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Chapter 1

Happy Little Pill

 

My happy little pill
Take me away
Dry my eyes
Bring colour to my skies
My sweet little pill
Tame my hunger
Lie within
Numb my skin ...

   [Troye Sivan, 'Happy Little Pill']

I raise my face to meet the sun, letting its kisses send shivers down my spine. Closing my eyes, I kiss back. He laughs - the shining dizzying sound echoing through my whole being. The Sun and I... who would have thought… I want to laugh, but he doesn't let me, and the touch of his lips is scorching hot, pouring fire down my throat.

"Be quiet," he says.

'Quiet - quiet - quiet,’ is echoing inside my head as he lowers me down on the ground. I throw my arms around his neck and grab at his shining hair in handfuls. Stinging hot to the touch, it winds itself around my fingers like tiny snakes, and my skin turns into lava, sipping into the ground. I am afraid I might disappear, and maybe I shouldn't be? Because this is exactly what I am aiming for: to dissolve without a trace in a burst of fire. What a heavenly way to die.

My head falls back, and the stars are winking at me.

"Oh, the lucky one," they whisper, giggling as a bunch of schoolgirls, and I don't know what they mean. Probably they are jealous? The touch of his finger at my lips makes me shiver and arch, and I am so aroused all of a sudden... I never imagined such a little touch would be able to do this to me. I tug at his hair, trying to pull him down into the kiss, but he resists, withdrawing, and leans back to look at me. He is smiling and shaking his head, and his brightness is blinding, and my eyes are burning out.

"What?" I croak, trying to grip him tighter, "Don't go... I want..."

A dark-blue shape leans over me, concealing him from my eyes. The shape as though made of starry night. It is the Night, I think. He's come after me. He's come to take me away from the Sun. He's come to consume me. It's the stars, they've told him - I know. Jealous little bitches. But the Moon shakes her head at me, her face a mask of mourning. "No... They have not."

"I don't believe you!" I shout, shaking my fist at her. She winces and turns away with her other side to me.

"Oh, fuck off, you ..." I scoff. Good riddance. I never liked the whiny bitch anyway.

The Night obscurs the Sun from me, shooing him away, so he no longer wants me. The starry black shadow leans down, reaching for me with his hands. I try to bat them away.

"Go away," I mumble, "Give me the Sun, you fucker." I kick him in the middle with my knee. He doubles over with a growl.

"Fuck, Malfoy..."

My half closed eyes snap wide open. His face is made of stars and darkness, and I can't make out its outline against the sky. I squint and rub at my eyes and look again - to no avail. I wave my fingers in front of my face but see nothing. He is already consuming me, turning me into the night air, I think. I should be afraid, but I am not. Perhaps the Night is even better... My mind drifts, as I trail my fingertips up his face, until they touch the edge of something sharp and delicate.

"Fuck, Malfoy..." the voice repeats, and everything goes black.

**

I wake to the grasses caressing my temple, whispering, sharing their secrets with me. I know the secrets are not theirs to share, it is the Wind. It is he who is pouring them down in his wake. I turn on my stomach.

"Shhh..." I whisper, peering over my shoulder and around the lawn - the Wind is nowhere to be seen. "You can tell me his secret, I won't tell anyone."

The grass is so inviting, and my head is so heavy, I lay it down to rest.

"You know..." I say, "I have a secret, too... But I am not allowed to think about it. My Father forbids me." The lawn is listening, nodding at me with the bluebells.

Turning on my side, I tuck my knees under my chin.

"I mean..." My thoughts are lazy, reluctant to transform into words. "Father doesn't know my secret either... but if he knew - he would forbid me to even think such things in my head."

I turn to the other side and tuck my hands under my cheek. "If he only knew... I can't tell anyone. But you are grass, for fuck's sake... You are a plant - there is no way you'd tell my Father, is there? You must promise not to tell. I don't want to be a failure."

"The failure you are," the voice says in my ear, and I start, "...such a bitter disappointment, Draco."

Afraid to look him in the face, I squeeze my eyes shut. Maybe if I stay like this long enough, he will go away?

"Having failed in front of me is one thing, you shall not fail for the world to see." The cruelty of his voice is so familiar, it is almost soothing, like those things that never change and ground us, anchoring us to the reality. A shelter you can always turn to when you are lost and know nothing in this world. Whatever happens, my Father's high expectations and my failure are the only constant things in my life.

His voice I dread and obey. The Father I respect and love and want so much to resemble, knowing that I fail. The man I hate and resent and whose will I'll never have the guts to go against.

He is unable to accept anything but excellence, and however hard I try, I am unable to live up to his expectations. No, not with this in me, not with the Monster that I chased to the very back of my mind. Although tamed and caged, it is still there. Unless I am careful, it will ruin my life.

"No, Father." I will my voice not to waver. "I won't fail."

"Then get up and face me like a man!" Father's cane stomps near my temple, and I flinch, trying to raise my head and sit up. The grass is pulling me down, holding me back. "Secret-secret-secret," its whisper is shuffling in the air.

I look up at Father's face - and of course, it is a mask of disdain.

"Forgive me, Father," I whimper, trying to hug his feet. He kicks my hands off with his shoe. I grip his cane. "I shall never let it out, I promise."

**

"...how long?"

"When I'd found him about three hours ago, he was already in this state."

I peer through my eyelashes, squinting at the light. Ouch, it fucking hurts to open my eyes.

Silence.

I blinking and try to look around. The walls are white, and there is a distinct smell of medications in the air.

Footsteps.

The sound stops nearby, and I look up.

"Malfoy?"

I stare up at him. What am I supposed to say? Apparently, I am Malfoy. Does he expect me to deny it or what? He is as dumb as ever.

"No. Longbottom ." I grimace at him and turn away on my side, making it clear that I am not in the mood for a small talk with Harry fucking Potter.

He comes around the bed with a man in the green uniform in tow.

"Do please turn on your back, Mr. Malfoy," the man says, drawing his wand. "I need to perform diagnostic spells."

With a sigh, I roll onto my back.

"How do you feel?" the Healer asks, waving his wand over me, making the air shimmer bright purple and pink. My head always feels like it’s been hit with a Bludger after the episodes like this. Well, perhaps 'always' sounds kind of over the top - it's been only the third time I did it so far.

I roll my eyes. "Never better."

Which earns me an annoyed sound from Potter.

"What are you doing here?" I turn to him.

"I picked you up on the streets during my night shift. You were in quite a state..."

Of course, the Saviour saving the day. Only now he does it professionally, Merlin help us.

"Diagnostic indicates the potions overdose in a combination that may cause vivid hallucinations," the Healer says.

"I remember what a state I was in," I snap, "thank you very much, no need to state the obvious."

"Care to elaborate, Malfoy?" Potter says acidly, walking around the bed to sit down in the chair to my left.

"No."

"You will have to anyway." Potter shrugs, retrieving the notepad out of his satchel.

In his Auror uniform, round glasses and with his hair sticking up at the top of his head, he looks ridiculous. I giggle. His head snaps up. Apparently, the Mix hasn't worn off fully yet, for his bushy eyebrows are suddenly the funniest thing in the world, and I fight back a hysterical laughter.

"Malfoy, you okay?" He asks seriously. He is very serious. Very .

I wink and give him the thumb-up.

"Well, Mr. Malfoy, do take this." A vial is held in front of my face. I sit up.

"It will help to wear off the remnants of the potions you've digested," the Healer says while I nod and uncork the vial. I gulp it down and meh it's disgusting, I actually may vomit. Taking several deep breaths, I lower myself gingerly back onto the pillow. "Thanks, Healer..."

"Stone."

"Stone," I repeat. And it's funny all over again, because I've got Healer Stone to attend me when I'm stoned. Or maybe I'm high and a Healer High? Or both, I don't know. I realise that I am shaking with silent laughter, and Potter is watching me with his jaw set.

"Well, now, Mr. Malfoy. Don't get up for a few minutes, let the potion kick in," Healer Stone says, heading to the door.

"Sure. Where would I go only in my pants anyway? You stripped me of my clothes." I give him the thumb-up - just to show that everything's brill. And one for Potter, for good measure. He rolls his eyes, putting the notepad down, and crosses his arms.

I settle deeper down into the pillow and tug the blanket up to my chin. I am lying, and he is sitting. About ten minutes pass in silence.

"Alright, Malfoy?" he asks.

"Yeah... I think so." I yawn. My head has cleared up, but I feel so tired now. Usually I'm already in my bed by this moment, sleeping through the midday. Tomorrow’s Saturday, and I don't have to be at work. But today something went wrong, I guess, if I ended up here with Potter.

"Okay. I have a few questions for you." He takes the notepad.

I sigh and close my eyes. "Of course you do, Auror Potter ."

He clears his throat. "Okay, so... Do you remember what had happened and how you ended up collapsing in the street?"

"Yes."

"Yes what?"

"I remember."

"Remember what , Malfoy?" Irritation is rising in his voice.

I open my eyes to look at him. He is sitting at the edge of the chair with the notepad on his lap and a pen poised.

"Why a pen?" I ask.

"What?"

"Why don't you use a quill as a good wizard would?"

"Er... It's ... None of your business, Malfoy. I am the one here asking questions." He leans back in the chair. "Now you are going to tell me everything; begin at the beginning."

"And if I'm not?"

"Yes, you are . Come on, don't waste my time."

"There's nothing to tell. I took a potion and collapsed in the street sometime later," I say, sitting up to prop my back against the headboard; my head swims.

"What potion?"

"I... don't know?" I trail off perhaps too lamely.

"Oh, really?"

"Really." I nod.

"You said to Healer Stone you know what it was, just a few minutes ago."

"I said I remember the state I was in," I say, "That's what I said, Potter."

He is studying me over the rim of his glasses.

"Okay," he says, scribbling in his notepad. "Where do you say you'd got it?"

"At work."

"Where do you work?"

"Oh, come on, Potter." I roll my eyes. "Is this necessary?"

"Yes."

"I work at the Ministry Municipal Apothecary. I do my community service there, which you are aware of."

"I am. But I need your official statement," he says, looking up. His glasses are askew, and there is a blue smudge on the tip of his nose from the pen.

"So... How come you drank an unknown potion that ended you up hallucinating? You work with potions, surely you do know which is which?"

"Accidentally." I shrug. "I thought I was taking my prescribed daily dose of the Calming Draught. That is what was written at the label of the vial I acquired from our supplies, as usual."

"But?" He raises his eyebrows.

"But , apparently, it contained a different stuff, which I discovered sometime later, upon leaving the Apothecary at the end of the day... You know... I began seeing things and stuff..."

"Okay. I'll request that vial from the apothecary for the analysis."

I shake my head. "I am afraid, I'd disposed of the label instantly and sent the vial into the disinfection store, where it has undergone the cleaning by now, which no doubt has removed all the traces."

Potter gives an irritated sound.

"What?" I shrug. "That's the rule. We do it right away with empty vials."

"How convenient ," Potter says acidly, scribbling furiously in the notepad. "Anyway, I will have to visit the apothecary on Monday. This might be a case of drugs and illegal substances trafficking."

Shit. Of course he will have to. Though I was very careful and I doubt he'll dig anything up, but still...

"Fine," Potter says, closing the notepad and tucking it into his satchel. "Do you need your mother to be informed? I can send her a notification."

"No! No..." Shit, I'm overreacting.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. No need to bother her, really... It's a stupid accident, but she'd be stressed out of her mind, okay?" I say, trying to sound casual.

"If you say so..." Potter gives me a look , standing up."Okay. I have to go. Healer Stone will release you in an hour or so, if the final diagnostic will reveal nothing in favour of keeping you here. See you on Monday, Malfoy." He nods, heading to the door. I am nodding to his retreating back until the door closes behind him.

**

Collapsing onto the bed, I close my eyes. It's been a hell of a night, and I made it to my flat almost at three in the morning. The Healer Apparated me to the street nearby where I live. I am tired and hungry and glad that it's weekend tomorrow. I am in no shape to appear at work.

Sitting up, I reach into the pocket of my trousers to retrieve my green and brown uniform tie. Throwing it on the back of the chair, I begin to unbutton my shirt. 'MMA' - reads the embroidery at the front pocket, and around it in a circle: 'Ministry Municipal Apothecary.’ Green words against the beige fabric.

It's been four years and a half already, and only several months are left. I cannot say it's actually bad ; no, not at all. I began as a Potions Master's assistant, you know, doing mundane dirty work: cleaning, washing, cataloguing, keeping stores in order, accepting and handing down orders to customers and such. I suppose, I was good at what I was doing, because in the second year of it I was allowed near the brewing process. Not the actual brewing, no. Preparing ingredients: chopping, crushing, stirring at the Potions Master's request. It's about a year now as I myself brew. That's what I mostly do these days. Large amounts, but only a simple stuff; nothing advanced or dangerous is available to my skills. Or so they think. They have no idea that I experiment on my own, have been experimenting ever since I was allowed into the lab. I am not completely useless; I notice things and stock them in my memory for later. At home I have the whole cabinet filled with my bottled memories of this potion and that, of the smallest details and obscure techniques. I don't have a Pensieve though, so I take a risk, using the one in the Apothecary lab on my late evening shifts. They may think I am that quiet obedient boy, a repentant criminal on his best behaviour and nothing more. And they are not entirely wrong. But if they knew what I do in the evenings in the lab, if they knew that I created the Mix , as I call it... Despite what the Healer said, it is not a potion, but a pill. Though it consists partly of potions of my own invention; the other half of it is partly magic and partly memories and dreams or fantasies. My happy little pill. My Heaven. I've tested it only thrice, and this last version, with my Father having managed to worm his way into my fantasy, has proved that there’s still a lot of work to be done.  If I wouldn't get caught, that is. If they knew, if Potter found out... I shiver. It would mean the end of my peaceful community service and more. No doubt I would be charged with stuff like illegal potions brewing; no doubt it would negate everything I'd already done to serve my probation term; it would very probably even mean Azkaban. And this time being a minor wouldn't help me; I am an adult now: almost 22.

Then why the fuck am I doing this? I have my reasons, I suppose. It's not the probation or the community service. Though I work almost for free: 75% of my salary are being taken from me, leaving me with a miserable sum that barely allows me to rent the small flat and eat. Why wouldn’t I use my own money, surely I'd come into possession of my vault when I turned 21? One might ask me. A good question. It's complicated, you see. My Father is needed to magically pass his fatherly permission, so I would receive the full access to my money. And my Father is in Azkaban. But it's not even that. The thing is, he refuses to give me access until he is released and I have fulfilled my community service. Which leaves my affairs in the present state for some time. Father had been sentenced to five years in Azkaban with the huge reparations sum (it helped to reduce the term from ten years to five).

"Once I am released, Draco, and we are Family again," he said when I was visiting him, "You will have the full access to your money independently."

The day is approaching, and that day I dread. Because he said something else then, something that made me sick down to my bones.

"It is time for you to fulfil your duty to the Family. It is time to arrange your marriage and for you to settle down and beget a family of your own, as due to a decent wizard of a noble heritage and tradition." He uses the word ‘decent’ instead of ‘pureblood’ these days; practical as ever.

That's what he said. That's what made me almost tell him that I want neither my money nor noble family life. Almost. Instead I said: "Yes, Father." As I always did. As I only knew how, for my life had always been planned out for me in advance, I never had a say in it. If in doubt - ask Father.  Which brings me back to the Mix. I needed an escape, if only temporary, if only an illusion. I created the path. I am an idiot, I know, and sick. I don't give a fuck. At least with the Mix I know I will be able to make it through marriage and all that stuff that requires pretending to be someone else. Pretending for my whole life. This is so fucked up.

Unbuttoning my shirt, I take it off and hang it at the back of the chair. Getting rid of my shoes, socks and trousers, I get into bed and fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow.

In my dreams Potter says ‘Alright, I need the ingredients list for the Mix.’ He is sitting at the foot of my bed, cross-legged. He hasn't removed his boots, but otherwise I assume he is naked, covering his dick with his satchel. And I am telling him the recipe in details, and he is scribbling furiously on my bed sheets with his Muggle pen.

