Fic



TITLE: Unfinished Business
AUTHOR: Dee
PAIRING: Draco/Harry
RATING: Adult for themes, language, sex
SUMMARY: Ten years after the War ends, Harry and Draco still haven't got their act together. But maybe it's not too late.
NOTES: All growed-up Harry/Draco. Obviously, after the War. Equally obviously, I'm speculating about what might happen. Oh, and by the way, this is my first HP story ever...
THANKS: ...and what a slog it's been. Huge thanks go out to Megolas and Jenny, for beta-reading and confidence-restoration. But this whole story owes itself to Calico. For coming to visit and starting the whole thing; for saying "Go with the long version..."; and for a solid, spanking beta (including delightful Weasley-capades, which simply had to be included). It's all her fault.

DISCLAIMER: The characters herein belong to JK Rowling. I recognise all her rights to them, and the fact that she and her lawyers probably (definitely!) wouldn't want me to write this. Sorry. I make no money, I just have fun.

=====

As the flames sputtered and died, and shellshock set in, it was all fine. The name of Draco was lauded, even if the name of Malfoy was mud. But he was a Malfoy, and regardless of how his house had fallen as a result of the War, he wasn't going to abandon it. Couldn't abandon it. Wouldn't cling to the skirts of those who said: "It'll be OK. Stick with us, and no one will eye you crosswise."

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.

Draco,

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.

Regards,

Harry.

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.

"Yes sir?"

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.

* * * * *

It was the first full, open session of the Council the next morning. They used the ballroom of the hotel, full of rows of seats and chattering wizards. A perky young girl at the door offered Draco a nametag. He looked at her, one eyebrow raised, and she subsided, lowering the tag she was holding out. Her own nametag read "Natalie". The i was dotted with a sparkling star.

"Terrorising people again, Malfoy?"

Draco half-turned and focussed all his attention on Potter, coming up behind him. The look he gave Draco in return was arch, slightly amused. He turned a friendly, standard smile on Natalie. "Good morning," he said.

She simpered back. "Good morning, Lord Potter."

Draco let Potter edge him away from the door, along the back wall of the room. When he finally turned to Draco, he sighed, exasperated. "This is a conference. People wear nametags. You can't make anything easy, can you?"

Draco smiled, satisfied, and leaned back against the wall. "Well, where would the fun be in that?"

Harry laughed shortly, but then he looked away over the congregating crowd, and frowned. "Have you decided? Are you going to be helpful today, or just sit and sneer?"

Draco shrugged, keeping his face carefully blank.

Harry grimaced, turned to face Draco entirely, his back to the room. "Do you have any idea how much people are pestering me about you? They want you out, Malfoy."

"I'm duly chastened," Draco drawled.

"I'm serious -"

He was: too serious, too earnest, too much. Draco interrupted him. "Do you want me out, Potter?"

Harry just glared at him.

Draco relaxed back against the wall, rested his hands on the snake-head of the cane. "Who's been hissing in your ear, anyway? The usual suspects, I'm sure. Probably not Miss Sinistra."

Harry looked confused. "Valaria?"

"She isn't entirely playing for the side of good and proper, if her sales pitch last night is to be believed. She's very..." he paused for emphasis, and grinned. "Persuasive."

Potter had an irritating lack of surprise on his face. "Valaria's sympathies are known. She's already being watched," he said dismissively. He looked over his shoulder; the ballroom was filling up. "Think about it, Malfoy. I know you'd be valuable, if you wanted to be."

In ten years, it seemed that Potter had learned how to get the last word; he turned and walked away into the milling crowds of witches and wizards, and Draco could do nothing but watch him go. He contented himself with saying, for his own ears only: "You have no idea what I want."

Harry worked the crowd like a professional, cheerful and attentive, greeting, being hailed. It shouldn't surprise him - it had been ten years after all, ten years that Harry had had to become accustomed to his place. He'd been in apprenticeship even in the final years of Hogwarts, of the War. He shouldn't be surprised that Potter had grown into all this like he was born to it.

Draco was surprised all the same.

He shifted, pulled his eyes away from Potter disappearing into the crowd, and glanced around the ballroom. The gathering was coalescing, starting to form itself into a new sort of order. Small conversing groups were taking seats, or congregating together into larger bundles of robed wizards. Draco assumed these represented the more powerful subcommittees. The Off-World Clairvoyants were easy enough to spot - all crystal jewellery and stupendous hair arrangements - but Draco didn't know where to start looking for the other contenders. What had Ron called them? Evil in our Midst? What did that mean? He could start by looking for those all in black, but this was a wizarding convention, for pity's sake.

As he scanned the crowd, he found Valaria, and smirked. She was wearing robes that would have been very impressive, if he hadn't known the reason for the high, stiff neck. She was surrounded by a huddle of similarly-dressed cronies. Good grief, could they really be that silly? What led the more melodramatic of conspirators to think sumptuous black fabrics were stylish or inconspicuous? Valaria caught his eye, but looked away casually.

They probably were that silly. Which, of course, didn't mean they couldn't be very dangerous if they weren't handled correctly.

Potter had managed to make it onto the stage, Draco noticed, and the important ones were arranging themselves at the table there. Order was quickly spreafing through the ballroom. Draco found a seat in the back row, alone, and sat, legs crossed, cane balanced against his knee.

On the stage, a slender African-American witch stepped up to the lectern. She waited, like a stern teacher, and silence trickled over the assembled crowd. "Distinguished guests, my Lords and Ladies, witches and wizards. I hereby declare open the Tenth Annual Interdivisional Wizarding Fair and Council."

Polite applause, and Draco snorted. Apparently even Potter hadn't been able to keep the event's title unadorned.

She continued. "The ballot for Chair for this year's Council has been concluded. It is my great pleasure to invite Lord Creevey to take up the Chairwizard's mantle."

The last of her sentence was drowned out by cheering and applause from a group in the front and centre of the ballroom. They seemed to be mostly fine, upstanding sorts - Gryffindors, Draco mentally dismissed them. He wasn't at all surprised to see the Creevey with whom he'd exchanged words the previous evening emerge from their midst, and head towards the stage, flushed and pleased.

On stage, Creevey shook the woman's hand, and took her place at the lectern. He waited a moment for the applause to subside. "My dear fellow witches and wizards, we are standing in the midst of history! Ten years ago, we were lost. But then we were handed our freedom. And we were given a reminder: Do not squander this precious gift!"

Draco shifted amidst the serious nods of agreement. High-flown rhetoric made him itch. Creevey wasn't consulting any notes for this grand speech; obviously he was speaking with a passion. Or he'd memorised the damn thing.

"Ten years of safety and prosperity have been possible because they have also been ten years of vigilance. We are the keepers of our own freedom now, and that of all wizard- and muggle-kind. Ten years may have passed, but the need remains: we must be strong. We must not falter. We must not squander that which has been bestowed upon us. We owe it to ourselves, and of course to the one to whom we owe everything.

"Honoured guests, my Lords and Ladies, witches and wizards... Harry Potter!"

The applause was thunderous. The entire gathering came to its feet. Draco stood along with them, hands folded on his cane, to watch Creevey step aside and present the lectern with a flourish. As Potter, wielding his own notes, stepped up to the lectern the noise in the ballroom only grew, a roar of adulation. It almost stunned Draco. He'd never heard anything like it. Potter stood on the stage, silent and stern, impressive, worthy of their attention. No longer the Boy Who Lived, now their triumphant hero.

Draco had seen him gutted, a shell, exhausted beyond caring. Firelight had carved the shadows of fatigue even deeper into his face. He'd looked up with those haunted eyes, and Draco had almost faltered in that moment, even after he'd thought himself resolved.

He'd known that Potter. Mocked him, challenged him, hated him - but known him. This icon on stage was a stranger.

As the crowd settled into their seats again, Draco turned, looking for an exit. He'd had enough of this. He'd left this world ten years ago. Stupid to come back, really.

There was a side door near his seat; the handle gave under his hand. He paused, looked up on stage. Potter's gaze swept the crowd, and didn't come near him.

"The past has passed," he began. "The future is our concern."

Draco pulled the door open just far enough to slip out, and shut it quietly behind him. He'd hate to disturb the idiot sycophants at their worshippings.

"Well, if it isn't the belle of the ball."

The voice - feminine, certain and amused - made him spin around in surprise; he hurriedly settled a better expression of mild disdain on his face and took his time smoothing his clothes.

The door had let him out into a quiet courtyard garden, very pleasant. The woman who'd addressed him was sitting on the edge of a fountain set grandly in the middle of the garden. She was dressed strangely - Muggle attire, he judged, and male, and dated at that - in pinstripe trousers with a waistcoat to match, over a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Her thick ginger hair was pulled back into a long plait down her back. She was smoking a cigarette, raising the smouldering butt to her lips to take a drag.

She grinned. "I recognise you, but you have no idea who I am. Fame is a beautiful thing. Though I suppose you're more infamous."

He scowled. But there was something in that grin... and the hair. With surprise he couldn't mask, he asked: "Ginny Weasley?"

She winked at him.

He assumed that meant he was right. She was becoming more recognisable by the second. "What are you doing out here?"

"Waiting for Harry."

"No, I mean, shouldn't you be in there," he jerked a finger over his shoulder.

She pulled an expressive face. "Waste of damn time."

Draco couldn't agree with her more, but he didn't say that. Instead, he leaned on the cane, did his best to look bored.

Ginny pulled a fob watch out of her waistcoat pocket and checked it. "They'll still be ages, and I can wait for Harry just as well in the bar. Come on, let's go have a drink." She stood, picking up her coat from beside her and slinging it over her shoulder.

He raised an eyebrow. "What? You want to drink with the despicable Malfoy? The one who's trying to bring this all down."

She took a last drag of the cigarette, and flicked the butt into the fountain. "Absolutely. You see," and she looked at him with an enigmatic smile, "I know everything you've ever done for us." She took a few steps, and looked back at him. "Coming?"

