Said and Unsaid (or, The Value of Knowing When to Stop Talking)

Draco decided he needed to talk less. In fact, he had a feeling his entire life would go a lot better if he just shut up entirely.

Talking had never served him well. He’d spent years talking, just talking, talking, talking. Talking shit about Muggles. Talking shit about half-bloods. Talking shit about people without status, without power, without money. Talking shit about Harry Potter. Especially talking shit about Harry Potter. And, good god, how he’d boasted about his father, about the Dark Lord, about how there was going to be a fucking revolution, how they were going to take back the wizarding world. How things were going to change.

They’d changed, all right. The kind of change that saw his mother under house arrest, his father sitting in Azkaban awaiting sentencing, and Draco himself sitting in front of the Wizengamot, the Dark Mark on his arm – his arm, which, by the way, still had a slight tremor, a parting gift from the Dark Lord, a token of his fondness for the Cruciatus curse – and a list of charges against him longer than his scarred, trembling arm being read to the court.

“Draco Abraxus Malfoy, you are charged with one count of being a Death Eater, one count of conspiring in the death of Albus Dumbledore, two counts of abetting in the attacks on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, twenty-seven counts of casting the Unforgivable Cruciatus, six counts of casting the Unforgivable Imperius, one count of attempted murder of Katherine Bell, one count of attempted murder of Ronald Weasley...”

His family advisor had discouraged him from claiming to be under the effect of the Imperius curse. While it had been a good defence after Voldemort’s first reign of terror, this time around it was eliciting anger that bordered on fury. The few Death Eaters who had tried it had not only been found guilty, but had also been given harsher sentences than anyone had anticipated. Instead, he’d been advised to play up his youth, the threat to his family, and the “coercive” nature of the Dark Lord. Draco, however, had opted to do none of those things. There seemed very little point; he had no hope that the Wizengamot would be sympathetic. He knew what he’d done. He knew he’d have to answer for it, no matter what his reasons were at the time.

“Mr Malfoy, do you understand the charges that have been brought against you?”

Draco couldn’t bring himself to look at the Interrogator. Keeping his eyes fixed on the wood-grain of the floor in front of him, he nodded.

His gaze stayed on the floor and he listened dispassionately as the gathered witnesses came forward, one by one detailing his crimes. Rosemerta and Katie Bell speaking about his disastrous plan with the cursed necklace. Fleur Weasley giving an impact statement about the injuries her husband suffered when Draco let Fenrir Greyback into the school. A whole line-up of witches and wizards detailing how Draco had held them under Cruciatus, torturing them on Voldemort’s command during Death Eater raids. There were even two Muggles who had been found in the Manor dungeons, kept purely for the Dark Lord’s pleasure. Draco had tortured them several times. They all had.

Draco didn’t feel shame or regret as he listened. He was too far beyond that. The last two years he’d felt it all – shame, regret, fury, humiliation, terror, panic, guilt, sadness – it had all lived in a tangled ball that burned cold in his chest every second of every day and night. But now, he felt nothing. He hadn’t felt anything since he’d seen Voldemort fall at last, seen Potter lower his arm, two wands clenched in his fist, and known it was all finally over. In that moment, he’d actually stumbled with relief, and then the fog had found him and it had held him ever since.

When the Interrogator asked if he had anything to say on his own behalf, Draco shook his head, his lips pressed tight in a thin line. There was nothing to say that wouldn’t sound like an excuse.

The Interrogator asked if anyone would like to speak on his behalf. The room went silent, the background hum of whispers and shifting bodies that had been present for hours suddenly gone. Draco looked up and saw hundreds of eyes, all locked on him, all hungry, all hard.

“I’d like to say something.”

The entire courtroom turned as one to stare at Harry Potter.

Draco had known he was there of course. Rumour had it that Potter had been at every Death Eater trial so far. He’d certainly been at Draco’s father’s trial. He’d provided testimony against him. Potter had spoken against some of the others, too, giving his statement in calm, clear tones, his expression fixed and hard. If reports were correct, he never stayed after he’d spoken. The other witnesses tended to stay to hear the verdict. Potter would just rise from his seat at the front of the room and walk steadily towards the door, Granger and Weasley closing rank around him if they were with him, on his own if they weren’t.

They weren’t today, as it happened. Potter made his way along the row of onlookers where he’d been seated and walked towards the front of the room with the same purposeful stride he had when he walked onto the Quidditch pitch.

Draco watched, stunned, as Potter sat himself in the wooden chair assigned to witnesses. Potter waited for permission to begin. When the Interrogator nodded at him, he began to speak. His voice was quiet, but firm; it carried easily into every corner of the room.

“I want to speak for Draco Malfoy. As most of you probably know by now, during the war I had a connection to Voldemort that let me see things no one else outside of the Death Eaters could have seen. Based on what I saw, I believe Malfoy was forced into service as a Death Eater –

Voldemort threatened to kill him and his family. Despite this threat, he did not kill Dumbledore as he had been ordered to do. As well, there were two separate times when my life was in danger and I only escaped because of Malfoy.”

Potter expanded on this opening statement in great detail. Draco listened but found it hard to process Potter’s words. Of all the people Draco had imagined coming to his defence, he had never once thought it would be Potter. Draco stared, barely even blinking, as Potter talked. He wasn’t an eloquent speaker, but he was compelling. There wasn’t a sound in the room other than Potter’s voice. Every now and then, Potter would look over at him, his expression stern, his eyes dark and flashing, making Draco’s pulse jump. It was a look Draco knew well. He’d seen it on Potter’s face that day in the Great Hall, right before he cast his final spell. Conviction. Resolution. Unyielding determination. That look had seared itself into Draco’s memory. He suspected that for the rest of his life, whenever he thought of Potter, he would picture that look.

There was a sudden silence and Draco realised Potter had stopped talking. The Interrogator was saying something, Potter was nodding, and then he rose and walked back down the aisle toward the doors.

But he didn’t leave. Instead, he went back to his original seat. He didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t look at anyone as he shuffled back along the row. He found his chair, sat, and faced the front of the room expectantly. His eyes cut to Draco and his expression shifted somehow, but Draco didn’t know how to interpret it. Then Potter turned his attention back to the front of the room and Draco did the same. Behind him, he could hear the hissing whispers, hushed voices all asking the same question he was: Why?

***

Draco stood outside the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron turning a cream-coloured envelope around and around in his hands.

He could do this. He could. He was going to go in there and knock on Potter’s door and say “Thank you” and Potter was probably just going to stare at him, but that was what the letter was for. He could just push it into Potter’s hands and go. It was a simple thing, really. He just had to do it. He’d left it too long already. It had been sixteen days since his trial and Draco knew full well the only reason he was standing there on the streets of wizarding London rather than rotting in Azkaban was Potter’s testimony. So he would go in and say thank you. Right now.

Taking a deep breath, Draco opened the door and stepped in. Compared to the sun and heat of Diagon Alley, the inside of the Leaky Cauldron was cool and so dark it took a moment for Draco’s eyes to adjust. He blinked a few times and faces swam into focus, all turned towards him. Some turned away again, indifferent, but many more kept looking. And frowning. Or scowling. A few even crinkled in disgust.

Draco’s heart sped. It had been like this the last few months. People’s post-war reactions to Death Eaters weren’t exactly friendly. He’d noticed that his acquittal – or, more likely, Potter’s testimony – had reduced the animosity somewhat, but people were still unpredictable, still angry, still grieving. And there were still many who felt Draco should be in Azkaban until he died.

Draco’s eyes darted around the room, but no one was getting out of his seat, no hands were clenched into fists. Draco breathed an inward sigh of relief and started across the room, heading towards the staircase that led away from the pub and up to the rooms for let. Rooms where Harry Potter was staying, if Draco’s information was correct.

His foot had not quite landed on the first step when he felt a hand on his shoulder, pulling him around. Draco recognised the man’s face – he was the pub’s owner - but he couldn’t recall his name.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the man asked, threat unmistakable in his tone.

“I’m calling on one of your guests,” Draco said, grateful when his voice came out smooth and cool. He hated it when they saw him get flustered.

“Oh no, you’re not. There’s only one guest up there right now, and I know for a fact he is not expecting you, Mr Malfoy.”

“He may not be expecting me, but I do have business with him and I’d appreciate it if you’d let me pass.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“I only want to deliver this letter to him.”

“I’ll deliver it.”

“I’d really prefer to give it to him myself.”

“I’m sure you would. But, like I said, that’s not going to happen. My pub, my rules. Now, I suggest you hand that over to me and be on your way.”

A million insults were bubbling up, begging to be let loose. Draco forced them back down. Arguing would get him nowhere except tossed out, letter undelivered. Or maybe some of the patrons who were looking on with undisguised contempt would decide that glaring wasn’t enough anymore. Draco bit his tongue so hard he tasted blood, and he hated, he hated, the smug look on the landlord’s face as he watched Draco grapple with his self-control. Draco thrust the letter towards the other man, who took it with a smirk.

