When Draco came to, Adelaide was kneeling by him, looking horribly young.
“Mmnnghh,” said Draco. Adelaide’s features relaxed into her usual sneer. She sat back on her haunches.
“You’re alive,” she said. Draco tried to sit up. The violent blood-thumping sensations in his head persuaded him that this was not a good idea.
“Head,” he said. His voice was rough from screaming.
“Head wounds always bleed a lot,” said Adelaide, bored. “You’re fine.”
Despite himself, Draco smiled.
“Reassuring,” he said.
“What did you fuck up this time?” she asked, and suddenly Draco remembered that there was nothing to smile about.
“Stayed out too long grocery shopping,” he said. Adelaide snorted.
“Stupid of you.”
“You’ve no idea,” said Draco. He put his hands to his temples then crunched up using his abs, bearing all the weight of his bloodied head in his fingers. Adelaide watched him warily, edging away as if he were contagious.
It hurt to sit. He had Potter to thank for that.
There was a pool of blood where his head had been. Adelaide handed him a clean hand towel, not looking at him.
“Addy,” he said.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Addy, this is… this is thoughtful of you,” said Draco, gleefully.
“Fuck you. Tertius doesn’t ask that much of you, and he gives you room and board practically for free. How hard would it have been to get back with the fucking groceries on time?”
Draco smiled through the throbbing pain, dabbing at his hair with the hand towel.
“You were worried about me,” he said.
“No, I wasn’t.” She scowled. It made her look younger than ever.
“I’m touched,” said Draco.
Both of them froze, staring at each other in dismay. Tertius was back. Usually he went out for a few hours after losing his temper. Draco threw her the towel and she hid it under the sofa cushion.
“Go,” he said, and lay back down, pretending to still be unconscious. He heard her scampering away, heard her hoisting on her girlfriend voice; “Tertius, oh, I’ve missed you!”
Blood soaked through his clothes, and Draco stared at the ceiling, quite alone.
Tertius Malfoy had saved Draco, after Azkaban. There wasn’t another way to put it. Draco was released, three days shy of nineteen, orphaned and shell-shocked, and there had been no provisions for him. No money, no home to go to. His wand would be returned to him in two years, when his parole was over. He ran through the list of people who could help him as he signed the paperwork: parents, dead, Snape, dead, Vince, dead, Greg, still in prison, Theo, still in prison, Pansy, living with a volatile Brazilian polo player in South America, Blaise, apparently famous in Sri Lanka but banned from returning to Britain due to some unsavoury business involving his mother’s latest lover…
Draco tried to think if there was anyone else who might have some… some fragment of goodwill towards him, as his probation officer told him in unyielding terms that any infringement of the law would result in a lifetime sentence in Azkaban. His mother had a sister still living, didn’t she, but Draco had a feeling they had done something bad to her. Murdered her husband, maybe, or her child, or both. Whatever it was, it was unlikely that it had endeared him to her.
The probation officer told him he could go. He turned blindly out of the office, and ran into a man with pale blond hair and forest green robes.
“Draco,” he said, as if he were glad.
“Who are you?” asked Draco, before remembering that he no longer had anything to be imperious about, and maybe hadn’t ever. But the man just smiled.
“We haven’t met since you were a baby. I’m your Uncle Tertius.”
Uncontrolled, Lucius would say, whenever Uncle Tertius came up. He said it with a strange intensity that suggested he meant something else, but Draco had never found out what, only that this word, uncontrolled, had cut Uncle Tertius off from the family completely.
“Hello,” said Draco, uncertainly.
“Well. Have you got everything?”
“Got… everything?” asked Draco. “Yes.”
“Come on, then,” said Uncle Tertius. He put one arm around Draco’s shoulder, as Draco’s father never had, and Draco leant in instinctively.
“Where are we going?” asked Draco.
“Home,” said this miraculous apparition. Uncontrolled. But if this was what lack of control looked like, Draco liked it. He liked the warm way Tertius smiled at him, the hospitable manner with which he showed Draco around his—admittedly tacky—mansion.
“How did you know I was being released?” asked Draco, as Tertius handed him a mug of tea and marmalade toast cut in triangles. Tertius had cut the triangles himself; no house-elves.
“I’ve been following your case in the papers. Especially since your mother…”
“Yes,” said Draco, frowning at his toast. His father had died of hunger in Azkaban; refused to eat. That had been hard enough—Draco saw it happen, saw his father grow thinner and thinner when they crossed paths on their daily walks—but he had been so sure his mother would be waiting for him when he got out. He had worried about her, about someone hurting her, but it wasn’t anything like that. Just dragon pox.
“I’m very sorry, Draco,” said Tertius. Draco nodded, unable to express how much he appreciated Tertius’ sympathy.
Adelaide was the first sign that something was off about Tertius. It was strange for a fifty-five-year-old man to have an eighteen-year-old girlfriend. Particularly such a young-looking eighteen-year-old girlfriend. But Adelaide seemed genuinely to love him. She cried when he left the house. She hated Draco, for taking attention away from her.