He caught up with her as she pushed open the door leading back into the hotel, held it behind her long enough for him to slip inside after her before she let it swing shut. They were in the hotel bar, sumptuously decorated and entirely empty. A lone bartender polished glasses. He looked up as Ginny led the way to the bar, tossing her coat over a stool before taking the next one.

"The usual?" the bartender asked.

"A big one," Ginny replied.

"And you?" The young man looked at Draco.

He was off-balance, and hating it. "Same again." As the bartender moved away, Draco took the stool next to Ginny, leaning his cane against the bar. "What do you mean, everything I've done?"

"Don't worry," Ginny said, casting him an amused look, "I won't ruin your pristinely bad reputation by telling anyone. No one would believe me anyway. Draco Malfoy, pretty much single-handedly keeping insurrection under control? Hah."

He looked at the bar, polished mahogany. "Don't know what you're talking about."

"Pull the other one, Malfoy. I've interviewed every single dissident you've ever sent us, serious threat or just plain whining brat. Hard to tell the difference, sometimes. We didn't even have to lean on them to get information, huge amounts sometimes. Someone had put the fear of God into them. Or should I say, the fear of Malfoy."

Draco glared at her, but his response was checked by the bartender, bringing their drinks.

He took the reprieve, took a moment to calm himself and taste the large glass of clear liquid - a taste his dusty memories took a little while to confirm as gin and tonic. The time to think suggested some answers.

"You're the head of Potter's secret police," he accused.

"Guilty," Ginny replied easily. "They call us the Whisperers. Job needed someone who people forgot about, a nobody, but a nobody with a name able to command respect." She shrugged. "So you're looking at her."

He was. He was looking at her and thinking that the War had changed them all, but maybe not nearly as much as the peace that came afterwards. "So you keep tabs on people. Perhaps people like Valaria Sinistra."

"She's on our list. Harry told me about her move last night. We'll be keeping a closer eye on her, though that was probably just opportunism."

Harry told her. "So are you and Potter still...?" He couldn't think of a way to end that question.

She laughed. "Hell no. Not for years. It very quickly became obvious that we were just not what the other needed. I want someone to look after me, and he never had the time or the inclination."

Draco looked down at his half-full glass. "And what did Harry want?"

Ginny snorted into her glass, ice clinking. "I don't think he's figured it out even now. But I think he needs an equal. He's always been one to chase the impossible."

Time to steer the conversation back into safer territory. "I take it from my general reception that my... involvement isn't common knowledge."

"No one knows but me, a few of my best boys, and Harry. He's probably told Ron and 'Mione, but that's it." She was looking at him, he could see in his peripheral vision. She'd turned on her stool to face him. "I thought that was how you wanted it. Everyone I interviewed refused to reveal who sent them in. I had to piece it together from their slips. What did you do to them?"

What did he do to them? He couldn't even match names to faces now, too many, at varying degrees of challenge. A few who'd proven less willing to see reason than others. A few twinges that remembered. He'd done what it took. He didn't know that there was much point thinking beyond that.

"I put the fear of Malfoy into them." Draco finished the rest of his drink in one swallow, and set the glass precisely back on the bar. He stepped off the stool, taking up his cane and saluting Ginny with it, the way his father used to when he was feeling particularly genial. Draco wasn't smiling. "Thanks for the drink."

He walked away across the empty bar. At the door, he looked back. She was sitting at the bar still, chatting with the barman, blending in even with that Weasley hair. She belonged here. He didn't. Didn't really want to. He was only here for one reason. Only one reason, really, for coming back to all this.

Time to do something about it.

Draco had let Harry find him too many times. It was time to turn the tables.

Early afternoon, Potter came out of the session, flanked by lackies, looking annoyed even as he nodded at this scrawny youth, listened to that pompous greybeard. He was taking long strides, making them keep up, but he slowed, stopped, when he saw Draco waiting, relaxed against the wall with cane in hand and practised sneer in place.

Draco pushed off the wall, stepped up quickly to Harry, got in his face. He hmmed him up against his flunkies; they rumbled and muttered from their place a respectful distance behind him, but didn't dare interfere.

Harry frowned and opened his mouth, but Draco wasn't letting him get in first.

"I'm not going to join your entourage, so stop sending your little messengers," he said.

"What?" Harry's tone was sharp, but he kept his voice low; good, Draco didn't want to share their business with half the wizarding world. "What are you talking about?"

Draco leaned closer, lowering his voice further against the curious souls leaning forward behind Potter. "I had a very enlightening conversation with Ginny. Most revealing. I think she probably said everything you wanted her to." Harry opened his mouth again, but Draco just kept talking. "Did you send Valaria as well? Was she somehow supposed to push me into declaring my allegiance?"

Harry was glaring hard enough to set Draco on fire. "You honestly think I'd do something like that?"

Draco glared right back, squared his shoulders, faced up to Harry. "Did you send Valaria?"

"You didn't answer my question," Harry growled, voice almost a shiver in Draco's veins.

He clamped down on it. "You didn't answer mine."

Hot silence for a moment, then Harry said, curt and clipped: "No, I didn't send her."

"And Ginny?"

"Dammit, Draco. Why can't you just -"

"Join your parade of fools? I'm not going to, Harry, and you know it." It was exasperating - he just didn't understand. "Is this all you invited me for? What do you want from me?"

If Draco hadn't been staring straight into Harry's eyes, he wouldn't have seen the way his eyes went liquid dark just for an instant, gone in the next moment.

He had seen it though, and suddenly his grip on the snake-head cane tightened, his breath hitched slightly, and he cursed that they were in an open corridor with a dozen other people craning their necks from behind Harry because otherwise, maybe...

But Draco's outburst had made those other people mutter and shift, and Potter was very aware of their surroundings now, leaning back slightly. "I invited you for old time's sake. It's been ten years, after all. Why don't you come to dinner tonight? Just a few of us."

Draco took a step back, matched his tone cold to Potter's. "Yes, why don't I."

"I'll see you then," Harry promised, and Draco stepped aside to let him continue down the corridor, his followers already clamouring for his attention.

Almost all the lackeys had filed past before Draco felt a jerk of recognition as one face slid past his gaze.

"Willa." He'd said her name almost before he thought of it. Her eyes were on the floor, but she flinched at the sound of his voice, and kept moving. The man beside her - no one Draco recognised - glared back at him as the pair hurried after Potter's circus.

Draco watched them disappear around the corner. Willa Ternhaven. She was pale and crisp like an autumn morning, with hair the colour of old, turned leaves. Elegant and delicate. But he remembered her turning dark honey eyes on him, bold and wilful, challenging.

She hadn't been hard to dissuade. He'd suspected she wouldn't be from the moment she'd first written to him, and known she was turned the instant she'd entered his house. Four years ago. He'd been distant and terrifying, looming larger than anything she'd ever realised. When she'd shivered against his implacable hands, the battle was half over. When she dropped her eyes, it was won. She'd do what he wanted her to do when she left his manor. When she went to them.

Time passes, bruises fade. Ginny knew everything he'd ever done for them. Did she know that? Did she know more?

Draco hoped not, standing alone in the corridor. He hoped not, because it got much worse than that.

* * * * *

Draco couldn't summon the will to dress up for dinner. He had laid out robes designed to awe and flatter, but he couldn't bring himself to put them on.

He changed his shirt for one in grey silk and retied his hair back in its queue. After a moment's hesitation, he left the snake-head cane leaning in its corner.

Potter answered the door himself to Draco's knock, which he hadn't expected, wasn't prepared for. "Harry," he said, with a nod. Harry hadn't bothered dressing for dinner either, it appeared. Just discarded the formal robes of the day, his shirt slightly wrinkled from their weight.

"Draco," Harry returned. He stepped aside, holding the door, as Draco moved forward into the room.

Draco paused in the doorway; the room was just an entry hall, cold and empty, but he could hear voices in the suite beyond. He looked at Harry, and Harry shifted, opening his mouth.

Before he could say anything, a voice came louder, closer - "...can't just say that!" - and Ginny strode into the hall, a glass in each hand.

"So help me, I'm going to kill him!" she declared, handing a glass to Potter. She grinned at Draco. "Long time no see, Malfoy. Drink?"

He smiled back and took the other glass from her, suddenly unsure what to do with his other hand. In his pocket; out of the way. "You're always trying to get me drunk, Ginny."

"You've seen through my dastardly plan." She laughed, and turned to Potter, her braid swinging against her back. "Harry, do you really need my brother's advice that much? Couldn't I indict him for crimes against wizardry? Just a little bit?"

"What's he done now?" Potter asked, as they turned towards the rest of the suite.

Draco closed the outer door and trailed behind them. In the main room of the suite, Ron and Hermione were waiting; he was sitting in an armchair, she was standing by the window. "I haven't done anything," Ron insisted. "It was just Ginny being unreasonable."

"I was not!"

Taking a seat, Draco drifted out of the conversation, letting their bickering voices flow over him. It was strangely soothing. Such normal, everyday behaviour. He looked sideways, to where Harry was listening with one sceptical eyebrow raised, occasionally laughing or sipping his drink.

He jerked his attention back as Hermione leaned sideways to say, a little uncomfortably: "Don't pay any attention, they're always like this."

"Don't worry, I wasn't," Draco said truthfully, with a smile.

Harry shook his head, and downed the last of his drink. "Let's have dinner," he said. "Or you lot will be arguing all night."

The dining room in Harry's suite was small, and candlelight gave it a warm, friendly air. The table wasn't set formally, and there were only two courses. Over the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Ron held forth with a story about his brothers.

George, newly installed as a Partisan in the International Confederacy of Wizardry, had desperately wanted a holiday but couldn't shirk his duties (for once). So he'd swapped places for a week with Fred, who taught Charms at the Asia-Pacific school of wizardry, Shangri-La. The results, Draco thought, were somewhat predictable to anyone who knew the Weasley twins even slightly.

"And then of course," Ron concluded, as the plates were taken away, "there was nothing to be done except to call in the Magical Damage Containment squads."

"It took them nearly a week," Ginny added, then continued, dead-pan. "Though apparently there's a thinktank at the University of Bologna that's been trying to breed them just like that for a decade now. So while it might appear to the casual observer to be business as usual for the Weasley Twats, it could be argued that George is at the forefront of international science."