**

The stained glass of the Apothecary door looks fascinating. It always drew my eye. There are these intricate patterns on it that make the world outside look like a fantasy, that make me want to stare at it all day long when I am behind the counter. Just like now, when I am staring at the shape of a visitor standing on the other side. A man. He is tall and broad in the shoulders, and when he turns his head, the image shifts, shadows mingling with light, revealing him from a different angle: his face as though carved from stone. I cannot make out his features precisely, but I know they are beautiful. I can't tear my eyes away, and it is not only the glass illusion. He turns his head again, running his hand through his dark hair, and presses the door handle. My heart is thudding, and I can't move, can't take my eyes off the figure that is appearing right out of my dreams as though in a slow motion...

It is Him, the thought comes. It is him I always dreamt about... ever since I discovered this part of me in me. He looks just like this... Sharp features, generously cut, strong set of his shoulders, movements confident and wide... He is art ... The door opens and...

"Fuck!" I blurt, starting on the spot. I feel a complete idiot.

"Nice to see you, too, Malfoy," Potter says, closing the door behind him.

"You startled me," I snap, coming to my senses. I mean, what the fuck is wrong with me?

"I need to talk to your boss about this potion situation," Potter says, approaching, "is he here?" He dumps his satchel onto the counter.

"Mr. Zane is absent today," I say, pushing the satchel towards the edge, so it falls, making Potter grab it hastily in the air.

"Okay, I'll come tomorrow. Meanwhile I'll take a look at your stores and the lab," he says, looking around.

"No fucking way, Potter."

Potter sets his jaw, but doesn't retort. Instead, he begins rummaging in the satchel. He slams a piece of parchment onto the counter in front of me.

"Every fucking way. This is the DMLE official order, Malfoy. So I'm taking a look around, and you cooperate."

I feel sick. "You are such a dick, Potter," I say, sliding off the stool and heading to the back door. I don't ask him to follow, he does anyway.

That vitriol between us has worn off somewhat during these years after the war. Too many things had happened; things that are bigger than a stupid teenage rivalry. The war and its aftermath had made the difference; no one had made it out unscathed. And though we still don't like each other for sure, I wouldn't call it 'hate' as I thought once. It's rather an indifferent dislike.

We hardly cross our paths these days, but I know his Auror career is going just fine, who doesn't? Also he broke up with his Weasley-girlfriend and lives alone in the mysterious ancestral home of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black in London. He is single, good looking and promising, and has been considered to be the most eligible bachelor in Wizarding Britain for the last four years straight. All this is constantly plastered across the papers this way or that, and I know it by heart. What can I do if the Apothecary obtains the yearly subscription for the Prophet?

He no doubt knows everything about me, too. He testified at mine and my Mother's trials. Not a word about Father, though. I don't blame him. Actually, to this day I have no idea why had he done it on my behalf. He talked about my help of not revealing his identity at the Manor, which had served as a turning point of events in favour defeating the Dark Lord - he said. But come on! We both know I'd done it not out of any righteous motive. My fear was the reason, I was scared shitless and acted on impulse. I think, if my life depended on it, I would have handed him down. Undoubtedly he is aware of it, too - that I haven't changed that much. I am sure he knows that my Mother almost never leaves the Manor these days. She doesn't socialise much, preferring to spend the time with her roses rather than people outside. I am sure he knows I don't live in the Manor. I think he knows the address of my London flat, or can easily obtain it if need be. Just like now, when he is sneaking around the lab.

Despite what he may think, I don't consider him to be plain or stupid; but I doubt he is smart enough to find anything here: anything that points at me in this case. My flat on the other hand... If he came with an order to search it... My heart speeds up. I should visit Mother, I think. And hide my samples and the Memory-cabinet in the Manor.

Actually, Potter is not digging anything up. He is just wandering around, ogling the laboratory equipment and stuff. He doesn't know where and what to look for. I am not about to tell him. The sound of the doorbell indicates someone's arrival, so I nod to Potter, heading to take my place behind the counter. I am on my own today, tending to customers as well. When some half an hour later Potter claps me on the shoulder from behind, I jump on the stool. What the fuck?

"Alright, Malfoy," he says, throwing the satchel over his shoulder, "I'll come tomorrow to talk to Mr. Zane. See you."

I say nothing, following him with my eyes, until the door closes behind him. There he emerges again: the figure behind the fantasy. His movements are manly and precise. He stands there for a second, turning his head to the right and left and then heads down off the porch, as though in a slow motion - a blurred shape, the mysterious figure of my dreams... The Man ... I shake myself.

"Fuck you, Potter!" I say loudly to the empty room.

**

Wind is gushing in my face, making me gasp, making me taste salt on my lips, salt of the sea below. Don't look down; don't look, don't look . Only up, up, higher and higher, diving into the sky. I spread my arms wide. Who says the Dark Lord had been the only wizard known to master the art of flying? Fools...

"Fuck you! I am free!" I shout into the wind. I think I mean the Dark Lord... Or maybe my Father... Or someone else... I don't know...

It doesn't matter, because there is no place for either of them here. Here, where I am free. Where I can fly, where I can be whatever I want, be myself, for this world is mine and mine alone... Spreading my wings, I kick off the edge of the cliff, soaring into the sky... But something grabs me around the middle. Grabs and is holding tight. I try to wrench free. It's the Cliff , I think. He doesn't let me, holding me back with his stone arms. Doesn't let me fly. Doesn't set me free.

"Let go!" I shout, thrashing with all my body. Grabbing at the arm around my waist, I try to tear it off. I kick with my leg, and my heel collides with something that utters a growl. Aha! I kick again and the world tilts for a second, making the ground hit my head. Colourful sparks explode before my eyes, pink and orange and purple. I cry out in pain, but hear only a whisper; my voice doesn't obey me.

"Petrificus Totalus," a voice says. Not my voice. And the light switches off.

**

I open my eyes to the ceiling. I don't have to look around to know my bedroom. I lie still. The thing is, whatever happens to me when I'm high on the Mix, I remember it vividly. Whether it's good or bad, I don't know. It's the pill's property, I suppose. Maybe I should do something about changing it.

Potter's specky face comes into view. Shit. This is what it was. It was he who has intervened in my state. Fuck. He is looking down at me, and I am looking back.

"Malfoy?"

With a growl I close my eyes, turning on my side. "Go away, Potter."

"Are you fucking insane?!" he raises his voice, and I wince. Even the tiniest sound is a thunder to my senses. I pull the blanket over my head.

"I've caught you at the edge of the fucking roof!"

I don't elaborate.

"What the fuck do you think you are doing, you idiot?!" he grabs me by the shoulder, trying to roll me on my back; I resist.

"Do you realise I have all means by now to charge you with drugs use?"

"There is no such charge," I mumble, "you can only charge me with drugs brewing and trade... But that one you have to prove.” Probably I’d better shut and not give him advice how to sue me.

"Fuck, Malfoy..." He wrenches at my shoulder, rolling me on my back to face him. "What are you doing, you idiot?!" He shakes his head. There is a purple bruise on his cheekbone. Seems like I hadn't missed as much as I thought.

I sit up, my head swimming.

"I need water," I croak, pressing my fingers to my temples.

"You need a good punch in the face, that’s what you need," he says, but a glass of water appears before me. I down it in one go and gesture at Potter for more. He fills it again with his wand. This time I sip slowly, stopping to catch my breath, until there's nothing left and I hand he glass back to Potter.

"What are you doing here?" I ask, propping myself against the headboard. Potter flops into the chair by the bed.

"I mean... How have you found my flat?"

"The Trace," he says.

"The Trace," I repeat.

"I put the Trace on you yesterday in the Apothecary."

"What the fuck, Potter?!"

"I have the right to do it to the suspects." He shrugs.

"I'm the suspect now?"

"Well, yes?" He raises his eyebrows. "The suspect in the case of illegal drugs and substances trafficking."

"Since when?"

"Since this very moment." He crosses his arms. "Now do tell me, where do you buy it?"

I look at him in silence.

"Fine." He stands up. "I’m going to visit your employer tomorrow morning. Ask things, tell things." He grabs his satchel from the floor. "See you, Malfoy."

"Wait!" I lean forward. He turns.

"You haven't brought the official charges, have you?" I ask, wincing.

"Yet." He crosses his arms again. "It's the first thing on my schedule tomorrow morning."

"Potter, look..." I begin to rise from the bed, and the world tilts once more. I grab at the headboard.

"Do you have something to say?"

"No... Yes..." I sit on down again. "I mean, Potter..."

He says nothing, so there's nothing for me to do but continue. "If I told you I don't buy it... And don't sell..."

"Go on." He walks back to the armchair and sits down again. "Where do you get it?"

"I make it." I cover my eyes with my hand, shit. "I don't make much. It's for my own purposes only. I've never thought of selling."

"Fuck me..." Potter stares at me. I shrug and look down at my hands.

"You mean... Do you understand that I have to charge you with brewing now?" I look up. Potter runs his palm over his face.

"There is no harm in that. I created it for myself only," I wrap my arms around my middle. "I need... I need it..."

Potter winces. "Why?"

"Why?" I laugh. "Are you kidding me?" I gesture around the room. "Isn't it obvious?"

My bedroom is as miserable as my life. That is enough, I suppose, to give you a hint.

"No?" Potter looks at me oddly. "I mean... Looks like you are doing fine. There are only a couple of months left of your community service..."

"It's not that...Anyway... Whatever..."

"How much do they actually pay you?" He looks around the room. It is tiny and dingy, and I fucking hate it. The kitchen is not any better. No wonder he thinks I drug myself to escape this misery. And partially he's not wrong. But only partially.

"Not much, obviously," I say.

"How much?"

I roll my eyes. "25 Galleons per week."

"What?!" His eyes go wide

"What? It's 25% of the lowest salary of the Apothecary Assistant position."

"But it's impossible to survive on that sum... Especially in London."

"Quite possible." I gesture around the room.

"I mean, really... That's robbery..." Potter rises on his feet, but then sits down again.

"Don't be dramatic, it's a community service, it's supposed to be for free," I say.

"Why don't you live with your Mother? At your Manor... Surely it would..."

"It's none of your business!" I snap. I can't stand that fucking place, I suffocate there. I can’t be near Mother with her sad guilty eyes. I avoid the Manor as much as possible. I know I will have to return there eventually, when my Father is being released, and my marriage is arranged. To live a proper life of the Malfoy heir and the head of the Family. One can imagine how sick the mere thought of it makes me, if I prefer the dingy hole of this flat to the Manor. "You are going to bring charges anyway, so go on, what can I do?"

Potter says nothing, sitting there, studying his palms for a long time, then: "I won't bring charges if you promise me one thing."

"What?"

"You won't use or brew this stuff or anything like that again. I won't tell anyone, if you give me your word."

Why the hell is he doing this? He looks up to meet my eyes, and there is such pity there that I wince. The first urge is to refuse, but then I think: What the fuck? He is offering everything I could ask for right now. Pity or not - do I give a fuck? I don't.

"I promise, I won't," I say urgently, lest he changes his mind. I am looking down at my hands, my face is burning. In shame of being so miserable and weak in front of the Wonder-Boy, who is taking pity on me, saving the day once again.

"Do I have you word?"

"Yes."

"Okay, Malfoy." He stands up. "But if you are lying to me, if I find out... I'll fucking kill you and send your corpse to Azkaban."

I nod. He heads to the door.

"See you," he says.

The door closes behind him, and I exhale.

**

"I am most disappointed and disgusted , Draco. My only son and heir. Who would have thought..."

I am studying the flagstones beneath my feet. It is so freezing here that my fingers go numb and my teeth are clattering. Colder can be only my Father's voice.

"To compromise not only your own reputation, but your Family name... is the most disrespectful thing to do, Draco. The Malfoy name is in ruins; it is your first and foremost duty to work as hard as it takes to restore our dignity."

I don't ask him who ruined our name in the first place... but whatever. I am scared shitless and can’t think properly, as always, when Father is doing this to me.

"Instead..." He is pacing around me in circles. "You involve yourself with drugs business and ruin all hopes of smoothly fulfilling your probation term and clear your reputation for the times to come . I. Am. Most. Disgusted. With. You."

I look up. In the grey prison robe, thin, with his hair cropped short, his face lined and gaunt, he looks frail. But I don't really see all this. I see that imposing intimidating figure I've never in my life had the guts to say a word against. I feel a 10-year-old again and helpless at the face of his cold wrath.

Potter at the other side of the bars shifts on his feet. He is standing with his back to us; he hears everything.

"You Mother is terribly disappointed, Draco." Father stops to face me, I lower my eyes again. "Disappointed, ashamed and bewildered, as any mother would be, if her only son stooped so low as to become a drug-addict."

I am not an addict, and Mother's reaction wasn’t quite what he says, but I am not about to tell him. I'd long ceased any attempts to tell him anything; he refuses to acknowledge it anyway.

"Thankfully to Mr. Potter's good will, you are given yet another chance to redeem yourself in the eyes of society."

I look up at his face, trying to fathom is he actually serious, or is he taking the piss? It’s hard to tell with my Father. I don't know about Potter, but I would laugh hysterically if I could. Fuck my life. Father is giving a heartfelt credit to Potter. Father looks at me, and I lower my head down.

"Now, you are going to do your best, for those mistakes are not forgiven easily. You must understand that it is my own name and reputation you are holding in your hands and act responsibly."

"Yes, Father."

"You may go."

"Yes, Father."

Not raising my head, I turn on and head to the bars, where Potter is already unlocking the door. Stepping out, I dash down the corridor, not looking back, hearing Potter's footsteps in my wake as he says something to the guard.

Out. Out of here.

**

Everything had gone to hell. I am an idiot, that's why.

Potter took my word that I wouldn’t get high again, and for a week it had been just fine. I'm not an addict, I don't need to take the Mix; it's just often I want to. I hadn't even taken it and hadn't intended to. I just thought that it would do no harm if I brewed some more to have stock for the times to come, when I leave the Apothecary and marry, settling down at the Manor and have to face my Father on daily basis again. So I'd brewed some and erased all the traces of my doing and took it home and hid it under the disillusionment charm, planning to hide it at the Manor during my next visit. Only to be confronted by Mr. Zane next morning with Potter in tow. As it had turned out, Potter actually talked to Mr. Zane about this mysterious potion situation. And boss installed video-cameras all over the Apothecary, the lab included. So they told me. I have no idea what a 'video-camera' is. It's a Muggle thing that imprints and keeps a moving image of everything that is going on around of it, they said. Very much like cameras that reporters have, I suppose, but it doesn’t require flashing it or holding it or anything, they just install it so that it’s invisible, the rest is up to it. So this video-camera has the image of me now, brewing the fucking Mix late in the evening, when everyone had left for home. Brilliant. Potter was livid; I thought he'd punch me in the face right in front of the boss. He dragged me to the Ministry. They put me in jail for eight hours. In the end Potter came in with a stony face. "You are coming with me," he said.  I was released on bail. Potter contacted my Father, who had been given permission to contact Gringotts and arrange transfer of the huge sum from his vault to the Ministry account. I was allowed to see my Mother and tell her what had happened.

She clutched at me and wept. "Forgive me that you have been so unhappy, Draco..."

I am to await my trials in two months. Meanwhile, my community service is to be served as usual. Potter officially pledged himself to keep an eye on me, making sure I am not about to bolt out again until my trials.

The very next morning, my landlord had knocked on my door, telling me to fuck off, for he wanted nothing to do with a drug-addict like me. By that moment, no doubt, my story had been plastered across the headlines in detail. I took my things and shrank them, stuffing them in my pocket, and went out. I went to Apothecary and worked all day as usual. They gave me looks , but neither commented. Neither of them could kick me out of the community service, after all. By the time I’d cleaned everything up in the end of the day, everyone had been already gone. I hadn't planned to leave for the night, considering there were nowhere for me to go, except for the Manor, of course. Well, fuck the Manor, I thought. I'd rather sleep on the sofa for the customers  near the counter. So this is what I had been going to do, when Potter stepped in. I was transfiguring the blanket out of the one of the cushions and jumped at the sound of the door being unlocked.

"Fuck, Potter..." my heart was hammering.

"What are you doing here, Malfoy?"

"Transfiguring a blanket," I mumbled, turning my back to him. "I'm sleeping here."

"What?"

"My landlord has kicked me out on my arse this morning, and apparently I haven't had the opportunity to wander around, asking for a flat during my work hours."

