I took it because, yes, he had saved me and, apparently, was continuing to save me, and had even stood up for me against Weasley's protests and, Merlin's balls, I would never understand this man. We gave each other a firm handshake.

"I did it for my family. It was only a matter of time before he killed one of us. You were our only hope."

He righted his chair so that he could sit down again, repaired the broken dishes, winged them to the sink, and gave a sigh so deep it must have come from his toes. He propped his chin on the palm of one hand and sighed again while studying me.

"You're a piece of work, Malfoy. Make no mistake." But it wasn't said in anger. "I'd really love a drink, but I've got to work tonight and so do you. Christ, I'm exhausted," he complained, running those blunt fingers through his mop.

Once again, inexplicably, I wanted to comfort him, to follow his hand and give the back of his neck a gentle squeeze. Clearly, I was going mad, and the sooner I got my own place, the better. Next thing you know, I'd be signing my letters with a heart in the place of an "oh" in "Draco." I never thought I'd actually want to go to work, but an hour or two in Potter's presence and I was itching to escape to the Prophet.

"Are we…done, Potter?" I certainly hoped so, because I done enough soul-baring to last me a lifetime. Rather goes against the Slytherin grain.

"Yeah. I can't look at those years with any sort of…" He flailed a hand.

"So articulate as usual. Perspective?"

"Git. You could have exposed me to Voldemort and you didn't. The rest? I've been in your shoes. The adults who are supposed to watch out for you, end up… Anyway." He sighed again. "Not that any of this will fly with Ron."

"What do expect?" Sometimes Potter was an idiot. "I was responsible for maiming one brother and on the side that killed his other brother. If I were in his shoes, I'd hate me too. Having said that, at the first chance I have, I'll fuck him over. Greg Goyle was like a brother to me, and Weasley's complicity in his death was equal to mine in his brother's."

He reached over and cupped my chin. I bit back a gasp.

"That's why I'm a Healer, Malfoy. This has to stop. Maybe the first step is to heal former Death Eaters."

I struggled not to lean into that warm palm.

"Do you have to stop it single-handedly?" I whispered and, christ, wasn't this the night for epiphanies. I got my first inkling why people revered him. It wasn't so much that he was a martyr, but that he was that brave. Willing to jeopardize his friendship with Weasley because of me. Because it was the right thing to do in his eyes.

"Seems like my lot in life, yeah?"

"You'll be canonised yet, Potter," I said lightly, pulled away from him, and pushed back my chair before I did something stupid—like turning my head and kissing that palm. Curse these stupid, stupid straight men. "I'll find something on Saturday, then I'll be out of your hair and you can mend your fences with Weasley."

"Sod Ron," he grumbled.

"I'm not doing this to be magnanimous. I want you two to kiss and make up because he can and will make my life hell. If he really wanted to get nasty," pointed out, "he could bounce me back in Azkaban because I'm not living in my approved post-prison hovel."

"He won't do that. Wouldn't really have a leg to stand on with the parole board while you're staying with me," he countered, with the supreme confidence of the war hero.

I rolled my eyes. Merlin, he was so thick. "And you wonder why he gets so ticked at you."

"What?" He put on his I-am-so-confused-but-hey-status-quo face.

"Flaunting his authority. Apparating his charges hither and yon. As usual, you're breaking the rules. This time, he's on the shit end. I wonder how he likes it." I smirked.

He chucked his used napkin at my head. "You really are a bastard, Malfoy."

"Yes, but I'm an alive bastard. Who needs to go to work." I pushed my chair in. "Have to see your Weasley tomorrow afternoon at two for my bi-weekly arse coring. I should be home by…" At the horrified look on his face, I said, "For fuck's sake, Potter. Figure of speech. Even I have standards, and I'd sooner bend over for Fenrir Greyback than I would for that son-of-a-bitch. Bet he even has freckles on his dick. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to go back to sleep when I get home, assuming he doesn't curse me on my way out the door. Wake me up at seven? On Saturday, we'll sleep for a bit and then look for appropriate hellholes en suite por moi?"

"He doesn't have freckles on his dick. Could you be any gayer, Malfoy?"

"You never cease to amaze me, Potter. And no, probably not."




Friday, October 5, 2004, 2:03 p.m.

Potter, indeed, had a long arm. Weasley didn't say boo to me when I went in to sign the paperwork confirming that I was a reformed little Death Eater, and that I had no intention of committing any sort of Death Eater-ish high jinx within the next two weeks. He pushed the form across the desk and threw a pen in my direction. I signed, threw the pen back in his direction, and pushed the affidavit back at him. I squelched the nearly overwhelming desire to gloat at having Potter in my court, but again, while I might be monumentally foolish on the rare occasion, I was not stupid. So all I said was, "May I go?" And all he said in response was, "Get the fuck out of here, Malfoy."

I considered that a win-win of the most astonishing proportions, of course, so much so that I went back to Grimmauld Place and slept like a baby until Potter woke me up for my bath. Afterward, we ate dinner and circled flats in the advert section of the Prophet in anticipation of flat-hunting the next day.

Saturday, October 6, 2004, 3:46 p.m.

Not even the presence of Harry Potter stopped me from being spat on or having doors slammed in my face. One old woman actually tried to strangle me. It was pretty much on par with my previous experience. It got to be rather predictable: we'd ring the doorbell or knock, the owner would see Potter, fall all over themselves to shake his hand, see me, find out exactly who needed the room (as if Potter was seriously considering living in a flea-ridden, six floor walk-up!), enter the Death Eater, and we'd be thrown out. None of these places were that much better than where I was currently living; only marginally less smelly, dank, and dirty. But marginally better is still marginally better, and I found myself disappointed and starting to get a little alarmed as the rejections began mounting. If Potter's presence didn't matter, it was pretty amazing I wasn't sleeping in doorways.

"How did you find your current place?"

We were taking it slowly, Potter matching my snail-like gait.

"Owned by the Flints. You remember Marcus Flint? Teeth only a dentist would love."

After striking out at no fewer than eleven places, we were down to our last two options. Potter cupped my elbow with a firm hand, helping me up the stairs. "You have to have a bath, Malfoy," Potter grumbled as he knocked on yet another door.

"Like this is my fault?" I sniped back. My knees hurt, but I would be damned if I'd tell Potter. We had two places left. I could suck it up. Potter's earlier reference to that episode with the Hippogriff smarted. Typical. That total incompetent Hagrid trots out vicious creatures as if they were three-week old kittens, and I'm labelled a panty-waist because I didn't bow deep enough and the thing tried to take my arm off.

A plump balding middle-aged man on the sad side of forty opened the door to Potter's thumping. Wearing a tee-shirt that didn't quite cover his stomach, he held an oversized beer glass filled to the top with bitter. He nearly dropped it when he saw who was standing in his doorway.

"We're here about the flat," I said.

He started at the sound of my voice, and then turned slightly to see me standing in the shadows. Having a nose with a crooked twist to it, I'd bet next week wages that he worked at the sort of job where fists not wands were the order of the day. He was fat, but held himself like he knew where his weight was and how to throw a punch so that it mattered. I'd learned to avoid men like him at Azkaban. It got so I could spot the sadists a mile away.

"Don't reckon you need a place to kip," he said to Potter. "For him?" He hiked a thumb in my direction.

My radar was screaming no, no, no! Potter felt the same vibe because he gave me a tiny shake of the head and then slipped his hand underneath my elbow.

The fat fuck gave me the once-over and licked his lips. "Will give him a cut rate on the room. Got yourself a pretty little Death Eater. Don't mind sharing."

Potter decked him.




He Apparated us down to the street level and hustled me into a deep doorway. I kept my head down because dammit all to hell if I wasn't this close to losing it

"Malfoy?"

I couldn't respond, because the truth was if that room had been halfway decent, I would have taken it. Because I couldn't go back to that pain again. Now that I knew what it was like to walk and not grit my teeth and stifle a wince, a groan with every step… In Azkaban the pain had been gradual, creeping up week by week, with my pain threshold rising and rising to meet every new ache. But Potter had destroyed that, and the thought of going back to that agony? Living with it on a constant basis? No. I would have sucked that jerk-off's dick and braced myself for the blow to the ear that was sure to follow, because I wanted that bath so desperately.

He butted up against me, not holding me this time, but offering me something to slump against. And I did, once again so starved for human comfort that I'd even take it from Potter, and once again amazed that he'd give it to me.

"I won't let you take that room," he said, his voice low but still echoing off the walls of this grotty doorstep. "Not with that… If worse comes to worse, you can stay at Grimmauld Place. I only use it every now and then. Ginny's back next Sunday, so… Yeah."

I hadn't cried in years, so why I was hunched in the corner of some filthy doorway, struggling to not just haul off and sob my fucking eyes out?