From his position at the other end of the table, Draco watched Harry helpless, laughing so hard he couldn't lift his wineglass. So relaxed, at ease with his friends.

Draco had never really known this Harry either. Had been allowed into their all-business councils of war, but he'd watched from outside the circle they seemed to have always formed, that he'd excluded himself from, even when he was alone.

"Enough about us, though," Ron said eventually, and turning a tipsy and genial smile on Draco. "What have you been up to in the last, oh, ten years?"

Draco raised his wine glass, gave himself time to think. Besides, this was an excellent vintage, layered and delicate. "This and that." He caught Ginny's eye, and she winked. Everyone at this table probably knew, she'd said, but still... "Keeping busy."

"Enjoying the Council so far?" Hermione asked archly, with a smirk that suited her surprisingly well. Her colour was high; she was tipsy, at the very least.

"I am, actually," Draco said, leaning back in his chair. "It's all thoroughly entertaining. The Off-World Psychics are particularly... colourful."

Hermione pulled an expressive face, as her husband leapt in. "Speaking of which: Harry, pay up."

"The Council's young yet," Harry objected. "There's still time."

"Oh come on. They've got the Chair."

Draco barely noticed a plate of sticky-date pudding being set in front of him. "Creevey's one of your mob, Ron? What did you call them?"

Ron attacked his pudding with glee, and spoke with his mouth full. "Evil In Our Midst." He swallowed. "Officially they're the Watchful Guards, or something pretentious like that."

"The Guardians," Ginny provided, with better manners than her brother, until she started gesturing with her cutlery. "Good grief, they annoy me. Smug, superior bastards."

"They don't do it on purpose, Gin," Harry interrupted.

"I don't care!" She turned to Draco, still waving her spoon. "They're all about how we can't be too careful with the Great Lord Potter's Legacy," she explained, scorn heavy in her voice. "They're all rabid raving fanatics who see Dark Wizards under their beds. By their very existence, they're insinuating that I can't do my damn job."

"It's the fanatic part that bothers me," Hermione noted. She had eaten half her pudding, then pushed the bowl aside. As she spoke, Ron was taking gleeful custody of it. "They're totally unwilling to see any point of view but their own. It's utterly uncompromising people like that that drive wizards to the Dark, even more than any lust for power. If they were given their way, we'd end up with a massed cult following the One True Leader, and that's just what we fought so hard to avoid!"

She still had all her passion, Draco noted. All that fiery drive that kept her from being just another dusty scholar. "What you need is for everyone to feel there's a place for them to work in their own way."

"Exactly!" Hermione nodded emphatically, and then blinked in surprise as she realised who she'd just agreed so fervently with.

She couldn't have been more surprised than Draco. He hadn't meant to say that, no matter how much he'd been thinking it. He pushed his half-full wineglass a little further away from him on the table, and tried to look bored. When he looked up, Harry was watching him, and he jerked his own gaze away, to where Ginny was holding forth about "that utter munchkin Creevey".

She seemed to run out of uncomplimentary names to call him, and subsided with a slightly sheepish smile as the dessert plates were cleared.

"Sure you're done?" Ron asked, stretching and grinning. "Wouldn't like to maybe comment on his dress sense? Personal hygiene?"

Ginny blew a loud and undignified raspberry across the table. "Shut it, Weasley."

Hermione laughed. "Much as I'd love to stay and watch familial love in action, we should go, Harry. Sorry. But I wanted to send Mathilda an owl tonight, and Ron has reports he's been putting off."

Ron looked forlornly into his wineglass, and Harry laughed easily. "Take the rest of the bottle, Ron. It might make the reports go easier. And give my love to Mattie."

"Don't encourage her," Ron warned, pushing his chair back and filching the bottle of wine from its place in the centre of the table. "She's already declared she's going to marry you when she grows up."

"She'll grow out of that," Harry responded with a careless smile. "Everyone else seems to."

"You can shut it too, Potter."

With a laugh, Hermione took her husband by the hand that wasn't clutching the wine. "You're better off, Ginny."

"Hey!" It came in stereo, from Harry and Ron. Draco gave up, and started laughing. He got two glares for his trouble.

"It was nice to catch up with you again, Draco," Hermione said sweetly, and gave him a genuine smile.

"Likewise," he returned, still laughing, grinning, meeting her eyes across the table.

With a flurry of good nights, they left.

Draco's eyes seemed drawn - they had been all night - to the other end of the table. Harry was watching him. Draco let his smile simmer and raised his wineglass again. And didn't look away.

Then he realised that Ginny was talking. He blinked, and tried to pay attention.

"-in half an hour. Hopefully he'll have something useful to say this time."

Harry was nodding when Draco darted a glance. "Remind him of his duty. But do it subtly."

Ginny laughed, pushing back her chair to stand up. "What sort of amateur do you think I am, Potter? Oh, and I have the report from Mandez."

"I'll get that off you," Harry said, standing up.

Draco followed suit, and met him at the door. He paused, and gestured mock-gallantly. "After you."

"Deferential, Malfoy?"

"Don't get used to it." He didn't step aside. The lazy half-smile on Harry's face faltered and slipped, and he slid past through the doorway.

Draco hesitated a moment, and followed.

Ginny was shrugging into her coat in the main room. She handed Harry a scroll sealed with an innocuous blob of navy-blue wax. "His penmanship is awful," she warned.

"I'll manage."

"Sure you will." She adjusted her collar and, for some reason, winked at Draco. "Good evening, gents."

The door clicked shut after her. Harry broke the seal on his scroll and seemed thoroughly entranced by the contents. Draco noticed, though, that he'd started reading in the middle and wasn't scrolling at all.

Why, though, was he reading a damn report when they'd just been left alone for the first time all evening? There was an unpleasant taste in the back of Draco's mouth that had nothing to do with the excellent meal they'd enjoyed.

"Well," he said, and was watching for the faint twitch in Harry's fingers. "I guess it's about time I stopped imposing on your hospitality."

Harry tossed the scroll aside, onto the desk, but didn't quite meet his eyes. "It was good of you to come along tonight, Malfoy. It's been a while."

"It has." It had. Ten years, Draco. What had made him think it could be that quick and easy after all that time? Stupid. "Least I could do."

Harry looked at him then, eyes quick and hard, and he shrugged. "Well. I'll show you out, then."

He lead the way back out to the entry hall, stopped a few paces short of the door. Draco hesitated, then brushed past him, reaching for the doorknob.

He had the door barely an inch open when hands closed over his shoulders, wrenched, spun him around. Draco was still dizzy when his back hit the door - slamming it shut again - with Harry's weight behind it. "Just going to walk away again?" Harry demanded, an inch from his face.

"I -" Draco started, but the sound ended lost in Harry's mouth.

Harry kissed him, and Draco finally found something to do with his hands, grabbing Harry's shirt to yank him closer, spanning the base of his skull to tilt his head, his open mouth against Draco's, his lips his tongue his teeth.

Draco's eyes had closed, but he didn't need to see to know this was Harry. It tasted like him, insinuating and demanding and so obvious. It felt like him, heavy weight bearing Draco back against the unyielding wooden door. It was Harry, kissing him so damn deep and desperate it might leave Draco gasping, if he wasn't determined to render Harry the same.

Harry began to ease up his assault, but Draco frankly wasn't having any of it, and chased the kiss back into Harry's mouth, pressing forward. He dropped his hands to Harry's hips, shifted - ah!

Gasps forced their mouths apart, and Draco let his head fall back against the door. Harry's fingers twisted in the silk on Draco's shoulders. "All night," he muttered, breath on Draco's neck. "All night I've been wondering what this shirt would feel like."

Draco swallowed hard on anything he might be tempted to say. Just kept quiet - except for his breathing, quicker and louder and matching Harry's - as hands smoothed down his arms, up his chest. Thumbs caught on buttons, and fingers started from the top. Draco found his voice. "And?" he asked, straightening to look at Harry from under lowered lids. "How does it feel?"

Those eyes looking back at him were enough to make his whole body twitch, enough to make him shiver. Harry didn't bother answering, just kissed him again, mouths open, languid and burning. His hands slid, skin over silk over skin, and yes, that felt pretty damn good.

Then he finished with the last of the buttons, pushed the shirt aside, and skin on skin was even better. Harry's thumb teasing at Draco's nipple made him nudge forwards, hip to hip, which produced a sharp sound in Harry's throat, muffled by Draco's tongue.

Harry pulled back, his hands on Draco's shoulders again. "Jesus," he panted. "Draco, this is..." He laughed a little, shaking his head.

This was. Draco smiled lazily, his eyes on those lips shaping his name, those lips drifting closer again. "Ginny said you wanted an equal," he remembered.

Harry stopped. Blinked. When the lids lifted on those eyes, something had changed, so Draco had a tiny moment to brace himself before Harry said, tone biting and brittle: "And that'd be you, would it?"

Draco couldn't think of anything to say, not with Potter still leaning over him against the door.

It didn't matter; Potter kept talking. "Are you going to join us, Malfoy?"

He felt his gaze flat and level. "How many times do I have to say no?"

"Bloody hell, Draco, what are you afraid of?" Afraid? Draco snorted. "Why can't you just swallow your stupid pride?"

Potter was angry, energised and distracting with his mouth reddened and cheeks flushed. Draco swallowed against his own rising anger. "Is that it? Take a number and join the queue to chant yes Harry, no Harry, all hail Harry fucking Potter? It that all you want from me? Or maybe I'm there to suck you off whenever you say?"

He'd practically spat it, and Potter flinched back. But his eyes were glittering, and Draco's body was still beating with adrenaline, and he could almost see it, laid out in his head like a spell that just needed an action to set it in motion...

Potter was withdrawing, stepping back, giving Draco space. "It's true, you don't ever change, do you?"

Draco could stand up straight, not lean on the door, so he did. "I guess not." He straightened the fall of his shirt, and started rebuttoning from the top.