"Er... Actually, I've come to escort you to your flat... that's why I'm here." Potter run his hand through his hair.

"Since there is nowhere to escort me, go away," I said, removing my tie.

Potter just stood there, staring at me.

I rolled my eyes. "Come on, Potter, do I need to undress in front of you?"

"No... Er..." He looked away. "I don't think your boss would approve if you slept here."

"He wouldn't know unless you told him."

Potter sighed. "The video-cameras , Malfoy..."

Shit. Fucking video-cameras. I never remember they are all over the place. I don't even know what they look like or where exactly they are... Muggle magic.

"Fuck, now what?" I sighed. Really, what other option except for the Manor was left? And I couldn’t Apparate anyway.

Potter made an annoyed sound. "Why are you so fucking problematic? What am I to do with you now?"

"What? Are you kidding me, Potter?! It's you who had put me in this situation in the first place."

"What? You've put yourself there, you idiot. I didn't make you brew drugs or get high."

"Fuck off, Potter." I headed to the door. "Get out of here, I need to lock the door."

He grabbed my arm. "No fucking way, Malfoy, you are not leaving."

"Try me." I threw his hand off.

"Trust me." Potter waved his hand at the door, and it clicked closed. "You are officially my fucking responsibility now, you are coming with me."

"Fuck you!" I laughed in his face at the same time as he grabbed my forearm, Apparating us away.

That's how I'd ended up at Potter's house.

He said I either stay here or go to jail until my case hearing. Did I have a choice? I did. Obviously jail wasn't the option I'd chosen.

Okay, so... I live with Potter now, however ridiculous it may sound; and it's been a week so far. At first, I said I was going to look for a flat, and I have - to no avail. No one in the Wizarding London wants me as their tenant. Decent folk, I mean. And those who don't give a fuck about my persona - I myself find a trouble to accept. So it leaves me under the same roof with Potter. Every morning he delivers me to the Apothecary and every night he picks me up. We don't communicate that much. He'd given me the bedroom next to his own down the corridor. The house is ghastly and in a terrible state, and almost nothing is available for living. I said I would pay him for accommodating me in his house. He said he didn't need my money, and "It would be enough if you fucking behaved, Malfoy."

So okay, I’d left some Galleons on the kitchen table, for Kreacher to buy groceries and such. Potter didn't comment, so it was fine, I suppose. Kreacher cooks for us both, and it's sort of nice to have decent meals for breakfast and dinner, no matter how awkward. Awkward - yes, that’s how it goes. We tiptoe around each other with stony faces, barely talking except for occasional "yes" or "no".

I hate to admit it, but Potter is a decent sort, even I acknowledge it. The level of decent I myself have never been and surely won't be. What makes it the most difficult for me - is my own resentment. I feel myself an utter shit and worthless around Potter; and though the feeling is not false, I hate it all the same. He never says or does anything to deliberately make me feel this way, it is not helping. I know myself, and as far as I've come to know Potter, if just a little, there is that huge gap between us: between what I am and what he is, that is impossible to close. I am weak and snivelling and pathetic, I am selfish and don't give a fuck about anything as long as things are going to my advantage. Community service hadn't managed to do anything about it except for the external image of repentance. I hate myself. I am a bitter disappointment, I agree with Father on that one.

Potter on the other hand... He is everything I hate for not having it in me; he is everything I am jealous of, everything I envy, everything I've never even tried to achieve, knowing I'd fail. Strong, brave, straightforward, resilient. He says what he means, he does what he says. He doesn't give a fuck for anything less. No amounts of money and social standing or connections would ever be able to acquire these traits, no matter what Father may think. Potter is unprotected by money or a position of power, he is free to do what he wants, not liable to any authority, making decisions about his own life. He'd had that luxury since infancy. No one to look out for him, no one to demand obedience. Do I feel envious of Potter for growing up an orphan? I am ridiculous, but this is what I am actually envious of. The Prophet is going bonkers about him. The lists of eligible bachelors and such, the guesswork as to whom he may be dating and advices for young witches how to conquer the Saviour's heart. I leaf through this crap at work daily, scoffing in annoyance. Potter, however, seems as irritated as I on the subject, which astonished me at first. I always presumed he enjoyed that kind of attention. A few days ago there was the Prophet on the kitchen table.

‘HARRY POTTER: ONCE A SAVIOUR, ALWAYS A SAVIOUR. Offering a helping hand once again to the Ex-Death Eater Draco Malfoy who had failed his probation and is now a drug addict.' The full account of my predicament across the pages; not a word about me living under Potter's roof though. Seems like they had managed not to leak this information.

"Kreacher!" Potter said irritably, indicating at the newspaper, "What's this crap?"

"Kreacher bring it home, Master," the elf croaked.

"I forbid you to bring home the Prophet or any other newspaper." He waved his hand, setting the paper aflame with invisible fire that consumed it without a trace. Potter's magic is advanced these days and as effortless as though it were nothing.

"Yes, Master."

"Good."

I listened to this conversation, not saying a word, feeling embarrassed because obviously Potter never read the papers about himself, and I knew everything about him from those papers.

Embarrassment is what I'd call it between me and Potter. I don't know about him, but he seems unruffled. Which embarrasses me even more. We don't see each other much during the day, which is a relief. But today is a weekend, and I have no idea how it will go, or what one is supposed to do, shut in a house with a person whom they find a difficulty to talk to.

Today is Saturday, and I have been visiting my Father for the first time since all the shit has broken loose. Usually these visits leave me in quite a state, but today it's something else. Such despair is washing over me that I want to howl and wake up the haunted corridors of Azkaban. It's this place, I think, is taking over me. But also it's the thought that never in my life would I be able to have anything mine. Father buys my freedom, Father decides when and whom I marry, Father controls my thoughts. I feel sick. I am an adult, but in front of my Father I am helpless as a baby. I want to curl up in a corner and weep. Probably I should, once we get out of here, and I am back to my room. Striding down the corridor, I hear Potter's quick footsteps in my wake.

"Malfoy!"

I don't stop.

"Malfoy, for fuck's sake! Slow down a bit!"

I stop. His footsteps on the stone speed up. I wait, leaning against the wall with my back to him. Potter catches up with me.

"You can’t get out of here on your own anyway," he says, "Come on."

"I know , Potter. No need to remind me," I snap, following him down the corridor.

He says nothing, and we continue walking in silence.

The guard at the exit returns our wands, and we head outside.

"Your Father is..." Potter begins.

"I don't want to talk about him," I snap, "For fuck's sake, Potter. I've had enough of my Father for today."

"Er... Okay," he says, "so... I'm on duty today, so... I'm going to Apparate you home and leave."

"Okay.”

I didn't know he works on the weekends, but I am relieved not to have him around all day.

**

Being left on my own, I wandered the house for nothing better to do, its every creepy alcove and corridor. That's how I'd stumbled upon it. The laboratory in the basement. Just to the other side of the kitchen's wall and one level below, with an obscure door in the niche near the pantry and a long narrow stone staircase. I descended and stopped dead. It was a lab, obviously, but long ago abandoned. Ingredients stores were empty, but all necessary equipment was intact: cauldrons of every size, tripods, stirring rods, measuring spoons, pincers, knives, chopping bars, empty glass vials and jars lined the shelves. Everything in a decent state, as well as working surfaces, albeit covered with a thick layer of dust that had gathered there through the years. This is great, I thought. Actually, it's even better than in our Apothecary. More space and better organised. After a proper cleaning and filling the stores - it would be a joy to brew here. My heart was hammering with excitement as I paced the area, looking around, until my eyes fell on the knife at the wall, and my stomach sank. The exact copy of the dagger that belonged to Aunt Bella, of the one she loved to draw and swing around so often. What the hell am I even doing here: in Potter's house, daydreaming about using his laboratory? I dashed up the staircase and out of the door to the kitchen. Kreacher was stirring something in the cooking pot on the stove with his back to me. He turned abruptly at the sound.

"Young Master Malfoy is been to laboratory," he croaked.

He calls me 'Young Master Malfoy', obviously to distinguish me from my Father.

"Yes," I said, sitting down at the table.

Kreacher turned back to the stove. "Master is never go there."

"Does he... Does he know about its existence?" It's a stupid question, it's Potter's house... But for some reason, the lab gave me a feeling that Potter has nothing to do with it.

"Master do. Master know every place in the house. Even that he don't visit."

"Okay..."

I feel frustrated, I can't quite tell why. As though I've intruded upon something and am pissed off with myself.

The rest of the day I spend lounging in the library, leafing through the tomes. Actually, I've discovered quite a section on Potions there with some really fascinating stuff. But then I remember that now I'd hardly be let anywhere near the advanced brewing, and my mood is foul again.

**

"Young Master Malfoy-Sir." I hear in my sleep. "Young Master Malfoy-Sir," it repeats.

I open my eyes. The lamp is lit in the room, and Kreacher is standing near my bed.

"What is it, Kreacher?"

"Master is need help."

"What?”

"Master is need help," he repeats, tugging at my pyjama sleeve.

Rubbing my eyes, I get out of bed and step into my slippers.

I follow Kreacher out of the room and to Potter's bedroom, where I find him on the bed, gripping at his thigh.

"Malfoy?" His eyes are bewildered, as though he's forgotten that I live here.

"What is it, Potter?" I approach the bed

"What?"

"You've summoned me here."

"What?" He growls, gripping at his right leg above the knee.

"Master, Kreacher is bring Young Master Malfoy to help."

"What?!" Potter and I exclaim at the same time.

"Young Master Malfoy is make potions. Master is need potion to feeling good."

"I haven't summoned you, Malfoy..." Potter utters through the gritted teeth.

"Master is need help, Young Master Malfoy is help," Kreacher whines on repeat, wringing his hands.

"Kreacher, for fuck's sake!" Potter grunts. "Be quiet!"

The elf falls silent instantly, continuing to rock on his heels back and forth.

"Oh, thank Merlin... Ahh!" Squeezing his eyes, Potter breathes in and out several times.

"What is it, Potter?" I ask, "Are you injured?"

"Nno... It's just the...old thing... Fuck..."

"What's happened?"

Following an unknown urge, I sit at the edge of the bed. Is it pity or empathy? I don't know, but he is obviously in pain and needs help, and I am astonished to realise that I want to help. I don’t know how.

"I've been hit with a hex tonight." Potter leans back against the headboard. "Nothing serious. But there's this old wound... from the war, in my leg... And sometimes it's triggered by a random spell. And then it fucking hurts for a few days so much that I can barely walk... And then it gradually wears off."

"How many days?" I ask. Really, if he's going to be in this state for days , I don't know even...

"I don't know... Usually it's from three to ten, depends on... I have no idea what it depends on. But it has never been more than ten so far," Potter says, rubbing at his leg, his jaw clenched so that the tendons stand out. For fuck's sake... I would scream at that point, I'm sure.

"Have you seen the Healers?"

"Yes, but... They say it's a kind of 'phantom pain' - like... it's not actually real, it's all in my head. I don't know... I don't think they'd say that if they knew how it feels." He closes his eyes.

"For fuck's sake, Potter, scream all you want," I snap, "Maybe it will be easier to bear."

"I... I don't... know how," he whispers, curling on his side.

Oh fuck. Now what?

"Is there anything I can do?" I crane my neck to look him in the face.

"No."

Kreacher makes a gulping sound, gesturing at his mouth, again and again. Oh Merlin, looks like he's having a fit.

"What, Kreacher?" Potter says with his eyes closed. "You may speak."

"Young Master Malfoy must to help Master. Young Master Malfoy live under Master's roof. Out of gratitude he must."

"Oh, come on, Kreacher..." Potter says irritably, “if you won't stop it, I'll order you to shut up again."

"Wait, Potter," I say, "Actually... I don't know, but... Maybe I would be able to do something, if I had ingredients..."

"Kreacher is bring what Young Master Malfoy is need."

"I mean... Potter, I've been to the basement today and seen the lab. It's perfectly fine for brewing."

"You mean... Okay, if you say there is a way to ease fucking this ." He grabs at his leg. "Then do it. Try, I mean... But I don't know... Healers tried but weren't able to do anything."

"Actually, Potter... I've been going through your library today. And there is this Potions section... I am positive I've seen something on after-effects of the Cruciatus Curse, might come in handy."

Potter turns on his other side to face me. "Malfoy, you are... What? A Potions Prodigy?"

"You want me to help you or not?" I stand up. He hasn't removed his Auror uniform - only the jacket is hanging off the back of the chair, and the boots are on the carpet.

"Suit yourself," Potter mumbles, turning away.

"Okay," I say, "Then I need to go to the library. Kreacher, how do I summon you?"

"Kreacher, you are to come when Malfoy calls you," Potter says.

"Yes, Master."

I walk out of the room.

**

An hour and a half later, I think I've found what I needed. As I said - the potion and the salve meant to ease after-effects of the Cruciatus. It recedes the pain mechanism itself in a body, so I assume it would deal with any kind of pain. I bet they don't have those recipes in St. Mungo's, that are written in this battered journal.

"Kreacher!" I say experimentally, and the elf pops in front of me in an instant.

"Young Master Malfoy-Sir."

"Look." I thrust the page under his nose. "I need the list of these ingredients here."

"Kreacher waves his hand, and a piece of paper appears in the air, on which I see the copy of the journal page is already forming. It is finished in a few moments, and Kreacher grabs it out of the air, Disapparating with a bow.

Going down to the lab, I set out for a bit of cleaning; it won't do to let dust meddle with the potion. When Kreacher returns about an hour later with a box of ingredients, I have the one of working areas fully cleaned, as well as the set of equipment and glassware.

"Master is suffer bad, you better be quickly, Young Master Malfoy-Sir." He has put the box down, hopping up to perch at the edge of the working table, dangling his big feet in the air. Oh no, no way the floppy-eared fucker is going to monitor me here.

"I will try my best, Kreacher, but I need not to be disturbed."

"Kreacher is not disturb," he says, as nonchalantly as he can, considering he's Kreacher. "Kreacher is observe."

"Kreacher, I need to be alone here, and you should better attend your Master, he is in pain.”

The fucker doesn't move, staring ahead.

I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Kreacher, do I need to summon your Master here so he'd order you to leave the lab?"

"No. Master is suffer."

"Well, please , do attend him, he needs you there; bring him a glass of water or some food."

With a sigh, he slides off the table. "Kreacher attend Master," he says, Disapparating.

Fucker. I roll my eyes.

Well... I take the Potioneer's apron which I've found in the storeroom. After several strong cleaning spells, it's as good as new. Putting the apron on over my pyjamas and lining the open books and journals up in front of me, I set to work.

About two hours later, I have a batch of potion and salve in two separate cauldrons. Pouring the doses prescribed in the journal into two vials, I stopper them and head up the stairs.

When I enter the room, Potter is curled on his side with his back to me. He is covered with a blanket, which has slipped down, revealing his bare back and the line of black pyjama bottoms. There is a jar of water and a glass at the bedside table. The sound of his breath is quiet but ragged enough to indicate he isn't asleep and he’s still in pain.

"Potter?" I approach the bed.

He turns to look at me over his shoulder, then grabs his glasses from the bedside table and puts them on. In the dim light of the bedside lamp his face is lined with shadows, which make his features harsher, giving him the resemblance with a hawk. It's because of his large nose, I think, and heavy eyebrows. His hair is tousled, and it looks like there's sheen of sweat on his face, but maybe it's the light, I'm not sure.

"Er..." I stammer, I don't know, this Potter is a picture of suffering that I've never seen before, he unsettles me.

"I’ve made the potion." I hold out my hand with a vial for him to see. He turns to me fully, sitting up. The blanket slides down, revealing his chest and stomach. It is wildly embarrassing for some reason to see his body naked. I mean... really... It's not like he's a woman with bare breasts that should be covered in front of me. But anyway...

"And... I’ve made the salve." Meeting his eyes, I hold out the other hand with the second vial.

"Salve?" He asks in a scratchy voice, reaching for the glass of water.

"Yes." Slowly, I take a step forward, then another one, coming up to the bedside table to put the vials down. "The potion works better if the salve is applied directly onto the aching area. The potion you digest, I mean... And the salve is for external use only."

Potter stares up at me, sipping water.

