Breakdown

The call came in late on a Monday night. Harry had been staring blankly at the dark telly when he heard a swift rap at his door followed by the noise of a key in the lock. He blinked, looking down in confusion at the take away curry in his lap, long since gone cold.

“Harry? Call came in, there’s a disturbance over at – oh hell, you haven’t eaten yet. Can you take it with you?”

Harry looked up as Ron came in, Auror robes thrown on haphazardly over jeans and a striking pair of bright orange slippers. “This late?” he asked, getting up to put the curry away. “Must be a busy night.” Grabbing his wand from the counter next to the refrigerator, he joined Ron, who was already walking out the door.

“What’s the call?” he asked as Ron led the way out onto the street, glancing around warily.

“Disturbance over in Wiltshire,” Ron told him before ducking down an alley.

“Wiltshire?” Harry asked, incredulous. “Since when do they send us over to Wiltshire for a disturbance?”

“Malfoy Manor,” Ron said shortly. “Shacklebolt thinks it might be old Death Eaters – who else’d ever want to be within twelve miles of that place? Do your glamour quick; I was supposed to be there five minutes ago.”

Harry took a breath and closed his eyes, focusing. “This is probably incredibly illegal, you know,” he remarked, opening his eyes again as he felt the magic change his face, moving his nose, flowing over his eyes, masking the scar.

“Yeah, well, you’re a workaholic who’s going crazy on an enforced holiday, and I won’t go into a situation without my own partner. You ready?”

Harry nodded. “Shacklebolt gave you the coordinates already?”

Ron grinned, tapping his wand to the side of his temple. “Yep. Let’s go.”

The familiar squeezing darkness of Apparition lasted only a few seconds before they landed hard, Harry stumbling a bit as he let go of Ron’s arm. He looked around, taking in the surroundings while Ron strode off into the dark. Finding a gap in a nearby hedge, Harry sat down, counting silently. He’d follow Ron in a few minutes, pretending to be from a local force responding to the disturbance.

They’d done this a few times since Shacklebolt had put Harry on leave; each time it got easier to ignore the faint itch of his conscience. He’d never asked to be sent on holiday. He didn’t need one. Shacklebolt was just being unreasonable, he told himself. Completely unreasonable.

*

“Sir, you’re being unreasonable!”

“Mr. Weasley, I assure you, when I am being unreasonable, you will know.”

Ron glared at Shacklebolt’s words, his face getting steadily redder. “But you can’t get rid of Harry! He’s my partner!”

Shacklebolt steepled his fingers, looking supremely unmoved. “I am well aware of that, Mr. Weasley, but it does not change the fact that Mr. Potter is long overdue for a holiday. I have great confidence in your ability to function without him for two weeks.”

“Sir,” Harry protested, “I really don’t need a holiday, truly...”

“It was not a request,” Shacklebolt said, fixing Harry with a level gaze before turning to Ron. “Mr. Weasley, if you would give us a minute, please.”

After a pause, in which Ron failed to stare down Shacklebolt, he stomped outside, muttering to himself and slamming the door. Shacklebolt turned back to Harry, the smallest of frowns creasing his forehead.

“Please, sir,” Harry said, trying not to plead. “I’ll go mad if I have to sit at home all day.”

“So don’t sit at home,” Shacklebolt said. “Get out. You haven’t taken a holiday in two years, Potter. I’m ordering you to take time off, whether you like it or not.” At Harry’s look, he softened slightly. “This isn’t an underhanded way of questioning your dedication to the force; I know you’re committed. You get things done, and I appreciate that.” He leaned back in his chair. “But everyone needs a break now and then, in this job especially. You’ll burn out if you keep this up, and I’m not about to lose one of my top Aurors because of that.”

About to protest more, Harry caught the look on Shacklebolt’s face and sighed. “Fine then,” Harry told him peevishly, getting up. “But I refuse to enjoy it.”

“Not my concern,” Shacklebolt said, already going back to his paperwork. “Just make sure you’re rested when you come back to work.”

“Two weeks,” said Harry, backing out the door. “Not one day more.”

The door swung shut, and he leaned his forehead against it, feeling petulant. “Two weeks,” he repeated.

“I suppose it could be worse,” said Ron morosely. Harry looked up to find his partner leaning back against the wall next to him.

“I suppose,” Harry agreed as they set off down the hall. “But still, two weeks of doing nothing? I have no idea what to do with myself for two hours, let alone two weeks.”

Ron gave him a sideways look. “The Harpies are playing this weekend.”

Harry sighed. “I know.”

“Are you going to the game?” Ron persisted.

“Maybe.”

“Ginny’s coming ’round to the Burrow for dinner Sunday. You should come. Mum’s been asking about you.”

“You told me. I might go.”

“Might?”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “Look, I’ll do my best, alright? It’s just... I’m still getting used to things.”

“Sure,” said Ron, raising an eyebrow. “But Harry, it’s been over a year now. Mum’s bound to think you’re avoiding her.”

They’d reached the Ministry’s Floos. Harry rubbed his forehead tiredly. “I’m trying, Ron. Maybe I’ll drop by the Burrow sometime next week. I’ll have the time to, anyway.” He couldn’t help the little bit of bitterness that crept into his voice.

“About that,” Ron said, leaning closer, his voice low. “I’ve got an idea. Meet me at the Leaky this evening?”

Harry looked at Ron inquisitively. “Yeah, sure.”

“Great!” Ron clapped him on the shoulder and turned to leave. “Enjoy your holiday, mate!”

“Yeah,” Harry mumbled, watching Ron push his way through the crowd. “Enjoy my holiday. Right.” He sighed again and turned to the nearest Floo. “Two weeks of nothing but my own company. Should be loads of fun.”

*

“We’ve got to split up,” Dawlish told the huddled Aurors. “Thomas, you’re with Higgins. Head around to the back of the house, see if you can find where they got in. Weasley, you and I will go with...” He looked at Harry quizzically. “What did you say your name was again?”

“Mulgrew, sir,” Harry replied, resisting the nervous urge to touch his face and make sure his glamour was still in place. “Mulgrew.” Dawlish stepped back, drawing his wand. “Quietly, gentlemen. We don’t want whoever’s here to get away before we have a chance to question them.”

They spread out, creeping through the house silently, wary for alarm spells or traps laid for unwelcome visitors. Harry fell back behind Ron and Dawlish slightly as they passed into the drawing room, memories hovering at the edge of his consciousness. The chandelier was as imposing as ever despite the tarnish that dimmed it, its sparkling glory covered in dust. Ron glanced back at him, the corner of his mouth twisting, and Harry forced a small, uncomfortable smile back.

It was better once they’d left familiar territory behind; Harry could concentrate on their surroundings without trying to block out remembered screams or the flash of Bellatrix’s silver knife. He was still a few steps behind the other two Aurors as they made their way down a narrow corridor when he heard something – a creak of floorboards behind a dark mahogany door. He stopped in front of it, listening, unconsciously holding his breath. The door was solid and well warded; he could feel the protective magic in both the wood and the wrought silver handle.

