He was a Malfoy, and they didn't need sheltering.
He'd walked away, which had prompted its own slew of responses, from relief to disgust - "What else did you expect?" He'd taken them all in his stride. Malfoys had never been people to excite tepid reactions.
Only one person had really mattered, anyway. And that person had simply regarded him seriously from behind his glasses, with too much aplomb and dignity for someone his age. Events had aged him. Circumstance had stripped his childhood away and made it an adult who nodded, and offered his blessing. "Take care, Malfoy. Keep in touch."
He'd been Draco the night before, now he was Malfoy. That was the way it went. He shook the offered hand, and left their lives. He wasn't one of them, never really had been.
He still went out, in the earlier years, tried to build something for himself in the new world that was taking shape. In vain. Everything was clouded with the taint of his father, of what he had wrought that had fallen but still seemed much more solid than anything Draco might attempt.
"We haven't forgotten," they hissed at him, and did they think that it was likely Draco would? He might have burnt Lucius' private study in its entirety as his first action upon returning home, but he still kept the imposing portrait in the dining room, toasted his father's likeness every evening with the bitter dregs of the dinner wine. His father's cane had survived the fire that consumed him, and Draco carried it, because he may be a Malfoy, but he would never forget.
After a few years, he mainly stayed at home. There was plenty to occupy him in the echoing Malfoy Manor. Knowledge to be unearthed, some studies to continue and others to burn all evidence of. A lineage to sanctify and reorder. Visitors to be entertained - friends always welcome - and courtesies returned. Pleasures to be taken, here and there. It wasn't as dull as all that.
But mostly, he wanted to avoid the world. Avoid the parts that would look at him with disapproval - or worse, with pity. Even more, he wanted to avoid those parts that thought a Malfoy would be interested in their insidious, whispered schemes. As if the very name bequeathed malice and rebellion.
They had been great once. They'd been something to be proud of. Oh, rest assured, Draco was never going to forget his fucking father.
He didn't want unwelcome visitors, be they disenchanted younger sons with dreams of sedition or just brats wanting to heave a brick through his window. He had wards woven around the house whenever he wasn't expecting company. Subtle wards, gentle wards, but strong and excluding.
Still, somehow, when he woke up one morning, there was an owl sitting at the end of his bed, letter in beak. It was a modest enough bird, small and unassuming, but the fact that it had made it into his bedchamber without raising an alarm meant it had to have been sent by a wizard more powerful than he. Which still left a large number of candidates, but Draco knew of only one who would dare.
Sure enough, when he held out a hand and the bird dropped the missive onto his palm, it was sealed with the new Potter coat of arms.
New, of course, was a relative term. Potter had taken them immediately after the War, melding together all the significant marks, the reminders of what had been won, and lost, and at what cost. Draco's eyes skittered over each emblem, not wanting to dwell on the old stories. The lightning bolt slashed through the centre of it all.
All part of Potter's public image now. Draco supposed most of society didn't even blink at it. But it was new in the grand scheme of things, and relatively new to Draco.
He hadn't seen it in years.
He sat in bed, covers round his waist, hair loose against his shoulders, and turned the letter over in his hands. The fires were already lit in the room, dispelling the chill. Last night, the morning to come had seemed to be just one more winter's morning in a neverending line of them. Now, suddenly, he was holding a letter from a man he hadn't seen in ten years, and everything about the day was strange.
He kept a dagger under his pillow; with a small smile, he used it to break the seal, split it right through the middle of that lightning bolt.
There were two papers in the letter. One was an invitation, gilt and official - "Lord Harry Potter beseeches the company of... etc, etc". Draco passed it over for the accompanying note, just half a page of handwriting he almost recognised from school. Time and use had given the hand firmness and confidence, but it still wavered here and there, and Draco found himself scanning the lines for those discrepancies without reading the words themselves.
He started again.
I stopped sending you these after a couple of years. I got tired of your refusals, however politely phrased. But it's been ten years now. I thought I'd try again. It would be good to see you.
Draco picked up the invitation again, tapped the stiff card against his palm. In the centre, "The Council" was embossed and curliqued, the ribbons unfurling and curling around the words as he watched. The title of the stupid event still amused Draco; it was all Potter. Everyone else had been vying for grandiose names - the Unicorn Assembly, the Alabaster Union - but Harry had resisted them all. Simple. Straight-forward. The invitations might be ornate, but the concept was without pretentions, and entirely businesslike. Something that needed to be done, he'd said. We can't be complacent. We can't just drift back into ritual.
They'd been standing in the ashes, so exhausted it hadn't really sunk in that they'd won, and he'd already been looking to the future.
Draco left the letter on his bedside table when he got up to dress and take breakfast. There were still things to be done, no matter how much the morning mail had changed the day.
