Chapter 1: Chapter 1
His head was throbbing. His right eye was swollen in its socket, the eyelid so puffed up that he could barely see properly. His body ached all over and he was fairly certain that his wrist and maybe a couple of ribs were broken. Truth be told, he wasn't sure how he was still alive at all, but the pain throughout his body told him that he was.
It had been a minor miracle that he had managed to apparate without splinching himself. He had squeezed his eyes tightly shut and thought of the last place he had truly felt safe, which was how he came to be outside the gates of Hogwarts, slumped over on his side, breathing raggedly.
He knew, of course, that he couldn't apparate into the castle itself, but he was completely drained of energy and the thought of walking was too much at that moment. He awkwardly pushed himself into a sitting position, his back resting uncomfortably against the metal railings of the gate. It hurt to breathe and the sunlight sliced across his vision painfully.
He tried to take shallow breaths, tried to muster up the strength to stand, but his body wouldn't co-operate. At least the pain gave him something to focus on, something to distract himself with. He didn't want to think of how he had come to be in this state, how he had suffered at the hands of his own father. He had known that there would be repercussions, but he had never imagined that his father would go so far.
His head began to throb in earnest and he let out a low groan as pain exploded behind his eyes. He could feel unconsciousness pulling at him, trying to drag him under, but he couldn't let it until he was safe within the castle walls. Reality was becoming hazier and hazier around him and his head began to spin.
"Wha' the blazes? Grea' Godric's ghost! I've got ya, lad, don' you worry."
Draco felt himself lifted from the ground, although at that moment he couldn't say whether he was dreaming or not. Someone large and bulky was carrying him, someone wearing a hairy coat that smelt of smoke and moss. It wasn't quite the feeling of safety he had been expecting, but it was enough that his mind decided he could finally let go.
He drifted for several hours after. His mind woke him at intervals, usually when there were voices near him. He was dimly aware that he had ended up in the hospital, and it was such a relief to feel the warm, comfortable bed beneath him. The pain lessened each time he regained consciousness, and some dim part of his brain supposed Pomfrey must have healed him.
He still felt horribly weak and he was sure that if he tried to move he would regret it. He briefly considered opening his eyes but his head was thumping too much to truly credit the notion. He heard voices a few feet away, but his head was fuzzy and they sounded muffled. He tried to concentrate on them, to make them clearer, and eventually they swam a little closer to the surface of his mind.
"Did you have any notion this might happen, Severus?"
Dumbledore's voice was unmistakable and a moment later it was joined by Snape's, saying, "None whatsoever, Albus. Mr Malfoy stopped confiding in me a long time ago."
"I think it seems fairly obvious that he must have defied his father to have ended up in such a sorry state."
"Well in that case he can't stay here."
"Mr Potter, I thought you had more charity than that," Snape drawled, while Draco registered surprise that Potter was there.
"I didn't mean that, sir," Potter said quietly, his voice more respectful that Draco had ever heard it. "It's just that this is probably the first place that Lucius will come to look for him. He's his father, he'll have every right to take him away and if he's responsible for Malfoy's condition I don't much fancy the bloke's chances if Lucius does take him away."
"As much as it pains me to say it, Potter does have a point," Snape said, and Draco took a moment to consider the fact that Potter seemed to be concerned for his safety.
"Not that I have any suggestions as to where he can go," Potter continued. "I know it seems a tad dramatic to suggest, given the state he's in, but this could all be some elaborate trap. He could have been sent here to gather information."
"Heavens, Potter. Your mind seems to be working overtime today. Are you quite well?"
"We can question him under veritaserum when he is awake," Dumbledore interjected, jolting Draco. He was no spy for Voldemort, but the thought of a truth drug being poured down his throat was not one he relished.
"Albus, Mr Malfoy is a student at this school," Snape said, sounding scandalised.
"Mr Malfoy is an adult who has decided to seek sanctuary here. Harry is right; we cannot simply take his word that he is not in Voldemort's service. There is too much at stake to be complacent."
There was a note of steel in the old man's voice that Draco had never heard before. It was interesting to glimpse a hint of the real man that lay beneath the kindly old elf persona.
"How badly was he hurt?" Potter asked softly.
"He's suffered head trauma, internal bleeding, a few broken bones and exposure to several nasty curses, including the Cruciatus."
"Merlin," Potter breathed, and Draco winced at the horror in the boy's voice. He didn't want sympathy from Potter of all people. "How could a father do that to his own child?"
"All too easily in Lucius' case, I assure you," Snape said in a voice that was far gentler than Draco had ever heard it. Snape's sympathy was worse than Potter's.
"When will he wake up?" Potter asked.
"Poppy says any time now," Dumbledore replied. "No doubt his body needs the rest. We would do well to let him sleep and see where we stand when he wakes."
"Indeed," Snape said, returning to his usual business-like manner. "Mr Potter, I suggest you and I return to our training in the meantime."
"Such deference," said Snape, and Draco could picture the raised eyebrow that would have accompanied the statement.
The next thing he heard was the soft click of footsteps, and moments later he knew he was alone again in the hospital wing. He opened his eyes slowly, his vision blurry and unfocused. He gave his eyes time to adjust, taking a few deep breaths while he did so, doing a quick once-over of his body.
His wrist was bandaged and he had been stripped of his clothes, placed in striped hospital pyjamas instead. His head still felt thick and he had pins and needles all over, but the pain throughout his body had lessened considerably. He was lucky, he supposed. It could have been much worse.
Potter was right of course; he wouldn't be able to stay at Hogwarts. It was the first place his father would think to look and, although Dumbledore wielded considerable influence, he had no legal right to keep Draco there.
Draco had fled the manor with nothing more than his wand and the tattered clothes on his back. He had no access to money, no way to support himself. If Dumbledore and the rest of them turned him away he would have nowhere to go, no one to turn to. He had never felt so alone in all his life and all he wanted was to call for his mother.
His mother. That, ultimately, had been a far worse betrayal than his father. When the beating had started he had been so sure that his mother would stop it, but she had simply stood there, looking down at the floor and saying nothing. Nothing in his life had ever hurt as much as that had done, and part of him, somewhere deep and hidden, had broken beyond repair.
Tears stung his eyes but he refused to let them fall. He would not cry for her, not for a woman who had relinquished the right to call herself his mother. He truly was alone now, and it was high time he toughened up. Everything he had ever depended on, ever trusted, had been stripped away and he had only himself to rely on.
It was a terrifying notion, but he swore that this would not break him. He couldn't let it; he had come through too much to falter now. Still, he was cast adrift in a world he didn't understand with nothing to anchor him. He had decisions to make, even if they were uncomfortable ones.
He slept fitfully, waking every now and again when Pomfrey bustled in to check on him. He feigned wooziness so she wouldn't speak to him. He couldn't face talking to anyone, knowing he would have questions to answer. It was cowardly, he knew, but he would have to face Dumbledore sooner or later and he needed all his energy for that.
Night rolled around and he found himself wide awake. The pain was much more manageable now and had subsided to a dull ache throughout his body. His wrist tingled with the remnants of healing spells and his nerves still felt slightly raw from the exposure to the Cruciatus. It was a far better state than he had imagined himself ending the day in.
He sighed and threw the covers aside, knowing he wouldn't be able to fall back asleep for a while. He spent a moment or two gauging his strength, trying to determine what his body was capable of before he decided to try and stand. His legs were shaky, and he held onto the bedpost for a moment before he attempted to walk. He felt weak and frail, but he knew that it was only temporary. His strength would return soon enough.
He took a few unsteady steps, keeping close to the other beds in case he faltered. He was a little light-headed, and he realised that it had been a couple of days since he had eaten anything. He made his way to the far window and sank down gratefully on the window seat, taking a few deep breaths, the action hurting his ribs.
He rested his head against the cool of the glass and closed his eyes, knowing that if his father came for him now he would have no hope of defending himself. There was a noise on the stairs and Draco snapped his eyes open in time to see Potter pad softly into the hospital wing. Seeing that Draco was awake, he stopped in surprise, standing looking at him uncertainly.
"I…I thought you'd be asleep," Potter said eventually.
"Then why did you come?" Draco asked, his voice hoarse.
"Oh…I brought you some clothes," Potter said, and Draco noticed the bundle in his arms. "They're nothing fancy but the clothes you showed up in are in bits."
He put the bundle on the bed nearest to him and Draco eyed it with distaste. He was in no position to be choosy though, and he was aware of it.
"Thanks," he said gruffly, holding back a laugh at the look of surprise on Potter's face.
"How…um…how are you feeling?" Potter asked, shifting awkwardly from one foot to another.
"Like I was almost beaten to death by my own father," Draco replied and Potter winced.
"Sorry, stupid question," Potter sighed, taking a tentative seat on the bed he had placed the clothes on. "Professor Snape's working on a couple of potions for you."
"Including veritaserum?" Draco asked snidely, Potter's eyes widening comically.
"You were awake."
Draco nodded while Potter looked at him guiltily.
"Snape and I aren't thrilled about it but Dumbledore's insistent. Look, if it were up to me I'd take your present state as testament to the fact that you're not working for Voldemort, but we can't afford to take chances."
"I get it," Draco said. "I'm not thrilled about it, but I get it. It's not like I have anywhere else to go. I have to agree to your terms."
"Malfoy, we're not the enemy here. We'll be here if that's what you want but we're not keeping you against your will. You have to understand that you've spent your whole life being raised by one of Voldemort's most loyal servants. People are bound to have doubts."
"And won't that just be thrown back in my face at every turn?" Draco asked, unable to stop his sneer.
"What do you mean?" Potter asked.
"You think your little pals are going to welcome me with open arms? Or any of that clan for that matter?"
"Probably not at first, no," said Potter with a shrug. "It's going to take a little work on your part, Malfoy. I know you're used to things falling in your lap but – "
"Does this look things have fallen in my lap?" Draco said harshly, gesturing at his swollen and bruised face. "I defied my father and nearly lost my life because of it!"
"Ok, ok," Potter said, holding up his hands in defence. "I take your point, but mine is still valid. You can't expect us to accept you while you behave the same way to us that you've always done."
"We're going to play happy families, are we?"
Potter sighed and said, "You know what? Fine. Have it your way."
Potter got up and started to leave, and Draco found himself hopping off the window seat and saying, "Wait a minute."
Potter turned around, his expression questioning. Draco clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides, hating the feeling of leaving himself so bare before someone who he'd been at odds with for so long.
"I understand that things have to change," he said eventually, his voice low. "But I won't put up with being treated like a second-class citizen. I'm not going to be made to feel like muck."
"Do you really think we'd do that?"
"Oh I forgot – you're all so holier than thou, aren't you? The decent, fair-minded Gryffindors would never treat someone like scum, would they?" Draco asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"We treat people like that when they deserve it," Potter said heatedly.
"It must be nice up there on that pedestal. You'd better hope no one knocks you off it."
"Don't make threats you can't pull off, Malfoy," Potter said, a slight growl to his voice. Draco had never really understood the whole 'Powerful Potter' thing; the boy had always seemed like kind of a drip to him, but in that moment he thought he saw a glimpse of it.
He sat back down on the window seat, feeling tiredness seep into his limbs. He didn't know why he was being so difficult, but part of him felt desperate to protect himself from vulnerability.
"I've screwed up, Potter. I know that," he said heavily. "I've made some bad choices in the past, but half the time they weren't even my choices to make."
"I understand that."
"I don't think you do," Draco said, shaking his head. "You've never had a family, and I'm not saying that to be cruel. You've never known what it's like to feel the pressure from your parents bearing down on you, feeling crushed by the weight of their expectations. They raised me, they brought me up with certain…beliefs…and I can't pretend that it'll be easy to turn my back on that."
"You have turned your back on it," Potter said, walking down the line of beds to stand in front of him. "I don't know what went on between you and your father, and I'm not going to ask, but it looks to me as though you've decided to pick your own path."
"Perhaps," Draco said quietly, "but I'm not sure what that means," he added, looking down at his hands.
Potter paused for a moment then took a seat beside Draco, his posture stiff and awkward. There was silence for a moment, then Potter took a deep breath and said, "It means accepting help from those willing to offer it."
Draco glanced sideways at Potter, the moonlight reflecting off the boy's ridiculous glasses. He seemed somehow older than the last time Draco had seen him, which was ridiculous as it had only been a few days.
"I'm not going to say this will be easy, because we both know that would be a lie," Potter said softly, "but you must have defied your father for a reason. I think you're going to need to hold on that reason in the coming weeks."
Draco stretched his legs out, pain shooting through his lower back as he did so. He winced and tried to get comfortable, which proved to be easier said than done.
"I don't want to be my father," he said quietly, looking down at his hands. "I don't want to serve a madman and I don't want someone like that in control of our world."
"And the whole bloody purity thing?"
Draco considered the question before he answered. He was going to lie, but he knew he had to tread carefully. "I believe we're better than muggles, I just do, I'm sorry. But…I don't think that purebloods are better than mud…than muggle-borns. Merlin, you just have to look at Granger to see that."
"I'll pass on your compliments," Potter said with a snort.
"Seriously though," Draco said, feeling the tiredness threaten to overwhelm him, "I think the magical world is safer when it has as little as possible to do with the muggle one, but muggle-borns have as much right to exist in the magical community as purebloods."
"And you truly believe that?" Potter asked, squinting at him closely.
"I'll be swearing it under veritaserum tomorrow," Draco said, rolling his eyes.
"Well, for what it's worth, I believe you, truth potion or not," Potter said, then did the unthinkable and extended his hand towards Draco.
Draco wasn't insensible to the irony the little tableau presented. He was reminded keenly of the time he had been the one to offer a handshake and how Potter had rejected him all those years ago. It would be so easy to do the same thing now and give Potter a taste of his own medicine, but it wouldn't have been the smartest thing.
Shaking his head in bewilderment, he took the proffered hand and gave it a firm shake. Potter gave him a lopsided smile and Draco fought hard not to return it. He needed Potter on his side, he knew that, but that didn't mean that he had to like the prat.
The veritaserum was bitter and left a foul taste in his mouth as it slid down his throat. Snape raised an eyebrow as Draco shuddered, no doubt holding back a remark about the quality of the potion.
"I'm sorry for these measures, Mr Malfoy," Dumbledore said as he stood next to Draco's bed, "but we must take precautions. I promise we will keep the questions as unobtrusive as we can."
Draco nodded, determined to say as little as he possibly could. He glanced over to the doorway where Potter was leaning awkwardly on the doorframe. He looked apprehensive and concerned, but mustered an unconvincing smile when Draco looked over at him.
"Has it taken effect, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, and the Potions Master nodded. "Very well. Mr Malfoy, are you ready to begin?"
Again, Draco nodded, feeling his stomach flutter. He wasn't sure that he trusted any of them, but he had no choice but to put himself in their hands.
"If you could make your questions as unconvoluted as possible, headmaster," Snape said, his tone indicating how likely he thought that possibility would be. "It will help to ensure that no loopholes can be found where the truth is concerned."
"Right you are, my boy," Dumbledore said, crossing his hands behind his back. "Mr Malfoy, is your father responsible for your present condition?"
"Did he hurt you because you refused to join Voldemort?"
"Yes," Draco repeated, feeling the veritaserum urge him to say more, but he tried to fight it.
"Why have you decided not to join him?"
"Because I don't believe in his cause," Draco answered, glancing again at Potter. "I don't want to hurt or kill muggle-borns, and I don't want to fight against Potter and his army of do-gooders."
Potter snorted and Snape raised an eyebrow. Draco continued, "Potter and I have never been the best of friends, and I still think he's a colossal prat, but since the start of 7th year I've found myself wanting less and less to be pitted against him."
"I see," said Dumbledore, adjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose. "Would you be willing to join our side of the fight or have you simply come seeking sanctuary?"
"I don't know. I didn't have a plan beyond trying to escape my father. I only knew that I needed to get out of the manor before he killed me."
"And now that you've had time to consider, what do you wish to do?" Dumbledore asked, and Draco knew he wasn't imagining the steely glint in the man's eyes.
"I'm no hero. I'm not here to wave my banner for the good and righteous, but I don't want Voldemort to gain power over this world. If that means joining with you and helping in the fight then so be it."
"Do you truly understand what that means? Do you know what you'll be giving up?"
Draco laughed harshly and said, "I've already given everything up! By defying my father I've relinquished everything I have, everything I ever was. I have no home, no money and no way to support myself."
"Then are you simply using us as a meal ticket?"
"There are easier ways to get charity," Draco said snidely. "I've already said that I'll fight to stop Voldemort, that I'll join your little crusade."
"And you have no intentions of spying on us?"
"None whatsoever. I have no desire to risk my neck in such a ridiculous fashion."
Draco saw Potter's eyes shift to Snape and the man himself was standing with pursed lips. "Ah," Draco said, "I didn't mean – "
"No indeed," Snape said, folding his arms across his chest.
"That's another point – will you promise not to reveal Professor Snape's role in gathering information?"
Again, Draco couldn't help but laugh. "Who am I going to tell? The very people who would want to know are the same ones who want me dead. I wouldn't be able to get within 50 feet of them before I was hexed."
"Fair enough," Dumbledore conceded.
There was silence for a moment and Draco looked from Dumbledore to Snape then back over to Potter. All three looked contemplative and Draco disliked feeling like a specimen under a microscope.
"So, what's my fate?" he asked irritably. "Did I pass your little test?"
"I think we can safely say that we don't believe you're a spy for Voldemort," Dumbledore said with a wry smile. "I am truly sorry for what has happened with your father."
"Spare me. I don't need sympathy, I just need to know what happens to me now."
"Sir," Potter said, stepping forward. "I think we're all agreed that Malfoy can't stay here. It isn't safe for him and I don't think it's safe for us either. I think he should stay at Grimmauld, at least for the remainder of the holidays."
"It's being used as Order headquarters," Snape said while Draco tried to follow the turn the conversation had taken. "The wards are such that currently only members of the Order can access it."
Potter took a deep breath, looking conflicted, before he said, "Then I guess Malfoy will have to be inducted into the Order."
"Potter – " Snape began.
"I'm not saying I'm crazy about the idea," Potter said, holding up a hand, "but Grimmauld is my property and I should have a say in who lives there. Malfoy should be inducted into the Order, with the proviso that Hermione and Ron are allowed to join too. I'm not having them excluded in favour of him."
"What the hell is this Order thing you're all banging on about? Perhaps I don't want to join it in the first place," Draco said, his patience thinning as the potions began to wear off and the pain began to kick in again.
"I'm not sure you have too much choice, Mr Malfoy," Snape said firmly. "Mr Potter has stated the terms of you living in his property, you can either accept and receive sanctuary or refuse and try your luck on your own."
Draco sighed heavily and said, "So, what is it then?"
"It is a company comprised of fighters against Voldemort," Dumbledore said. "Missions are undertaken, reconnaissance is carried out. I suppose you would call us a covert operation."
"Very fancy," said Draco, rolling his eyes. "In case it escaped your notice, I'm still in school."
"We've all been told that the last term will be nothing but revision," Potter said, obviously having found his voice. "You can do that at Grimmauld just as well as you can here. Besides, are you honestly telling me that you want to live in the Slytherin dorms for the next few months?"
Draco hated to admit it, but Potter had a point. Almost everyone he shared a dorm with was in service to Voldemort and many of the lower years belonged to families aligned with the madman. He didn't much fancy trying to live alongside them for the rest of the school year; he was sure to end up with a knife in his back one way or another.
"Alright, fine. I accept your terms," Draco said, knowing that he had never really had a choice. "What do I have to do to be inducted into this Order? If it involves an ugly tattoo on my forearm you can sod off."
Potter laughed and said, "None of us go in for tattoos. You will have to take a magical oath though."
Draco nodded reluctantly and Snape said, "I suggest we put this in motion today. The longer Mr Malfoy stays here the more danger he's in."
So it was that several hours later, Draco found himself standing in the doorway of the gloomiest house he had ever seen. He knew of the Blacks from the brief snippets his mother had told him, and, of course, Sirius Black was infamous. Still, he had never visited the Black ancestral home and now he wasn't sorry for the fact.
"I know it's a dump," Potter said behind him, "but it's clean…mostly."
"And this place belongs to you now?"
"Yeah. I let them use it for headquarters. It's not really good for anything else."
"You're not planning on living here then?"
"I don't know, maybe," Potter said quietly. "There are a lot…associations. When all this is over I'll fix it up properly and sell it to the highest bidder."
Draco couldn't say he blamed him. The place was dark and depressing, and there were traces of potent magic in the very walls. It was testament to how bad things were that it was still preferable to returning to Malfoy Manor.
"The kitchen's straight down in front of you," Potter said, and Draco took that as his cue to move.
He walked down the corridor, feeling as though the walls were closing in on him. He glimpsed a small sitting room to his right, while the huge staircase dwarfed him on his left. The corridor finally opened up into a large, but no less dark, kitchen. There was a long wooden table at which an impossibly handsome man was sitting.
"Oh, hey Bill," Potter said with a friendly smile. "I didn't know you'd be here."
"I just got back off assignment," 'Bill' replied, his eyes darting to Draco.
"Bill, this is Draco Malfoy. He's going to be staying here for a little while. Draco, this is Bill Weasley."
Draco tried not to let his surprise show on his face. It simply wasn't possible for anyone that good-looking to be a Weasley. Of course, the red hair should have been a give-away, but it was such a gorgeous colour – a deep copper with flecks of brown here and there. The man's skin was as pale as his own and smattered with freckles, particularly across his dramatically sharp cheekbones.
"Hello," Bill said with a smile. "Heard a lot about you from my brother."
"I'll bet," Draco replied, willing himself not to blush.
"I have to get back to Hogwarts. I'm due for a training session with Snape and he'll have my head if I'm late. I'll stop by in a couple of days with some books and things. Bill, will you keep an eye on him?"
"I'm right here," Draco protested. "I don't need a babysitter."
"Good," said Bill, "because I have no intention of being one."
"Well, you two kids have fun," Potter said with a smile before he went tramping back down the corridor, the front door opening and closing moments later.
"Well," said Bill, leaning back in his chair, "I'd hate to see the other guy." He gestured to Draco's bruises and Draco dipped his head in embarrassment.
"He got off better than I did," he mumbled, shifting awkwardly.
"Sorry, didn't mean to be an arse about it. I'm guessing if you're here that things aren't so rosy at home."
"That's one way of putting it."
"Look, why don't you take a seat and I'll make you a cup of tea."
"Thanks," Draco muttered, shifting into the nearest chair.
Bill lit the kettle on the stove and fished a mug out from one of the cupboards. Draco couldn't help but watch him. The man was tall and lithe, his movements graceful. If he had to guess, Draco would put him in his late 20s, although he had one of those strangely ageless faces.
"You're…um, you're part of this Order thing too?" he asked, feeling rather out of his depth.
"Yeah," Bill said, leaning against the counter-top with casual ease. "You're joining us?"
"I didn't have much choice," Draco replied, crossing his hands in his lap. He felt conspicuously prim next to Bill's laidback manner.
"I…um…I don't know much about you, beyond what my brother's told me, but I know that your family has been…loyal to Voldemort. For you to be here…I'm guessing you've decided that that's not the path you want to take."
"Something like that," Draco said quietly.
The kettle whistled and Bill made the tea, setting it down in front of Draco. He reached into his robes and extracted a small flask, raising a questioning eyebrow.
"No thanks," Draco said, shaking his head. "I have a few different potions knocking around my system, best not to mix them with alcohol."
"Fair enough," Bill said, sitting back down and taking a swig from the flask.
Draco sipped his tea, wishing he had asked for sugar. He could feel Bill watching him and he tried to pretend that he was unaware of the scrutiny. This was not like any Weasley he had encountered before and he had no idea how to behave.
This Weasley was confident, self-assured, dare he even say suave. This Weasley was well-dressed and the most handsome man Draco had ever clapped eyes on. It was shaking him to his very core.
"How long are you here for?" Bill asked, stretching out and crossing his legs at the ankle, giving Draco an eyeful of his long, toned body.
"Indefinitely," Draco said with a shrug. "You?"
"I'm in and out. I'm a curse breaker by trade and every now and then I can help with an assignment for Dumbledore. I'm in between living situations at the moment so Harry's said I can bunk here when I'm in England."
"You're not living with the rest of your family?" Draco asked, reminding himself not to slag off the redheaded clan in Bill's presence."
Bill grinned and said, "I love them all dearly but at 27 there's no way I could live under the same roof as my mother. For a start, I can't take the endless questions about my love life."
Draco's stomach jolted and he took a large gulp of tea. "Love life?" he echoed, aiming for casual.
"Or lack thereof usually. Mum would really like me to settle down – a spouse and a picket fence."
"She's anxious for a daughter-in-law?"
"Swap that for a son-in-law and you're on the money. She keeps trying to set me up with nice, eligible bachelors."
"No winners so far?" Draco asked, feeling inexplicably delighted to learn that Bill was gay.
"Merlin, no. She keeps trying to set me up with blokes who are just like my brother, Percy. Do I strike you as the kind of man who would date an accountant?"
Draco's lip twitched slightly and he shook his head. "No, I can't say that you do."
Bill smiled and said, "Do me a favour and tell her that."
"No offence, but your mother and I don't exactly spend a lot of time together."
Bill laughed and said, "You might find that changing."
"What do you mean?" Draco asked with a frown.
"Once she hears about…you…she'll want to help. She has an uncontrollable need to mother anything with a pulse."
"I don't need mothering," Draco said, more harshly than he had intended to. "Sorry…I just meant…I can take care of myself. I don't need to be made an honourary Weasley."
"Well you have suffered enough," Bill said wryly and Draco felt the tension disappear. "Look, I didn't mean to imply that you were a charity case, just that…my mum likes taking care of people. Perhaps you could do with…someone taking care of you."
"It would be a new experience," Draco said quietly, realising that the veritaserum was still loosening his tongue. He looked down at his hands and said with a sigh, "I know what everyone thinks of me – that I'm just some spoilt little rich kid who's had everything handed to him on a plate.
"It's partly true; I have had a privileged upbringing and I've never wanted for anything. I can't say that I've ever been happy though. Fuck, I don't know why I'm telling you this, sorry."
"It's ok," Bill said gently. "Sounds like something you need to get off your chest."
"It's nothing I want to talk about," Draco said, hoping that he could skirt around the issue long enough for the truth potion to work its way out of his system.
"Well I'm not one to pry, but if you do want a friendly ear, I've been told I'm a good listener."
