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The Nobility of Ascent

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The Nobility of Ascent

There was a golden clock on the wall with an Augurey on top of it.

Harry had been watching it since he was shown into this—anteroom, that was the only word for it—to wait. He wasn’t sure what baffled him more, the notion that someone would want to make a clock out of solid gold (why?) or that they would decorate it with an Augurey. It was an impressive bird, too, made out of gold (what else?) with spread wings and gleaming emerald eyes.

Harry had to admit he was looking forward to what would happen when the clock chimed the hour, and so it was a bit of a disappointment when the door of the office opened and a house-elf wearing a white frock made of what looked like wrapping paper leaned out. “Mr. Potter? Mr. Malfoy be seeing yous now.”

Harry nodded the elf, swallowed his pride as he’d been doing for months now, and walked into the office. Carpet that felt like silk swallowed his footsteps.

He ended up sitting in front of a desk that looked as if it had been carved from a single polished block of ebony, in a chair that was probably mahogany and the most uncomfortable thing he’d ever sat in. Malfoy was behind the desk, head bowed as he turned over some papers. A pair of small silver glasses perched on his nose.

Harry studied him in silence. If this was some kind of waiting game, that was fine. He had been subjected to so many of them now—before the Wizengamot, the Hogwarts Board of Governors, the Hogwarts professors, the staff of the only magical children’s home—that they no longer irritated him as they used to. He only had to picture some of the children he’d met, after all. They were more important than his irritation.

It didn’t mean he liked it.

Malfoy finally glanced up at him and removed the glasses, putting them on the desk beside him. “You needn’t think I started wearing them in imitation of you, Potter,” he said.

Harry stared at him. “I wasn’t.”

“There’s a fashion of that sort now,” Malfoy continued, slouching back in his own chair. It had no cushion on the seat, which was sort of horrifying, but Malfoy treated it as if he were lounging in it. “You must have seen people walking around with what they call ‘Harry Potter glasses’ on. There’s a shop in Diagon Alley that can’t keep them in stock.”

“Strange,” Harry said. “Hopefully it’ll pass soon.”

Malfoy had been watching him from beneath half-lowered eyelashes, but at the words, he leaned a little way towards him across the desk. “So you haven’t let your fame go to your head, then,” he murmured. “I thought you had when I heard you saying that as Harry Potter, you were entitled to a more respectful hearing of your concerns.”

Harry felt his cheeks heat up, but he remembered the blank stare of the little boy he had met last week and leaned in himself instead of moving away. “I did that because I thought it might work,” he said. “Appealing to their basic decency and even offering to fund the home myself didn’t.”

“Nothing is going to work, Potter, until you tell me why you came to talk to me and what it is you want, exactly.” Malfoy arranged another pile of paperwork without taking his eyes from him.

Harry sighed and sat back in his chair, organizing his thoughts (and ignoring the way the chair knobbled against his spine). He hadn’t seen Malfoy for years, except in passing at the Ministry. It made sense that Malfoy wouldn’t be sure how he had changed any more than Harry would know that about him.

“All right,” he said finally. “I came to talk to you because I know that you’re someone who was raised by the pure-blood ways and yet came out of the war respected by your peers and the people who are more likely to listen to me.”

“A large part of that was your testimony that my mother and I had helped you.”

“I know, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are.”

Malfoy paused, his fingers, which had been tapping the edge of the desk, falling still suddenly. Harry glanced at him and found that Malfoy had given up all pretense of laziness or inattention. He was focused on Harry in a somewhat disconcerting way, his eyes wide, his breathing as still as his hand.

Harry looked aside, coughed a little in embarrassment, and went on. “Anyway. What I want is to create a home where magical children could go on the basis of their needs. Some who were orphans could live there full-time. Ones who are having problems with their families that are temporary—even just a fight with their siblings—could stay there for a few hours or days, as they wanted. Those with abusive parents could move there and be protected. Muggleborn children could come there for lessons about our world before they enter Hogwarts. Not everyone will read all the books or learn some of the history beforehand. Not all of them are like Hermione.”