“There’s a good lad,” the man said as he tucked the letter into the pocket of his apron. It would never reach Potter. Draco would bet every Galleon he had on it.

He turned and left, striding across the sticky floor of the pub with as much dignity as he could muster. He let the door close too hard behind him, his one concession to the anger churning in his gut. That was happening more and more since the trial, the fog lifting, the emotions bleeding back in. Draco couldn’t say it was a change for the better. He knew it probably wasn’t healthy but the fog had made things... easier...

He walked out into Diagon Alley, but came to a dead halt after only a few metres. He squinted; the midday sun was too bright after the gloom of the pub and it made his eyes water. He rubbed at them trying to decide what to do next. He wasn’t sure he could handle another unpleasant encounter. One more rude clerk or bump from a random stranger and Draco was quite sure his whole talk less mantra was going to fly straight out the window. But the thought of home was no better, his mother drifting through the hallways, pale and tense, his father’s absence heavy around them, memories of the Dark Lord still shadowing every wall and corner.

The longer Draco stood there, stock still as people flowed around him, the more foolish he felt. It wasn’t that hard. He just had to pick a place and go there. Anywhere would be better than the middle of the street. He just had to pick a place. Any place.

His eyes pricked and stung and he ground at them with the heels of his hands. When he opened them again, another pair of eyes was looking at him, green and curious and only a foot or two away.

“Merlin’s tits!” Draco gasped, stumbling back a step.

He found his footing quickly, but he still felt unsteady, shaken by Potter’s sudden appearance. Back at the pub he’d been prepared for Potter, had braced himself for the conversation. Even though only minutes had passed, now, out on the street, he wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t ready, especially not on the heels of his altercation with the landlord.

“Sorry.” Potter gave him an apologetic smile. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Did you want something?” Draco asked, his discomfort making him blunt when he knew he should be conciliatory. He had been looking to thank Potter for his freedom, after all.

“I was just coming down the stairs as you were leaving,” Potter said, seemingly unconcerned with Draco’s lack of manners, which, Draco supposed, wasn’t surprising given their history. “Sorry about Tom. He takes my privacy pretty seriously.”

Merlin, how many times was Potter going to be witness to his moments of humiliation?

Draco covered his embarrassment with a smirk. “Must be fun for the other lodgers, having all their guests interrogated before they’re allowed to visit.”

Potter’s lips twisted into something that was edging towards a grin but ended up as a frown and his eyes dropped to his shoes, ratty trainers with scribbles inked onto them in pen. “Oh, well, there aren’t any other lodgers. I rented the whole floor. It was just... easier...”

“I can imagine.”

And he could. Once word got out that Harry Potter had taken a room at the Leaky Cauldron, every reporter and groupie in a hundred mile radius must have been angling to acquire lodging.

Potter looked up and pushed his fringe out of his eyes. “Anyway, Tom said you were looking for me?”

Now it was Draco’s turn to feel awkward. Only moments ago, he’d been furious not to be able to thank Potter in person. Now he wished he had any excuse to be elsewhere. “I left a letter for you.”

“I got it, but, well, he made it sound like you wanted to talk to me in person.”

Potter’s eyes flicked up to catch Draco’s. To Draco’s shame, he wasn’t able to hold the look, instead pretending be distracted by the bright display of a nearby storefront. It was only then he noticed the small crowd gathering around them, taking in the spectacle of the Saviour of the Wizarding World talking to the Death Eater he’d saved from Azkaban. It figured that he couldn’t be allowed any dignity as he did this.

He set his jaw and forced himself to meet Potter’s eye. “I wanted to say thank you. For speaking on my behalf at the trial. I’m certain they would have convicted me if it weren’t for you. So, thank you.”

Potter looked at him blankly for a moment and then he smiled, open and warm and with something like amusement hiding there, too. “You’re welcome. But you don’t have to thank me. I didn’t do it for you.”

Draco’s breath left him in a horrifying rush and he wondered if everyone could see that it felt like Potter had just batted a Bludger at his gut.

It must have been obvious because Potter flushed and hurriedly added, “I mean, it wasn’t a special favour or something. I did it because it was the right thing to do.” Then the smile came back and yes, there was definitely amusement in it now. “You might be a spoilt git, but you don’t deserve Azkaban.”

“Thanks. I think.”

“Any time.”

And then there was nothing else to say, really. They just stood there not quite looking at each other, the pressure of dozens of pairs of eyes bearing down on them. Draco was just drawing a breath, getting ready to say good-bye and get out of there, when Potter rocked forward on his feet and shot Draco a strange, almost hopeful look from underneath his fringe.

“So what are you up to now?”

Draco blinked. “Hm?”

Potter’s eyes darted away. He looked embarrassed, but he repeated the question. “Right now, what are you doing?”

“Not much,” Draco replied as he recovered his composure. “Shockingly, my social obligations seem to have dropped off somewhat in recent weeks.”

Potter nodded down Diagon Alley. “I was going to wander over to Quality Quidditch and check out the brooms. Want to come with me?”

Draco gaped. So did several of the onlookers crowded around them.

Potter laughed, though it was thin, almost nervous. “Come on. It’ll be... Well, I don’t know what it will be. Very weird, most likely. Probably awkward as arse, too.”

A startled laugh escaped Draco before he could stop it. “Really, Potter, don’t oversell it.”

Potter grinned and started walking. Draco fell into step beside him.

Potter was right, it was weird. Draco was all too aware of the eyes on them as they made their way down the thoroughfare. He was also very aware of Potter beside him, of the movement of his body and the quiet footfalls of his trainers on the cobblestone street. Every now and then the crowd would thicken and Potter would tuck in nearer to Draco, their shoulders and hands brushing. Draco felt a strange swooping sensation in his stomach every time.

Potter was right about the other part, too. It was awkward as arse. Apparently extending an invitation to Draco had maxed out Potter’s conversational abilities and Draco himself was doing no better. The silence stretched between them, the weight of it pressing down on Draco as if trying to push words from his mouth. But he didn’t trust himself to speak because all he could think was, Why did you save me? Why are you here with me? Why are you living alone in a musty old room above a pub? Where are your friends? and a hundred other questions that likely had no easy answers. So Draco held to his mantra and said nothing, however uncomfortable it made him feel.

They rounded a corner and Draco could see Quality Quidditch Supplies at the end of street, could just make out the outline of a broom in its window. He wondered if they’d get there without a word passing between them.

Potter must have had a similar thought because he drew a sharp breath and said, “So did you get your letter?”

Draco shot him a questioning look.

“Your Hogwarts letter,” Potter clarified. “Did you get it?”

Draco nodded, suddenly wishing they could go back to the silence.

But Potter, apparently, had difficult questions on his mind, too. “Are you going?”

Draco stopped and turned to fix Potter with an incredulous look. “Are you joking? There was a war. I was on the side trying to destroy the world. I hardly think I’ll be welcome at Hogwarts.”

Potter’s brow furrowed. “If you got a letter, then you’re welcome.”

Draco shook his head in disbelief. “You can’t possibly be that naive.”

“I’m not saying it will be easy. But it will be worth it.”

“And you’re basing this on what, exactly?”

Then Potter was staring at him hard and he had that look on his face again, the same one he’d worn in the courtroom. The same one he’d worn with Voldemort. Draco felt pinned beneath it.

“I believe what I said at your trial, you know,” Potter said. “I believe you were coerced. I believe you didn’t want to do things you did, that you felt like you had no choice.”

As much as Draco wanted to accept Potter’s justification of his behaviour – and he very much wanted to – he knew it was a lie. “There’s always a choice,” he countered, and was surprised by the bitterness in his own voice.

Right. Time to shut up.

He started to walk on but Potter’s hand shot out, closing around his arm – his left arm – stopping him. Draco’s arm trembled at the touch.

“What?” he snapped, embarrassed that his arm had chosen now to act up.

But if Potter noticed, he didn’t say anything. Instead he just kept looking at Draco with that fierce, determined look. His hand stayed curled around Draco’s forearm, his fingers separated from Draco’s Dark Mark only by the material of Draco’s robes.

“A lot of people went through the war without having to make any choices,” Potter said, his voice low and firm like it had been in the courtroom. Compelling. His eyes burned into Draco. “A lot of people just sat back and waited to see what was going to happen. And then when things got bad, they threw up their hands and waited for someone to make it better. You and I didn’t get to do that. We had to make choices. Hard choices, the kind where people could die. Where we could die.”

Draco pulled his arm from Harry’s grasp and scowled. “I doubt people will see me trying to murder Dumbledore to save my family on par with you sacrificing yourself to save the whole world.”

But Potter shook his head. “I’m not talking about ‘people’. I’m talking about you and me. I know what it’s like when the hard choices come. And I know that, yeah, other people might look at your situation and say, ‘Well, that was his choice.’ But when you’re there, living it, and it’s the people you love on the line, it doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels really clear what you have to do.”

For a long moment, they just stared at each other. Draco’s heart thudded against his ribs and his arm continued to tremble, minute twitches that Draco knew no one could see but that he could feel and could not control.