"I'm all right," I muttered after a couple of minutes, straightening myself up to my full height and facing him.

Our faces weren't more than four or five inches from each other.

"You look tired, Potter." This time I couldn't help it. With my thumbs, I traced the brackets of exhaustion that I now knew were permanent on him.

"Hmmm, a bit. We have one more place to go. You up to it? Knees a little dodgy?"

I nodded. He flicked his wand just a little bit and the pain vanished.

"Thank you…" and the tears were back and this time I didn't hide my face because I didn't have the energy. The thought of another horrible rebuff, or worse, once again being reduced to nothing more than a whore…

He did that his hand/my chin thing again and said, "I'm here, Malfoy. No one's going to hurt you."

I let out a sigh, sniffed, and bucked up. "Let's do this," I said in a voice far more confident that I felt.

We walked several feet before I put a hand on his arm to stop him.

"Who saves you, Potter?"

He gave me a wan smile and a tiny shrug of those thin shoulders. The cut of his robe did nothing to hide how slender he was, and started walking again, his hand warm on my elbow.




Sometimes I think that whole thing about the four houses having different traits attributed to them was a load of bollocks. Take Zacharias Smith, for example. A more irritating and in-your-face wanker was never born. Most Hufflepuffs were nothing more than human furniture as far as I was concerned. I don't think I talked to a single one my entire seven years at Hogwarts. I never talked to Smith, that was for sure. But he was always whinging about something; it was impossible to ignore that piping, annoying tenor of his. Potter seemed to share my disdain, because when Smith opened the door, Potter's hand nearly crushed my elbow.

"Smith." Potter fairly snarled it.

"Potter," Smith snarled back. The antipathy was obviously mutual. Then he saw me. I braced myself. If he hated Potter, his reaction to me would be…

"Malfoy," he gushed and held out his hand. On auto-pilot I shook it. It wasn't until later that I realised he hadn't shaken Potter's hand.

Like everyone else I'd met post-war, Smith had changed quite a bit. He still had that high-pitched, raspy tenor that made my teeth itch, but he'd filled out and, as luck would have it, was quite fit—if you didn't mind blonds with ruddy faces. Who was looking at his face anyway?

Potter couldn't even contain his surprise and let out this squeak of shock.

"Come in, come in. Have a seat." He led us to a sofa that was slightly tatty and covered in cat hair. "I take it this isn't about catching up. You interested in the room? I hope you're not allergic to cats. I'm between jobs at the moment and could use a roommate to help defray expenses."

"Get fired again, Smith?" Which was uncharacteristically vitriolic for Potter. This was getting fun.

"No, Potter, as a matter of fact, just made redundant, if you must know," he sniffed. "They're cutting back at Gringotts. All the banks are." He ignored Potter's cough that sounded remarkably like "Right."

"Too much speculating on the Muggle stock market," Smith continued, without so much as missing a beat. "Returns aren't what they should be. But you wouldn't know about finance, now would you? Still curing hangnails at St. Mungo's?"

Despite the fact that he was on the large size, there was something of the bantam rooster about Smith. When threatened he had a silly way of thrusting his chin out, which was accompanied by thrusting back his shoulders, which were admittedly quite broad and hinted at oodles of muscle under his jumper. Which could use a wash, frankly.

As amusing as this was, I really couldn't have him bait Potter.

"How much for the room, Smith?"

He sneered at Potter before turning his attention back to me and then gave me quite the smile. Dear Merlin, Smith fancied me!

"Forty-five Galleons a month. We'll have to share the bath, unfortunately," he apologised.

That was well within my budget. I hadn't considered sharing. Well, face it. It wasn't exactly as if I had people clamouring to be my roommate, but this might work. I looked around and smelled. No mould. A plus. Smith wasn't the tidiest bugger, and I wasn't crazy about cats, but this flat was gobs nicer than my current room, and given my working hours, we wouldn't see each other that much.

"May I see the room?"

Potter helped me to my feet. Based on his body language and that glower on his face, he was most displeased. Potter never met an emotion he didn't feel like broadcasting, and there was quite a battle going on. It was hard to tell which was more pronounced: his intense dislike of Smith or his irritation at me.

Smith gestured towards the open door, and I poked my head in. The room was dark and there wasn't any furniture, but when you work nights, dark is a bonus. Perhaps I could raid the attic at Grimmauld Place for a spare mattress and a dresser. I didn't need anything else.

I was about to open my mouth and seal the deal, when Potter spoke up.

"We've got several more places to look at, Smith. Thanks for your time." That "thanks" was little more than a restrained growl.

"Oh," Smith sighed, clearly disappointed, and looked at me expectantly.

"I'll get back to you. Tomorrow," I assured him, gave him an encouraging smile, and stepped on Potter's toes.

"Great!" Smith said with an enormous amount of enthusiasm. "Oi, Malfoy, you want to have dinner next week? Catch up on old times?" He smiled, completely ignoring Potter, and then followed it up with the tiniest lick of his lower lip and the briefest glance at my crotch.

I think Potter wheezed or hiccupped or something; I wasn't really paying any attention. Smith had quite a nice smile, all teeth, and a rather thick and plump bottom lip. Old Zach Smith wasn't half bad when silent. I broadened my smile and there it was. A mutual kick. A sexual acknowledgment that oh, yes—he fancied me and if he played his cards right, I might fancy him right back.

For once I was in the driver's seat. Calling the shots. And while it might not be wise to have sex with a potential roommate, it was just dinner. With a hand job or two for dessert based on the glitter in Smith's eye.

"I'll owl youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…" My voice trailed off into a shriek as Potter Apparated us back to Grimmauld Place.




I steadied myself against the kitchen table, off-balance from the vicious pull of Potter's Apparation. Not the smoothest of landings by a long shot.

Once I was no longer in danger of falling over, I screamed, "Are you out of your fucking mind?"

He didn't answer, just stood there with his arms wrapped around himself, furious enough that I expected the pots and pans to start dancing on the shelves.

"What in the hell is the matter with you?" I ground out. "It was a room. It was cheap. It had a bath, and while you might not mind being Lord Bountiful, I would prefer not to be your charity case." I pulled out a chair and sat down.

Potter remained standing, his mouth twitching like he was dying to say something but couldn't figure out how to say it. He started pacing.

"He… Smith…. He…"

"What?" I snapped.

"He's an absolute wanker." Potter kept ranting and stomping, ranting and stomping, from one side of the kitchen to the other. "Only knew him as a total pill and a fucking coward. He left his footprints on the backs of a bunch of first years in his stampede to get out of Hogwarts when the school was first evacuated."

I raised my hand and wiggled my fingers. "Hello? Death Eater. I eat wankers for breakfast."

Stopping for one second, he shouted, "He wants you," then he started up again with the frenetic back and forth.

"Well spotted, Potter. Yes, he does. So?"

He did some insane flailing with his arms and then threw himself into the seat next to me.

"How is that… How is that any different than…" he clamped his mouth closed and did that thin-lipped grimace of his.

By all rights I should have been touched at Potter's over-zealous mother hen routine, but it did the exact opposite; it enraged me.

"Because I'm the one in charge here, you ignorant pillock. He's offering and not taking." I was so angry I couldn't stand being in the same room with him. I stood up and moved the wrong way, which hurt like holy fuck. Which only made me angrier. I shuffled to the doorway and hung on the doorjamb, trying to take the pressure off my knees. "You might be getting shagged on a regular basis, what with being married and all, but I haven't had sex in five years. And no, I do not consider what I've done to get salve or eat or survive to be sex. And if my first shag in five years is with a fit-looking tosser like Smith—"

Moving so fast that he was nothing more than a blur, he pushed away from the table and pinned me against the doorjamb, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, ear to ear.

I steeled myself for the punch, the hex.

He brought one hand up to the top of my head and began stroking my hair, the other cupped the back of my neck, his thumb gently swiping back and forth.

"Not… Not with him."

"Potter?"

"With… I want… I want…" he whispered, his breath hot on my neck.

It was impossible to ignore the desire fairly screeching from every pore in Potter's body. I could smell the want on him. That letter. Was Potter that fellow who was having second thoughts about his marriage because he might be gay? With the wonderful job and the wonderful wife and the perfect life, yet he wasn't happy. And he'd been thinking about men. And I'd suggested experimenting with men. And here Potter was very much chucking that hetero business out the window, the evidence "mounting," so to speak. Given that my previous bout of throwing caution to the wind had resulted in a four-year prison sentence, you'd think I be a little "gun" shy.

Apparently not.

"Me?" I mouthed and moved my hips against him the slightest bit.