Ron noticed his absence first, turning around to look back down the hallway. “Ha – Mulgrew!” he hissed, motioning for Dawlish to stop, but Harry put up a warning hand. They waited in silence, Harry with one ear against the door. He could feel his heart thundering in his chest, thrilling to the hunt, waiting for... there! Someone was definitely inside the room, trying their damnedest to be quiet. Hoping it wasn’t Thomas or Higgins, he stepped back and drew his wand before remembering that Mulgrew, as part of the local force which helped the Aurors out from time to time, wasn’t supposed to know highly classified Auror unlocking spells.

Before he could figure out how to cover for his movement, Ron and Dawlish were there, dismantling the spells on the door with quick efficiency before throwing it open and charging through in a loud scramble of red robes and authority. There was a flash of a man’s startled face and then the cloaked intruder turned and ran for it.

“Aurors!” yelled Dawlish. “Drop your wand!”

Harry followed them, quashing the niggling feeling of resentment at not being the first one through the door. He felt odd and out of place without his own uniform, like an old Quidditch star watching a game he still wanted to play.

“Drop your wand!” Dawlish yelled again, and Harry looked around just in time to see red light shoot out of Ron’s wand, forming ropes that coiled around their quarry’s feet, sending whoever it was crashing to the parquet floor as they tried to duck around a corner and escape.

Dawlish strode forward. “Whoever you are, you should know better than to try and outrun Aurors,” he said, kicking away their prisoner’s wand. He hauled the man upright again, binding his hands with a quick spell. The man slumped, then twisted suddenly, trying futilely to escape, and the hood of his cloak slipped down.

Harry heard Dawlish and Ron’s stunned words from a garbled distance – his ears seemed to have forgotten their purpose. In front of the Aurors stood Draco Malfoy, looking exhausted but scowling mightily, still trying to fight his bonds.

*

“Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised,” Hermione said manner-of-factly. “Malfoy was bound to be discovered sometime. Didn’t the Aurors find his father a few years ago?” She pushed back her hair with one hand and looked over at Harry. “Could you hand me that roll?”

Harry bent down and picked up the stray roll of wallpaper, then handed it to Hermione. “Yeah, but that was after a tip-off from the French Ministry. You’re not surprised? Hermione, the Malfoy disappeared practically the moment the war ended. Why would he ever come back?”

Hermione tapped the paper with her wand, carefully levitating it and lining it up on the wall. “He probably didn’t have much time to pack, since they left so suddenly,” she said, smoothing the paper down onto the wall with her free hand. “There are probably a lot of important things they had to leave behind. It’s not like Malfoy waltzed in through the International Floo Point – he snuck into the country. We probably wouldn’t have ever known he was at the Manor if someone hadn’t tipped you Aurors off.”

“Maybe,” Harry said doubtfully, handing her the next roll. Privately, he thought that Malfoy was bloody stupid for coming back to England: if he was on the run, he’d never look back. “I guess they’ll put you on the case?” he asked.

Hermione allowed herself a small smile. “I think so. They owe it to me, anyway, after the whole Pucey affair.”

Hermione was a rising star, one of the top lawyers in Magical Law Enforcement; rumors already abounded of a potential campaign to make her the youngest Minister in over five centuries. The old coot who ran the department seemed to think that this made her the best choice for complicated cases that dragged on for months with no clear progress, something which Hermione considered both an opportunity for learning increasingly more obscure facets of Wizarding law and a devious plot to turn her hair white before she turned forty.

“You’re mad, you know,” Harry informed her. “You should get a job that doesn’t drive you even madder.”

Hermione stepped down off the ladder and flashed a smile at him. “So you tell me,” she said. “But I like my job, even if it does make me want to hex people every other day.” She checked her watch. “I’ve got to go in for a bit to clear up some paperwork. Are you busy this afternoon, or can you come back to help with the next wall?”

“I... no, I’m not that busy,” Harry said, catching himself. Hermione would frown and make him feel guilty if she knew he was going into headquarters to visit Ron. It wasn’t like he was actually doing work, he thought rebelliously. He was just visiting, and if case files happened to fall into his hands, he wasn’t one to leave things just lying around. “I’ll come by.”

“Fantastic,” Hermione said, already halfway out the door with her purse and a bulging file folder. “I’ll see you then!” she called, and Harry was alone in the flat she and Ron were still only half-moved into after two months of planning which paint sample worked best in which room.

*

Everything would’ve been just fine, Harry thought moodily, if Shacklebolt hadn’t seen him looking through a file on Ron’s desk and ordered him to get out. Apparently he was violating the terms of his exile by visiting the office. He scuffed his foot along the floor, scowling. If only Shacklebolt would see that Harry needed to be doing something useful; he couldn’t just laze around for weeks on end without doing anything...

He’d thought vaguely of going to see if Hermione had any filing he could help with (the desperate couldn’t be choosy, after all,) but when he came across the door to the Ministry holding cells he hesitated. If he did go see Hermione, he’d have to endure her gentle reminders that life should have more than just work in it. Malfoy might be an insufferable prat, but at least he wouldn’t even dream about being insufferably helpful. And it had been years since he’d last seen Malfoy – he couldn’t quite deny the strange desire to see his old rival again.

The holding cells were always cold; Harry wondered sometimes if there were spells in the mortar between the stones of the walls to keep the temperature freezing. He nodded to the guard on duty with businesslike briskness, trying to seem nonchalant as he strode past her. She ignored him. He slowed as he began passing cells, glancing inside each one briefly before moving on.

They’d put Malfoy in the cell on the farthest end of the row, in the coldest section of the block. Harry drew in his breath sharply as he stopped in front of the cell door, feeling the blood drain from his face.

Both Malfoy’s eyes were blacked. The rest of his skin that Harry could see was mottled with surfacing bruises, and he held one arm carefully in his lap. Harry was prepared to bet it was dislocated. A gash above his left eyebrow still bled sluggishly, following a trail down his face to drip on his grey prison shirt. He looked exhausted and thoroughly beaten.

Malfoy opened his eyes to see who his visitor was and laughed once, a short, painful sound. “Potter,” he said resignedly, his voice a rasp. “Come to gloat? Add to the work your fellow Aurors started for you?”

“No!” Harry exclaimed, stung. He reached out to grip the bars of the cell, feeling the familiar heat of anger surging up in his belly. “I’d never...” he trailed off, remembering a time when he would have, when he had. “Who did this to you?”

Malfoy closed his eyes again. “Your people, of course. Elite special forces dedicated to saving the nation from Dark Lords and petty theft. Apparently I’m a danger to Britain.”

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it. He spun on his heel and marched back down the corridor to where the guard was busy flipping through the latest Witch Weekly. She looked up in confusion when he stopped in front of her desk and planted his hands on it, leaning forward.

“Excuse me,” he said, voice deceptively calm. “Could you tell me exactly how Mr. Malfoy incurred his injuries?”

She leaned back in her chair, unconcerned. “He was like that when he came in, sir. Resisted arrest.”