Draco was on the verge of making a break for it, because, gratitude or no, this was just too much, when Potter turned away and started walking towards the Quidditch shop again. Draco stared after him, and then strode forward to once more fall in step beside him.

They reached the shop quickly, but Potter didn’t go inside, instead drifting over to the window where the new Firebolt A-700 was displayed.

Potter’s eyes gleamed as he looked at it. “Bloody hell, would you look at that thing. That is a beautiful broom.”

Draco nodded, because, really, it was.

“Do you think they’ll let us play on the house teams?”

Draco didn’t answer. He hadn’t given it any thought. School teams and the Quidditch Cup seemed as though they belonged to another time. Another life. And he supposed, in a way, they did.

Potter had a hand against the glass now, fingers pressing on it as though they could push through the window to grip the broom. “God, I miss it. Being up there, the wind whipping around you, broom surging beneath you, and for that moment, there’s nothing in the world except you and the Snitch. Everything else just disappears.”

Draco knew what he meant. He missed it, too, the easy joy of it. He wanted to return to that simplicity, that innocence, so badly it put a lump in his throat. He pushed away the thought because he couldn’t, he wouldn’t, lose his shit here in front of Potter. Instead, he aimed for a drawl and said, “Why, Potter, that was almost poetic.”

Potter turned to look at him, the expression on his face telling Draco he hadn’t fooled him for a second. “You’re going to tell me you don’t feel the same way? I’ve seen you fly. I’ve seen the look you get when you’re diving for the Snitch.” He turned back to the window, his eyes moving hungrily over the broom. “You miss it.”

“I suppose,” Draco conceded. There was no harm in admitting that much.

“It feels like it’s been forever. I can’t wait to get back out there, see if I can still hold my own against the other Seekers.”

Draco nodded toward the Firebolt. “It’s not exactly going to be fair with you on that broom.”

“Point. Maybe I should get four. One for each Seeker. What size do you take?” Potter slanted him a cheeky grin.

Draco sniffed. “I can buy my own broom, thanks.”

“Fine, three then. And you’d better hope you pick something that can keep up.” Potter’s expression grew sober again as he turned to face Draco. “I’m serious, Malfoy. Come back to Hogwarts.”

Draco kept his eyes on the display. “Why do you care whether or not I go back?”

“Because if you don’t come back, it’s like he won. Voldemort. If we let fear or hatred or whatever else keep us from doing things, then he’s won. Because that’s what he wanted, for Muggle-borns and purebloods to hate each other. He wanted us to see each other as enemies. He wanted to fracture our community, turn us on each other. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that happen. I didn’t – I didn’t go through everything I did just to see the same shit still happening.”

Draco did look at Potter then. He looked at him for a long time, taking in the resolute set of his jaw and the fiery look in his eyes. Then he nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

Potter nodded in return, some of the ferocity leaving his face. He gestured towards the shop entrance. “So, let’s go inside. I need to get my hands on this broom.”

***

Draco concentrated on Vanishing all the scraps of dandelion stem from his desktop. He hated working with dandelion for the very reason that it was so hard to clean up. A sticky, white substance seeped from its stems and always seemed to end up all over the place. To add to the frustration, the dandelion’s secretions weren’t particularly amendable to Vanishing spells. Inevitably, Draco had to resort to actually scrubbing at the tabletop like a house-elf.

He kept his head down as he worked, not making eye contact, not drawing any attention to himself, hoping maybe this time he could get out of class without incident.

He was just giving up on Vanishing spells and transfiguring his quill into a scrub brush when there was a swirl of dark blue robes in front of him, fabric swinging forward to sweep against the edge of the desk.

No such luck then.

“Mr Malfoy.”

Draco looked up at Professor Montgomery, the new Potions professor, and fought to keep his expression neutral. “Yes, Professor?”

“Perhaps you would be so kind as to stay behind for a few moments and help me straighten the classroom?”

“Of course.”

He heard a snicker from behind him. He turned to see Zacharias Smith and some Hufflepuff girl whispering to each other and smirking at him. Smith saw him looking and raised an eyebrow in challenge.

Bloody Hufflepuffs.

Draco scowled and started towards the front of the room to clean up the bubbling cauldron and the mess of hissing, crackling substances – and dandelion – spilt across the front table. They’d been making a complicated potion with many volatile ingredients; cleaning up was going to take a while. The rest of the class filed out, Smith’s girlfriend making a point of knocking a few more things over on her way by, thus ensuring that Draco would not be making it to his next lesson on time.

The rest of the day progressed with dismal predictability. Tidying up for Professor Montgomery had made him late for Arithmancy. Professor Vector, who taught Arithmancy, had a strict and well-known policy about tardiness and, accordingly, docked Slytherin two points and gave Draco detention. It was Draco’s fourth such detention since term started three weeks prior. It was a routine Draco was becoming quite familiar with - wake up, go to lessons, get treated like shit, serve detention.

There was one unforeseen deviation this time, however. Unlike his previous detentions, Draco would not be passing the time sorting old textbooks or copying out formulas. Professor Vector apparently had some sort of meeting and could not supervise him. Draco, therefore, would be serving detention with Hagrid. And so, even though it was different, it was typical, really. Perfectly typical of his life since coming back to Hogwarts, everything going to crap.

Worse still, his pleasant numbing fog was letting him down. More and more, the anger and the grief and the sheer fucking misery seemed to be seeping through. It was all too much, sometimes, and days like today it was hard to remember why he bothered trying at all.

Eight o’ clock found him striking out across the lawn towards the newly rebuilt groundskeeper’s hut, reminding himself of his policy about speaking as little as possible. Not that it would be particularly hard in this instance. He’d rather have a conversation with a flobberworm than with Hagrid. But his stomach was churning and Draco could feel the words gathering on the back of his tongue, bitter and biting, waiting to be spat out, to be hurled like knives towards the closest target. He clamped his jaw shut tight as the small, squat building came into sight.

Hagrid was waiting for him, his huge form a dark blot against the lights of his hut. It wasn’t until Draco drew closer that he saw Hagrid wasn’t alone. Potter and Smith were with him.

Draco was surprised to see them but then recalled hearing something about a fight out in the courtyard just after lunch. Indeed, Smith seemed to have a poorly healed black eye. Potter – who was steadily looking away from Smith – looked fine, but then, not only was it likely that he gave better than he got, but also that Granger had cast the healing spells for him.

Smith caught sight of Draco as he approached and his lips curved into a nasty grin. There was no grin on Potter’s face. He was still staring off into the distance, looking annoyed. Greatly annoyed. His expression softened a bit when he turned and saw Draco. He opened his mouth as if to say something but his words were lost as Hagrid, too, spotted Draco and started talking in that coarse, booming voice.

“Malfoy, yer here. Good, let’s get started, then. Follow me.”

Smith said something Draco didn’t hear but Potter gave him a sharp look before following Hagrid. Smith rolled his eyes at Potter’s back and then followed suit. Draco brought up the rear, hanging back a few steps. Hagrid led them across a wide expanse of lawn, towards a fenced plot of land that edged onto the Forbidden Forest. The warm, heavy smell of manure wafted toward them on the night breeze, growing disturbingly stronger with every step they took.

They came to a stop just outside the fence. Hagrid waved one gigantic hand towards its far corner. There sat a giant pile of something that looked like dirt but smelled more like the inside of a barn. “You lot are going to be turnin’ o’er this field for me. Professor Sprout wants to grow some algidasters and they need seedin’ before the frost starts. ‘Fore we can do that, though, we got to lay in some new soil.”

“Er, Hagrid,” Potter said, his voice muffled where he had his shirt sleeve held over his mouth and nose. Beside him, Smith was doing the same and was making faint gagging sounds. “I hate to tell you this, but that doesn’t exactly smell like soil.”

“O’ course it’s soil. Jus’ been mixed with manure, tha’s all. Got to get some good nutrients into the earth.”

Draco rubbed at his nose, trying to block the smell. “So we’re shovelling shit for detention. Lovely.”

“What?” snapped Smith, scowling at Draco over the edge of his sleeve. “Too good for it?”

Draco glared at Smith, refusing to rise to the bait. He knew how it would go. Smith would be an antagonistic shit, but it was Draco who would serve the extra detentions. He was surprised, though, to see Potter’s eyes flick to Smith, a warning clear on his face.

None of which seemed to make any difference to Smith, who lowered his hand long enough to sneer at Draco and say, “Why don’t you go cry to your father if you don’t like it? Isn’t that what you usually do when things don’t go your way? Oh, but wait, that won’t work this time, will it? Because he’s in Azkaban.”

Draco’s hands curled into fists but he held them tight his sides. His teeth ground together with the effort of keeping quiet and his blood was rushing so loud in his ears he almost missed Potter’s soft but dangerous, “Shut it, Zach.”