"Yeah," he mumbled and turned his head just enough so he could place the smallest, lightest of kisses on the soft part of my neck just below my ear. At some point in the proceedings, hopefully when Potter was asleep, I'd have my well-deserved nervous breakdown. Because Potter was kissing me and moving his erection against my hip in some maddeningly graceful sway and thrusting and whimpering like he'd never felt the like. Had I been a better person I'd have defended his wife's honour and pushed him away with a tortured, "No, we mustn't!" As it was, all I could do was revel at how crushingly marvellous this felt and so much for him being resolutely hetero and Smith was out of luck because nothing he would do would feel half as fantastic as this.

I moved to bring my mouth to his and he said, "No, not yet."

Running two firm hands down my chest, he then fell to his knees in front of me and began to undo my trousers.

"P-p-p-p," I stuttered, which was all I could get out for being so shocked.

"Okay?"

I nodded and groaned when he pulled my dick out of my pants and ran a thumb over the top.




It was the best of blow jobs, it was the worst of blow jobs. While I like a wee bit of tooth, I don't like that much, and when I flinched and muttered, "Teeth," he managed to pull back a bit, but it was still clumsy and inept and fumbling. No matter. Right there and then I fell in love with Harry Potter. There couldn't possibly be anything more symbolic and so achingly touching than this simple fall to the floor. Because the war hero who had defeated Voldemort was not above getting down on his knees and putting his mouth on a Death Eater to atone for all the horrible things I'd been forced to do over the last four years. His mouth, his tongue were so gentle and so sweet that I sobbed out my orgasm.

I came quickly, naturally. A sexual hiatus of craptastic proportions tends to give one a trigger dick. I pulled his head away just in time to spill all over his hand. When I could talk without crying, I said, "Come on."

After pulling up my trousers, I led the way to the room he was currently sleeping in; I imagine he wouldn't want to shag me in the room he shared with his wife. He was taking all cues from me, so when I started to undress, he undressed. I kept taking sneak peeks at him, and, god, yes, he was lovely. All taut and wiry. Too thin, but still unbearably beautiful.

He hadn't bothered to make his bed that afternoon, so we just scooted under the jumble of covers and arranged ourselves so we were facing each other. In a nearly identical gesture to the one I did earlier in Knockturn Alley, he wiped my cheeks free of tears with his thumbs. His erection lay hot against my hip, and I ran a teasing fingertip down its length. He sighed with pleasure. When I moved my hand around his hip to cup his arse, he groaned in delight. I made it easy for him.

"Fuck me."

The randy bugger moved against my hip and then pulled back.

"I haven't…"

I felt the heat of his blush.

"It's not that different," I assured him. "In a monumentally stupid effort to prove I was not gay, I fucked a couple of girls at Hogwarts. It's basically the same. Just go slow. Plus, you're a Healer, right?"

He nodded.

"So you've had your fingers up someone's arse a time or two. Stick two up, then three, use lots of lube. Lather up your dick with more lube. Slide it in slow, angle your hips up, and when I say go, move."

He still looked unconvinced. I picked up a tube of lube on the night stand, slapped it in his hand, and turned over. Over my shoulder I said, "Condom? If you fuck like you fly a broom, we have nothing to worry about."

That got a chuckle and then my arse tickled, some sort of new fandangled condom-type charm obviously, and a moment later I felt a gentle finger. I pulled up my knee and shuddered at the feel of two, then three fingers, then the weight and heat of him. Inside me. Fuck.

Nothing to worry about. Understatement of the year. Christ, I had so much to worry about. Because obviously Potter just didn't do average. There was abysmal (as in the blow job), and there was can-you-please-bottle-that-I'd-like-to-order-a-lifetime-supply (as in the shag). Did Ginny Weasley-Potter knew how phenomenally lucky she was, married to one of the greatest shags west of the Peak District.

Slytherins tend to view sex as I'll get you off and then you get me off and we'll both be happy. As long as everyone involved has shit-eating grins by the end of the festivities, no one has any right to complain. But with Potter it wasn't about him first or me first or any firsts at all. It was about the collective us. I found myself arching up to meet him, and it was not about me at all—which was not a little shocking—and more about offering myself to him for his pleasure. Did I give back because being the recipient of such passion demanded it? That you have to set the world right because it was on tilt, and you had to give with an equal passion or everything would crumble? Which ended up being a circular givetakegivetakegivetake thing, which ended up being, basically, nirvana a la Potter.

I'm doomed. Doomed, I thought as I drifted off, Potter's hand in my hair, his leg thrown over my thighs. I wound my hand in his hair, so soft, so…

I woke up to him caressing my hair again. Clearly, the man had a hair kink. When he saw I was awake, he went immediately for my mouth. We had forgotten that part. I like kissing and apparently Potter liked it too, and before long that gentle I'm-getting-to-know-you sort of kissing fell by the wayside. Thank christ. Rough and raw, we weren't kissing so much as biting and bruising, our stubble scratching against each other's cheeks as we fought for dominance. Then I rolled on top of him and we frotted against each other like desperate teenagers. And people wonder why I like to fuck men. Nirvana and bruises? God, it doesn't get any better!

After such a boisterous sexual high jinx, Potter and I were both starving, which could explain why we were having tea and toast in the bathroom at three in the morning, me having a treatment (balancing a cup of tea with one hand and holding on to the tub with another), with Potter perched on the edge of said tub (stark bollocks naked, and casting spells on my knees in between feeding me slices of toast). He'd magicked a bunch of candles to float above us, and between the cosy atmosphere of the room, the food, the marvellous sex, and the bath, I was happier than I'd been in years.

"Potter, answer me truthfully. Have you ever written a letter to Lavender Brown?"

Hand jobs between two men you can often put down to feeling frisky, or even locker room, post-game folderol. Blow jobs and sticking your cock up someone's arse? Bisexual at a minimum. It had to be…

He choked on a piece of toast. "Lavender Brown. Of the Prophet? You must be joking. That bint? Want another piece?" He waved a piece of toast at me.

I shook my head and ignored the minute wrenching of my stomach. So why…

"Malfoy?"

"Hmmmm?"

"Have you been with a lot of people? I mean, I've only been with…you know," he stammered.

"Your wife?"

"Yeah."

"Not gobs of people but enough," I replied without any inflection in my voice. Enough. Right. Enough to know that it had been the sort of shag that was so far beyond a shag that I didn't have a word for it.

"It's good with her, really pretty good—when we're not fighting," he finished, a tad defensive.

I bit back a nasty "Bully for you." What had been a tickle was now full-blown nausea, because Potter was going to deny how fantastic it was and put it down to, I don't know what, general all-purpose horniness and the convenient gay guy he was living with, and then, sopping wet naked or not, I would punch him, just sock him one, smash the tea cup over his stupid, stupid head because…

"It's not like that with her."

"Like what?" I managed to spit out without too much venom.

"That brilliant," he said with some surprise. When I didn't respond he started to sputter. "Wasn't it brilliant because I thought it was brilliant and then some. Don't fuck with me, Malfoy, because—"

I grabbed his knee and rubbed my cheek against it so I wouldn't have to look at him.

"Yes, it was brilliant."

"Oh, okay," he said, with as much relief as I felt.

I kissed his knee.

"You could knock me over with an effing feather. I never would have figured… Died and gone to heaven has a whole new…" He blushed at that. "I sound like a blooming idiot. Don't say it," he warned.

I kissed his knee again.

"You're thinking it."

"Oh, he's got it in one!" I said with false cheer.

He laughed and gave the nape of my neck an affectionate squeeze. "Why weren't you this funny at school, Malfoy?"

"I was this funny. You forgot charming. There was a damn good reason I was de facto head of the Slytherins, and it wasn't just because my family was loaded."

"Could have fooled me," he said under his breath.

I bit his knee. Hard.

"Ow!"

Then laved it with my tongue.

"Bastard," he whispered.

We finished up the spells and the bath. I had another silent chuckle as Potter's Muggle upbringing came to the fore. There he was one of the most powerful wizards in the world, but he didn't use a charm to dry me off. He daubed me with a towel with as much care as if I were a child. We went back into his room, threw a comforter and a couple of pillows down on the floor, and lay in front of a stupendous fire courtesy of Potter's wand. He spooned me tight; and the fire, the heat on my knees, a belly full of buttered toast and jam, and the warmth of him against me was all so wonderful that I might have fallen asleep.

Except for one niggling little matter.

"Potter, why aren't you and the Wease…your wife getting along?

He tensed up at that, his muscles hardening up the length of his body, and didn't answer me for the longest time.

"I want to have children, like now, and she wants to continue playing for the Harpies. I don't want to wait. I've been waiting all my life for a family. We had a terrible row right before she left on tour."

Yes, of course. It all made sense.

"Do you want children, Malfoy?"

