And by making people feel small/ Makes you think you're unable to fall
Superstar - Lauryn Hill
There were many instances when Harry Potter, the unfortunate leader that a dubious prophecy thrust upon us, jeopardised vital D.A. work and neglected his duties on account of the whims of his unhealthy passion for Draco Malfoy, a passion that tore the school apart. A passion that eventually led him to excuse and defend the criminal and treacherous behaviour of his alleged lover even in a court of law, to the point that the latter escaped just imprisonment for his numerous and despicable crimes that resulted in the death of dozens of people. Could a love potion be behind such inexcusable behaviour from our so-called “Saviour”, or are we finally prepared to face the truth that we have raised a man of questionable ethics to a hero’s pedestal?
Zacharias Smith, One Man (in Dumbledore’s) Army: the Unsung Heroes of the War
When Zacharias Smith wrote a tell-all about the DA, it wasn’t Harry Potter who punched him on the nose first like a common Muggle — although he deeply desired to — or even Ron Weasley — who had the tendency to lash out after the death of his brother — but surprisingly it was Draco Malfoy and it happened right in the middle of Diagon Alley, which meant that Harry, fresh out of Auror training, was called in to deal with it.
The first thing Harry saw was a fuming Smith, his nose still a bloody mess, and Draco Malfoy, under an Incarcerous curse cast by an overzealous shop-owner, the ties slightly tighter than would have been advisable, but then again, these days people took their revenge on the Malfoys any little way they could. The first thing Harry said, ignoring an irate Smith, was to Malfoy: “Thanks for doing that. Still need to bring you in.”
Smith was less than pleased to hear these words, but Harry, unconcerned, undid Malfoy's binds and turned to Smith, a quill rising from his pocket along with a notepad that flipped to a fresh page. “I need a statement from you and I need it in under a hundred words. Go.”
“Unlikely,” Malfoy scoffed beside him, rubbing his wrists, incorrigible even when facing arrest. “Didn’t you read his tripe? It was verbal diarrhea, ten words where one would suffice.”
Harry couldn’t help the snort that escaped his lips, nor could a few of the people watching them from the crowd. Smith noticed and went beetroot red.
“You filthy little Death Eater,” he hissed at Malfoy, raising a wand, and people pressed closer, eager for excitement and blood or, at least, a little Malfoy punishment. Smith’s smirk was a masterpiece of conceit as he advanced on Malfoy; he’d become a media darling, a best-selling author, and was secure in his celebrity status, in his superiority over the disgraced Slytherin. Harry stepped neatly between him and Malfoy, raising his own wand, a wand that most people thought had killed Voldemort, and gasps were indeed heard from the people watching them. Someone even photographed it.
They were wrong of course. The wand that killed Voldemort was in Harry’s bedside drawer. He’d been unwilling to return it to his rightful owner for reasons he couldn’t precisely comprehend.
“Listen, Smith,” Harry said, “I won’t pretend I like you one bit and in fact I’m not far from suing your arse for libel myself. But I’m here to do my job and my job says that I have to ask you if you’ll press charges to Malfoy or if we can end this now quietly.”
“Of course I’ll press charges!” Smith snarled, throwing a little spit on Harry’s face. “He punched me without provocation—”
“Your lies are provocation enough,” Malfoy hissed and Harry laid a hand on his arm to shut him up before he made everything worse, as he was wont to do, being Draco Malfoy.
“Lies?” Smith yelled. “What was the lie? That you’re a Death Eater?” He took obvious enjoyment in seeing Malfoy flinch. Hostile whispers rose around them at the mention of Malfoy’s past, as if it was something anyone would soon forget. “Or was it that Harry was clueless and frankly incompetent and won the duel by a — a technicality?”
Harry’s rising temper drowned out the noise of the street, and he grasped at a last shred of restraint and common sense, but Smith wasn’t done yet.
“Or,” and here his eyes fell on Harry’s arm on Malfoy, “was it a lie that Potter was eye-fucking you the entire time at school while people died for him?”
Harry reacted instinctively. He might not have been the first person to punch Zacharias Smith on the nose, but he was the second. And third. And fourth.
The Aurors who came to break the fight and arrest Draco and Potter threw them in a holding cell inside the Ministry, giving dark looks to Draco and understanding looks to Potter, which could be the title of Draco’s book: Everyone Sympathises With Potter And No One Gets Me: An Autobiography. They confiscated their wands.
Potter might justifiably hate him, but unfortunately Draco could not hate back, not with the passion their past history deserved, not when there was a Life Debt between them, a Debt which his mother insisted had to be Honoured and possibly Exploited. His mother spoke often in capitals after the war. “Put the School Feud behind you and focus on Mending Fences,” she advised. “He Testified in your trial — and mine — surely that means he’s willing to put the Past behind him.”