Smith looked like he was going to say something more – and then Draco was going to have to knock him to the ground and shove fistfuls of Hagrid’s “soil” down his throat – but then Hagrid was frowning down at them as though just realising the volatility of the situation, and giving Smith’s shoulder a pat that nearly sent him tumbling the ground.

“Come on, lads,” he said. “You’ve got a long night ahead o’ ye. Best be tryin’ to get along.”

None of them said anything further as Hagrid led them around the perimeter of the field, showing them exactly what he wanted them to do. Not that it was especially difficult. They shovelled shit into their barrows, wheeled it out into the field, and then shovelled it back out onto the ground. And then repeat. Ad nauseum. It was possibly the worst detention in the history of detentions. Well, aside from Draco’s last detention with Hagrid, in which, as a first year, he’d been placed in a life-threatening situation...

Hagrid gave them each a wheelbarrow and a shovel and then declared he had to “go tend to the animals” and took off. For one long minute, they all watched him go. Then Potter sighed, picked up his shovel and started towards the manure pile. Draco and Smith did the same.

No one spoke at first, they just pushed their barrows along the furrowed earth. Draco’s had a squeaky wheel which he knew would be driving him spare before the night was out. Potter’s seemed to have a wobble – every now and then it would suddenly pitch to the side. Smith’s, of course, seemed perfect.

As they started loading in shovelfuls of shit-enriched dirt, Potter glanced over at Draco and gave him a friendly sort of nod. “So how come you’re here, Malfoy?”

“Late for Arithmancy,” Draco said. He grimaced against the weight of the shovel, the strain of it setting his bad arm to trembling. He tucked it in closer to his side, trying to brace it against his body. He probably looked odd, but it was better than the humiliation that would surely follow dropping the shovel.

Smith snorted. “You were late for Vector? Maybe you need to rethink your strategy a bit, eh? Spend a bit less time sucking up to Professor Montgomery and a bit more time practising punctuality.”

Draco froze, mid-dig. “Excuse me?”

Smith leant on his shovel and smirked at Draco. “Oh don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. We all saw you today.” He put on a simpering falsetto. “‘Of course I’ll help you tidy up the room, Professor Montgomery.’” He fluttered his eyelashes and then laughed. “You’ve done it practically every day since term started. You just can’t help it, can you? All those years of toadying up to Snape, you can’t keep from trying to kiss arse with the Potions professor.”

Out of the corner of his eyes, Draco saw Potter toss down his shovel and take a step forward.

Draco ignored him, focusing on Smith. “I’m sorry, were you dropped on your head repeatedly as a child or are you really this stupid? I don’t volunteer to stay behind. She asks me to help her because she knows I have Arithmancy after Potions and she knows Professor Vector gives detention for being late. She does it on purpose.”

Smith barked out a derisive laugh. “She’s a professor, Malfoy. If she wanted you have a detention, she could assign you one herself.”

“Yes, well, then she’d miss out on all the fun of fucking with my head, now wouldn’t she?”

“Do you even hear yourself?”

“Do you know how many detentions I’ve had since school started. Four! Four in three weeks! And guess how many house points I’ve lost. Go on. No? Let me tell you, then. Thirty-two.”

“You probably deserved them,” Smith said.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yeah, keep telling yourself that.”

Smith moved closer to Draco, radiating hostility. “What, you expect me to feel sorry for you? You’re a fucking Death Eater, Malfoy. You tortured people. People’s lives were ruined because of the things you did.”

Draco’s throat went tight and he swallowed once, twice, around the anger that seemed lodged there, but he couldn’t seem to force it down, couldn’t keep it from spewing out. “God, I knew it would be like this! I fucking knew it! All that talk about rebuilding and moving forward and not letting old divisions continue. I knew all I’d ever be is a scum of the earth, sack of shit Death Eater to you people.”

“Yeah, well if you knew all that, why’d you come back?”

Draco’s eyes flicked to Potter before he could stop himself. He glanced away immediately, but Potter had been watching him, had seen, and his eyes widened in surprise. Embarrassment flooded Draco. He could feel heat in his cheeks, knew he was blushing, and hoped the growing dark of evening would be enough to hide it.

“Well?” Smith demanded, apparently having missed Draco’s glance. “What are you doing here, Malfoy, really?”

Draco retreated into the safety of silence, not trusting himself to speak without giving himself away even further. Agitation prickled beneath his skin, hot and itchy, making him want to lash out with his words and his fists. But it wouldn’t help. It would only make things worse and, fuck if Potter wasn’t still looking at him.

When it became clear Draco wasn’t going to respond, something mean and hungry came into Smith’s face. He leant towards Draco. Draco saw his lips part, heard the intake of breath as Smith prepared to deliver what was no doubt an offensive, pointed barb.

He never got the chance, though. Instead Potter was suddenly there, between them, his eyes fixed on Smith.

“Leave it, Zach,” he said, quiet command in his voice.

Smith sneered at Potter. “Of course you would defend this arsehole. You probably-”

Smith broke off at Potter’s darkening expression, and he actually backed away a step. From the safer distance, he smirked at Potter, shot one last glare at Draco, and then picked up his shovel and stalked off to the far corner of the field. Potter watched him go, scowling, and Draco took advantage of his distraction to slip off to his own corner. He’d had all he could handle for one night. Hell, he’d had all he could handle for a lifetime.

***

Draco hadn’t thought Potions could get much worse, but apparently he’d been wrong about that. Two days had passed since the detention from hell and he was still in a foul mood. His arms, shoulders, and back still ached from shovelling manure all night and his hands felt raw; he hadn’t thought to wear gloves to detention – why would he? – and the Shielding Charm hadn’t been enough to keep the rough wood of the shovel handle from blistering his palms. He’d put a healing balm on them but the skin still felt tight and sensitive. Worst of all, though, the tremor in his left arm had grown more pronounced; when he held out his left hand, it shook visibly. Someone would have to be looking closely to notice, but it was visible nonetheless.

Trying to do delicate potions work with shaking, stinging hands was next to impossible. He’d already botched his Confusing Concoction twice and looked to be well on his way to scrapping his third attempt – he just didn’t have the dexterity to mince the scurvy-grass finely enough without grinding it into a pulp. Professor Montgomery had already stopped at his cauldron several times to comment on his poor technique. And of course it didn’t help anything that he could practically feel Potter’s eyes burning a hole in the back of his skull.

Draco had been avoiding him. He knew it. Potter probably knew it, too. Hell, anyone with eyes probably knew it. The “eighth year” class was small and had most of their lessons together. Anyone who was watching them would easily be able to see the way Potter kept trying to catch Draco’s eye, the way Draco kept determinedly not letting him. He wasn’t even being subtle about it. Potter had him on the run. Draco just wasn’t ready to face him. When he closed his eyes, he could still see Potter’s shocked expression, eyes wide, lips parting as his mouth fell open...

“We’ve only a few minutes left.” Professor Montgomery’s voice jolted Draco out of his thoughts. “Please decant your potions into your phials and bring them to me on your way out.”

Draco looked at his own failed potion and then Vanished it. There was no point handing it over in that state, especially not to Professor Montgomery.

Apparently, she’d been watching him. The last traces of potion had barely left his cauldron before she appeared at his desk, her eyebrows arched in disapproval. “You’re not handing in your potion, Mr Malfoy?”

“It wasn’t up to calibre, Professor.”

“I see. Well, since you don’t have to worry about preparing your phial, perhaps you wouldn’t mind cleaning up at the front for me when you’re done tidying your own desk?”

Draco gritted his teeth. “Of course, Professor.”

Professor Montgomery sauntered back to the front of the room and perched on the edge of her desk, accepting students’ phials as they walked past. Draco took several slow, deep breaths as he cleared away his mangled scurvy-grass, willing himself to calm. He didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of seeing that she’d got to him.

Once his desk was clean and he felt he could trust himself not to hex her, Draco started on Professor Montgomery’s table. Before he’d even stoppered the first bottle (and really, what kind of Potions professor left unstoppered bottles of ingredients out in a classroom?), Potter materialised at his side, Vanishing the plant scraps littering the table surface with his wand.

Every muscle in Draco’s body tensed. “What are you doing?”

Potter slanted him a sideways look and grinned sardonically. “What does it look like? I’m helping you clean up.”

“Yes, fine. And why are you doing this?”

Potter rolled his eyes but before he could answer, Professor Montgomery came sweeping up, a tight smile on her face.

“Mr Potter,” she said with brittle brightness. “Did you need to speak with me?”

“No, Professor. I just thought I’d stay behind and give Malfoy a hand tidying up.” He gave her an affable smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

Professor Montgomery’s own smile grew wider. “There’s no need, I’m sure. Mr Malfoy can more than manage this job.”

Potter shrugged. “I don’t mind. Besides, more hands make lighter work, or something like that.”

As much as he was annoyed with Potter’s interference, Draco couldn’t help watching the exchange with avid interest. In many ways, Potter was the most powerful person in the wizarding world at the moment and Professor Montgomery was all about power. So, then, when faced with their Saviour, would she try to dominate or ingratiate?