Not the sort of question you ask lying in the arms of your gay lover, but I suppose given the limited number of his partners (as in one!) such sexual etiquette would be beyond Potter.

"I would have liked a son. It's moot now, of course; the line will die with me. I've resigned myself to the reality." Sort of, I added silently. It was probably for the best. I would have made a horrible father, I suspect.

"I can't imagine not having them." He said that while fondling one of my nipples.

It was either kill him or shag him. I turned over to face him.

"Round three?"




Sunday, October 7, 2004, 7:54 a.m.

At some point, Potter and I had migrated back to the bed. I woke up, covered in as many of his limbs as humanly possible. Potter wasn't so much a cuddler as a smotherer. I gently moved an elbow threatening to gouge a hole in my shoulder blade and debated exactly what we should do about our morning wood. Hand job? Blow job? Would giving Potter some pointers in that area appear self-serving? Did I care? I was just about to move a leg to caress the dick that was nudging against my leg when I realised. I sat up in horror, completely dislodging Potter and all his limbs.

Mother hadn't written. Never, in the five years since I'd been arrested, had I not gotten a letter on Saturday afternoon.

Ignoring Potter's sleepy protests, I grabbed my wand and hobbled out of the room naked, not even bothering to dress. I was usually very stiff when I first got up in the morning and today was no exception. No matter. I held on tight to the banister and made my way downstairs into the living areas. Using my precious cache of spells, I cast a strong Lumos in every room, scouring with my eyes for traces of a letter. Nothing. Navigating that treacherous stairway down to the kitchen, I did the same. Nothing.

"Potter," I yelled at the top of my lungs.

Typical. He didn't Apparate but came barrelling down the steps twenty second later, also still naked.

"What's wrong?" he demanded around his panting.

I took three deep breaths. He had to do this. He had to.

"No letter. No bloody letter! You have to Apparate me to France. Something is wrong. My mother hasn't written."

He didn't get it, just stood there with a confused scrunch to his forehead. I began shivering. I wasn't sure it was from the cold or fear.

"I will beg. I will do anything. Please. Apparate me to France. Our chateau is located on the outskirts of some grimy, impoverished Muggle village in Brittany. You're powerful enough. You can Apparate both of us there." I reached out for him and grabbed his shoulders. "I always get a letter from her, Potter. Every Saturday. For five years. I swear to you on my father's grave, I'll come back with you. I need make sure she's alright; that her letter didn't come because her owl got blown off course or it's too windy to fly or something. I'll come back with you." I repeated. "I promise."

I must have tightened my grip because he winced. I let go of him but refused to break eye contact.

He hesitated for a second. Of course, this could all be a lie. Ply the Gryffindor with mind-blowing sex, gain his trust, and then make-up this story about the mother in France as a way of escaping from the horrible job and the onerous parole. I was certainly capable of that sort of deception. Except I wasn't lying and I was so afraid my teeth were chattering.

"She's all the family I've got, Potter. I'm not lying. I will come back with you. My word."

Whatever that was worth these days.

Thank Merlin's balls Potter always followed his instincts, because common sense would dictate he laugh my arse out of his kitchen at such a request. But he didn't. And he didn't say it would be okay, because we both knew that in this post-Voldemort world things were usually not okay.

"We'll throw on some clothes and go. We'll eat breakfast later." He Apparated us to his bedroom, my thank-you eaten up in the whoosh of our bodies moving.




I gave Potter the coordinates as best I could remember, and we plonked down in a field not far from the chateau. I'm sure that in the fifteenth century when it was built it was not only the height of fashion, but damn impregnable. A Malfoy trademark. At this point, three of the five towers were in various states of disintegration and half the windows were missing. The sun was out, which, yes, meant that the grass wasn't damp; however, it was as cold as shit, made even colder by the nasty wind tearing through the fields. Given how high the weeds were, it was a blessing that the morning hadn't been damp. We would have been soaked to the marrow not even halfway to the gate if we had to tromp through all that tall brush to get to the chateau.

"Are you sure this is it?" he asked, the first words out his mouth since we landed in France.

It didn't look inhabited I had to admit. No smoke curled out of the numerous chimneys, the gate stood half off its hinges.

"Yes, I learned to fly a broom in these fields. We spent several weeks here every summer when I was a child."

Potter looked at the crumbling edifice and looked at me.

"It was probably held together by magic then. Come on," I beckoned somewhat impatiently. "When my father died it must have all reverted back to its original—"

We reached for our throats at the same time. A ward began to crush the breath out of us. I pulled Potter back before he asphyxiated.

When we'd both stopped gasping for breath, Potter rasped out, "Yeah, I'd say it's the right place. Death-inducing wards was the first hint."

We had a problem. I couldn't undo the wards with my wand—Ron Weasley, I hope you die in hell—and we couldn't get in without me dismantling the wards.

"Potter, I need your wand." I talked over his protest. "Do thank your best friend for me. I thought that I would get a free pass but apparently not. Somehow I don't think a Shaving Charm is going to work on those wards. And I do mean wards. This is only the first one. If my memory serves, the vines that squeeze the blood from one's pores is next, then the flesh-eating sunflowers, and once we're through the gate, the machetes aimed at one's kneecaps. We can have you fart around for four hours trying to break them and failing, or you can hand me your wand because I know how to dismantle them."

He blinked and brought his wand closer to his side.

I closed my eyes and held out my hand. I couldn't look at him. I couldn't watch him mentally debate the odds over whether this was a trap or a sincere request. I was on the verge of begging for it when I felt wood slide against my palm. I curled my fingers around it. A real wand. For the first time in five years, I was holding a real wand. I ducked my head to hide a shit-eating grin.

I swished it. It fought me, sort of pouted, then went still. I transfigured a leaf into a teacup and then back again. Potter's wand grumbled the whole way, but it did it.

"Will it work?"

I nodded, and then warned him, "Stay close. You're not a Malfoy and the chateau will recognise that. If the wards turn on you, I'll throw you your wand and take my chances. You Apparate out of here. Got it?"

He studied me for second, leaned forward to kiss me on the forehead, and then pulled back.

"What?"

He shook his head and motioned me to go forward. "What happens to the Muggles when they venture too close?"

"Something relatively innocuous. Raging diarrhoea, I think. The nearest cottage is at least two kilometres away. My father had a twisted sense of humour."

This had the potential to be a fatal cock-up. I hadn't done real magic in five years. Interestingly, while Potter's wand had a hissy fit at obeying the child-like spells, it dismantled the wards like a hot knife through butter. We were through the gate and at the massive front door in under ten minutes. I cast a final Alohamora and the door creaked open. I squeezed his wand once last time and then handed it back to him.

He gave me that shy smile that always goes right to my dick.

"Thanks."

I waved him off and crossed the threshold.

"Mother!" I shouted, zigzagging across the room, yelling into every doorway.

A house-elf Apparated into the room, stopping me mid-yell.

Lindy. My mother's house-elf. Before I could open my mouth she began whimpering, "Master Draco, my mistress. Master Draco, my mistress," over and over again, wringing her hands in the deepest despair.

I began to lose it. I didn't even know whether I was standing or on the ground or on my arse.

In the background I heard the low murmur of Potter's baritone and Lindy's high-pitched squeak but who cared what in the fuck they were saying because the grief was unbearable. Absolutely unbearable…

Then a hand shook me. "Malfoy, she's upstairs in her room."

I tore away from his grasp and leaped up the stairs. I would pay for that later, but right now I didn't give a damn. I ran down the corridor to the south end of the chateau, and flung open her door. Music filled the corridor with the monotonous one-two-three beat characteristic of a Viennese waltz.

My mother was dancing, by herself, a gin bottle in one hand, and other held aloft, her hand slightly cupped, in some grotesque pantomime, as if she had a partner and was resting her palm against his shoulder.

Potter caught up with me and placed a firm hand on my shoulder, holding me back. "Wait," he whispered.

While the waltz ran its course, I tried not to gag on the overwhelming smell of spilled gin and rotten roses emanating from the room. At the last note, I made to break free of Potter's grip when my mother trilled a throaty laugh and said in a coy tone, "Oh Luciusch, you're so droll, my love. Onsche more aroun' the room? Let me get my…"

She weaved her way in and around the furniture, clearly looking for something, when she saw me.

"Draco?"

I wanted to rush up to her, to hold her, to…

"Do you schee my wand anywhere?" she asked in a casual tone, as if I'd only stepped out of the room for five minutes, not five years.

I stood there stunned. My mouth must have dropped open because she began to scold me.

"Darling, don't look show schtupid. Can you fin' my wand? Lindy hides itch. She denies it, but then I find her schmacking her head against the…the fireplasche so I know it'sch a lie. Be a good boy and find it for your mother. Your father and I want 'nother turn around the room."