I feel like an idiot, and suddenly anxious, uncertain whether I've done everything right. What if something has gone wrong, and now I may poison Potter?

"You can tell one from another by their colour," I continue, feeling the urge to sit down and put the barrier between us. So I do, sitting down into the armchair and taking the cushion to hold it in front of me. Only then I realise I am still in the Potioneer's apron over my pyjamas. No doubt I look ridiculous.

"The potion is dark-brown, and the salve is beige. Also the potion is liquid, and the salve is more like... jelly, you know..."

"Thank you, Malfoy," Potter grabs the potion vial and unstoppers it, bringing it to his mouth. I go cold.

"Stop!"

He stops.

"Potter, look... I don't know if it's perfect, if nothing has gone wrong..." I mumble, digging my fingers into the cushion.

"I mean... I've tried my best; I've performed everything that is due... That is written in that book and journals. But you know... Potions are tricky things... And it's the first time I've been brewing it, I've had nothing to compare to..."

"Okay, Malfoy." He nods, lifting the vial to his lips and downing it in one go. My jaw drops.

"Now, help me apply the salve, it fucking hurts ," he hisses, putting the empty vial down and taking another one.

"Potter, are you fucking insane?" I spring on my feet and grab the salve out of his hand.

He shrugs, throwing the blanket to the side to reveal his legs in pyjama bottoms. When he reaches with both hands to the waistband to push it down, I almost yelp. But thankfully there are black boxers underneath. Potter lifts his hips off the bed, swiftly pulling the bottoms down his legs and off. He props himself on the pillow against the headboard and he hisses, rubbing his right thigh.

"Here." He indicates with his hand from the knee almost all the way up. His legs are pale, paler than the upper part of his body. They are lean and shaped and muscular and dusted with coarse black hairs, and... Why on earth would I be unsettled at the sight someone's legs? I clear my throat.

"Sorry, Malfoy, if you are okay with it," he says, wincing, "I feel like shit and... How much should I apply anyway? All of it?"

I unstopper the vial, sitting down beside him on the bed.

"All of it, the contents of the entire vial. That is what written in the journal." I shuffle closer to him. "Every twelve hours, which means one vial of potion plus one vial of salve every twelve hours, for a week," I lean closer to take a look at his leg. I expect to see something - anything - inflamed skin, the redness perhaps.

"There is nothing there." I pour a bit of salve onto his leg.

"Yeah, no mark," he says, leaning back into the pillow.

Bringing my palm, I gingerly place it on his thigh, waiting the world to crush down on my head… I am so uncertain... Nothing happens, so I begin rubbing the salve in with a light pressure, in circular motions, all the way up from the knee almost to the edge of his boxers and back, several times, again and again, until he hisses, and I feel there is nothing left under my palm, salve has sunk into his skin.

"Is it that bad?" I ask, pouring some more onto his leg.

"Bad enough," he says, closing his eyes, "But you know, I think the potion is kicking in already, it's a bit better, actually."

"Good," I say, kneading his thigh with both hands, immensely relieved. Maybe, I've actually done it right.

I pour some more and rub it in and repeat, being aware of his taut flesh under my palms every second of it; of the faint scratchy feeling of his body hairs against my skin. I feel like maybe something should be said, some small talk to ease that charged air, like no big deal, but he is silent, and I don't find what to say either. I feel my face is burning and don't dare to look up. I finish the vial, pouring the last drops onto his leg, rubbing them in, slowing down until I stop. I am hard, very.

My heart hammering, I remove my hands and  finally look up. "Well..."

Potter is asleep. His head has lolled back on the pillow, and his mouth is open a bit; he is breathing almost inaudibly.

I don't know what I feel more - relief or annoyance. Okay. At least let's think this stuff is working. I stand up, putting the empty vial carefully down on the bedside table and take his glasses off.

I leave his room, closing the door quietly and head to mine.

"Kreacher," I say, and the elf instantly pops out of the air.

"Young Master Malfoy-Sir."

"Your Master has taken the potion and it has helped; he's fallen asleep sitting in the bed. Do go and lay him carefully down, and cover him with the blanket, he needs to be kept warm after the salve," I say, taking my apron off and handing it down to Kreacher, "And please, take this down to the lab."

"Yes, Young Master Malfoy-Sir," the elf  says, Disapparating.

I yawn, looking at the clock on the wall. Four in the morning. I am exhausted. I switch the light off and fall into bed. My eyes are closing, and I am asleep in an instant.

**

When I enter the kitchen at ten in the morning, Kreacher is occupied with the frying pan on the stove, and Potter is already at the table, devouring a huge plate of Full English.

He looks up. "Hi!" and smiles . Smiles at me for the first time in my life.

"Hi." I raise my hand. I have no idea what is written across my face, I very much hope it's not what I'm feeling right now, not that assault of things that has hit me when he looked up. Just in case, I rub at my nose with my hand to conceal my face, not to show anything I might regret, and sit down. I have to say something, anything and create the barrier of words between us, to cover my flaming thoughts. My heart is thudding, and heat is creeping up my cheeks, no doubt he has noticed; he is looking at me oddly. He looks so much better now, well-rested and energetic. My palms are sweaty. As soon as he opens his mouth to say something, Kreacher is beside me, bless him, putting the plate of Full English in front of me.

"Young Master Malfoy-Sir." He bows, what he has never done before. "You is helped Master, Master is been good again. Thanks you."

"Er... thank you, Kreacher," I utter, glancing at Potter.

"So... How are you doing?" I ask him, gaining some confidence back, so my voice doesn’t waver. "Is it better today? Has it helped?"

"Yes... It has, definitely... You have no idea , thank you, Malfoy... I mean... Really..." He clears his throat and takes a bite of sausage. Looks like I am not the only one who is embarrassed here. I don't know if it's a relief, probably not; if anything, it makes things even more awkward.

"Good. I'm glad," I say, picking up my fork and knife, glad to have an excuse to turn my attention away from Potter's face. "But don't forget, it needs to be applied every 12 hours for a week."

"Yeah... I remember," he says, and I look up. He's busy with his food. I remember . Oh my God, of course he does. He was present there as well; all the time I was touching him. The memory of his body beneath my palms, how it felt to the touch... I've never touched another's body like that before. I never wanted to do this to a woman, and to a man... it's wrong, and I am not allowed to... What Father would say if he knew... I shake myself. I'm sick. Potter was ill last night, and I was getting hard on it like a pervert.

"Thank you, Malfoy," he repeats, "I mean... You didn't have to do that, I should have asked Kreacher, but I sort of was not myself... So, I'm sorry if that was too much to ask. I'll definitely apply it on my own next time."

"Nno... No." I find myself saying. "It's alright, no problem."

"Oh... Okay." He looks up at me. "It's really helped, you know. Like... In the middle of your... massage, all the pain sort of receded, and it was such a relief, you have no idea... So I guess I'd fallen asleep in the middle of it, 'cause I woke up only in the morning... Kreacher is over the Moon about you now." He grins. And I find myself grinning back. The tension is broken, and it's alright between us.

**

I've been perusing the library contents, crouching in front of the shelves, when the fireplace roared alive behind me.

"Bloody hell!"

I turn around.

Weasley's head is hanging in the air above the flames. "Holy fuck! Malfoy?"

Crouching on the floor, I feel like an idiot, so I stand up, turning to face him. Fuck, now what? I assume he had no idea I live here.

"What the fuck are you doing here?! Where's Harry?"

"He's..." I clear my throat. "There somewhere." I gesture at the door. Potter is supposed to apply the salve right now. It's three in the afternoon.

"What the actual fuck, Malfoy?" Weasley's head disappears for a second, and then the whole Weasley is stepping through the Floo. "What are you doing here? Where's Harry?"

"I live here. You can probably find him in his bedroom," I say. This feeling is rising, this resentment poisoning me. "It's his house, ask him ," I snap in Weasley's wake, as he brushes past me to the door.

**

"Is Young Master Malfoy wish anything?" Kreacher pops in front of me when I am climbing the staircase.

"No, thank you, Kreacher." I reach the landing when the door of Potter's bedroom bursts open, letting Weasley out. He storms by, shaking his head, and gives me a dirty look.

"Ron!" Potter shouts, "Ron! Wait!" He appears in the doorway only in his boxers and barefoot, dashing down the stairs in Weasley's wake. I hear the library door slams shut, then wrenches open with force and slams shut again.

"Kreacher is baked chocolate brownie fudge with raspberry custard, Young Master Malfoy-Sir."

"Yes, Kreacher, please ... I'd love to have some in my room," I say. Honestly, among all this drama, I want it to be Monday already and I am at work.

**

There is a knock on my door. "Malfoy?" Potter peers inside. "May I come in?"

"It's your house, Potter," I say through the mouthful of brownie fudge. Kreacher's brilliant, really.

Potter steps into the room and closes the door behind him. He is dressed now in soft black joggers and a sweatshirt. He walks up to where I am sitting cross-legged on the bed with an open potions journal and a plate of fudge in front of me.

"Ron's been..." he begins.

"Pissed off," I finish, stuffing another forkful in my mouth and turn the page; I want to appear cool and busy.

"Yeah... Sort of." Potter sighs, sitting down at the foot of the bed, and I instantly feel as though he's intruding on my territory. What a stupid notion, this whole house is his, this very bed including.

"He barged into my room when I was applying the salve," he says, rubbing his right leg above the knee. "Asking, you know..."

"What the fuck I'm doing here," I say.

"Yeah... What are you eating there?"

"Er..." The question is so silly and out of the blue. "Brownie, Kreacher has brought me."

"Kreacher!" Potter calls, and the elf appears instantly.

"Master, what is you want?"

"Bring me, please, some of this cake." He points at my plate.

"Kreacher is baked it for Young Master Malfoy," Kreacher says smugly.

Potter's eyes go wide. "Am I allowed to have some?"

"If Young Master Malfoy is approve."

Potter laughs.

"Behave, Potter," I say crossly, "Otherwise I won't let you have the cake."

"Okay, okay." He tries to keep his face straight. "Would you be so kind, Malfoy, and let me have some of your brownie?" There’s smile in his voice, and it suddenly feels so good, that even the thought of Weasley fades a bit.

"Well, yes, go on." I gesture condescendingly. "Kreacher, would you be so kind and bring your Master some? But not too much." I wiggle my eyebrows at Potter.

"Yes, Young Master Malfoy-Sir." Kreacher Disapparates, only to reappear in a few seconds, holding a plate with a thin slice of brownie and a fork on it.

"Thank you, Kreacher." Potter takes the plate. "You may go." The elf disappears.

"Okay... About Ron," he begins, poking at his fudge with a fork, "I'm sorry, he had no idea you are here, I haven't told him."

"Why are you telling me this?" I ask, because, come on... Potter doesn't owe me anything, and it pisses me off that he is pretending that he does.

"I don't know... It's just I should have told him, so he wouldn't have insulted you out of the blue." Potter shrugs and puts a bit of a fudge into his mouth. His lower lip is full and... sinful, that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I look at him. Sinful. Where it has even come from? His lips move as he chews with his mouth closed, and I stare; there is a raspberry smudge at the edge of it. His tongue darts out, sweeping the red off.

"Malfoy?"

I shake myself. Merlin, my heart is hammering. I should not indulge in this wrongness. Yes, wrongness it is. I am sick, and I must not show it.

"What?"

"Are you alright?"

"Yes." Shit . I tearing my gaze away from his face to look down at my empty plate. "This is heaven, this fudge," I say, faking excitement, "I would ask Kreacher for more, but I'm afraid I'm going to be sick."

Potter laughs, "Yes, it's great." There is something in his voice, a note that is telling me that he is not as casual as he appears to be either. I look up. He is staring at me.

"Okay... I'll go," he says abruptly, standing up with the empty plate in his hands. "You may give me yours, if you want."

"What?" I utter.

"Plate... Your plate. I'll fetch it down to the kitchen."

"Oh... Yeah, that would be... Okay." I shuffle forward on the bed, handing him the plate, and he takes it. The fork falls down onto the duvet, and we both reach for it, which makes his fork land onto the bed, too.

"Fuck..." We blurt simultaneously and laugh.

"Okay, let me," I say, picking both forks up and putting them onto the top plate in his hand.

"Good." He grins.

I nod.

"Okay, I'll go," he says, but doesn't move, looking down at me. From this angle his nose looks larger than usual, and I see the stubble on his jaw and neck. Images of running my fingertips along that stubble, of rubbing my face against it, are emerging, unbidden, and I almost feel its coarseness against my skin. Fuck.

"Okay, go," I manage.

He nods, and finally turns, heading to the door.

"Goodnight, Malfoy."

"Goodnight."

**

Next morning at breakfast, before leaving for work, I broach the subject.

"Potter, I wanted to ask you something."

He looks up. "Yes?"

"About the lab down there." I gesture towards the door behind the pantry.

"What about it?" He adjusts his glasses.

"Er... May I... I mean, would you let me use it...brew there?"

"Brew what?" He frowns, and I can't blame him.

"I don't know... Just brew - experiment, I mean. These journals in the library are wicked. I could make some really unique stuff..."

"Such as?" He sets his jaw.

"This potion of yours, for example. It’s great, as you've already tested on yourself. The most powerful painkiller without the side-effects. You may need it again, occasionally. Or there are potions that invoke long lost memories, if a person has undergone memory-modifying, for example. There's one tricky stuff that makes you able to lie naturally under the Veritaserum, can you imagine? I mean... it's really tough stuff, but if I tried... It's wildly fascinating!" I catch myself on gesticulating widely. I put my hands on my lap.

Potter studies me through narrowed eyes.

"No drugs, Malfoy."

"No! No..." I shake my head.

"Hear me out, okay?"

I nod.

"You may use the lab. But you are absolutely not experimenting with anything that may involve any drugs or dangerous substances, or any other harmful stuff. Do you understand?"

"Yes." I nod. "Perfectly. You have my word."

Potter rolls his eyes. "I had it for the first time either, and yet here we are." He gestures between us.

Kreacher is mumbling something under his nose with his back to us. Something that sounds very much like "Master is go harsh on Young Master Malfoy."

"Look, Potter... I promise, I really do. That won't happen again."

"Alright." Potter stands up. "I take your word. You may use the lab. Come on, we are getting late."

Downing the remnants of my coffee, I stand up. I step towards Potter and grab his outstretched forearm. We swirl away to the Diagon Alley, where Potter drops me in front of the Apothecary as usual, nods briefly and Apparates away.

**

It goes well, I suppose. For two weeks so far. Since I asked Potter’s permission to use the lab. I brew on the weekends, and sometimes after work, late at night, when something in particular gets me so excited that I can't wait for Saturday. Since I don't pay my rent now, I have some Galleons left, which I hand down to Kreacher along with a list of ingredients. Little by little, I stock my supplies. Potter comes down to the lab sometimes, simply to sit down at the stool and watch what I'm doing, asking occasionally this and that, but not much. I wish he asked me more. I wish to show off and be brilliant in front of him.

Everything had changed since that night when I helped him. I don't know, I am not sure about him, but for me it had. And not at the moment I was touching him, no; by that time I was already far gone. His haunted face in the shadows had wrenched this thing in me up to the surface, letting it go astray, making sure that now, knowing how he looks in pain, I would not be able to look at him the same way as before. I don't know what I should do about it. I am reluctant to admit it even to myself. I don't know what it is, this constant awareness of Potter. It feels almost like when we were teenagers, when he appeared in the vicinity, and all my senses flared alert, attuned to his presence. I remember I didn't even have to turn and look, I always knew where exactly Potter was at any given moment. I thought of it as anger. And anger it was, but also excitement and something else, that thrill that made my stomach swoop and my heart hammer every time I caught a glimpse of his unruly dark head at the edge of my vision. I called it ‘hate’ then. Now, when there is obviously no hate left since long ago... I don't know... I am aware of him and I am on my guard. I must not let it slip, I must not let him know. It is essential that he doesn't know, that he doesn't even suspect.

**

I am already dozing off, when a noise from the staircase starts me awake: a muffled laughter and a sound of feet dragging over the steps. Potter's low rumble says something, and there's that laugh again. He's not alone, I frown. The sound of something slamming hard against my door and fumbling. I sit up. Then it retreats, Potter's laughter again, the sound of the door opening...