Most of the other students had left, but the few remaining had their eyes glued to the events unfolding at the front of the classroom. Professor Montgomery gave them each a pointed look that had them hurriedly packing their bags and exiting the room. She waited until they were gone before turning back to face Potter, her expression all false amiability pasted over poorly concealed anger.

“Won’t you be late for your next lesson?” she asked.

“No, I have a free period after this.” Potter nodded toward Draco. “It’s Malfoy who needs to be worried about being late. I’m sure you weren’t aware, but he has Arithmancy after Potions; he needs to get clear across the castle for that.”

Professor Montgomery coloured, a flush creeping up her neck and into her cheeks. Her smile disappeared. Draco could practically see the wheels turning in her head.

Potter, though, wasn’t done. Never one for subtlety, he stopped what he was doing and turned to face the professor head-on. Though he was still smiling, there was no denying the contempt in his expression. “I mean, there’s no reason Malfoy has to do this alone, right? It’s not a punishment, after all, and I’m more than happy to help out. Unless there’s some reason you don’t want me to.”

His eyes locked on hers in blatant challenge.

There was a brief, loaded pause before Professor Montgomery gave a small, tinkling laugh, the sound thin in the quiet of the room. “No, of course not. I appreciate your help, Potter.”

“And I’m glad to help, Professor,” Potter said.

Professor Montgomery nodded, and for a second they all just stood looking at each other. Then Professor Montgomery made some excuse about needing to check on the stores and disappeared into the supply cupboard. Though the idea of her stewing in there, furious but unable to act on it, was highly satisfying, now that the exchange was over, Draco’s annoyance returned.

He rounded on Potter. “What the hell was that?”

Potter gave him a look of disbelief. “You’re angry about this?”

“I don’t need your bloody help!”

“That’s good, because it wasn’t about you.”

Draco scoffed. “Right. It wasn’t about me when you spoke at my trial. It wasn’t about me when you asked me to come back to Hogwarts. It’s not about me when you confront the Potions professor two days after you find out she’s been making my life hell. You seem to do a lot of things that involve me without being about me.”

Potter whirled on him, staring him down as he had Professor Montgomery just moments before. Unlike their professor, however, Draco had no intention of backing down. He might owe Potter his freedom – hell, he owed Potter his life – but he’d be damned if he was going to play the damsel in distress to Potter’s hero complex.

Potter slowly and deliberately lifted his right hand and laid it on the table. In the dim light of the dungeon, the scar on the back of Potter’s hand was little more than a silvery glint, but Draco didn’t need to see it to know what was there.

I must not tell lies.

Draco felt a blush rising to his own cheeks - so much for doing better than Professor Montgomery - and dropped his gaze to the floor.

Potter bent his head towards Draco’s and said, “Believe it or not, Malfoy, I do have reasons for not wanting to see teachers play tyrant that have nothing to do with you.”

Draco scowled but said nothing. Beside him, Potter sighed and straightened. They continued to clean up in silence. But then Potter pushed a hand through his hair, making it stand up in an alarming manner, and when he turned to look at Draco, his expression was softer; something like sadness seemed to linger in his eyes.

“Look,” he said. “You’re tangled up in these things because you were tangled up in the war. It’s not about you. But that doesn’t mean I’m not glad to help you out. I mean, is accepting help from me really so horrible?”

“I just –” Draco broke off, paused, and took a breath before starting again. “I can take care of myself. I don’t need a champion.”

“What about a friend?” Potter asked, and he was looking at Draco again, as though he could see right through to every secret Draco had ever had. “Could you use one of those?”

For once, Draco didn’t have to fight the urge to speak. He couldn’t think of a single thing to say. He just looked back at Potter, feeling helpless and stupid.

Disappointment flickered over Potter’s features. He Vanished the last of the potions ingredients with a wave of his wand and then called out, “All done, Professor!”

Professor Montgomery’s voice floated out to them from the supply cupboard. “Thank you, Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy.”

Potter gave Draco a rueful smile, and then he was gone.

Draco didn’t linger. He hurried to Arithmancy, eager for something to distract his thoughts away from Potter and the mess of confusion he was creating in Draco’s mind.

When he arrived at Professor Vector’s classroom, he found her waiting for him. She glowered at him and even with all he’d been through in the last few years, it was still somewhat intimidating.

“Mr Malfoy,” she said, her voice loud enough to carry through the entire classroom. His classmates all turned in their seats to watch. “I am tired of your continued tardiness. If you cannot commit to getting here on time, I will have to dismiss you from this class. I will not tolerate this kind of disrespectful behaviour. This cannot happen again.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Draco couldn’t help the small smile that came to his face as he recalled Potter’s expression as he’d stared down Professor Montgomery. “Don’t worry, Professor. It won’t.”

***

Draco stood on the pitch, the golden October sunlight streaming down on him, breathing in the scent of autumn leaves and freshly cut grass. It was a day made for flying. The sky was clear and bright, there was a light breeze, and, best of all, Draco had a brand new Firebolt A-700 in his hand. It had arrived by owl that morning, dropping down onto his lap in the middle of breakfast. Every eye had been on him as he’d opened it and with good reason. It was a thing of beauty. Long, sleek chestnut handle, symmetrical, perfectly balanced twig tail, gleaming brass fittings, and the whole thing polished and spelled until it was so streamlined as to be almost frictionless.

In fact, the only flaw he could find with the broom was that it had come with a receipt reading, “Paid in full by Harry James Potter.”

He couldn’t say it surprised him, exactly; Potter had joked about it, after all. But to actually receive the broom was still something of a shock. He’d even felt a bit nervous opening it, his stomach fluttering and his face flushed. At least Potter hadn’t been in the Hall when it arrived. Draco was sure he wouldn’t have been able to open it at all if Potter had been there watching him.

And then, of course, there was the fact that Draco didn’t even know if he could still fly...

He sighed and scanned the sky. Time to find out.

He gave his left arm a shake. The tremors had pulled back considerably over the last few weeks. His arm seemed to be back to its pre-excessive-manual-labour-disguised-as-detention state. It still twitched and trembled now and then but not constantly or visibly, as it had before. He had no idea how it would respond to the lightening quick changes in position and pressure that came with flying, though. If he was honest with himself, he’d been avoiding finding out. It was bad enough to think he might never fly again. He didn’t know if he could bear actually confirming it.

But with a day like this and a broom like this, he couldn’t not fly. So, then, there was nothing for it but to do it.

Draco swung a leg over the broom. He could feel it humming beneath him, all tightly bound energy waiting to burst forth, and a smile crossed his face as he kicked off. The broom rocketed into the sky, so smooth and responsive Draco almost felt as though he was flying all on his own. It turned at the slightest shift of Draco’s body, accelerated instantly at his forward lean, decelerated in increments attuned to every millimetre he lifted his torso back towards upright. It was a thing of sheer beauty. Looping around above the pitch, Draco felt something loosen within him, felt the last wisps of numbing fog lifting, dissipating, and a joyful whoop burst out of him, ringing through the clear, blue sky.

He couldn’t say how long he spent up there, lost in the sun and the sky and the feeling of absolute freedom, but his cheeks were rosy and his fingers starting to stiffen when he heard his name being called.

“Malfoy!”

He looked down and saw a figure waving at him from the lawn of the pitch. Even at a distance, there was no mistaking the shock of black hair.

Potter had been around more and more, lately. Everywhere Draco went, sooner or later, Potter seemed to pop up. Saying hello as he walked by the Slytherin table at breakfast. Stopping to chat in the library. He’d even sat beside Draco during lessons a few times. Potter didn’t seem to have any agenda. It seemed like he was around because he wanted to be. Like maybe he had meant it when he’d asked Draco if he needed a friend. Like maybe it was something he wanted, too. And Draco couldn’t even begin to fathom how to respond to that. Whenever he thought about Potter, it was a confused jumble. Untangling his thoughts and feelings seemed next to impossible, so instead he did his best not to think about it.

Other people seemed confused about it, too. Draco knew the school was buzzing about the situation. All kinds of theories seemed to be bouncing around the halls of Hogwarts. That it was all part of a plot on Draco’s part to avenge the Dark Lord, getting close to Potter so he could try to kill him. That Draco “had something” on Potter and had used it to blackmail Potter into testifying for him this summer, that he was blackmailing him into friendship now in an attempt to repair the Malfoy name. That Potter had been damaged by the psychological stress of the war, and was putting himself in the path of those who hurt him as he subconsciously recreated the trauma he experienced in some kind of dysfunctional attempt at coping with his pain.

And then, of course, there were the rumours that they were fucking. Though really, those were only a small part of a much larger rumour. One might say it was the rumour, even, the one thing that everyone seemed to be talking about – Harry Potter’s sexuality. Draco wasn’t sure how he missed it but apparently there had been an article in the Prophet at the end of the summer asking if everybody’s favourite Saviour might be a bit of a poof. Citing “a source close to the young hero,” the article claimed to have received information that Potter was spending quite a bit of time in the presence of a young man (“identity unfortunately unknown”) and hinted that this was the reason for his split from “long-time girlfriend and fellow war-hero, Ginevra Weasley.”