She began rambling about the room again, running her hands over table tops, pushing vases filled with dead flowers onto the floor, walking on the broken china, and humming various snatches of the Emperor's Waltz in between mutterings of "I know I put it schomewhere, now, dum-dum-dum, dum-dum-dum. The bed, perhapsche?"

But for Potter this might have gone on for god knows now long because I was so horrified that I was practically paralyzed. He stepped into the bright light of the room and said, "Mrs. Malfoy."

She stilled and then turned around slowly. Whether she decided he was just a new fantasy or whether she decided to acquiesce to a fleeting bit of reality, I had no clue.

"Misther Potter. How are you? You've married that Weasley girl. Congratulations." She bowed her head at him with something of her usual grace. I had been too shocked to notice before, but her formerly ice blond hair was now white. When I was a child I used to think her hair was made out of stardust. But at that moment, I wondered if it were made of ash.

"I am fine, Mrs Malfoy." He began walking towards her very slowly. "We were worried about you." He got a little closer. "You didn't write to Draco, you see."

"Oh, I didn't?" She frowned and turned to me. "What day ish it?"

"Sunday," I said loudly to draw her attention to me as Potter inched closer and closer.

"I do apologishze, lamb," She reached over to tweak my ear lobe and then frowned. "You're awfully thin," she chastised. "It doesn't suit you to be sho thin. Your chin ish pointed enough at the bescht of times. Anyway, your father and I were schelebrating our wedding anniversary and we loscht track of time. Twenty-four years, Draco." She gave her wedding rings a fond glance.

"Wonderful," I croaked out. Potter had skirted around her, and was coming up from behind, he was nearly there…

She leaned towards me—I took a deep breath and held it; the gin fumes off her breath were rank enough to blister paint—and said in a low voice, "You know that your father hateshs Harry Potter. Hateshs him. Show him the door before your father returns. He washus very helpful that night, but your father an' grudges…"

Potter put the tip of his wand to her head and she collapsed in his arms.




I sat in a chair by one of the windows and cradled her in my arms. She weighed almost nothing; her wrists were as small as a child's. Potter and Lindy put the room to right. The vases were repaired and filled with fresh roses, the long-stemmed white ones with the softest pink centres, my mother's favourite. Then linens were changed, furniture dusted, and the floors swept, five brooms working like fury.

"Is my mother eating at all, Lindy?" I asked after Lindy had given the comforter a final tug with one of her withered hands.

"Less and less, Master Draco." A tear slid down Lindy's cheek. She had been with my mother her entire life. "I beg her to eat, you must believe me, but she doesn't listen to poor Lindy."

She stood there, so tiny and helpless, trying to defend herself against my mother's obvious raging insanity. Or alcoholism. Or both.

"It's all right. It's not your fault." I tried to smile but it must have come out like a grimace because she began crying again. "None of that now," I admonished. "Mr Potter here is a Healer and he'll help her. Will you tell the kitchen-elves to make us a hot breakfast, lots of oatmeal and sausages, with a large pot of very brisk tea?"

"Yes, Master Draco. Lindy will see that you and Mr Harry Potter have the most wonderful breakfast." With a curtsy and one last worried glance at my mother, she Apparated out of the room.

"Thank god, she's gone," I muttered.

"I felt that way about Dobby, too," Potter commiserated. "Now that he's dead, I feel guilty about how annoyed by him I was."

"You'd feel guilty anyway," I snapped. "Can you Levitate her to the bed? She's probably all of six stone, but even at that I don't think I can get up with her weight on me. I buggered up my knees running down the corridor."

"Yeah. I'll see to you after I do a diagnostic on her. I couldn't believe how fast you were moving."

"Needs must," I groaned in relief as he Levitated her to the bed. "Can you Scourgify her robe? It smells like week-old gin."

He nodded and began running his wand over her body.

"How long is she out for?"

"As long as I want her out for," he said with some asperity.

I made my way slowly over to the bed. Before I went into prison she could have passed for a mature thirty. Now she looked like a young sixty. I picked up the hairbrush from her dresser and began to coax the knots out of her hair. If I didn't do something, I'd go crazy. One immutable truth kept me going in Azkaban: when freed, I could lay my head on her shoulder and just collapse and be that young, naove son once again. Now it was so much bollocks. No stomping my feet and crying and wallowing in some well-deserved pity. No letting her pick up my pieces, as she had done during that horrible year when our world began to crumple. When Voldemort broke my father and humiliated him day after day. When we would say goodnight to each other and not know whether it would be the last moonrise any of us would see. She would convey by a flick of an eyebrow or the press of fingertip, we will survive, I am here.

But she wasn't "here" anymore. She was in some lala land with my dead father, celebrating her wedding anniversary on a sea of liquor. And while I'd been saying to myself for the last five years, we will survive, I didn't realise that what I really wanted was for her to assume that responsibility again. I was so tired of being my fate's own best champion. I was so tired. But needs must, dammit. She said it to me, for me, often enough. Now I needed to say it for both of us.

"Malfoy."

I looked up at him. I was clutching the hairbrush, her hair brushed to a shine. He took it out of my hand and put it on the night stand.

"I can't do anything more until I get some food in me and a few hours of sleep. She's fine for now."

We ate breakfast in a small parlour several doors down where we would hear her if she called out. The memory of having breakfast at the twenty-foot table that stood in the great hall seemed ludicrous, although I had done so those summer mornings as a boy and had never thought twice about it.

It wasn't until we were on our third cup of tea that I asked.

"Is she crazy or was she just drunk? "

"I think it's partly alcohol-induced psychosis and partly malnutrition. I'll clean her system of the toxins. She needs to lay off the booze and get a few decent meals in her."

"Has she been drinking for a bit?"

"I'd say for several days and pretty much pouring it down her throat."

My elegant, beautiful mother drinking gin straight from the bottle.

"Is she going to be okay?"

He hesitated.

"Just say it, Potter, for christ's sake."

"I think so. Her liver's in good shape so it's not been going on for months. Maybe the anniversary?"

I nodded. "I know you don't understand, but they loved each other. Even after his stupidity and arrogance destroyed their life, she loved him. And when he hung himself…" I put my teacup down because my hand was shaking so badly. He covered it with one of his own.

"We need some sleep. Any place we can take a nap?"

The house-elves, in anticipation of visitors that never would materialize, had maintained the bedrooms in this tower. The sheets were clean, even if the room hadn't seen a fire in ten years; we could see our breath. We climbed under an elaborately embroidered comforter, the sort of thing the French would insist on because it was beautiful. Fortunately, my practical English mother had supplied thick woolen blankets as well. We didn't bother to undress. Potter lit a fire, smothered me in limbs, and was snoring in no time. I lay there for some time longer, trying to remember what she had looked like when I was a boy. And while I could remember her face, I couldn't picture her with anything but white hair.




I woke up alone. The spot next to me was cold; Potter had been up for some time. As I neared my mother's room, I could hear the low timbre of Potter's voice, chanting something in Latin, unlike any other spell I'd ever heard. I poked my head around the door to ask if he needed any help. One hand lay splayed on her chest, over her heart, and the other held his wand. Two beams of light emanated from his wand: a yellow, warm light and a dark, ugly light. He stood rigid, and his eyes were clenched tight, as if in pain. The chanting diminished to a whisper, and then to silence, although I could see his lips still moving.

This went on for another five minutes, then he collapsed on her.

I used his wand to Levitate him back to our room, then I went to check on her.

Her hair was still white, but her skin colour was more or less normal, that envied milky English glow. I brought the comforter up to tuck it under her shoulder and she woke up.

"Is it really you?" she asked in wonder. "I thought…"

I crushed her in my arms.

She began to weep, and in between heart-breaking sobs, she cried out, "I try so hard, Draco. It's just that sometimes I pretend we're all together again… and… and…your father…and he is young and beautiful and we are so much in love. And you, my darling son…I'm so proud of you…But sometimes I can't pretend and it's horrible so I…so I…"

"Sshh." I rocked her. "It's all right."

"No, no it's not. It never will be. I loved him so much, Draco."

"I know; I loved him too." I couldn't listen to this anymore. "Now sleep."

"Stupefy"

I'd never seen my mother cry.




I held Potter's hand while he slept, watching his face slowly lose its death-like pallor as the minutes leeched by. He woke up three hours later, looking like he hadn't slept in a week.

"Your mother?" he whispered, as though merely talking was more of an effort than he could manage.

"She's fine. I just checked on her."

A ghost of a smile appeared.

"You're healing people by transferring your life's energy to them, aren't you?"

He was too tired for anything but the smallest squeeze of my fingers.