Draco nodded. It would be all too easy to confide in this handsome stranger who had no business being part of the Weasley clan, but that was a dangerous road to go down. He knew nothing about this man, not to mention the fact that he had never been one for spouting his feelings. He had been taught to keep those things to himself and that was a lesson he couldn't easily forget.
"I'm going to go and take a shower. You should get settled in. All the bedrooms on the second floor are usable; they've been cleared of any nasties and they're cleaner than the rest of the house. I'm in the last one on the left so take your pick from the others."
Bill got up and left, leaving Draco alone in the kitchen. There was no rush to find himself a bedroom; Merlin knew that he had little enough to unpack. He had brought the bundle of clothes that Potter had found for him and the few items he had left in his dorm over the holidays.
He barely had any personal belongings left and it felt as though his whole identity had been erased. It felt stupid to still call himself a Malfoy, given that he'd basically been disowned. His whole world had changed and he wasn't sure that he would ever adjust to it.
He finished his tea and washed up his mug then traipsed up the stairs to the 2nd floor. He inspected the rooms and settled on the one that had the least musty smell. It was serviceable enough; there was a large four-poster bed, a wardrobe, a writing desk and an armchair and table beneath a large sash window. Most importantly, it was safe, and his father wouldn't find him.
It was strange to think that he wouldn't be returning to Hogwarts again apart from to take his exams. He had no wish to see his fellow Slytherins and face their bile, nor did he think he could cope with the humiliation that that would bring. He had lost everything and his fellow housemates would respond to that with nothing short of glee.
Of course, he had no precedent with which to compare his present situation. He was, essentially, a fugitive, holed up in this strange place with a not-entirely unpleasant bunkmate. That certainly hadn't been mentioned when joining the Order had been mooted.
It was nice to know he wasn't going to be spending the entire time alone and, he had to admit, Bill was very easy on the eye. He never would have imagined that he would actually have positive feelings about spending time with a Weasley, but he had already decided that Bill didn't really qualify as a proper one anyway. How he was related to Ron was a complete mystery.
Draco's burgeoning sexuality was still something he was coming to terms with. It had begun creeping up on him in 6th year, and he was only just beginning to understand it. It had started when he began noticing Blaise, but he had dismissed it, as everyone noticed Blaise, it was hard not to.
It had been a little harder to ignore when he'd begun having very explicit dreams about the Ravenclaw Keeper. It was confusing, as he was still noticing girls and having the same fantasies about them he always had done. That he was bisexual hadn't even occurred to him until he had overheard a conversation about Goyle's cousin, who had rebounded from her break-up with her boyfriend by sleeping with a woman.
He had been disproportionately pleased when Bill had casually mentioned his own sexuality. He wasn't sure why; he was sure the man would have no interest in someone ten years his junior, not to mention someone from a family that was the polar opposite to his own.
Of course, he didn't belong to a family now. There was no one left to whom he had any connection, no one who he could claim kinship to. Bill had made a frightening allusion to the fact that Molly Weasley would try and take him under wing, but Draco could think of nothing worse. He had no desire to be anyone's charity case, least of all a Weasley's.
He puttered around for a bit longer, reading the one book he had managed to bring with him. He was too distracted to concentrate though and the pain was starting to settle back in now that the pain potions were wearing off. He padded back down the stairs and found that Bill had once again stationed himself in the kitchen.
"One thing muggles get right is their takeaway food," Bill said, gesturing to the boxes on the table.
"Takeaway food?" Draco echoed with a frown.
"I thought you'd had a rough enough time without being subjected to my attempts at cooking. There's a place down the road, it does excellent Chinese food. Help yourself."
"Um…thanks," Draco said, tentatively examining the boxes on the table. He had to admit that they smelt fantastic and all he had eaten in the last couple of days was watery porridge from the hospital wing.
He felt Bill eyeing him and he looked up to see the redhead grinning at him. "What?" he asked defensively.
"You've never had takeaway before, huh?" Bill asked, still grinning.
"Oh no," Draco said crossly. "My parents were addicted to it, we had it every Friday night. You know how much they liked to immerse themselves in the muggle world."
Bill's grin faded and he said, "Sorry, I didn't mean to tease…but if I could give you a little word of advice – tone down the defensiveness a bit."
Draco felt his jaw clench as he bristled at Bill's words. Apparently he wasn't done though, and the man continued, "You're going to have plenty of enemies, you don't need to create ones out of those who are here to help."
"No offence, but you don't have a clue what I'm going through."
"No, I'm sure I don't, but I'd be willing to try and understand it if you wanted to talk to me about it. Not everyone's out to get you."
"Oh sure, only about 80% of them. Do you think your crew are going to welcome me with open arms?"
"They might, if you ask them to."
Draco sighed and said, "Everything's so easy for you people. You see things in such black and white terms."
"Let me tell you something," Bill said, resting his fists on the table and leaning forward. "I've been around a little longer than you, and I've been in this fight for a while now. Things aren't black and white, nowhere near it, but you can make them more complicated than they need to be. So, for your own sake, drop the attitude, ok?"
Draco didn't know what to say to that. He had no wish to make himself vulnerable to Bill, or anyone for that matter. His defensiveness was the only weapon he had left and he had no desire to exist without it.
"Sit down and eat," Bill said firmly, apparently calling an end to the conversation. Without knowing what else to do, Draco obeyed.
I've realised that I need to go back to Long Shadows and tweak a couple of things to make the timelines match up a bit better. It won't be anything drastic though, just a few changes to the dialogue in chapters 1 and 11, otherwise we'd be looking at the longest courtship ever and I just don't have it in me to write that!
If any of you are interested, give me a follow over on Tumblr @willmoanbutdonothingtochange. I don't blog a whole lot, but it's a great medium for communication and I'd love to answer any asks you might have either about my writing or me in general.
"It's all over the school then?" Draco asked as he watched Potter unload all the books he had brought from the library. The holidays had ended and school had been back in session for nearly a week.
"It's all just rumour. Me, Snape and Dumbledore are the only ones who know the truth and we haven't said anything. People are pretty much making up their own stories."
"I'm not sure if that's worse," Draco said with a sigh.
"Well, the 2nd year Hufflepuffs have a theory that you left to join a muggle rock band."
"No, seriously. They swear the lead singer's the dead spit of you."
"I actually quite liked that one."
"No doubt it's better than the other stories doing the rounds."
Potter's cheeks flushed slightly and he dipped his head, ostensibly to examine the books in his hands. That settled it then; obviously people were coming up with their own theories and it was likely that several would be hitting the mark.
"I guess you've told Weasley and Granger?" Draco asked, watching as Potter lifted his head again and met his eyes.
"No, I haven't."
"You don't have to lie to me."
"I'm not," Potter said forcefully. "I haven't told them."
"Why not?" Draco asked in confusion.
"Because…it's your business. I have no right to tell anyone without your permission."
Draco blinked at him for a moment, before saying with a sneer, "You're such a Gryffindor."
Potter's expression hardened and Draco regretted his response.
"You want me to tell the whole school what happened? Fine. Forgive me for respecting your privacy."
Draco swallowed and remembered what Bill had said to him a few days ago. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I appreciate your discretion."
Potter's eyebrows rose in surprise but he was gracious enough not to say anything. It was a good thing too; Draco hadn't been able to work on his humility and he wasn't sure how far it would stretch.
"I've brought an itinerary from the teachers detailing their lesson plans for the term. It's pretty much just revision."
"Well at least I'll have something to do," Draco said with a sigh. "I've been going a tad stir crazy here. Thanks for bringing all this stuff."
There was silence for a moment and Draco watched as Potter organised the books on the kitchen table. "Has there been any word from my father?" he asked eventually, his stomach lurching at his own question.
The expression on Potter's face said it all. "No," he said softly. "We haven't heard anything from him."
"Oh," Draco breathed, feeling as though all the air had been driven from his lungs. His father didn't care what had happened to him, he didn't care enough even to want his revenge for Draco's treachery. He was, it seemed, dead to the man.
"I'm sorry," Potter said, and Draco could sense how awkward the boy felt.
"I shouldn't be surprised," Draco said, shaking his head. "I've known for a long time that I meant nothing to him. I was only ever his heir, never his son."
"I wish I could – "
"Don't worry about it," Draco said, waving his hand. He didn't think he could cope with Potter's attempts at sympathy.
"Hey Harry," said Bill as he breezed into the kitchen, cutting through the awkwardness. Draco watched as the man, dressed only in boxers and a t-shirt, lit the kettle on the stove.
"Hey Bill. You're up late."
"Late night," Bill replied with a yawn. He stretched his arms over his head and Draco's eyes went to the patch of pale, freckled skin that was revealed.
"You sounded like a herd of hippogriffs when you came back," Draco said, averting his eyes.
"Sorry," Bill said apologetically. "Next time you should come along and then you won't be bothered."
"I'm not 18 until June, I can't drink yet," Draco countered, trying to ignore the fact that Bill had just issued him an invitation.
"The places we tend to go are never that fussy about checking for IDs," Bill replied with a smile.
"You're a bad influence, William Weasley," Potter said teasingly, and Draco felt a sudden spark of jealousy.
"I'm a good boy, Harry. Just ask my mother."
"Molly's not daft. She knows what you are."
"You say the meanest things."
"If you two are going to flirt, could you do it somewhere else?" Draco said irritably.
Bill and Potter exchanged an amused look and Potter said, "Flirt with this one? You must be mad."
"I'm not Harry's type," Bill said with an evil smile. "Not the right colouring for a start, eh Harry?"
"Shut up you prat," Potter replied, turning an interesting shade of red. "Anyway, you can talk. We all know your type – have you ever actually dated anyone who wasn't blond?"
It was Draco's turn to blush, and he dipped his head to hide it while Potter and Bill continued to bicker. This was getting silly now; he had a schoolboy crush and he needed to get over it. He couldn't fancy a Weasley for Merlin's sake. The world would tilt off its axis.
"Well," he said, standing abruptly, "I'm obviously not going to get any peace down here. I'm going up to my room."
He gathered as many books as he could in his arms and swept out of the kitchen, wishing, when he was halfway up the stairs, that he had had the presence of mind to cast a levitation charm. He chucked the books down on his bed and stood for a moment, trying to figure out what had annoyed him so much.
Of course Potter and Bill had some kind friendship; Potter had known the family for years. Still, it rankled and Draco knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that it was because it brought into focus that he had no such relationship in his life. He had no friends, no one with whom he could share anything familial. It had always been that way, he realised, but never had it been so apparent.
"We're on your side, you know," came Potter's voice from behind him, and he turned to see the boy standing in the doorway.
"I didn't know that I needed anyone on my side."
"You're not that stupid," Potter said softly. "You know…Bill's a decent bloke. You could do worse than to make a friend of him."
"Spare me the advice on my social life," Draco spat.
"That's a rather inflated terms for what you have," Potter said with more bite than Draco realised he was capable of. Clearly Potter thought so too because he cleared his throat and said, "Sorry. I just mean…"
"I know what you mean."
Potter sighed and ran a hand through his messy hair. "I guess I should rethink my career as a motivational speaker."
Draco snorted and said, "I should say so."
Potter stepped into the room and Draco resisted the urge to move backwards. Potter was always so earnest, so intense with everything he did and said. He wore his heart on his sleeve and it unnerved Draco.
"Look, Draco…you need friends right now."
"Are you applying?"
Potter gave a boyish shrug and said, "You could do worse than me."
"I'm not sure about that."
Potter leant against the bedpost, his arms folded. "I know what it's like not to have friends. I know what it's like to be alone. If you can avoid that existence, so much the better."
Draco took a deep breath and sat down on the bed, looking up at Potter. "Give me time, Potter," he said quietly. "My whole world has changed, it's not that easy to just get over it."
Potter nodded. "I get that, and I don't mean to push. It's just…I want you to know that people are there for you."
"I get it. I don't need it rammed down my throat."
Potter held his hands up in surrender and said, "Ok, no more throat-ramming." His eyes widened and he said with a sputter, "Bollocks, I didn't mean – "
Draco couldn't help but burst out laughing. Potter's expression was a picture and he was so flustered by such an innocent comment. Once Draco started, he found he couldn't stop. It had been so long since he'd had cause to laugh and he'd never done it with such abandon. He laughed until his stomach hurt and eventually Potter joined in too, the two of them cackling like madmen.
It was a strange feeling to laugh so carelessly, to take a moment that was so completely without worry. It felt freeing, and something inside Draco lifted, something he hadn't even realised he'd been carrying around with him. Eventually, the laughter petered out and he and Potter were left smiling at each other, an action that was both alien and yet strangely comforting.
"I should learn to think before I say things," Potter said, removing his glasses and wiping the tears from his eyes.
"I've been telling you that for years," Draco replied, trying to compose himself.
"Yeah well…you were never worth listening to before." Potter put his glasses back on and fixed Draco with a thoughtful look. "I'm thinking that that might have changed now though."
"What? You think I'm worth knowing now?" Draco asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Maybe. I'll let you know."
Draco had always been fairly academic. His father had demanded that he excel in certain subjects and Draco had worked hard to avoid his father's wrath. Granger had always been just a few marks ahead of him, which had irritated him personally and had infuriated his father. He had fought to even the scoreboard, but now he could concentrate on doing so for his own sake, for his own pride.
He was intelligent but also studious. He was well-organised and knew how to manage his own time effectively. Although it wasn't an image he had ever cared to cultivate, he enjoyed studying and expanding his knowledge. He wanted to do well in his exams, to prove to himself that he was worth something, that he could survive in the world on his own.
He set up a little study station at the kitchen table. He tried the library first of all but it was too gloomy and oppressive. He was also fairly certain that there was an unknown nasty lurking in the corner cupboard and he had no desire to make its acquaintance. He was able to concentrate more easily in the kitchen and occasionally Bill would come and sit with him, engrossed in his own reading.
It had been a couple of weeks and they had been existing relatively peacefully together. Bill was as easy-going a person as Draco was likely to meet and he was easy to live with. He wasn't messy, he didn't seem to possess any irritating habits, and he was good for a spot of conversation when Draco was bored. Of course, there was also the fact that the man was bloody gorgeous, although Draco was doing his best to ignore that.
It was easier said than done, especially when the man insisted on parading around in little more than shorts and a loose bathrobe first thing in the morning. Draco was only human, after all, and as much as he tried not to look, his eyes constantly slipped towards the man.
"Can you believe this?" Bill asked as he entered the kitchen reading a long bit of parchment.
Draco looked up from his books and said, "I'm sure I wouldn't if I had any idea what it was."
"Terms of employment for the new job I've been offered. They're bloody laughable, and the pay is frankly insulting," Bill said, taking a seat and chucking the parchment down on the table.
"May I take a look?" Draco asked, and Bill nodded his assent.
He reached over and grabbed the contract, glancing over the main points and understanding why Bill was so perturbed.
"This is toilet paper," he said, and Bill snorted in response. "You can negotiate a much better deal than this. You should be asking for 20% commission on top of your basic; a quarterly peer review by which your salary can be scrutinised; 5% of any profits generated from the removal of any curses; acknowledgement of your services after each curse-breaking through publication…oh and they should be making at least a 7.5% contribution to your pension."
"Merlin's balls, Draco. When did you become a corporate lawyer?" Bill asked, and Draco looked up from the contract to see the man looking at him with an amused smile.
"My father may be a diabolical bastard but he knows his stuff when it comes to business. I guess I've picked up a few things over the years."
"I'm impressed," Bill said, and Draco's stomach fluttered to realise that he meant it. "I wish you'd been around to negotiate all my contracts."
"You seem to be doing fine," Draco said, handing the contract back.
"So, is that the path you want to follow? You fancy becoming a lawyer?"
"Oh Merlin, no," Draco said, shaking his head emphatically. "I was actually thinking that…" he trailed off, a blush suffusing his cheeks as he realised what he was saying.
"What?" Bill asked gently. "What were you thinking?"
Draco had never disclosed his career hopes to anyone before, indeed he never thought they would ever get to see the light of day. His father had had his future very specifically mapped out for him and any ambitions he may have harboured had been irrelevant. Now the world had opened up to him again and anything seemed possible.
"I think I'd like to become a Healer," he said quietly. He braced himself for Bill's laughter, but it didn't come. He looked up to find Bill smiling at him, but it was a smile devoid of mockery.
"That sounds like a pretty amazing ambition. Have you looked into it?"
Draco nodded, his cheeks still feeling hot. "I'd need Os in Potions, Transfiguration, Herbology, Charms and Defence. St Mungo's is a teaching hospital, they have an undergraduate programme. I was thinking of applying."
"You should. I think you'd make an excellent Healer."
"What makes you say that?" Draco asked in surprise.
"You're intelligent, competent, level-headed, methodical and I'm fairly certain you have the capacity for great empathy…if you only allowed yourself to."
"Oh…No one's ever said that to me before."
"Well maybe they don't see what I see."
Draco met Bill's eyes, unsure of what to say. Bill was so unlike anyone he had ever met, and, when he was around him, Draco's whole world felt different.
"I guess…I guess we have to get through his war first…then I can see where I stand."
"Well, if you don't apply for the programme I'll have to do it for you. I could really do with a friend who can patch me up when those nasty curses go awry."
Draco's breath caught in his throat at the word 'friend', and he found himself staggered at the thought that Bill could think of him in such terms.
He cleared his throat and said, "Are you often hurt through your work?"
"I have a fair few scars I could show you," Bill said with a wicked grin, and Draco wondered just how red he could turn. "Anyway," Bill continued, apparently not noticing Draco's reaction, "you'd better get this stuff cleared off the table before the others get here."
"The others?" Draco repeated with a frown.
"There's an Order meeting this evening. Everyone will be here soon."
"Oh," Draco said, his stomach sinking. Now that he thought about it, he remembered Bill had mentioned something earlier but he hadn't really been listening at the time. It might have had something to do with the fact that Bill had been wearing very form-fitting jeans.
"It'll be fine," Bill said, and Draco wished that the man wasn't quite so insightful.
"Sure," Draco said, rolling his eyes.
He gathered his things and took them all back up to his bedroom, where he stayed for the next half hour. He was apprehensive and nervous; he had no idea who most of the other Order members were, nor how they would react to him. Of course, Weasley and Granger would be along with Potter. Draco had given Potter permission to fill them in on the details and he couldn't abide the fact that they knew.
Eventually he started to hear voices downstairs, which only set his pulse racing faster. They grew louder and he was steeling himself to go back down when there was a knock at the door.
"Hey," said Potter as he poked his head in. "You joining us?"
"I was just coming," Draco replied, straightening his shoulders.
"It'll be fine," Potter said, unknowingly repeating Bill's words.
"I'm really not bothered," Draco lied.
Potter gave a knowing nod and said, "Come on then. I'll introduce you to the gang."
Draco took a deep breath and followed Potter out of the bedroom and down the stairs. The voices grew louder and Draco's stomach flipped. They entered the kitchen and Draco saw that it was full. A few people were seated at the table, while others were standing around talking, cups of tea in their hands.
"So, we've got Moody, the real one, not the one who taught us in 4th year, Kingsley, Fletcher, Lupin of course you know, oh and over there is Charlie – he's the second eldest Weasley, and over there are Molly and Arthur. I think you know everyone else."
"Who's the woman with the offensively orange hair?" Draco said, watching as the woman accidentally broke the handle of the teacup she was using.
"Oh," said Potter softly, "that's Tonks. She's your cousin."
Draco turned to look at Potter, stunned into silence for a moment. "My what?" he breathed.
"Your cousin," Potter repeated. "She's the daughter of your mother's sister."
"Andromeda," Draco said quietly. He was aware of that side of mother's family, although Andromeda's name was never mentioned. He had seen the family tree, seen that his mother had another sister besides his lunatic Aunt Bella, and he had always wondered about her. Now here was his cousin standing in front of him, large as life, his last link to any semblance of family.
"She's lovely," Potter said as Draco looked back over to the colourful woman. "She's also a bloody good fighter. We're lucky to have her. Do you…do you want me to introduce you?"
"I…no," Draco said, shaking his head. He wasn't ready for that, not yet anyway.
"I think it'll be a while before I get used to seeing you here," came a voice behind him, and he turned to see that Weasley and Granger had come to join Potter.
"Ron," Granger said, "you said you wouldn't."
"I'm not starting anything," Weasley said levelly. "If he wants to fight on our side then so be it. As long as he knows that trust is earnt, not given."
"Spare me," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "I've had all this from Potter here and, no offence, he was a lot more convincing than you."
"Well, you're still a prat," Weasley said as though he were saying something deeply wise, "but you'll do."
He nodded his head and he and Granger moved to stand next to the twins, who, while older than Draco remembered them, looked just as mischievous as ever.
"Damn," said Potter, "I thought he'd kick up more of a fuss than that."
"Even Ron realises that there are more important things at stake than school rivalries," came Bill's voice as Draco felt the man's hand come to settle on his shoulder. It was oddly comforting, and Draco found himself inadvertently leaning into it.
"I think we all realise that these days," Potter said pointedly, then moved off to join the others.
"Come on," Bill said, giving his shoulder a squeeze, "let's find a spot and get comfortable. These things tend to go on for a while."
Bill wasn't wrong. The meeting was interminable and Draco struggled to figure out the point of it. Snape relayed the latest information he had gathered and Dumbledore seemed to do nothing but repeat what anyone else said. Every now and again Bill would lean over and whisper explanations or clarifications to him, and each time Draco was aware that Potter was watching them.
Draco was used to that; Potter had always watched him through their time at school together, always convinced he was up to no good. These days, Potter seemed to look at him with something akin to approval, and, although Draco wanted to sneer at it, he found himself oddly bolstered by it instead.
He used the meeting to take a better look at the Order members. He remembered Lupin from 3rd year, and he couldn't say that the man looked any better four years later. He was thin and his face was covered in scratches and abrasions. He looked in need of a good meal and a long sleep.
Kingsley he knew from the many articles of the Prophet the man had appeared in. He seemed a decent enough bloke and there was an aura of power around him that explained why he was becoming so important in the Ministry.
The Weasleys were all a sea of red apart from the one sitting next to him. He had only seen Molly and Arthur in passing, although he had been disparaging enough about them both in the past. They were very much as he remembered – shabbily dressed, both a little on the plump side, but emanating a warmth that he had never noticed before. Bill had warned him that Molly would attempt to mother him and, strangely, the notion wasn't as horrifying as it had been a couple of weeks ago.
Charlie was broad and stocky. He was probably most like Ron in looks but there was a pensive quality to him that Ron didn't possess. He had a kind and open face and he watched the proceedings with his arms folded, taking everything in.
Things wound down eventually and Draco was relieved that no official announcement had been made about him. Everyone had cast a glance at hm once or twice throughout the meeting, and that was about as much as he could stand.
"I'm just going to go and annoy my brother for a second," Bill said, giving him a friendly clap on the back before getting up and approaching Charlie.
Draco couldn't help but feel that his security blanket had been taken away. He felt comfortable with Bill, and, as long as he was there, he felt like he had some sort of protection from the others. He shrank a little in his chair and let the others' conversations wash over him. All of these people were connected in some way or another and there he was, a stranger amongst them.
Someone plonked themselves down in the chair Bill had vacated and Draco lifted his head to see Tonks sitting there. She leant back and grinned at him, then said, "Wotcher, cuz."
"Um…hi," Draco said uncertainly. "I'm – "
"Draco, I know," she said with a smile. "You're definitely more of a Malfoy than a Black…which is probably a good thing."
"You…you don't look like much of a Black either."
"I could, if I wanted…but something tells me that seeing the face of your mother right now wouldn't help."
"I don't – "
"I'm a metamorphagus," she explained.
"Oh. That's actually…kind of cool."
"It's not the most resounding compliment I've ever had, but I'll take it. So, how are you getting on?"
The question was direct but not as jarring as it might have been a couple of weeks ago. He wasn't entirely sure how to answer; his mind was still clouded by the everything that had happened and he had yet to properly sort through his feelings.
"I'm ok," he said with a shrug. "I'm not dead, so I guess I can't complain."
"That's how you measure it?"
"It's all I have to go on right now."
"Look…I know what you've been through, how you've ended up here. I know what your family's like and I know this can't be easy for you. I suppose…I suppose I just wanted to say…you still have family. You don't have to do this alone."
Draco didn't know what to say. This woman, this strange woman, was indeed his family, but he had never met her before today. She and her parents had been shunned, and Draco had never given her a second's thought. Now here she was, telling him that he still had family, as bizarre a notion as that was.
"I didn't mean to overwhelm you," she said gently. "I just wanted to let you know that, whatever went on between our parents, it doesn't have to mean that we can't…be cousins."
Draco nodded, not really knowing what else to say. She seemed to sense this, and, rather than pushing further, she gave his arm a gentle pat then got up and made a beeline for Lupin.
So much had changed in such a short space of time and Draco had no idea when things would start to feel normal again. As it was, all he could do was try and keep up with the pace of things and hope that it didn't eventually overwhelm him.
I'm updating a day early, my lovelies, as I'm off to Exmoor for a couple of days tomorrow. I hope you enjoyed it.
In the meantime, if any of you are into HP cosplay/roleplay then I urge you to check out TT Bret AKA Asktheboywholived on Tumblr, Instagram or TikTok. They are the most awesome HP cosplayer I have ever seen and you will be blown away by their talent. It's then very easy to go down a cosplay rabbit hole and discover all the other amazing talent that exists on Tumblr. Personally, I would recommend checking out Sirussly, SoftSiriusBlack, BringBlackBack, ActingAnimagus and Jenlizrose to name a few. Happy browsing, kids!
The weeks passed and Draco became used to living at Grimmauld. He had never been a particularly social creature and he had tolerated his housemates because he had had to. Bill had started his new job, with a newly renegotiated contract, and was around a lot less. Grimmauld was still his base, and he popped back every now and again, but he was away more often that he was there. Draco couldn't deny that he missed him.
Unexpectedly, Potter stepped in to fill the breech. The boy began turning up every Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours. He seemed to have no purpose other than to simply hang around, and Draco didn't question it. He would often bring revision with him or reading that Snape had set him for their training sessions. Potter didn't say much about those sessions, but Draco gleaned that they were intense and difficult.
He was also aware that Potter's feelings towards Snape had changed. He no longer held the animosity towards him he had once done, although Draco was willing to bet that Potter wasn't entirely sure what he feelings now were. Draco, on the other hand, thought he knew exactly what was going on in Potter's mind. The boy was entirely too easy to read.