According to the rumour mill, Potter had tracked down this mysterious “source”; turned out it was Zacharias Smith. When Potter confronted him about it, things got heated. Smith spouted off some ugly homophobic slurs and Potter hadn’t been best pleased. Of course, no one had actually witnessed the conversation leading up to the fight between Potter and Smith. By the time anyone noticed what was going on, it had already reached the point of fists and wands, so no one really knew for sure what had happened.

Potter hadn’t said a word to anyone in answer to the article or the rumours, not about the fight with Smith and definitely not about his sexuality. For most of the school, his silence was as good as an admission. Draco wasn’t convinced, though; breaking up with your girlfriend and wanting to punch Smith in the face didn’t necessarily equal homosexuality to him. And as for the Prophet, well, they’d run anything if they thought it would sell papers and he should know.

Draco steered towards Potter, who smiled as Draco landed in front of him. Potter had his own brand new Firebolt with him. He leant on it, looking relaxed and almost happy. The shadows under his eyes told a different story, but Draco supposed it would be a while before those went away. Still, Potter seemed to be in good spirits and Draco found it was nice to see it.

“You were looking good up there,” Potter said with a nod. “You like the broom, then?”

“How could I not?” Draco replied, and then felt compelled to add, “You know I’m not playing on the Slytherin team, though. I’m not their Seeker.”

Potter nodded. “Yeah, I heard. Shame, that.”

Something inside Draco warmed at his words, at knowing Potter hadn’t given him the Firebolt in error, that he’d wanted Draco to have it for reasons other than being the Slytherin Seeker. Disquieted at the reaction, he did his best to ignore the feeling, and focused instead on the topic at hand.

“I heard you’re not playing, either. I was surprised – you seemed very keen that day at Quality Quidditch.”

“I was but once I got here…” Potter shrugged. “I suppose it’s that old, ‘You can’t go home again’ thing. It just wasn’t the same. The old team, my team, well, a lot of them aren’t here anymore and the young kids just see me as-” Potter broke off and he squinted up into the bright autumn sky. “It just wasn’t the same.”

Draco nodded. His situation was much the same in Slytherin. Few of his year mates had returned and even if they had, Draco probably still wouldn’t have played. Too much had happened; too much had changed. Quidditch teams and the House Cup belonged to the next generation of Hogwarts students now.

Which begged the question...

“So if neither of us is playing Quidditch, why’d you buy me the broom?”

“Just because we’re not on the house teams doesn’t mean we’re not playing Quidditch. And it’s much more fun to kick your arse when I know I’ve done it fair and square,” Potter added, his grin returning.

“Ah, I see. You bought me a broom to serve your own interests. So once again, this really isn’t about me.”

“I wouldn’t say that. It’s about you being the one I most want to crush into the ground.” Potter reached into his pocket and pulled out a gleaming, golden Snitch. “What do you say? Up for a little Seeker-to-Seeker?”

Draco hesitated, his left hand surreptitiously gripping the handle of his broom as he assessed the state of his arm. He’d felt okay before but that had just been fooling around; Quidditch with Potter was a different thing altogether.

Potter’s grin slipped as the pause dragged on and Draco felt a funny squeeze in his chest at the sight. Forcing a smirk onto his own face, he snatched this Snitch from Potter’s hand and flung it into the air. “You’re on.”

As good as he’d felt flying around the pitch before, it was nothing, nothing, compared to this. With competition driving the blood to rush in his veins, his heart pounding, his vision sharpening as he sought the gleam of the Snitch, and Potter’s form dancing in his periphery, Draco felt alive, really alive and whole for the first time since the Dark Lord had branded the Mark on his arm.

He bolted up high into the clouds before diving back down to make lazy figure eights over the pitch, his eyes scanning, searching. Below him he could see Potter doing the same, though every now and then he’d break form to do a few rolls or loops on his broom. It was hard to resist following his lead; the Firebolt really was incredible.

A glint of gold off to the left caught Draco’s eye. He whipped his head around and, there. The Snitch. He leant forward on his broom, angling his body into a sweeping turn. He saw Potter streaking up from underneath, the same goal in sight.

They knocked into each other mid-air and Draco pulled hard on his broom to stay on course. Beside him, Potter had an iron grip on his own broom, his knuckles white on the handle. They flew in the close proximity, Potter’s knees and elbows banging against Draco’s as they stayed tight on the Snitch’s trail. Draco glanced over and saw Potter smiling widely. He turned at Draco’s look and laughed, and even with the shadows under his eyes, there was no mistaking the happiness. Draco laughed, too, the wind whipping away the sound as they plunged on.

The Snitch leapt and turned and they leapt and turned with it, never more than a few inches apart, jostling each other as they vied for position. Draco was leaning hard on Potter when he felt it, a rippling spasm that ran from his shoulder to his fingertips. There was no time to respond; his hand lost its grip on the broom, which shot sideways, nearly toppling Draco in the process. He clung to the handle with his legs and good hand as the broom began to spiral. He was dimly aware of Potter beside him, shouting something and trying to get a hold of him but unable to match Draco’s dizzying tumble.

The pitch was rushing up beneath him. Draco pulled up hard on his broom, and managed to straighten it out but it was too late. The ground was too close and he was going too fast. Deciding he’d take a broken bone over a broken Firebolt A-700, Draco shifted his weight just in time to take the brunt of the crash on his left shoulder. He hit the ground with a sickening thud that shook every bone in his body. Pain like fire raced up his arm. A wave of nausea swept over him.

He heard the sound of feet hitting the ground, running towards him. The taste of blood was in his mouth. When he probed with his tongue, he found he’d bitten through his lip.

“Malfoy. Malfoy, are you okay?” Potter was crouched down in front of him, peering into his face, all wide green eyes and tense expression. “Shit, you’re bleeding.”

“Calm down, Potter. I’m fine.” To prove his point, Draco tried to push himself to sitting but was stopped by the sharp, bright pain that tore through his arm at the attempt. His vision went black, then returned, but it sparkled disconcertingly at the edges.

“Yeah, sure, you’re fine,” Potter muttered, his hand gently pressing Draco back towards the ground. He mumbled something else and there was a flash of silver.

Something about that flash of silver didn’t sit right with Draco. “What are you doing?”

“Getting Pomfrey.”

“Potter, I don’t need Pomfrey.” He struggled again to sit, this time being careful of his injured arm.

Potter’s hands stopped him again. “Just stay still. She’ll be here in a minute.”

Giving up, Draco let his head fall back against the ground, groaning as a fresh wave of nausea rolled through him.

Potter looked down at him, a worried frown on his face. “What the hell happened up there?”

What had happened was that Draco had let himself forget for a few minutes. He’d let himself forget about his arm and the Dark Mark and the spell damage. He’d let himself forget about the fact that everything was different now, that he was never going to be that person again, the one that could just go out and fly without his arm shaking and failing, every twitch a reminder of all the mistakes he’d made, all the people he’d hurt, all the ways he was stupid and weak and cruel and so unforgivably wrong. All the ways that he deserved his bad arm and Smith’s derision and Montgomery’s mind games. All the ways he deserved much worse.

“I fell.”

Potter snorted. “Yeah, I got that part.”

Potter looked like he wanted to say something more, to ask something, and Draco just knew it was going to be something he had no desire to talk about. Luckily, he was saved by Madam Pomfrey’s timely arrival. She came bustling up, her nurse’s kit bobbing along behind her.

She pulled up short as she reached them and gave them each a pointed look. “Honestly, you children and your Quidditch. Sometimes I think I should have an office out here on the pitch.” She glowered at them each a second more and then her expression softened and she knelt next to Draco. “Now then, Mr Malfoy, let’s have a look shall we?”

Pomfrey ran her wand up and down the length of Draco’s body. She lingered over his left arm, a frown on her face. Draco’s stomach sank. Broken bones were nothing to Pomfrey. Draco knew she could fix them in a minute. Which meant her interest in his left arm had nothing to do with his fall.

She rose to her feet, tugging at her robes as she straightened. “Well, your arm is broken, but that’s easy enough to fix.” She gave him a phial. Draco recognised the pale yellow liquid as a pain potion. “Take this. It should help until we can get you back to the Hospital Wing and get you patched up.” She watched him down it, nodding in satisfaction as he swallowed. “There’s a good lad.”

Then Pomfrey started to walk back toward the castle.

“I’ll grab your broom,” Potter said, nodding back to where Draco’s Firebolt lay on the grass. “You go with Pomfrey.”

Draco was too exhausted to argue the point. He gave Potter a nod and hurried to catch up with Pomfrey, wincing. It was an unpleasant walk to the Hospital wing, even with the numbing effects of the potion.