Halfway through the morning he stopped trying to concentrate. Set down his quill and took up his wand. The letter was summoned with a gesture and a word. He discarded the invitation again, in favour of the note.
The light was better at the window, and he took the letter there to read it again. He summoned his valet.
Draco refolded the note, tapped it against his chin. "I will be taking a short trip."
"Very good, sir."
He was shown into the drawing room with merely an announcement of: "Draco Malfoy."
Draco was used to slightly more verbose heraldry, but the stifled gasps, the hissed reactions - "What's he doing here?" - were more than enough fanfare. The room was bright and crowded with resplendent witches and wizards, and his entrance had caused quite a stir. He ignored the quizzical looks of those who clearly didn't know who he was - they'd be told soon enough, he was sure - and paused just inside the doorway, scanning the crowd for the only one who really mattered.
He heard him before he saw him. "Sorry," a voice said, a voice he remembered even after ten years, even enough to slot in the inevitable alterations age would work upon it. Draco turned as the voice continued: "We don't use titles much at these things."
Age had altered appearance too, the way Draco knew it had himself. The face more careworn, stronger, leaner. The dark hair slightly less of a mess. He was well-dressed, he stood with confidence; he had grown into the man the boy had always threatened to become. But nothing would ever shift the determination, the earnest set of Potter's expression. Nothing would ever change the fact that he was Harry Potter. Draco found he was almost glad of it.
Potter grinned, and that hadn't changed either. It was still like the sun coming out. It couldn't have been ten years since Draco had last seen it. "I'm glad you came."
"Wouldn't have missed it for the world." Draco kept his voice cold and slightly distant as they shook hands.
It had been too long, and not long enough.
"Come on, there are some people who'll be pleased to see you."
"I doubt it," Draco murmured quietly, but he yielded to the pressure Harry didn't quite exert with a hand on the small of Draco's back, and followed him across the room.
The other guests were returning to their own conversations. Here and there eyes lingered, but Draco kept his own gaze moving over the crowd. He caught his hand rising to smooth his hair, back where it was pulled into its low queue, and forced it to stillness by wrapping his fingers around his cane.
Their destination was a spot by the grand fireplace, and the recognisable couple ensconced in an armchair there, the man perched on the arm of the woman's chair. "Draco, you remember Ron and Hermione, of course."
"Of course," he agreed, and shifted the cane to his left hand as he leaned forward, offering a hand. Ron half-rose from his position to shake hands. "Weasley. You're looking well." He was, too: as tall as Draco now and broader across the shoulders. Some people had kept growing, apparently. He was wreathed in the casual energy all the Weasleys had, that had seemed clumsy and puppyish when they were children, but as adults gave them an air of inherent capability. He almost looked comfortable in his evening dress.
"You too, Malfoy," Ron returned, face closed and serious. Then a corner of his mouth twitched. "The hair doesn't make you look even a little bit like a girl."
Draco ignored that, turning his attention to Hermione. "And Mrs Weasley. Lovely to see you again."
Hermione placed her hand in his, and politely said: "Likewise", though her tone indicated she was reserving judgement on just how lovely it was. Sometime in the last ten years she'd managed to get control of her hair, Draco noticed, as he bent to place a quick kiss on her knuckles. Her gaze only seemed to have got sharper.
Like her tongue. "Can we assume from this sudden appearance that you've decided to actually be useful?" she asked pertly, recovering her hand at the earliest opportunity, whipping it out almost from under his nose.
"Heaven forfend," Draco replied easily, resting his hands on the head of his cane. "You mean something useful ever actually comes out of this bureaucratic circus?"
Hermione frowned fiercely, but Ron placed a hand on her shoulder.
Potter shrugged. "It's more useful than you might think for organisation. Gives us a good opportunity to keep an eye on people and swap ideas. But usually the only big advancement is the arrival of the Next New Thing."
"Next New Thing?" Draco repeated, raising an eyebrow.
"Last year it was all about Wizard/Muggle liaising," Ron offered. "Year before that was Cutting Edge Wizardry. There'll be one sub-committee that gets all the attention, and everyone goes starry-eyed about it for the next year. Until the next Council, by which time they're all bored with it."
"So who's up for the spotlight this year?"
Potter and Ron exchanged meaningful looks, and then laughed. "We have a bet going," Harry explained, his gaze skipping to Draco and then back to Ron. "Fifty galleons says it's going to be the Off-World Clairvoyants."
Hermione snorted delicately. "Oh please, not the Psychics in Space."
"Whereas I," Ron declared mock-pompously, "am sure that, what with it being ten years on from the event and all, the winner is sure to be the Evil In Our Midst brigade."
"Dare I ask?" Draco inquired.
But even as the words left his mouth, the dining room doors opened behind him, and a plummy voice announced: "My Lords and Ladies: dinner is served."