He stepped aside, letting Potter open the door for him. It slammed shut behind him, leaving him alone and frustrated in the corridor. The mark of teeth on his neck was all that was missing to complete the symmetry.

"Ah, irony," Draco observed, pushing the last button through the hole. "Fuck."

* * * * *

Whoever was knocking on his door was loud, insistent, and not going away. Draco winced into the pillow, and somehow summoned the coordination to fall out of bed and stagger over to the door. He found the handle on the second attempt, and wrenched the door open. "What?" he snapped.

His unwelcome visitor laughed. "Cranky, aren't we? Who hexed your pillow, Malfoy?"

Draco pushed his loose hair out of his face. "Weasley?" He squinted at red-haired wizard in his doorway. Ron looked damnably cheerful, as always. "What time do you call this?"

"Lunch, actually. Put on some clothes, and come and have some with me. Everyone else is still in session."

Draco looked down; he was still wearing his trousers from last night, but that was it. Lunch? He'd slept longer than he'd meant to. "Give me five minutes."

Ron grinned. "I'll give you ten. I'll be in the restaurant downstairs."

Draco closed the door and leant his forehead against it for a moment.

Why was he still here?

Well, technically he was still here because after half a bottle of Old Black you had an awful lot of trouble going anywhere and doing anything. Hence, also, the headache, and the sulfurous aftertaste in his mouth.

He turned around, leant back against the door, but the feeling of wood against his shoulder blades made him flinch away and stand up straight.

Bloody hell. Why was he still here?

From here, he could see where his bag had fallen, kicked off the end of the bed some time during his restless night and morning. It was half packed, he remembered. He'd been throwing things in almost in a frenzy, not caring, having no reason to stick around at all. And then the Old Black he'd ordered arrived in the roomservice mini-flue, and he'd paused to swear - at himself in the mirror, at Potter wherever he was - and pour himself a glass. Or six.

Which brought him more or less up to date, but still hadn't answered the question. He could finish packing now and be back at Malfoy Manor in time for afternoon tea.

It was feasible. Tempting, even.

Except that Ron was waiting for him to come to lunch, and he probably only had about seven minutes left.

He poured water from the magic-warmed pitcher into the basin, and washed quickly, barely enough to make him feel any better. He pulled a shirt more or less at random out of the pile of clothes spilled from his bag, and shrugged into it. It wasn't silk, and he buttoned it as quickly as he could. Reaching for a ribbon on the dresser, his fingers brushed the still-open bottle of Old Black.

Draco smiled crookedly, looking at the dark, square bottle. It was expensive stuff, triple-distilled from moss that only grew in certain caves, certain conditions. Expensive and filthy, and good at what it did. He'd been introduced to it by Sinclair Lloyd: vain, vicious, fond of his creature comforts and sick of anonymity. Five years ago. Dragon's Piss, he'd called it, laughing with Draco, at him, challenging him to another glass. Lloyd had been all challenge. No surprise that that one had ended in violence, the bottle broken on Draco's shoulder, Sinclair gashed and bleeding from glass shards when he'd finally been dumped, unconscious, in a place where the right people were sure to find him.

Draco wondered what Ginny had made of him.

At this rate, he was going to be late. He finished tying back his hair, and snatched up his cane before hurrying out the door.

He left the bag where it was, half-packed. He could leave after lunch, and still be home for dinner.

The corridors were mostly empty, and only a few tables in the restaurant had people at them. Maybe work was actually being done. Or, more likely, people were still arguing uselessly with each other over inane details.

A bored and prim waiter appeared at Draco's elbow as soon as he stepped into the restaurant. "Good day to you, sir. Do you have a reservation?"

"I am lunching with Mr Weasley," Draco told him, and forestalled anything further by simply walking past him. Even if there hadn't been few people to choose from, a Weasley always stood out in a crowd.

Ron was reading the Daily Prophet - the back section that had the Quidditch results - but he folded the paper as Draco crossed the room towards him. "You made it," he said, gesturing to the other chair at the table.

Draco took it. "You sound surprised." He propped the cane against the side of the table. "Did you think I was going to flee the building?"

Ron laughed. "Go back to bed is more like it. Or crawl into your grave. You clearly didn't miss the bottle of wine I took with me."

Draco's smile was forced. Well, of course Ron didn't know the further details of last night. "Actually, the party broke up soon after you left."

Ron frowned and opened his mouth, then seemed to think better of it as the waiter approached the table. Instead, the grin flashed again. "Bound to happen without my sparkling presence."

"No doubt," Draco returned dryly, and the waiter asked if they were ready to order.

Draco had the fish, Ron chose rabbit, and after some demurring back and forth, Draco chose a light red off the wine list. The waiter left, and Draco looked around the room. Just a few people. No one he knew. No one who knew him. No one to point at the infamous Malfoy.

It was almost refreshing to be incognito.

"So where's everyone else?" Draco asked, turning back to his lunch partner.

"Did you want a roll call of everyone at the Council?"

"Of course not."

Ron laughed. "Ginny's doing something she's not allowed to tell anyone about. Again. Hermione's on the committee for Meta-Wizardry, and they'll argue wand kinetics and spell syntax until they fall over. Petty little things like meals don't even figure. And Harry's giving the keynote address at a double session of the Guardians and the Modern Magic Historians." He waved a breadstick. "I don't know what's worse; the fanaticism or the postmodern reinterpretations. Voldemort as a symbol of patriarchal capitalist forces. It's bloody ridiculous."

Draco shook his head, trying not to laugh, but feeling better than he had since he woke up. "I don't know why he puts up with it."

Ron shrugged. "Someone has to. Better him than all the alternatives. You know that as well as I do."

Ron's gaze across the table was very direct. Draco looked away. The waiter was bringing their lunch. They sat in silence through the delivery of the elegant plates, the pouring of the wine. The waiter had left and they'd started eating by the time Ron spoke again.

"You are going to flee the building, aren't you?"

Draco was quite proud that he didn't choke on his wine. He set down the glass before answering. The wine was very good, soothing and tweaking away the edges of the hangover the Old Black had left. "I think," he said carefully, "that I made a mistake in coming in the first place."

"So why did you come?" Ron asked.

Leaning back in his chair, Draco looked at his lunch companion. Really looked. The red hair, freckles... Ron was still Ron, and once upon a time Draco would have been able to say "I came just to get up everyone's noses" and been believed. Not now. "There was unfinished business," he said.

"Was?"

Was. Draco slid his cutlery together and pushed his half-finished plate a little away from himself. "Things settle the way they do. Ten years is too long to change." He lifted his wine glass before he could say anything more.

After watching him carefully for a long moment, Ron shrugged, and turned his attention to poking the last of his rabbit around his plate. "Well, you can't leave before tonight, anyway."

Draco thought of his half-packed bag. "Tonight?"

"The Ball. You really don't pay attention to anything, do you Malfoy?" Ron wiped his mouth, and folded his napkin loosely beside his plate. "The Council Ball. Social highlight of the year. Anyone who's anyone, and so forth."

"Sounds thrilling."

"It's hilarious, is what it is; everyone takes it so seriously." Ron grimaced expressively. "Besides, Hermione will make life unbearable for me if she finds out I let you leave before tonight."

"Hermione?" Draco toyed briefly with the idea that he was actually still passed out, having bizarre Old Black dreams.

"Yes. She's decided she's been treating you badly, and wants to make it up to you. Dancing will probably be involved, but now that you've been forewarned, you might be able to get out of that bit."

Draco looked thoughtfully into his wineglass, but the dregs didn't have any wisdom to share with him. Ron attracted the waiter's attention, and tapped his wand at the bottom of the bill.

"In the interests of your continued domestic tranquillity," Draco said, as the waiter left again, "I suppose I'd better stay for this evening."

"Excellent!" Ron beamed. "You won't regret it."

"Care to put money on that?"

* * * * *

Unpacking his bag didn't seem to take nearly as long as it should have. At least it gave Draco time to sleep off the remnants of the Old Black before he had to start thinking about what to wear.

He wasn't entirely as ignorant of Council procedure as Ron had assumed. He'd just been distracted at lunch. He thought that, in the circumstances, that was entirely understandable. He'd packed - and now repacked and unpacked - a formal robe in anticipation of the Ball. Even he'd heard about it, much as he'd tried not to.

They said that last year the Ball had begun with a conjured flight of flamingoes and fairydust. Two years ago, they said, the dancefloor was raised above an enormous pool, reached by delicate bridges, and in the pool mermaids (and mermen) had frolicked all evening, singing and rescuing the occasional drunken wizard or witch from drowning.

They said a great many things - a lot of them uncomplimentary about the Malfoys - but Draco had to admit that they were right about the Ball. It was pure spectacle.

The ballroom was decorated with swathes of white satin, swooping from a central point in the ceiling to fall like pillars down the walls. In between them were wide balconies looking over the ballroom. From above and behind the festooned satin bubbles were erupting, shimmering and sparkling and the size of an apple. They floated through the air to fall on the crowd below, billowed with movement, and finally popped with a golden shimmer.

The fringes of the dancefloor and the overlooking balconies were dense with brightly-dressed witches and wizards, chattering and laughing. The dancefloor itself had a scattering of couples, moving in elegant unison to the music from--

Draco couldn't stop his double-take. A full Muggle orchestra was playing at the far end of the ballroom. No expense spared for the Ball; the Memory charms involved would be spectacular.

"Champagne, sir?" The offer came from the statue at his right, which twisted one marble arm to hold out a stone tray of delicate, sparkling glassware.

"Thank you." Draco took a glass, and sipped delicately from it as he moved forward into the press. He shifted his shoulders under his dress robes. It had been a while since he'd worn them - a while since he'd had cause - but if they weren't precisely the height of fashion, dove-grey and lined with deep velvet, they were still of the sort of simple, elegant line that was timeless.

He slipped easily through the crowd, unattached amidst a mass of interconnectedness. It was almost dazzling, the noise, the glamour, the vivid brightness. All around him witches and wizards young and old called to each other, exclaimed, tripped lightly to the dancefloor in pairs, returned flushed and delighted.