It only meant that Potter was a self-righteous bastard intent on Doing Good, Draco thought, but he didn’t reply to his mother and just stared in the middle distance, not really taking in the white and gold drawing room of their London house, a house drowning in silence, a house that got no visitors except for some insistent journalists that rang the bell asking for an “exclusive of his side of the War” as if Draco was an idiot and didn’t know it was a recipe for disaster, selling your soul to the media. His mother sighed, possibly remembering glorious days of dinner parties that this house held just a few years ago. “We need all the help we can get These Days.”
But Draco had no inclination to mend fences. He’d do anything to help his family, except approach Potter. Even though he knew he’d been wrong, or perhaps because he’d been horribly wrong in so many things, Draco could never willingly face Potter again, could never stand in front of someone he’d treated so badly and who ended up saving his life and say what? Be my friend? Draco knew how that story went, he’d known since he was eleven.
Life had other plans, though, and yesterday Blaise called unexpectedly on Draco. Draco should have known better than to expect a visit from an old friend to bring joy These Days. They had tea in the living room and Blaise produced a cigarette from a smart metal case. He offered one to Draco, who shook his head, because he wasn’t to be trusted with anything remotely addictive, obsession was his middle name. After lighting the cigarette, Blaise lay back on the sofa and brought up the book that a “snotty Hufflepuff” wrote. An ashtray floated towards him and he flicked his ash in it.
“Surely you read it?” Blaise asked.
“Why would I read something written by a Hufflepuff?” Draco scoffed. Blaise looked good, he thought, healthy, sane. Unburdened with remorse. He could probably still walk out and about without being shoved by strangers. Draco hadn’t ventured outside in a while (sixteen weeks and three days) and he had no desire to.
“It mentions you,” Blaise said. He put out the cigarette, standing up at the same time, elegant and cool, and accepted his coat from an elf who appeared as quietly as she disappeared. He straightened his tie before he continued. “It mentions you and Potter. If I were you, I’d read it.”
Draco did indeed read the book that very night after an express owl delivery and all through the following morning. In the afternoon he left his house after sixteen weeks and four days, tracked down Smith using a combination of mildly illegal Legilimency and the Prophet’s celebrity gossip page, and confronted him outside Aguamen-TEA, “Best Cauldron Cakes in London” according to the Daily Prophet, at 5:45 in the evening of 29th January 1999, where he proceeded to smash Smith’s nose and get himself arrested in the process.
A decision, which was a Bad one — though not join-the-Death-Eaters-bad — since it led to his nemesis coming to his rescue once again, until Potter made an utter mess of things, as he was wont to do, being Harry Potter.
“Why didn’t you hex him? Why throw a punch?” Potter asked him suddenly. They’d been sitting in the cold cell for half an hour now and not one of them had felt the need to speak, which Draco thought was an excellent tactic. He glanced sideways at Potter.
“Why did you punch him?”
“Thought it’d feel more satisfying than a hex,” he replied.
“And did it?”
Potter glanced back with a grin that Draco had never seen directed towards him. “You tell me.”
Draco closed his eyes and thought of his one single punch that broke Smith’s nose, the satisfying crack he heard. “It felt splendid.” Such a Muggle thing to do, as well, his mother would be furious. He wasn’t sure what he hated more about the book: the fact he was mentioned only very little, as if he was a nobody, not the one who held Dumbledore at wandpoint and brought a bunch of Death Eaters in the school, a feat that everyone thought impossible; or the fact that he was mentioned as being in love with Potter through Years Five and Six, a fact that was decidedly not true, no matter what Pansy might say, or Greg, or even Blaise, or his mother — really, everyone was completely one hundred percent wrong.
“Can you sue him for libel?” he asked Potter, keeping his eyes shut. He didn’t have any wish to speak to Potter about this particular issue, this being-in-love-with-each-other nonsense, but he figured it must be done at some point, at least to know if Smith was getting his comeuppances somehow.
“Not sure. Spoke to three different solicitors and they said he doesn’t mention anything specific that can be verified as fact – just a whole bunch of ‘Potter stared at Malfoy’ or ‘Potter was obsessed with Malfoy and followed him around’—”
“Which isn’t even a lie,” Draco muttered, eyes still closed.
“Or ‘Malfoy did everything he could to get Potter into trouble’ which isn’t a lie either.”
I was an idiot, Draco wanted to say but he said nothing, because it possibly went without saying, nothing new there.
“What about the incompetence thing? Surely that must sting.” Draco wondered, not for the first time, how much of a moron Smith was. Draco had lived with the Dark Lord and had served under him and knew intimately his prowess and his ruthlessness and the cold, terrifying brilliance of his magic. Draco had no delusions whatsoever about Potter’s competence, even though he wouldn’t readily admit it out loud.
“The solicitors say it’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it. Hermione went through the book with a fine-toothed comb — he’s been very clever in not stating anything as fact besides things like when the D.A. met, or what we did in the lessons and such.”
“You could possibly sue him for suggesting you’re attracted to men,” Draco offered, and there was silence for a long moment until Potter spoke again, his voice low.
“Well, that’s — that’s not a lie either.”
Draco kept his eyes closed and himself still, very still indeed. He possibly forgot how to breathe. He wondered whether Smith was a Legilimens besides a moron. Draco would never have guessed that about Potter.