"And eating their death. Harry Potter is a Death Eater." At one time in my life, I might have gotten a tremendous satisfaction out of saying that. Now? I was doing everything I could not to throw up.

That woke him up. His eyes widened and he shouted out a hoarse, "No!"

"I saw! Don't bother denying it. You're eating their death. I can see it on you. No wonder you're so tired all the time."

"It's not the same." He struggled to get up. I pushed him back into bed.

"Don't be stupid. Lie there and recover as much as you can. We have to Apparate back to England by tomorrow at the latest or both of us will be in Azkaban by Tuesday morning. Yes, I know full well the sacrifice you're making for me, and goddamit I don't know whether to kiss you or beat the living shit out of you."

He lay there motionless.

"Did you do that for me?"

"No, you weren't dying," he got out.

"She was dying."

"Yes. Electrolytes all off—"

"Shut up. I'll take your word for it. You said her liver was fine. Was that a lie?"After a minute he shook his head. I got into bed and spooned up against him, holding him tight, the reverse of our usual position.

"Listen to me, Harry Potter. You have to stop this. You cannot play god. Heal those you can heal and those you can't, you have to let go. And do not give me your usual six different kinds of bullshit about not being able to save those who died during the war and this is a way to atone for those deaths." He stiffened at that. Bull's-fucking-eye. "Do I need to evoke the name of the last wizard who tried to cheat death? And what happened when he did that?"

He tried to turn over to face me but didn't have the energy.

"It's not like that," he protested with a soupcon of vigour.

I put my hand over his heart. Foolish man. I couldn't help but love him for this and curse him for his stupidity.

"Yes, it is. It's about playing god. It's too damn close to argue about. Does anyone else know? Besides me?"

"Maybe at St. Mungo's. No one else," he mumbled.

Idiots. Fucking idiots. They knew and didn't try to stop him. I held him tight.

"I will tell you what will happen. Your ability to pull people back from the brink of death will be talked about, if not already talked about. One Healer will tell his wife, another will tell her husband, and then word will get out. People will know. The Ministry will know. You will be cajoled and flattered and asked to save this person and save that person. And pretty soon you will be asked to save everyone."

I waited for a reaction. I didn't get one.

"The Ministry will decide who you save and who you don't. Assuming you're still alive by that point, because I see what it does to you. It almost kills you, doesn't it?" He didn't answer, which meant yes. "If you don't agree, they will lean on your friends. If you have children, they might even—if desperate enough and you're stubborn enough, and we both know how stubborn you can be—hold your children ransom or your friends hostage. You will be forced to play god until they kill you." My voice was rising, getting higher and, dare I say it, shriller the more I talked. "Because I have seen how seductive it is to play god, and they will be playing god through you. And they will make you play god until you consume so much death that you die. You have to stop! You have to let life and death take their course!"

Three minutes later, he began crying, quietly because he didn't have the energy for anything else. "She…she would have died," he said around his tears.

"I know," I said around mine.

We fell asleep eventually. When I woke up he was watching me. The fire lit up the room, and his colour was much better, although his eyes were still red and puffy. "Thank you," he mouthed.

I ran my hands through his hair. "You're welcome. Aside from the insane danger to you and your friends should you continue to play god, the wizarding world has extracted its pound of flesh from you; in fact, pounds. You've sacrificed your family and your youth for them; I think that's quite enough."

"Yeah," he agreed and sighed. "You know, we're even again. I saved you from that irritating prat Smith, and you saved me from yet another potentially fatal bout of rampaging martyrdom."

"Even? Don't be ridiculous, Potter. Worst case scenario of a shag with Smith would be a case of crabs. Compare that to you once again flirting with suicide. We need to get back to England. Can you manage?"

The moon had already risen. It would be better if we could do it tonight. He nodded.

"I'll say good-bye to Mother, give Lindy strict instructions to owl me if she starts drinking again, and then we can Apparate. We have six nights before your wife returns. When we are not working or eating, we are going to be shagging every waking moment. You're going to go cross-eyed from the number of orgasms I am going to wring out of you."

He laughed and kissed me, giving me one of those hard kisses that are all tongue and bruise. He pulled back. "I think I'm falling in love with you."

"Don't be stupid." I reached for his left hand and kissed his wedding ring.




Once we had Apparated back to England, I insisted that he promise me that he would stop playing god, and I believed him. Gryffindors. You can go to the bank on that sort of thing.

I was true to my word. Short of work, the baths, and grabbing the odd bite to eat, we fucked every waking minute; it was the happiest five days of my life.

Friday night it all went pear-shaped.

They were waiting for me to stumble out of the fireplace. Three of them, Lavender Brown, Hugo Greengrass, and a petite brunette with large brown eyes and a square jaw that I knew but couldn't place… Was that… Good god, it was Daphne's sister, Astoria. All grown up and, well, very determined looking. At Hogwarts, she had been a nondescript child who always trailed in the shadow of her older (and physically much larger!) sister. Her singular claim to fame was her Transfiguring Pansy's hair into a writhing mess of slugs in retaliation for some insult.

"In my office, Draco," Hugo Greengrass barked. Without waiting for a reply, he spun on his heels and walked in the direction of his office. I never saw Hugo Greengrass without wondering if there wasn't some giant lurking in his family tree. He towered over me, and I was considered tall. Astoria barely came up to my shoulder. She must have taken after Greengrass mere.

"You are so fucked, Malfoy," Brown whispered to me, the chemical smell of that afternoon's disastrous perm clashing with the scent of her cloying perfume.

I gave her the finger.

I tried to keep up with them, but I couldn't walk that fast. Astoria matched her pace to mine, not giving me a single glance or saying a word.

Her sister, Daphne, had been one of those heavy-set girls who latch onto petite friends in what is nothing more than fervent masochism. As Pansy's tiny doll-like frame stayed tiny but sprouted large tits and hips, Daphne just grew taller and heavier and lumpier.

For all of Daphne's devotion, Pansy wasn't very nice to her. No matter how many times she'd begged her to stop, Pansy insisted on calling Daphne by that awful childhood nickname, "Queenie," as if she were some snappish, ill-tempered spaniel.

And "Queenie" was one of Pans' milder putdowns.

With Pansy, you were either an equal or a subordinate. A very lowly subordinate. Why Daphne didn't tell her to go to hell was a mystery. I chalked it up to Daphne being nothing more than a humiliation magnet and ignored her. But apparently Daphne was made of sterner stuff than I had ever given her credit for, because she was the only Slytherin to openly defy Voldemort.

When the three of us were standing in from of his desk, Hugo coughed several times and threaded his wand through his fingers in some nervous twitch, as if trying to stall the proceedings. From my left, a barely audible "Father" prompted him to say, "You must know why we're here, Draco."

I decided to play this out. If I was going to get fired, I was going out in style.

"Sorry. Haven't a clue."

"Don't act coy," Brown shrieked. "You've been responding to my letters. Writing the most horrible things to people. In my name!"

It seemed pointless to deny it. "You're right." I counted to three. "I should have used an alias," I drawled. I counted to three again. "No one who knows you would ever credit you with being that articulate."

She lunged for me, nails out. Fortunately, one didn't have Pansy Parkinson for a best friend without learning how to deflect a cat fight. I did not have arthritis in my hands, and I coupled her wrists together in one swift motion and then threw her backward. The thud of her hitting the wall was music to my ears. I turned back around to face Mr Greengrass.

"Sir, in my defence, Lavender Brown's responses are trite and hackneyed at best. Anything more complicated that what to wear on a first date is beyond her. Her barely veiled hostility to those readers who are of…"—how could I put this without getting his knickers in a twist?—"…varying sexual persuasions makes her unfit…"

"You bastard," she hissed and would have gone for me again if not for a murderous glare from Mr Greengrass.

"Actually, Lavender, the number of letters we've received praising your work has gone up ten percent since Draco began writing the majority of your letters. And that's without the benefit of his replies appearing in print. There is also the question that if Draco is writing the majority of your letters, what are you doing all day? We are looking at shifting our resources."

She was stupid, but not so stupid that she didn't know she was this close to getting her glittery arse shit-canned.

"Astoria and I have made a decision to appoint Draco as the Agony Aunt. You will be in charge of a new weekly feature on beauty tips." Perhaps her first column should be on what to do when perms go wrong. "Does that meet with your approval?"

This was directed at both of us. Naturally, I said yes because why wouldn't I. She said yes because she didn't have any choice.

"Good. Shall we discuss the new column?" he said to Lavender. Not bothering to wait for her reply, because it wasn't really a request, he turned to his daughter and said, "Astoria?"

"Yes, Father. Come, Draco."

I followed her out of the office somewhat reluctantly. I had wanted to hear Lavender getting reamed from here to Cardiff. Sigh. We didn't have to go far. Astoria's office was only a couple of doors down and much larger and more nicely furnished than her father's. Heir apparently.