He found Potter's company not entirely unbearable. Potter had changed a lot over the years, as he himself had done. They were no longer children, and they had both realised that, now they were on the same team, there was no point in harbouring the petty differences of the past. He was also aware, although he had no intention to acknowledge it, that Potter could have made things very difficult for him if he'd wanted to.
The summer rolled around and with it came his birthday. It was a Friday and he was hoping Bill might put in an appearance as it was the weekend. There was no sign of him by the evening though and Draco disappointedly realised that the man must be working. He supposed it didn't matter; he wasn't particularly fussed about his birthday anyway.
At the manor, birthdays had always been terribly stuffy affairs. There had been a formal dinner, usually attended by his father's business associates…or worse. Presents had always been showy, ostentatious things, things that bore no reflection of the person's interests or anything they might truly like. Still, it was the first time his birthday had gone by with nothing to mark the occasion.
He was considering calling time on his revision, going up and drowning his sorrows in a hot bath, when he heard the front door go. His hand went to his wand, despite the fact that he knew Grimmauld was about as secure as it got. With his father still around, he wasn't going to take any chances.
He stood up just as Potter entered the kitchen, a rucksack slung over the boy's shoulder. He pocketed his wand and said, "What are you doing here?"
"Um…I thought I might stay the night. I needed a break from…a bunch of things actually. I…was also thinking that you might like some company."
Again, Draco couldn't believe how transparent Potter was. It was a good thing that Voldemort's defeat didn't depend upon Potter's ability to lie. He raised an eyebrow and Potter gave a sheepish grin.
"Ok, so…I didn't want you spending your birthday alone," Potter said, chucking his rucksack down on the table.
"How do you know it's my birthday?" Draco asked, surprised and actually rather touched that Potter had been so considerate.
"Heard it on the grapevine," Potter said with a shrug. "Look, if you want me to piss off, just say so. I won't mind. I just…I just didn't like the thought of you celebrating alone."
"I haven't exactly done much celebrating," Draco said with a sigh, "but…thank you. I appreciate it."
Potter smiled at him, and it was such a sweet gesture that couldn't help but return it. Merlin help him, he like the four-eyed twerp.
"You know," Potter said, his smile turning mischievous, "there's a pub at the end of the street. It's pretty shady as pubs go but what do you say I buy you a birthday drink?"
The pub, as it turned out, was so very beyond shady. It boasted a cast of characters so grim that Draco wouldn't have been surprised if they were all murderers on the run from the law. He and Harry sequestered themselves in a little window seat, trying to ignore how sticky the table was and how terrible the place smelt.
Harry had been given a fake muggle ID by the twins, but no one asked them for any proof of age. Harry bought them both bottles of lager, a wise choice as Draco wouldn't have trusted anything that came through the pub's pipes.
"How are you here?" Draco asked. "I mean…you keep pulling these disappearing acts from Hogwarts, don't they mind?"
Harry sighed and said, "I sort of came to an agreement with Dumbledore. Actually…I kind of had a semi-psychotic rant about how I was sick of all the pressure from everyone and that I needed break. He agreed…eventually…that I could come and stay at Grimmauld whenever I needed a break from it."
"I'm willing to bet that trips to a dodgy pub weren't factored into that agreement," Draco said wryly.
"Well…no," Harry conceded, "but what he doesn't know won't kill him."
"So…these pressures, do you want to talk about them?" Draco asked, wondering when he had become capable of sympathy. Perhaps Bill was right; perhaps there was more to him than he realised.
"There's just…so much going on. I want to do well in my NEWTs but I constantly have the threat of Voldemort hanging over my head and that takes precedence over everything. Any spare moment I have is taken up with training and…with Snape I always feel like I never measure up. I just wish things were simpler."
"They will be…one day," Draco said, wishing he could think of something more comforting to say.
"It's just difficult, that's all. I know that I don't get a choice in all this, that it's down to me in the end, but…sometimes it's too much."
"I never really…I never really tried to see things from your perspective before," Draco said, picking at the label on his bottle. It was true; things had always seemed so rosy for Harry, but Draco was willing to admit that he'd been a tad blinkered in the past. There was nothing like a near-death experience to alter your view on things.
"Merlin, I'm being a selfish prat," Harry said, shaking his head. "This is your birthday and here I am moaning on about my problems. We should…we should focus on celebrating."
Draco gave a hollow laugh and said, "Yeah…shame I have no idea how to do that."
Harry bit his lip then said, "Me neither. Fuck, that's pathetic."
Draco looked at him for a moment, feeling thoroughly perturbed by the situation. He saw Harry's lip twitch first, then felt his own offer an answering twitch. He laughed first, then Harry joined in, and they continued until they began to draw looks from the less merry patrons.
"We're making a habit of this," Harry said as he took a couple of sips in between titters.
"I think it marks our descent into madness," Draco replied wryly.
"Let's get out of here, it's more depressing than Azkaban."
They bought the cheapest bottle of liquor from behind the bar and took it back to Grimmauld. It was still fairly warm out so they sat in the garden, such as it was, and passed the bottle back and forth to one another as they chatted.
Draco had always been allowed wine with dinner, indeed it had been expected, but he had very little experience with spirits. Whatever they were drinking was foul, but it had the desired effect. With each burn down his throat, Draco felt his brain get fuzzier, felt his senses begin to blur. Harry, too, seemed affected, and he became a lot more talkative as the night went on.
Harry regaled him with stories from the Golden Trio's anthology, which, he never would have believed if he hadn't known how incapable Harry was of lying. He had had a vague idea about what they had got up to over the years, but he had never imagined how much peril they had truly been in. Again, he was forced to see the past few years in a different light.
"A time turner?" he said, eyes wide. "You actually used a time turner?"
"Yeah," Harry replied, taking a swig from the bottle and flinching. "It was wild. Messing with the timeline like that…it can be deadly. We had to be so careful."
"And that was so they wouldn't get Black?" Draco asked as Harry handed him back the bottle.
Harry nodded, and, even though his eyes were a little unfocused, Draco could see the sadness there. He reached out and gave Harry's leg a nudge with his foot, saying, "I'm sorry. I know…I know that my aunt – "
"Let's not talk about it," Harry said with a sigh, leaning back on his hands. "We're celebrating, remember?"
"Right, celebrating," Draco repeated, taking a gulp and wincing at the hideous taste. He was going to regret this in the morning, he knew he was, but at that moment everything was softer and easier than it had been in a while.
"What about Truth or Dare?" Harry suggested.
"Fuck no," Draco said with a snort. "I'm a fully-fledged adult now, I don't play such childish games."
"You're just scared I'll make you do something embarrassing," Harry replied with a grin.
"Well obviously. Anyway, I know your game, Potter," Draco said, wagging a finger at him, "you just want to take advantage of a dare and get me to kiss you."
"No I don't!" Harry protested, turning red all the way up to the roots of his hair. "I'm not…I mean, I don't – "
"Cool your heals, Boy Wonder," Draco said with a laugh. "I was only joking."
"No…obviously," Harry said, flustered. "I just meant…"
"Harry," Draco said gently, wondering if the alcohol had taken the edge off his personality, "I was only teasing, but…you do know that…wanting to kiss another guy is perfectly normal, right?"
"Of course I know that," Harry replied, his cheeks still red. "Bill's gay and…a couple of the boys in Gryffindor. Of course I know it's ok."
"But…you're still wondering if it's ok for you?" Draco asked, knowing that he'd struck a nerve. A year ago he would have pressed the issue with glee. He would have delighted in making Harry squirm, in upsetting him, but now he found he just wanted to let Harry talk, to see if he could help.
"I'm The Boy Who Lived," Harry said with a heavy sigh.
"I don't see how that's relevant," Draco said with a frown.
Harry took a fortifying swig then said, "People have…certain expectations of me. Marry a nice girl, preferably with red hair and freckles, and trot out some nice little kiddies. A same-sex partner isn't meant to be on the cards."
Draco paused for a moment, his thoughts becoming cloudier with the alcohol. "Listen, Harry…if there's one thing I've learnt in the last few months it's that trying to live up to people's expectations is the stupidest thing you can do. It's the surest way to make yourself miserable, believe me."
"I get that," Harry said quietly. "It's just…it doesn't make it any easier."
Draco nodded and took another disgusting sip. "No offence, Harry, but I don't think anything in your life will ever be easy."
Harry gave a deeply inelegant snort and said, "Gee, you think?"
They both descended into giggles, and Draco realised that he could get used to the strange feeling of camaraderie. He had never had friends, not really, and, while he wouldn't exactly call Harry a friend, it felt good to have someone to talk to, to laugh with.
"Harry, you can go your whole life trying to please people, or you can do what makes you happy," he said as the giggles subsided. "It's ok if you're still figuring things out, we all are, but don't be someone you're not just to make other people happy."
"I guess that's a lesson we both need to learn, huh?" Harry asked with a lopsided smile.
Draco nodded emphatically, regretting the decision when his head began to spin. "Bollocks to the rest of the world, do what makes you happy."
Harry sniggered and said, "Oh Merlin, hearing you say 'bollocks' is truly brilliant. You sound just like Ron."
"Well there's no need to be insulting."
Harry smiled dopily and looked up at the night sky, his eyes unfocused behind the over-sized glasses. Draco could see that he seemed to be puzzling over something, and so he wasn't surprised when Harry turned to him and said, "You…didn't seem bothered about the idea of kissing me. Are you – "
"Wildly in love with you? Yes, you've caught me. I've been hiding it for years."
Harry giggled again and said, "No, you git! I meant…are you gay?" he asked, his voice catching a little on the word.
Draco grinned at just how adorable Harry's blustering was, then realised he would be horrified at such a thought when he sobered up. "Actually, I'm bi."
"Bi," Harry repeated slowly. "So…you like both?"
"Got it in one," Draco said with a nod.
"And," Harry said, his smile turning sly, "you fancy Bill."
"What?" Draco said in shock. "I…no I don't, I – "
"Oh come on, you can't deny it," Harry said gleefully. "I've seen the way you look at him. I can't blame you, Bill's pretty easy on the eye."
"He's…alright I suppose," Draco said, his cheeks heating. "For a Weasley."
Harry gave a knowing smile but thankfully didn't press the matter further. Draco wasn't ready for that conversation, not yet. He looked at the bottle and decided that there were a couple of healthy swigs left in it. He chucked one back then handed the bottle to Harry to finish, who did so with such a sour expression it made Draco laugh all over again.
His tongue decided loosened, he regarded Harry for a moment, feeling a thoroughly alien surge of affection for the boy next to him.
"Listen," he said softly, "I know that things are a little confusing for you right now, but…if you want…try things out, no strings attached, that offer of a kiss can stay on the table."
"And you promise you're not madly in love with me?" Harry asked teasingly.
"On my honour."
"Ok…I'll think about it."
The NEWTs came and Draco was ready for them. For each exam someone from the Hogwarts faculty came to fetch him and he took the test in Snape's private quarters. No one was to know that he was in the castle, or indeed even still in the country, and so, to that end, Harry loaned him his invisibility cloak.
Finding out that Harry possessed such a thing came as something of a surprise. He had always wondered, back at school, how Harry had got away with half the things he got up to, and now he knew. He was a little bewildered that Harry trusted him enough to lend him such a treasure and he guarded it reverently.
The exams themselves went well enough. He had put in a great deal of work, especially as he had had nothing better to do stuck in Grimmauld day after day. With no family money or connections behind him anymore, he would have nothing but his academic achievements to help him get through life, and he was determined to show his father that he could make it on his own.
Harry joined him for a couple of revision sessions a week. The boy looked more tired every time Draco saw him and he wasn't sure how much strain Harry could take until he buckled under it. The boy seemed as determined as he was to do well in the NEWTS, perhaps to prove that he was more than The Boy Who Lived, that there was more to him than some dumb prophecy.
He was working himself hard, pushing himself to extremes, but Draco thought that perhaps he came to Grimmauld as an escape, as a way to shut out all those pressures, if only for a little while. Either way, Draco liked having him around. He had never thought such a thing would be possible, but, by the same token, he had never expected to be in the situation he was in.
The day of the exam results rolled around and Draco awaited the post nervously. Snape had promised to send them on to him, as his owl was one of the few that could get past the wards. His stomach rolled in anticipation and he sat at the kitchen table, nervously drumming his fingers as he waited.
It wasn't until late afternoon that the letter arrived, and, rather than ripping the envelope open, Draco simply left in on the kitchen table, staring at it over the rim of his coffee cup. He was mostly confident that he had done well, that he had worked hard enough to secure good marks, but the part of his mind that sounded suspiciously like his father told him he had failed, that he would never be good enough.
"Unless you've developed some kind of psychic power, I think you might have to open it to find out what's in it."
Draco turned his head to see Bill standing in the doorway. He couldn't deny that his stomach fluttered to see the man, and he couldn't deny that he looked damned good.
"So, are you going to open it?" Bill asked, moving into the kitchen and leaning casually against the countertop.
"Working my way up to it," Draco said, resting his fingertips on the envelop and tapping gently. "What are you doing here?"
"I have a couple of weeks' hiatus, thought I'd come and say hi. I've just been at home, the others all have their results."
"Did they do well?" Draco asked, only really bothered about Harry.
"Yeah, they did. Hermione aced everything, of course, and Ron did better than he expected to. Harry got a few Os and a couple of Es. He's made up."
"Good for him," Draco said with a small smile.
"Do you…do you want me to open it for you?"
Draco took a deep breath and picked up the envelope. He paused for a moment then handed it to Bill, saying, "Be gentle."
Bill took the envelope and broke the seal. He extracted a small sheet of parchment and his eyes scanned it quickly. He looked back up at Draco, his expression remaining passive.
"Well?" Draco asked breathlessly.
"Draco," Bill said slowly, "you aced them."
"What – "
"Os in everything and a special mention for being in the top 1% of scores for your Potions NEWT. Fucking hell, congratulations."
Draco blinked for a moment then scrambled up from his seat to stand next to Bill. He took the parchment from the man's hand and looked it over, his brain telling him that there were indeed Os written all over the page.
"I don't believe it," he whispered. "I fucking did it."
"I knew you would," Bill said, and Draco looked up at him. The man smiled at him and, before he could stop himself, Draco flung his arms around the man's neck and pulled him into a hug.
Bill's arms came up to encircle him, strong and firm, and Draco smiled into his shoulder, feeling fairly giddy. He clung on for a moment or two, thoroughly indulging in the feeling of being held. He pulled away before Bill could realise anything was amiss.
"This pretty much writes you a ticket to any future you want," Bill said, and Draco noted that the man still had his hand resting on his shoulder. "So what about applying to the St Mungo's training programme?"
Draco took a deep breath and said, "I will…but not yet. I…need to get money behind me first, figure out how to pay for tuition, figure out a place to live. Plus, this war feels as though it's looming larger every day, things are too uncertain while we have that hanging over our heads."
Bill nodded. "That seems fair, but at least now you know you have options. And…" the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small leaflet. "I thought this might be of some use to you."
He handed it to Draco and Draco saw that it was from Gringotts. It was information on a line of credit specifically for student loans. He looked back up at Bill, feeling his stomach flutter again.
"You picked this up for me?" he asked, disproportionately pleased that Bill had been thinking of him.
"I thought it might help. I know things are tough…but you should be able to continue your education. I looked through the terms; they're pretty reasonable, and the repayment structure is decent, it won't cripple you."
"Thank you…for thinking of me."
"It's ok," Bill said with a smile. "It isn't a hardship to think of you."
Draco felt the blush spread up his neck as he realised just how close he was standing to the man. Bill smelt wonderful, fresh and clean with just the tiniest hint of aftershave. It was all well and good to pretend that he didn't have a raging crush on Bill when the man wasn't around, but it was damned hard when he was standing right in front of him.
Draco cleared his throat and took a step back, trying to regain as much of his composure as possible. "So…you're um…you're sticking around for a little while?"
"If you don't mind."
"Oh, I think I'll be able to manage it."
"I'll just go and unpack then."
Draco nodded, trying to rein in his smile a little. Giddiness was still threatening to overwhelm him and he wasn't sure it was a good look on him. He had surpassed his own expectations in his exams and now Bill was staying with him for a couple of weeks. Things could certainly be worse.
That's it for now, my lovelies. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.
It was strange to have summer and to know you weren't going to return to school. Draco didn't lament it, as such, but it felt as if he had been chucked out into the adult world without much of a clue about what to do next. It seemed that Harry felt the same way, and, bit by bit, he slowly moved himself into Grimmauld Place.
Draco was aware that Molly had wanted Harry to live at The Burrow, and, as much as the idea may have appealed to Harry, Draco knew that the boy needed space. He needed time to figure out who he was outside of Hogwarts, and, while he needed the sense of family the Weasleys could offer, he was also used to fending for himself.
Nothing had been said about Draco leaving Grimmauld and he wasn't keen to bring it up. He had nowhere else to go, after all, and, as gloomy as the house was, Draco was strangely starting to think of it as home. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that Bill was living there too.
He was doing some very in-depth research for the curse he was working on and had chosen to do so from Grimmauld. It made sense; Draco had never seen such an extensive Dark Arts collection, even in his own father's library. If Bill wanted answers then the Grimmauld library was a good place to start.
The three of them fell into a familiar sort of rhythm. They all got along well, although Harry was often gone for long periods at a time. He was continuing with his training, and the sessions were held at Hogwarts under Snape's brutal tutelage. Harry was shattered, Draco could see that, but he went back day after day, night after night. If the end goal was to turn Harry into a mindless weapon, Draco thought they were succeeding.
With nothing of his own to do, Draco took to assisting Bill with his research while also attending to his own studies. He had managed to find a couple of second-hand books that the training programme for St Mungo's required, and he was making his way through them. He had also undertaken to learn how to cook; nothing particularly fancy, he just couldn't stand living off takeaways any longer.
He had had several mishaps in the kitchen, including a small fire that Bill had been quick to bring under control. A couple of days later, Bill presented him with a bundle of hand-written recipes from his mother with the promise that she could come over and help him if he needed it. They were all recipes for hearty, home-cooking, meals that Draco would have never eaten in the past, but that now he found a measure of comfort from.
He found Molly's generosity rather humbling. They were only recipes, but she didn't have to give them to him, and yet she had chosen to. It was a small thing, but he couldn't imagine his own mother making such a gesture, and for some reason that thought saddened him.
He was looking through the sheaf of parchment Molly had sent him, trying to decide what to make that evening when he heard the front door slam. Moments later, footsteps thundered up the stairs and somewhere another door slammed shut. Bill wasn't due home for at least another hour and wasn't particularly prone to door-slamming anyway. It had to be Harry.
He chucked the recipes down onto the table with a heavy sigh and glanced upwards. Leaving Harry alone when he was in a mood like that was never a good idea. His temper could work itself up into a frenzy if left unchecked, and, with his huge store of power, that could make for a dangerous situation.
He took a deep breath and braced himself, then made his way out of the kitchen and up the stairs. As he neared the landing, he heard loud noises coming from the small study to the back of the house. It was one of the rooms they rarely ventured in as it was still full of unknown nasties and could often be volatile and aggressive.
He inched closer to the room and knocked tentatively. He got no answer so he carefully and slowly pushed the door open and poked his head through. Harry was standing in the middle of the room, his wand drawn, flinging hex after hex at pieces of furniture.
"Harry," Draco ventured, but it fell on deaf ears. The boy continued to cast hexes, his jaw clenched, his knuckles white around his wand.
"Harry!" Draco tried again, louder this time. There was still no flicker of acknowledgement, and Draco thought it likely that there wouldn't be unless he intervened.
He drew his own wand and waited for the right moment, then disarmed Harry with a well-timed Expelliarmus. Harry whirled around, eyes blazing, his robes billowing in a way that would have made Snape proud.
"Give that back," Harry demanded.
"Not until you calm down," Draco said, pocketing the wand and hoping that Harry wasn't in the mood for a spot of wandless magic.
"I'm perfectly calm!"
"Oh yes, it looks like it," Draco scoffed. "I don't know what that table ever did to you," he said, gesturing to the small side table that was now nothing but splinters.
"It got in my way," Harry said through gritted teeth.
"Hence why I'll be keeping your wand for the time being."
"I don't – "
"Come on, get out of there before something starts fighting back."
Harry looked as though he was going to continue to argue, and Draco prepared himself for it. A moment later though the boy's shoulders slumped and he trudged out of the room like a chastised child. Draco closed the door behind him and placed a hand on Harry's shoulder, guiding him back through the corridor and down the stairs.
"Take a seat," Draco said when they were back in the kitchen.
"I don't want to," Harry said petulantly.
"Fine, stand," Draco said with a sigh. "Now, what's the matter?"
"I don't want to talk about it," Harry said, folding his arms.
"I'm not giving you a choice."
"You think you can just bully me into talking to you?"
"I think I'm more stubborn than you'll ever be and that you'll give in long before I will. Now, you can save us both some time and a lot of effort and just tell me what's wrong."
Harry stood in silence for a moment, his lips pursed. He was still a rather interesting shade of red and his hair was plastered in sweaty clumps to his forehead. Draco crossed his arms and wondered how long he was going to have to wait for Harry to give in. He had little experience in dealing with Harry's moods, and he wasn't entirely sure how best to proceed.
"It's Snape," Harry said eventually, spitting the name out.
"Snape," Draco repeated with a slow nod. "Something happened in your training session?" he ventured carefully.
"The same thing that always happens!" Harry said, giving the nearest cupboard a good kick.
Draco thought that the boy should be more careful, given the fact that many things in Grimmauld liked to kick back. Deciding that questioning Harry wasn't a good route to take, he simply waited.
"He hates me," Harry said moodily, "and he doesn't hide the fact." He took a shuddering breath and continued, "Everything I do is wrong, nothing is good enough. He makes me…he makes me feel so pathetic, so worthless. And I'm trying…I'm really trying."
"I know you are," Draco said gently.
"Well he doesn't! He thinks I'm an idiot, a child who isn't worth his time."
"Has he said as much?"
"He doesn't have to! It's written in every line of his face, it's obvious in everything he says to me. I just…I just don't know how much more of this I can take."
In all honesty, Draco was surprised Harry hadn't reached this point sooner. He'd been pushing himself so hard, as had everyone around him, and he was such a fragile soul to begin with. Draco couldn't understand why no one else seemed to be able to see that.
They all saw Harry as such a straightforward person, the boy who always had a sarcastic comment to hand and who bounced back from every knock with charming forbearance. Draco saw him differently. Even when he had so disliked the boy, Draco had been able to see past the mask that Harry so often presented to the world. He had been able to see the hurt, the exhaustion, the fact that Harry was sometimes only carrying on through sheer bloody-mindedness. He saw all those things now.
"You need to get drunk," Draco said decisively.
"I beg your pardon?" Harry asked with a frown.
Clearly he had been expecting a fight, or perhaps a rousing speech about how he had to buck up and put on a brave face. Draco wasn't prepared to offer him either of those things.
"You need to let loose and get good and pissed. I'm fairly certain Moody stashed a bottle of something the last time he was here. Accio alcohol," he intoned, and a few moments later a bottle came clanging its way into the kitchen.
It slapped into his hand and he looked at it. The label wasn't English and the liquid inside was a dark brown. "Beggars can't be choosers, I guess," he said with a shrug.
"Moody will kill us."
"I'll replace it. Come on, let's go and kill some brain cells."
They retreated to the sitting room, and slowly Draco convinced Harry that this was the only sensible course of action. The alcohol, whatever it was, was foul. It burnt their mouths and left a foul taste, but it was incredibly efficient at making reality melt away.
They sat on the floor, their backs against the sofa, legs splayed out in front of them. Harry raged about Snape, although the raging became less coherent as the bottle became emptier. Draco let him rant; he needed it after all, and the evil-smelling alcohol was helping to take the edge off. He could understand the boy's feelings; he knew what a hard taskmaster Snape was, and he seemed to take great delight in tormenting Harry.
Of course, Draco was also aware that Harry's feelings towards Snape were ever so slightly conflicted. Harry, in his usual oblivious state, was either unaware of that or was in denial. Either was entirely possible.
"He just…expects me to know things! He never tells me…he just…just…"
"I know," Draco said, nodding, "you've told me."
"No but you don't understand," Harry insisted, his speech slurred. "It's like he thinks I'm tele…telepathetic."
Draco snorted and Harry glared. "No…no. Telepathetic, right. He's a prick, what can I say?"
"Nah," Harry said, his eyes narrowing. "Nah…he's…a good guy really."
"Just because he's on our side doesn't mean he isn't a complete arsehole."
"He's not…he's…there's more to him than that," Harry said, his frown deepening.
Draco sighed and took a big glug from the bottle, which he regretted almost instantly. "Harry," he began, then took a second to compose himself as his vision swam. "Harry," he tried again, "don't you think it's about time you put this thing to bed?"
"I'm not putting anything to bed," Harry said fervently.
Draco grinned at him and said, "And there's the rub!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Harry asked, his eyes crossing a little.
"You and Snape, that's what a lot of this boils down to. All those…feelings get in the way."
"Oh Harry," Draco groaned. "I actually can't tell if you're doing this on purpose. You have feelings for him, why can't you just admit it?"
"I…I don't…I…" Harry sputtered, his cheeks flushing.
"Harry, please. It's so obvious!"
"But I…I haven't – "
Harry paused, then took a deep breath before saying, "I haven't even figured out if I'm…that way inclined yet."
"Oh," Draco said softly with a gentle smile. "Well," he said, stretching out and raising his arms above his head, "my offer still stands."
Draco wiggled his eyebrows, which would have been a lot more successful a move without the copious amounts of drain cleaner he had consumed.
"Oh! Oh…that offer," Harry said, suddenly flustered.
"No strings attached," Draco said, giving Harry's leg a nudge with his foot. "Unless…you don't find me attractive," he added with a sly smile.
"No…of course…I…you're very…it's just – "
"Harry, it's an offer. You can take it or leave it. It won't bother me either way."
"I don't know whether I should be offended or not."
"Be whatever you like, just give me an answer soon because my bladder's screaming at me to get this gut rot out of my system."
"What if I'm terrible?" Harry asked, and Draco took a moment to let the question settle in.
"Ah…once. It wasn't great."
"Wow, so in terms of experience – "
"I'm basically a first year," Harry said dejectedly.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with that," Draco said softly, seeing Harry's embarrassment. "Not everyone feels the need to jump in and out of bed with partners, and I'd say your circumstances are pretty unique. You have nothing to be embarrassed about."