“Thank Merlin for that.”

Harry braced his shoulders and let the sarcasm slide off him. “Anyway. But the pure-bloods are refusing me, even the ones I thought would be most eager to see Muggleborns educated to a certain standard.” He glanced at Malfoy. “So that means that I need a sponsor who can get me in among them and teach me how to act, what to say, to persuade them.”

“It hurts your pride to come to me.”

Harry nodded, because he had suspected this admission would be part of the sacrifice he needed to make. “It does.”

“But you’re here anyway. Why?”

“Because these children matter more than my pride. They matter more than almost anything, and if the pure-bloods want me to play games and run around in circles—I’ll do that, if it means that I can get the legal strictures for the children’s house passed. Funding, too, if I could, but I have fewer hopes of that.”

Malfoy was utterly silent and utterly still, but his face had twisted. He was staring at Harry in a way that made Harry’s stomach sink, but he stared back and held himself still, too. If Malfoy was disgusted by what he was doing, then he had chosen badly.

But if it was something else, Harry would be more than willing to put up with it.

“The only way you know how to go on is by sacrifice,” Malfoy said, his voice so low that it nearly blended with the rustling of paper as he moved the stacks of parchment over his desk. “As if making yourself a martyr is the only path to your goal.”

“I think compromise is,” Harry said, blinking.

“But you’d give up your pride, you’d crawl on your belly, to get what you want.”

“Yes,” Harry said slowly. He still didn’t understand what Malfoy’s problem with this was. “Is that the kind of attitude I need to change to get pure-bloods to listen to me? I didn’t think it was. They weren’t willing to listen to me when I invoked decency. I didn’t think they would listen to me if I was arrogant.”

“That’s not what I mean.” Malfoy leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “You need to deal with them as an equal.”

“How? They don’t think of me that way.”

“That’s exactly how I’ll teach you to act, Potter. And there’ll be no more baring your belly and promising pathetically to do what they want if they’ll only listen, and no more sacrifices. This isn’t the Forbidden Forest, and they aren’t Voldemort ready to cast the Killing Curse at you. You need to show that you’re better than they are. Which you are. In every way.”

“Would whatever tutoring you can give me be enough to make them forget my blood status?” Harry asked weakly, his mind reeling, more at the fact that Malfoy had said Voldemort’s name without flinching than anything else.

“Yes.” Malfoy gave him a stare that could have taught the Hungarian Horntail in his fourth year a thing or two. “But it won’t mean much if you don’t change your own attitude. Make them think that you don’t need them, that you’ll find some other way to create this children’s house without them. You can’t make them think that it doesn’t matter to you—I know that—but you can make them think that you’re offering them a chance to be part of the solution.”

“Instead of necessary to it.”

“Yes. Exactly.” Malfoy gave him a fleeting smile so faint that Harry could only think of it as the flash of light off a blade. “Keep that in mind. Do that, and it’s entirely possible that you’ll manage to do as you need to. But not if you think of yourself as someone surrendering whatever advantage you have if they’ll do one pathetic thing for you. You are strong, not pathetic. That’s the first rule of making them listen to you.”

“All right,” Harry said, concealing his doubt. There were too many pure-bloods who had either been at the Battle of Hogwarts or seen memories from those who were. He had come into the Great Hall of Hogwarts being carried by Hagrid. He had looked pathetic. Harry didn’t know how they would get around that. “What’s your price for tutoring me?”

“That you succeed.”

“I don’t understand,” Harry admitted. “Do you also want a children’s home of the kind I do?”

“No—although it would have helped me immeasurably during the war. But I have to admit, I’m not selfless enough to do this just because it would help others like me.” Malfoy stood up and circled around the desk. He gestured sharply with one hand a second later, and Harry flushed and stood to face him.