"Tell you later," Ron said to Draco, standing from his chair arm perch.
Harry sighed. "Duty calls, then. Excuse me."
Draco watched him as he threaded through the stirring crowd to a group of older wizards and witches; the faculty of Hogwarts, he realised belatedly. There were more than a few people here he'd have to pay his respects to, evidently, for the sake of manners if nothing else. Draco watched McGonagall take Harry's offered arm to go into dinner with him.
When he turned back, Hermione was looking every inch the demure lady on her husband's arm, except for her pointed look. "Do play nice now," she said crisply, as the pair of them sailed past towards the dining room.
"Well, where's the fun in that?" Draco commented quietly.
He went in to dinner alone. He wasn't sitting on the high table, of course: that was filled with the Who's Who of wizarding. Besides Potter and McGonagall, Draco recognised the Minister, two other institution Principals, a few foreign dignitaries who'd been in the news a great deal. He assumed the others were as important. And probably as boring.
Not that his own table was anything special. There was an elderly wizard at one end who Draco didn't recognise, but who kept falling asleep in the soup, and a frilly, frizzy young witch absolutely bursting with energy at the other end. There were wings on her robe, and when she gestured (which was frequently) she left a sparkling trail in the air. Draco wondered if she was one of Hermione's reviled "Psychics in Space".
The rest of the table was full of a wide array of folk, all chattering away to each other about business and society that Draco knew only second hand, from the pages of the Daily Prophet, or the gossip he usually avoided. The Council seemed to have representatives from every major wizarding body in the world, every major magic initiative. Inquiries flew around the table; what was the latest from this place, that division, the other committee on some thorny issue.
During the fish course the witch on his right - Teutonic delegate to the Wizarding Genetics committee, she had introduced herself as, though her name fled Draco's memory immediately - mentioned: "Malfoy, isn't it? I believe we're related then, distantly. My great aunt married a Laski, which was your paternal grandmother's maiden name, if I'm not mistaken." She beamed, all plump middled-aged interest. "A great lineage, oh yes."
"Not everyone would agree with you," he suggested coldly.
She blanched. "Oh. Well, no, I suppose not."
She subsided, and didn't speak to him again.
On his other side was a demure young woman - too young for him to remember, but he thought she was married to one of the Creeveys - and his silence obviously bothered her sense of the polite. A well-trained little sparrow, she didn't last past the savouries course without attempting to draw him out. "You haven't attended a Council in a long time, Lord Malfoy."
"No," he agreed blandly, finishing his wine.
She smiled, and struggled on. "What has prompted this sudden attendance?"
"Oh yes, Lord Malfoy." The new participant was seated across the table, and Draco definitely recognised her. Valaria Sinistra, well-bred, now well-known, always viperish. She was dressed in a risque black satin dress that he quite liked the look of. She faked the innocence of the sparrow's expression with cruel accuracy. "Tell us, please, what has drawn you away from your personal affairs." Her emphasis was almost lewd.
He directed his answer to her. "If you don't keep an eye on some people now and then, who knows what they might get up to?"
Mrs Creevey tittered elegantly. Valaria smirked across the table. Draco raised an eyebrow in response.
Mrs Creevey's husband, sitting on her other side, covered her hand with his and smiled encouragingly at her, before turning his serious, Gryffindor face to Draco. "A wizard of your knowledge and stature is certainly very welcome here, Lord Malfoy, however late in the day."
The sneer came naturally. Late, was he? "Don't get too used to it, Creevey. I've got better things to do than come back every year and sing soprano in Potter's choir of angels." Creevey - whichever one it was - bristled, but Draco wasn't giving him a chance to bite back. He folded his napkin, tossed it onto his empty plate. "You'll excuse me; I've had my fill."
He stalked down the dining room, making the serving staff leap out of his way. As he neared the high table, Potter raised his head to look at him, not pausing in his conversation. Draco nodded to him, smiled sardonically, and stepped out of the room.
As Draco made his way through the corridors - almost getting lost at one point, until he found a sign helpfully pointing him in the right direction - he came across a few other Council members. At least, he assumed they were Council members. The hotel was huge, but so was the Council.
He finally reached his room; comfortable, adequate, on the third floor with wide windows giving beautiful views out over the countryside. His things had been unpacked and neatly put away. He took off his robe, tossed it onto the bed. Waistcoat and cravat followed soon after.
He could have stayed downstairs; maybe he should have. No, better for them to come to him. He sat down at the desk with books and quill to pass the time, rolling his shirt sleeves up almost to the elbow to keep them out of the ink.
The knock on the door came before he'd read half a chapter, sooner than he'd expected. "Yes?" he called.
It was Potter, hands in the pockets of his well-made clothes. He smiled as he closed the door behind him again, half-sheepish, but he wore confidence like a cloak now, and Draco didn't even think he noticed. "You seem settled in," he noted, looking around the room.