“He did no–” Harry cut himself off. He was supposed to be on holiday, he reminded himself; he wasn’t supposed to know about the circumstances of Malfoy’s arrest. “How long will it be until he’s transferred?” Prisoners awaiting trial were never kept in the Ministry cells for long, and at least in Azkaban the guards were monitored – there had been too many hard feelings after the war to chance it otherwise.

“He’ll be here for the duration of his trial, sir. It’s too dangerous to risk transferring him.”

Harry swore under his breath. There was no reason to believe whoever was beating Malfoy up would stop, but if it kept happening there was no way Malfoy would last until the trial. Where else could Malfoy go? He supposed he could talk to Shacklebolt, but he wasn’t even supposed to be at the Ministry and he’d much rather not get another tongue-lashing for trying to work while he was on holiday.

There was one other option, he thought, but... No, he told himself sternly. No way was he going to be Draco Malfoy’s keeper. No sodding way.

But in his head he could still see Dumbledore sagging back against the tower wall, offering Draco Malfoy sanctuary. He could still hear the fear in Malfoy’s voice on the tower that night just as he’d heard it in the Malfoy’s own house a hundred times during the war and even earlier, in Myrtle’s bathroom, hidden behind panic and burning anger.

He knew he couldn’t leave Malfoy there.

He sighed, shoulders slumping for just a moment before he straightened. “I’ll be taking Mr. Malfoy into protective custody,” he told the guard. “You’ll find the necessary bail money in my Gringott’s account.”

“But, Mr. Potter, sir,” the guard stuttered, “I don’t have the authority –”

Harry cut her off. “I have all the bloody authority you need,” he said, glaring down at her. “Anyone who has a problem can take it up with me.”

The prospect did not seem to comfort her. “He’ll... he’ll have to be under house arrest,” she offered timidly.

“Fine,” Harry told her. “My address is on file. 12 Grimmauld Place. London. Just get me his clothes and his wand.”

“His wand was snapped, sir.”

Harry closed his eyes in frustration. “Of course it was,” he said, silently cursing everyone he’d ever worked with. “Do you by any chance still have his robes, or did they burn those?” When she assured him they had Malfoy’s robes, he turned and walked back down the row of cells.

Malfoy didn’t even look up as he approached. “Go away, Potter,” he said. “Being here is painful enough without you to rub it in my face.”

“I’m here to get you out,” Harry said, laying his hand on the door and concentrating on the unlocking spell. The door clicked open. “You’ll be under house arrest at my place until the trial’s over.”

Malfoy looked at him, and a flash of the old anger flared briefly in his expression before he leaned back against the wall again, impassive. “Excellent,” he said, his voice flat. “We’re progressing to the extra-special forms of torture now. Living with Harry Potter, professional Savior. What a gift.”

“Come off it, Malfoy,” Harry snapped, irritated by the words and unnerved by Malfoy’s passiveness. “It can’t be worse than here.”

Malfoy didn’t reply.

“Look, are you coming or not?” Harry asked. “Because my patience has limits, you know, and you’re not exactly on the top of the list of people I like helping.”

Malfoy gave him a strange look, but he stood up and followed Harry down the corridor. He silently endured the guard as she placed layer after layer of spells on him: spells that ensured he couldn’t leave Harry’s house, spells so he wouldn’t be able to lift a finger against anyone, especially Harry, spells that made it impossible for him to use the Floo network at all, spells so sensitive to the possibility of escape that if he so much as stuck a hand through an open window the entire Ministry would be alerted.

It made Harry think of chains: he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were binding Malfoy to Harry irreversibly, weighing them both down into some dark pit. He signed off on all the forms she presented as quickly as he could before grabbing Malfoy’s arm and Apparating them both the hell out of that cold stone hole.

When they landed in the front hall of Grimmauld Place, Harry could hear Hermione calling from his Floo. He looked apologetically at Malfoy, who refused to meet his eyes.

“Look,” Harry said, keeping his voice low to avoid disturbing Mrs. Black’s portrait, which still hung stubbornly in the entryway. He’d long since given up on trying to pry it off the wall; he’d begun to suspect the portrait stayed up through the sheer perverse stubbornness of its subject and an unhealthy amount of Dark spells. “I’ve got to go see what she wants; sorry. Just go up to the second floor for now and, I don’t know, pick out a bedroom or something.”

Malfoy said nothing, but turned and started slowly up the stairs. Harry watched him go for a bit, off-balanced by the other man’s total lack of response, then sprinting to the Floo to catch Hermione’s call. “Harry!” she said when he skidded into view. “Is it true?”

He knelt down in front of the fire. “Is what true?” he asked, wary.

“You paid Malfoy’s bail? He’s under house arrest in your home?”

“Erm,” Harry said, stalling. “Maybe? How do you know?”

She waved his question off. “The department’s given me his case. I get updates every time he so much as crosses his eyes. Harry, do you have the slightest clue what you’ve done?”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “I put him up here until his trial’s over, make sure he doesn’t off himself or anyone else, and when it’s all done he probably goes to Azkaban. Big deal.”

Hermione looked as though she was torn between throttling him and cuffing his ear. “It is a big deal! No one wants to take on his defense – everyone we’ve approached has refused.”

“What does that have to do with me? Hermione, he was getting beaten up in there! At least here he’ll have a chance to live long enough to stand trial.”

“Harry,” Hermione said very sternly. “You know I love you dearly, and I know you can’t stand to step aside without saving people you think need saving, but really, did you stop to read the fine print on the forms you signed?”

Harry thought back. “Not really,” he said sheepishly. “I was sort of... preoccupied.”

Hermione made a noise somewhere between disgust and anguish. “Harry, if no one else will represent Malfoy... you have to.”

“I what?” Harry heard his voice rise several octaves, and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, I thought you just told me I had to be Malfoy’s legal defense.” He frowned. “That’s not funny, Hermione.”

“You’re bound to by law,” Hermione told him in a tone which brooked absolutely no argument.

He sat back on his heels, suddenly dizzy. “Hermione, the last time I had any kind of dealing with the Wizengamot I was fifteen and convinced I was about to be expelled from Hogwarts.”

“I know,” Hermione said reprovingly. “Which is why you are such a complete and unforgivable idiot.”

Harry stood up, reaching blindly back to catch himself on the table as he swayed back.

“Harry?” Hermione sounded concerned. “Look, maybe we’ll find someone. We haven’t asked –”

Without looking up, he waved his free hand vaguely in her direction, cutting her off. “I just... I need to think about things,” he said. His chest was closing, contracting; the edges of his sight were going slightly dim.

“Harry,” Hermione began again, but he stumbled out of the kitchen. Malfoy. Malfoy needed someone to defend him in front of the Wizengamot, and that someone would probably be Harry. Even if he felt any desire at all to stand up for Malfoy, what did he know about defending someone in a courtroom? He was supposed to put bad guys there so they could go to Azkaban, not get them out.

Christ, Malfoy was in his home. Harry wondered for a brief, mad minute if he could take Malfoy back to the Ministry, claim it was all some big mistake and get rid of him for good.