"It doesn't feel that way. I feel like a freak."
"You're not a freak," Draco said, cupping Harry's chin gently. "People progress at their own pace, there's no right or wrong way to go about it. The most important thing is that whatever you do, it should be with someone you trust."
Harry smiled and said, "In that case, could I please accept your kind offer?"
"Why, Mr Potter, you flatter me."
Draco leant forward and pressed his lips to Harry's. The kiss was soft and gentle, Harry a little tentative, and Draco unwilling to overwhelm him. He moved closer and wrapped one hand around the base of Harry's neck as Harry began to respond a little more actively.
Draco decided he could press a little further and chanced a delicate swipe of his tongue over Harry's lips. Harry made a little noise of surprise but didn't pull back. Instead, he pulled himself closer and Draco took it as an invitation to sweep his tongue in Harry's mouth, which Harry welcome happily. Harry was responsive and a lot more intuitive than Draco would have expected, given the boy's limited experience.
It was sweet and strangely familiar, and although Draco could honestly say that he wasn't attracted to Harry, he couldn't deny that the boy was easy on the eye. He was perfectly happy to be Harry's experiment.
He was just starting to get into the rhythm of their kiss when he heard a noise of surprise from the doorway. He broke away from Harry and glanced over his shoulder, seeing Bill standing on the threshold, looking at them awkwardly.
"Sorry…didn't mean to interrupt," he said, his eyes darting between them. "I'll just…" he turned and walked off down the corridor.
"Shit," Draco breathed.
"Go after him," Harry said, "explain it."
"I doubt he even cared."
"It looked to me like he did." Harry gave him a gentle nudge and said, "Go on, go and talk to him."
Draco stumbled to his feet, his head still very hazy from the alcohol. He headed for the door, stopping when Harry called his name. He turned around and Harry gave him a lopsided smile and said,
"My pleasure," Draco said, returning the smile, before turning and heading off down the corridor towards the kitchen.
Bill was making coffee, and Draco approached him uncertainly. He felt guilty, despite the fact that that was ridiculous. He had nothing to feel guilty about, but that didn't change the fact that he needed to clear the air.
"It's not what you think," Draco said quietly, watching as Bill filled the cafetiere with boiling water.
"None of my business," Bill replied with a shrug. "Coffee?"
"No thanks. Look, Harry and I, we're not - "
"Draco, it's none of my business," Bill repeated, fetching himself a mug from the cupboard. "You two are cute together."
"Oh for Merlin's sake, we're not together," Draco protested. "Harry's just…he's really confused at the moment, and he needed a friend…someone he trusts to…help him test the waters. I know it sounds a bit odd, but haven't you ever had a snog with a mate?"
Bill turned to face him, his eyes dancing with amusement. "A snog with a mate?" he echoed. "You're going native."
"Very funny," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "Look, I like Harry, but not like that, and he doesn't see me that way either. I…I'd hate for you to get the wrong idea."
"Oh? And why is that?" Bill asked, his eyes twinkling.
"Well," Draco said, his cheeks heating, "I hate being misrepresented."
"Is that a fact? And…how do you want to be represented?"
Draco cleared his throat and tried to will the blush away. "I…I suppose I'd like to be represented as…someone currently unattached who…would be open to…an attachment, if the right one came along."
"I see," Bill said with a smile. "Well, I'll be sure to bear that in mind."
"See that you do."
"I can't look at this anymore," Bill said with a sigh, shutting the book in front of him with a thud.
"No joy?" Draco asked, looking up from his own tome.
Bill shook his head and said, "My eyes are starting to cross."
"You've been at it all morning. Maybe you should go for a walk or something, clear your head."
They had been researching all morning, trying to find answers for the case Bill was working on. It was complicated and had thrown up several twists and turns along the way. Draco was good at research, he would even say he enjoyed it, but even he was reaching the end of his tether with this one.
"My skin's starting to itch."
"This place will do that to you," Draco said with a distasteful look around. "I swear, most of the furniture moves."
"No, I mean I need to get out and do…something," Bill said with a slight growl that sent a shiver up Draco's spine.
"I told you to go for a walk."
"No," Bill said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I need something else, something more."
A very inappropriate part of Draco's brain was yelling at him to suggest exactly what Bill might do to work off some of that excess energy. It was all he could do to stop himself from crawling over the table and giving Bill a very practical demonstration. What a wonderful way that would be to rid themselves of any restlessness.
"Do you fancy a sparring session?" Bill asked, jolting Draco from his thoughts.
"I beg your pardon?"
"A little duelling session. Keep the senses sharp, have a little defensive practice."
"I'm not sure – "
"Oh come on," Bill pressed. "I know how well you did in Defence, I'm sure you can take me."
The man was being deliberately provocative, Draco knew that, and he couldn't stop his lip from quirking. "Maybe," he said smoothly, "but do you think you can take me?"
"Only one way to find out," Bill said, wiggling his eyebrows.
They pushed the huge table to the edge of the room and Bill threw up a few protective charms. Draco was nervous, but in a pleasant, tingly sort of way. He trusted Bill and knew that he was in no danger, but he wanted to impress the man, to prove that he was a competent adult, not the frightened child who had run away from home.
"Standard duelling rules apply," Bill said, stretching and limbering up. "Oh and stay away from the face, this is too pretty to hex."
Draco grinned, privately agreeing whole-heartedly. He would rather hex his own face than harm Bill's gorgeous visage. "We're both too pretty for that," he said, and Bill returned his grin.
"First, we bow to each other, Mr Malfoy."
Draco rolled his eyes but bowed as Bill did, then straightened up and gripped his wand tightly, preparing himself. Bill smirked then threw a quick Expelliarmus, which Draco deflected with ease. Draco threw back a bedazzling hex, but Bill's shield was up before he could blink. The hex rebounded and Draco had to duck to avoid being hit by his own magic.
Bill cast a Stickfast hex and Draco briefly found himself stuck to the floor before he performed the counter-hex and released himself. He blasted Bill with a banishing hex, but Bill deflected it with an impressive shield charm.
"Time to step things up," Bill said with a wicked smile, and Draco felt a thrill go through him.
The duelling became a fast-paced dance of precision and skill. Bill was talented, but so was Draco. Bill had experience on his side but Draco had imagination and was a very quick thinker. It was exhilarating, and Draco couldn't remember when he had last had so much fun. Eventually, they were using the objects in the room to aid their endeavours, using them as weapons or as cover to hide behind.
Draco was kept on his toes as curse after curse was fired. Bill knew several that Draco had never heard of, but he was able to deflect them with a few well-chosen shield charms. There were a couple of near-misses, and Draco would have to find a way of hiding the scorch marks in the walls from Harry. Draco was knocked off his feet a couple of times and Bill suffered being flung across the room once or twice, but neither was injured beyond repair.
By the time they eventually called a halt to proceedings, they were both thoroughly exhausted. Their breathing was ragged and uneven, their clothes sticking to their sweat-slicked bodies. Draco hadn't felt so exhilarated in months, and he would have gone several more rounds if he hadn't felt so ready to keel over.
"You're a damn fine opponent," Bill said, lifting the edge of his shirt to wipe his face. Draco almost had to clap his hand over his eyes to stop himself from looking at the exposed line of muscle.
"You're not so bad yourself," Draco replied, trying to catch his breath.
"And," Bill said, moving closer, "I have to say that the ruffled look looks good on you."
Draco was thankful that his cheeks were already flushed, but he couldn't disguise the smile that forced its way onto his face. "Ditto," he replied, with more confidence than he felt, turning smoothly and leaving the room.
Posting a day early because I'm off up north tomorrow to see family. Hope you enjoyed the chapter.
"Is anyone home?" Draco called as he shut the front door behind him. "Bill? Harry?"
"In the kitchen," Bill called back, and Draco made his way down the corridor with a grin, pleased that there was someone he could share his news with.
"Guess what? "I've just – oh," he stopped, entering the kitchen and seeing Molly Weasley sitting at the table with Bill. "Hello Mrs Weasley."
"Hello Draco, dear. Please call me Molly, I'm not a great fan of formality.
"Molly," Draco echoed with a polite smile. "What brings you here?"
"Just checking up on my eldest, restocking the cupboards in this place I must say, it's a lot cleaner than I'm used to seeing it."
"Draco's a very useful house elf," Bill said with a grin, and Draco resisted the urge to poke his tongue out at the man. "You sounded like you had news?"
"Hm?" Draco asked, momentarily distracted by what else tongues were useful for. "Oh…I got a job."
"That's great news!"
"Yes, well done, dear," Molly beamed.
"It's nothing to get too excited about," Draco said, feeling embarrassed. "I've managed to pick up some shifts at the dodgy pub at the end of the street. It's just cash in hand, but – "
"Every little helps," Bill said gently. "Good for you."
Bill's quiet approval was unexpected and it sent a comforting warmth through Draco's body. He knew a few shifts at a questionable pub didn't amount to much, but it was something he had achieved and the wages would give him a small degree of independence.
"Do we have to teach you how to make cocktails?" Bill asked.
"Warm beer and stale crisps is about as far as that place stretches. I don't think I'm in any danger."
"Well I certainly hope you won't be working this coming Saturday," Molly said with a smile.
"Oh?" Draco asked, feeling a strange sense of dread creep over him.
"We're having a little get-together for Harry's birthday. I do hope you'll join us."
"I – " Draco began.
"It would mean a lot to Harry to have you there," Bill said softly.
"Well," Draco said, his mouth feeling dry, "of course I'd be happy to come. Thank you for the invitation."
"Glad that's settled," said Molly, "Saturday at The Burrow for lunch."
"Can I bring anything? Or perhaps help with – "
"You just bring yourself," Molly replied, getting up from the table, "and this one of course," she added gesturing to Bill. "Oh, by the way, how are you getting on with those recipes?" she asked as she shuffled into her coat.
"Oh…very well, thank you," Draco said, embarrassed that he hadn't thanked the woman for them before now. "It was kind of you to – "
"Oh don't mention it, I was happy to help. It's about time this one learnt how to cook," Molly said, jostling Bill's shoulder.
"I don't need to now, I have Draco," Bill said smugly. "He's becoming a decent chef."
"Don't you be taking advantage!" Molly scolded. "Draco isn't here to cater to your needs."
Well, that was an interesting mental image, Draco thought as he tried not to indulge too much. He made the mistake of making eye contact with Bill, and the man had the audacity to smirk at him. Bill would be the death of him.
"I'll be on my way then. I'll see you both on Saturday," Molly said with a smile before she disapparated away.
"You up for it?" Bill asked, and Draco looked at him in confusion. "Facing the whole Weasley clan," Bill elaborated.
"Piece of cake," Draco replied with a confidence he didn't possess.
"Well, I'll be around to make sure you don't choke on it."
Of course, Draco was thoroughly less than pleased at the prospect of spending an afternoon with the whole Weasley family, but he had little choice. It was Harry's birthday, after all, and Harry had been the friend he had sorely been in need of over the last few months. Bill had also been nothing but decent to him and he wouldn't have given the man any offence by refusing to spend time with his family.
Still, he would be lying if he said he wasn't worried. He had a chequered past with the Weasleys especially Ron, and he had no idea how Ginny felt about that little stunt his father had pulled all those years ago. Neither Bill nor Harry would let anything happen, he knew that, but that didn't mean that the whole ordeal wouldn't be thoroughly unpleasant.
He pushed it to the back of his mind for the rest of the week. He had a good distraction with his first couple of shifts at the pub, which was an experience Draco had never imagined himself having. He caught on quickly enough; pulling pints wasn't difficult, but he knew he would have to toughen up to deal with the clientele.
So far there hadn't been too much trouble, but Draco knew that all too soon they would be trying to test the new boy. He stuck out like a sore thumb with his delicate bone structure and pale hair, and his knowledge of muggles was limited at best. At least the muggles who frequented the pub were fairly basic souls. As long as the beer kept flowing and the cigarette machine worked, they were happy.
The pub was a dump, no doubt about it. In between serving shifty customers, Draco tried his best to clean it. He used a little surreptitious magic in his endeavours, when he was sure no one was looking, and tried his best to at least keep the floor from getting sticky. As jobs went, he could certainly do better, but it was cash in hand and it felt good to have a little money that was solely his own.
He used his first paypacket to buy himself a few new clothes. He couldn't afford anything fancy, but there were a few charity shops nearby and he found a couple of pairs of jeans and some shirts all for under £30. He hadn't worn robes in a long time and he wasn't sure exactly when he would next get the opportunity.
"Nice togs," Bill said, entering the hallway where Draco was examining his reflection in the mirror.
"Clothes," Bill said with a smile.
"Ah, I have yet to learn how to speak commoner," Draco replied, grinning when Bill gave his shoulder a shove.
"So, are you ready to face the family?"
"Don't make it sound like that," Draco said with a wince.
"It'll be fine. My family aren't that scary. Actually," Bill added thoughtfully, "they really are. I mean, the twins alone are enough to give you nightmares, and you do not want to see my mother angry. Of course, Gin's small but powerful, she's a force to be reckoned with. Then – "
"Bill," Draco said through gritted teeth, "you're not bloody helping."
"Sorry," Bill said with an apologetic smile. "Are you ready to go?"
"I don't think I have a choice. I fully believe that your mother will come and drag me there by my ear if I don't show up."
"Highly likely, I'm afraid."
Bill held out his hand and Draco tried to keep the smile from his face as he took it. Bill pulled him closer and Draco braced his hands on the man's chest. He was encircled in Bill's arms and he couldn't deny that he was enjoying it. He had to find reasons to apparate with Bill more often.
A quick pop, a shifting of reality, and Draco opened his eyes to find himself standing outside the oddest-looking building he had ever seen. They were in the middle of the countryside, the sun shining brightly as green hills rolled gently in the distance. The house itself was undoubtedly magical, levels and extensions cobbled together with architectural charms.
"I know it's not what you're used to," Bill said beside him.
"Let's not go there," Draco said with a sigh. "I'd rather be here than at the manor, that's for sure."
He felt Bill's hand settle on his shoulder and he turned to face the man with a wan smile. Bill squeezed his shoulder gently and said,
"Sounds like everyone's round in the back. Let's go and join them."
Draco nodded and followed as Bill led him through to the back garden. Everyone was indeed there, some gathered around the large tables of food, others sitting on the blankets dotted here and there. There were people there besides the Weasleys, and Draco recognised several Order members, his cousin included. She waved to him as she spotted his arrival, and he returned it awkwardly.
"Fancy something to drink?" Bill asked.
"Yes please, whatever's going," Draco replied, hoping that Bill took that to mean something alcoholic.
"Back in a sec."
Bill disappeared towards the house and Draco felt immediately exposed without the man by his side. He moved a little further into the garden and tried to steady his nerves. He knew he was in no danger, but that didn't mean that the whole thing wouldn't be hideously uncomfortable.
"Malfoy," came a voice behind him, and he turned to see Ginny standing behind him, her arms folded.
"Ginny," he said with a nod. He had decided that first names would be better; after all, it was ludicrous to use the name 'Weasley' when half the people in attendance would reply.
"Never thought I'd see you here."
"No. Me neither," Draco replied, finding it impossible to read the girl's body language.
"You and I have something in common."
"We do?" Draco asked uncertainly.
Ginny nodded and said, "We both think your father's a bastard."
Draco laughed before he could stop himself, and Ginny's face broke into a grin. "You're better off without him," she said.
"I'm starting to think so."
"Doesn't make it any easier, I guess. I can't imagine what you're going through."
He hadn't expected sympathy, least of all from her, and it threw him. He had been prepared to be combative, to be defensive, but he didn't know how to react to Ginny's kindness.
"It…it could be a lot worse," he said eventually. "In a lot of ways I've landed on my feet."
"You don't mind living with Harry and my brother then?"
"I'm getting used to it."
She gave him a strangely knowing smile, then said, "Come on, Harry's over here. I think Ron and Hermione are too."
"Oh joy," Draco said before he could stop himself.
"I know you and Ron don't see eye-to-eye, but he really has grown up a lot in the last year."
"I suppose we all have," Draco said with a sigh.
They approached one of the picnic blankets, and Draco saw that Harry was lounging in the middle of it, Ron and Hermione leaning against the tree next to it and Neville, of all people, sitting cross-legged with a book in his lap.
"Found a straggler," Ginny said, flopping down on the blanket.
"Hey Draco," Harry said with a smile, cracking his eyes open.
"Hi," he said awkwardly, sitting down and trying to ignore the fact that all eyes were on him. "Busy couple of days?" he asked, as Harry hadn't been home since the previous Wednesday.
"Birthday celebrations, mostly," Harry replied, and Draco felt a little stab of hurt that he hadn't been included. "I've been staying here too, taking advantage of Molly's need to mother me."
"Shameless," Bill said as he sat down beside Draco, handing him a beer. Draco took it with a nod of thanks and downed a healthy glug, already wishing that the day was over.
"How goes the job?" Harry asked, and Draco tried not to let his defences go up all at once.
"What job?" Ron asked, looking as though he'd sensed a sore spot.
"I'm working at the pub down the road from Grimmauld," Draco replied uncomfortably.
"You? Working in a pub?" Ron said, obviously amused.
"What job have you managed to land yourself, Ron?" Bill asked, a certain bite to his voice.
"I haven't – " Ron began, but Bill cut him off.
"You haven't got a job because you're still living at home with your parents, getting looked after. Frankly, if you were spit out into the real world tomorrow I'm not sure you'd do half so well as Draco has."
Draco's eyes went to his lap. He didn't know where to look, nor how to react to Bill's defence of him. He hadn't expected such heartfelt words, and he truly appreciated them, but he didn't want to be the source of any tension between Bill and his family.
"Oh get off your high horse," Ron said with a snort. "It's just funny to think of Malfoy pulling pints. I can't imagine it somehow."
"Well," said Draco, raising his head, "stop by sometime and I'll demonstrate. I can't promise that a healthy dose of spit won't find its way into your drink though."
Ron grinned and said, "There's the git we all know and despise. And hey, I actually think it's kind of cool, especially if you give us a few free drinks."
"No chance. I'm not risking my already miniscule pay by slipping you free alcohol."
"Baby," Ron said, rolling his eyes, and Draco didn't miss the look that passed between Harry and Bill, one of relief and a strange sort of approval.
The conversation shifted and Draco listened as the others spoke of their plans now they were out of school. Everyone was in a strange state of limbo, knowing that nothing could really start while the war loomed over their heads. Things were stepping up, they were all aware of it, and they would have their parts to play.
Ginny, who still had her 7th year to complete, was frustrated by the notion that she was being left behind, but she also had enough maturity to know that desiring to be part of a war wasn't a sensible thing to do. Draco had never really talked to Ginny in the past, apart from to hurl the odd insult her way, but, as he sat and listened to her speak, he realised that he would like to get to know her better.
She was very much like Bill in many ways; she was witty and confident, with a truly wicked sense of humour. She was bright and intuitive, and Draco suspected that anyone who tried to lie to her would sorely regret it.
"What NEWTs are you taking?" Draco asked her as she and Hermione were discussing effective study methods.
"That's a hell of a list. You're not worried about burning yourself out?"
"Well, it isn't the exhaustive 12 that Percy took, but I think I'll manage."
"Gin's been top of her year for Charms since her first year," Hermione said proudly.
"Would you like to specialise?" Draco asked.
"I think I might," Ginny replied, stretching out on the blanket and giving Harry a kick to make him shift. "What about you?" she asked him. "I take it you're not planning on staying at the pub forever?"
Draco cleared his throat and felt himself falter a little under everyone's scrutiny. "I um….I think I'd like to become a Healer," he said quietly.
He waited for the others' mockery, but it never came. He looked up at them and saw Ron nod approvingly, while Hermione and Ginny smiled at him.
"I think you'd make a good Healer," Harry told him.
"That's what I've been saying," Bill said with a smile.
"Well," Draco said, feeling a little uncomfortable, "it's a long way off yet. I…I think I'll just pop and get another drink. Anyone else want anything?"
Everyone gave him their drinks order and he regretted being polite. He made his way to the house and found his way to the kitchen, stopping when he saw Molly at the sink, up to her elbows in washing up.
"Oh hello, love," she said as she spotted him hovering in the doorway.
"Hi. I was just coming to get some drinks."
"Help yourself, sweetheart," she said, gesturing to the array of drinks on the table opposite.
He hesitated for a moment, then said, "Can I help you?"
"Oh, no thank you. Don't you worry yourself."
"Please, I'd like to. You've done all this work, you shouldn't be stuck with the clean-up too."
"Sweetheart, that isn't – "
"I'll do some drying," he said, stepping forward and grabbing a tea towel. He reached for a pan from the drainer and Molly smiled at him.
"Five minutes and then you go back out to join the others."
Draco nodded and set about his task while Molly continued to wash. He glanced around the kitchen, taking in the ramshackle quality of the place. A few months ago, he would have died rather than spend any time there, but now he could appreciate the charm that The Burrow held, and the warmth and memories that were housed within its walls.
The manor had never possessed warmth of any kind. It held few precious memories and Draco realised that it had never really been a home. There had never been a family life there, not like the Weasleys had, and Draco felt, not for the first time, that he had missed out on something that he would never get to experience.
"How are you doing, dear?" Molly asked, glancing sideways at him.
"Fine, I have dried dishes before," he answered with a smile.
"You know what I mean," she said gently.
He sighed and said, "Better than I expected, in all honesty. I keep…expecting to miss home…but it turns out that there isn't anything left to miss."
He shook his head. "It's just…a place…a place that exists in my memory now. It's part of my past."
"That still makes it important."
"I know, but…you can't go back, I guess. I…haven't told the others, but…a while ago I received a letter from my father's solicitor," he trailed off, remembering how it had felt to receive the official missive.
"Nothing good, I take it?"
"No," Draco said quietly. "I've been disinherited, stripped of the Malfoy name. I was expecting it, it was inevitable, but – "
"It doesn't make it hurt any less," Molly said knowingly.
"I wish I didn't care," Draco said, glancing out of the window, watching as the others laughed and talked. He envied them their carefree laughter, the sense of security they felt around those who loved and cherished them. "I wish I didn't mean so little to my parents."
"Draco, it isn't my place to say so, but they don't deserve the title of parents," Molly said forcefully, and Draco looked at her in surprise. "Parents stand by their children no matter what, they love them through good times and bad. A parent would shift heaven and earth to save their child from pain, and they would lay down their own life before they would see their child hurt."
Draco felt tears prick his eyes and he looked away before Molly could see them. He sniffed and swallowed hard, trying to compose himself. "I hope…" he said, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat and tried again, "I hope your children realise how lucky they are to have you. I wish my own mother had been half the mother you are."
Unable to look at Molly, Draco placed the tea towel on the work surface and left the kitchen without looking back. Out in the garden, he realised he hadn't got any of the drinks he had said he would, but there was no way he could go back inside, not when his emotions were dangling by a thread as it was.
"You were taking such a long time, I thought you might have got lost," came Bill's voice, and Draco turned to see him approaching.
"I…I was helping your mum," Draco said, trying to compose himself.
"She didn't trap you, did she?" Bill asked, an apologetic note to his voice.
"No," Draco said softly, "it was nice to talk to her. She's…she's a wonderful woman."
"Ah, she must have fed you," Bill said with a teasing smile.
"Yeah," Draco said, forcing a smile, "something like that. Would…would you mind grabbing the drinks? I…I forgot them."
"Sure. Is everything ok?" Bill asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.
"Fine," Draco lied. "I'll come and join you in a minute."
He gave another unconvincing smile then headed off towards the river. Snatches of everyone's conversations washed over him and he let the noise comfort him for a moment. It was a hollow comfort really; it only served to remind him that he wasn't really part of this strange little world.
All the people present in the garden were connected somehow, they were all family in one form or another. He was an outsider, as much as people kept making assertions to the contrary. He wanted to belong, but he couldn't shake the feeling that people were only associating with him out of pity. Harry, the Weasleys, the Order members, they were all good people and they acted out of a sense of right rather than any true feeling for him.
Admitting to Molly that he had been disinherited had brought a rush of feeling that he hadn't been prepared for. He belonged nowhere, he had no one, not that he had ever truly had anything resembling family in the first place. Molly's words about parents had hit home, and he realised that he had never truly known what family was.
"We're going to play a few rounds of quidditch, if you're interested," Harry said, coming to join him at the river.
"Maybe later," Draco said, continuing to look forward.
"Come on, we need another decent Seeker," Harry pressed.
Draco snorted and said, "I was only on the team because my father bought my way onto it. I never really even cared about quidditch that much…I don't even support a team."
"You're still a good player, and you could still come and enjoy yourself now."
"The others don't want me there," Draco said, hating the note of petulance he could hear in his voice.
"Well, it was Ginny who suggested you, so – "
"Harry, just leave it for now. I'm here under sufferance, I'm aware of that."
Harry frowned, and Draco recognised the stubborn look in the boy's eyes. "You're here because I wanted you to be here. You're here because you're my friend."
"Friend," Draco echoed derisively.
"If you want to be. I'm not going to keep having the same conversation over and over with you, trying to convince you that I care, that you have people you can depend on. You're going to have to figure that out on your own, I can't keep trying to persuade you. I understand that I will take time, but one day you're going to have to pull your head out of your arse."
"You have such a way with words," Draco said, rolling his eyes, but still feeling his cheeks heat.
"I'm not going to beg," Harry said softly. "Come and join us if you want to."
He turned to leave and Draco reached out to grab his arm. "I…" he said awkwardly, feeling embarrassed. "Here," he said, reaching into his pocket and handing Harry a small box.
"Birthday present. Sorry it's not much, but I…I don't have a lot – "
"Ooh! Cornish sea salt truffles!" Harry exclaimed, and Draco was relieved to see that the boy's smile seemed genuine.
"I didn't really know what to get you, but there's this company that hand-make them and I always really…" he trailed off, realising he was rambling. "Well…I hope you like them."
"Thank you," Harry said with a bright smile. "If you're very lucky I might even share them with you."
"You don't maintain this flawless complexion by eating chocolate," Draco told him imperiously.
"You're such a knob," Harry said with a laugh. "I'm going to go and get the game started. You know you're welcome if you change your mind."
Draco watched him go, feeling irritated with himself that he hadn't decided to join in the game. Now he'd refused, his pride wouldn't let him change his mind, so he would just have to sit and watch the others have fun. It was true that he didn't really have any interest in quidditch, but it might have been interesting to play a friendly game.