Last night Potter had dropped me home after work and said he'd be back late at night, so Kreacher shouldn't wait with dinner. He went up to his room, and I heard the shower running for some time. When he emerged to the kitchen again, clad in smart jeans and a leather jacket, his hair styled and tamed - I gaped. I have never seen him in anything but his Auror uniform or joggers and sweatshirts he wears at home.

"I'm off to meet my friends, the night out, you know." He grinned. "So... see you tomorrow."

I nodded. It wasn't my business, after all, where and with whom Potter spends his Friday nights. Though I can't tell I wasn't curious - had he made it up with Weasley, or was he meeting other people?

"Has good time, Master," Kreacher said.

So I had dinner and spent the evening down in the lab, trying to figure out a solution for the tricky modified version of Felix Felicis.

I went to bed well past midnight, and Potter hadn't returned still. Having a difficulty with falling asleep for some reason, I tossed in my bed. Then I tried reading. Then I decided to take a shower. Finding myself wanking vigorously some minutes later to the memories of Potter's body under my palms, I was horrified and bewildered and disgusted with myself, and somehow not at all surprised. I couldn't stop. I gasped, flicking my palm over the swollen head of my cock, again and again, until I came with a moan so loud I was afraid Kreacher might have heard. The thought of Kreacher listening to the sounds of me wanking was so freakish, that I got out of the shower, hastily towelled myself and put my pyjamas on. In bed I buried myself under the blanket and squeezed my eyes shut. My heart thudding, I felt so ashamed and helpless in the face of this monster in me. But the sleepiness was already coming over me after the hot shower and a wank, my eyes were closing... When these sounds on the landing had woken me up.

Something hits the wall of Potter's bedroom, a growl follows... What the fuck is going on? The walls are thin and don't hold the sounds of struggle coming from there. I get out of the bed and tiptoe to the door, opening it silently, and peer outside. Potter's door stands half-open and it is dark in the room. I hear rustling and some metallic sound and...

" Tie me up, " Potter says.

What the actual fuck?

Straining my ears, I tiptoe closer. There is a sound of heavy breathing and a soft moan and " Ahh ... come on," Potter says, "easy...wait...wait... yeah ...ahh... go on..."

Oh. My. God .

All the blood rushes to my face. He is having sex there with someone. They are fucking right now, right there. Oh God.

"Ahh!.. Don't stop..." Potter whines, and there is a sound of the headboard rhythmically hitting the wall. In shock I realise that I am hard and horrified with what I am witnessing, and my breath is shallow.

"Faster... Ahh!.. Gonna come," Potter gasps and then cries out several times, and I am backing off to my room, my whole body shaking. When I close my door, trying not to make a sound, the banging at the wall stops, and I hear laughter and Potter says something, but the words are muffled by the wall.

I lie down on the bed, curling on my side, and stare into space. I am badly shaken. The thought of Potter having sex renders me restless, makes me feel small and helpless, sickeningly aroused and ashamed for witnessing it; makes me disgusted and morbidly curious for more, already imagining how they looked doing it, I can’t help it.

‘Tie me up’ , he said. Does it mean the woman was on top? I picture some faceless woman riding Potter, while he is laid out at her mercy, with his wrists tied up to the headboard. She is moving up and down, her full breasts bouncing, and Potter is arching beneath her. ‘Faster... gonna come,’ he says. She is going faster, and his neck is straining as he cries out and jerks again and again, coming inside her. The image makes my hand travel down beneath the waistband of my pyjamas. I know it is not a woman who arouses me in this scene, not her breasts or the curve of her arse. It is Potter, there’s no help to that: his strong thighs and the trail of black hair below his navel that goes all the way down there, where their bodies are joined; it is his taut stomach that is trembling in pleasure, his straining arms and exposed armpits, when his whole body is arching under her assault. Do I imagine myself in her place? ‘Gonna come,’ he says, and I am shuddering in a silent cry, feeling my fingers get sticky. I close my eyes and swallow, trying to even my breath. I feel like crying. This is so fucked up.

**

I wake up at dawn to the sickening feeling at the back of my mind the source of which I can't locate... Until I remember. Fuck . I don't even know why I am so shaken. I feel as though I shouldn't be, but I am, which makes things worse. My mouth is dry. I get up. Opening the door, I step outside. The house is quiet, and Potter's door stands half-open exactly as it was at night. Does it mean, she's stayed the night?.. I know I shouldn't do this. I should fucking go back to my room and shut the door. I come close to the open door, peering inside. I see a tangle of limbs among the sheets. A leg is thrown over another one. A pale muscled calf, a leg bent in the knee, a thigh... I lean forward... A broad back is visible from beneath the blanket covering his arse. A tanned nape and... it's not Potter, because the man, lying with his face hidden in the pillow, is blond. Blond . Potter is next to him, on his stomach, with bare arse. He is hugging the pillow, his face turned away, only his tousled black hair is visible.

Fuck. I gape. I feel as though being hit across the head. The man stirs, and I step back, and back and back, until I'm in my room, closing the door.

I sit on the bed. Fuck. I don't know... Somehow I feel a bit better but even worse at the same time. The thought that Potter might be as sick as I has never crossed my mind. Now, having witnessed it with my own eyes... Thinking he was with a woman is one thing, knowing it was a man who had tied him up and fucked his brains out... I am so shocked, I don't know... The thought of Potter doing it like that and shamelessly enjoying it... apparently being totally okay with it, as though it were perfectly normal, as though there were nothing sick or perverted about it... Merlin.

I am wound up and relieved and sick and horrified at the same time. I mean, I know there might be people like me. Men like me out there: those who have perverted desires for a male body... But never in my life have I imagined they could indulge in them openly and enjoy them as though there were nothing wrong with it.

From the moment I'd discovered this in me in my teens - the interest for other boys, I knew perfectly well that this thing - whatever it is - is wrong and shall never be tolerated in my family. No one had to tell me, I just knew . Growing up with my Father, you just know such things.

From that moment on, I knew that I must get rid of it, or at least lock it in the deepest dungeon of my mind, never letting anyone know. Never letting my Father even suspect such a thing. Now, seeing Potter in bed with a man, remembering the sounds he made last night... ‘Don't stop...’ I shake myself. I need to lie down. I feel like my world as I know it is crashing down around me. Pulling the blanket over my head, I close my eyes.

When I wake up again, it's past nine in the morning. I am rested and hungry, and actually feel better. Dressing quickly in jeans and a jumper, I head out of the room. Potter's door is closed, and everything is silent. I head down the staircase. Entering the kitchen, I see Potter at the table with his back to the door. Kreacher puts down the plate in front of him, and the blond man is nowhere to be seen.

"Good morning, Young Master Malfoy-Sir!" Kreacher greets me cheerfully (or I assume it's his cheerful manner).

"Hi, Kreacher," I say. Potter turns.

"Hi, Potter." I go around the table to sit across from him at the opposite end. He follows me with his eyes.

"Hi." He grins. "What's up?" He is obviously in a good mood. He lifts the fork to his mouth, and I see there is a purple bruise around his wrist. I look at his other hand, and there is the other one. I look away. I have no idea how on earth he can be so cheerful and... - normal? After what had been done to him last night. After letting that man tie him up and do this thing to him, after welcoming it.

"Master is been so loud last night, I hope it not disturb Young Master Malfoy sleep?" Kreacher says, putting the plate in front of me. It's unclear whom exactly he's addressing.

Potter looks up at me and clears his throat. I shrug, feeling my face getting hot.

"Thanks, Kreacher." I take my fork. "It looks great." I poke a crispy slice of bacon.

"Can I have some tea, Kreacher, please?" Potter asks.

"Yes, Master."

We eat in silence.

"About last night..." Potter says, and I almost drop my fork. Sweet Merlin , he wants to talk about it.

"I was a bit drunk and... We might have made a noise, sorry..."

"It's fine," I say, wishing to die on the spot. "I was asleep anyway." My voice sounds weird, and I think he knows that I am lying.

Potter doesn't elaborate, and I am relieved, though curious to know why the blond guy hasn't even stayed for breakfast.

**

Despite my expectations, things hadn't changed much between us. Potter never talks about this side of his life. He hadn't brought up the blond guy either and didn't go out for a couple of weeks after that, so I assumed it was a one-night stand, as they call it, and was relieved for some reason. Until one night I woke up to the loud moans from behind the wall, and was lying with a hammering heart, straining my ears, trying to gather every tiniest sound Potter was making, and when the other voice joined, I was already wanking myself desperately as though my life depended on it.

The next morning, Potter was alone again, with a purple bruise circling his neck, as though from a wide belt.

"It's okay," he said, catching me staring. His wrists bore the marks, too. "It's not... what you think, not like that."

"Not like what?" I asked, overcoming my embarrassment. I was dying to know what the actual fuck was going on.

"Not like... violence... Well, it is a violence, sort of, but consensual. I ask him for it."

"What?" Merlin, how much more twisted things does Potter have up his sleeve? "Ask him for it? Who is this guy?" It was the first time I acknowledged that I knew there was a guy at all.

"He is... It's called Dom, what he is. He does these things at my request. I call him up when I feel like that."

"Like what?"

"Like being tied up and receiving a bit of pain."

Fucking hell. Okay... This was something far above my perspective.

"But... Why? Why would you want that?"

Potter laughs. "I just do, okay? I don't know. Sometimes."

I nod. "Okay..."

"Malfoy... I'm freaking you out," Potter says, shaking his head. "Just forget it."

"No... It's fine," I say, "I mean... I don't think I would understand, but... whatever... suit yourself."

That was it. That had actually lifted that awkwardness on my part. I sort of reconciled with the idea of Potter sleeping with men and liking being tied up. It's his business, after all.

**

'

'Dear Mr. D.L. Malfoy, the hearing of your case of brewing illegal substances has been appointed at 10.00 a.m. on the 30th of April, 2002, Courtroom N 7, the Ministry of Magic, London.

Sincerely,   Matilda Weinstein,

Executive secretary of the Wizengamot.'

My heart sinks. I mean... I knew, of course, that eventually the hearing will take place. This is why I live with Potter... but... It's been almost two months, and I somehow have settled in my routine and become used to it, used to Potter's house and Potter's elf, and Potter's presence around me daily. To Potter. I somehow have completely ceased to think about why exactly I am here, about the charges, about the hearing and my future predicament. And now all this slams back home as I'm holding the letter with a Ministry crest on it.

"It's about the hearing?" Potter says across the table. We are having late dinner on Friday. Potter is not going out tonight. 'Don't feel like it,' he said. Actually, I noticed, he hasn’t felt like it for quite a while now. He often feels like sitting in the lab with me when I'm brewing, and tonight is one of these nights. We've spent a few hours down there, until I finished the batch of Felix N 2, as I call it. After dinner we were going to go there again. For me to check on my other stuff in the process and for him to watch.

Now I'm not sure I feel like it. I'd rather go lie down.

"Yes, it's in 10 days, on the 30th of April."

I feel sick. No doubt Potter counts the days to get rid of me. Probably my thoughts are reflecting on my face, because he frowns.

"Malfoy?"

"What?"

"I think there is a fair chance for you to be cleared of the charges."

I roll my eyes. "How so?"

"There is no evidence you were selling that stuff. Only a tiny batch had been found. Investigation revealed no connections between you and any of the known drug dealers. I think it may turn out just fine," he says.

I stare at him, how is he so naive, so stupid?

"Come on, Potter. I’m Malfoy , for fuck's sake, my Father’s in Azkaban." Ire is rising in me. "Do you actually think it has any chance of turning out in my favour?"

He winces.

"They'll fucking sentence me, and rightly so... It's not like I'm not guilty on that one. I am not underage anymore; there'll be no Saviour's testimony on my behalf..." I wave my hand, I realise I am speaking so loudly it's almost a shout.

"There will be," Potter says quietly, not looking at me.

What?

"There will be the testimony," he repeats, "I'll do it."

"What?"

"Come on, Malfoy... I know you. I know you are neither a drug brewer nor a dealer. You've been under my nose for two months."

"How do you know?"

Why do I contradict him? I have no idea. He's actually right. But what pisses me off, is that he presums me to be a good boy just because I've behaved for two months?

"Intuition." He grins. "I'm good at it."

I feel like there's more to it than he is saying, but he doesn't elaborate.

"Where are your friends, Potter?" I've been curious for quite a while, if there is a moment to ask about it, it is now. "Not those you are fucking, the other ones."

His eyes go wide. We never talk about it. Maybe I'm going too far.

"Why don't you see anyone? Granger, Weasley?"

"Ron's in the business with his brother, and with my work we don't see each other often, unless we meet on purpose... and Ron... avoids me. Let's say, he doesn't agree with my position, and I tried to talk to him... but what can I do?" He says bitterly.

"And Granger?"

"Hermione is abroad, and will be for a while."

"Oh, okay..." I feel a right idiot.

He props his chin on his hand. "We don't speak with Ron. Ever since."

Ever since that day when Weasley walked in on me in the library, he means.

"Why?"

"Ron... He doesn't understand... And I am tired of explaining myself, or defending my every step."

"Doesn't understand why are you helping me?"

"Yes."

"And why are you? I don't understand it either."

Potter shrugs. "If not I, then who will do it? I'm sure you don't deserve Azkaban. Yes, you were an idiot enough to brew and take that stuff in the first place... But you didn't harm anyone and.. It doesn't amount to Azkaban, really. A bail maybe, but not the prison, no."

I don't find what to say to that. I mean... Potter says what he means. Right?

I stand up. "I'll go check on the Cauldron 7," I say, heading to the lab door. Potter doesn't follow, and I spend another hour there alone, stirring the simmering potions, arranging journals on the shelves, straining my ears for his footsteps against the stone. When I climb up the staircase to my bedroom, Potter's door is closed, but there is a thin stripe of light showing from under it. Lying in my bed, I hear Potter pacing behind the wall for a long time.

**

My footsteps are loud against the flagstones of the Ministry corridor. At my request, Kreacher had brought me my black formal robes and shoes from the Manor. Potter is right beside me. Not behind, not ahead. I asked him once again this morning, if he was sure?

"Absolutely," he said. So here we are, going to my hearing.

I feel faint, and my palms are sweaty; I clench them into fists and raise my chin. Reporters with flashing cameras are in our wake.

"Mr. Potter, your commentary on your presence on Mr. Malfoy's hearing?! Mr. Potter! Mr. Malfoy! Turn to the camera! Mr. Malfoy!"

The invisible barrier is holding them at distance, not allowing to surround us. Staring ahead, we don't utter a word,. As soon as the Courtroom door closes behind us, cutting the sounds off, the silence falls, and we face the Wizengamot.

"Draco Lucius Malfoy, for the hearing on the case of illegal substances brewing! Harry James Potter, the Auror of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement of the Ministry of Magic!" The voice announces.

"Gentleman, do take your seats please," says the wizard on the front row, his voice magnified with Sonorus.

My legs have turned to jelly, so I have no idea how I manage to walk all the way to the high chair in the centre of the room. I sit down and see that Potter has taken his seat at the empty front row to the right.

"Hearing number 127653, the 30th of April, 2002," a witch in a red pointy hat announces from the dais, "10.00 a.m. Draco Lucius Malfoy, 21, charged with the illegal substances brewing."

**

I flop onto the bed in my formal robes, staring at the ceiling. Fuck. Fucking hell. I exhale, all the tension of the past few hours kicking in.

He's done it. He's fucking done it again. The stubborn bastard has dragged me out of the shit I'd got myself into. I rub at my forehead. My face is hot and there's sweat at the hairline. I need to get out of these robes. I stand up, unclasping the buckle at my throat, and the heavy fabric of the outer cloak falls down. I unbutton the waistcoat and loosen the black tie that is suffocating me. One by one, I take the garments off - how the fuck are there so many? Finally in my pants, I gather the closes, hanging them over the back of the armchair, and head to the bathroom. I need a shower.

Closing my eyes under water, I am reviving the images from the Courtroom. The wizard on the Offence, big and important, pacing back and forth in front of the dais, giving them every last reason to send me to rot in Azkaban.

Potter's lean frame in the black robes with his back to me, delivering his testimony. He took his cloak off and stood there like a slight ebony figurine, facing the crowd in red, putting himself between me and their wrath. I sat there completely useless, not knowing what I'd done to deserve that.