He looked up the stairs and saw Malfoy himself slumped down on a step halfway up, leaning against the railing, staring off into some middle distance above Harry’s head. The cut on his forehead had stopped bleeding, but between the gash and the surfacing black eye his eyelid was swollen shut. Harry paused, gnawing guilt worming its way back into his thoughts.

Malfoy might be an evil spoiled git, but did that mean he deserved this?

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose and gave a resigned sigh before climbing slowly up the stairs.

“Malfoy,” he said when he reached the other man. Malfoy gave no sign he’d heard. Harry tried again. “Malfoy!”

This time Malfoy cracked his good eye open. “Get the hell away from me, Potter. I don’t need your charity.”

“You’re sitting in the middle of my staircase,” Harry said testily. “I hate to disturb your beauty sleep, but you’re getting blood on my carpet. Come on.”

“Fuck off,” Malfoy told him, but slowly maneouvered himself upright. When Harry tried to help him up the rest of the stairs, he snapped: “I said fuck off, Golden Boy.”

Harry gave up and let him limp the rest of the way up the stairs. “Second door,” he said when Malfoy paused at the top, and followed the other man inside the room.

Malfoy regarded him wearily. “What do you want now?” he asked.

This close, Harry could see how exhausted Malfoy looked. There were crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes and mouth, and his face looked hollowed out. “I know a few healing charms,” Harry said. “They’re useful in the field. I thought I could fix your arm, at least.”

Malfoy squinted at him, looking suspicious, but after a moment seemed to decide it wasn’t worth it. “Fine,” he said shortly.

“Um,” said Harry, feeling awkward. “Okay. Sit down.” Malfoy sat and closed his eye, but Harry could practically feel the tension radiating from him. “I’m going to do something about your face, too,” he added as he approached Malfoy, wiping his palms on his robes before raising his wand.

Malfoy sat motionless as Harry healed him, his back ramrod straight, wincing only slightly at the crackling sound of his shoulder resetting. Finally Harry stepped back. “That should do it,” he said, and Malfoy opened his eyes again. His face still looked slightly tender – Harry knew his healing charms were not quite up to snuff – but it was a definite improvement. At least he could open both eyes now.

“I’ll let you settle in,” Harry said, moving toward the door. Malfoy didn’t even look up. “The bathroom’s down the hall, you’ll find it easily enough. You should wash some of that blood off.” He paused in the doorway, waiting for an acknowledgement of any sort, but none came. Finally he walked out and shut the door, leaning back against it heavily.

“Christ,” he said to the empty hallway, fighting the urge to curl up in a corner somewhere and hide. “What have I gotten myself into?”

*

“This way,” Hermione said, leading him briskly down the mazelike corridors of the Ministry, the clicking sound of her sensible shoes echoing off of the stone walls. Harry hurried to keep up with her, trying not to let the lurking sense of déjŕ vu overcome him.

“You know,” he remarked, trying hard to be nonchalant as he twitched instinctively away from an errant inter-office memo, “I haven’t been down here in ten years.”

Hermione paused just long enough to turn around a tight corner. “Through here,” she said before looking back at him. “Ten years?” she asked him, her eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Surely you’ve been down here more recently than that; you’re an Auror. Haven’t you had to testify for cases?”

“I send written ones,” Harry told her shortly. “It takes less time away from my real job.”

Hermione just shook her head. “You work too much,” she said, and before Harry could even open his mouth to deny such an absurd thing, she stopped, yanking open a massive door. Harry had to skip back a half-step to avoid getting knocked over as it swung open; beyond the doorway the room was dark. Hermione strode into the blackness, and with a practiced wave of her wand she sent light flooding out to illuminate what Harry now saw was an enormous courtroom.

He recognized it at once. He’d seen that complete toad, Dolores Umbridge, for the first time here in the Wizengamot just before his fifth year. He’d seen Igor Karkaroff here, chained and desperate and trying to buy his freedom at whatever price, Ludo Bagman looking nervous and awkward as he tried to smooth-talk his way out of a sentence, Crouch Jr. screaming as he was sentenced by his own father, Bellatrix Lestrange predicting Voldemort’s return even as she was dragged off to a life sentence in Azkaban. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to breathe through the weight of the memories.

The first thing he noticed after the press of memory subsided was the chains hanging from the chair in the center of the dungeon-like room. He remembered them from Dumbledore’s Pensieve too. Igor Karkaroff’s terrified face swam to the front of his mind.

“Hermione?” He swallowed, trying to call moisture back into his mouth. “Are... will they be using the chains during the trial.”

“Of course,” said Hermione, looking up from studying a note as she leaned against a desk set up near the dais Crouch had pronounced judgment from. “It’s standard procedure, for a case like this.”

“A case like... Hermione, it’s Malfoy. What’s he going to do, run away in the middle of court?”

Hermione set aside the memo and looked at him seriously. “He’s been a fugitive for years. Do you really think he’s going to stop running just because we’ve caught him?”

“Well, maybe not,” Harry hedged. “But chains? Are they really necessary?”

The look on Hermione’s face softened, and she crossed over to him. “Look,” she said quietly, giving him a pat on the shoulder, “I know this is going to be hard for you. But you have to remember he was a Death Eater. He took the Mark; he knew the consequences of doing that, and now he has to pay them.”

“He took it to save his family –”

“Save that kind of thing for the trial,” Hermione advised him, giving him a smile. “Now you know how to get here, and we can go to lunch like we were supposed to half an hour ago. I still can’t believe you’ve worked for the Aurors this long and have never been down here!”

“I was busy,” Harry said, feeling inexplicably grouchy as he followed Hermione back out the door. Malfoy probably did deserve it, he thought. What did his intentions matter if he’d still actually done horrible things other Death Eaters had gone to Azkaban for? Still, Harry couldn’t quite get past the vision of Malfoy wrapped in chains, screaming at Harry as Dementors dragged him bodily out of the courtroom...

“Busy, right,” Hermione said, and laughed. “We really need to get you out more.”

“Is it wrong to like my job?” Harry asked.

“It’s fine to like your job,” Hermione told him. “It’s not fine to be obsessed with your job.”

“I am not obsessed,” Harry retorted. This conversation was familiar territory, this was safe. He felt better, warmer, the damp chill of the dungeon courtroom receding.

Hermione gave a soft hmph full of fond exasperation and pushed the button for the elevator. “You’re taking a leave of absence for the trial, right?” she asked him. “You can’t possibly do both at the same time.”

“Yeah,” he said as the elevator dinged to a stop in front of them and they stepped on. “I already talked to Shacklebolt about it. I think he was actually happy to hear I was taking more time off.” The evil git, he added silently.

The elevator doors slid closed. “Let’s go to that little café down the street,” Harry said. “It’s close – I don’t want you to be late for your meeting this afternoon after wasting time showing me around.”

Hermione smiled back at him. “Thanks,” she said. “We can go somewhere else, though, if you’d rather. I can let them know I’ll be late.”

“That’s alright,” he said quickly. He didn’t tell her that he had a sudden compulsion to get home, to make sure Malfoy was still alive, still relatively unbruised and whole.