Once there, Pomfrey had Draco lie down on one of the beds. Again, she ran her wand up and down the length of his arm. There was no reason for it. Draco had seen broken bones mended many times in his life; he knew the examination she’d done on the pitch should have been enough. He didn’t say anything, though, hoping if he kept his silence about it, then she would, too. After what felt like an hour but was probably closer to five minutes, Pomfrey began incanting. Draco felt his bone knit back together, the pain retreating until it was nothing more than a dull ache.

“That’s the break taken care of,” she said.

He clenched and unclenched his fist and rolled his shoulder, testing it while Pomfrey watched with a clinical eye. Then she glanced up at Draco and her expression, while not unkind, filled him with foreboding.

“Mr Malfoy, the other damage to your arm...”

Draco gave her a hard look, hoping it would shut her up. He wasn’t that lucky.

“Have you had it looked at?” she pressed.

He gave an inward sigh. “Yes.”

“And?”

He shrugged. “And there’s nothing to be done. Spell damage.”

“Have you sought a second opinion?”

“And a third.”

“From Healers who were competent and... amenable to working with your family?”

Draco gave a bitter laugh, though he had to admire her for asking. “Yes. They all said the same thing.”

“If a magical cure isn’t possible, have you considered physical rehabilitation? Has anyone advised you about that?”

Draco squeezed his eyes shut. He knew she meant well, but he also knew what the reality was. He had accepted it. Talking about it just made him feel worse.

“Mr Malfoy?”

Draco opened his eyes to look at her. “I don’t mean to be rude, but if we’re done here, I’d like to go.”

“Of course. But if you would ever like to speak about your options, please do come and see me.”

The look on Pomfrey’s face was far too understanding and Draco had to look away.

“I will, thank you.”

Draco rose from the bed and walked out of the Hospital Wing. It took everything in him not to run out of there, away from Pomfrey’s false hope and the pity in her eyes.

***

It was time for dinner when he left the Hospital Wing but food was the last thing on Draco’s mind. Though his arm felt better with every passing second, he was utterly exhausted. He stumbled back to his dorm room, stripped off his torn, dirty clothes, pulled on a pair of soft cotton pyjama bottoms and burrowed into his bed. He was grateful for the silence of the room – he still felt shaky and not entirely in control of himself.

He was just drifting nicely towards sleep when there was a knock on the door.

“What?” he snapped without even lifting his head from the pillow.

There was a pause and then the knock came again.

Draco pushed himself to sitting with a huff. “Either tell me what you want or go away!”

Another pause and then the door opened and Potter stepped inside. He’d changed out of his Quidditch gear but was still carrying a broom. He gave Draco a crooked, uncertain smile and Draco suddenly wished he was wearing more than just a pair of pyjama bottoms.

“How did you get in here?” Draco asked. He swung out of bed, trying not to feel self-conscious as Potter’s eyes fell to his naked chest.

“I saw some Slytherins in the corridor and asked them to let me in.”

Draco gaped. “And they did?”

Potter shrugged.

Draco snorted in disgust. So much for Slytherin cunning and loyalty. “And to what do I owe the honour?”

Potter lowered the broom from his shoulder and held it out toward Draco. “I brought you your broom. Thought you might want it back.”

Draco didn’t want to cross the room to take it from him – he felt oddly exposed standing there in his pyjamas, and he had a feeling increased proximity to Potter would only make it worse – but he couldn’t see any way around it. He walked over, extending his hand. Their fingers brushed as Potter passed the Firebolt to him and Draco’s pulse jumped.

“Thanks,” he said, embarrassed to hear a catch in his voice.

He moved quickly to the cupboard that stood beside his bed and stashed the broom inside. He lingered over the task, happy to have a few seconds away from Potter. He took a deep breath, than another, but his heart wouldn’t stop racing. He debated pulling on a jumper but decided against it – he refused to give into whatever it was that was making him feel nervous and out-of-sorts. This was his bedroom and he’d been trying to sleep and they’d both shared dorms since they were eleven – seeing another person in his pyjamas was hardly new to either of them.

When he closed the door and turned around, he found Potter was looking at him with a determined expression.

Draco crossed his arms over his chest. “Was there something else?”

Potter’s eyes pinned him. “What’s wrong with your arm?”

Draco’s stomach seemed to drop clear to the floor. He felt the blood drain from his face.

“I know it’s giving you trouble. I noticed you were favouring it during detention that night with Hagrid. And you seemed to be having some trouble in Potions after that. Then today I felt it give out right before you lost control.”

For a moment, Draco just blinked, reeling to think that Potter – unobservant, oblivious Potter – had noticed his bad arm when no one else had. Then he tossed his head, reaching for some aplomb. “You’ve been watching me closely, haven’t you?”

Potter rolled his eyes. “I haven’t been watching you, Malfoy, but I’m not blind either. You’re obviously having problems with it.”

“It’s none of your business.”

“Have you had someone look at it, at least?”

Draco said nothing.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Potter said. He crossed the room to stand in front of Draco. Draco glared at him but Potter continued on, unperturbed. “So you’re not going to try to get it treated. You’re just going to leave it and hope it gets better on its own.”

Draco continued his silent glaring. Potter continued to ignore it, instead taking another step closer. In fact, he was now closer than Draco was entirely comfortable with. He felt as though energy was coming off Potter in waves, radiating out like sunbeams, heating Draco’s bare skin, and he wished he’d put on a jumper when he’d had the chance.

Potter stepped closer still. “Come on, Malfoy. Let me help you.”

Draco shook his head. “I’ve had it looked at, Potter. There’s nothing to be done.”

“There must be someone who can help, someone at St. Mungo’s or something.”

Draco sighed. “Just leave it.”

“But we could-

“I said leave it!”

Potter’s eyes widened but Draco could see he was undeterred. With true Gryffindor stubbornness, or maybe it was just Potter’s inability not to jump headfirst into every situation that came along, Draco could see him getting ready to push harder to get to the truth. And somehow Potter always seemed to get to the truth. Somehow, he always found out every one of Draco’s secrets, all his weaknesses, faults, and failures. Taking in the set of Potter’s jaw, the determined look in his eye, Draco found he just didn’t have the energy for a fight. There was no fight left in him. Not for this.

He sighed. “I appreciate your wanting to help but there’s nothing can be done. It’s spell damage.”

“Spell damage?”

“Repeated exposure to Cruciatus, among other things.”

Emotions flickered across Potter’s face – shock, anger, sadness – easy to read, but hard to watch. Draco’s throat felt tight and he looked away.

“I’m sorry,” Potter said softly.

Draco waved off the words. “Don’t be. It’s no more than I deserve.”

“What are you talking about?”

Potter sounded incredulous, as if it was Draco who was being ridiculous when his own question was so absurd that Draco was actually dumbfounded for a moment.

“What am I...?” He looked back at Potter and thrust out his left arm. “This! I’m talking about this.”

The Dark Mark was still there, paler now, but clearly visible, the skull and snake still as ominous and unmistakable as they’d been the day he’d been branded.

Potter shook his head. “That’s not-”

Draco cut him off, not willing to let him make excuses, to let him twist the truth and offer absolution that wasn’t possible.“For fuck’s sake, open your eyes, Potter. Look. Look.”

He turned the Mark toward Potter. Potter glanced away with a grimace but then his eyes went back to the Dark Mark, locked on it, as though he couldn’t look away.

“I took this,” Draco continued. “Willingly. Maybe I didn’t understand everything I was agreeing to, but I understood enough, and I took it because I wanted it. Whatever else came after, nothing can change that. This is me, Potter. This is who I am.”

“Malfoy...”

Potter’s eyes dragged up and away from the Mark to meet Draco’s. Draco forced himself not to look away, not to back down in the face of Potter’s compassion.

“You know it’s true,” he said, lowering his arm. “You, more than anyone. You know the things I did.”

“Yes, I do. And that’s why you can believe me when I tell you, this is not who you are. At least it’s not all you are. It’s just a part.”

Potter’s hand reached out toward Draco, stopped, hung hesitantly in the space between them. They both dropped their gaze to watch as Potter’s fingers curled closed before stretching open again, reaching, landing with a touch as light as breath on Draco’s chest, on the thin silvery scar that ran alongside his heart and down to his hip.

“Just like this is a part of me,” Potter whispered.

Draco’s breath caught in his throat, and for a moment he couldn’t speak. He struggled, gave a small cough. When he managed to get words out, his voice sounded faint and winded. “Potter, we both know you didn’t know what that spell did.”

Potter’s fingers ghosted over the scar, the barely-there touch sending sparks of sensation racing across Draco’s skin. “Maybe not, but I did mean to hurt you. I wanted to hurt you, enough that I didn’t care what it did. None of us is all good, Malfoy. All of us have darkness. All of us crave things we shouldn’t. All of us have weak moments, act selfishly, make the easy choice, do the wrong thing.”

“You don’t. Not really.”

Potter’s hand fell back to his side. He looked up and caught Draco’s eye again. “Did you know I cast a Cruciatus on Amycus Carrow? I didn’t even have a good reason for it; there were a hundred other spells I could have used instead. I did it because I wanted to, because he spat on Professor McGonagall.”