They very rarely saw each other. The house was huge. At first, Draco assumed she avoided him. Later, he learned that she had been ordered not to talk to him.
But although Adelaide had been a shock, Draco explained it away. There was no one else in his life, and so the idea that there was anything wrong with Tertius was too catastrophic for Draco to contemplate. He focused on the way Tertius doted on Adelaide, on the gifts he bought her, the way she watched Tertius, as if he was the whole world. Age was just a number, Draco told himself. True love should know no impediment. He could sense the excuses were flimsy. But there was no one else, and Tertius was generous to Draco. “Blood is thicker than water,” he said, and acted as if it was only natural that he should come out of nowhere and rescue Draco from the streets.
When Draco tried to get a job, Tertius put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, and told him he wanted a secretary, someone to help him run his business. (What business? Draco didn’t know, and he was so overwhelmed and grateful that he didn’t ask.) He told Draco there was no need for him to put himself through the agony of job applications as an ex-prison-convict Death Eater.
“Once you have a few years experience, it’ll be much easier,” he said, and this made sense to Draco.
“Let me pay rent, at least,” said Draco.
“Tell you what. I’ll set up a bank account for you, and detract rent from there.”
They didn’t talk numbers. They were family.
The mansion was in the middle of nowhere, and one of the early rules Tertius implemented was that Draco could only use the Floo to go to Tertius-approved locations.
“I worry about you,” he said.
Draco had thought all the people who worried about him were dead. He obeyed without questioning.
There were more rules after that, rules that, if broken, ruined Draco’s day, his week. Tertius would be angry and taciturn for days if Draco brought back the wrong pasta sauce from the shops. Draco was keenly aware that he owed everything to Tertius, and it was hideously frightening when he made Tertius angry.
When Tertius was in a good mood, he treated Draco the way Draco had always longed for his father to treat him: called him funny, or clever, or brave, touched him, ruffled his hair.
Once, Draco thought he saw a bruise on Adelaide’s wrist, but she pulled down her sleeve and climbed into Tertius’ lap and it had probably just been the lighting.
Tertius didn’t let Draco receive mail, because people might send Draco curses in the post.
One day, Draco couldn’t find bananas in the shop, and he shouted at the blank-eyed teenager at the till, and walked a mile to the next shop, a Muggle one. He didn’t have any Muggle money. He begged a nice middle-aged woman to buy them for him, making up a pregnant girlfriend with a potassium craving. The woman clearly didn’t believe him, but she bought the bananas all the same. Draco was astonished, both by the lengths to which he had been willing to go to avoid Tertius’ ill-humour, and by the kindness of that Muggle woman, who a few years ago Draco might glibly have wished death upon.
Tertius saw the Muggle price sticker on the bananas and was even angrier than if Draco hadn’t brought them back at all. He smashed his fist into the kitchen cabinets, bloodying his knuckles, and then brandished his bleeding hand at Draco.
“Look what you did!” he said.
“I’m sorry,” said Draco, “I’m so sorry!”
Tertius docked his pay. It was harder for Tertius to do his business because of his hurt hand, so Draco had cost him money. The punishment felt rather abstract, because Draco had never actually seen any of his wages. Whenever he asked about it, Tertius asked him why he needed money, didn’t Tertius take good care of him? Was there anything he wanted for?
And, later: did Draco really think anyone else would ever care about him? Did he really want to push Tertius, make Tertius think he was ungrateful?
The first time Tertius hit him, it didn’t come as a surprise. Adelaide had laughed at something Draco had said, and Adelaide belonged to Tertius, so Draco didn’t expect anything else, really. Adelaide didn’t look surprised, either. Draco reeled backwards, still apologising, and Tertius’ bad humour fell from him like a veil.
“Draco—I’m sorry—I just saw red—you know how I love my girl—”
Adelaide raised her eyebrows as if she found it all quite funny. Maybe it was. Draco couldn’t see it, though.
Draco realised that this was really a pretty bad situation the second time he tried to leave.
The first time, he got away, all the way to Piccadilly Circus. He stood in front of the Waterstones, pretending to look at the books, but really looking at his own reflection in the glass. People jostled him, so many people, so many thousands of people who did not care if he lived or died. The books on the display case all cost £9.99. Draco didn’t know how much that was in real money, but he knew he didn’t have it. Where would he go? Who would take him? No one, there was no one. It was a dizzying realisation, one that came to him constantly, in waves. He had grown up so confident in his security. In the idea that people wanted him, and that he would always be taken care of.
He stared at the books until the street lamps turned on, and went back to the mansion. Tertius knocked him once around the head for being late, but he didn’t guess what Draco had been considering. He was in a good mood that night, and after his flame of anger had abated, he pressed a cold compress to Draco’s cheek and told him, “Us Malfoys have to stick together, eh?”