“So he basically outed you,” he said in a flat voice.
He felt Potter shift beside him and Draco finally opened his eyes and looked at his face, a face he knew so well that he could probably draw in his sleep; green eyes that gazed at him with curiosity but no hatred, at least no hatred on the surface, who knew what bubbled underneath.
“Don’t you read the Prophet?” Potter asked.
“Why would I read a paper that calls me a million ugly names almost every other day?”
Potter pushed a hand through his hair, making it even more untidy, something that Draco hadn’t thought was feasible. “Got drunk in the Ministry Yule Party and snogged someone. I mean, I’d snogged them before but that night it was in public. Next day it’s front page news. Four pages of articles on queerness and the Saviour, complete with photographic evidence. You missed out on some entertaining headlines.” Potter’s voice hardened. “All the while, we have a Ministry to reorganize, the Wandless to take care of, Hogwarts to rebuilt… but no, me snogging Justin was the big news everyone cared about!”
Harry’s anger flushed his face in a way that made Draco rail at the injustice of life, at how unfair it was that certain people’s blood could colour their face in such a distracting way, and so he stared at the wall instead until something Potter had said reached his tired brain.
“Um, Finch-Fletchley? He was in school with us.”
For some reason Draco found this information extremely offensive. “Are you telling me, Potter, that you could have had anyone and you chose him?”
Potter’s face tightened, showing a hint of the boy he knew at school, the familiar hostility on his face an old friend that Draco almost welcomed. “You’re saying this because he’s Muggleborn.”
“No, I'm saying it because he’s an idiot! Back in school, he was the first to believe the Heir of Slytherin rumours and he’d hide every time he saw you, like a total berk. Also, he’s a Hufflepuff.”
“What’s wrong with Hufflepuff?” Potter’s voice was still icy cold.
Draco turned to stare at him. “Smith is one of them. I’m surprised you didn’t snog him.”
The animosity brewing between them was familiar, comfortable even, and Draco was prepared to settle in it, like a couch that knows the shape of your body, but footsteps echoed down the corridor and stopped in front of their cell, ending the trip down memory lane.
“Well, well, well. Isn’t this a surprise. The young Malfoy scum in prison. Never thought I’d see the day.”
Draco tilted his chin up and stared coldly at the Auror, a man built like a door with tufts of steel hair around a bald plate, pointing his rather short wand towards Draco.
Potter walked up to the door. “Is Allsop about to release us or what? There were mitigating circumstances, she must understand.”
“This is what I’m here to tell you, m’boy. She’ll see you now. Both of you.”
The Head of Aurors was a woman with fierce eyes and a startling amount of dreads, tied high up her head. The new Minister for Magic — Draco wasn’t completely uninformed — stood beside her.
“Kingsley, surprised to see you here,” Potter said and shook hands with him. He was naturally on first name terms with the Minister for Magic, another reminder of how life was unfair, but Draco couldn’t dwell on that now.
Shacklebolt looked stern as he gestured to two leather seats. “I’m here especially for you, Harry. I’m concerned about what happened.”
Potter must have finally realized that he might be in some trouble, because he promptly set out apologising to his boss and to the Minister for “letting my temper get the best of me”.
“Potter,” Allsop said, breaking the apology, “I won’t lie to you. Anyone else attacking a civilian would mean not only suspension, but also an Internal Affairs investigation and possible dismissal, but in your case,” here Draco rolled eyes because he had to, he’d spent six years in the vicinity of Potter and knew intimately what that meant, “I might make an exception.” Yep, there it was. “The Battle of Hogwarts was less than a year ago and instead of taking a break, you worked non-stop helping the Department. I don’t even blame you for losing your temper, especially after — well, let’s just say, we don’t all believe the rubbish some people publish.”
She threw a glance at Draco that he could read perfectly well, as if it was a flashing sign above her head: “bad enough that the Saviour is attracted to blokes and won’t produce Saviour babies to repopulate wizarding Britain with his heroic sperm, but there’s no way the Chosen One would ever be attracted to anyone less than a goddamn angel and you’re nothing but scum”, and Draco wanted to laugh, because Justin? Excellent choice there. Of course Potter would never be attracted to Draco, that was a given, but Draco suffered their hostile looks in silence, while Potter tried to do the Honourable Thing and suggest Malfoy be treated as leniently as him.
“We’ve actually discussed this already and have taken our decision,” Shacklebolt said and Draco sighed deeply. It’d probably be life in Azkaban for him and a pat on the wrist for Potter, which was on par with how his life went so far, but the Minister surprised them.
“You’re both assigned to 240 hours of community service. Three months. Together. In Muggle London.”
No amount of protest helped things and before he knew it, Draco was given an appointment time for the next day and, worst of all, a Muggle address — it hadn’t been a joke, Draco had wished until the very last moment that they were having him on — and he was dismissed with the promise that if he didn’t show up, he’d be sent to Azkaban to share a cell with his father.