"Harry might give up that easily, but I don't," came Bill's voice in his ear, just as he felt the man's hand settle on his waist.
"What – "
"You're coming to play with us," Bill said, and Draco felt a gentle tug around his middle as the man guided him towards the makeshift pitch out in the adjacent field.
"But – "
"No arguments. We've got a Seeker!" Bill announced as they joined the others, and Draco felt the comforting hand leave his waist.
"Brill!" said Ginny with a grin. "Draco, you're on my team. Bill, pick a side."
"I'm not playing against you, I'll be on yours."
Draco was handed a broom, a very old, not terribly efficient one, but he was confident enough in his skills to think that he could make it work for him. Soon, they were all up in the air, listening as Harry and Ginny gave them instructions.
It wasn't long before his instincts took over and soon he was flying as skilfully as he always had. The broom was a little difficult to handle and was nowhere near as responsive as his old ones had been, but eventually he got the hang of it.
Ginny was an effective captain, and Draco could tell that she was fiercely competitive. He could see why Bill had no desire to be on the opposing team to her. After a little while, Draco realised that he was actually enjoying himself. He had never played a game of quidditch that didn't matter, a game that his father wouldn't punish him for not winning.
He felt himself smiling and laughing, feeling more carefree than he had done in months. He was having fun and feeling surprisingly unselfconscious about doing so. No one was judging him, no one was mocking him, they were all simply enjoying themselves and he was part of it.
In the end, Harry's team won, but it didn't matter. Draco swooped down to the ground and was immediately gathered to Bill's side in a one-armed hug.
"You play almost as well as you fight," Bill said with a grin. "I'm glad we were on the same side."
Feeling bold and exhilarated from the game, Draco deliberately pressed himself closer and said, "You should count fortunate to have me."
"I do, Mr Malfoy. I do."
Sorry for the slight delay in posting, my lovelies, but I have been SO sick. I honestly don't think I've ever been this ill before and my husband has it too, so we're just shuffling around trying to look after one another! It's honestly horrendous.
Anyway, hope you like this chapter. There's a slight chance I might not post next week as I'll be on holiday, but I'm sure you can live without me for a week :)
"Nice try, blondie. Checkmate."
"Bollocks," Draco sighed, sitting back in his chair and regarding the chessboard in front of him. "I didn't see that coming."
"Hence why I won," Ron said with a grin. "Still, you gave me a good game, better than any of this lot are capable of anyway," he added, gesturing at the others, who were all dotted around the library in Grimmauld, waiting for the Order members to arrive.
"Hey, I'm not too bad," Bill protested, looking up from the book he'd had his nose in all morning.
"Still never beaten me though, have you?" Ron replied smugly.
"I don't know where you get it from, you're an idiot," Bill teased and Draco smiled, getting used to the good-natured sniping between the Weasley siblings.
Truth be told, he was actually starting to enjoy it. He liked to listen to them argue and tease, like to experience a taste of the family life he had never had for himself. He would never tell them, of course, he had a persona to maintain after all, but spending time with them was a strange sort of tonic.
"Don't listen to him," Hermione said, perching on the arm of Ron's chair and sliding an arm around his shoulders. "I think you're a genius."
She leant down to kiss him and over in the corner Draco saw Harry roll his eyes. He knew the boy didn't mean it nastily, but he also knew that Harry was getting a little fed up of feeling like a third wheel. Ron and Hermione were a few months into a relationship, which looked to be turning serious, and Harry was feeling left behind as well as left out.
Of course, the fact that Harry was developing ever-more confusing feelings for Snape wasn't helping matters. Draco wasn't sure if Harry was conscious of it or not; the boy wasn't exactly in touch with his feelings and he was more capable of burying his head in the sand than anyone Draco knew. Draco could see it though, and he worried that Harry was losing his heart to a man who didn't possess one of his own.
"How goes life in the pub? Any brawls yet?" Ron asked, looking gleeful at the prospect.
"Several near misses," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "That place is the biggest dive I've never known. There are places in Knockturn Alley with better reputations."
"And what would you know about Knockturn Alley?" Bill asked, and Draco fluttered his eyelashes at him.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Draco asked sweetly.
"I'm fairly certain I wouldn't," Ron said, wrinkling his nose in distaste.
"I would," Ginny said with a grin.
"Don't let Mum hear you say that," Ron said, and Ginny stuck her tongue out at him.
"Sounds like the others are here," Harry said, glancing towards the door. "We'd best get down and join them."
They cleared up the things in the library and then made their way downstairs to the kitchen, greeting the others. Draco allowed himself to be swept up into a hug by Molly, smiling as she pulled back and told him that she was thrilled to see him looking so well. It was said with such motherly affection that Draco couldn't help but let her hug him again.
"I think you're on your way to becoming her favourite," Bill said as Draco took his usual seat next to the man.
Draco watched as, over in the corner, Harry approached Snape. He listened as Harry said, "Nice to see you, Professor."
"You saw me on Monday, Potter," Snape replied in a bored drawl.
"No, I know," Harry said, turning red. "I just meant…never mind. I…um…I finished the book you lent me. Would you like it back?"
"Bring it to the next session," Snape said dismissively.
"Ok," Harry nodded. "I was thinking…about the next session, maybe – "
"Potter, leave the thinking to me. You don't exactly have a glowing track record in that area," Snape said before sweeping past Harry without another word, leaving the boy standing there looking after him with a defeated expression.
"Stop scowling at Snape," Bill said gently beside Draco.
"I can't stand the way he treats Harry. He just dismisses him like he doesn't matter. And Harry…he doesn't take crap from anyone and yet he just lets Snape walk all over him. I hate it."
"It's Harry's business. Don't get in the middle of it," Bill advised.
"I just don't like seeing him being treated that way. He's a great guy, he could have anyone he wanted and yet he wastes his time pining away for a git like that."
"I know, but it's Harry's life, and whatever your opinion, it won't change the way he feels. Still, it's nice to see that you care."
"Of course I care, Harry's my friend," Draco said, then realised exactly what he had confessed and let his cheeks colour. "I mean…"
"You said what you meant, Draco," Bill said with a smile. "It's nice that you think of him that way."
Draco was spared having to think of a reply by Dumbledore calling for the meeting to start. Everyone quietened down and gave their attention to the man, who immediately handed the floor to Kingsley.
There had been a number of sightings of key players, and, with that in mind, Kingsley wanted to send out a few teams for reconnaissance. Draco nearly fell off his chair when he learnt that not only was he to be included in this operation but that he was to be partnered with Bill.
The man grinned at him as their names were read out and Draco tried not to feel too giddy at the prospect of working alongside him. He listened as Kingsley outlined their assignment, trying not to feel too nervous about it. They were to go to the magical quarter of Bath and see if they could track down a couple of low-ranking Death Eaters who had been moving up in the world.
Kingsley's intelligence reported that they were after something, but what it was was unclear. Draco and Bill were not to engage, unless they were in danger, and were to gather as much information as they could while tracking them.
It was an important job, and Draco felt the weight of it settle on his shoulders as he listened to the brief. It was the first assignment he had been given as an Order member though, and he felt that he'd finally been given an opportunity to do some good rather than rattling around Grimmauld day after day.
He didn't know what twist of fate had landed him as Bill's partner, but he was insanely grateful for it. He trusted Bill and he knew he would be safe with him. Of course, the fact that it meant yet more time alone with the man was a wonderful added bonus.
He knew it was a little childish, but he couldn't help but think of what might happen between them under these unusual new circumstances. He was aware that the flirting between them had stepped up a notch, but he wasn't entirely sure what that meant.
There was every chance that Bill wasn't taking the flirting seriously. Perhaps he was just one of those people to whom flirting came naturally, someone who flirted with everyone. It didn't seem like Bill's style though; he was too straight-forward a person to play those kind of games. Draco knew how he felt, but deciphering Bill proved somewhat trickier. Still, neither of them was going anywhere; there was time enough to figure things out.
The meeting drew to a close and several of the members took their leave almost immediately, but the Weasleys, Tonks and Lupin hung on. Draco watched as Harry watched Snape go, and was relieved that the boy didn't try to stop him. He knew it was none of his business, but he hoped that Harry managed to get over his crush sooner rather than later. He couldn't help but feel that Harry's feelings for Snape would somehow end in disaster.
Shaking his head, he shifted his attention from Harry to the corner of the kitchen where Tonks was standing talking to Lupin and Charlie. He hadn't really spoken to Tonks since she had introduced herself at the first meeting, but they had exchanged friendly greetings at subsequent ones. He had continued to bear in mind what she had said about being family, and he felt that he was finally ready to take a leap and see what that might mean. Taking a deep breath, he approached her.
Waiting for a lull in the conversation they were having, Draco cleared his throat and said, "A few of the others are staying here for a takeaway. You're welcome to join us if you like. You too, Charlie, and you, Professor Lupin."
Lupin smiled and said, "I haven't been a professor in quite some time, Draco. Please call me Remus."
"Why aren't you cooking for us?" Charlie asked. "Bill says you're shaping up to be a decent chef."
Draco snorted and said, "If you think I'm cooking for over ten people, most of them Weasleys, you must be mad."
Charlie grinned and Tonks said, "That's the spirit. Don't let this lot walk all over you."
"I don't intend to."
Happy chaos descended in the kitchen as the menus were spread over the table and people decided what they wanted. Unused to so much noise and mayhem, Draco insisted on trying to maintain some kind of order and summoned paper and a pen to write down everyone's choices. He was teased mercilessly by Charlie and Ron who insisted that he was clearly channelling Hermione, and perhaps the two had been separated at birth.
Harry and Draco, with his meticulous list, were dispatched to go and get the food, as nothing muggle would be able to be delivered to the house. Laying it all out on the table created further chaos, and Draco was forced to make it very clear that his food was his own and that he had no intention of sharing it with anyone. This then led to a fierce debate about the pros and cons of sharing food, and it turned out that everyone came down very firmly on one side or the other.
"But it's my food," Tonks said, sitting next to Draco on the living room floor. "I ordered it because it's what I wanted."
"Exactly," Draco said around a mouthful of fried rice.
"Oh this is such an only child thing!" Ron said. "Hermione's so weird about her food too."
"I don't see what's weird about wanting people to keep their hands off your food!" Hermione protested.
"Agreed," Bill said. "See, not an only child thing. Although I suppose it could be an oldest child thing. I spent so many mealtimes trying to keep Ron and the twins away from my food."
"Someone else's food always tastes better," Ron said, and Draco rolled his eyes.
"You'd share food with Voldemort if you were hungry enough," he said, and Ron grinned at him.
"Well I'm sharing a meal with you, aren't I?" he asked, and, rather than taking offence at his words as he might have done a few months ago, Draco simply chucked a prawn cracker at him.
"More beer," said Charlie, appearing from the kitchen with several bottles floating in front of him. Everyone grabbed one out of the air and Draco felt a little surge of satisfaction that he had been able to pay for the beer out of his own money.
"So," said Tonks, "you have your first assignment for the Order. How does that feel?"
Draco looked over to Bill, who raised his eyebrows at him. "It feels good to finally be able to contribute in some way. I've felt a bit useless holed up in here."
Harry made a noise of disgust and said, "Tell me about it. Nothing like inaction to make a person feel like a waste of space."
Draco and Bill exchanged a glance, both having been recipients to this complaint several times over. Having been so, Draco had tried to talk him out of such feelings several times, to no avail, and he wasn't about to try again now. He didn't have to anyway, Hermione stepped into the breech, saying,
"You're not a waste of space, Harry."
"You're not," she insisted. "You're training with Snape, you're – "
"Yeah, and we all know how well that's going. He thinks I'm a moron."
"He's the moron," Ron said, and Draco privately agreed. "He treats you like shit."
"He's pushing me," Harry said, and Draco resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the boy's stubborn insistence to defend Snape. No matter what anyone said, Harry was so blinkered where the man was concerned and it irritated Draco no end.
"He'll push you into an early grave if you're not careful," Ron warned. "He's too hard on you."
"He has to be, I have to be ready."
"Well then how can you say you're not doing anything useful?" Hermione asked calmly, and Draco saw Harry's anger deflate slightly. "You're doing the most important thing, Harry," she continued, "and you should never forget that."
It wouldn't be the last of it, Draco knew. Harry had been going around in those particular circles for some time and Draco was well aware that they would be back having the same conversation in a week's time. Fortunately, it seemed that Harry was content to let it rest for the time being, and the topic switched to the more neutral one of the latest ministerial incumbents.
As Hermione and Lupin led a very academic-sounding debate, Tonks helped herself to another bottle of beer and said to Draco, "You seem to be very well-settled in here."
Draco shrugged and said, "In a strange way it's starting to feel like home."
"That's a good thing."
"Yes and no," Draco replied, his tongue loosened by the couple of beers he had had. "Perhaps adjusting would have been harder if I'd had more to leave behind."
Tonks nodded, dislodging tendrils of purple hair from the messy ponytail it had been scrunched into. "That makes sense. I mean…I never knew your parents personally, but…I heard things."
"What's your mother like?" Draco asked abruptly, suddenly feeling a desire to know.
Tonks smiled and it creased her eyes and wrinkled her nose slightly. "She's the best. She's kind and funny but she can be one tough cow when she needs to be. She's smart and resourceful; she's the first person I'd go to if I needed help."
"She sounds like a great woman," Draco said, smiling at Tonks' enthusiasm.
"She is," Tonks agreed. "She's my best friend, I tell her everything."
"Must be nice."
"She'd love to meet you," Tonks said gently. "She always knew, of course, that she had a nephew, but…well…you know."
Draco nodded and said, "I'd like to meet her too. Does she…does she look like my mother?" he asked hesitantly.
"No," Tonks said, shaking her messy head. "Actually, she looks a lot like Bellatrix."
"I don't know if that's worse."
Tonks laughed and said, "I know what my mother would say."
"Your…your dad's a muggle, isn't he?"
"Hence why Mum was disinherited," Tonks confirmed.
Draco snorted and said, "I know what that feels like." His eyes widened as he realised what he had confessed, and he glanced around the room to make sure no one else had heard.
"I won't tell anyone," Tonks said as he looked back to her.
"Only Molly knows so far," Draco said quietly. "I just can't bring myself to tell the others yet."
"I'm not saying this to be unkind, but it's not the end of the world. You'll get by without the Malfoy name and fortune behind you; you've already proved that you can survive on your own. Rejection always stings though, that will take some time to get used to."
"I think I've been getting used to that for longer than I realised."
"Forgive me for sounding trite, it's a Hufflepuff's prerogative you know, but family comes in lots of different forms. Just ask Harry," she said, nodding in the boy's direction.
Draco looked over to where Harry was currently engaged in an arm wrestle with Ron, Ginny and Hermione cheering them both on. Harry had had even less of a family life than he had, but he had found people to love and who would love him in return. Draco still felt that he had a long way to go before he found a place he truly belonged.
He and Tonks continued to talk for the rest of the evening, and Draco found her engaging and just a little bit insane. She liked to lurch from topic to topic without much in the way of a segue, and thoughts tumbled from her mouth with alarming alacrity.
She was a little chaotic and Draco could see how this might lead people to overlook her obvious intelligence. People might have thought that she said what she thought without consideration or filter, but Draco could see that there was a careful selection to her words that he was sure others missed. She may well have been a Hufflepuff, but she definitely possessed traits that could have landed her in Slytherin.
"It was nice to see you talking to Tonks," Bill said to him as they tidied up the living room after everyone had left.
"She's good fun," Draco said, pulling a face at the mess Ron had left. "She said she'd try and stop by every now and again."
"It'll be good for you to spend time with her. It might…give you a sense of family."
"Bill," Draco said with a smile, "I already had that."
"Yeah?" Bill asked with a lopsided smile.
"Yeah," Draco said slyly, "you said it yourself – I'm your mum's favourite. Too bad she likes me better than you."
He sashayed out of the room but wasn't quick enough to miss the well-timed swat Bill aimed at his backside.
A week later and he and Bill were preparing to head to Bath on their assignment. Unsure how long they were going to be there for, Draco packed a few changes of clothes and some basic toiletries in his shrunken luggage. He had never packed so lightly in his life.
Downstairs Bill was waiting for him in the kitchen, an empty bottle on the table.
"Is that the portkey or have you just started early today?" Draco asked.
"Cheeky," Bill said with a smile. "Come here then and give me your hand."
"You don't have to hold hands for a portkey," Draco countered.
"It's a special one."
Bill grinned and Draco shook his head with a smile, saying, "Ah one of those 'special' ones. Perhaps we should take further precautions."
He slid an arm around Bill's waist and pulled himself into the man's hold. He was blushing, and he knew it, but Bill smiled at him conspiratorially and he couldn't stop himself from returning it.
"Ready for our assignment, Mr Malfoy?" Bill asked.
"As I'll ever be. Promise to take care of me?"
Bill raised an eyebrow and said, "You're perfectly capable of taking care of yourself. I'm not averse to watching your back though."
"Ditto," Draco said with a smirk.
Bill reached out and closed his hand around the portkey then moments later they were both transported to a dank alleyway.
"Well, isn't this spiffy?" Draco said, wrinkling his nose at the smell. "I thought Bath was classy."
"One alley's very much like another."
"Where are we meant to go?"
"Intelligence says the Death Eaters are staying in a pub called The Trusty Beggar. It's not exactly five-star so I doubt we'll have a problem getting a room."
Draco gave an affected sigh and said, "I miss the days when I could stay in the finest suites in the most expensive hotels."
"Well, when you're a Healer at the top of your field you can take me away for a fancy weekend."
Feeling giddy at the prospect of Bill still being around when he was a qualified Healer, Draco merely gave him what he hoped was an enigmatic smile and said, "For now we'll have to make do with whatever dump awaits us. Lead the way."
Dressed in low-key muggle clothing, they blended into the streets of Bath without issue. Draco had always thought that he would detest muggle clothes, that he would miss robes, but he found that muggle clothes suited him and that he enjoyed wearing them. Also, it had to be said, seeing Bill in dark, form-fitting jeans, was akin to a religious experience.
They found the pub, which was as hideous as Draco had expected it to be. Still, it wasn't as bad as the place Draco worked in, and he had to take a minute to appreciate how much his life had changed that that was his basis for comparison.
They secured a twin room, and Draco allowed himself a moment's regret that they hadn't ended up having to share a double. He supposed that sort of thing only happened in fiction.
They had arrived early evening and decided that the best thing to do would be to have a meal in the pub's restaurant and hope that their targets had decided to do the same. Ideally, they wanted to listen in on any conversations that might take place and follow them should a need arise.
"Meat shouldn't be this colour," Draco said, poking at his pork chop with his fork.
"Neither should mash have this many lumps," Bill replied, looking very much as though he might be sick. "I'd love to know the hygiene rating of this place."
Giving up on the pork, Draco put his cutlery to one side and said, "You should see the kitchen at my place, even the rats have moved out."
"I'm not sorry I don't visit that place more often."
"Coward. You could give your immune system a little boost."
"You're actually enjoying working there, aren't you?" Bill asked with a knowing smile.
Draco shrugged, knowing he'd been caught out, and said, "It's toughened me up, made me realise that…I can do more than I thought I could. I'm not just the snotty rich kid everyone always thought I was…I can survive on my own."
"Never doubted it for a second."
Draco was trying to think of a suitable rejoinder when Bill conspicuously motioned to the door. Looking over, Draco saw that their targets had entered and had headed over to the bar. He saw Bill slip a hand into his inside pocket, touching his wand, then a moment later the Death Eaters' speech was amplified.
"Nice wordless magic," Draco said, impressed.
"One day I'll aim for wandless, but for now I'll settle."
They listened while the two men talked, whilst trying to maintain a cover conversation of their own. Nothing of much interest was said for a while, the conversation mundane and ever-so-slightly dull. Draco was beginning to think that they'd been misinformed about who to trail when of the men said,
"We need to go. Time to meet with the contact."
The men headed for the door and, after giving it a minute or two, Draco and Bill followed. Keeping several paces behind, they followed them down a couple of streets, listening as they continued to speak in hushed tones.
"I think they've spotted us," Draco whispered as one of the men looked over his shoulder for a second time.
"We're just a couple on holiday in Bath, taking in the sights," Bill said, slipping his hand into Draco's and pulling himself closer.
"If only," Draco said wryly.
They followed the men into a bar that was even seedier than the pub they were staying in. Draco didn't need to be paying attention to see the drug deal that was taking place in the corner, or the various prostitutes touting for custom.
"Would two blokes on holiday really come in here?" Draco asked dubiously.
"Maybe we fancy a taste of the forbidden?"
Draco scoffed and said, "If I'm ever in a relationship that gets to that point, I'll know it's doomed."
"Duly noted," said Bill with a smirk.
"Where is she?" they heard one of the men say.
"Not here, there's another room," the other one answered with a sly smile. "Come on, this way."
They slunk off and Bill and Draco followed, finding themselves in a room that was dark and dank, full of people strung out on God knew what, doing all manner of things they wouldn't do in the light of day. Draco was about to make as sarcastic a comment as he could muster, when the two men turned and clocked him and Bill standing there.
"Oh shit," he whispered. "We've been spotted."
Thinking on his feet, Draco grabbed a handful of Bill's shirt and pulled himself up against the man's body as he met him in a kiss. He backed himself up against the nearest wall, taking Bill along with him. He wound his arms around Bill's neck as he felt Bill's hands settle firmly on his hips.
It was, of course, merely for cover, but that didn't mean that Draco couldn't enjoy it, and enjoy it he did. Bill was an exquisite kisser, not that Draco had ever doubted he would be, and, as the man insinuated his tongue in his mouth, Draco melted into him.
He felt himself harden and he pushed himself shamelessly against Bill's leg. If this was meant to be convincing, Draco was damn well going to put on a show. He groaned as Bill's lips moved to his throat while the man's hand began to rove over his torso.
"Are they still watching?" Bill murmured against his skin.
"Who?" Draco whispered muzzily.
Bill chuckled and Draco said, "Oh…oh um…" He glanced over to the other side of the room and saw that the Death Eaters were no longer looking at them and had retreated to a darkened corner. "We're clear."
"Shame," Bill said, and Draco could feel the smile against his skin. Bill pulled back and said, "I suppose we'd better get after them."
Draco nodded and they extracted themselves from one another while Draco's cheeks flushed. He wasn't sure if he would ever be able to look the man in the eye ever again, but he couldn't deny that the experience had been a pleasant one. He privately hoped for another instance where they would have to employ such subterfuge.
They followed the men over to the corner they had disappeared into and found that they had slipped through a well-disguised door. Pressing themselves up against the wall, Bill and Draco watched as the Death Eaters approached a woman with scraggy grey hair and a wizened face.
"I know her," Bill whispered. "She was picked up by the Ministry a couple of years ago for trading on the black market."
"Looks like she's up to her old tricks," Draco replied quietly.
They watched as the woman handed one of the men a small packet and he, in turn, handed her a large coin purse. Draco carefully extracted his wand and cast a subtle amplification charm to hear their conversation.
"This is it?" one of the men asked.
"Just what you asked for," the woman replied.
"And will it work?"
"If you use it properly. Coupled with the incantation I gave you, this will make the Imperious curse look like child's play."
"Oh Merlin," Bill whispered. "I'll bet money she's just given them a Tekotateri Orb. This is bad, very bad."
"What should we do? We were told to observe, nothing else," Draco whispered back.
"We can't let them leave here with that thing. It's capable of producing an effect similar to mass hypnosis. Merlin only knows what they're planning to use it for, but it won't be for anything good."
"You think we should engage?" Draco asked, his stomach assaulted with nerves.
"I don't think we have a choice. We need to do it away from this place though, it's full of muggles."
Draco nodded and they made their way back through the hideous back room and through the bar. They walked out into the night and both drew their wands, casting disillusionment and warding charms, ready to pounce when the Death Eaters came out.
"You're an excellent duellist," Bill told Draco. "We can take these two."
"I hope you're right," Draco replied, feeling his mouth go dry.
He didn't have to worry further; within moments the men came out the door and Bill and Draco hit them with stunning hexes. It seemed, however, that the man had been ready for them, and they threw up shields before Draco could blink.
It all happened too quickly for Draco to properly process. Instincts took over and he cast spells and hexes without thinking about it. He was aware of Bill beside him, fighting fiercely, an impressive force who was giving as good as he got. Draco was distracted momentarily when Bill was hit by a nasty slicing hex across his shoulder, and, in the confusion, his wand was knocked from his hand.
Without thought, he charged at his attacker before the man had time to level another spell at him. With a strength he hadn't known he possessed, he took a swing at the man's jaw, knocking the man's head backwards. Deciding that to stop would be a decidedly bad thing, Draco took advantage of the man's surprise at a physical attack to land another blow, which stunned the man long enough for Draco to grab his wand from him and cast a very neat binding charm.
His attacker suitably dealt with, Draco turned his attention to Bill's. The man had Bill backed against the wall, his arm pressing against Bill's throat while Bill fought for release. Not having the time to try and find his wand, Draco grabbed a piece of stray brickwork from the ground and hit the man soundly on the side of his head.
He crumpled to the ground and Draco dropped the brick in shock, wondering vaguely if he'd managed to kill the bastard. He looked up at Bill and said shakily, "Are you ok?"
Bill nodded and said, "You?"
"Ask me tomorrow," Draco said, feeling overwhelmed by the rush of adrenaline. "Is he…did I…" he tried to ask, looking at the prone form on the ground.
Bill knelt down and Draco watched as he pressed a couple of fingers to the man's throat. Bill shook his head and said, "He's alive, you've just knocked him out."
Bill rose to his feet and pointed his wand at the man, thick ropes shooting into place and binding the man where he lay. He turned back to face Draco, and, to Draco's surprise, grinned at him.
"What?" Draco asked, feeling his heart thudding in his chest.
"You fought like a muggle," Bill said, still grinning. "I saw that right hook you landed. Pretty impressive."
"Yeah well…didn't have much choice," Draco replied, not willing to admit that he had surprised himself. He had had no idea that he would be quite so handy with his fists and a small part of his brain was indulging in the gleeful thought that his father would have had a fit at the notion.
"Here," Bill said, retrieving Draco's wand from behind a bin. "At least you know you can hold your own without it."
"I'm not surrendering it just yet," Draco replied with a wry smile, the shock starting to subside somewhat. "What should we do about these two?" he asked, looking back at the bound men.
"I'll get a patronus to Kingsley, he can decide what to do with them."