“Good.” Hermione settled back against the wall of the elevator, tucking stray wisps of hair behind her ear. “Now tell me about how your holiday was going before you went completely mad and took Malfoy under your protection.”

*

That night, Harry sat in an old armchair in the library at Grimmauld Place and stared moodily into his scotch. The chair in the Ministry courtroom kept popping up in his thoughts, taunting him. Malfoy sat in it, chained, as Harry tried to plead with a sea of faces he didn’t recognize. In his head, Hermione’s sensible voice said It’s standard procedure; a voice that sounded suspiciously like Ron’s remarked He deserves it, its tone ugly with distaste before the world tilted, twisting with vengeful clarity, and the scene changed. Bellatrix threw back her head and laughed, and suddenly Malfoy became Crouch Jr., screaming and screaming as the Wizengamot sentenced him to life in Azkaban and his father looked on, stone-faced.

Harry jerked awake, gasping, cold sweat beading his forehead. The fire had died down to coals, and his scotch was tilting precariously in his lap. He picked the glass up and set it on the end table next to him before leaning forward to rest his head in his hands. The dream unnerved him; he felt as if the carefully tucked-in threads of his life were slowly fraying. Bellatrix's laughter still rang in his dream -- why was he glad she’d spent over a decade in Azkaban while the prospect of Malfoy spending the rest of his life in a cell sent filled him with cold dread? Bellatrix had undeniably done evil things in the service of the Dark Lord, but Draco had done terrible things too, hadn't he? He'd let Death Eaters into Hogwarts. At the very least he'd seen horrors and hadn't spoken up against them, hadn't taken Dumbledore's offer of escape; instead, he'd taken the Dark Mark. He was a coward and a bully: Harry knew that firsthand. He probably did deserve prison.

But Harry still remembered the look on Malfoy's face on the Tower the night that Dumbledore had died. He remembered the times he'd seen Malfoy during the year Harry had spent huddled in a tent with Ron and Hermione, cold and miserable. Malfoy had been terrified, that much had been clear, and that, Harry thought, made a difference. Bellatrix had enjoyed obeying Voldemort's every command, had gone above and beyond her orders to inflict pain on her victims. Malfoy had hated it, perhaps even feared it.

Harry sat back in his chair again with a sigh, staring at the coals of the fire in front of him. He still didn't like Malfoy, but he supposed that he didn't really want to see him shipped off to Azkaban, either. He wasn’t sure about anything anymore. He thought that joining the Aurors would make things right, give him a purpose again in life; instead it just ruined his relationships and apparently made him obsessed with work, and still he felt off-kilter, purposeless.

Turning to pick up his scotch again, Harry nearly missed seeing the slight movement in the far corner of the room. He tensed, hand creeping toward his wand before he shook himself. The wards on Grimmauld Place were strong, perhaps even as strong as those on the Ministry. It was highly unlikely that an intruder had gotten in, which left only the possibility of Malfoy. But what was Malfoy doing sneaking around in the middle of the night? Harry felt his interest perk up. Maybe Malfoy was finally showing his true colors, about to resume his old role in making Harry's life a total misery.

“Malfoy?” Harry ventured, and the movement stilled. “I know you're there.”

Malfoy paused, apparently considering, then moved slowly into the light. He looked even gaunter than usual with the firelight playing on his skin. Harry had given him some old robes to wear, and they hung off his frame, making him look small and frail. Harry felt a brief sting of guilt – he remembered having to wear Dudley's old clothes, and wondered if Malfoy felt the same way about wearing his. Maybe he should get Malfoy some new robes to wear to his trial.

“You can sit, if you want,” Harry offered after the silence between them had stretched on a bit too long for comfort. Malfoy just studied him with narrowed eyes, his shoulders hunched up and his face betraying nothing. Harry shifted, feeling awkward. “What?” he asked, irritated at himself for feeling so uncomfortable around Malfoy, of all people. Spitting mad should be the order of the day when dealing with Malfoy, not silence tinged with forced, self-conscious comments.

Something about Malfoy had changed. In the few days he'd been at Grimmauld Place, he'd barely spoken. Harry thought he was eating – occasionally he'd see things out of place in the kitchen – but he never actually saw Malfoy around the house. If he pretended, Harry was nearly positive he'd be able to make himself believe Malfoy had never even been inside Grimmauld Place. The thought was disturbing. Before, Malfoy had existed to make Harry's life miserable, to make underhanded comments about Gryffindors, the Weasleys, or Hermione. He was supposed to be a thorn, thoroughly irritating to the point of being painful to talk to. He was emphatically not supposed to be a non-entity, mysteriously passive and absent from nearly every aspect of Harry's life when he'd been sure to make himself so very present before.

The new Malfoy disturbed Harry. He'd never imagined he might miss Malfoy's bile, but a quiet Malfoy was just not Malfoy. Something had broken inside him, Harry suspected, either during the war or afterward. He wished there was some way to make Malfoy react to something, anything, with even a little bit of his old spirit.

Harry had nearly given up on any hope of a conversation when Malfoy spoke. “Why did you do it?” he asked abruptly, startling Harry into nearly spilling his drink again.

Steadying his drink, Harry asked: “Do what?”

Malfoy didn’t look at Harry. “That time in the Room. With the...” he hesitated. “The Fiendfyre. Why didn’t you leave me there?”

“I’d never do that!” Harry said, indignant. “I couldn’t have just left you there.”

“Your friends were ready to,” Malfoy shot back, finally raising his eyes.

Harry sat forward in his chair, willing Malfoy to keep the eye contact. “That’s not how I work. Too many people had died already. I didn’t need you to, as well.” He pushed away the memory of Cedric, of Fred, of Remus and Tonks, concentrating instead on the man in front of him, who seemed to hunch over more at his words.

“I see.” Malfoy said after a brief pause, his voice curt. “Thank you for enlightening me.”

Harry blinked in confusion. “Aren’t you glad you didn’t die?” he demanded. “Would you rather I’d left you there to die?”

Malfoy turned away without answering. Harry sat back, staring at Malfoy in disbelief and dawning comprehension. “You do, don’t you. You actually wish I’d left you there. Malfoy,” he said, “you might have been a complete prick, but there was no way I was going to leave you there to burn alive.”

“Why not?” Malfoy asked quietly, his back still turned. “What if it was exactly what I deserved?”

Harry gaped at him. “No one deserves that,” he said finally. “And even so... you wouldn’t deserve it anyway.”

“How do you know what I deserve? You know nothing about me, about what I’ve done.”

“I know enough,” Harry said, getting up out of his chair. “I know what really happened on the Tower the night Dumbledore died. I know you didn’t kill him.”

Malfoy stiffened at the mention of Dumbledore. “I could’ve.”

“No,” Harry replied, approaching Malfoy cautiously. “I don’t think you could’ve. You’re not evil, Malfoy. You didn’t want to kill him.”

Malfoy moved away as Harry drew near. “Does it make a difference? I would’ve, and that’s enough for the Wizengamot.”