"More or less," Draco replied, closing his book and leaning back in his chair.
"Sorry we couldn't get you a better room, but we didn't know until so late -"
Draco cut him off. "The room's fine." A pause. "Nice gathering you've got here."
Potter leaned against the doorframe and laughed ruefully. "It grows every year. When does it start getting out of hand, do you think?" He rubbed the bridge of his nose behind his glasses.
He was so relaxed, too at ease. Draco stood, came a few steps closer to lean against the corner of the desk. "I don't think they approve of me," he said, and the sneer was back.
Potter gave him a disparaging look. "Well, of course not. Look at you, Draco. You're the damn image of your father. The hair, the cane... you even sound like him."
"I'm not my father." His voice had grown colder, could be chipped like ice, but there was nothing Draco could do about it. Couldn't back down, so he forged ahead. Stood up and approached, slow and menacing. "Do you think I am? Do you think I'm plotting, planning, sinister, not to be trusted?"
Potter had taken his hands out of his pockets, stood up straight, was looking at Draco in a way that made him feel almost nostalgic. "I think you're melodramatic."
Draco kept advancing. "Your little friends think all that, don't they? Your simpering harem down there. They're telling you I'm going to betray the world. Betray you. What do you think, Potter?" He was close enough now, and though they were the same height, more or less, Draco had learned to loom from the best.
Potter was unimpressed, though. He stood firm, his jaw set. "I think you're enjoying being infamous when you could be being helpful."
Draco laughed, and took a step back. "If you think I'm going to be talked into playing the good little Council member with that weak attempt, you've been spending too much time with your coven of idiots down there."
That drew a frown. "I don't understand you, Draco. Why are you here?"
He ignored the question, turned to take a few steps away. "What time does the charade start tomorrow? Shall I come along and rattle their chains?"
"The Council starts at nine," Harry replied, and Draco could tell he was gritting his teeth. He sat back in his chair, smiled thinly up at the wizard in the doorway. Harry shook his head. "Do whatever you damn well like. You will anyway."
For all that Draco guessed Potter was angry, he said good night politely enough, and closed the door quietly behind him.
He was still sitting in his chair, savouring the memory like fine wine over his palate, when there came a second knock on the door, quicker, more breathless. "Yes?" he called, and stood, already anticipating who it would be.
The door opened just enough for Valaria to slither into the room, and she closed the door silently behind her, leaning back against it and giving him a sultry smile.
Draco's blood was already racing; he let it show in his smile. Let her think it was for her. For the second time, he crossed the room slowly to stand near the door. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" he asked, low and intimate. He slid his gaze along the low cut of her neckline. A very nice dress, indeed.
She laughed throatily. "I thought you were more clever than that, Draco." She bunched her fingers in his shirtfront, and tugged him up against her.
He almost grinned, but there were far better things for his mouth to be doing.
He pressed her back against the door as she strained against satin, her tongue darting into his mouth like a snake. She arched against him, almost purred as he hefted her higher against the oaken door, bit her neck.
She hitched her skirt higher, draped one leg around his hip, her arms around his neck, and her mouth was at his ear, hissing. It took him a moment to make out the words. "There are still some of us, Milord, Lord Malfoy. Some who hold, who wait, who bide our time..."
He stopped cold; Valaria writhed against him, fingers pressing into his shoulders. She stumbled when he stepped back suddenly, dragged her aside by one arm so he could yank the door open and shove her outside, mouth bruised, dress askew, neck marked.
"What...?" she gasped, and he knew he should say something, should have some cutting final words to make a grand exit. But he could think of nothing, not a syllable.
He slammed the door in her irate face.
The cane, that damned cane with its silver snake-head, was leaning against the foot of the bed. Draco summoned it into his hand as he stalked across the room, gestured the windows open with such force that the casements rattled, and hurled the cane out into the night, watching it sail into blackness.
Full of grim determination, he turned to face the mirror. A single wrench pulled loose the black ribbon that tied his hair back in a queue. The white-blond strands tumbled loose around his shoulders. He twisted the mass of hair roughly into one hand, yanking it away from his neck. The spell to hack it all off was on his tongue, but he hesitated.
He could see it, his father watching him in the mirror through Draco's own eyes. Cool and calm and knowing.
He twisted his hair tighter, winced at the pull at his scalp. What was he doing? He could cut his hair all he liked, he could shave it all off and paint his bald head purple, but he'd still be Lucius Malfoy's son. He couldn't refuse it, didn't want to forget it. Shouldn't forget. Where he came from. What he could become.
Denying it would be like letting his father win.
He let his hair fall loose again, and turned away from the mirror. It was dark outside the window, but when he summoned the cane it came rising out of the night to settle into his palm, cold and hard.
Draco closed the windows, and went to bed.