Draco nodded, feeling his body start to shake a little as the adrenaline began to drain away. He had never experienced combat before and part of him was elated that he had conducted himself so well, but the shock of it all was a little much to take.
He felt Bill's hand settle on his shoulder and he looked up at the man. Bill offered him a gentle smile and Draco felt his own lip twitch in response.
"I'll tell you something," Bill said softly, "the next assignment I get, I'll be requesting you as a partner."
"Who says I want you?" Draco asked with a smirk.
Bill's hand moved a little so it rested gently at the base of Draco's neck, and Draco felt his body shiver slightly at the touch.
"Maybe I'm just hopeful," Bill replied before turning his attention back to the men. Raising his wand, he cast an impressive patronus that took the shimmering form of a falcon. Draco watched as Bill relayed his message to it and couldn't help but smile. Oh he wanted Bill alright, and it was getting harder and harder to hide the fact. If Draco was any judge of character, however, soon enough he wouldn't have to hide it.
Sorry it's been so long since the last update, my lovelies. I was really, REALLY sick and I'm still not 100% to be honest. Last week I was away on holiday, which was lovely, but marred by bad weather and my health being really rubbish. I'm going to try and get the updates back on track but my mind's a little hazy at the moment so forgive me if normal service doesn't resume that speedily. Hope you're all well and I hope you enjoyed the chapter.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
"I still can't believe you battered the bloke."
"I didn't 'batter' anyone."
"That's not how Bill tells it."
"Well Bill's exaggerating," Draco said with a sigh, glaring at Harry as the boy dumped an armful of books all over the kitchen table and his meticulous notes.
"I don't know, I spoke to Kingsley and he was pretty impressed too," Harry insisted, chucking himself down in the chair opposite Draco.
"It wasn't anything to write home about," Draco said dismissively, feeling embarrassed.
News of his and Bill's exploits had spread around the Order, and even Snape had given him a slightly begrudging well done. Ron had been gleeful that a 'snotty Pureblood', as he had put it, had resorted to using his fists, while Ginny, with a frightening grin, had told him that she wouldn't mind sparring with him one day. He could only hope that she was joking.
"And what about spending all that time with Bill?" Harry asked with a sly smile.
"I'm going to kick you under this table if you don't stop talking," Draco replied, willing the blush away from his cheeks.
"Had a nice time, eh?" Harry asked teasingly.
"Oh yes, chasing after Death Eaters and fighting for our lives was a rollicking good time. Can't wait to do it again."
This, of course, had a ring of truth to it. While he hadn't particularly enjoyed being placed in danger's way, he couldn't deny that the rush of adrenaline had been exhilarating. Of course, working alongside Bill had been an added perk, and he was hopeful that they would be paired together in future assignments.
"Well you've had more success than most of the Order's had in a long time. It's been a real boost to morale."
"Well…that's good," Draco murmured, trying not to show how pleased he was to hear that he had helped to contribute in such a way. "Harry, if you shove your books all over my notes again I might have to stick my wand up your nose."
"Touchy git," Harry replied. "What is all this anyway? Are you doing more medical research?"
"No," said Draco, gathering the papers together, wishing Harry hadn't asked. "It's…just a little something else."
Harry frowned and looked at the things spread out on the table, then looked up at Draco and said, "You want to learn how to cast a Patronus?"
Embarrassed at being caught out, Draco looked away and nodded. "There are…lots of things I don't properly know how to do. I mean, let's face it, we didn't have the world's best DADA teachers did we? Truth be told…I really wanted to join your little club back in 5th year."
He refused to look up at Harry, knowing how surprised the boy would probably look. He shrugged and said, "I feel like I'm lacking when it comes to Defence, and I don't want to feel that way when it comes to fieldwork."
There was silence for a moment, and, although Draco knew that Harry wouldn't mock him, he was unsure what his reaction would be. He wished he hadn't said anything; it wasn't like him to leave himself so vulnerable to another person but something about Harry brought it out of him.
"I can teach you," Harry said.
Draco looked back at him and said, "What do you mean?"
"You remember back in 3rd year with the dementors?"
Draco nodded, hating being reminded of what a prick he had been to Harry about that situation. Harry, with his usual generous nature, didn't seem to bear him any ill will for it. "Well, Lupin taught me how to cast a Patronus back then, to ward the bastards off. Saved my life actually, but that's a story for another time. In 5th year, I taught that 'little club' of mine how to cast them. I could teach you too."
Draco considered the offer, wondering if Harry teaching him might end in tears. Somehow, he didn't think so. He could see Harry being a patient and tolerant teacher, although he himself was probably not the most teachable student.
"You wouldn't tell anyone that you were teaching me, would you?"
"Not if you didn't want me to," Harry said with a shrug.
It was stupid, but he didn't want Bill finding out that he couldn't cast a Patronus. He kept thinking back to the other night and how embarrassing it would have been if Bill had asked him to send the Patronus to Kingsley rather than doing it himself. He wanted to be able to present himself as a fully-capable adult in the wizarding world, but there were gaps in his knowledge that he needed to rectify.
"You want to start now?"
"Now?" Draco echoed in surprise. "I…I suppose we could."
"Come on, let's go up to the 2nd floor."
Without waiting for an answer, Harry got up and left the kitchen. Draco followed after realising that he looked like a prat sitting there on his own gawping at an open door. Harry was in the 2nd floor, the same one that he and Bill had used for sparring and Draco stood there, watching as Harry extracted his wand and smiled at him.
"There's nothing to worry about," Harry assured him. "I promise you won't get hurt."
"It's alright, I trust you," Draco said before he could probably consider what he had admitted to. "Get on with it," he huffed, while Harry grinned at him.
"The magic of the Patronus hinges on conjuring up a happy memory. Before you can do anything you have to have that in the front of your mind. You have to be able to feel how happy you were at the time of the memory, you have to push those thoughts and emotions through the memory."
"A happy memory?" Draco repeated, feeling faintly dismayed at the notion.
"A bridge too far?" Harry asked gently.
Draco shook his head. "I'm sure there's one in there somewhere. It's just…been a long time I guess. Pathetic, huh?"
"No," Harry said, placing his hand on Draco's shoulder. "The first time I was able to successfully cast one, I thought about finding out I was a wizard for the first time. That was the first truly happy memory I could think of and it had happened to me when I was 11. I didn't have anything before that. It doesn't have to be something ground-breaking, but it has to be something that you can draw on when you need to, something that you can feel physically."
"I'll try," Draco said, wondering what the bloody hell he was going to think of. He had been happy, of course he had, but looking at those memories through retrospective eyes made them all turn to ash. The last year or so had been so difficult and he had been struggling to keep his head above water, let alone create any happy memories.
"The incantation is Expecto Patronum," Harry continued over Draco's discomfort. "Don't expect too much from your first few attempts, most people only manage a faint wisp. Keep your stance nice and light, don't carry any tension in your shoulders."
"Does that matter?" Draco asked sceptically.
"According to a book I was reading on wand lore, it matters a great deal," Harry said, his expression becoming animated. "It's fascinating actually. I never realised how in-depth wand lore was. The smallest things can alter the efficiency of a spell and stance is one of them."
"I'll take your word for it," Draco said, rolling his shoulders to try and loosen up as instructed.
"Right, now close your eyes and think of your memory."
It took a moment, but after searching his mind, Draco realised that the one memory floating to the surface was the kiss he had shared with Bill a few nights ago. True, it had been an act to try and keep their cover, but the kiss itself had been wonderful. He remembered the feeling of being pressed up against Bill, of the man's lips against his and the man's hands cradling his hips gently.
He couldn't help but smile, and he was grateful that Harry had never mastered Legilimency. He held his wand out and focused on the memory, focused on Bill in general and the way he smiled, the way he spoke. He opened his eyes and spoke the incantation, amazed when a huge puff off fog materialised.
"That's fantastic!" Harry said enthusiastically.
"Really?" Draco said doubtfully.
Harry nodded. "Honestly, I've taught a few people how to do this and I've never seen them produce that on a first try, even Hermione. Must have been a damn good memory," he added with a grin.
Smiling in spite of himself, Draco couldn't help but wonder at the strength of his feelings where Bill was concerned. Was it really enough that thinking about the man could help him produce a Patronus?
They practised for the rest of the afternoon and by the end Draco's Patronus was really starting to take form. He couldn't quite tell what it was yet, but it seemed to be vaguely quadruped-shaped. Harry was pleased with his progress and that gave Draco a little extra confidence. Hopefully, the next time he was sent on assignment with Bill, he wouldn't show himself up with his lack of ability.
When they made their way back downstairs, they found Bill in the kitchen, unpacking a bag of takeaway food.
"What have you two been up to?" he asked, and Draco tried not to grin widely at seeing him there.
"Just a little bit of sparring," Harry answered. "Snape's given me a few new things to learn and Draco was helping me practise."
Draco gave him a grateful smile and said to Bill, "What are you doing here? I thought you were away for a couple of weeks?"
"I had a little bit of holiday left to use. Decided to come back and have an extended Christmas period. You're not complaining, are you?"
"Well it is nice and quiet around here without you," Draco replied, moving around Harry to see what food Bill had brought with him. He had the sudden ridiculous urge to give the man a peck on the cheek, and he wondered where that little cosy scene of domesticity had come from. Pushing it to one side, he said, "What have you brought us then?"
"Lamb kofta for Harry."
"Ooh thanks, my favourite," Harry said, his eyes lighting up as he took it.
"And beef stew from that little French place you like," Bill continued, passing the takeaway box to Draco.
"You went all the way there to get this for me?" Draco asked, surprised and touched at the gesture.
"Anything to keep you happy," Bill said with a teasing smile.
Draco was beginning to learn how to interpret Bill's little ways now, and he was aware that this little action meant more than Bill was letting on.
They settled down at the table and Bill filled them in on the latest happenings with his job. Draco knew he was enjoying it more than he let on; he always spoke about things that he enjoyed with a kind of put-upon air. Draco wasn't entirely sure why, but it amused him to think that Bill felt he had a reputation to uphold as 'the cool one'.
"I saw your mum yesterday," Harry told Bill around a mouthful of his food. He was the messiest eater Draco had ever come across and he had to resist the urge to kick Harry every time he ate.
"Oh yes?" Bill replied. "And what did the insane one have to say for herself?"
"She's frantic over Christmas. You know how she likes to work herself into a frenzy."
Bill rolled his eyes and said, "The last time I spoke to her she was having a meltdown over the sleeping arrangements."
Draco shifted uncomfortably in his seat and tried to ignore the sharp stab of hurt he felt at their conversation. He knew that, with no other options available to him, he would be staying at Grimmauld on his own.
"How many are going to be there?" Harry asked.
Bill leant back in his chair and counted silently on his fingers. "Last time she'd done the headcount it was 15. That's counting Percy's girlfriend and Charlie's mate from the reserve, oh and of course blondie here."
Draco's head shot up, looking at Bill in surprise. "Me?"
"Of course you. You are coming aren't you?"
"I…didn't think I'd been invited," Draco admitted awkwardly.
Harry snorted and said, "You don't need an invitation, you're part of the family. Hermione and I don't get invited, it's just…expected."
"Oh," Draco said quietly, taken aback.
He felt a warm hand settle in the small of his back and he looked across to see Bill smiling at him. "Did you really think we wouldn't want to spend Christmas with you?" he asked with gentle amusement.
"Yeah, I mean we have to look at each other's ugly mugs, might as well add yours to the mix," Harry added with a grin.
As it turned out, he received two invitations for the Christmas period, and the second one surprised him even more than the Weasleys' one had done. Tonks sent him a letter to ask whether he would like to spend New Year with her and her parents, an invitation that also extended to Bill. He accepted it readily and looked forward to the Christmas period in a way that he hadn't looked forward to anything for quite some time.
The irony of the situation wasn't lost on him. He would never have expected that he would truly wish to spend time in the Weasley household, but it wasn't just because he was happy that he wouldn't have to spend Christmas on his own. He genuinely wanted to spend time with them as a family and he was excited to spend such an important time with Bill.
He was, of course, nervous about the whole thing, but he had spent time with the Weasleys before without incident. He was also getting used to spending time with Ron and Ginny and he couldn't say that he found their company unpleasant.
They were all due at The Burrow for Christmas Eve and when the day rolled around, Draco found himself in the Weasleys' living room, sitting by the fire with a cup of mulled wine. The room was a cacophony of noise; several different conversations were taking place at once and Molly was bustling about adding more and more food to the buffet she had spread out on a table that had been transfigured to hold it all.
Draco had never seen so much food in all his life and it all looked delicious. There was also the biggest assortment of drinks available and everyone was helping themselves liberally to the offering. The atmosphere was cosy and jovial and Draco sat back and drank it all in.
He had never experienced a Christmas like it. At the manor, it had always just been him and his parents and they had had a formal dinner on Christmas Eve, followed by an evening spent in the finest sitting room, Lucius holding court about the merits of Pureblood ancestry. Christmas Day had been much the same, apart from the fact that Narcissa always insisted on a stroll around the acreage after dinner.
He had never experienced this delightful informality, never sat and listened to three different conversations at once while a game of animated chess took place in the corner. Arthur was fiddling with the wireless, trying to get it work, all while telling Hermione what a wonderful invention something called digital radio was.
Harry and Fred were cackling almost maniacally over something, and Draco was fairly sure that he didn't want to know what it was. Percy and his girlfriend, a delicately pretty young woman, were talking with Ginny, while Charlie and his equally burly friend were conducting a debate that included much gesticulating and head nodding.
Draco felt a strange sense of belonging, a sense of security that he had never known before, and he felt content for the first time in a long time. He felt sheltered by the Weasleys' ability to welcome him into their family and humbled by the fact that they considered him worthy of such an invitation.
"You're quiet," Bill said beside him. "Anything wrong?"
"Just…taking it all in."
"No," Draco said, shaking his head with a smile. "It's…actually kind of…nice."
"How much of that mulled wine have you had?" Bill teased.
"Seriously, I'm…I'm enjoying myself."
The smile Bill gave him was enough to provide such a glowing memory that Draco was sure he could have produced a fully-formed Patronus right there in the Weasleys' living room. Although Bill never really spoke about it that much, Draco knew that the man's family was important to him. He had a fierce pride and affection for them and it struck Draco that perhaps it mattered to Bill what he thought of them.
"Shall we play charades?" Ginny suggested.
"Abso-bloody-lutely not," Ron said with a groan. "I hate that sodding game."
"Ronald Weasley, will you watch your language?" Molly chastised.
"She knows I hate charades," Ron protested.
"As if I do anything with you in mind, don't flatter yourself," Ginny returned, although Draco had seen the teasing glint in her eye and could well believe that she had made the suggestion just to annoy her brother.
A debate then began as to what was the appropriate game to play for the occasion and in the end they ended up playing several. Draco could honestly say that he enjoyed every minute of it and he laughed more freely and openly than he had done in years.
He felt as though his presence was welcome, not merely tolerated, and he laughed and joked as confidently as anyone else did. The food and drink were all delicious and they all pitched in to help with the clean-up.
When it was finally time to trudge up to bed, Draco was happily exhausted. To his disappointment, he was sharing a room with Ron and Harry, while Bill was bunking with Charlie and his friend. It would have been too much to hope that he could have had a little Christmas snuggle with Bill, both of them happily muzzily from one too many festive drinks.
While Ron was busy using the bathroom, Draco took the opportunity to fetch Harry's gift from his luggage. He hadn't been able to purchase gifts for everyone, not with the wages he earnt, but he had wanted to get something for Harry,
"What's this?" Harry asked as Draco handed him the meticulously wrapped parcel.
"Just a little something for the season," Draco replied, hoping that he had made a good choice.
He watched Harry unwrap it and was thankful for the boy's usual openness with his emotions. He could tell that Harry was surprised by the choice of gift, but also that he liked it, and Draco felt relieved to see it.
"This is…so cool! Thank you!" Harry said with a smile, turning over the book in his hands to read the back.
Draco had found the book on wand lore entirely by chance and had known instantly that Harry would like it. Hearing him speak the other day about wand lore had made Draco realise that there was so much more to him than most people knew.
"I thought you might like it. You never know, one day…maybe you'll be a wand maker."
"A wand maker?" Harry echoed, his expression indicating that he had never considered such a thing.
"Something to think about, maybe," Draco said with a shrug. "For what it's worth, I think you'd be really good at it."
Harry blushed charmingly and Draco felt a surge of fondness for the boy. That particular feeling was becoming more and more familiar and it was a testament to how much he'd changed that he no longer wished to fight it.
"I um…I got you something too," Harry said, turning around and crouching by the little trundle bed he would be sleeping on. He pulled his bag out from underneath it and rummaged in it for a moment before unearthing a shrunken package that he re-sized and presented Draco with.
Upon opening it, Draco found that Harry had gifted him a lovely muggle jacket made of wool in a dark navy blue. "Oh Harry, this is…it's lovely. You really shouldn't have."
"I thought you'd need something for your walk to the pub now it's winter. Did I do a good job? Gin helped me pick it out."
"She has impeccable taste. About time she had a go at your wardrobe," Draco joked, hoping to hide his discomfort that Harry's gift had obviously cost a lot more than his own had done.
"Prat," Harry said affably. "Come on, we'd best get to sleep or Father Christmas won't come!"
Draco slept soundly, despite the thundering snoring from Ron, and woke to a kind of organised chaos the next morning. He was greeted with a glass of bucks fizz in the kitchen, handed to him by Molly, who looked to be taking all the mayhem in her stride.
"Not drinking yet?" Draco asked Bill, who was nursing a cup of coffee in the corner of the room.
"Charlie and his bloody friend kept me up all night talking about sodding dragons," Bill said through gritted teeth. "I'm too bloody old to be sharing a room."
"Don't worry," Draco said with a teasing smile, "next time we can bunk together."
Bill raised an eyebrow and said, "Is that a promise?"
Draco gave what he hoped was a nonchalant shrug and said, "Maybe if you play your cards right."
They all pitched in to help with the preparations for Christmas lunch and the kitchen was full of laughter and noise as they all went about their assigned jobs. Ron had to be told off several times for swiping food and hoarding it in his cheeks like a hamster, and the twins delighted in winding Molly up with exclamations of various kitchen calamities, none of which were true.
The wine and champagne flowed all throughout the proceedings and by the time they all sat down to eat Draco was feeling quite light-headed. The huge quantities of food helped to soak it up, and Draco couldn't remember the last time he had eaten so much. Despite being involved in its preparation, he couldn't believe Molly was capable of producing such an impressive offering.
Conversations took place across the table in all directions and Draco found himself caught up in at least three at once. He found himself talking to Ginny several times, and, once again, he realised how much he enjoyed her company. She had a truly wicked sense of humour, and she had him in stitches with her sharp one-liners and witty asides. She was also a fiend for impressions, and her rendition of McGonagall was so spot on that it made Draco shiver.
Harry was more at ease with the Weasleys than he was anywhere else, and it was clear that Molly's mothering did him good. Draco could understand; he had felt himself benefit from the gentle affection that Molly bestowed and, although it felt like a kind of betrayal, he couldn't help but wish that his own mother had had half of Molly's nurturing spirit.
Sitting amongst the Weasleys, wearing a daft paper hat that had come out of a cracker, Draco realised that he was fully enjoying himself. He wasn't pretending, he wasn't being polite and he didn't feel the remotest need to try and sneer at things. He was happy, he was content, and, above all, he was grateful.
After lunch they all migrated to the living room, where presents were exchanged. Draco had got most people little boxes of sweets and chocolates, as it was all he could afford on such modest wages, but he had wanted to get something special for Molly and Arthur as a thank you for welcoming him so readily into their family.
He retrieved the gift and re-sized it from its shrunken state, hoping that it hadn't suffered any damage. He sat back and watched nervously as Molly carefully unwrapped it while Arthur watched with a smile.
"Oh Draco," she said softly as the gift was revealed.
"Bill told me that next year it was your 40th wedding anniversary," Draco said, feeling a blush spread across his cheeks. "40 years is meant to be ruby…so I thought a red rose bush would be…appropriate."
"This is a wonderful gift, sweetheart. I'm so touched. Arthur, isn't it lovely?"
"Absolutely fantastic. You've done us proud, Draco. Thank you very much."
"My pleasure," Draco said, feeling bashful.
"I can't wait to plant this in the garden and watch it grow. Oh sweetheart, what a lovely thought."
He'd had to ask Mike, the landlord, for an advance on his wages to purchase the rose bush, but seeing Molly and Arthur's reactions made it worthwhile. He'd wanted to give them something that was meaningful, and it had been enlightening to realise that one didn't have to spend a king's ransom to do that.
"This is from me and Arthur," Molly said, handing him a squishy package.
He noticed that both Bill and Harry were watching him with rather indulgent smiles and he tried to ignore them as he unwrapped the present. The crinkled wrapping revealed a jumper in dark, forest green with a pale D embroidered on the front of it.
"I knew he'd get a Weasley jumper," Harry said with a pleased smile.
"A what?" Draco asked.
"Every member of the Weasley family gets one, made by Molly's own fair hands. You're one of us now," Harry told him.
A lump formed in Draco's throat and he looked down at the jumper in his hands. Molly had made it for him, had taken the time and effort to create something that was not only a useful and practical gift, but one that signified his acceptance into their family.
"Would you please excuse me for a moment?" he said quietly. "I…just need some air."
Trying not to meet anyone's eye, he folded the jumper underneath his arm and made his way into the kitchen and out the back door into the garden. He was overwhelmed and overcome with emotion, and he couldn't bear for anyone in that room to see him that way.
He wanted so badly to belong, but he couldn't help but feel a surge of grief that he would never feel that way with his own parents. He would never experience that kind of acceptance and love from them and the thought hurt his heart. The door was now closed on their relationship forever, and although logically he could process that fact, his emotions were still conflicted.
He heard the door open and he didn't need to look to know that Bill had followed him out. The man stood next to him for a while before saying softly, "Are you ok?"
Draco nodded and said, "Yes. Just…I needed a moment." He looked at the jumper in his hands and said, "It might sound stupid but this…this means a lot to me. Your mum didn't have to make this for me…but she did…and it's all a bit overwhelming."
"It takes a while to get used to kindness."
"And isn't it just so sad that I need to get used to it?" Draco asked. "It's like someone's holding up a mirror to everything my life once was…and it's not a pleasant sight. I used to think that I had everything…perhaps not the most loving parents…but still, I felt privileged. I couldn't understand how Ron would walk around Hogwarts laughing and smiling when his robes were worn and everything he owned was hand-me-down.
"Now…being here, spending all this time with your family, I understand it perfectly. He never needed money or fancy robes or a palatial house…he had this…he had all of you. Money doesn't equal happiness and it's shameful that it's taken me this long to realise it."
"I think you're being a little hard on yourself. People don't change overnight. You've been through a lot."
Draco shrugged. "Maybe. Times like this just bring it all home. I'd have been lost these last few months without you and your family. I wouldn't have done the same if the tables had been reversed."
"You don't know that. You're a stronger and better person than you realise."
Draco huffed, unconvinced, and was then taken by surprise when he was pulled into a hug. He tensed for a moment, then let himself relax into it, bringing his arms up around Bill's back and resting his cheek against Bill's chest.
"You deserve a happy Christmas," Bill said above his head.
"This one's pretty good," Draco said with a smile.
"You can look forward to others then," Bill replied, and Draco felt the softest of kisses pressed to the top of his head. He nestled in closer and revelled in the idea of future Christmases with the man he was fairly certain he was falling in love with.
"Would you stop faffing? You look fine."
"I should have worn a different shirt."
"The shirt is fine."
"It's the wrong colour."
"Draco, if you mention the charcoal shirt one more time I might have to soak your head in a bucket. You look very nice."
Draco paused and turned to face Bill, bouncing on the tips of his toes. "I'm so nervous."
"I'd never have been able to tell," Bill said with a lopsided smile. He turned the collar of Draco's shirt down over his jumper and said, "It's not as big of a deal as you're making it."
"What if they don't like me?"
Bill sighed and said, "Tonks already likes you and you've spent time with Remus before. You're just nervous about meeting Andromeda. She's lovely, I promise you. She's…a lot like Mum."
Slightly comforted by the thought, Draco took a deep breath and said, "Ok. Ok I can do this. Do you think the wine I've brought is ok?"
"It's perfect," Bill said indulgently. "Come on, we don't want to be late."
Draco nodded and let Bill guide him down the driveway, the man's large hand resting in the small of his back as they walked. The muggle neighbourhood was a pretty and quiet one, a world away from Malfoy Manor. He tried to picture his mother and father visiting and found his imagination simply didn't stretch that far.
Bill knocked on the door and Draco's stomach turned summersaults while they waited. Tonks answered with her usual grin and welcomed them inside. She ushered them down the hallway and into a cosy living room where the others were waiting.
"Mum, Dad," she said to the middle-aged couple standing by the roaring fire, "you already know Bill, and this is Draco.
"Draco," said Andromeda, stepping forward. "It's so lovely to meet you, thank you for coming."
She did indeed look like Bella, but she didn't have the mad, haunted look that his other aunt possessed. She had a softer face and her dark hair was shot through with streaks of grey. She was just as tall and slim, with the same regal stance that his mother possessed, but he had never seen his mother wear the kind of muggle clothes that Andromeda was wearing.
"Thank you for inviting me," he replied, trying to control the nerves in his voice.
"We don't bite, lad. Promise," said the man, stepping forward to join his wife. "Ted Tonks," he said, extending his hand, "very pleased to meet you."
Draco shook his hand and he and Bill were ushered to take a seat on the sofa. Drinks were handed around and Draco took a few moments to collect himself as Bill answered Andromeda's questions about his latest job assignment.
It was clear that Bill knew the family fairly well, and that they were familiar with the Weasleys. It was strange to think that these people were his family; not just people who would step into the void like Molly and Harry, but people to whom he was actually connected.
It was slightly unnerving to see that Andromeda had many of his mother's mannerisms, and the way she tilted her head as she listened to the conversation was uncanny. Tonks was certainly more like her father and possessed little of the Black grace and poise.
"I hear belated congratulations are in order," Andromeda said, turning her attention back to Draco. "Your exam results were outstanding."
"Oh," Draco said, a little taken aback. "Thank you. I…had little else to do but study shut away in Grimmauld."
"It was more than that," Bill said gently. "We have a Healer in the making on our hands."
"Is that so?" Andromeda asked.
"Perhaps one day," Draco replied. "I'll be applying to the programme next year hopefully."
"Not hopefully," Bill said firmly, "definitely."