Had Tertius taken him in to wreak a posthumous revenge on Lucius? Draco thought that sometimes. But mostly he felt that Tertius’ heart was in the right place, that he just struggled with his anger. That if he could only get a grip on that, it would all be all right; and Draco would have a real family again.
The second time he ran away was when he realised that Tertius’ little anger problem was going to kill either him or Adelaide, and that the only question was who would go first. This time, there could have been no doubt that Draco had done a runner: he stayed away for two nights, sleeping on benches and trying to figure out what to do. He ended up at a Muggle homeless shelter, but he didn’t understand any of the questions they asked him, things like Did he have a National Insurance Number? and Was he registered with a GP?
They gave him a muffin in plastic wrapping. It had fruit in it, the bad kind. Draco ate it and decided that he could stick it out with Tertius until he was twenty-one and got his wand back. With his wand, everything would be easier.
He went back in the morning, before Tertius could have a chance to start drinking. Tertius wasn’t home, but Adelaide lay at the bottom of the stairs in a crumpled heap.
“Fuck you,” she said, when he had got her awake (there was a terrifying moment when he thought she was dead, and she looked so young, he knew she was eighteen but sometimes she looked more like fifteen… younger, even…). “Seriously, fuck you!”
“I think your arm’s broken,” said Draco.
“Oh, and whose fault is that?” said Adelaide. “Ow ow ow ow!”
“Shhh,” said Draco, tying up her dangling arm into a sling. “There. He’ll fix it when he gets back, won’t he?”
Adelaide gave him a dark look.
“He wouldn’t have lost his temper in the first place if you hadn’t been such an ungrateful piece of shit,” she said.
Draco didn’t know how to answer that. Distantly, he knew that wasn’t really how blame worked, but he couldn’t deny that his actions had led to Adelaide’s broken arm.
“I’m sorry,” he told her.
“You should be. I hate you.”
He laughed at that. It was sort of refreshing, to have someone hate him for a new reason.
“Let me help you to the sofa,” he said.
“Fuck you,” said Adelaide, but she let him more or less carry her to the sitting room, where he propped her up on pillows and tucked blankets around her knees. She watched him tend to her with a suspicious look. “Do you want to fuck me?” she asked, finally.
Draco laughed again.
“Not in the least.”
“When I’m well. Not right now, obviously,” she said.
“Yeah, no, still not.”
She tilted her chin up.
“You must be gay,” she said. “Everyone wants to fuck me.”
“I’m not so gay that I wouldn’t be tempted if I found you even remotely attractive,” said Draco.
“Fuck you!” she said, which made Draco laugh more, because it reminded him of Pansy, a bit. Then he remembered Pansy properly, and how much he longed for her. He stopped laughing.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” he added. “I’m not saying you’re not pretty.”
“Pretty,” said Adelaide scathingly, and refused to talk to him anymore. But after that, she was a little less hostile to him, just a fraction more friendly, as if she was intrigued by the idea of a man who didn’t want to sleep with her. As if she wanted to know more.
When Tertius came back, he didn’t hit Draco. He showered Draco with affection and gifts, made Draco feel as if he had been crazy to run away in the first place. But there was a blood stain at the bottom of the stairs that lasted long beyond Adelaide’s bruises and hastily healed broken arm, and whenever Draco looked at it he remembered that there was a timer hanging over both of them. He knew this feeling, had felt it before, with Voldemort: the feeling that he was expendable.
Did he hate Tertius? It was complicated. He hated him when he hurt Adelaide: it was simple, then. She was hard and vulnerable and bright, and Draco knew without asking that she’d had a rough time of it. She just had that air about her; like she’d never known goodness. When he caught glimpses of bruises on her face, he fantasised about holding Tertius down and punching, punching with iron fists that wouldn’t stop until all the bones were shattered and concave, until Tertius was sorry for what he had done.
When Tertius hit him, that was another matter. It was like Old Times, practically nostalgic. It had been shocking, at first, when Voldemort tortured him, but humans will get used to anything, and Draco’s boundaries for how he expected to be treated had become loose and sloppy in the war. There wasn’t much that surprised him, anymore.
After the second time he tried to run away, he realised two things: that there was no life for him out there, and that Adelaide would be killed if he left her behind. At night, he lay in his little single bed and tried to puzzle it out: take Adelaide. But she slept in Tertius’ bed, and was kept away from Draco, he almost never saw her alone, and anyway, she wouldn’t consent to leave. She loved Tertius. She always sided with him. Kill Tertius. But Draco couldn’t face Azkaban again, and he didn’t delude himself into thinking anyone would believe him if he claimed self-defence. Inform the authorities. This one took up most of his time, because it was the most sensible option, particularly now that Draco had a better grip on Tertius’ business, which was illegal potions trading. But the Floo Network was monitored, and Draco only ever had enough money to buy precisely what he was told to get. Returning without resulted in violent repercussions.