"The votes in favour!" Hands were rising, a lot of them, so many that I already resigned myself not to see the daylight again.

"The votes against!" Against sentencing me to Azkaban. When I looked up, at first I didn't understand, for there were many, much much more than those in favour, and it didn't make sense at all. Potter was grinning from his bench, looking up at the Court, then he turned too look at me and punched the air with his fist in triumph. I didn't know what it meant, but apparently he thought it to be something good.

It meant the majority of the Court voted against the sentence, and I was to be released, but on bail all the same, for the illegal brewing, no matter how small, had indeed taken place. The bail sum should be paid in a week.

Only when my Mother touched me on the shoulder among the gathering crowd in the Ministry Atrium, I realised she too had been present in the Courtroom all along.

"Mother!" I hugged her. "I had no idea..."

She clutched at me, not letting go for a long time. "Draco... I am going to arrange the transfer immediately."

“Transfer?" I asked, my mind as though in a fog.

"Your bail sum, dear. Your Father has given his permission to arrange affairs with Gringotts on his behalf."

Oh. Of course. Money should be paid, and I don't have such a sum. I should visit Father and express my gratitude.

Mother turned to look at Potter, who was standing right beside me, looking around, his face lit up with the flashing lights of the cameras.

"Mr. Potter.” She shook his hand. "I am so, so grateful for what you have done for Draco yet again. If you ever need anything, anything, Mr. Potter, you have to only ask." Tears were brimming in her eyes.

Potter didn't find what to say, he was awkward and uncomfortable and stood there nodding, while the crowd was roaring around us.

I switch the water off, getting out of the shower.

Parting ways with Mother, she asked me all the same, whether I would like to move back to the Manor, knowing full well that I'd refuse.

Potter walked beside me, not saying a word, until we reached the Floos. We stepped into the flames together, walking out into the Grimmauld Place library.

"Thank you, Potter." I turned to him. "I don't know how to thank you..." I stammered. "You performed a miracle, really. This morning I thought I was doomed."

"Er... No problem," he said awkwardly, "You are welcome."

We stood there, looking at each other, until I said: "Do you mind if I move out tomorrow? I mean... May I stay until tomorrow? I'm in a state not fit for looking for a flat right now..."

His face fell.

"Yeah..." He nodded. "No problem."

"Thanks. Tomorrow you'll have your house back to yourself."

"Yeah," he repeated briskly, turning away. Looking at the back of his head, I suddenly realised that I'd gladly stay, not going anywhere. But my hearing is over, so I don't have a reason to stay any longer, do I?

"Okay, actually... I'm going to take this off." I tugged at the hem of my cloak. "I'm sick of this attire."

Potter turned to me with a slight smile. "Yeah, me too. Though my robes by far are not as pompous as yours, but still." He walked out of the library, leaving that odd feeling that something was off.

Putting my bathrobe on, I brush my wet hair back in front of the mirror. At the sound of the knock on my door my heart starts.

"Come in!" I shout.

"Malfoy?" Potter's voice is in the room. "Malfoy?"

I step out of the bathroom.

He has changed out of his robes into his usual grey joggers and a hoodie he wears at home, he is barefoot. He looks so domestic that I can't reconcile his image with the severe black figurine in the courtroom.

"Look..." He stuffs his hands into the front pocket on his stomach (honestly, this hoodie-thing is so silly). "I've just thought... Do you have any plans for tonight?"

"Er... No?" I say, my stomach swoops.

"What if we hang out somewhere? What do you think?" Potter says hastily, as though urgent to let it out, lest he'd change his mind.

"Hang out... You mean... Go out for drinks and such?" I ask, I don't always get his Muggle slang.

"Yeah... That," he nods. The colour is high on his cheekbones. He must have taken a shower in very hot water, I think.

"Okay... When?" I say, feeling as though I step off the cliff.

"Say... At nine?"

"Okay... Do I have to dress up somehow in particular?"

"What? No..." Potter laughs. "Jeans and a shirt are fine."

"Oh, okay, good," I say, not knowing what to do with my hands, so I stuff them into the pockets of my bathrobe. "Meet you at nine in the library then?"

Merlin, I sound so formal and dumb, but Potter doesn't seem to mind.

"Yes, good! Okay!" He grins. "So... Meet you there. At nine."

I nod.

"I'll go," he says, heading to the door. I stand there, watching him, until he walks out, and then glance at the clock on the wall. Three. Six hours to go.

**

When I step into the library, Potter is already there, sitting in the armchair. He looks good, very. With his hair styled and in a leather jacket. But it's not because of his looks my heart is thudding. I've ceased to dwell on his appearance for quite a while now; I may say I've got used to it. I'd admitted to myself long ago that he is wildly attractive, wildly . But he is not for me, this thing can never be, so he'd better not know about me at all. All the same, I am jumpy and anxious and wound up. It feels like a date, for me it does. I've spent several hours overthinking what to wear. I've changed thrice in front of the mirror. I brushed my hair back and to the right, and to the left, and ruffled it with my hands, and made it stand on end, and took a brush again to smooth it back. This is ridiculous, I thought, it doesn't matter either to me or Potter how my hair looks. Finally, I've ended up with my hair ruffled, clad in black jeans and a black cashmere high neck sweater. I always thought that I look good in black. I feel something is lacking, probably a jacket or some such, but fuck it, we are going to get pissed at the bar, who gives a damn about my jacket or a lack thereof? Trying to hold myself casual, I descended the staircase, already very hot in the face. Fuck, no doubt I'm as red as a lobster, I thought.

At the sight of me entering the library, Potter springs on his feet. He is red in the face, too. It makes me relieved a bit.

"Okay, so... hold at my arm," he says, "I'll just Apparate us there."

We've done it million times; we do it at least twice a day. Why then it sounds like a special invitation? I step close to him, placing my hand in the crook of his elbow, as I always do. He nods, and we swirl away in a whiff of his cologne.

We land in the dark alleyway. It is deserted around, but the beat of music can be heard in the distance. I remove my hand.

"This way." Potter gestures ahead. "Come on." We head up the street in the direction of the music.

"It's a Muggle club," he says, "Hope you don't mind?"

"No," I say. I've never been to a club in my life, so...

"I never visit Wizarding places, you know," he says, looking at his feet, "can't take a step around Wizarding London not being harassed by the reporters."

"Do you visit these places often?" I ask for something to say.

"Not very. Twice a month or so... Malfoy..."

"What?"

"The place we are going to... it's a gay club." He turns to me. "Are you okay with it?"

"What? I mean... Yeah, why not?" I shrug. I'm not sure what he means. Gay, like - all are merry and cheerful there? Anyway, hardly there is any harm in that.

"Good." He grins. "I mean... Though you are not one of us, you've recently seemed to me so tolerant... You know... Okay with - everything .” He gestures at himself and around. "I thought you wouldn't be opposed to visit such a place. It's so much more fun there!"

I nod and nod dumbly; I have no idea what he’s talking about. Honestly, sometimes he gives me a hard time with those Muggle words. Whatever he means, I'm about to find out soon anyway.

"Or maybe you've been to one already?" He asks.

"No, no." I shake my head, noticing that we've approached a brightly lit round building with 'SYMPOSIUM' written in shining rainbow letters across the facade. Well, this place is merry alright, even from the outside.

"Come on," Potter says, grabbing me by the forearm, "Follow me." I stare at his back in shock; he never does such things, never touches me. I follow him as he tugs me through the crowd around the building. Maybe it makes sense, one can get easily lost here.

When we step inside, music deafens me, and flashing lights make me squint, I stop, looking around.

"Come on." Potter tugs at my arm, urging me to move, but I can't move, I am glued to the spot at the sight of two men kissing deeply right in front of me.

"Come." Potter tugs again, and I follow him on wooden legs, looking around. Oh sweet Merlin, WHAT is this place? MEN are all around me. Many of them are half-naked, many of them are in leather, a lot of them kissing, rubbing against each other, running their hands shamelessly over each other's bodies. Am I in Hell? Where all things forbidden have come to life to torment me?

Potter leads me to the bar. "What do you think?"

"It's... fine." I shrug. Thankfully, I've managed to come to my senses somehow.

"I bet, you've never seen so many gays in one place." He grins.

I nod. Does gay mean people like these? Men loving men? Does it mean I'm gay? No, apparently not. For these men are okay with themselves, they are enjoying what they are... and I... No, I don't think I'm anything like them. 'You are not one of us,' Potter said, and he's right, but not in the way he thinks.

"What would you have?" He perches at the bar stool, gesturing for me to take another one. I do.

"I don't know... whatever... same as you," I say, carefully looking around, trying to conceal my bewilderment. Fucking Merlin and Merlin's tits! My gaze lands on a couple in front of me, and I am gaping at the sight of a man's tongue sliding up his partner's neck. He latches his lips beneath another man's ear and... I feel my skin is tingling right there , for it is such a sensitive spot; shiver runs over my body. The man arches his neck, and I want to watch as his partners greedy lips make him shudder. I want to do the same, want to throw my head back, offering myself to someone who would claim me. I want to be in his place and press myself to the other man, shamelessly rubbing my erection against his hip.

"Malfoy."

I jump in my seat, turning to Potter. Fuck. I am hard, so hard. I stare him in the face, not daring to glance at the two men at the edge of my vision, lest he may figure it out.

"Here's your drink." He pushes the glass towards me along the counter.

I take it. "Thanks, what's this?"

"Whiskey," he says, raising his glass with the amber liquid, "I'm having the same."

I take a sip, and it burns, but it's sort of good, so I take another one and decide that I definitely like it, and soon it's my turn to order, so I order the same for us both.

I am a bit tipsy and too warm for my liking, but overall I’m good. Leaning back at the bar, I observe people on the dance floor, men grinding their hips together, rubbing against each other to the beat of music. Everything seems a lot less freakish to me with every passing second, and not at all unsettling, and sort of... normal, like ... whatever people enjoy is their busyness, right?

"Harry!" A tall sandy-blond guy in a white T-shirt and jeans is in front of us; I look him up and down lazily.

"Julian!" Potter slides off the stool, hugging the man briefly, and something twists unpleasantly in my guts.

"Malfoy, meet Julian," Potter says, gesturing between us, "Julian, it's..."

"Mr. Malfoy," Julian finishes, grinning at me. And it strikes me: this is the guy who fucked Potter and tied him up, the one I'd seen in bed with him. Holy shit. I gape.

"You are all over the papers today." Julian smiles, and I realise he thinks I'm surprised that he recognised me, probably taking him for a Muggle. Well, I am not about to persuade him otherwise.

"Would you care for a dance?" He asks, looking me straight in the eyes. Oh my God .

"Nno. .. No, thanks." I take a sip of my drink to appear occupied.

"No problem," he says, "Harry?"

"Why not?" Potter puts his glass down on the counter, sliding off the stool. I gape at him. Surely he's not about to dance with the man, leaving me here alone? Looks like Potter is going to do just that. He shrugs his jacket off, handing it to me. "Would you kindly look after this?"

I take the jacket.

"Thanks." He grins, grabbing Julian’s hand. "Lead the way.”

And Julian does, pulling Potter into the crowd and away from me. Watching them retreating, I feel like a drowning man.

"Hey." Someone flops beside me on Potter's stool. I turn.

The guy is shirtless and muscular, in leather trousers and a fedora hat.

"Hi," I say stiffly.

"What's your name?"

"D... Derek," I blurt, somehow feeling that my actual name here would sound weird.

"I am Eugene, nice to meet you." He smiles.

I nod.

He leans towards me, giving me the once-over. "You are so pretty. May I buy you a drink?"

"No!" I blurt. "I've already got one." I raise my hand with the glass in front of his face, clutching firmly at Potter's jacket with the other one. Fucking hell. I'll kill Potter for leaving me here alone. Turning away from Eugene, I observe the dance floor, trying to catch a glimpse of Potter there. Julian is hard to miss: he is taller than most people, moving vigorously to the music. He is confident and handsome and even the space around him seems brighter. A hand appears on his shoulder, and then the whole Potter steps into the picture, pressing himself - holy fuck! - pressing himself fully to Julian's front and rubbing, rubbing his face along his jaw. Fuck, I almost growl as a pang of jealousy stings more than it has the right to. It suddenly strikes me that probably Potter is going to invite Julian home tonight. Shit, I should have moved out this morning even, before the hearing. No way, no fucking way I am able to lie there now and listen to Potter having sex with another man...It's not that simple to me anymore. It's fucked up and... whatever... But I am jealous anyway, and I want to punch Julian. And Potter - for good measure, for making me feel all those things, for making my life a struggle, for making it so difficult for me now to go back to the life I am meant for.

If Julian comes, I'll sleep in the library, I decide.

"Hey, pretty," Eugene says to my right, "Do you care for a dance?"

"No." I don’t tear my eyes away from Potter who is talking to Julian now, standing very close to him, running his palm up and down Julian's bare arm. If a gaze could burn, no doubt Potter would have had two holes through the side of his head by now.

"You are not alone here?"

"No, I'm not." I shake my head. Potter claps Julian on the shoulder and... they part their ways!

"Okay, I get it, babe. Sorry to bother." The man stands up, and I turn to look at him. He's really good-looking, and seems like a decent guy... But it doesn't matter to me, because it shouldn't.

"No problem," I say, "But really, I'm with someone here."

"Okay, bye," Eugene says, heading into the crowd.

"Wow, seems like it's been a success! You’ve pulled the guy."

I start, turning around. Potter is beside me, very flushed and smiling.

"Thanks." He takes the jacket out of my hand, sitting down on his stool.

"Oh, fuck off," I scoff, "Where's Julian?" I really need to know.

"He's left," Potter says. This close I see that he's quite tipsy.

"What? Why?" I blurt.

"Er... He's had his reasons, I suppose?"

"So, he's not coming home with us tonight?" Merlin, I am tipsy alright, too.

"What? No." Potter laughs. "Did you want him to?" He asks, wiggling his eyebrows at me.

"No! No... I just thought... that you want..." I trail off.

" Nno. .. Actually, I don't." Potter looks at me oddly.

"And what does he say?" I turn fully towards Potter, perching my head on my hand against the bar.

"Nothing, why?"

I shrug.

"We are casual, we are not dating or anything," Potter says, "and Julian is a good friend."

"But how..." I stammer, "How can you... have sex like that and stay casual, after everything he's doing to you?" Really, I understand nothing.

"I don't know," Potter shrugs, leaning closer, "I mean... It's Julian. I myself would hardly have taken it easily." He shuffles closer. "Do you want something?" He nods at my empty glass.

"Yeah, same," I say. He makes an order, turning back to me.

"It's an arrangement, you see. We meet when we feel like it. Either of us takes what he wants, within limits of course, and we part our ways."

'Either of us takes what he wants.’

Images his words invoke the in me… of what was going on there, in that room, in that bed, of what that man was doing to Potter, of what I was witnessing only the sounds that set me on fire and landed me in hell.

I can't imagine 'casual' after that.

Our drinks arrive and we sip, not saying anything. He is so close that I have to avert my face, otherwise I might brush my nose against his cheek if I only leaned forward a bit.

"I don't know..." I shrug. "I don't think I could take it like that."

Maybe there is something written across my face, I don't know... Because Potter says: "Malfoy?"

I turn.

He leans forward - the tiniest bit - and it is enough for our lips to meet. He moves his lips against mine once… twice… and I think I might die - so sweet and perfect it is, so right , unbearable. There's whiskey in his breath, and stubble on his chin burns my skin exactly as I imagined. The warmth of his body is seeping through my clothes, and I want to rub myself whole against him. Finally my bewilderment kicks in, paralysing me with shock. I wish I could respond. If I could kiss him back - I would. But I can't , so I remain still, just dying silently, until after one last maddening touch he withdraws to meet my eyes. His face is horrified.

" Oh God , sorry, Malfoy!" He presses fingers to his mouth, and I follow the movement, watching those lips: just a moment before they were pressed against mine, just a moment before I've kissed a man for the first time in my life. I don't think I will ever have that moment again, and with every passing second that kiss is farther and farther from us.

"Fuck, I'm so sorry! I'm drunk, I didn't mean..."

He didn't mean.

I shrug, not looking at him. "It's alright... I understand."