Malfoy rested his hands on Harry’s shoulders and stared into his eyes. Harry fought down a deepening of his flush and stared back, raising his eyebrows. Malfoy smiled and moved his hands down Harry’s shoulders in a motion like a tailor’s measuring him for robes.

“I’m doing this because you gave me back my life, and my freedom, and my mother’s life and freedom,” Malfoy whispered. “No one could help my father to the extent of keeping him out of prison—and yet you ensured that he only served two years there, and that people saw that as right and fair. No Malfoy has owed anyone anything like we did you in the past three hundred years, and yet all you did was smile at us and walk away like there was no debt.

“Your mother saved my life. You did, from the Snatchers. I was paying back that debt.”

“What you gave us lasted a lot longer than a moment.”

“So does my life,” Harry snapped, shifting back a little. Malfoy only leaned towards him. “I didn’t come here to claim a debt, Malfoy. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t owe me anything, and I’ll be paying you for your time.”

“And I’m telling you that I won’t accept money,” Malfoy said, with a smile that Harry had heard the papers describe as sweet. The papers didn’t know what they were talking about. “So. Are you going to go along with me, or are you going to put your patience and your time under strain by fighting me for no reason?”

Harry folded his arms and then dropped them. He had worked and worked with himself on his body language, trying to remain relaxed, easy, not hostile. “Fine. I accept that you’ll help me as payment for the debt.”

“Excellent.” Malfoy watched him for a second with a bright, bird-like eye, then nodded his head. “Good. The first place we’re going to stop is the tailor.”

“These robes are new, and I did pay top price for them.”

“I can tell, Potter,” Malfoy said, and something about his voice made more heat pour into Harry’s cheeks. “That doesn’t mean they’re appropriate if we’re visiting pure-bloods who know the names of their ancestors thirteen generations back. Come along now.”

*

Draco watched with lowered eyelids as Potter struggled and swore through trying on yet another pair of dress robes. The tailor they’d visited, Silvren Peacocke, had tried to put them off with inferior imitations at first. Draco had stared patiently at him, and finally Peacocke had fetched the real kind of robes from the back of his shop, the part that he normally never even opened unless all his customers in the shop were pure-bloods.

“He’s a half-blood,” Peacocke whispered beneath his hand as Potter faced the mirror hanging on the wall in a carved gilt frame and eyed himself with intense skepticism. Draco caught his breath as he watched the robes fall to drape Potter’s body. Finally. Draco had been searching for this look, the one that made Potter look polished and poised, and accented the muscles and battle-wariness he carried instead of just making him appear out of place.

“Does that matter? When he’s the one who saved us all?” Draco studied the color of the robes now. Deep, intense blue, which Potter had balked at for some reason until Draco had told him that black robes were for Hogwarts students.

Potter had his arms folded, but he dropped them a second later and smiled falsely into the mirror. Draco laughed quietly. He would have to work with the man on those expressions. Potter would never look exactly like other pure-bloods, but that didn’t matter, not when he had so many different other traits to build on.

“Of course it matters!” Peacocke exclaimed, loudly enough that Potter turned his head to stare at them over his shoulder. Draco frowned. He would have to tell Potter to avoid that angle. It pulled the collar of the robes tight in a way that wasn’t flattering. “He still has a Mudblood mother, and—”

Draco was the one who turned his head this time. Peacocke immediately looked at the floor. Draco shook his head, slowly, once.

“And this is why you’re running a shop instead of your family’s estates when you’re every bit as much a pure-blood as I am,” Draco said softly, and swept towards Potter. The man faced the mirror again and scowled at him through the glass.

“I heard that much. I know that I can’t achieve much in the high society I need to move in if everyone still thinks of my mother as a disgrace. And I’m not going to pretend that she was.”

“No one except idiots like Peacocke would expect you to pretend that,” Draco said quietly, and laid his hand on Potter’s shoulder when he would have turned to scowl at Peacocke again. “No, leave that alone. He’s the disgrace. And you look as if you’re straining both the robes and your neck when you look over your shoulder like that.”