Draco couldn't see a single person he knew.

"Don't look so lost; it's a party!"

He turned with a smile. "Haven't you heard I hate -" he broke off. Ginny was almost unrecognisable again, in flattering dress robes of royal blue, her hair loose and shining down her back.

"You hate?" she prompted.

He changed his mind, and went with: "I hate seeing beautiful women not dancing. May I have the honour?"

Ginny looked sceptical, but lay her hand on his and let him lead her towards the dancefloor. "Gallantry? Who are you, and what have you done with Draco Malfoy?" she asked as they reached the fringes of the crowd.

They managed the waltz hold with minimal fumbling, and moved into the flow of the dance. Draco was rustier than he'd thought. To distract, he said: "I killed him and assumed his identity."

"That explains so much." Ginny laughed, and squeezed her hand on his shoulder. "Relax, will you? It's not that bad."

"Isn't it?" But he let her ease him into the dancesteps, curling her hand around his shoulder, more friendly, more casual. It wasn't too bad. They didn't even get more than a passing glance from the crowd of spectators, and half of those seemed to be directed at the luxurious banner of Ginny's hair, which rippled and flared when he spun her. She was quite an impressive woman, all up. And that was when Draco realised that he didn't really know her either. Never really had. "Was this what you wanted?" he asked suddenly.

She pulled back slightly to look at him quizzically.

He smiled, tried again. "Ten years ago, when you looked at the future, was this what you saw?"

"Dancing with you at a Council Ball?" She smirked.

"You know what I mean."

He spun her out, and when she returned, she was thoughtful. "I don't know, honestly. I didn't think much, in those days. I wanted it to be over. Looking ahead was too hard, so I didn't bother. I don't think many of us did. Except Harry."

Except Harry. Draco nodded absently.

"And you?" she returned sharply. "Was this was you wanted?"

It caught him, somehow, completely off guard. "I don't... I mean..." It wasn't that his mind went blank, but that it was filled with too many things, a flickering montage of options. So many images of a future that never was.

The music wound down, and they floundered to a halt. Ginny stepped back, and Draco's arms fell. "I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have asked."

"No," he replied. "I asked first." He shook his head ruefully.

She smiled. "Forget it. Let's get a drink."

The music started up again as Ginny led the way back through the crowd to the edge of the room, where a statue waved its tray at them. They took glasses, and Draco eyed Ginny's askance.

"Are you drinking pumpkin juice?" he asked.

Ginny tilted her glass a little. "I've already had one pompous lecture from that git Creevey about my duty to be alert on all occasions, evil never sleeps, blah blah. And since Harry's expressly forbidden me turning him into a toadstool, I'm doing my best not to have another run-in. So pumpkin juice it is." She took a sip, and grimaced. "And to think I used to have a crush on him at school."

"That's appalling."

She laughed. "Oh, I had highly questionable taste back at Hogwarts. I even fancied you for a while."

Now that was a bit of a shock. "And I thought you were a one-man woman."

"What, Harry?" Ginny smiled. "Well, he's that sort of bloke, isn't he? Inspires devotion, but... somehow unimaginable in any real sense."

Draco shrugged, looking around the crowd. The chatter was quite loud, the music bright.

But Ginny didn't let it fall. After a moment, she said: "Draco, about Harry..." He didn't look at her, and she sighed, then continued: "Don't give up there."

"What?" He did look at her then.

Her smile was gentle, and somehow secret. "You heard me."

Just what he needed; people sticking their noses into something that was none of their business. "He's made it perfectly clear to me -" Draco began, but got no further.

"Of course he has," Ginny interrupted. "It's Harry-bloody-Potter, he's the original stubborn idiot. Sometimes I think he actually enjoys refusing himself what he wants. But I would have thought you'd be more persistent, out of sheer annoyance value if nothing else."

"Listen, if I wanted -" He stopped, as his brain caught up with his ears - refusing himself what he wants.

Ginny shook her head. "Look, fine, forget I said anything." She drained the juice. "Creevey can get knotted, I'm going outside for a fag." She dumped her empty glass on a statue's tray and pushed her way off through the crowd, leaving Draco feeling jittery and exposed.

Barely had he raised his glass for another sip when another familiar voice said: "How did you scare her off?"

Draco turned to face Hermione, rallying himself. "I threatened to dance with her again."

That got a laugh, and a weak protest of: "You weren't that bad, really."

"I only dance once a year, so I thought I'd get it over with." He spoke lightly, and forced a smile.

"Don't worry," she said, "I'm not going to drag you onto the floor again. I just wanted to speak to you. Make sure - well -" She laughed a little abashedly. "Make sure you didn't think I hated you or anything."

"You don't?" Draco drawled. "I'm crushed."

She laughed with him, but then looked at him seriously. "Be careful, Draco," she warned. "Things are on the move here. I'm not sure what's going to happen in the next few days, and you haven't made many friends."

Very cryptic. But of course he knew how it was going to go, how it had to go. He hadn't expected this warning. He hadn't expected how touched he felt. "I never did make many friends," he said quickly.

"True, I suppose," Hermione allowed, frowning at the dancefloor, and then turning a smile on him. "Well, shall I leave you to your brooding, then?"

"Yes, shoo, you're ruining my atmosphere."

Laughing, she turned away, then paused. "Oh, by the way, Harry is upstairs, if you're looking for him. Fifth balcony on the left up the stairs." With a smug little smile, she escaped.

Bloody hell. At this rate, the next person he spoke to would say something that would make Draco faint.

After a moment, he set his glass on a tray and went looking for the way upstairs.

The statue proved remarkably helpful, and pointed out the staircase leading up to the corridor off which the upstairs balconies sprouted. It was in a corner of the ballroom, a tight spiral down which a young pair of high-spirited wizards came clattering, almost knocking Draco over.

"Watch it!" one snapped on the way past, and the other laughed sharply.

It was enough to make Draco feel old. The sensation didn't abate once he made it upstairs, either. A corridor ran around the ballroom, the balconies curtained off at regular intervals. Not all of the curtains were drawn, but most of the balconies seemed to be full of more noisy young witches and wizards, shrieking and laughing and aiming mock-spells at each other.

He caught a glimpse as he turned left down the corridor; they all seemed unspeakably young. Some of them, he was sure, couldn't be out of school yet.

Draco hadn't been laughing much, at that age. None of them had been.

Counting enclosures, Draco continued down the corridor, until he reached a drawn, silent curtain. He took a deep breath and, without checking, pushed through the curtain.

The balcony was small, in a shadowed corner of the ballroom, and empty apart from a single figure in burgundy and black robes, leaning against the railing watching the bustle below. Harry turned at Draco's entrance, but didn't seem very surprised. "Still skulking about, Malfoy?" he asked casually.

"I couldn't miss out on this," Draco replied, trying to match the tone. He twitched the curtains closed behind him, and crossed the balcony to lean against the railing next to Harry. He waved an arm over the ballroom. "Look at all this."

"I suppose it's all very entertaining," Harry noted, "if you don't have any responsibilities."

Draco shook his head, and tilted to look up at Harry. "Can we, just for once, pretend to be cordial?"

Harry looked down at him, and then laughed shortly. "What, just for the novelty value?"

"Something like that."

"Won't the world come to an end?"

"Live a little."

Harry turned back to the railing, leaning on his elbows beside Draco. They watched the whirl below for a moment before he said: "I do, you know."

"What?"

"Live." Harry gave him a sidelong glance and smiled. "It isn't all work."

"I never doubted it."

"Really?"

He didn't. Harry was more serious these days, and Draco had been shocked by the world wrapped around him, a world Draco wasn't a part of, had turned his back on. But he remembered - the manic grin that Harry had never been able to keep from surfacing, the glee that had bubbled out. The Boy Who Wouldn't Be Controlled. He doubted a little responsibility had stripped him of all of that, however deep it was buried for the Council.

Not something he could say, not here and now, so instead he flicked his wrist, gestured around the ballroom. "This is an amazing thing, you know."

"The Ball? I had nothing to do with it."

"I don't mean the Ball. The Council. The concept. Wizards taking responsibility for themselves, working together. It's inspired. It's revolutionary. I don't think I ever told you that, but it is."

Well now, he seemed to have rendered Harry speechless. Draco turned to face Harry, leaning one elbow against the railing, to enjoy the rare occasion. He grinned, and Harry frowned. "But you're still not getting involved."

"Tsk tsk; cordial, remember."

"I am being bloody cordial." But he started laughing as he spoke, and Draco laughed along. "I saw you with Ginny before," Harry remarked, changing the subject. "I haven't seen her dance in a long time."

"Why not?"

"It's the job." Harry shrugged. "Either people are frightened of her, or she thinks it doesn't suit the image. I don't know. Sometimes I think I made a mistake, loading her with that much responsibility. She should be having fun."

"Like you aren't."

"Cordial!" Harry shot back.

"Yeah, yeah," Draco drawled, grinning. He hadn't been serious, in any case; it was just too tempting sometimes. Down below, his eyes were caught by a flash of copper-red, and there was the girl in question, gesturing wildly with the hand that wasn't holding a glass as she confronted Creevey. His smile mellowed. "Besides, she's the best one for the job."

Below, Creevey seemed annoyed, but Ginny was in a high dudgeon, and seemed to be winning. Beside him, Harry said, sounding subdued: "Well, I suppose you'd know."

Before Draco had an opportunity to consider that, Ginny gestured wildly to encompass the upper level of the ballroom, and stormed off. Creevey looked up, scanning the balconies.

Draco leapt backwards, dragging Harry along with him into the deeper shadows at the back of the balcony.

"What the--?" Harry swore, brushing the spilt champagne off his robes. He leaned forward to set the empty glass on the railing, but Draco moved his other arm, brought his cane up to block the way.

As Harry stilled beside him, Draco realised the proximity his movements had brought them into. He was close beside Harry, one hand gripping his arm, the other stretched out in front of him. The tip of the cane rested against the wall, and all Harry really had to do was push on it to escape, but he wasn't doing that. He had stopped dead, and he was looking at Draco, so close; too close. "Creevey's looking for you," Draco managed, striving for normalcy, only managing a voice lower than usual. He cleared his throat. "You should really let Ginny turn him into a toadstool."