It should have been shocking – and in a way, Draco supposed it was – but it still seemed like a drop in a bucket compared to Draco’s crimes. “He probably had it coming anyway,” he said. He tried for a wry smile, though he wasn’t sure he quite succeeded.

Potter’s expression was grim. “That’s not the point.”

“I know.”

Potter’s eyes dropped back to Draco’s chest. His hand came up as though he would touch it again, but he didn’t. “I am sorry for this.”

Draco swallowed. “I know that, too.”

Potter reached for Draco’s left wrist, fingers encircling it. He turned Draco’s arm, exposing the Dark Mark again. His hand was warm against Draco’s skin, and Draco felt a shiver go through him that he was sure had nothing to do with spell damage.

Potter glanced up at him, concerned. “Does it hurt? Your arm?”

Draco shook his head. “No, not really. It just has a tremor sometimes. It gets worse when it’s strained.”

Harry’s other hand came up, fingers skimming gently over the Dark Mark.

“Don’t!” Draco gasped. “God, don’t touch it!” He tried to snatch his arm back but Potter tightened his grip.

“Why not?”

“You know why not.”

Potter gave him a long, considering look. Then he pulled on Draco’s wrist, bringing Draco’s arm up. Closer. He pressed a kiss to the inside of Draco’s wrist. Potter’s lips were soft and warm and the shock of it stole the air from Draco’s lungs. He dragged in a great, shuddering breath.

Potter pressed another kiss to Draco’s skin, this time a little further up his forearm, right under the curling tail of the Dark Mark’s snake. Potter’s lips parted slightly, the wet heat of his breath scorching Draco’s skin. His mouth moved up further still, pink lips sliding over the black burn of the Mark with aching tenderness. Again and again, Potter pressed his mouth to Draco’s scarred skin. He took his time, covering every inch of the Dark Mark with soft kisses and then continuing on to the pale, clear skin above it, all the way to the crook of Draco’s elbow. Draco watched his progress, frozen, still labouring for breath, his eyes stinging.

Potter lowered Draco’s arm but didn’t release it. He gave Draco a searching look.

“Let me guess,” Draco said, and his voice sounded as unsteady as he felt. “This isn’t about me, right?”

Something flared in Potter’s eyes and his hand tightened around Draco’s wrist. “Oh no,” he said, and Draco was pleased to hear a catch in Potter’s voice, too. “This is definitely about you.”

Potter pulled on his arm, hauled him closer until they were touching everywhere – chests, stomachs, hips, thighs. Potter’s hand gripped the back of Draco’s neck, dragging him closer still, and even though Draco knew what was about to happen, he still couldn’t believe it when Potter’s lips touched his. The sensation jolted through him, singing along every nerve, every synapse, until his entire body was humming with it.

Potter’s mouth was hot and wet and sure as it moved against Draco’s. Potter kissed him like he meant it, like it wasn’t just a spur of the moment impulse. Like he’d been thinking about it for a while. Draco’s lips parted under Potter’s, inviting more. His hands came up to grip Potter’s body, and even through the thick wool of his jumper, Draco could feel Potter’s too-thin frame, all bony ribs and whipcord muscle. Thoughts of the war and its aftermath threatened but then Potter’s tongue pushed into his mouth and Draco’s brain shut up except for yes and want and more.

Things were just starting to get interesting, Potter’s fingers just starting to skim along the waistband of Draco’s pyjamas, when the door swung open and Theodore Nott strolled through.

All three of them froze.

Nott’s eyes went wide. Draco didn’t dare glance at Potter, but he could imagine how they must look: him half-naked, arms around Potter, pulling him close. Potter’s body pressed tight against his, fingers dipping below the edge of Draco’s pyjamas. The two of them sharing a kiss that was all tongues and teeth and clearly headed somewhere.

Nott paled and stumbled backwards. “Sorry,” he stammered. “I’ll just...”

He disappeared back out through the door, closing it behind him. The whole thing took less than five seconds.

Draco didn’t move, couldn’t move. He just stared mutely at the back of the door, his body stock-still, his mind almost the same, until he felt Potter’s hands fall from his waist. He blinked slowly, lowered his hands, and turned to face him.

Potter was looking at him with concern. “You okay?”

Draco fought the urge to laugh. He wasn’t okay. He was so far from okay that he didn’t even know what okay looked like. Potter had kissed him. Had kissed his mouth and his bloody Dark Mark and everything that had been confusing him for months had suddenly become clear, and then Nott – fucking Nott, the biggest gossip Slytherin had, and that included all the girls – had come in and, oh god...

“Malfoy?” Potter waved a hand in front of Draco’s face.

Draco willed himself to calm. There was no reason to panic. So they had kissed, so what? It wasn’t like he hadn’t kissed a boy before. And so Nott was going to tell people. It wasn’t like anyone was going to be particularly surprised. There was nothing to be nervous about.

Except that he hadn’t just kissed anyone. He’d kissed Potter.

God, he’d kissed Potter.

His eyes drifted to Potter’s mouth, those pink lips that just seconds ago had been on his, hot and wet and moving...

“Malfoy,” Potter said again, more firmly this time.

Draco shook himself. He schooled his features into a less dazed expression and met Potter’s gaze. “Yes?”

Potter nodded towards the door where Nott had been. “Is this going to cause problems for you?”

Though Draco had only ever discussed his sexuality with a handful of people, most of Slytherin had assumed he preferred boys since fourth year – apparently, spending all of his time ogling Viktor Krum had been a bit of a giveaway. Even his parents had managed to draw the correct conclusion, though they’d never spoken about it directly. No, he’d be fine. Potter, on the other hand...

“For me, no,” Draco said. “You might be in some trouble, though. Nott’s got a big mouth.”

Potter shrugged. “Makes no difference to me.”

Draco paused, caught off guard by Potter’s response. “I thought you didn’t want people knowing you were...” He trailed off awkwardly, unsure what words Potter used to describe himself. Hell, even with his frequent fantasies about Krum, it had taken Draco over a year to even let himself think the word gay.

Potter, however, seemed unfazed. “It’s not a secret, Malfoy. I don’t care if people know I’m gay.”

“But-” Draco started and then faltered, unsure if he should be asking, what he had the right to ask after only a kiss.

“But what?” Potter prompted.

Draco shook his head. “Nothing, I’m just surprised, I suppose. With all the talk the last couple of months, you’ve never really said anything. I assumed you were trying to keep it quiet.”

A dark look flickered over Potter’s face, there and then gone again. “I haven’t said anything because I don’t respond to rumours. It’s not worth my time.”

“But people know?”

Potter nodded. “The people who matter.”

“Weasley?”

Potter raised his eyebrows in amusement. “There are a lot of Weasleys, Malfoy.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “The girl one.”

Potter’s amusement faded. “Yes.”

“Smith?”

“Oh,” Potter said, seeming surprised at the question. “I never told him, but, yeah, I suppose he knows. From what Tom told me, Zach was at the Leaky with some mates, saw me go upstairs with a bloke and started spouting off about it. Thought he was being funny. Unfortunately, there happened to be a Prophet reporter a few seats over. Bought Zach a pint or two and encouraged him to keep talking. I doubt Zach even knew what was going on.”

“But your fight...?”

“I tried to talk to him about it. He got defensive, said some things I didn’t like. Things kind of escalated from there.” Potter shrugged again.

“And the bloke?” Draco asked, trying to keep his tone casual, as if the question was no different from the ones that preceded it.

Potter’s sly smile told him he hadn’t succeeded. “David Creevey. Colin’s older brother. Muggle. We spent some time together over the summer. He wanted to know more about Colin’s life here, what he was fighting for. Nothing serious ever happened between us, but, well, it was enough that I couldn’t pretend anymore.”

“Hmm,” Draco hummed noncommittally, trying not to have a reaction to the thought of Potter alone in a rented room with some Muggle boy.

Apparently, though, it wasn’t as noncommittal as he thought because Potter’s smile widened and when he spoke, there was laughter in his voice. “So are we good?” He stepped closer and his hands came to rest on Draco’s hips. “Any other burning questions?”

There were – about a million of them, actually – but Draco shook his head. If there’s one thing the last few months had taught him, it was the value of knowing when to stop talking. Besides which, his mouth had gone strangely dry the second Potter’s hands had landed on his bare skin.

He reached for Potter, pulled him close, pressing their bodies together as they’d been before. The wool of Potter’s jumper scratched against Draco’s chest and stomach, a raspy itch that contrasted with the smoothness of Potter’s hands. Potter’s mouth found his, the kiss insistent and needy. He licked at Draco’s lips, nipped at the corners of his mouth, and his hand slipped beneath the waistband of Draco’s pyjamas to find the curve of his arse, skin to heated skin. Potter groaned and whispered Draco’s name into the hot, wet space between kisses. Draco couldn’t catch his breath long enough to answer, but it didn’t matter. Talking was overrated, anyway. Indeed, sometimes life really did go better when he shut up entirely.

~*~

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