As soon as we entered the office, she closed the door and marched over to a sideboard with an impressive array of liquor.

"That went exactly as I planned. Bravo. I'll have her fired in six months. Did you see that perm? Drink?"

I shook my head. A glass of anything remotely alcoholic and I'd be passed out on one of the desks by eleven.

"Suit yourself." She poured herself a large glass of Ogden's Finest and downed half of it in one go. She motioned to a couch along the wall. "Have a seat."

I waited until we were both seated before asking the obvious. "Well, I'm assuming I owe this amazing change in fortune to you? Not a scrap of that tongue-tied younger sister left is there?"

"Not a scrap," she agreed, with something of a smirk. Her grit reminded me of Pansy.

"Daphne is…"

"Fine and as boring as ever. Now that we have that out of the way, I'm assuming you're not married."

"No. Being a former Death Eater, I'm not exactly beating them off with a stick." Where was this going?

"Good. Marry me." She toasted me with her glass and finished it off. "Father hates the paper and ran it because my grandfather insisted. Family drama that is far too boring to go into now. Grandpapa died last spring. And while father can't stand the smell of ink and parchment, I love it."

I could see the appeal. Power. Being beholden only to your advertisers. What's not to like? My estimation of Hugo Greengrass fell a few notches.

"And?"

"I need someone to help me run the paper, and it would look better if we were married. You were something of a bastard in school, which I consider a real plus, and you were also smart, articulate, and cunning. I'm smarter, even more articulate, and so cunning it would make your eyeballs spin." She looked me over. "Why not? You're desperate, otherwise you wouldn't be working here as a janitor. I think we would make an ideal couple."

The possibility of once more being part of the wizarding world, a legitimate part of it…

"I'm gay," I said flatly.

She didn't even flinch, but flipped her hair over one shoulder and then rolled her eyes.

"I know that. Daphne used to watch you and Blaise Zabini in the prefect showers and then tell me every detail, lick by lick. That is not a problem. In fact, it's the salient reason behind my proposal. As I have a secretary." She paused. "A devoted secretary."

Let there be light. A beard. I would be her beard; she would be mine.

"Does this devoted secretary have a name?"

"Faith Goyle." A younger, female version of Greg—devoted and loyal to a fault—but with more brains and an actual shape. "Who will live with us, as I bring an enormous amount of work home."

"Agreed, if my mother lives with us as well. She's in exile in France. I want to bring her back to England, but I'm afraid the Ministry will arrest her."

"Do they have anything on her?"

"No. They want the money in the Italian bank accounts. Pure harassment."

She gave what I now recognised as her trademark smirk.

"Then I think the Prophet will begin, as of tomorrow, a series of editorials on the unfair and illegal strong-arm tactics the Ministry is perpetrating against innocent citizens. Bring her home. We have lawyers on retainer. Let them try to arrest her."

I could easily love this woman. Platonically, of course.

"Where will we live?"

"The Ministry put up Malfoy Manor for auction yet again. Apparently, it's something of a white elephant. Everyone's been afraid to buy it and the Ministry more or less gave it away. My father has just bought it for a song. As a wedding present."

"You are a goddess."

"Yes, I am."

That time there wasn't a smirk but an actual smile, her teeth decidedly predatory with their pointed incisors. Right there and then I made a vow never to cross her. She would be a formidable enemy.

"But it will take a year minimum to make it habitable," she warned.

I pushed away the memory of its virtual destruction at the hands of the Aurors.

"In the interest of full disclosure. I'm still a pariah." I shoved up my sleeve to show her my Mark.

The woman had brass balls the size of Quaffles. She glanced at it, raised one curious eyebrow, and then dismissed it with an impatient wave of her hand. "Time will take care of that. We'll insinuate you into managing the paper bit by bit. In ten years, few people will care."

"I want a child. Otherwise the Malfoy line dies with me."

For the first time in this strange meeting, she was unsure. She played with her glass for a bit, tossing it back and forth in her hand, clicking a perfectly manicured nail against the glass. Then she decided.

"One. For your sake I hope it's a boy."

"There haven't been girls born to Malfoy men in one hundred years."

"Lucky you."

"Does this have anything to do with the letters?"

"Yes and no. It was I who realised you were playing Agony Aunt in your spare time. Based on the letters we received praising your advice—given the excerpts I saw there was no way in hell that that bint was writing those snarky, brilliant replies—I put two and two together. Then I realised you were the solution to my problem, and I might be the solution to yours. Am I?"

"Smart girl and maybe. Where will we live until the Manor's done?"

"I have a large flat in Diagon Alley. Room enough for all four of us."

"How old are you? Twenty? Don't you think you're a little old to be running a paper?"

"Twenty-one last week, and I was born old."

I grabbed the front of her shirt and wrenched her close until we were less than an inch apart.

"I will not be your lapdog."

"Finally some balls."

"Fuck me over and I will kill you."

"Fuck me over and I will kill you."

She was magnificent, and just my luck, she was resolutely female and gay.

"When?"

"Paperwork. Wednesday is the earliest possible day."

"Deal."

"Deal."

I let go and she fell against the back of the couch.

"I'll have that drink now," I purred.




When I Flooed back to Grimmauld Place that morning I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Elated and yet devastated at the prospect of escaping from my post-Azkaban hell. Because of Potter. Who could touch the back of my neck with a single finger and I couldn't help but surrender. Completely. Every time.

He was home. On the kitchen table next to a still warm half-finished cup of tea lay a scroll of parchment.

And that solved that.




I found him in what had to have been Black's old room. Ginny Weasley's fatal love affair with chintz hadn't reached there. Tucked under the eaves of the roof, this north-facing garret was grim and dank in October; god knows what it would be like in the dead of winter. Given Black's rotten relationship with my great aunt, the stuff of family legend, I wondered whether he chose this room to be as far away from that harpy's invectives or had been banished here.

The walls were covered with the faded posters of Muggle rock bands and smelled of, I swear to god, Hippogriff. I didn't even want to know.

Potter was seated on the bare mattress, his head in his hands.

I dropped the parchment in his lap. He crumpled it up and threw it on the floor, refusing to look at me.

"I know this is going to sound like I'm stark raving mad, but I'm not. Astoria Greengrass proposed to me last night. I've accepted."

He looked up at that. I couldn't read his expression. His face was in shadow.

"Unless I'm completely off base here, she's given in." I pointed at the parchment on the floor. "Children. Family. It's what you want," I reminded him.

"Yes," he said dully.

I turned around and made to go downstairs. I needed to pack. I could stand two days in my mould-infested hovel in Knockturn Alley.

"And you. Is that what you want? How are you going to…" he left it at that.

"Close my eyes and shove it in," I drawled. "She's agreed to one child. After that? We do our own thing."

"Picking up wankers like Smith in pubs?" he snarled.

"Yes," I hissed.

"Fuck you, Malfoy! What if Ginny hadn't…"

That was it! In five steps I was across the room, grabbed him, and began to shake him.

"Yes, even if. It's a chance, you selfish jerk. It's my only chance to have a family, and I'm going to take it. To once again be part of this world I love. That hates me. That spits on me. Here's a small window of opportunity to change that. And regardless of whether your wife gives in now or in ten years, the point is that I can't give you children, ever, you complete and total idiot."

I let go of him, all my anger spent at the utter hopelessness of it all. He pulled me down next to him on the bed. I rested my head on his shoulder. While I watched the morning sun creep over the horizon, he carded his fingers through my hair.

"I can't give you that and you won't be happy otherwise," I repeated.

Pulling me into a hug, he said in a throaty whisper, "No, you're right." He kissed me, pressing his hot, open mouth against my neck in that slow, teasing way that drove me mad. "Draco," he called me by my name for the first time in his life. "We have a day and one night left. Say my name," he demanded.

"Harry," I whispered.

"Say it when you come." He slid a hand under my shirt and began to worry my nipple.

I nodded and groaned.

"Say it when you fuck me," he demanded.




I had my moments, dark moments when every time I opened my mouth it was a snarl; nights when I couldn't sleep without knocking back a few snifters of brandy. When I regretted it. The very satisfactory arrangement with Astoria, the restoration of Malfoy Manor, my reunion with my mother, and the painfully slow, but assured long-term success of my re-emergence into the wizarding world couldn't compare to a shy smile and a wicked mouth.

Then I held my son, even the chubby visage of the newborn couldn't hide what would be a very pointy chin. My son. My son.

Mother stood by me, stroking his cheek with her pinkie finger. "Let me hold him, Draco. He's the spitting image of your father."

Grey eyes blinked at me.

"Yes, he is," I lied.




The DVD extra (i.e., the happy ending) is below

.