"And what sort of message would that send?" Harry murmured, but Draco had no trouble hearing him. "Head of the Council advocating turning the Chairman into a fungus."

Draco hadn't let go of his arm; Harry hadn't made any move to get free. Draco smiled. "The Harry Potter I knew wouldn't have let a little thing like that stand in his way. It would have been up to, say, Hermione to talk him out of it."

"Hermione just wants to turn him into a toad."

"Well, there you go." Draco shifted his weight - closer to Harry. "So it's just your sense of responsibility standing in the way. I'm very disappointed."

Was Draco imagining things, or had Harry turned slightly? "What the hell would you know about responsibility, Draco?" Harry whispered.

He felt the lightest of pressures against his side, through his robes. The gentlest of fingers, the whisper-press of a glass that hadn't been set down, and he wasn't imagining that. "I thought we weren't fighting," Draco noted.

"We aren't fighting."

They weren't. They were practically touching, standing so close, in alignment, the same height, almost exactly. Draco could hear breathing, slightly fast, slightly harsh, but he didn't know if it was his or Harry's. Didn't really care. Let go of Harry's arm so he could smooth his fingers up his arm to his shoulder, rucking the burgundy fabric under his palm. They moved closer, noses to cheeks, so when Draco breathed in it tasted of Harry. Harry's head tilted back, his now-free hand brushing against Draco's shoulder before cool fingers slipped over his throat, curling around his nape. He felt fingers curl into his hair, threading into the low queue, as he pressed his face under the hinge of Harry's jaw, dragged his bottom lip against the bone with the faintest rasp of not-quite stubble.

"Draco," Harry breathed, and he realised he had his eyes shut, shut tight as if against the possibility of waking.

Blinking against the still-wild splay of Harry's hair, Draco shifted, spoke before he could out-think himself. "Harry. Can we-- Couldn't we pretend there was no reason not to?"

Robes rustled against robes; fingers tugged, pulling his head back, and Harry whispered against his cheekbone: "Yes." Draco pulled back further, met Harry's eyes and let the fingers fall from his hair onto his shoulder. Harry smiled, barely the faintest twitch of his lips. "I'm not going to say it twice."

Draco grinned and started to lean forward, but he was still a breath from Harry's mouth when a voice called from the corridor: "Lord Potter?"

Creevey's voice, sure and strident. Draco paused, edged back; the moment froze, him looking at Harry looking back.

"Lord Potter?" Closer now, almost outside the curtain.

Harry blinked, and took a half-step backward. When he spoke, his voice pushed past Draco. "Yes. In here, Creevey."

Draco stepped back quickly, whirled away. He was leaning nonchalantly against the railing by the time the curtains twitched apart. Creevey stepped inside, but faltered when he saw Draco.

"Yes?" Harry asked, curt and clipped.

"Ah, sir, can I speak with you?"

"Of course."

Creevey hesitated again, his glance sliding to Draco and away again. "It is a somewhat delicate matter."

Draco wrapped both hands around his cane, and smiled thin and cold, like the sharp taste in his mouth. "Not for discussion in front of uncertain elements?" he sneered. "Secrets that can't be allowed to fall into dastardly hands?" He suspected Harry would be glaring at him by now; he didn't look.

Creevey looked briefly uncertain, then squared his shoulders. "You have no place here, Malfoy, by your own inclination, and even less place in the inner workings."

"Well said," Draco applauded mockingly. "I shall remove myself." He crossed the balcony, between Creevey and Harry, but paused at the curtain. When he looked up at Harry, Creevey was denied from the space between them, and Draco almost sighed in relief when he saw Harry's eyes weren't hard. "Thank you," he said simply.

Harry nodded in response, slow and steady, and Draco ducked through the curtains.

There were still shrieks and laughter from the balconies, but most of the young folk had gone downstairs; when Draco stepped out into the light and noise of the ballroom, the band was playing loudly and the dancefloor was massed and seething. The crowd was thinning, youthful, ecstatic.

Age seemed to settle on Draco like a pall. Enthusiasm raced around him, and fatigue dragged at his bones. He couldn't see a single person he knew. He didn't look too hard.

Energy echoed dull in his stomach; he couldn't go to bed yet. Couldn't think of being still. He pushed out of the ballroom and wandered the padded and hushed corridors until he found the bar where he'd had that first drink with Ginny.

There were scattered groups of more subdued ball-goers at the tables. Draco took a seat at the bar. The bartender squinted at him. "Gin and tonic, wasn't it?"

Maybe it was, but not tonight. "Let's try Scotch, single malt, at least fifteen years old, unadulterated."

The liquor was just what he needed. Settling. Brooding. Simple in its complexity. Draco gazed into the glass and pondered the conundrums of life: ice would have given him something else to look at, but it was worse than sin to dilute whiskey this good.

Another conundrum: the way life could offer you possibilities that just couldn't be taken up.

Maybe he shouldn't have come. Should have just lived with that whisper of a thought. Should have known how it would all play out. Draco ran his hand along the cane resting against his knee, felt the silver head cold in his palm. He couldn't give up who he was, where he had come from, what he demanded of himself. Had he honestly thought Harry might do so?

He hadn't thought at all. Had just hoped: madly, foolishly, blindly.

Who would've thought? Malfoy the optimist.

Ah well. He could admit - here, to the last dregs of the scotch in the glass - that it hadn't been all bad. He smiled wryly, and drained the glass. No, not bad at all, all things considered. Not much to regret. Not overall.

He left some money on the bar and stood, taking up the cane. Time to go to bed, and in the morning, he could pack and get out of here.

When he was halfway to the door, it opened and a small group slunk in, uniformly draped in black velvet and wearing secretive, important expressions. From their midst, Valaria stared coldly at him as they passed.

Hand on the door, Draco paused. There was no time like the present; if he didn't deal with this problem now, it would only have to be dealt with later.

He turned. "Valaria." It was as cold, as commanding as he could make it.

The whole group froze, and the lady in question whirled about, settling her features quickly. "What?"

Draco's face settled itself almost unconsciously into the sort of mask his father had been so prone to wear. It had troubled Draco, once, how easy all this was. "Come here," he said, taking two slow steps forward. But everyone had talents. Everyone could use them differently for similar ends.

Valaria came nervously forward, bird-like. But still holding back, chin up in front of her accomplices.

Settling in front of her, his mind raced. What did he know about her? What was the key to undoing her? She had lots of siblings; had she been important at home? Important to her father? There are still some of us, Milord, she'd hissed in his ear. Pliant, willing... all she wanted was someone to obey. "I'm not best pleased with you, child." It was a gentle scold, stern with the faintest touch of indulgence.

She flinched, colour blooming in her cheeks. Angry, but also stung, touched just so. "M-milord..."

But he stepped forward quickly, forestalling anything she might say. Gripped her chin in one hand and leaned in close to her willingly-tilted neck. Heard her faint gasp, felt her shiver, and knew he'd won here. All he had to do was whisper the right words now, into her ear, close to her now as he'd been to Harry...

It was like a bucket of ice down the back of his neck. Draco almost laughed as he released her, straightened. "Milord?" she asked, and her cohorts were looking at him suspiciously, but he was just tired. Too tired to play this game. Another time, he knew, he would. He'd play it with every fragment of skill and talent he had, bending all his efforts to it, because it would help Harry and it would help Ginny but mostly because it was right.

But not tonight.

Valaria was looking up at him with uncertain eyes, looking remarkably vulnerable in her Dark-Witch robes. "They're on to you," he said simply, quietly. She blinked. "They know. They've got people watching you. Just think about that. You're a clever girl."

Then he turned and walked out, leaving her staring after him as the door swung shut behind him.

* * * * *

Draco didn't bother making a special effort to wake up early the following morning. The sun was bright outside, and no longer streaming straight through the window, but falling slantwards onto the lush carpeting, when he finally considered getting out of bed.

He'd washed in the basin and dressed, and was just fastening the last of his cufflinks when the knock came on the door. Hard, stately and official, and not entirely unexpected.

In fact, Draco mildly wondered what had taken so long.

There were three men outside his door - two slabs of wizarding muscle with wands prominently displayed, and a thinner, more nervous-looking fellow in front.

"You've come to take me into custody," Draco supplied, leaning against the doorframe. He eyed the muscle. "Three of you. I must say I'm flattered."

The thin one didn't seem capable of dealing with this. "You're - ah - to present yourself before the Council, Lord Malfoy. You are to leave your wand and any magical devices you may possess. I'm afraid I really have to insist. If you won't -"

"Yes, yes, I know," Draco replied. "Give me a moment to put my boots on, will you?"

They did, waiting uncertainly at the door as he dealt with his footwear and hair. He took up the cane on the way out the door; as if he was going to forget it today.

"Let's go, gentlemen." His blithe compliance disconcerted the muscle-boys; after a few uncertain looks and mutterings, they fell in behind him and - "What's your name?"

The thin wizard started. "Oh. Westcott, Milord."

He was younger than Draco, by a good few years. What did he remember of the War? What did he believe in now? "Pleasure to meet you, Westcott."

"Ah - likewise, I'm sure." Though his darting eyes suggested otherwise.

They arrived back at closed double doors, and Draco gestured to them with a wry smile. "You'd best go first, Westcott. Appearances and all."

The young wizard, it seemed, was not without a sense of the dramatic. He waved his wand, and the double doors sprang open. The ballroom, Draco noticed, had been the recipient of a quick and thorough magical clean, and was now once again the home of the Council. Rows and rows of wizards and witches turned to watch as Draco was escorted, Westcott in front, bully-boys behind, down the centre aisle of the hall. Conversation buzzed all around him, chasing him along, but he barely heeded it.