He knew he could have figured it out, in fifth year, when his brain was sharp. But he was so muddled with fear all the time—had been, for so long—that his thoughts were cloudy and slow. He would sense a solution, then think, Did I leave the pantry door open? Oh God, I did, but if I go down and close it he’ll—and if I leave it he’ll—and the slippery idea that had half-formed in the back of his mind would be lost. Over and over it happened, and there was no way out, for him or for Adelaide, and after a while he stopped worrying about it. There is a level of misery which makes higher thought impossible, and Draco slid easily into it, unsurprised and resigned to what adulthood meant for him.
He’d been there for a year when it happened. He was at the market, buying ingredients for a ragout, and suddenly Potter was there, right at his side, holding a plastic-wrapped package of meat cutlets and staring at him with wide-awake eyes.
“Malfoy,” he said, confused, probably because Draco was smiling at him: Potter. The Saviour of the Wizarding World. Why on earth had Draco never thought of it? How could he have been so stupid? Of course Potter would fix everything: that was what he did! And he was here, gift from the heavens, smile of fate, sign of favour, in Draco’s own market, and Draco felt as if he was only just realising how much fear weighed on him, now that it was gone.
“Potter,” he said. “Long time no see.”
“Why are you smiling?” asked Potter, looking more and more suspicious, which only made Draco smile more because—because when Potter was suspicious he didn’t give up, he kept looking until he found out what was wrong, and now he was looking at Draco and he would find out, he would fix it all—
“Nothing,” said Draco. “No reason. Want to get a drink?”
“A… a drink?”
Potter’s eyes dropped, inexplicably, to Draco’s lips.
“Yeah,” said Draco.
“Scared?” asked Draco. Potter made an eye-rolly sort of expression.
“No. Fine. A drink.”
He hadn’t seen Potter since Azkaban. There had been the trial, of course, where Potter had spoken in his defence, the only reason for Draco’s relatively short sentence. But Draco had been too dazed to notice him then, really.
In Azkaban, where everything was the same, day in, day out, with the exception of Draco’s father’s increasing emaciation—there, he had noticed Potter.
He had shown up on a Thursday afternoon. Draco knew it was Thursday, because Thursday was when they served some kind of red lentil slop for lunch and the woman the next cell always screamed for a few hours afterwards. From what Draco had deduced, the slop reminded her of innards. After a few weeks of listening to her, it reminded Draco of innards, too, and he stopped being able to eat it.
She was screaming away, and Draco lay on his little cot, eyes closed, trying to remember the ingredients for the Draught of Living Death. It was how he passed the time; he brewed in his head.
“Malfoy?” said a voice. He sat up and saw Potter, wearing Auror robes, looking like an After shot in a misleading advertisement. Become the envy of your friends in only thirty days!
Draco got off his cot and went to look at Potter, hoping this wasn’t a hallucination. It felt different from the hallucinations he’d had.
He and Potter stared at each other. Potter had an unreadable expression on his face. He looked rather angry.
“Come to gloat?” asked Draco, finally. Potter shook his head. Then he dug his hand into his pocket and retrieved a chocolate frog.
“I don’t want that,” said Draco, although he very much did.
Potter crouched and put the chocolate frog just outside Draco’s cell door. Draco would be able to slip his hand through the bars and fetch it. Draco was conscious that he hadn’t washed his hair in five days, and that Potter looked like he worked out.
“You shouldn’t be in here,” said Potter.
It probably was a hallucination, Draco decided. There weren’t many Dementors around anymore, but their magic clung to walls, and Draco was quite often woken up by Nagini, slithering into his bed and tenderly wrapping her strong body around his throat, stopping his breath.
When Draco didn’t answer him, Potter ducked his head, embarrassed, and left. After he had gone, Draco reached for the chocolate frog. It was real, and so, therefore, had been Potter.
The chocolate warded away the clinging, icy misery for almost twenty minutes. As he ate, he remembered that he would get out one day, and there would be trees, and sunrises, and wide open skies, even if there was nothing else. He thought, then, of Potter’s strong reaction to Dementors in school. He wondered if Potter had known what effect the chocolate would have. It was kind of Potter, if so—it was kind either way.
They hadn’t seen each other since. But Potter now looked even better than he had that day.
They bought their groceries and stood together on the street. Potter gestured towards a nearby coffee shop.
“No,” said Draco, with a jolt of panic. Someone might see them together, and tell Tertius. Anyway, he didn’t have any money. “No, take me to yours.”
Potter looked taken aback. His eyes dropped to Draco’s mouth again. Then he smiled.
“Yeah,” he said. “Good idea.”
Draco expected Potter to take his arm, but instead Potter went for his hand, threading their fingers together. Potter’s hand was warm and dry and safe. Draco scanned the street for familiar faces, saw none, and breathed easier in the last few seconds before Potter Apparated him away.
The hall was dark, with a knocked-over umbrella stand, and patches of foggy grey light flowing through the diamond windows. It was bizarre being in someone else’s house. Tertius never allowed him to visit anyone.