"No doubt you are disgusted... I've got carried away, I'm so sorry, it won't happen again."

Of course it won't .

I sigh, turning to him. "I said it's alright, Potter. Calm down... Apparently I'm so damn hot, you just couldn't resist."

He laughs. "Yeah… something like that."

"I don't know about you, but I'd go home, I'm so tired," I say. I don’t know how to sit next to him after what has just happened.

"Yeah, good idea, let's go." He throws the jacket on and starts to move through the crowd. I follow.

The night air outside is cold and soothing on our flushed faces. We head down the street to the place we'd arrived to.

"I've been meaning to ask," Potter says. He sounds awkward, because come on… he's just kissed me out of the blue. "Do you desperately want to move out?"

"Er... Why?"

"Because..." He takes a deep breath. "Because you are welcome to stay... if you want... and finish your community service in the Apothecary."

I stop in my tracks, and stare at him. "Are you serious, Potter? Or are you pissed?"

He laughs. "I'm pissed, I suppose... But I'm dead serious."

My heart is hammering, I know I probably shouldn't, no... I definitely shouldn't... I absolutely should return to the Manor and behave. But Fuck it, I think. I want to be near him as long as I can , I think. Even if only as a friend , I think, already nodding to Potter's grinning face.

"Yes, I'd like to."

**

Nothing has changed since that kiss. Well, almost. But not on my part anyway, for my feelings were there well before I knew how his lips tasted. It's Potter, these tiny little things about him... I guess. Oh do I just see what I want to see? The way his gaze lingers on me when he thinks I'm not aware of him watching. The way he starts when I appear in the doorway, and he wasn't expecting me to. The way his awareness of me is tangible in the air. Or perhaps it's only my own awareness of him and wishful thinking, which I am applying to anything he does now, and there's nothing more to it? To me it feels as though he is holding back, because he thinks I'm straight (that’s how he called those ‘normal’ ones) and cannot see him that way. And I am holding back to make him think so; apparently, I am succeeding.

Since that kiss we haven't gone out anymore, and he hasn't invited Julian either. I know, for me it shouldn't make a difference, and soon, once my community service is over, nothing of it will matter anyway. But it does, the mere thought makes a difference to me, filling me with something bright and carefree when I am near him. I stock and preserve this feeling. I know I should gather my strength for the way back, and I do, preparing in advance, not letting myself indulge in his warmth too much and get used to it and rely on it, for when the time comes, and this is taken away from me, I will have to stand on my own and not waver, so that no one would ever tell the difference; so that even he would not tell.

"What are you going to do when you're done with your service?" He asks.

"Marry." I am stirring the potion: clockwise-clockwise-counter clockwise-repeat . I don't want to talk about it.

"Oh..."

I wish I could see his face, but right now I can't look up from the cauldron.

"I mean... Wow! Congratulations! And who’s the lucky lady?" Potter says too cheerfully.

"I don't know yet." Counter clockwise-clockwise-clockwise , I begin to add the moonstone powder.

"What?"

"I don't know whom I'm going to marry, it’s not arranged yet." It's obvious, isn't it? Why is it difficult then for him to grasp?

" Arranged?"

"Yes. My Father is to decide, once he's out of Azkaban... Though I doubt it would be as easy or as quick as he says to find a family willing to connect themselves to us and noble enough to satisfy my Father." At least, it is what I hope for.

"But... Malfoy... This is insane! To bond yourself to a person you don't even know?!"

...- counter clockwise, stop. I put the stirring rod away, lowering the flame down under the cauldron. I have to look up now.

Potter cringes, shaking his head.

I shrug. "I'm not over the moon about it, believe me... But it's what is done. What should be done. It's our way, has always been."

"Why? Why do you have to do that, if you don't even want it?"

"It doesn't matter what I want, or what my bride-to-be wants. It's so much bigger than that." Fuck, I sound like my Father; good boy.

"And what if you wouldn't love each other? You are supposed to spend your whole life together, for fuck's sake?!" Colour is rising in Potter's face.

"It doesn't matter. It is an arrangement , love doesn't have a say in it." I look away.

And I don't even want to begin on the physical part of it. The sexual part. Obviously, I know what should be done, technically, even though I've never done it myself before. I've never encountered a naked woman, but I know how female body looks and functions in detail; in too much detail perhaps than I'd care for. There were those porn-magazines circulating among the elder boys at Hogwarts. Muggle and Wizard that contained the pictures of naked women in every scenario imaginable, and also the photos of them having sex with men. The Wizard photos were moving on loop, so... As I said, the knowledge is no secret to me. Would I be able to make myself willing to participate, is another matter. When I thought Potter was with a woman and tried to picture them doing it , I was aroused just fine... But of the two of them, a woman was definitely not the one fuelling my lust. So I don't know, how it would go if I found myself in bed with a woman, near her naked body and nothing else. I don't know.

"It’s sick ."

"Maybe, but what can you do?"

"You may not marry if you don't want to? Or marry a person you want?"

"No... believe me, it's impossible for me to marry a person I want." It's true. Happiness in marriage is not for those like me, in the society where I belong anyway.

Potter, of course, takes it not in the way I'm implying, which is good, which is harmless. "For fuck sake, Malfoy! It's you who is going to live with your wife, not your Father... Why then is he making that choice for you?!"

"You wouldn't understand, Potter." He wouldn't. He, who has always been free from a family-burden. He, who has never had anyone in his life to obey to. He, who does what he wants, and means what he does, and doesn't care for anything less. "I can't explain it to you."

"Try me?" He mocks.

I shake my head. "No, I'm serious... you are too different, too... free to understand that."

He is staring at me, and I am staring back. There's a brief moment that makes me think he wants to reach for my hand... But he doesn't, standing up. I've been prepared for that anyway. If he did, nothing would have happened. I am secure in my friendship and calm as a brick wall.

He sighs. "If it suits you just fine... well, good for you. But... I don't believe it does, that you are as okay with it as you pretend to be. Remember you told you wouldn't stand an arrangement?"

He heads up the staircase.

Fuck, why should he say it to me like that? Why should he remind me my own words in this very different context?

"Says who, Potter?" I say to his back. "You are the one with ongoing arrangement here."

He stops on the stairs and look at me over his shoulder. "It's my arrangement, on my conditions, Malfoy. Can't say the same about you."

**

Vials line the shelves of my lab: large, small, tiny, of different colours. There are so many. They are my doing - all of them. My success. Though I have no idea what I'm going to do with them. I think I'll give them all to Potter when I leave.

This one is to take pain away, which he is already familiar with. And that one is to feel safe and secure, a balm for the frayed nerves; with his job he might need it. The yellowish-green one up there is to restore memories in most hopeless cases  - 'Memento Vividus,' the label reads. He told me once about Granger. She erased her parents' memories, made them forget, and they were never restored fully back. Perhaps this vial would be able to make a difference? I'll tell him soon.

And this one here... My fingertip trails along the edge of the shelf... There is a tricky thing in this small vial. Opalescent, reddish-dark-brown. I am not sure about this one still. 'Desidero Genuinum' it is called in the journal; the words written at the margins as an afterthought. Many lines crossed out, many ingredients added but then removed; question marks all over the page... The whole entry on this one felt rather confusing to me, as though the potioneer hadn't come to their final conclusion in the end. There was an equation underlined twice at the very bottom of the page, and the words 'take at your own risk' scribbled with pencil, almost faded out. It was a challenge which I accepted. I was not entirely sure of the purpose and what an effect of that potion might be; still I am not.

The potion didn't obey me for a very long time, I didn't know what was going wrong, but it stubbornly refused to turn the required colour by the end. Among everything else it contains a few drops of Felix Felicis, a dose of Veritaserum and the smallest amount of fresh Amortentia that should have been stirred in carefully.

I had to brew Amortentia beforehand. When I switched the flame off under the cauldron of thick purplish-pink liquid, closed my eyes and inhaled... I think I knew what it would be, so I wasn't surprised: Potter's cologne, but warmer, like the smell of his skin, and the feeling of his scratchy stubble against my face… his thick eyebrows that this close appeared silken, shadowing his bright gaze… That's what it was. But then again, I smelled all this after the kiss . What did I expect? What had been there before, I somehow cannot remember. Contrary to the common belief, the feelings Amortentia invokes in us when we inhale its smell, derive not from love . They are not love, most definitely not, but rather a premonition, anticipation, recognition of what may turn into love... or may not. Curiously enough, only after the kiss , the potion had yielded to me, sparkling dark red and brown. What is that supposed to mean? I don't know. I am not in love with Potter, I'm sure on that one. For him I feel a tangle of different things, but I doubt love is one of them.

The door opens with a bang, and there are footsteps on the staircase: heavy and urgent, scattering the sound over the stone all the way down to the lab. I look up. Potter strides in determinedly, throwing himself onto the bench.

"Fancy getting pissed tonight?" He says irritably.

"What? Why?.." This makes me laugh.

"Do you or don't you?"

"Er... No..." I say, "I don't think so. I'm brewing."

"You are not." Potter looks around the lab.

"I've been about to, when you barged in."

"Come on , Malfoy..."

"What's going on?"

"Bad day, we fought with Ron, I need a drink," Potter says grumpily, resting his chin on his crossed forearms on the table. It's complicated with Weasley. I never ask, but I know.

"No problem." I shrug. "Bring it here and get pissed all you want, while I'm brewing."

" Nooo ... Don’t be a bore... I want to get pissed together, otherwise it’s not fun."

The thought strikes me. "Do you want fun ?"

"Yeah?"

"I can provide you with some." I wiggle my eyebrows. There's a notion at the back of my mind that probably it's a bad idea...

"Malfoy?" Potter frowns. "What the actual fuck? Is it about your stuff again?"

"No." I shake my head. "I promised you Potter I'd never touch this thing again, and haven't."

"Then what is it?"

"It’s hardly dangerous." Or so I would like to think. "It's more like an informative thing. It gives you a hint of what you truly want."

Potter's eyes go wide. "You mean...   the deepest desires of our hearts? " He asks with an odd note to his voice, as though reciting a line from a book.

"Er... hardly like that… I don’t know. But it’s sort of meant to show you your genuine wishes as they are, without pretence or disguise or reserve." That is what I understood was written in the journal, it was in Latin; I'm not brilliant in Latin, but I am decent enough, I'd say.

Potter leans forward. "Have you tested it on yourself already?" He asks cautiously, but there's that gleam in his eyes, the one of adventure.

"No," I say, "so I'm not sure what happens when you digest it, or whether I'm not mistaken on some details..."

"Malfoy, you are insane... How long is it supposed to last?"

"About twelve hours or so."

Potter peers at me from under his fringe. "Okay, let's do it." He grins. "And if it's boring or nothing happens, we can always get pissed."

I am still not really sure if it's a good idea... I don't know what I get myself into, dragging Potter along with me... Maybe it's nothing, no big deal, after all... My hand reaches for the dark opalescent vial on the shelf.

**

'Desidero Genuinum,' Potter reads the label with a terrible pronunciation, turning the vial in his hand against the light.

"So?" He hands it to me.

"So..." I take it, uncorking the vial, peering into its contents. Potter is watching me from two feet away, he doesn't seem particularly nervous, rather curious.

We decided to move to the library and settle comfortably in the armchairs in front of the fireplace, just in case if we might pass out or some such.

My heart speeds up. I don't know exactly what will happen when the potion kicks in. But unlike Potter, I know the ingredients it is made of, and regarding Veritaserum and Amortentia, I think I get a vague idea as to how it might turn out... Or may not, I said I don't know; potions are tricky things.

"Okay, cheers!" I toast with the vial and bring it to my mouth, taking a sip. It tastes quite nice. Something like honeysuckle with a fresh peach undertone and smoky bitterness in the essence. I peer at the label where I've marked the half precisely with a thin red line. Taking a tiny second sip, I hand the vial to Potter.

He downs it in one go, swallows, and his eyes go wide. "Raspberry? And... apricot... and smoke..." He finishes, grinning. "Not bad for a start." He leans back into the armchair. "Now what?"

"No idea." I mirror his position. "We wait, I suppose."

"How long?"

I roll my eyes. "I don't know, Potter. As long as it takes."

We are sitting. Minutes pass. Ten, fifteen, twenty.

Closing his eyes, Potter sighs and rests his head against the back of the armchair.

"Wake me up when cool stuff begins to happen," he says, and I look at his face. At the line of his neck that deeps down into the hollow of his throat, at the stubble on the underside of his jaw. I want to come up and rub my face against his neck, to know how that stubble feels under my lips, to feel the movement of his throat under my touch when he swallows. I want to straddle his thighs and move until he gasps, until we are both breathless; somehow I know how to do it, though I've never done this before. I want to claim his lips, pouring my desire down his throat...

No .

I tear my eyes away. I don't think it's the potion. All this I knew all along. I look up and find his eyes on me.

"I don't think it's working." He sits up. "Nothing's happening. It's supposed to be a sort revelation , right?"

"I don't know, maybe." I shake my head.

Potter stands up. "Okay, time to get drunk, you've promised." He offers his hand, and I take it without a second thought. Pulling me up on my feet, he tugs at my hand, and I step closer; he doesn't let go.

"I haven't," I say. This close I see a tiny brown dot on his cheekbone - the mole that is not visible from a distance.

"Haven't what?" He is still holding my hand.

"Haven't promised anything."

"You know... I really want to kiss you," he whispers, "but I don't think it's the potion, I knew it already."

I lean forward to catch his breath in my mouth and breathe him in and give it all back to him as our lips touch. He is gasping for me as though gasping for air - let him breathe me, until nothing is left. I want to burn his air, consuming him whole, until he is cinders and I am ash, and our desire roars again. His face is a gift in my palms, the gift I make to myself, bringing my lips down again to where he is waiting.

"Is this okay?" His words are seeping from his lips, scattering like tiny beads, and I am gathering them with my kisses, returning them back to him in "Yes, yes..."

I feel his arm tightens around my waist, and the swirl of darkness lands us in his room. By the dim lamplight he is pulling my shirt down my shoulders until it falls on the floor, and I am free. His palms are relentless in their slide over my skin.

I want .

Gripping the hem of his jumper, I pull it over his head. There is a shirt beneath to unbutton and release him. My fingers begin their run from the base of his throat, hurrying down, faster, faster, leaving the trail of his skin visible underneath, until there are no buttons left, and I slide my palms beneath, parting the fabric, exposing him to my mercy, pulling it down and off, until nothing conceals him from me, and we are equal.

He is pale. I am paler still.

Finally.

I step closer, pressing my face to his collarbone, he is hot to the touch and firm, and I want to melt liquid against him. I inhale Amortentia scent off his skin. How I longed for this, how denied that I did. He is rubbing his cheek against my hair, purring like a cat. I raise my face to meet him, grabbing him around the middle, and feel his hardness pressed into mine. It doesn't scare me, why would it? It feels so right. My fingers travel around his belt until they meet at the front. I look down. My hands are resting at the belt buckle, and above I see how the plain of his stomach moves with his every breath. I hook my forefinger over the loose end, tugging the belt through the buckle. He is completely still. I unbuckle the belt, pulling it through the loops.

"Do you want to be tied up?" I ask, winding it around my hand.

"No," he says, "I want to touch you." And in no time I am stark naked on the bed, and he looms over me, trailing kisses down my chest and stomach and down to where I am burning hot and where no one has ever touched me before. I don't know what I expect, but when I feel his tongue on me, I start with a cry. I don't have time to catch my breath, for his mouth is bearing down, and I shudder. I have to stop him, otherwise I will explode. I slide my hand through his hair and stroke his cheek.

"Stop." I prop myself on the elbow. "Please, stop."

He withdraws. "What’s wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," I say, "I just... need to..."

He looms over me. "Are you sure? I mean... do you really want this? Are you okay?"

"Yes." I pull him into the kiss. "Yes, I'm sure."

And his body is sliding against mine, igniting sparks where our hips are pressed, on and on, until we both explode and gasp for air, our pleasure mingling between us. This is so… so right ... I wrap my legs around him as we lie tangled, and he is crushing me a bit, but I don't mind. I press tiny kisses into his chest. We fall asleep before we know it.