Potter paused once, then nodded and glanced into the mirror again. “And you don’t think this robe is so bright that it would shock someone if I wore it into their house? Or insult them?”

“I don’t know where you got this notion of bright colors shocking or insulting people, Potter, but it’s just not true,” Draco said as he smoothed his hand down Potter’s arm. Yes, the robe really did outline his muscles. That wasn’t fancy. Draco smiled a little.

“Something Ron said,” Potter said, and Draco stopped him when he would have yanked the collar away from his neck.

“Collars are supposed to fit that tightly in this robe cut, Potter. What did Weasley say?”

“That most of the older families looked on black as the only suitable color to wear. Because it went with everything, or something.” Potter scowled once more into the mirror, this time seeming to be offended by the thick lace clustered around his throat.

“No, Weasley is wrong,” Draco said, and didn’t let his tone get too clipped, because then Potter wouldn’t listen to him. “Most of the older families look down on black. The color of Hogwarts students’ robes, I told you. The color of immaturity, of someone who hasn’t decided who he wants to be.”

Potter tilted his head a little. “Hogwarts professors always wore black. Except for Professor Dumbledore, I mean. And I suppose Professor Trelawney, too.”

Draco snorted. “I won’t defend the claims to maturity of someone who’s surrounded by teenagers day in and day out and thinks so much about House points.” He tapped Potter on the shoulder. “Widen your stance. Let me see how this falls around you when you’re standing naturally and not as though you expect the mirror to attack you any second.”

“Wide isn’t my natural stance, either,” Potter complained under his breath, but he tilted his head back and smiled, and consciously relaxed his body language.

Draco stared at him, struck mute. Where had this version of Potter been when people were desperately searching for a leader during the war, someone who would truly protect them from Voldemort?

Then Draco mentally shook his head and laid the thought aside. He had been a teenager, was the answer. Dumbledore could have been just as much a leader, and if he had chosen to resist the role, what right did Draco have to expect Potter to take it up?

Although now, Draco would be more than happy to see Potter take it.

“You look much better,” Draco said, with a firm nod. “And with my next few lessons, you’ll learn how to take advantage of the way you look.”

Potter met his gaze in the mirror, more shielded than he had been once, not as shielded as he would have to be. “All right.”

He turned away to reach for one of the other robes, and Draco let his own smile warm in a way that he never could when he was facing Potter. This was proving—more than political.

But right now, that would be his secret. Not even his mother would approve if she knew.

*

“I can see that you’re trying to be more conscious about what you express,” Malfoy began, pacing over to the other side of the large room in Malfoy Manor that had nothing on the bare white marble floors or wall. Harry tried, mostly successfully, to keep the thought out of his head that Voldemort might have caused bloodstains on something they’d had to remove. “That’s a good start, but not enough. You have to express it with unconscious fluidity and competence.”

“Then that’s going to take years.”

“No, I don’t think so.” Malfoy had a primly confident manner that Harry had to admit was less infuriating than the way he used to act in Hogwarts. “More practice will allow you to grasp it, and spells if necessary.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Spells?”

“If this whole thing was based on looking like you were going to charge into battle, you wouldn’t need any lessons,” Malfoy said, smiling slightly at him. “Spells to correct your posture and move your limbs in particular ways. When you wear them long enough, you’ll be surprised how natural they feel.”

Harry nodded. Yes, all right, he could live with those. It wasn’t like he would be under the Cruciatus. “What do you want me to do first?”

“Walk towards me. Imagine that you’re trying to impress me.”

Harry held back the sarcastic response and fixed his eyes on Malfoy, then strolled forwards. He thought he did it naturally, but Malfoy’s eyebrows lifted and stayed up, and by the time Harry had made it to his end of the ballroom, he was shaking his head.