Potter still had Draco’s hand. It was Draco’s good one, thankfully. Draco stared at him, dizzy from the Apparition, from the sudden sense of rescue, of security.
Potter pushed him back against the door and stepped close, nudging his nose against Draco, and Draco only realised with dim astonishment that Potter was going to kiss him a split second before it happened.
It had never occurred to Draco to kiss Potter, but now that it was going on, it seemed like a pretty good idea, actually. Potter’s mouth was hot and hesitant, until Draco kissed back, when it became much more than just a mouth, a kiss. It became Potter’s whole body pressed up against Draco’s, his hand in Draco’s hair, his muscles hard under Draco’s touch, his breath at Draco’s ear. Draco hadn’t thought about his dick since, oh, maybe 1997, but now it was making itself known, enthusiastically thickening against Potter’s thigh. Draco’s body appeared to have caught up with the idea that Harry Potter was kissing him much quicker than Draco himself. Draco rolled his hips forward, and Potter moaned into his mouth.
“I knew it,” said Potter.
“Knew… what?” asked Draco.
“That you wanted it, too,” said Potter, moving against Draco’s erection.
“Ahh,” said Draco, eloquently.
Potter tugged at Draco’s jacket, drew it off his shoulders. It dropped to the floor, crumpling on the bags of groceries. Potter ran his hands busily up and down Draco’s arms, then kissed the corner of his mouth.
“Come on,” he said, and pulled at Draco’s hand. Draco stumbled after him, up the dusty stairs, into a messy bedroom. With a bed in it.
“Sex?” asked Draco, in disbelief. Sex? Potter wanted to have sex with him? He had assumed Potter would rescue him out of pity. Lust was most definitely a step-up, although it was a truly bizarre, parallel-universe sort of twist. Was Potter even gay?
Potter appeared to wholly misinterpret Draco’s question. He grinned.
“Yeah, okay,” he said. “If you want.”
Draco had never gone from not-knowing-he-wanted-something to longing for it so fast. He wanted Potter’s warm, confident hands all over him. He wanted to see Potter naked. The abrupt, reckless, superfluous desire made him feel like a person again.
“Yes,” he said, his voice not much louder than a whisper. Potter grinned even wider, pushed Draco onto the bed, and climbed on top of him.
When was the last time someone had touched Draco gently? Tertius, of course, in his softer moments—but that touch was laced with fear, and Draco wasn’t frightened of Potter. Far from it: he felt safe, secure. Potter had rescued him from the Fiendfire. Potter had spoken for him at his trial. Potter had given him a chocolate frog, in prison. Potter would take care of him.
They made out on the bed, rubbing against each other, Draco’s tired mind whirling round in circles, ecstatic, relieved, thrilled, nervous. He had kissed Pansy, but that was the extent of his experience. What if he was shit? What if he was so bad Potter stopped halfway through, said “Sorry, I think I just hallucinated that I wanted to fuck you,” and kicked Draco out of the house? Potter had always been better than him at everything.
Then Draco remembered that he was covered in bruises and cuts under his clothes, and he winced in embarrassment. Luckily, Potter was too busy kissing his neck to see. But he would, when they undressed, he would see the bruises and stop. He would pity Draco. It was bitterly disappointing to think of Potter’s arousal turning into sympathy.
“How do you like to do it?” asked Potter, speaking quietly into Draco’s skin.
“I like… all the ways,” said Draco, because he hadn’t tried any of them, but reckoned they were probably all great.
“Aren’t you easy-going,” said Potter, with an affectionate laugh. They kissed some more, Draco growing more impatient under Potter’s body, more sure that if Potter didn’t undress him soon, he would embarrass himself, he would beg.
“Oh,” said Potter, still with that affection, his hand going to Draco’s groin. “Fuck, you’re so hard, I want—”
“Yeah,” said Draco. Potter huffed a quiet laugh into Draco’s mouth.
“This is mad,” he said, then opened his bedside table drawer. “Shit,” he said. “I must have left it in—stay here.” Draco nodded, breathless. Potter just looked at him for a few seconds, then held out his hand, as if saying again, stay, stay right there. “Be right back.”
He left the room—and his wand, which was on the bedside table. Draco scrambled for it and cast hasty Healing spells at himself. He glamoured his fucked up hand. He even healed the things that hadn’t bruised, like his twisted ankle, then threw the wand back on the table just in time.
Potter paused at the doorway to look at Draco. He was holding a small jar.
“Fuck,” he said, shaking his head. “You look…”
Draco didn’t answer. Potter thought he looked good? Draco knew he used to be handsome. He had assumed that had been lost in Azkaban, along with his parents and his self-esteem.
Potter crawled onto the bed, took Draco’s face in his hands, and kissed him.
“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do this,” he said.
!!!!!, thought Draco.