**

I am the first to wake, of course I am. I feel hardly an hour has passed since we dozed off. I never sleep deeply when I am nervous or anxious. Except I am not nervous at all. I feel I should be, but I am not. Everything feels incredibly right, as though waking up to him beside me is the most natural thing in the world. My gaze trails down his body, caressing the places which I have already seen and touched and those that I have not. He is on his back, arm thrown above his head. I notice coarse black hair of his armpit in a stark contrast to the pale skin. I want to nuzzle it, so I do. He stirs but doesn't wake up. I prop myself on the elbow beside him, placing my fingertips into the hollow of his throat. I trail them down across his chest, barely touching the skin: over the taut stomach, down, over the navel and below, through the wiry black hair - I like how it feels to the touch - to where his cock is resting, not awake yet. The skin is so soft in my palm as I curl my fingers around it. It is small, but I am determined to make it grow. I give it a stroke and another one, and he sighs in his sleep. I feel it is swelling in my grip, and in no time it is fully awake. I lean down to touch my lips to the tip, when his fingers touch my hair.

"Hi," he says.

I look up. His face in the shadows looks different without the glasses, new , I am not very used to it. I want to know it like this every night, until it no longer surprises me, until all its curves and angles I know by touch alone with my eyes closed.

"Come here." He pulls me up, and I come to press my face to his, to revel in how the hard plane of his chest feels beneath me. He captures my lips, and I respond with all my body, rubbing against him. I am fully hard, I want more, I want everything; all of it. Sliding my hand between us, I take our cocks in a grip, and he hisses against my lips. I want to ask him for more, but the words are stupid, it feels wrong to speak them. Pulling him by the shoulder, I roll us over and spread my legs, looking him in the eyes.

"Are you sure?" His voice is raspy.

I nod. I am surer in this than in my own name, but I appreciate that he asks. He nods, lowering his face to my chest. I feel his lips on my collarbone, brushing feather light, and then he bites , and it's sharp, and I groan, digging my nails into his back, and we are on fire again. Sitting back, he murmurs something and reaches down between my legs. His touch is cool and slick, and I am surprised how easily the finger slips inside. He moves it, taking my cock in his other hand, and I buck my hips up. Two fingers, however, meet my resistance, and though I want my body to yield, it doesn't, not fully, not at once.  But after sometime - I feel it gives. I exhale, it is not that pleasant, but not that bad either; something in-between.

It is time to fulfil what I have asked him for, and he comes, and rises and looms, and when he pushes, I expect pain. And pain it is; a lot . My body resists, no matter how I want it to yield. Perhaps I am doing it wrong. He moves, and I jerk, he is tearing me, and I squeeze my eyes shut.

“Fuck…”

"Sorry... sorry." He stops mid-movement. "It's been a while since I've done it this way."

I exhale, sliding my palms down his back to press them into his buttocks. "Stop. Don’t move." I say.

We stay still, and I breathe, and he looks down at me with his brow furrowed.

"Is it bad?" He asks.

"No, it's alright, go on," I say.

And finally, finally my body melts and is letting him do it, and he is doing it all the way. He moves through my pain, and I let him; and he moves through tingles of distant pleasure that is yet to come. My throat is dry as I gasp for air, and his lips cover my mouth, letting me breathe. My body is liquid, and my limbs wrap around him like vines. He reaches between us, and urgency grips me at his touch on my cock. Urgency is spurring me on, winding me up like a spring that is about to burst free, bringing all this to an end. And I am desperate to burst, but when the blow finally falls, I am not prepared. Explosion of power never known to me before. My body is pulsing inside and out and covers his hand with my come. My neck is arching, and I think I taste blood on my lip. I am bucking my hips to meet his thrusts. It is coming in waves, on and on, until I drown, and we collapse back into the sheets. His pleasure has reached him somewhere along the way, but I was not myself to notice. Breathing heavily, he rolls off me, pulling out. It is messy between us. I grab the sheet, wiping my cooling skin, then turn to him and wipe his stomach and chest, too.

My mouth is papery dry. "I need water.”

He nods. I get out of the bed, wrapping myself in the sheet.

"Where are you going?" He asks. He is boneless on his back, even his voice barely moves.

"Get some water," I say, heading to the door.

In the kitchen I down two glasses of water and feel the jar, bringing it up with me.

"You could ask Kreacher," he says, taking the glass from me.

"No, thanks. I'm not ready to face him just yet ."

He laughs. "Come to bed."

I climb into bed to lie down beside him, and he grabs me around the waist and turns me to face away from him and spoons me, covering us both with the blanket.

"You know," he says into my nape, "I've never imagined..."

"Me neither.”

"But wanted to... for quite a while..."

"Me too.”

"How so?" He asks, and I feel the puff of his breath against my neck. "You said you're straight."

"I never did."

"Yeah..." He laughs quietly. "Actually... you didn't... but I assumed... why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you never tell me otherwise?

"Reasons." I don't want to talk about it. I want to keep this bliss a little longer.

"Such as?"

"Let's not talk about it." I tighten my arm over his around my waist.

He doesn't reply at once. "Okay.”

I feel the touch of his lips at the back of my neck, again and again, tiny kisses he plants over and over.

This is how it should be , I think. I am falling asleep, and I am safe.

**

I am waking up slowly, lazy and warm, and there is this heaviness, a weight on my back that is pressing me into the mattress. I stir and it stirs with me. I push myself, turning on my side, dislodging it, and look down. Potter is sleeping, face down into the pillow. I take in his pale shoulders and forearms dusted with black hairs, hair on his nape sticking out, slow rise and fall of his back with each breath. Last night comes to me in all its wildness: Potter's form looming over me, his heavy breath in my ear, pain and pleasure and bliss. I feel as though a door slams shut in my head. No. No , I want to say; but what has been done - cannot be undone. I get out of bed and reach the door... a few steps down the corridor and I am in my bedroom... I enter the bathroom, propping myself against the sink, and meet my eyes in the mirror.

Stranger is looking back at me, and yet... it is the same face I know, it is my own face that has not changed even a little bit. How odd, I think, after everything that has happened, after the things he’s done to me, to look exactly the same as before. I am different now, and how on earth will I be able to be the same?

The potion has worn off, and now I see clearly, it was the potion, it worked. It hasn't created or faked all this, no. For me it was there all along; so as for him, as it turned out. The potion just made us outright acknowledge what has already been there, and reveal it, and act on it, bringing it forth with full force and pursue our desires - unapologetically, without a doubt or restraint. Desidero Genuinum . I should have known. A combination of Veritaserum and Amortentia cannot be harmless by definition, no matter however small the quantity is. I shouldn't have played with it, shouldn't have dragged Potter into it. I regret all of it. I regret coming to this house in the first place. He has wrecked my world down, how am I to find a path of escape? How am I supposed to survive my marriage and life that awaits me less than a month away, when I know him? When he has etched himself into my very core; when he revealed to me how it could be, how it should be, how it will never going to happen. Not for me. How everything he is, and everything I want is the opposite of what I am going to have. I hate him for it. I hate myself. Why couldn't he just leave me alone? Why didn’t he just leave me secure in my ignorance for the years to come? I need to erase his touch, I need to come to my senses, and this monster that he awakened needs to be brought under control again, has to be tamed and shut in the farthest corner of my mind and never see the daylight again. I step into the shower and let hot water wash him off my skin.

"Draco?" His voice makes me jump. He has never called me by my name before.

"Draco?" The bathroom door opens, and Potter is in the doorway - naked. I look at him in the mirror, I haven't dressed yet. He comes close, sliding his hands around my waist to press his palms to my stomach, to caress the skin up and down, to kiss my shoulder and nuzzle my neck and grin stupidly at me in the mirror. I begin to tremble at the thought of what I am about to do. There is no help to that.

"You could have showered in my room, you know," he murmurs into my skin, trying to turn me around, "you're shaking, are you cold?" He wraps his arms around my shoulders. "I think I can warm you up."

Turning my face to the side, he finds my lips, bringing his kisses, bringing that intoxicating need in me to the surface again, and I give in. The weakling that I am. Turning in his arms, I kiss back with all my might and wrap my arms around him and squeeze his back. He smells like happiness, and I inhale him in lungful - for one last time.

"Stop." I pull back, pushing into his chest with my palm when he tries to follow my lips.

"What?" He smiles dizzily. He is so happy, full to the brim.

"We should stop."

"What?" He is still smiling, he doesn't understand still.

"We shouldn't do this." I extricate myself out of his arms. "I'm sorry." I cannot bring myself to be as cruel as I should be.

"Why? What do you mean?" His face turns bewildered; finally.

"I am not supposed to do this, I am not allowed to. Better if we just leave it."

"Leave it? Are you kidding me?" He grabs my hand.

"No, I'm serious." I try to free my fingers from his grip. "Let go."

He does.

His face falls. "I thought... I had no idea it was nothing to you."

"It wasn't nothing ." I take my bathrobe off the hook, throwing it on. "But it should be from now on." Fixing the belt, I brush past him out of the bathroom. "We shouldn't have done it, I shouldn't have." I sit on the bed.

"But why? What happened?" Potter is standing in the doorway, and his face... Merlin. I wish I could come up and kiss that look away; I would.

"You know why." I roll my eyes. "My service is almost over, and Father is out of Azkaban, it's a question of mere days."

"So what?" He crosses his arms. He's determined not to give up without a fight. He is so naive. I've given up and lost long ago, not having even begun.

"So nothing. It's over." I look away. "Put something on."

"Don't you fucking dare , Malfoy!" He strides towards me. Honestly, what does he think is to be done?

"I'm sorry, I really am, but... There is no way this can be.” I gesture between us. “Not for me. There's nothing I can do."

Kneeling before me on the floor, he takes my hands and squeezes them. "Then what was it last night?” He asks, looking up at me. “Why had you even begun that? Don't you tell me it was nothing to you." His eyes are searching my face.

"It was the potion! The fucking potion, Potter, it worked - that's why. It made me do what I wanted to, what I would have never done otherwise."

His eyes widen.

"It wasn't nothing to me, I've told you; it isn't nothing . And I don’t know how in hell I am supposed to come back to normal after this. You have no idea what you’ve done to me." I can’t stand his eyes, I can’t bear their brightness. I look away. Why does he have to do this to me? "But it doesn't matter. There is no place for this in my life."

Standing up, he releases my hands and leaves the room without a word. I wait until the door closes behind him and lie down, curling into a ball on my side. Tears come, and I am too numb to hold them back. They are welling up in my eyes to the and falling, streaming down my face, gathering beneath my temple and soaking the duvet, on and on. I don't even care to wipe them.

**

When I don't come down for breakfast, there is a knocks on my door.

"Come in," I say, sitting up. I've been lying here since Potter left, watching as nine o'clock on the wall turned ten, and then half past eleven. Thankfully, it is Saturday, and the next week is my last one at work. I will have to sign some papers and receive the official Order that will render me free of my community service. Once at the beginning I thought I'd never see the day; now look at me: I don't want it to end, for it brings me to the moment of my life I am not prepared to face yet. I doubt I would ever be.

"Good morning, Young Master Malfoy-Sir.” Kreacher enters with a tray of food. "You is not been comes to breakfast, breakfast come to you."

"Thank you, Kreacher." I smile faintly. I'm not hungry, but the old fucker has somehow made his way close to me after all this time. He cares and I don't want to offend him.

He comes close, putting the tray onto the bed, and between a cup and a coffee pot I see two envelopes on a little plate. My heart flips.

"What is that, Kreacher?" I point at the envelopes.

"Post for Young Master Malfoy is arrive this morning."

I have this feeling... I don't want to know what is in there. I take one. Mother's hand. And the other one is not handwritten but printed. I peer closely and my heart sinks.

'To: Draco Lucius Malfoy,

From: Lucius Abraxas Malfoy.'

And there in the corner is the black insignia of Azkaban.

**

I wave my wand around the lab, and the vials are lining up in the alphabet order along the shelves. Label is attached to each one, listing all the properties and side effects, so that Potter wouldn't mix anything up. The journals and books are stacked up by the wall. Everything looks pristine. Pity if in a short time it will all come to the state I found it in at the beginning. But Potter doesn't care for potions, so... I sigh. Looking around for one last time, I begin to climb the staircase.

When I enter the kitchen, Potter is there. He is leaning against the counter with his arms crossed. Being in his presence, I feel no awkwardness that had once been there. I know his desires, and he knows mine. The potion has cleared the air between us. Though I wish it hasn't; it would be easier that way.

"I've cleaned up the lab and arranged everything so that it would be easy for you to tell which is which," I say, "Painkiller and salve for your leg are under the Stasis Spell on their separate shelf which is labelled. I've made quite a lot, just in case; so if need be, you have to lift the Stasis before using it. Instructions are right there on the shelf, just in case."

He is glaring at me, shaking his head. "So, this is it? " He sounds angry and bitter and… He is devastated. "You are leaving?"

"Yes," I say, looking away.

"Just like that?"

"Yes. Father arrives tomorrow morning, and I have to be present to greet him. So it's better for me to leave tonight."

When I told Potter about the letters I'd received today - that Father is being released out of Azkaban, and Mother suggests that I should be at the Manor today - it pissed him off. He called me a coward and 'Ickle Dracokins' and slammed the door. I don't know what the latter means. Something derogatory, I suppose. But about a coward he isn't wrong.

"And this is it? We'll hardly see each other again?"

"Yes, very likely." I say, hoping my voice doesn't waver. It is the way things work. We belong to the different worlds and our paths don’t cross, unless we meet accidentally on some disgustingly pompous Ministry event, where Potter would be delivering a passionate speech. If my family would be invited, that is. I look at him, and it is not only last night, it is so much more than that, which makes it so painful for me to leave him. Those two months with him have brought something to my life, that only now I realise I've come to value.

"May I ask Kreacher to Apparate me to the Manor?" In a week I will be able to do it again by myself.

"Yes, of course," Potter says, running his palm over his face. "I'll tell him. When do you intend to depart?"

"At seven," I say, "in an hour and a half."

I gather and shrink my thing into a tiny box which fits into my pocket. How odd, I once thought this house to be a ghastly place. I've become fond of it as much as of a grumpy old elf. When I descend the staircase at seven precisely, Kreacher is already there, and so is Potter by his side.

"So… thank you, Potter, for your hospitality and help, it made all the difference in the world, and I am really grateful."

Potter shifts uncomfortably. His face is stony, and he is not looking at me, studying his feet.

"I don't know how I would be able to repay you," I say.

Potter looks up at me, rolling his eyes.

"Thank you, Kreacher, for everything."

The elf bows.

"So..."

Kreacher steps forward, offering up his bony hand, and I take it.

"Goodbye, Potter, and good luck," I say, something squeezing my throat. I don't risk to  offer him my hand, I am afraid to touch him.

The last thing I see before Kreacher Apparates us away, is Potter's bitter face. He is shaking his head as though still not able to believe I’m doing this. The next moment we land, and I face the iron Front Gates of the Manor.

***** the end of the Chapter 1 *****

[Troye Sivan, 'Happy Little Pill'] 

In the crowd alone

And every second passing reminds me I'm not home

Bright lights and city sounds are ringing like a drone

Unknown, unknown

 

Oh, glazed eyes, empty hearts

Buying happy from shopping carts

Nothing but time to kill

Sipping life from bottles

Tight skin, bodyguards

Gucci down the boulevard

Cocaine, dollar bills

And...

 

My happy little pill

Take me away

Dry my eyes

Bring colour to my skies

My sweet little pill

Take my hunger

Lie within

Numb my skin

 

Like a rock afloat

Sweat and conversations seep into my bones

Four walls are not enough

I'll take a dip into

The unknown, unknown

 

Oh, glazed eyes, empty hearts

Buying happy from shopping carts

Nothing but time to kill

Sipping life from bottles

Tight skin, bodyguards

Gucci down the boulevard

Cocaine, dollar bills

And...

 

My happy little pill

Take me away

Dry my eyes

Bring colour to my skies

My sweet little pill

Take my hunger

Lie within

Numb my skin

 

Oh, glazed eyes, empty hearts

Buying happy from shopping carts

Nothing but time to kill

Sipping life from bottles

Tight skin, bodyguards

Gucci down the boulevard

Cocaine, dollar bills

And...

 

My happy little pill

Take me away

Dry my eyes

Bring colour to my skies

My sweet little pill

Take my hunger

Lie within

Numb my skin

***