Harry stopped, trying furiously to think of something to say, but nothing came to him. “It shouldn’t be,” he said. “And...” And I’m on your side, he wanted to say, but he thought maybe that would be too horribly arrogant. “I’m going to fight it,” he ended lamely.

Malfoy snorted, and for a brief moment Harry thought maybe the old Malfoy was about to shine through, but no biting comment followed. Instead, Malfoy walked slowly out the door of the library, shoulders still weighed down by some invisible weight. He paused, briefly, before he turned down the hall and disappeared further into the darkened house. “You shouldn’t bother,” he said, so low Harry wasn’t quite sure he’d caught it, and then he was gone, slipping silently out of the dim light cast by the fire.

“Good night,” Harry said to the empty room. He stood and watched the fire burn even lower, thinking about Malfoy and his hollowed cheeks and the defeated tone in his voice. Malfoy would see the light eventually, would see that Harry was serious about the fighting. Harry wasn’t about to let them drag Malfoy off to Azkaban, even if the entire Wizarding world wanted to see him there.

*

MALFOY TRIAL ENTERS THIRD WEEK
Daily Prophet Exclusive Coverage
25 November, London

The trial of Draco Malfoy began its third week of proceedings today in the Wizengamot before a packed chamber. The defendant, who was arrested at his former home in Wiltshire last month, faces the serious charge of the murder of Albus Dumbledore, as well as multiple charges of war crimes for his role during the Second War. Hermione Granger-Weasley, a senior member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, has been representing the Ministry in its prosecution of the case, with war hero Harry Potter acting as defense for the accused.

“We have every confidence the Wizengamot will mete out proper justice,” commented Gawain Robards, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and former Head of the Aurors in an interview this morning. One can only hope this will be the case.

*

HARRY POTTER: MAN OF MYSTERY
Rita Skeeter EXCLUSIVE for Witch Weekly
16 December, London

This reporter has finally received the chance to observe the trial of Mr. Draco Malfoy from the public gallery of the Wizengamot, and is proud to present exclusive coverage of the event for this esteemed publication.

The defendant looked every bit the haughty Malfoy today in navy blue custom-made robes from Twilfit & Tatting’s, and in keeping with his prideful image, refused to make any comments upon leaving the courtroom. When pressed, his attorney, Mr. Harry Potter, gave this reporter a few extremely rude suggestions regarding what she could do with her quill.

Mr. Potter was quite dashing as well in his own well-fitted black robes, although personally this reporter would like to see him in something slightly more revealing, and is sure many of her readers share the same sentiment! Mr. Potter remains one of the most eligible bachelors in Britain after his break-up with long-time girlfriend Ginevra Weasley.

The circumstances surrounding the separation of these two sweethearts have yet to be illuminated: Ms. Weasley, who is currently traveling with the Holyhead Harpies, could not be reached for comment, and Mr. Potter, a notoriously private man, refused all offers of an exclusive interview.

In fact the Man Who Lived seems to be quite busy enough with the trial of Mr. Malfoy, a former Death Eater. One cannot help but wonder what on earth sparked this particular unlikely partnership, though rumors have been running wild regarding the surprising revelation that Mr. Potter is housing Mr. Malfoy in his own home for the duration of the trial. Rest assured, dear readers, that this reporter will not rest until she uncovers the true facts surrounding Mr. Potter’s mysterious behavior.

*

Harry couldn’t tell when he’d started noticing Malfoy. He’d been watching the other man since taking him into his home, of course, but now he noticed little things about him, paid attention to the strangest habits. He knew Malfoy accidentally burned his toast with startling regularity and glazed it with just the slightest bit of marmalade, knew he liked to do the crossword in the Prophet but never actually read the paper, knew he liked to brush his teeth wearing only his pants.

He found out about the teeth-brushing thing by accident, really. Walking in on someone in the bathroom was a perfectly legitimate mistake, and he knew he shouldn’t dwell on it. But the image of Malfoy looking around in surprise, toothbrush sticking out of his mouth, the smooth skin of his arms and chest still damp from the shower and his wet hair sticking up in strange directions, seemed to be stuck in Harry’s mind, burned into the insides of his eyelids. Malfoy had looked so normal, standing there barely dressed with a bemused expression on his face before ordering Harry out.

Harry wanted to make him look that normal more often. He tried to coax it out of Malfoy, and secretly rejoiced when the other man showed a spark of his old, contrary self. He learned to look for the little signals: the corner of Malfoy’s mouth turning up in a small smile, the slight rolling of his eyes when he thought Harry was being particularly dense. It became easier to do as time went on.

The trial was grueling. Harry knew, as he sat surrounded by files and papers and scribbled notes, that it was taking a toll on both of them, but that only made him work harder. If Malfoy needed someone to show him life was worth fighting for, Harry was more than willing to do it.

It surprised him, how much he wanted Malfoy to care about living. Part of him put it down to the effects of actually having died and come back, but a quiet part of his mind kept prodding that assumption, making it feel uncomfortable and not quite right. The quiet part noticed if Malfoy’s jumper rode up when he stretched and whether or not he licked his fingers after he ate his toast. Mostly, Harry did his best to ignore that part of his consciousness. There were more important things to worry about.

Right now, he thought as he trudged along, hands buried deep in his pockets and face tucked into his scarf, more important things included what exactly he was going to say at Ron and Hermione’s. They were throwing their first party in their new flat and he had been given explicit instructions to show up, but the closer he got to their flat the heavier his feet felt.

It wasn’t exactly that the three of them had grown further apart. He knew Hermione was just doing her job and Ron was just doing his, and that when Hermione ripped his defense apart on the floor of the Wizengamot or Ron sent him an owl full of meaningful hints to finish things up so he could get back what he was ‘supposed’ to be doing, they were only doing their jobs well. He knew that, but that knowledge didn’t really help him when he was feeling low. It didn’t keep him from feeling cheated when he realized that they had their jobs and each other and a nice flat with bright curtains in the windows, and he was stuck defending his schoolboy rival in a criminal case where nearly all the cards were stacked against him while living with said rival in a dank old house full of Dark objects which still periodically tried to eat him.

The Christmas season only made it worse, he thought gloomily as he turned onto Ron and Hermione’s street. The same time the year before he’d been happy at his job, wondering vaguely about asking Ginny to move in with him and generally enjoying life. But that, he thought, was before Ginny had informed him that he was more dedicated to the Aurors than to her, that she was leaving to go on tour with the Harpies until further notice, and that she’d send him an owl if she wanted to get back in touch. That was before his boss had apparently decided to agree with Ginny and send him on an enforced holiday. That was before he’d seen Malfoy in a Ministry holding cell and taken him home in a fit of insanity.

The door to Ron and Hermione’s flat was red, and had a cheerful looking wreath hanging from a hook. He could hear music and laughter from inside, filtering through the crack between the bottom of the door and the floorboards. He knew it would be warm in the flat and that it would smell like Mrs. Weasley’s cooking. He’d see Hermione look at Ron when she thought no one else was watching and smile so radiantly Harry was half-surprised it didn’t actually light up. He knew Ginny would be there, looking beautiful and still smelling like her favorite flowery perfume.