Potter undressed him so carefully. Every three or four buttons, his eyes met Draco’s with a question, Should I keep going, and every time, Draco nodded. It occurred to him that Potter might let Draco undress him, so he tried it, pulled at Potter’s t-shirt, and Potter obeyed his touch like a racing broom, instantly and effortlessly. Draco pulled the t-shirt over Potter’s head, splayed his fingers over Potter’s chest, touched the oval scar at his throat. Potter let him, his eyes wide.
“How do you want…?” he asked. Draco had no idea what he was asking.
“Whatever you…” he answered. Potter breathed out a sigh, smiling, and said,
“I’ll make it good.”
And, of course, he did. Draco was so relaxed, so sure that whatever Potter thought was a good idea would turn out to be, that it took no time at all for Potter to prepare him. Not that he rushed—he was cautious, gentle. He kept looking up at Draco for affirmation, kept smiling when he got it.
It was all very surprising, like an explosion. Draco was quietly aware that if he were more himself his feelings would be different—not that he’d object, because everything felt—wonderful—but that he would be more opinionated on the subject of Allowing Potter To Fuck Him. But he was so floaty and relieved still, as though he were dreaming, and he kissed Potter back as if there weren’t any walls between them. As if they had already done the work to get on the same page.
Potter collapsed on top of him once they’d both come. Draco’s eyes were heavy. He ran his fingers through Potter’s hair.
“That feels good,” said Potter, so Draco kept doing it, until thick, warm sleep took him.
He woke up terrified: an unfamiliar bed. His heart leapt into his throat, Oh God, oh God, what’s happened, who has me now—and then the memories filtered back, followed closely by the realisation that the light was waning, and Potter wasn’t in the bed anymore.
Tertius would be angry when he got home.
He sat up and flinched. Despite Potter’s precautions, he was sore and uncomfortable. He was also… frightened, in a way he hadn’t been before. Worried he had embarrassed himself. Worried he had messed something up, although he wasn’t sure what. He dressed quickly, wondering where Potter was. Making a cup of tea, hopefully. Turning to him with that slow smile, beginning to talk. Draco wasn’t sure what that would look like, sound like, but he imagined—imagined—
That was good. Unexpected, but
Where have you been living lately? I’ve wondered, I
I like kissing you, why didn’t we before, in
What’s wrong, how can I
Again, sometime, if you want, again
Draco looked around for his jacket before remembering that it was downstairs. He went down the stairs slowly. It hurt a bit to walk, which made him feel ashamed. He didn’t want Potter to know how inexperienced he was.
His jacket wasn’t by the door anymore; only the bags of groceries.
“Potter?” he called.
“Here,” came Potter’s voice, and Draco followed it into a dark dining room. Potter stood with his head bowed, his back to Draco.
“I fell asleep,” said Draco.
“I should have known,” said Potter, and his voice was entirely changed. It was steely with fury. It was Sectumsempra! and hard-eyed stalking and the word “Malfoy,” spoken like an insult. In school, Draco would have responded to anger with anger. But his brain had been recalibrated in the past few years, by Voldemort, by Tertius. He felt the flooding terror of having angered someone and not knowing what he had done: only that he would be punished for it.
“Known what,” said Draco, and Potter reeled around, holding his jacket, and a letter—Draco’s introduction letter from Tertius, the one he had to show new clients to get them to trust him. It listed him as a close associate, a business partner, and Draco realised belatedly that if it persuaded strangers that Draco was involved in Tertius’ immoral schemes, it would certainly convince Potter of the same thing.
“You work for Tertius Malfoy,” said Potter.
“I live with him,” said Draco. Potter made a cruel, scoffing noise.
“Of course you do. You always find a way to live with your boss, don’t you? First Voldemort, now—”
“You think I,” said Draco, realisation dawning slowly, because everything about him was slow these days, because two thirds of his mind was tied up in the ticking of the clock, each second that passed adding to the blows he would receive upon his return. “You think I want to work for Tertius?”
“Oh, did you get dragged into it again, Malfoy? Against your will? Was poor little Malfoy tricked into being a fucking evil prick once again?”
When put like that, Draco had to admit that it didn’t sound great. He wanted to defend himself, but he couldn’t seem to find the words.
“I don’t—I want him to go down,” he managed.
“Well, that’s convenient, because now I’ve got you, I’m going to interrogate you. Sit.”
“Now?” said Draco, eyes flicking to the clock on the mantelpiece. Potter stepped forward with one lean, powerful movement, took Draco’s shoulders in his hands, and forced him roughly into a chair.
“Yes, fucking now,” he said.
“Couldn’t I—tomorrow—” tried Draco, panic garbling his thoughts.
“You think I’m going to let you slither away to warn him that we’re onto him? You must be dreaming. Why did you come here, anyway, were you trying to get information on me?”
“Just thought it would be funny, did you?”
“No,” said Draco. “Please, let me come back tomorrow—”
“You move one inch and I will not hesitate to stun you, Malfoy! Do I need to tie you up?”