"Sounds like you have someone making sure you fulfil your potential," Ted said with a smile.
"His missed his calling as a watchdog," Draco said, trying to fight a smile but failing.
Gradually the mood relaxed and Draco realised that he wasn't going to be thrown out on his ear anytime soon. He didn't exactly feel at his ease, but that seemed to be the norm for him these days. As odd as the notion was, the only place he felt settled was at Grimmauld. He rather suspected that that was more to do with Harry and Bill than the dismal old building, but those were thoughts that he had no wish to examine too closely.
Tonks and Remus made an odd yet endearing couple. It was clear that the love and affection they held for one another ran deep and, while they were very different people, their differences complimented each other's. It was also nice to see a couple with an age gap. Lupin was 13 years older than Tonks and it didn't seem to matter much.
He was aware that Bill was 10 years older than him and, while he often pretended it wasn't happening, he knew he was falling hard for the man. He wondered though what a man 10 years his senior would see in him and whether such an age difference could work. Watching Tonks and Lupin gave him hope, even though he wouldn't admit that he harboured such thoughts in the first place.
The truth, of course, was that he had no example of a relationship from which to draw parallels. His parents' marriage had contained no love or affection and most of the time they barely spoke to one another. Seeing how Molly and Arthur interacted had come as something of a shock; he hadn't known that marriages were supposed to be anything other than functional.
The evening passed pleasantly and Draco enjoyed learning about this part of his family that he had been so estranged from. Andromeda worked for a Ministry-funded charity that worked with homeless people and ted was the equivalent to a magical engineer. It was a stark contrast to the life of glamorised indolence his parents led.
It made Draco feel more vindicated in the choice he had made to break away from them. His parents' beliefs aside, he didn't want to follow in their footsteps and live a pointless life, accomplishing nothing, living off centuries of inherited wealth. He had a real future ahead of him now and he wasn't going to waste it.
"Oh Draco, leave those. You're not here to wash up," Andromeda said as she entered the kitchen and found Draco at the sink, up to his elbows in suds.
"I wanted to," Draco replied, unwilling to admit that he had felt a little overwhelmed and had had to seek refuge. He was enjoying himself, it was true, but it was all so new and alien to him that it would take time to adjust.
"It's nearly midnight, you can't miss the countdown," Andromeda said, handing him a tea towel.
"I won't miss it, I promise. Is this how you usually spend New Year?"
Andromeda nodded and said, "Ted and I used to go to the celebrations in London before Dora was born, but when she came alone we preferred to stay at home, celebrate as a family."
Draco forced a smile onto his face, thinking of how New Year's Eve with his family had consisted of his parents' society friends descending on the manor. He was paraded around as the perfect pureblood offspring while his father held court on the superiority of their kind.
"You seem very close," he said, hoping that his smile was more convincing than it felt.
"We have our moments. I…had a lot to learn about family. Ted taught me many things, things that the Blacks would never have been capable of teaching me."
"Do you feel such a disconnect from them?" he asked carefully.
"Yes. I haven't felt part of them for over 20 years. They're part of my past, and I can't escape that, but I've built a life beyond them. You'll discover how to do that for yourself."
"Sometimes I wonder," Draco said with a sigh.
"It's a process, Draco. It won't happen overnight. You've turned your back on everything you know; things won't fall into place easily."
"I know. It's just…sometimes I feel that I don't truly belong anywhere."
"I understand, but it gets better, I promise."
She smiled a cunning little smile that reminded Draco eerily of his mother, then said, "It seems to me that you might have already found somewhere to belong."
He knew full well what she was getting at, but he faked a frown nevertheless and said, "What do you mean?"
"You know, that whole 'confused' look would work better on someone who hadn't invented it," she said with an arched eyebrow. "You and Bill seem…close."
Draco flushed, and cursed his pale skin that it showed so easily. "He's…been a good friend."
Andromeda's smile turned wicked and she said, "A friend…a close friend perhaps?"
His mouth suddenly dry, he cleared his throat and said, "Yes…I suppose so."
"Come on you two or you'll miss the countdown!" Ted said, popping his head around the kitchen door.
"Coming," Draco said, shifting past Andromeda, glad of the rescue.
He retreated to the living room, where Bill was waiting for him with a fresh glass of champagne.
"I wondered where you'd got to," he said as Draco accepted the glass.
"Just escaping interrogation," Draco muttered, casting his eyes to the muggle on the television who was standing in front of a piano whilst a large clock ticked away in the background.
"Oh, this is it!" Ted said enthusiastically.
"Five, four, three, two, one! Happy New Year!"
Everyone clinked glasses and both sets of couples embraced one another in a kiss. Feeling a little embarrassed, Draco took a large gulp of his drink and tried to ignore the pang of regret he felt at not being able to share a New Year's kiss with Bill.
The evening wound slowly down, and towards 1 o'clock people began to say their goodbyes. Andromeda extracted a promise from him that he would keep in touch and issued an open invitation for him to visit whenever he liked. He wasn't sure that he was ready for that, but he appreciated the offer all the same.
He and Bill made their way back to Grimmauld, and Draco was glad they weren't returning to The Burrow. He had enjoyed his time there, and was keen to return, but it was a noisy and chaotic place for someone who had been used to so much silence.
"Well, that was a good night," Bill said with a yawn, placing his coat over the back of one of the kitchen chairs.
"Yeah, it was," Draco agreed with a smile.
"No reason to be so nervous, eh?"
"There's always a reason to be nervous," Draco countered. "You'll have a job to convince me otherwise."
"Leopards and spots," Bill said with a grin.
Draco rolled his eyes and said, "On that note, I'll bid you goodnight."
"Wait a sec," Bill said, grabbing Draco's arm gently as he walked past. "We have unfinished business."
"We do?" Draco asked in confusion.
Bill nodded and Draco had half a second to realise that the man was leaning in towards him. He could have moved, if he'd wanted to, but he had no intention of doing so and instead tilted his head to meet Bill's kiss.
His stomach fluttered and he melted into the other man. Bill's kiss was firm but gentle and Draco wound his arms around the man's neck as the kiss deepened. He didn't know what had prompted Bill to action but he wasn't about to complain about it.
"Happy New Year," Bill murmured as he pulled away. "I was determined to see it in with a kiss."
"Starting as you mean to continue?" Draco asked, revelling in the feel of Bill's hand resting in the small of his back.
"That depends on you," Bill replied, brushing his knuckles down the side of Draco's face. "New year, new start?"
"Together?" Draco asked, nerves assaulting him.
"If that's what you want."
"How can I put this?" Draco asked teasingly, before leaning forward and initiating another kiss. The hand in the small of his back pulled him closer and he knew that it was far more than the champagne making him feel giddy.
He hadn't been imagining all those looks, those flirtatious remarks, and now it had finally come to a head. He was in Bill's arms while the man kissed him with a fierce gentleness that quite took his breath away.
Bill pulled back but kept Draco tightly in his hold, a lazy smile on his lips. "I'll bid you goodnight then, Mr Malfoy," he said softly.
Goodnight?" Draco echoed with a frown. "Don't you want to – "
"Very much so, but not now, not yet. There's no rush, we have all the time in the world."
This was new to Draco and he was at a loss how to process it. Bill gave him a smile and a delicate peck on the lips, then turned and left the kitchen.
Draco was confused and he didn't like it one bit. Bill had kissed him and had professed his desire to pursue some sort of relationship, and yet there had been no move to engage him in sex.
There had been further kisses and Bill had begun to treat him as though they were in a relationship but he hadn't initiated anything sexual. It was anathema to Draco and he was becoming irritated by it.
He had had sexual encounters with people in the past, so if Bill was worried about de-flowering a virgin then that wasn't an issue. Had had experience in these matters and he didn't appreciate being treated as though he were some delicate maiden.
Of course, the simple answer was simply to speak to Bill about it, but, while he might have had some experience in the bedroom, Draco had next to no experience navigating relationships. He had never spent more than a night with someone, and it was painfully obvious that his past had affected his ability to deal with interactions with others.
"You're not listening, are you?"
"I'm sitting here talking to myself, aren't I?"
Draco looked up to see Harry glaring at him across the library table. He tried to look apologetic and said, "Sorry, just thinking. What were you saying?"
"Never mind. What's got you staring off into the distance anyway?" Harry asked, propping his feet up on the table.
"Oh nothing in particular," Draco said dismissively.
"No? You've been sulking all morning."
"I have not been sulking."
Harry snorted and said, "Yeah ok. Where's Bill anyway?"
"Recon work with Tonks and that Fletcher creature."
"I thought you were teamed with Bill?"
"Apparently I wasn't needed this time. Too many of my father's old friends who would recognise me," Draco said with a sneer.
"Make sense," Harry said levelly. "You don't want to put anyone in jeopardy."
"No, I suppose not," Draco said with a sigh. "I just hate being stuck here."
"Preaching to the choir," Harry said prickly.
"Sorry. I know it isn't easy for you. I'm just frustrated."
Harry waved his hand and said, "When's Bill back then?"
"Not sure," Draco said with a shrug. "Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow." He frowned and said, "Why do you keep glancing at the clock?"
Harry gave him a sheepish smile and said, "Uh…Snape's supposed to be coming over at half three."
"Oh? Why?" Draco asked, seeing the way Harry's eyes lit up upon mentioning the man.
"He's coming for an Occlumency session."
"I thought you'd given up that nonsense," Draco said, feeling a protective surge go through him. He knew how previous sessions had ended in failure, with Harry distraught and despairing.
"Snape thinks we need to try again."
"And what do you think?"
"I agree with him."
Draco refrained from rolling his eyes. If Snape opined that Harry should chuck himself off the Astronomy Tower wearing nothing but pink lace knickers the boy would no doubt agree with him. Harry was infatuated and Draco felt that it was a dangerous path to tread.
"Just…go carefully, ok?" he said, knowing that, these days, to criticise Snape was to invite trouble.
"I just hope he doesn't…"
"Doesn't what?" Draco asked, noting the look of muted horror on Harry's face. Unable to resist prodding a little, he said, "Doesn't breach your defences? Pry into your mind and see that you fancy the pants off him?"
"I don't – "
"Oh please. Don't try to deny it, you'll only embarrass yourself."
Harry opened and closed his mouth for a few moments, looking like a fish on land, struggling for air. Draco snorted and said, "The very idea of you ending up in Slytherin kills me. You have all the cunning and subtlety of a Labrador puppy."
"Oh shut up. I wish I'd never told you about that," Harry groused.
Draco sighed and said, "In all seriousness, don't let him see how you feel if you can help it. He'll only use it against you."
"I'm not stupid."
"I know…but part of me thinks that you're hoping he'll reciprocate."
"No I'm not," Harry said a little too forcefully.
Knowing when to push and when to retreat, Draco simply nodded and let Harry have his victory. Harry was too far gone to be able to reason with him, but it didn't stop Draco from worrying. Snape was a bastard, of that he was certain, and Draco felt sure that there was no room in the man's heart for anyone but himself.
He turned his attention back to his own studies. He was focusing on the basics of anatomy, trying to familiarise himself with the correct terminology. The application form for St Mungo's was sitting on his bedside table, and he had promised Bill that he would fill it in.
He heard Harry fidgeting across the table and he refrained from telling the boy to knock it off. He knew Harry was nervous, and he couldn't help but think that the boy had every reason to be.
He was about to suggest making them both a coffee when a huge cloud of white mist materialised and took the shape of a falcon. Draco had a second to recognise it as Bill's patronus before he heard Bill's voice saying,
"Ambushed! Send help! People injured!"
Draco and Harry sprang to their feet, wands out immediately. "Do you know where they are?" Harry asked, stepping around the table.
"Yes," Draco replied, "I can apparate us there," he said, holding out his hand.
Harry took it without hesitation and Draco concentrated hard before apparating them both to Bill's location. They were met with a scene of chaos; the buildings all around them were on fire, and smoke and ash filled the air. Bodies lay on the ground, some buried under rubble, and people moaned and groaned as they tried to move.
"Bill? Tonks?" Draco called, searching amongst the wounded. They were in a muggle area and it seemed that dozens had been caught in the crossfire.
"Harry, send a patronus and get back-up here. There are too many injuries for us to deal with."
Harry complied readily and Draco cast and illumination charm over the whole area. "Bill?" he called again, coughing as the smoke invaded his lungs. "Bill?"
"Over here!" came the muffled response, and Draco scrambled over the debris towards Bill's voice.
He found the man slumped by a half-wrecked building, his ankle pinned by rubble, a cut in his hairline bleeding down his face.
"Oh Merlin!" Draco said, crouching beside him. "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine," he croaked. "I think my ankle's broken but I'll live. Find Tonks, I think she was hit pretty badly."
Draco tore a strip off the bottom of his shirt and used a quick spell to sanitise it. "Here," he said, holding it to Bill's head, "hold that in place to stop the bleeding. Help's on its way."
"Drake! She's over here!" Harry called, and Draco left Bill to join him.
Tonks was lying unconscious, bleeding from several wounds, a nasty burn down the side of her face and neck.
"Harry, go and see to the people who are trapped. Clear away the rubble if you can but don't move anything too heavy; you could send them into shock with the sudden release of blood."
Other members of the Order began arriving and Draco found himself directing people twice his age. He gave orders and people followed while he advised them how to treat the wounded.
The muggles would all have to be obliviated once they'd been healed, but luckily there had been no fatalities. There were some bad injuries but most were able to be healed in the field.
Tonks and Bill were taken to St Mungo's, where Bill was dosed with a healthy glug of Skele-Gro for his ankle. Draco had taken great pains to reduce the damage from Tonks' burns and he was praised by the Healers not only for his skill but his quick thinking too.
"Oh Draco, what would we have done without you?" said Molly as she fussed with the blankets on Bill's bed.
"Mum! Would you stop? It's only a broken ankle, it's not as if I was in mortal danger."
"You were ambushed!" Molly argued. "Anything might have happened."
"Yeah but it didn't. Drake saved the day."
"I don't know about that," Draco murmured, embarrassed. "Harry and the other Order members did most of it."
"I was fully conscious," Bill said with a smile, "I heard you directing operations."
"I was just – "
"You were wonderful, dear," Molly said, patting his cheek as she walked by. "You'll be a credit to the profession when you become a Healer."
"You tell him, Mum."
"I'm going to go and check on Tonks. Remus should have arrived by now. Get some rest, dear."
"Bye Mum. Thank you for coming and fussing all over me."
"You don't know how lucky you are, William Weasley. Goodbye Draco dear, and well done again on an excellent job."
"Bye Molly," Draco said, waving her out of the room. He stood at the foot of Bill's bed for a moment, taking a moment to say a silent prayer of thanks that Bill hadn't been more seriously injured.
"What happened out there?" he asked eventually.
Bill sighed and said, "No idea. We were ambushed the minute we got there. It's amazing no one was killed; they were brutal."
"You scared the life out of me," Draco said, moving around to sit on the edge of the bed. "When your patronus came…I thought the worst."
"It might have been worse if you hadn't have come. You were brilliant out there."
"Thanks. It was…instinct mostly. I just…reacted."
"Well, your reactions saved the day. This should be proof that you're meant to be a Healer."
"Perhaps," Draco said, smiling at the man's persistence. "I should go, let you get some sleep. That ankle should be fixed by morning."
"Thank you, doctor."
Bill held out his hand and Draco took it, feeling comforted by the calloused palm. "You were excellent today," Bill said softly. "A lot of people owe you their lives, including me."
"Well, I'm sort of fond of you. It was in my own interests to keep you in one piece."
"Sounds like you have plans for me," Bill said with a smirk.
"You'd better believe it," Draco replied. "Get some rest, I'll come and bring you home tomorrow."
Bill gave Draco's hand a tug and he leant forward until their lips met in a kiss. It was sweet and rather chaste, but it gave Draco a sense of belonging he had never felt before. He felt that, in some strange way, he belonged to Bill, that they were forging something special that Draco had never thought he would have a chance at. He was going to do everything in his power to hold onto it with both hands.
I know, I know. I've been gone way too long and I'm really sorry. I'm going to try and get back to updating regularly, but don't hold me to that ;)
"You know, I thought you were a pretty graceful guy…but I'm starting to re-think that."
"Oh shut up. I'd like to see you do better on a pair of crutches."
"The Malfoy breeding would shine through no matter what."
Bill scoffed and continued to practise hobbling up and down on his crutches. The break in his ankle was healed, but he couldn't put any significant weight on it, and he would need to rest and rehabilitate it to get back to full strength.
"You're cute when you're frustrated," Draco said with a smile.
"You're very brave all the way over there."
"Shall I come closer?"
"If you fancy trying your luck."
"I fancy more than that."
"Resorting to terrible puns? Shameful."
"My standards are slipping. Keep practising, I'm just going to pop in on Tonks."
Bill gave him a salute and he moved off down the corridor to Tonks' room. He knocked before letting himself in, finding his cousin propped up in bed, Lupin perched opposite her.
"Hey. How are you doing?" he asked.
"Much better," Tonks replied, and she did indeed look it. "Could have been a lot worse if it hadn't been for you."
"I didn't – "
"Draco," Lupin interjected, "the healers themselves have said that Tonks wouldn't have made such a recovery without your intervention."
"I'd have been scarred for life without you," Tonks said with a smile. She gestured to the papery burn on the side of her face and said, "Thanks to you, this will heal nicely."
"Well," Draco said, clearing his throat, "I'm just happy I could help. Have they said when you can go home?"
"A few more days. Then it's back out on assignment."
"You are joking?" Draco said incredulously.
Tonks shook her head, throwing the scar on her cheek into the light. "We have to track down the people who attacked us."
"But – "
"It has to be done. The war is picking up pace, none of us can afford to sit back and rest. We're heading towards the endgame."
A lump formed in Draco's throat and he knew that there was no arguing with what Tonks was saying. Even he could see that things all around them were changing, that there was a coming tide that none of them could fight against. In many ways they had all got off lightly the other night; no one was injured beyond repair and no lives had been lost. He knew their luck would not last indefinitely.
"Well, just make sure you're fighting fit before they send you out again," he settled on saying.
"Yes doctor," Tonks said with a grin, but it wasn't the usual one that Draco had become familiar with.
He gave an equally unconvincing smile and said, "Well, maybe you can stop by Grimmauld for a takeaway when you have a spare moment. It would be good to see you, and you, Remus."
"We'll bear that in mind, thank you."
"I should go and make sure Bill hasn't fallen over. He really is a sight to behold."
Glad of the escape from the growing tension, he ducked back out of the room and found that Bill had meandered a little further down the corridor. He looked a little steadier on his feet but it was clear that the crutches weren't going to become second nature for the man.
"I must ask your dad about that muggle camera thing. I'd like a permanent record of this to look back on for my own amusement," Draco said, folding his arms with a smile.
"You really are an evil git, aren't you?"
"I like to think so. Are you ready to go home? The floo connection is on this level."
"Bloody good job too. I don't think I could handle stairs."
"Oh but it would be so fun to watch."
Walking alongside each other they made their way to the reception area. They were given Bill's discharge forms along with a couple of pain-relief potions, then sent on their merry way home. Bill went through the floo first and Draco followed, brushing soot from his clothes as Bill tried to steady himself.
"There must be an easier way to do this," the man growled, bracing himself on a nearby cupboard.
"Come on, let's get you settled in the living room."
Bill hobbled down the corridor, cursing and muttering as he went. Draco stayed by his elbow just in case the man took a tumble and then helped him onto the sofa, propping his leg up on the ageing footstool.
"There we go. Keep it nice and elevated and we can go through your stretches later. Can I get you anything?"
"Yes," Bill said firmly, grabbing the front of Draco's shirt and pulling him down into a kiss. It took Draco by surprise and he let out a little 'oof' as their lips met. Kissing Bill was becoming familiar territory now though, and he relaxed into it easily.
He braced his hands on the arms of Bill's chair as he felt Bill's hand cradle the back of his neck. It was soft and gentle, almost teasing, and Draco's stomach fluttered at the connection he felt to the man. Bill moaned softly and Draco lamented the fact that the man wasn't fighting fit. He would have dearly loved to drag the redhead upstairs and have his wicked way with him.
"I don't remember saying I was on offer," Draco said as he pulled back, taking in the look of contentment on Bill's face.
"Aren't you?" Bill asked with a lazy smile.
"We'll see. You'll have to be on your best behaviour."
"I always am."
Raising a sceptical eyebrow, Draco pushed himself back from the chair and said, "I'm going to go and fix you some lunch. Stay there and behave."
"I could get used to you bossing me around."
"Good job too," Draco murmured, leaning forward and pressing a chaste peck to Bill's lips before he left the room.
He was fairly giddy and he wasn't entirely sure it was a good look on him. Bill seemed to bring out sides of his nature he had never known existed before and he was starting to like the person he became when they were together.
The smile remaining on his face, he heated up some soup that Molly had brought over the previous night. Molly's cooking really was second to none and she could make even the most simple of dishes taste wonderful.
The floo roared to life over his shoulder and he turned to see Harry tumbling through it. The boy looked shattered and Draco knew it wasn't soot causing the dark circles under his eyes.
"Oh hey, any of that left for me?" Harry asked, indicating the soup.
"Of course. Molly always makes enough to feed a small army. Where have you been?"
"Training," Harry said with a sigh, dusting himself down.
"Again? Merlin Harry you'll wear yourself out."
"It has to be done," Harry insisted. "Things are stepping up. The chance to take Voldemort down could come at any moment."
Draco winced at the name but couldn't deny that Harry had a point. Tonks had said much the same in the hospital, and all around them a pervading sense of anticipation permeated. It was true that they all had their parts to play and that everyone was working hard to prevent chaos from descending, but the ultimate burden would fall on Harry's shoulders alone.
"I'm going to have to go back in an hour or so," Harry said with a sigh as he accepted the bowl Draco handed him.
"That's ridiculous. Surely that's enough for one day?"
"Apparently not. How's Bill?"
"Settling in nicely," Draco replied, dishing out another two bowls of soup. "He should only be on crutches for a few days until the strength in his ankle comes back. Bloody good job too, he's a nightmare on them."
"I can hear you," Bill shouted in from the other room.
"I wasn't whispering," Draco shouted back, smiling slightly at their daft little flirting.
Harry rolled his eyes and said, "God, don't tell me the two of you are at it as well? Is everyone around me pairing off?"
Draco flushed. He and Bill hadn't spoken about telling anyone about them and, really, it was early days to be announcing anything. "We…um…" he began, feeling flustered. "Well we…"
"The answer's yes," Bill called through from the living room and Draco tried to temper his grin for Harry's sake. He didn't want to assume anything, but Bill was clearly alright with everything being out in the open and it pleased Draco more than he could say.
Harry's expression was sour and it took the edge off Draco's happiness somewhat. Harry had been feeling like enough of a third wheel where Ron and Hermione were concerned, and the last thing Draco wanted was to rub his nose in his own budding relationship.
"I think I'll get back to Hogwarts," Harry said, his voice flat.
"But you haven't touched your soup," Draco protested.
"Not hungry," Harry replied petulantly.
"Harry – "
"I'll see you later. Or not…you'll probably be busy."
"Harry – "
But it was too late; Harry disappeared back through the fireplace before Draco could stop him, leaving nothing but a faint puff of soot in his wake.
Draco sighed and took the bowls into the living room, handing one to Bill and saying, "You heard that?"
Bill nodded. "Don't take it too personally. You know what he's like at the moment."
"I just don't want him to feel pushed out," Draco replied, dipping his spoon in and out of the soup, his appetite diminished somewhat. "He's got so much to deal with at the moment, I want to make sure he knows that…that I'm here for him."
"Us being together doesn't change that," Bill said gently, and Draco's stomach flipped at the assertion that they were together.
A smile twitching his lips in spite of himself, he said, "So we…we're…together?"
"Well," said Bill, "I guess that's up to you. I know where I stand."
"But we…" Draco began, feeling awkward, "we're not even…we haven't slept together."
Bill's eyebrows rose and Draco felt under scrutiny. "That's how you define being with someone?" Bill asked, and Draco was at a loss how to answer. "Tell me something; how many of the people you've slept with have you had a relationship with?"
"I…well…" Draco blustered, caught off-guard by the question. "Um…none," he said, his voice catching a little.
"Well, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather forgo the horizontal shenanigans until we're…further down the line."
"You're saying…that you don't want to…" Draco ventured, more confused than when they had started the conversation.
"Of course I want to," Bill said with a very suggestive smile. "I am a fully-functioning male in his prime, after all, but these things can wait."
"They can?" Draco asked with a frown.
Bill placed his soup to one side then leant forward in his seat, his elbows resting on his knees. "Draco, I like you…a lot. I'd like the chance to…build something, something that has the possibility to go the distance."
Draco blinked in surprise, taken aback by Bill's declaration. "So you want to…date?"
"Is that such an alarming prospect?"
"I…" Draco began, unsure how to answer. He had never 'dated' in the past, nor had he embarked upon anything with a view to it becoming something long-term. "No…not alarming, just…"
"When I'm off these crutches, I'm going to take you to dinner. How does that sound for a start?"
Bewildered but rather happily so, Draco smiled and said, "I think I can handle that."
With their 'date' postponed until Bill was off crutches, and the man happy to keep himself occupied in that time, Draco decided to devote a little attention to Harry. He was feeling slighted, Draco knew, and, what with the boy pushing himself so hard in his training, Draco was worried that he would snap if someone didn't attend to him.
Reasoning that Harry had to stop for lunch at some point, Draco made the journey to Hogwarts the next day and headed for the dungeons. He wasn't particularly keen to see Snape, nor to snatch the man's student away from him, but he was convinced that Harry was working too hard and that he could be the one to alleviate it.
As it turned out, Harry wasn't in the dungeons, but Snape was, sitting at his desk marking essays with a scowl on his face. Draco watched him from the doorway for a moment then straightened his shoulders and approached with a firm knock.
"Draco," Snape said, looking up briefly.
"Severus," Draco returned, taking pleasure in the disapproving look Snape shot him. "Where's Harry?"
"Clearly not here," Snape drawled.
"I can see that," Draco replied, adding 'you arrogant prick' in his mind. "Perhaps you can tell where he is."
Snape paused, pretending to pay extra attention to the parchment in front of him. Draco knew all too well that Snape never gave any such care to the essays that were submitted to him and that he was doing it simply to irritate. It was working.
"I expect you'll find dear Mr Potter in the library," he said eventually.
"At your behest, no doubt."