He wondered what Malfoy was doing, what Malfoy might have been doing if he wasn’t stuck in Harry’s house while he waited for the Wizengamot’s decision.

Turning, Harry walked away. He Apparated once he was far enough from the door that no one would hear the popping noise as he disappeared. The party would probably be more cheerful without him, anyway.

He found Malfoy in the kitchen, staring into a mug of tea. Malfoy blinked up at him in surprise.

“I thought you were going to a party.”

“Yeah,” said Harry, shrugging. “So did I.”

“Oh,” Malfoy said, and for a moment looked as if he wanted to ask more questions, but instead sunk back down and resumed the staring contest with his tea.

Harry was struck with a sudden idea. “We need a drink.”

“What?”

“A drink. I’ve got nothing to celebrate, and you’ve got even less. Drinking will make things not quite as dreadful.” Also, he added silently, maybe Malfoy would open up more under the effects of alcohol, be more alive. He got two glasses and a bottle of Old Ogden’s out of a cupboard, watching Malfoy surreptitiously as he sat down and placed a glass in front of him.

Malfoy shook his head. “You are ridiculous, Potter. You should be with your friends, not some convict who’s about to be shipped off to Azkaban for life.”

“You’re not a convict yet,” Harry said, pouring whiskey into both glasses. “Besides, even if you were, you wouldn’t be the first convict I’ve spent Christmas with. Cheers.” He raised his glass, clinked it against Malfoy’s, and drained it, wincing as the alcohol burned its way down his throat. Christ, he’d needed that. He poured himself another one before pushing the bottle across to Malfoy.

“Bottoms up,” said Malfoy, trying but not quite succeeding in sounding resigned, and threw back his own drink.

An hour later, they were both sprawled on the couch. Harry was laughing. “And then,” he gasped, “he almost weeps with happiness when I tell him already have the book.”

“That book nearly took my finger off,” Malfoy said. “It was a menace to society.”

Harry looked up at Malfoy from where he lay, squinting a bit to bring the other man’s face into focus. “Hagrid was a good professor,” he said sternly. “You were wrong about that.”

“Hagrid thought raising a dragon in his wooden hut was a good idea,” Malfoy pointed out, the slightest hint of his old drawl threading his voice. “Also, three words for you. Blast Ended Skrewts.”

Harry thought for a minute. “Okay,” he said, “that was pretty horrible. But he was a good person.” He rolled onto his stomach and propped himself up on his elbows so he could see Malfoy better.

Malfoy was smiling, his cheeks flushed and his hair slightly mussed. Harry thought he looked real, finally real and alive and the thought sent a hot shiver down his spine to pool with the heat from the Ogden’s in his belly. “You think everyone’s a good person,” Malfoy said. “I’m surprised you haven’t been mugged in a dark alley somewhere yet.”

“Not true,” Harry replied cheerfully. “Lockheart. I thought Lockheart was pretty terrible, all around. With the pixies and the autographs and all.”

Malfoy put back his head and laughed, a low, pleasant sound. Harry watched his mouth and tried to think of more ways to make Malfoy laugh.

“Yes,” Malfoy said, reaching out, “Lockheart was singularly awful.” For a single, breathless moment, he tangled his fingers in Harry’s hair, smoothing it down once before drawing back once more.

Harry’s brain seemed to have stopped working. Somehow, Malfoy’s touch had frozen something and now he could only watch as Malfoy looked at his hand in puzzlement, as if it had done something completely without his consent or knowledge. Harry wondered if Malfoy’s hands were as soft as they looked, and wished he’d go back to scratching Harry’s head.

“Arms,” Harry finally blurted out when the silence stretching between them had been going on for quite long enough. “Funny things, arms. They do strange... things.”

Malfoy tore his gaze away from his hand to look at Harry, and Merlin, now Harry wanted to touch his face and something was wrong with him, because he shouldn’t want to run his fingers over Malfoy’s lips or find out what Malfoy’s skin tasted like.

Then he realized that Malfoy’s face was excruciatingly close to his own, and that Malfoy’s breath smelled like whiskey and vaguely of cinnamon, and that Malfoy had just the slightest powder of pale freckles across his nose. He looked up to meet Malfoy’s eyes, bright and wary and weirdly eager all at once, and knew he was lost.

He was leaning forward, to what end his sane mind couldn’t tell, when the alarm went off.

Harry had specially designed the wards on Grimmauld Place. All were tuned particularly to him, and each had their own subtle way of alerting him. He felt the insistent, painful pull of one behind his left ear and sat up fully, putting a finger on his lips to warn Malfoy into silence. The intruder wouldn’t have noticed the alarm being set off, even if they’d broken the ward themselves, which gave him a little time to prepare. The particular ward that had fallen was in an upstairs bedroom, but now that he was tuned into his wards, Harry could sense the intruder was moving purposefully through the rooms, making his way quickly toward the stairs.

He motioned for Malfoy to get down behind the couch, and Malfoy obeyed, face grey and hollowed again with worry. Harry crept forward, wand at the ready, feeling heady with the thrill of the chase. He knew every creaky board in Grimmauld Place, every potentially deadly curtain cord, every dark shadowy nook to hide in. The intruder had nowhere to hide, nowhere to escape from Harry.

Whoever it was had reached the stairs now; Harry could hear the telltale creak of the top step. He eased himself back into a dark corner of the hall, stepping carefully around the troll leg umbrella stand he’d never gotten around to throwing away. Two steps down, three, and the prowler hit the uneven step Harry had tripped over for the first four months he’d lived in Grimmauld Place. Harry could hear the stumble and the groan of the handrail as the intruder grabbed it and hung on, heard the sharp intake of breath and a softly muttered oath. He waited.

No sooner had the trespasser’s dark form stepped off of the last stair than Harry attacked. It was almost a disappointment, how easily he overcame the other man. The intruder was obviously inexperienced; he whirled as Harry flew out of the darkness at him, yelling a Stunning spell as his eyes went wide with panic. Harry ducked the spell, but the curtains over the portrait of Sirius’s mother whipped open.

“FILTH! HALFBLOODS AND ROBBERS LIVING IN MY HOUSE...” she screamed, froth flecking the corners of her mouth, but Harry had heard it all before and tuned her out. As the other man stumbled back, staring in horrified fascination at the portrait, Harry hit him with a quick succession of spells, gagging and binding him with practiced sweeps of his wand.

“SCUM OF THE EARTH!” wailed Mrs. Black. “NEVER IN ALL MY DAYS DID I DREAM I WOULD SEE THE HOUSE OF BLACK IN THE HANDS OF...”

“Oh shut up,” Harry said wearily, grabbing the curtains and giving them a mighty tug so they covered the portrait again. Mrs. Black subsided into a muffled muttering, and Harry turned back to study the man who’d broken into his house.

He was young and slightly pudgy, with light brown hair and an anxious expression that had made a permanent crease between his eyebrows. He didn’t look the type for home invasion, Harry thought critically. With a wave of his wand, he Levitated the man and silently maneuvered him through the hallway into the kitchen, setting him down in a wooden chair slightly harder than he perhaps should have and sending the cords that already bound him looping around the chair legs, securing him.