Draco shook his head, desperation sinking his heart. Adelaide; Tertius would go for Adelaide if Draco wasn’t back by dinner. If Draco hadn’t made dinner.
Potter’s glare was filled with loathing. He kept it fixed on Draco as he summoned a quill, ink and a stack of parchment.
“You’re going to answer every one of these questions.”
“Yes, fine,” said Draco, “we just have to be—if he finds out…” his voice dried up. If Tertius found out Draco had talked to an Auror, let alone Potter, he would kill him. It was a certainty. Draco had a passing familiarity with existential dread, but the thought of dying usually held a hazy appeal. Not today. Today, he thought of it only with grim, teeth-clenched horror.
“You’re such a coward,” said Potter. “I can’t believe I fell for—you’re just like your father.”
“Told everyone he wasn’t to blame, in the first war, didn’t he? Played the victim, worked people’s pity… and then he never changed.”
Potter wrote something on his pad of parchment so fiercely that the quill went through. Pity, thought Draco. Was that what it had been? Had Potter wanted him out of pity? Potter was behaving now as if Draco had deliberately tricked him. As if Draco was the last of a long line of people who had betrayed him.
Draco’s mind wasn’t plastic enough anymore to defend himself against accusations. If Potter thought he had behaved badly, he probably had.
It hurt to sit. Draco remembered how delicately Potter had cradled his head, as if his skull was something precious. He thought of Potter’s wide eyes, of his soft skin, his stubbled cheek. Draco answered all Potter’s questions in short, halted sentences, tripping over his words, stammering in places. He sounded so guilty, he knew he did. He felt guilty, although he wasn’t sure what for. He longed to get away, to hide his head in his hands, to curl up in the safety of solitude and reassure himself that no one else was there. Potter’s glare felt like a physical assault, so Draco kept his eyes fixed on the table. The light fell with evening. When Potter lit the candle, Draco knew it must be nearly seven, and he tried to calculate, with the bulky chunk of his mind that was devoted to such calculations, what being four hours late from the shops would earn him.
He didn’t know very much, but he told all that he did, all the places his uncle went, all his associates, how much money was spent where. What the packages smelled like—chopped mermaid tails, powdered centaur hoof, werewolf claws, ripped from the hands of men before they’d turned. Potter’s lip curled in distaste, but he didn’t say anything else about Draco’s moral character.
“Please,” said Draco. “That’s all I know. Please, I need to go… the, the groceries…”
The ice cream would have melted. That alone would mean—
Tertius had crushed Draco’s fingers in a door hinge six months ago. They were still crooked. He grimaced at the memories and stretched his hand, aware of how fragile every part of the human body was, how easy it was to damage it.
“The groceries,” repeated Potter. Draco thought, somewhat crazily, of an article he had read once, that said scorn and contempt were the only two emotions a relationship could not survive.
“He’ll be angry,” said Draco. “When he’s angry, he’s—”
Potter pursed his lips.
“Will your life be in danger if you return,” he said, in a monotone, as if he were reading from a government questionnaire. Probably he was.
It felt as if Potter would laugh at him, if he said yes. As if Potter would call him a coward again. He could still feel all the places on his body where Potter had touched him like he mattered.
“No,” he said, dropping his eyes to his knees.
Potter leant back in his chair.
“You can go,” he said.
At the front door, his soggy groceries in hand, Potter called his name.
Draco paused, hope flickering wearily to life in his chest. Potter came to the door. He looked so raw and hurt that for a moment Draco wanted to reach out and touch his hair again, to soothe him.
“Fuck you,” said Potter.
Tertius had held Draco’s face in one hand and smashed it repeatedly against the corner of the wall, until Draco had been sure he would die, or at the very least lose some important part of himself.
But after Adelaide left, (girlfriend voice, “Tertius, oh, I’ve missed you!”), after she’d led Tertius upstairs to salve Tertius’ anger with sex, Draco managed to sit up. He retrieved the hand towel from under the sofa cushion and held it to the back of his head, which throbbed sickeningly.
He counted up in sevens. He recited a poem. He listed everything he’d had for lunch that week. He thought through the Black Family genealogy.
It was all right. He still had himself. And however dire Potter’s interrogation had been, Draco’s faith was unshaken: Potter would fix everything. He had given Potter the information he needed to fix everything.
The wounds on his head had not yet healed the day that Adelaide came into his room, her eyes huge.
“I was serious,” said Draco. “I’m not sleeping with you.”
“Shut up,” she said, closing the door behind her. “Tertius just got home.”
Draco jumped to his feet.
“Then what the hell are you doing in here? He’ll kill me! He’ll kill us both!”
Adelaide looked more distracted and flustered than he’d ever seen her.
“I overheard him casting a Patronus. Something about a drop gone wrong—Aurors—werewolves—he’s, he’s mad, he’s so angry, I don’t—”
There was a split second where Draco realised he was going to have to be brave, and he didn’t give himself time to question it. Adelaide was twining a strand of hair around her fingertips so tightly that it looked as if it was cutting off the blood circulation.