Sunday, September 1, 2017, 3:56 p.m.

Draco:

I saw you on the platform today. Your son is the spitting image of you. Handsome.

Don't bother denying it. Your knees are killing you. I took the liberty of looking up your file, and I can't believe you're seeing that quack Grayson. He wouldn't know a patella if it kneed him in the balls. I've got a three o'clock free on Wednesday. Please come see me. At a minimum, I'll refer you to people who know what they are doing.

Cheers,

Harry

Sunday, September 1, 2017, 9:13

Potter:

I cannot believe you! Isn't there something called patient confidentiality? Just because you're Head Healer at St. Mungo's doesn't give you the right to go rifling through my medical records.

Malfoy

Monday, September 2, 2017, 8:13 a.m.

Draco:

They hurt, don't they?

Harry

Monday, September 2, 2017, 8:33 a.m.

Yes.

Monday, September 2, 2017, 9:48 a.m.

Then stop being such a silly bugger. I'll see you at three on Wednesday.

Monday, September 2, 2017, 10:15 a.m.

No, you won't. I have a board meeting that afternoon. I can do it on lunchtime on Friday. Noon.

An exam and nothing else. This owl will self destruct in five seconds.

Draco

Monday, September 2, 2017, 10:28 a.m.

Draco:

You goddamned drama queen, of course nothing else. I've seen you, what, six times in the last thirteen years and always from across a room. Your virtue is safe with me. This is purely professional. I need ammunition to get Grayson sacked, and based on the way you're walking, I've found it. This owl will self-destruct in five hours.

Harry




Thursday, June 2, 2024, 1:17 p.m.

"They'll be fine."

"You would say that. Spending two months in Europe. By themselves! They're just eighteen! Traveling by train to St. Petersburg, pretending they are Muggles? The Chunnel? Do we need any more evidence that Muggles are crazy? They name tunnels. I wish I could blame Al for this hare-brained scheme, but it's all Pi's fault. Where did he get this fascination with Muggles? Where did I go wrong? Portkeys and Apparating were good enough for us, why isn't it Why aren't you stopping me? I'm ranting. The front desk is going to be getting complaints that there's a man in Room 412 having a mental breakdown."

"Having too much fun listening to you work your way up to a stroke."

"And you call yourself a Healer. Wanker is more like it." I gave his arse a pinch. "And don't you dare yelp at that. It didn't hurt at all. Just so you know, I'm never forgiving your son for that ridiculous nickname. Pi. I can't stand it."

His chuckle tickled my neck.

"You use it all the time."

"I know! That's why it irritates me so much. He is a Pi. Plus, I would appreciate a little honesty here. Do they think we are stupid? It's obvious to anyone with two eyes that they are madly in love. Do they think we care? Clearly, it was destined that the Malfoy line end. I played with fate and it—"

"Draco, why are you so grouchy? They will tell us when they tell us. Regarding this trip. They have their wands, both of them are as smart as whips"—I was in a mother of a foul mood, so I said nothing, just glowered—"and I put a tracking spell on both of them when I hugged them good bye, so no worries. I see that got a smile."

"Why does everyone think you're a saint?" I grumbled.

"Why won't you admit that the reason why you're so grouchy is because your knees are killing you, and it's time to do that knee replacement surgery we've talked about? Do one, then we wait six months, then we do the other. Chang is a brilliant surgeon, a pioneer in combining Muggle and wizarding medical expertise—"

"I've heard this lecture before."

"So? Please. I can't stand to see you in this pain."

I'd been putting this off forever. It was time. Even with a wave of Harry's wand, it hurt to give blow jobs and topping was now out of the question. Sex was on par with breathing, as far as I was concerned, and when you're relegated to giving nothing more than hand jobs because it's too agonizing to move, then you might as well hang yourself. Or have that damn surgery. I nodded.

"Great, I'll set up the consult. Want some relief?"

I nodded again. While he cast me some temporary cartilage, I reminded him, "Remember that scandal I told you about that's been brewing in the Auror's office? Front page tomorrow morning. The shit is going to hit the proverbial fan. I expect I'm going to be unavailable for a while."

"Hmmm. Astoria and Faith still in the country?"

"No, they're at the flat. Scandals are life's blood to Astoria, why?"

"Nothing. Draco?"

I looked up. He had that tone in his voice. The one that made my stomach do back-flips and not in a good I'm-about-to-get-a-blow-job way.

"Ginny and I are getting a divorce." I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. There hadn't been any spark between them for yonks, but there were the children "Not until after Lily's finished at Hogwarts, though."

I'd been so worried about Pi and Al and my knees hurting like holy fuck and this story that was going to break that I didn't notice the bags under his eyes. I brought a hand up to his cheek.

"I'm sorry. Being married to the defeater of Dark Lords not quite as brilliant as she thought it would be?"

He shook his head. "Hardly. Halo's rather tarnished in that regard. We're still young. Plus, she thinks I'm gay."

"Ten points to Gryffindor." I'd expected at least a small laugh from that but nothing. "Your halo's still brilliant as far as I'm concerned."

"I know." He ran a warm hand over my hip. "I… I'd like to… Can we—"

"No, absolutely not." I removed his hand. "You and I are not going public with this. Frankly, Astoria could care less, but it's only in the last five years that Weasley and his ilk don't publicly cut me to my face. There is no way that I cannot help but be named the villain here by your adoring fans. And while I've faced that sort of censure before and you are worth it, there's Pi to consider. He will not suffer from second-hand hell because you and I like to suck each other's dicks. I will not have him go through what I went through."

"Dra"

"No! You don't know what it's like—"

"Oh for christ's sake. Heir of Slytherin? Remember?"

"That was nothing. Nothing!" Jesus, he was being thick. "That was in Hogwarts and it was two hundred people, the majority of them immature children. I am not willingly subject my son to guaranteed universal scorn because I have a jones for you."

He began to pout.

"Stop pouting."

"A jones. Just a jones."

I rolled my eyes and smacked his bottom for him. "Yes, a jones. That has been going on for twenty years."

"You wanted me, even during those years when we didn't see each other?"

"I've told you this a thousand times. Yes. I wanked off to memories of you for years."

"I know," he sighed. "I just needed to hear it. I'm so lonely, Draco." He burrowed himself into my shoulder, which was unusual for him. I was the burrower. "I want to wake up with you in the morning and not because we happen to be in New York at different conventions and are staying in the same hotel. In fact, I'm really sick of meeting in hotels. Draco?" he said in a small voice.

"I'm horrible to live with. Ask Astoria. The woman is a saint."

"I don't believe that."

"What about Weasley?"

"That big fat check for werewolf research helped a lot. He wants to see me happy, and he knows that Gin and I aren't working out. You still hate him? You don't act like it."

I cuffed the side of his head, gently. "Slytherin. Of course I hate him. I just don't have anything to gain by being nasty to him. That would backfire on me, which is exactly what he wants. Killing him with kindness is my long-range goal." I gave him a look. "I am not joking. You see how frustrated he gets when I'm nice to him. Two more years of this, and I bet he works his way into a nice, fatal heart attack."

He cuffed me back. "Git. He's a lot tougher than you think. When I move out, why don't I buy a flat near you? In fact, you own the building your flat is in. Sell me one. We don't have to be in your face about it. I don't want Pi or Al or Lily or James to bear any social crap from this."

"James, that arrogant snot, will be furious."

"Hey, that's my son—"

"And he's an arrogant snot. Al will be fine with it, and Lily will forgive you. Eventually. I give her five years. James might never forgive you. Am I worth that?"

"They all adore Pi, even James, though he does his damnedest to deny it. If Pi gives us his blessing, and he will, then the others will follow suit. We'll work it out," he said with confidence. That's the thing about Harry, you just can't stop him when he's determined. I thought I was stubborn. "I have an idea. Why not put the flat underneath you up for charity auction? You probably could use the tax break, and you're such a publicity whore that I'm surprised you haven't thought of this before. St. Mungo's throws a charity ball, you put up that flat for auction, I bid on it, buy it, and move into it when the divorce is final. St. Mungo's gets my money, the Prophet broadcasts your philanthropy, Astoria gets the publicity for the paper, and I get you. We can live together with no one being the wiser. Astoria and Faith can have the upper flat. Gradually we're seen together, then seen together more, then a lot, and eventually people will get used to the idea and we'll be together. Finally."

The fact that this conversation was almost verbatim to that when Astoria proposed to me was not lost on me. I hate it and love it when he's being insanely brave.

"You are a devious bastard, Harry Potter."

"Did you know that the Sorting Hat initially wanted to put me in Slytherin?" he smirked, as he pulled me toward him.

You tell me that now?"




Fin. Really this time. I mean it!