They stopped at the front of the hall, before the raised dais. Creevey, standing at the podium, looked grimly satisfied as he glared down at Draco. Behind him, the higher Council members sat at their table. There were many of them Draco didn't recognise, some concerned, one bored, a couple as vindictively gleeful as the Chairman might have hoped. At one end, Ginny looked hungover and depressed, a fizzing glass of pumpkin juice in front of her. Hermione, beside her, threw Draco an apologetic glance, and he could almost hear her voice - I'm sorry; I tried to warn you. And finally, he reached Harry, who might have been made of stone for all the response he was showing to Draco's sudden arrival.

"Draco, Lord Malfoy," Westcott announced, unnecessarily.

"I present myself at the request of the Council," Draco said, before Creevey could even open his mouth. He smiled up at the Chairman. "It was a request, wasn't it? The Council, I believe, doesn't actually have the right to order the presence of anyone who is not a member. Correct me if I'm wrong."

Creevey frowned back at him. "You are not wrong," he allowed. "And we must thank you for accepting our invitation so that we may ascertain, since you are, as you suggest, not a member of our body, precisely what you're doing here."

With a shrug, Draco said: "What do you think I'm doing here?"

"Speculation has lead us to unpleasant ends, Lord Malfoy."

"Enlighten me. I'm curious."

Creevey looked down sternly from the podium. "Your record is stained, Malfoy. Your associations are well known."

"Are they?"

A glance across the Council table showed Ginny was glaring at him, Hermione frowning, Harry still stony-faced. A voice from somewhere in the crowd shouted: "Stop faffing about!" but was quickly shushed.

With a glance over the crowd of assembled magicfolk, Creevey consulted a paper in front of him. "Very well, if you wish to be difficult. Do you deny that you have communicated with known criminals?"

Draco set his feet firmly, folded his hands over the snake-head of the cane. "No."

Whispering and muttering rippled through the hall, and Creevey spoke over it: "Do you deny that you have harboured dissidents?"

"No."

It was as if each denial was a magic incantation, turning the volume of the room higher. Again, Creevey said over the top of the muttering: "And do you deny, Draco Malfoy, that you have consorted with, even entertained in your own house, Dark wizards such as the infamous Lloyd, now incarcerated in Konstantin prison?"

The noise burst higher at the accusation, and Draco waited, head high. So that was that was what had happened to Sinclair Lloyd. Confined to maximum security on a lump of rock in the magical wasteland of the Arctic Circle. Draco wondered if he'd stood tall and proud as Draco now did when the sentence was read.

As the chatter dimmed slightly, he said, clear and ringing: "I do not deny it."

Voices exploded all around him. The ruckus was tremendous, a wall of sound that pressed against Draco's back. Here and there, he could pick out an individual voice - "Arrest him!"; "up to no good" and even "Death Eater!"

Creevey rapped his wand against the edge of the podium, and silence rippled out from the dais as the Muting Charm passed over the crowd. "The Council will come to order," he said sternly.

"There is nothing criminal about any of my actions," Draco interjected in the sudden quiet.

That earned him a glare from the podium. "There isn't," Creevey admitted grudgingly. "Nevertheless, taken together, or even separately, they constitute reasonable grounds for suspicion regarding your present and future conduct. Most specifically, since you are not a member of the Council, nor have you made any attempt to gain such membership, we are justified in demanding an account of your presence here. Vigilance is the tool with which we shall preserve the order that has been granted us, and such vigilance demands that I ask you again, Malfoy: What is your business at this Council?"

Draco took his time, looked to the Council table again. Ginny was glaring at Creevey's back so hard, it was surprising he wasn't already mushroom-shaped. Hermione was biting her lip, looking sideways to Harry, who still resembled a statue.

"My business," Draco stated, "is my own."

The ripple of voices was quieter, grim, hard, matching the smile on Creevey's face. "Then, if you cannot give account for yourself, I must demand you remove yourself from this assembly. Should you resist, force will be employed." The idea seemed not entirely unpleasant to the Chairman.

"That won't be necessary," Draco promised. "I'll be gone by tomorrow morning."

Turning, he shouldered between the muscle-boys, and strode the length of the aisle, hurried along by hissed mutterings, and dark glares. The double doors thudded solidly closed behind him.

* * * * *

It seemed Draco had spent the whole weekend packing or unpacking. Even with magic, it was boring. He couldn't face it again just yet. Instead, he stood at the window, staring sightlessly at the view.

Well, that had gone about as well as expected. For a moment, to be honest, Draco had thought Creevey might try to have him arrested. That would have been inconvenient, though Draco knew he was right when he'd said he'd done nothing illegal. He'd made sure of that, treading a fine line, taking the occasional step to keep himself in the clear.

And Sinclair in Konstantin. Couldn't get Old Black in there, filthy cold pit of hell that it was. Draco wondered if he could arrange something.

A knock on the door distracted him. "Yes?" he called.

The door opened, and a red head appeared. "Oh good, you're still here," Ron said.

"Yes," Draco replied, turning away from the window. "I'm still here. You've heard, then."

Ron leaned against the doorframe, hovered in the doorway. "Notes from both Hermione and Ginny," he admitted. "'Mione's frantic, wants you to get out of here before anything else bad happens. She's also determined to comb through the Council statutes and find out if what Creevey did is legal."

"Don't bother," Draco said.

"That's what I told her." Ron lounged, hands in pockets. "Ginny's just furious, absolutely spitting chips. She wants to arrest Creevey for conspiracy. The words 'horrible soul-crushing torture' might have been mentioned."

"She'll get over that with the hangover," Draco said dismissively.

"I suppose so. This is the best way, isn't it?"

It wasn't really surprising; he wasn't the only clever person at this Council. "It's the only way, really."

Ron nodded absently. "You're off, then."

"Eventually." His bag was still sitting, empty, at the foot of the bed, and Draco poked it with his foot. "I have until tomorrow morning."

"I'll let you get to it." Ron raised a hand to the door. "Oh, doing anything for Hallowe'en?"

Staying home. Alone. "Nothing planned."

"We'll send you an owl." With a final grin, Ron slipped back out, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him.

Through that gap, Draco could hear the noise in the corridor, distracting him as he thought about packing again. Every footstep coming closer made him pretend not to pause, expectantly, until they turned away or went past.

Admit it, Draco. What are you waiting for?

He gave up, didn't bother making excuses. Just sat on the bed and took up the book he had brought with him; he hadn't glanced at it since the first night. It was dense - it was distracting - and he'd almost got involved in it when footsteps in the corridor slowed, stopped outside his door.

Harry's knock on the door pushed it open slightly. Draco marked his place and set the book aside. "Come in," he offered.

Harry did, leaning against the door to shut it. His gaze skipped over the empty bag, the wardrobe still open from Draco's brief, abortive attempt at packing.

"Don't worry," Draco said. "I'll be gone on time."

That got those green eyes on him. "Dramatic business, this morning," Harry noted. "Did you enjoy yourself?"

Draco shrugged. "Creevey seemed to get what he wanted."

Harry didn't look stone-faced now. He looked tired. Old. The Boy Who'd Lived Too Much. He shook his head. "You could've said something, you know. Told them some truths."

"So could you," Draco pointed out.

With a nod, Harry crossed the room, looking out the window with one hand on the frame. The light outside had the warm golden glow of afternoon, and it reflected off his glasses. "Immediately after this morning's session," he said, still staring out the window, "Ginny and I had a visitor."

"Who?" Draco asked, because he was obviously supposed to.

"Valaria Sinistra." Harry turned to look at him, and Draco didn't bother conjuring up surprise. "She was turning herself in, willing to offer full testimony as to the plans and actions of herself and her associates in return for... well, the usual. Ginny's with her now. She'd been talking for half an hour non-stop when I left."

What was he supposed to say? "Fancy that."

Not that, apparently. Harry turned his back abruptly on the window. "You've made your point, Malfoy. You're valuable, you're helping, you're doing your bit where you are. Outside my jurisdiction."

Draco shook his head, sliding off the bed on the opposite side to Harry. "Fuck your points, Potter." He looked over his shoulder. "It's not about you, you arrogant idiot. I'd be happier if you knew nothing about it, you and Ginny both."

"Then why?" He was almost shouting, gestured with both hands. "I don't get it, Draco. Why get involved?"

The carpet between his feet was rich and patterned; Draco hadn't noticed it before now, looking down at it. "I got involved because it was fucking stupid not to," he told the floor. "Same reason I signed up on your side in the first place, not that you ever bothered finding out. So much talent, so many gifts, wasting away in the service of the Dark, just because the other side was too confounded stupid to make use of them properly. With victory, you know, I thought maybe there'd be room for everyone. As long as they knew it was an option."

Noise from behind him; Harry was moving, stepping up to the foot of the bed. Draco looked up at him. "I never planned to become the light on the road to Damascus. It just happened, bit by bit. I wasn't with you, there were rumours... people approached me. I did what was right. I did what needed to be done. It had nothing to do with you, and I never asked for credit."

"You didn't," Harry agreed, voice quiet.

After a moment of silence, Draco shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably. "How long has Ginny known, anyway?"

"I don't know. She didn't tell me anything about it until we knew you were coming to the Council."

Draco's eyes flew to Harry's face, then he looked away quickly and laughed. "I knew I shouldn't have come."

"Why did you come?"

That question again. Always that damn question. "There was unfinished business," Draco said again, the same answer, more or less, he'd given Ron. Still true. Though... "Some business is never completed," he added. "You just have to live with it that way."

When he looked up this time, Harry had a hand on the bedpost. "Then why are you still here?"

Draco smiled crookedly, and stood up, turning to face Harry. "Because I don't leave without saying goodbye, remember?"

Harry did, Draco could tell. Ten years ago, while the party was still raging and such bright potential was stretching ahead of them, Draco had made his decision. The only decision he could have made. To leave. Couldn't just sneak away like a thief in the night, though, not after fighting back to back, not after everything.

When he'd knocked on the door, green eyes had looked up at him and a voice more weary than anything on earth said: "You're leaving, aren't you? And there's nothing I can do to stop you."

Draco wondered if he'd ever really let himself think about those words. That night. Harry had hugged Draco once, fierce and unexpected, and then Draco had walked out without looking back. Hadn't seen him again in ten years.