“Now,” he said pleasantly, sitting down in another chair and propping his legs up on the table, “tell me what you’re doing in my house.”

The man made a muffled sound around the gag, and Harry Vanished it lazily.

“You weren’t supposed to be here,” the man babbled. “Take the Death Eater, they said, he’s trouble. Danger, they said, but you couldn’t do anything. Harry Potter needed help, that’s what they told me, and they showed me how to get in and all, but you weren’t to be harmed, promise! Sir,” he added as an afterthought, looking pleadingly at Harry.

Swinging his legs down from the table and leaning forward, Harry narrowed his eyes. “Who sent you?” he asked, keeping his voice sharp. “Who sent you into my house to kidnap my guest?” Prisoner, really, he supposed, but Malfoy had never been just a prisoner.

“Why, the Aurors, sir,” the man said. “You think I would’ve crawled into Harry Potter’s house if just anyone asked me?” He looked affronted that Harry had even considered the possibility.

Harry stood up, suddenly cold. He raised his wand, shaking only slightly from anger, and the man looked up at him, terrified. “You are going to go back to the Aurors,” Harry informed him, “and you are going to tell them if they ever, ever pull something like this again I will not be responsible for the consequences. You will go directly to the Ministry and relay this message, and then you will never come near me or my house again. If I see you here again, I will kill you. Are we clear?”

The man jerked his head up and down furiously, apparently unable to speak. Harry released him from the chair and unraveled the cords around his legs, but kept his hands tied as he pushed him down the hall and out the door. As an afterthought, he threw the man’s wand out after him, then stood in the doorway, arms crossed, watching the man flee down the street as fast as his legs could carry him.

Malfoy was waiting for him when he closed the door. Harry leaned back wearily against the wall, trying to read Malfoy’s expression. He could feel a headache niggling at his temples. The last thing he needed was any kind of confrontation with Malfoy.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Malfoy said, and Harry blinked.

“Actually,” he replied, trying to keep his voice level. “This is exactly why you need to be here.”

“They’re never going to stop,” Malfoy pointed out. “You might as well get out of this while they still like you.”

Harry pushed back his thoughts about Ron. Blame and the kind of painful arguments that only come with the ripping of a friendship had to wait for another day. “They can think whatever they like. You’d be dead anywhere else.”

Malfoy said nothing, but Harry didn’t need him to. He crossed to Malfoy and grabbed the front of his robes, shaking him. “You’re not going to die,” he ground out. “You deserve better than death. Malfoy,” he said when Malfoy’s distant expression didn’t change, “what do I have to do to make you see that?”

Anger finally flared in Malfoy’s eyes. “No,” he said, “what do I have to do to make you see? I don’t need you to try and save me, Potter. Go away and play the hero for your friends; I never bought that act for a minute.”

“I’m not going to leave,” Harry said, “And you can’t leave, so we’re stuck here together and you might as well answer my question.”

The look Malfoy gave him might have killed someone with a weaker disposition. “You won’t leave anything alone,” he hissed, shoving Harry away. “You can’t just let anyone be, no: you have to pick at things that should be left alone.”

“I don’t pick at people,” Harry objected. “I’m trying to help you, you git –”

“Help me? You don’t want me to die because you can’t live with your guilty conscience.” Malfoy’s voice was venomous, accusing.

Harry sputtered with indignation. “No, I want you to live.”

Malfoy shrugged. “What’s the difference?” he asked bitterly. “It all goes back to massaging your hero complex anyway.”

Harry’s head was buzzing, the ache in his temple becoming more insistent, but he couldn’t concentrate on it, couldn’t focus on anything except Malfoy’s scowl and the lonely darkness he could see behind it in Malfoy’s eyes, couldn’t take his eyes off of the smooth curve of Malfoy’s jaw.

This is the difference,” he said, and pulled Malfoy to him, sending them crashing together. Malfoy’s nose banged against his own, Malfoy’s hair was in Harry’s eyes and it was all uncomfortable and not quite right, but then Harry tilted his head just enough and suddenly everything fit.

Malfoy’s lips were soft and warm – why had Harry never thought of Malfoy as warm, as a human being throwing off unbearable heat that Harry wanted to curl up against, soak in until he caught fire? Harry unclenched his hands from where they were buried in Malfoy’s robes, smoothed them over Malfoy’s chest and pushed the other man back against the wall. Malfoy pressed back against him then, shock giving way as his lips moved against Harry’s own. His hands came up to tug Harry’s unruly hair, pulling Harry closer, further into the slick heat of his mouth, and Harry slid his hands around Malfoy’s shoulders, down his arms, moving constantly, almost without Harry’s will to guide them, powered only by the sheer necessity of touching Malfoy. Malfoy was warm and solid and beautiful in the darkness of the hallway, and the tiny part of Harry’s mind that was not completely focused on exploring Malfoy’s skin as much as possible was shocked at how much he needed him, how deep the sharp loss went when Malfoy pulled away, his lips dark and swollen.

“You can’t save me,” Malfoy said, but his voice was husky, tinged with uncertainty and desire.

Harry said nothing, just growled and pulled Malfoy in for another kiss. It was hard and frantic and far too short, but before Harry could complain Malfoy was giving him fluttering kisses just beneath his ear, marking a trail along his jaw and down his neck that sent heat flashing through Harry, leaving him breathless, and he needed more.

He scrabbled with the buttons on Malfoy’s robes – whoever had decided buttons needed to be tiny and impossible to undo was an evil, bitter masochist, Harry thought, and should be shot or burned at the stake or made to unbutton robes when every nerve in their body was screaming. He got one, two undone before giving up and just ripping, ignoring Malfoy’s soft gasp though he couldn’t ignore the way Malfoy arched up against him, and there was Malfoy’s pale chest, laid bare for Harry.

“Can I?” he asked, breathless and lightheaded either from lack of oxygen or the pure madness of the whole thing: the compulsion to touch Malfoy, to make him squirm and cry out and remember what it felt like to live.

“If you stop now,” Malfoy said, “I will have to kill you,” and they were kissing again, Harry running his hands over Malfoy’s skin, losing himself in the silky slide of Malfoy under his fingers until Malfoy trembled, arching beneath him and throwing back his head and biting his lip until Harry was sure he’d draw blood. He was beautiful, Harry thought, and realized too late he might’ve said that aloud as Malfoy gave him a curious look.

But before he had time to even think about being embarrassed, Malfoy was touching him, almost burning him with the heat from his body until all of Harry’s nerves pulled together and exploded, leaving him panting, leaning limply against Malfoy, who had his fingers locked in Harry’s damp hair.

He reached up to touch Malfoy, running a finger along his jaw line to make sure he was really there. Malfoy looked down and gave him something that was not quite a smile, but was a good deal closer to the expression than Harry had seen him give yet.

Perhaps, Harry thought, showing Malfoy that life was worth living was going to be easier than he expected.

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