One black eyebrow arched disdainfully and Draco mentally entrenched himself. He would not back down from this man no matter how disagreeable he chose to be.
"He is spending his time in the pursuit of knowledge, at my behest, as you put it, in order to better his chances when he finally faces the Dark Lord. Do you disapprove?" the man asked silkily.
Draco had had years battling not only Snape's acerbity but his own father's, and the man's attitude didn't faze him as it did Harry. "Not at all," he replied smoothly. "I think Harry should be given every support possible and nurtured in his endeavours. I'm sure you do your upmost, Severus. Good day."
Oh but it felt good to be as dismissive of Snape as the man was of others. Snape's attitude had never bothered him that much in the past, but now that that attitude was directed towards Harry, all of Draco's protectiveness had been stirred up in defence of the boy.
He found him in the library, bent over an intimidating pile of books. There were a few other students in there, who all cast him looks as he went past. He supposed that rumours were still abounding as to what had happened to him but he wasn't there to entertain them.
"I'm assuming you haven't eaten," he said quietly as he sat down beside Harry.
"Not hungry," Harry murmured, not looking up from his reading.
Sitting closely next to him, Draco could see the dark circles under Harry's eyes and the deep-set frown between his brows. "Not important, you still have to eat."
"I'll grab something from the kitchens later," Harry said dismissively, scribbling down a few notes with a look of uninterrupted concentration.
Draco sighed and reached over, gently closing the book Harry was reading and extracting the quill from his hand.
"Draco," Harry protested, reaching for the quill.
Draco held it out of his reach and said, "Harry, you look like shit. You're exhausted, do you really think you're going to take anything in in this state? Come and get some lunch with me, give yourself a break for an hour."
"I can't afford an hour," Harry all but hissed, his expression bordering on manic. "Did you know that there was a raid last night? Three aurors were injured, one is still critically ill in hospital. With each day we're getting closer and closer to Voldemort showing his hand and I have to be ready. If he calls me out and…and I can't take him…that's it. We're done."
Draco didn't know what to say to that. It was true, after all, and to deny the burden that Harry was carrying would be insulting. "I know how tough this is on you, but if Voldemort attacked right now you'd be too exhausted to last more than a minute."
Harry's jaw clenched stubbornly, but Draco knew that his point had hit home. "Come on, one hour for lunch. Please."
Harry's shoulders slumped and Draco knew he'd won. He grabbed Harry gently by the arm and coaxed him out of his seat, ignoring the looks thrown his way from the students who watched them as they left.
It was a quiet walk down to Hogsmeade and Harry walked with his head held low for most of it. Draco knew that a spot of lunch in the pub wasn't going to solve anything, but Harry was drawing further into himself these days and Draco struggled to know what to do for the best.
Harry picked at his food uninterestedly and all efforts to engage him in conversation were unsuccessful. He kept glancing up at the clock above the fireplace, looking, Draco knew, to see when he should be getting back to the castle, getting back to his relentless training.
"That's it," Draco said when they were back outside, the bill paid. He was a tad resentful that he had paid for a meal that Harry had barely touched, but he couldn't really begrudge him.
"I'm kidnapping you."
"You're what?" Harry asked, his eyebrows rising.
"I'm kidnapping you," Draco repeated, grabbing hold of Harry's arm before the boy could resist.
He didn't have a plan fully formulated, but he knew that he had to act before Harry could properly realise what was happening and fight him. All Draco knew was that he had to get Harry away from Hogwarts, away from all the pressure he was under and so he apparated them both to the first place he could think of.
On reflection, the Dorset coastline in January probably wasn't the wisest choice he might have made, but nowhere in England was an attractive place at that time of year. Harry blinked in surprise as the wind whipped around them on the clifftop and Draco cast a quick warming charm on them both to fend off the biting wind.
"Where the bloody hell are we?" Harry asked.
"Ringstead Bay," Draco replied, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Why?" Harry asked exasperatedly.
"Because I'm not letting you go back to Hogwarts. Not yet."
"For Merlin's sake, you're ridiculous."
"Harry you're one step away from a nervous breakdown. Taking an afternoon off to spend some time for yourself isn't going to affect the war."
"So dragging me here is supposed to help?"
"Well fine! We'll do whatever you want, we can go anywhere you like, just say the word!"
"I want to go back to Hogwarts," Harry said stubbornly, turning away and walking across the clifftop, although where he thought he was going Draco didn't know.
Draco followed and grabbed Harry's arm, stopping him in his tracks. "Harry, if I have to take you home and tie you to the bed then, so help me, I will."
"I didn't know you were into that, what would Bill say?"
There was half a second's pause before Harry's lip quirked and then they were both in fits of laughter. It was good to see Harry laugh, and Draco was gladdened by the sight.
"For the record," Harry said, still smiling, "if you are into that kind of thing I really don't want to know about it."
"You have my word, we'll never discuss it."
Harry shook his head and cast a drying charm on the wet ground before chucking himself down. He sat cross-legged and rested his hand on his fist, looking out to sea. Draco sat down beside him and drew his knees up, wrapping his arms around them.
"Sometimes I daydream about running away," Harry said quietly.
Draco decided not to interject, to let Harry get it out in his own time. Harry needed someone to listen, not someone to offer advice that he no doubt wouldn't take anyway.
"I think about what it would be like to just…hop on a plane and get the hell away from here. To go somewhere where no one knows me and I could just…live a normal life. I've come so close so many times but I always bail at the last minute."
"No one would blame you," Draco said gently.
"Of course they would," Harry argued, "and rightly so. What kind of prick would just walk out on the people who need him most? How selfish would that make me?"
"Harry you're the most selfless person I know. This…self-abuse has to stop. You're under more pressure than anyone could imagine and if it were anyone else they would have told everyone to go fuck themselves long before now."
"There are plenty of people who would handle this better than me," Harry said with a dismissive shake of his head.
"Bullshit," Draco said emphatically. "Harry, what's it going to take to get you to see how incredible you are?"
Harry scoffed and said, "A small miracle, I should think."
Draco sighed and said, "You know what? We could sit out here all day, going around in these stupid circles, but I know we'll be having the same conversation in a week's time. Let's just…use this time to forget about everything that's going on at the moment. There must be something you want to do, something that would take your mind off things. Come on, just name it and we'll do it."
Harry looked pensive for a moment, chewing his bottom lip. He shook his head and gave a self-deprecating smile before saying, "Honestly? I'd just…love a couple of hours of doing…nothing."
Which was why, a couple of hours later, they were snuggled under a blanket in the living room of Grimmauld, a video of Titanic playing. Hermione had shown them how to make a muggle television and video player work with magic a little while ago and they had been reaping the benefits ever since.
"Are you actually crying already? The ship hasn't even begun to sink yet!" Harry said, swigging his third bottle of beer.
"It's the alcohol, it makes me weepy," Draco said defensively.
"Well, you weren't drinking when we watched Little Women and you cried your eyes out at that."
"I defy anyone to watch Beth dying without shedding a tear!"
"Big baby," Harry snorted, taking a look at the assortment of food between them on the sofa. "Mm I love M&Ms."
"You love everything sweet," Draco said, wiping his eyes as he watched Rose and Jack kiss as they stood on the prow of the ship. He knew what was coming; he'd seen the film five times since Harry had brought it home, but it made him cry each time he watched it.
"I do, you're right. Chocolate was invented by heavenly beings," he replied, taking a fistful of M&Ms and stuffing them in his mouth.
"Oh shove off, you snot-nosed toff."
"Well, aren't you two cute?"
They both turned to see Bill watching them from the doorway, his arms folded as he grinned at them both. "Your terms of endearment are adorable."
"I have a few saved for you," Draco said, feeling rather light-headed from the couple of beers he'd had.
"I'll bet you do," Bill said with a smirk. "Oh Merlin, not Titanic again. Aren't you sick of it by now?"
"He likes Rose, he has a thing for red-heads," Harry said with a sly wink, and Draco was happy to see that Harry seemed less sour about his budding relationship with Bill.
"He's a man of taste," Bill replied. "I'm going to get something to eat, I'll leave you two to your sobfest."
Draco watched him shuffle off down the corridor, the crutches gone but his balance still a little unsteady. It was ridiculous but every time he saw the man, despite living with him for several months, he still got butterflies. He felt like a lovesick fool, and the fact that Bill was treating their whole relationship as a courtship made him feel more special than he had ever felt.
"Oh for Merlin's sake, go and give him a proper hello," Harry said, rolling his eyes and shoving more chocolate in his mouth.
"But – " Draco began, feeling guilty. This afternoon was meant to be about Harry after all.
"I'll pause the film, Jack and Rose and their tragic love story will be here waiting for you."
"That's not - "
"Go, I can't stand looking at you," Harry said good-naturedly, and Draco grinned before scrabbling out from under the blanket and scurrying off the kitchen.
"What are you doing here? You'll miss the love story of the century," Bill said, rummaging through the cupboards.
Draco practically had to bite his tongue to stop himself from arguing that theirs was the love story of the century. He'd clearly had too many beers if he was thinking along those lines and Bill didn't need to learn that he was a complete sap this early on in their relationship.
"I wanted to come and say hello," Draco said, his stomach doing a small summersault.
"Well, hello," Bill said with a smirk.
"Can't you do any better than that?" he asked teasingly, feeling emboldened by the alcohol.
"Throwing down a challenge, Mr Malfoy?"
Draco approached him with a smile, then reached out and grabbed the front of Bill's shirt. He pulled the man closer and breathed in the scent of the man's subtle aftershave before leaning upwards and meeting the man's lips with his own.
The kiss was soft but confident; Draco knew what he wanted but he didn't want to be pushy. He was happy to be assertive when the occasion called for it and Bill seemed to like it when he took the lead. He wrapped his arms around the man's neck and pulled their bodies close together, feeling the heat pulse between them.
He wanted more but he was also curious to see how Bill's insistence upon no sex would play out. It added another layer of anticipation, a tingle of eroticism to something that, on the surface, seemed so chaste.
"What a nice way to say hello," Bill murmured, as he pulled away to press a trail of light kisses to Draco's jaw. "I'll be expecting more of the same for every greeting."
"Done," Draco said, smiling as Bill's hand ran gently up and down his back. "I should…I should get back to Harry but…that date we were talking about? Can that be soon?"
"How does tomorrow night work for you?"
"I'll check my diary," Draco said, hoping he sounded as smooth as he was aiming for. Tomorrow couldn't come quickly enough.
I know, I'm still not doing very well at updating regularly but I will try and get better, promise!
I hope you all enjoyed the chapter, please leave a comment and let me know.
"I'm not convinced."
"I'm telling you it looks great."
"What would you know?"
"I like it."
"Do you really?"
"Why is her opinion more important than mine?"
"Do I really need to answer that?"
Draco turned back to face his reflection in the mirror while Ginny gave Harry a self-satisfied smirk. He had his first date with Bill later that evening and he had gone through his meagre wardrobe to try and find something suitable to wear.
"In an ideal world what would you wear?" Ginny asked as she sat cross-legged on his bed.
"In an ideal world I wouldn't be an impoverished bartender," Draco said, wistful for the days when money wasn't an issue.
"Come on, I'm ridiculously handy with Transfiguration and I'd love the chance to practise. We have mock exams coming up soon and you can be my guinea pig."
"Have you snuck out of Hogwarts?" Draco asked, the thought just occurring to him. When Harry had shown up with Ginny in tow Draco had been too pleased to see her to question how she was there.
"Harry's invisibility cloak comes in handy sometimes," she said with a grin. "It's a Hogsmeade weekend, Harry's going to apparate us back when it's time to get back to the castle."
"Sneaky," Draco said approvingly. He was fond of Ginny and wasn't sorry to be spending more time with her. He was also aware that getting Bill's favourite sibling on side would be no bad thing.
"So come on, what would you like to wear?" Ginny asked, extracting her wand from her sleeve and tapping it on her chin.
"I don't know," Draco said with a sigh. "What would Bill like?"
"Oh come on, you're not pathetic enough to dress for someone else's approval," Ginny said with a snort. "I know you're besotted but you're still you!"
"I am not besotted," Draco protested.
"Yes you are," Harry said breezily. "You go all gooey when he walks into a room."
"Piss off," Draco said, knowing that he was banged to rights. Whenever Bill was anywhere near him it took all of his self-control not to throw himself into the man's arms.
"I still can't believe you're dating my brother," Ginny said, jumping off the bed and circling Draco with a pensive expression. "Is it the hair?"
"It's…everything," Draco said, wondering when his tongue had become so loose.
"Sickening," Harry said, rolling his eyes and allowing himself to fall backwards on the bed.
"I think you guys are so cute together," Ginny said with a grin. "And you know Bill hasn't been in a relationship for a long time."
"Really?" Draco asked, his interest piqued. He didn't know much about Bill's past love life, but he couldn't help but wonder what his former competition had been.
"He's one of those people that doesn't need to be in a relationship so when he gets into one it's because there's a damn good reason. He has to really connect with the person, you know? He's a complete romantic at heart. Quite…traditional I think when it comes to those kinds of values."
"Yeah, you're telling me," Draco said, wishing he could sneer at Bill's somewhat old-fashioned approach to dating, but finding himself entirely charmed by it. He had never felt so valued in all his life and they hadn't even had their first date yet.
"Right, let's see what we can do here. You said you don't know where he's taking you?" Ginny asked and Draco nodded. "Ok, well how about this?"
She waved her wand with a flourish and Draco turned back to look at his reflection and was pleasantly surprised by what he saw. Ginny had transfigured him a soft pair of tailored grey trousers with a midnight blue shirt that accented his pale complexion very well.
"Hm, it's missing something," she said, as she looked at him with a scrutinising squint of her eyes. "Harry, pass me that blanket," she instructed, and Harry did as he was told, grabbing it from the end of the bed and chucking it at her.
She caught it deftly and swung it around Draco's shoulders, stepping back to take a look at him before she waved her wand again. "A-ha! Perfect," she declared, and Draco looked in the mirror to see the blanket was now a dark brown, suede jacket that set off the outfit perfectly.
"Oh Ginny, it's lovely."
"It is rather fetching, if I say so myself," Ginny said, admiring her handiwork. "You'll knock him dead."
"I hope not, that would rather spoil my plans."
"We don't want to hear about your plans," Harry said, wrinkling his nose.
"Speak for yourself," Ginny said with a grin. "Well I think you're all set. Be back by midnight or you'll turn into a pumpkin."
"Right, come on Boy Wonder, get me back to Hogwarts before they realise I'm missing," Ginny instructed, and Harry hopped off the bed.
"It's really alright?" Draco asked, feeling a flutter of nerves.
"Would I let you go out looking like a pillock?" Ginny asked, and Draco had to pause to wonder. She was devious enough, that was for sure, but he also suspected that she rather liked him so he figured he was safe.
"Thank you for your help, I really appreciate it."
"Any time. Besides, I like having you in my debt," she said with an unnerving wink.
"Come on, let's go," Harry said, holding out his hand. "I'm staying at Hogwarts overnight so I'll see you tomorrow," he told Draco as Ginny wrapped her arms around his waist.
Draco tried not to look too disapproving. They had agreed to disagree where Harry's rather manic schedule was concerned but Draco couldn't help but worry that Harry was working himself into the ground.
"Have fun, don't do anything I wouldn't," Ginny said, wiggling her eyebrows before Harry apparated them both away.
Draco turned back to the mirror to admire his reflection again. He had to admit that he looked good and that Ginny had done a damn good job. He'd have to think of some way to thank her.
His date wasn't for another few hours so he decided to take the outfit off and save it for later. He laid it out on the bed and got back into his faded pair of jeans and his Weasley jumper. It was a gift he treasured, both for its sentiment and its practicality.
With a few hours to kill, he decided to get in a little studying. He was determined that when he attended St Mungo's he would be the top of the class. He wasn't just going to be a Healer, he was going to be the best Healer. He would show his father and the rest of his detractors just what he was capable of, just how much he could accomplish without the Malfoy name and fortune to prop him up.
He liked learning about Healing. It was interesting and involving; half the time it didn't even feel like studying. He found the theory of it fascinating and he had already had experience in the field tending to those who had been wounded.
He spent a couple of hours studying the theory behind the magical healing of breaks and fractures. He made flashcards and tested himself at regular intervals, pleased with the progress he was making.
At around 6 o'clock he heard the front door go and moments later he heard Bill's rather heavy footsteps on the stairs. His stomach fluttered a bit when he heard Bill call out, "I'm just going to grab a quick shower and get ready for tonight."
"Stop behaving like a starry-eyed 12 year old," Draco told himself sternly. "It's just a date. It's a non-event."
Of course, that wasn't true, not at all. In Draco's mind it had, in fact, taken on capital letters and he hadn't been able to stop thinking about The Date all week. He had no idea what to expect. He had never been on a date in his life, and, although he knew they were going for a meal, he had little notion of what a date was supposed to consist of.
In the back of his mind he couldn't help but wonder if it would end in sex. Bill had told him he wanted to take things slowly but it was still confusing to Draco. Bill was affectionate and tactile, he wasn't remotely reticent where such things were concerned, but still no move had been made to entice him to bed.
Draco began to wonder if perhaps it was his own perspective that was skewed in this matter. He had never conducted a relationship, had never started something with a view to it having any longevity, so perhaps jumping into bed without any thought of tomorrow wasn't the best way to go about things.
He had no one with which to confer about such issues. Harry had quickly become his closest friend, which in itself was odd enough, but Harry had even less experience in these matters than he did. Truth be told, he worried about Harry. The boy was so obviously in love with Snape, for reasons Draco couldn't fathom, and he was concerned that Harry's blind adoration for the man would lead him into trouble.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he began getting himself ready for the date. Ginny's choice of outfit was exquisite and he owed her for transfiguring something so perfect for him. He admired his reflection in the mirror and had to say that he didn't look half bad. Bill didn't stand a chance.
He was running a brush through his hair and trying to get it to flop dramatically the way he liked when the doorbell rang.
"Bill?" he called. "Do you want me to get that?" He paused for a moment but there was no answer. "Bill?" he tried again.
Sighing, he checked his reflection one last time then made his way downstairs. He opened the front door to find Bill standing there, grinning at him.
"What are you doing?" Draco asked in confusion.
"This is a proper date, isn't it? I have to pick you up."
"We live in the same house."
"Are you complaining?"
"Most definitely not."
"Well then, Mr Malfoy, the evening awaits."
Bill held out his hand and Draco took it with a smile, his stomach fluttering. He felt like a nervous, starry-eyed fool but he was finding that he was minding less and less. Bill looked amazing, but then the man always did. He was dressed in those sinfully figure-hugging jeans and had a dark green jumper on that accentuated his colouring perfectly. Merlin but he was so attracted to the man it was almost painful.
They walked to the end of the street then Bill wrapped his arms around Draco with a seductive smile and told him to hold on tightly. Draco did so and closed his eyes as the squeeze of apparation overwhelmed him.
He opened his eyes and realised that they had apparated to Bath, the beautiful city lit up by the bright full moon and starry evening. "Back to the scene of the crime?" Draco asked with a smirk.
"It seemed appropriate," Bill replied as he offered Draco his arm.
They strolled languidly, Draco remembering the last time they had been there and the first kiss they had shared. It was nice to think that this time they were returning to have an actual date and no pretence was involved.
Bill led him through the streets to a strange little café. They descended to an underground level where they walked through a narrow doorway and Draco found himself in a dazzlingly pretty restaurant. They had clearly crossed into the wizarding quarter of Bath and Draco allowed himself a moment to drink in the charm of the place as they were shown to their table.
"This is lovely," Draco said as he placed his jacket over the back of his chair. "How did you find this place?"
"I've been here a couple of times for business meetings. I've always wanted to come here with someone special."
Unable to repress his smile at being called 'special', Draco busied himself with looking at the menu. If this was what dating entailed then he could quite easily get used to it.
They decided on a rather exquisite bottle of Malbec and shared a starter of a mezze board. The food was a selection of the finest examples from around the world and Draco's taste buds were tantalised wonderfully.
The conversation flowed easily they were both subtly flirtatious with one another. There was a delicious undercurrent of attraction and Bill kept reaching out to touch his hand or run a finger gently down his forearm, leaving his skin tingling.
Even with the atmosphere as charged as it was, Draco felt more comfortable with Bill than he had ever felt with anyone. It felt as though there was more than just attraction, that there was a friendship that they were building upon that underpinned things between them.
"Oh they were a nightmare," Bill said, as the conversation turned to Fred and George as their main course was served. "I'm amazed Mum didn't go grey bringing those two reprobates up."
"They were just the same at school. Even the Slytherins had grudging respect for them. I still feel it's something of travesty that they were sorted into Gryffindor, they should have been ours."
"You wouldn't have wanted them, trust me. You'd have had no peace."
"They really are ingenious."
"Mm, like evil super villains," Bill said with a quirk of his eyebrow. "They nearly burnt the house down on more than one occasion. When they were six they got into Dad's toolbox and charmed a hammer to attack anyone who said 'cup of tea'. It was very nearly a bloodbath."
"You have to admit that that's impressive," Draco said, grateful that hadn't embarrassed himself by snorting out his wine in amusement.
"You wouldn't have said that at the time. Little gits, the both of them. Still, they're settling down a bit now. I can spend time with them both without feeling the need to use silencing charms."
Cradling his wine glass to his chest and leaning back in his chair, Draco looked at Bill with a smile and said, "What was it like, growing up in such a big family?"
Bill returned the smile and said, "Chaotic. The house was never quiet, there was always some drama going on. You'd think, with so many of us, that people's personalities would get lost somehow but everyone always managed to be heard, to forge their own identity."
"Who's your favourite?" Draco asked wickedly.
Bill tutted and said, "I don't have a favourite. You can't pick between your siblings like that."
Draco narrowed his eyes and said, "Ginny, right?"
Bill smirked. "Don't you dare tell anyone, especially her."
"I can't blame you. I must say I've taken quite a shine to her. She's a hoot."
"She's a madam," Bill corrected. "And I love her for it. She's the youngest in a family of huge personalities and somehow she always makes her voice heard. She's funny and smart, she doesn't take any crap from anyone and there's nothing she can't do if she puts her mind to it."
"Like someone else I know."
"If I had half her tenacity I'd be well pleased."
Draco sipped at his wine, letting the rich flavours unwrap themselves on his tongue. He liked talking about the Weasleys, like the sense of family it invoked. There was still the familiar stab of pain when he thought about his own family, but it was starting to dull somewhat.
"We can change the subject if you'd rather," Bill said gently.
Draco shook his head and said, "I don't mind. It feels…further away somehow, like I'm looking at what happened from a distance."
"Time is a great leveller."
"It is," Draco replied, placing his glass on the table and swirling it gently. "There are some days…I'll be getting ready to go to bed and I'll realise I haven't thought about either of them, not once."
"Is it better that way?" Bill asked, and Draco considered the question.
"I think so," Draco said softly. "They belong to my past now, it's best to keep them there. I…feel no connection to them anymore. Besides," he added with a smile, "I have a new family now."
Bill looked at him thoughtfully and Draco was struck with the sudden urge to trace every freckle on the man's face with his fingertips.
"Is that how you really feel?" Bill asked eventually. "I mean, you see us all as family?"
Draco smirked and said, "The irony of the situation isn't lost on me. If you'd have told me a couple of years ago that I'd feel this way I'd have had you committed."
Draco paused and took a sip of his wine, considering the strange situation he now found himself in. "Your mother has shown me more kindness and affection in these past few months than my own mother showed me in a lifetime. Your father has treated me with patience and gentleness and even Ginny, who should hate me after what happened to her, has been open and warm. It's taught me a lot and, in all honesty, I'm grateful for it. It's made me a better person"
"You know, the person I met in Grimmauld all those months ago was nothing like the person I'd heard about from Ron. I think that you'd already begun to change before we all took you under our wing."
It was true, of course, Draco mused. He had been struggling with his parents' beliefs, his father's dogmatic adherence to Voldemort's cause, which had begun to border on insane. By the time he had run away from home he already knew that he had no place there, that he had chosen a path that would ensure his alienation from his family permanently.
"I suppose eventually we all make choices," he said eventually, realising that his were now all made. There was no going back and he had no desire to do so.
They shared an extremely decadent dessert, Draco hypnotised by Bill's sucking of his spoon. The man exuded raw sexuality and Draco found himself distracted by it almost constantly. There was a good-natured argument over the bill, but Bill prevailed and assured Draco that he could get the next one.
It was a little embarrassing but Draco wouldn't have been able to afford the affluent restaurant anyway. With his current meagre income from the pub the most he would be able to spring for would be fish and chips. Still, he had a feeling that Bill wouldn't mind and that was a comforting thought.
They apparated back to the street near Grimmauld and walked arm in arm back to the house. It all felt terribly romantic, and the starry winter night helped to add to that feeling.
"Are you coming in for coffee?" Draco asked with a grin as they paused on the doorstep.
"Oh indeed," Bill said with an answering grin as Draco let them in.
They stood in the doorway for a moment, the atmosphere charged between them. It tingled up Draco's spine and down his fingertips, igniting his blood as it went. He reached up and placed his hands on Bill's chest, feeling the firmness of muscle beneath his palms.
"Thank you for dinner," he said softly.
"You're welcome. I'm very much looking forward to our next date."
Draco smiled and said, "But this one's ending now, isn't it?" He was starting to learn how to read Bill and he could see that, although there was an intensity building between them, nothing was going to happen tonight. He was both disappointed and slightly relieved.
"For now," Bill said, reaching out and cupping Draco's chin gently. "Think of all the dates that are ahead of us."
"Oh I will," Draco said before leaning forward and pressing his lips to Bill's. The electricity tingled between them, Draco senses seemed heightened and it occurred to him that if a simple kiss made him feel this way then anything more would likely kill him.
Bill's hands moved to hold him gently and Draco's back felt warm where they rested. It created a heady mix of safety and excitement, and Draco had never experienced such a sensation before. Their kisses had a certainty to them now, a familiarity that didn't dampen the spark but that made Draco feel secure in the arms he was held in.
They broke apart naturally and Bill smiled as he ran his knuckles down Draco's cheek. "Goodnight," he said and Draco shivered at the gentleness in his tone.
"Goodnight," Draco replied with the same tone, already thinking about what their next date might entail.
I know, I'm useless. I have no excuses to offer other than my muses are still being little sods. I'm not sure when I'll get the next chapter of this out, but I am trying to get a Christmas Snarry done, so hopefully you'll forgive me. Hope you enjoyed the chapter!