Their hug today, this afternoon, in this room, was nothing like that had been. They held each other close, Harry's hands splayed almost possessively over Draco's shoulder blades, and his hair didn't smell of ash. He smelled just of Harry, and Draco tilted his face into his neck.

"Why?" Harry demanded, grit in Draco's ear. "Why do I spend my whole life letting you walk away?"

"This time is different," Draco said, promised, had no idea what he was saying.

Harry pulled back slightly, looked him in the eyes with all the fierce determination that made him who he was, burning with it. "Yes," he declared.

He kissed Draco.

What was he supposed to do, in this position? Their arms were already around each other, Harry pressed to him shoulder to thigh so close, their mouths angling together and opening like this was what they'd been designed for.

Draco didn't make a habit of lying to himself, so he didn't bother pretending that he would have tried to resist. In any case, it would have been impossible. It was impossible not to drop his arm around Harry's waist, to frame his jaw with the other hand as Harry's fingers wound tight into his hair - always his hair, did someone have a fetish? - as their tongues met, plunged, stroked.

Harry had a hand low on Draco's waist; he pushed, undeniable, and the bedpost dug into Draco's back. They shifted, and Harry's hand pushed, and they came into alignment, hips pressing together. Both of them shivered. Draco dragged his mouth from Harry's, and tilted his head back with an insistent finger under his jaw. Tilted until he could lick at Harry's throat, hold his tongue over Harry's Adam's Apple as he swallowed.

"Lock the door," Harry rasped, and stepped back and away.

His wand was lying on the desk, and Draco dispensed with the door barely paying attention. When he turned back, Harry was sitting on the side of the bed, kicking off his shoes.

And God. This was really happening.

"Harry." He looked up, unbuttoning the cuffs of his shirt, now. And the sight of someone's wrists really shouldn't affect Draco like this. "Harry, I'm leaving tonight..."

He didn't stop, hands moving to the shirt buttons proper, starting at the top, moving down. "What, you want to wait another ten years until we see each other again?"

"No." Draco didn't want to wait at all. He wanted to hurry forward to the part with Harry salt-slick against him. But at the same time, it was all going too fast, rushing past him when he wanted to savour every inch of skin being revealed by each undone button.

He was standing in front of Harry, Draco realised. He had moved without noticing, and now he dropped to his knees. He reached out to grab Harry's wrists as his fingers moved on to the second-to-last button. "Let me."

Harry's hands drifted away to splay fingers on the bedspread, and Draco gripped the edges of white linen. He fought a ridiculous urge to hold his breath as he pushed the button through. Brushing the back of his fingers over the skin revealed, he watched the muscles contract. Did the last button one-handed as he nudged Harry's knees apart so he could kneel forward between them, between his thighs as he pushed the shirt aside. Draco breathed out up Harry's ribcage until he reached a tightening nipple; licked it.

From the corner of his eye he saw movement as Harry's hand came up to somewhere above his head. "No." Draco leaned back slightly, caught the wrist as Harry tugged at his glasses. "Leave them on."

"What? Why?"

Draco pressed forward and licked at the other nipple. If he dropped his hand down in front of his solar plexus, he could cup Harry, hot and hard against the heel of his palm. "Because I want you to see every detail of this."

The glasses stayed where they were; Harry's hands back gripping the bedspread. Draco unfastened Harry's trousers, clasp, button and zip. He'd thought - he'd vaguely planned - to take it slow, to stretch it out until Harry was begging. That had seemed like an interesting idea. But when he could see Harry's cock outlined against his red satin boxers, he had to reach inside, feel it in his hand. Harry took a hissing, jumping breath.

And once Draco could feel Harry's cock, stroke it slowly with the skin sticking faintly, he needed to see it, to bring it out where he could see his pale fingers curled around Harry. He knelt forward, leaned down to lick across the head... and any thought of taking it slow went out the window as above him, Harry hissed again.

"Are you watching?" Draco asked, barely recognising his own voice, and didn't wait for a response before he leaned forward, opened his mouth, and took Harry as deep as he could go.

Harry jerked, made a noise like he'd swallowed his tongue.

Draco wasn't going to give him time to recover, either. He braced a hand against Harry's hip as the other doubled with his mouth on Harry's cock. Long, slow strokes, mouth and hand, but gaining momentum inexorably. This was no time to take it slow, not when they'd waited all weekend, waited too long. Fingers in his hair again, tugging against the strands, pulling them loose of the ribbon to fall around his face, the ends brushing against satin.

Draco swirled his tongue, moved faster. No time to take it slow when this might be all they ever had, this night, and dammit, Draco was going to make sure Harry remembered it. He was going to--

"Draco!" And Harry came, hips jerking, salty on Draco's tongue.

Draco swallowed, and again. Harry's hand fell from his hair, and he sat back on his heels as Harry slumped backwards on the bed. Clambered up to crawl onto the bed. He straddled Harry, holding himself up on hands and knees, until a hand against the back of his neck yanked him down into a long, tangled, intimate kiss.

"Don't mess around, do you?" Harry panted against his lips.

Draco braced himself on his elbows. Half his hair was loose, slithering down around his face and Harry's. "Sorry," he muttered.

Harry's laugh was short and breathless. "What the bloody hell for?"

That made Draco smirk, but still... "I thought maybe... well, we're both still pretty much dressed."

The laugh this time was lower, threaded with a wicked tone that made Draco jump where he was pressed, already achingly hard, against his own trousers. Where Harry's hand found him a moment later, firm and mind-blowing. "We're not finished yet." Harry's voice was barely a whisper.

And Draco let himself believe.

* * * * *

Later - much later, after clothes were removed and limbs were tangled and there had been plenty of time to take it as slowly as they wanted - Draco lay awake in the dark.

It was, he hazarded, somewhere in the early hours. Half-past two, perhaps. Maybe almost three. The moon was close to full, and faint silver luminescence filled the room. It covered everything in a layer of unreality: the furniture, his still-empty bag, the figure beside him.

Harry was sleeping on his stomach, an arm thrown across Draco's chest. He was sound asleep, miles deep. Every so often he let out a faint snore. Draco couldn't stop staring at his face. The half of his face that he could see, anyway, the other half squished into the pillow. Moon-silvered cheek and dark lashes closed, glasses somewhere on the bedside table.

It made him think of another time, another dark head on his pillow. Karl Schmidt. Two years, six months ago. Only too willing to listen, to forget about the Dark Arts, to do anything Draco said with a hand around his cock.

He'd slept beside Draco like the child he was, and Draco had woken up from dreams he couldn't remember, gripped with the certainty that when those eyes opened, they'd be green.

They weren't, of course. They were brown, and concerned, and what was the matter, Draco?

That was the first time he'd thought of it. Of Harry, of himself, of... something. The two of them. The first time the concept even occurred to him, but once it had, he couldn't shake it. It sank claws deep into him, tangled him up in ideas and images and memories he hadn't even known he had. And he hadn't even had the familiar old antipathy to hide behind. Somewhere, in the years gone past, it had dissipated.

There hadn't been much of it left, in any case. He hadn't hated Harry since he was very young. You couldn't view the world in all its complexity and still hang on to such simple, driving emotion. There hadn't been any space in the War for childish sentiments, and fighting back-to-back for the same cause forged at least grudging respect, bleeding away the antagonism no matter how much he looked down on the idiotic idealism that motivated the others.

It had been a long time since he'd hated Harry, and he'd remembered that parting hug, a fierce, serious space amidst jubilation, and he'd remembered that he'd hesitated, just for a moment. Everything had been planned, he'd made his decision, but in that embrace he'd been caught, briefly, by the possibility of a different future. He could stay. He could stand beside Harry, in the place he earned for himself during the War. He could be a part of whatever came after, and maybe, and maybe...

Now, in the moonlight beside the right dark-haired man, Draco shook his head. Carefully, gently, he slid out of bed, letting Harry's hand fall to the sheets.

He could have joined them, way back then, ten years ago. But he hadn't. He'd made his decision, followed it through, had his reasons. How much of himself would he have had to sacrifice to be one of them? How much would he have been willing to subsume to stay close to Harry? How much would it take before he started hating him?

Draco stood at the window, looking out over scenery blinding in the moonlight. Delaying the moment when he turned back and started packing his bag.

Because he wasn't staying this time, either. No matter how much Harry distracted him, how much he wanted to stay where he could touch him. It was more complicated than that, would never stay as simple as his name on Harry's lips.

The world turned, and they weren't in any position to do anything other than what they must.

Draco turned away from the moonlight, and started to pack. He used his hands, leaving the wand on the desk where it was, working silently in the dark as Harry slept on. The moon slipped away, and the sky lightened imperceptibly in the east. It grew fragile-coloured as Draco dressed. He was lacing his shirt when Harry stirred.

"I have to go," Draco said, before Harry could say a word.

Harry didn't argue. Didn't say any of the things Draco had been dreading, like "why?" or "stay" or something even worse. Just watched him for a moment, lying there sprawled in Draco's bed like this was an everyday thing, before he rolled out of bed on the other side, reaching for his own clothes.

They dressed in silence, and Draco was binding back his hair when fingers slid around his wrists, stilling the movement.

Looking up, Draco met Harry's eyes in the mirror. He lowered his hands as Harry combed his fingers through white-blond locks. Watching those fingers wind through his hair made Draco ache, but the sun was going to rise soon. It was time he was gone.

Harry smoothed Draco's hair back, tied it deftly with the black ribbon. His gaze met Draco's in the mirror, his hands resting uneasily on Draco's shoulders, not quite entirely there. "If I was to, ah-" Harry hesitated, and it was like old days, before he grew into the confidence of his legend. It was an uncertainty that belonged to Draco alone. "Say, if I was to pay a visit to Malfoy Manor...?"

Draco reminded himself to breathe. "Friends are always welcome." He watched Harry in the mirror. "Do you think you might? Pay a visit, that is."

Harry smiled. "I think I'd better. We have unfinished business, after all."

Somewhere the sun was rising, and Draco's time had run out. But maybe it wasn't too late.

=====

END

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