“Go to your room,” he said. “Pretend to be asleep. I’ll…”
Adelaide closed her eyes in relief. She knew exactly what Draco was going to do.
“Thank you,” she said, and left.
The next day, Tertius sat by his bedside, spooning soup into Draco’s swollen lips. Tertius had made up the tray himself. There was a small vase of daisies on it.
“I’m so glad you came into my life,” he told Draco, gently stroking Draco’s hair out of his face, and Draco believed him, even though the fact that Tertius meant it only made everything worse.
He could tell Tertius was still upset about whatever had happened with the drop, because he didn’t heal Draco for three days, just nursed him, wand in pocket, as if he were cleaning up after some faceless monster who had blacked Draco’s eyes and broken his collarbone, not himself.
Adelaide did not appear. Evidently she, too, had sensed that Tertius would not be tolerant of any disobedience just now. But a week after Draco had gone downstairs to take the beating instead of her, she came into the kitchen when he was cooking dinner.
“I’ve come to get wine,” she said, not looking at him.
“He could have summoned me,” said Draco. “I would have brought it.”
She made some incomprehensible sound and got a bottle of white wine out of the cold cupboard. Then she paused, both hands on the bottle’s neck.
“The other day—”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Draco, feeling very heroic, for once, before he remembered to be depressed that his form of heroism amounted to so little. What had Potter felt, when he slew the most evil wizard of all time at seventeen? Just another Tuesday, probably.
Adelaide nodded her head jerkily.
“Tertius loves us,” she said.
“That’s not love,” he said.
“Oh, what do you know, your parents are dead,” said Adelaide. The twist of pain Draco felt at the words wasn’t even about his own parents: it was about all the times he had said that to Potter. Adelaide had some excuse for her cruelty. Draco had just been rotten to the bone.
“Witty,” he said.
“Fuck you,” she said, stomped out of the kitchen.
“You’re welcome, by the way!” Draco called after her.
Pansy used to swear at him so often, when she was twelve. Then she got older, and decided she was a lady, thank you, and said things like, “Oh, sod off,” which Vince and Greg found uproariously funny, and Draco found rather charming. She had really fancied him at one point, and Draco had thought she was quite leggy and sexy, and she would have slept with him if he’d asked. But Draco knew Pansy too well, knew she would fall in love with him if he touched her, and knew he wouldn’t fall in love back. So he’d say “Sorry Pans, can’t fuck you or you’ll love me,” and she’d say “Oh sod off!” and Greg and Vince would laugh at her and everything was perfect. He hadn’t realised at the time that it was perfect, but it had been.
The Aurors came the next day. Draco was writing in the study when the wards broke, and the alarm went, and suddenly it was like the war again, explosions and shrieks and curses streaking through the house. It did not last long. Fifteen minutes later, Draco, Tertius and Adelaide had been herded into the sitting room by the Aurors. Tertius was unconscious. Draco was immediately handcuffed. Adelaide, pale and tear-streaked, gave her deposition to an Auror with a clipboard. Potter wasn’t there. Draco had thought he would be. He couldn’t decide how he felt about his absence.
“… and how old are you?” asked the Auror with the clipboard.
“Thirteen,” said Adelaide, and Draco’s vision went blurry, and the next thing he knew there were hands all over him, dragging him backwards, preventing him from kicking Tertius’ disgusting face to a pulp—
“Let go—she’s—I’m going to kill him—”
“Draco, stop,” said Adelaide, so he did, panting in the arms of some Auror, desperate and wild and miserable.
“You understand, Adelaide, that we’re going to have to put you in a care home,” said the Auror with the clipboard.
“No,” said Draco. Adelaide’s face was glazed with disbelieving horror. “No, she can stay with me—can’t she?”
“You’re under arrest,” pointed out the Auror holding him.
“Oh,” said Draco blankly. Somehow this hadn’t occurred to him, despite the handcuffs. “But I didn’t do anything.”
“You were living with a criminal and his underage girlfriend,” said the Auror. Adelaide snorted.
“Please,” she said. “All Draco did was buy groceries and get himself beaten up. He’s useless.”
“Can she live with me if I get off?” he looked at Adelaide. “Would you want to?”
Adelaide glanced at Tertius, prone on the floor, then nodded, once, briskly.
For a few days it did seem as if Draco would be sent back to Azkaban. He sat in his holding cell, trying to decide if he would bother surviving if that happened. The problem was what it had always been: he had a tenacious grip on life. He had never wanted to die, had always been willing to do terrible things and withstand dreadful indignities in order to stay alive.
But it was not a quandary he had to face, in the end. Adelaide submitted her memories to the court, and in them it was abundantly clear that Draco had been a victim, not a perpetrator. He was released, and Adelaide, once the paperwork was done, was signed over to his care.