“No wonder you aren’t getting anywhere with the idiots, Potter. You look like you’re on your way to eat them.”

Harry grimaced and stopped. “So I look too intimidating. I think I was trying to play too much on the fact that I defeated Voldemort.” Once again, Malfoy doesn’t flinch. “What should I do instead?”

“You can still play on that fact,” Malfoy answered, moving to his side. “But you need to look more confident and powerful than they do while not looking as though you want to destroy them.” His hands settled on Harry’s shoulders, and then ran down his arms in a way that made Malfoy pause. “Something wrong?”

“I—I haven’t been touched like that in a long time. Sorry.”

Silence, while the candles in the chandelier overhead reflected off subtle gold and blue flickers in the marble. Harry swallowed and kept his eyes fixed deliberately ahead. Malfoy didn’t seem in the mood to taunt him about a lack of sex or company, but Harry still didn’t want to look into his face.

“All right,” Malfoy said, his voice softer. “One of the things you want to do is make sure the bastards understand that you’re more powerful than them, but not stampede them into fearing you as a threat.”

“Understood.” Harry still didn’t turn around. His alliance with Malfoy felt fragile every time he mentioned something personal. “So can you use those charms you talked about to make me walk and stand in the way I need to?”

“Yes, I can.” Malfoy’s voice was lower than before, right next to his ear, which Harry didn’t understand, either, but oh, well. The important thing was that he stepped back a second later and, from the sound of rustling cloth, drew his wand. Harry ruthlessly stamped down his own instinctive response to that sound. “Concentrate as hard as you can on the goal you want to achieve, and the charms will do the rest of the work.”

Harry closed his eyes and pictured the children’s house he wanted rising from the ground in Hogsmeade—no, Diagon Alley, more people would be able to reach it that way. And it would have a public Floo that would be available for any children who needed it, but at the same time, the wards would hold out anyone who meant harm. Harry knew that wasn’t possible under current magical theory, but he would make it possible. And there would be comfortable reading rooms, and a library with all sorts of books including copies of all the textbooks at Hogwarts, and Healers dedicated to—

“I think that ought to do it.”

Malfoy sounded a little wary. Harry opened his eyes and saw that his magic was fizzing over his skin, waves of gold rippling back and forth. He sighed and quelled the light show with an effort, then moved his arms. They didn’t feel much different, but tight coils of a power not his own bound them when he tried to shrug.

“The spells are all on me?”

“Yes.” Malfoy moved back to his place across the ballroom. “Try walking towards me like you want to impress me again.”

Harry drew his chin back and set his shoulders and tried to think as calmly as he could about what was to come, how he wanted to impress Malfoy and needed to impress other people. He walked across the room, and he felt the charms prodding at him and adjusting his posture and the length of his steps. By the time he came to a halt in front of Malfoy, the other man’s eyes were opaque.

“Was that good enough?” Harry asked, when long moments had passed in silence. Well, maybe not complete silence. If he listened closely, he thought he could hear the rustle of robes from long-ago Malfoys who had danced here.

“A good start.” Malfoy shook his head a second later and moved around Harry, reaching out to position his arms in a new way. “One thing to remember is that you don’t want to give an impression of haste even when you’re standing still…”

Harry didn’t know how he had done that, but he went quiet and let Malfoy teach him.

*

“How are your lessons with young Mr. Potter going?”

Draco looked up from his mulled wine and offered his mother a half-smile as she sat down in the chair across from him. “He’s really not that much younger than I am, you know.”

Narcissa returned a half-smile of her own. “His hope makes him young.”

“Then you think he isn’t going to achieve what he wants.”

Narcissa fussed with her robes, settling them around her in a fall of white lace and silk. Since the war, she had often worn white. Draco had never asked her why, reckoning she had her own private reasons. “I see no way that he can do so. The war didn’t change things enough. Muggleborns and half-bloods are still seen as lesser. The people in power have no incentive to change their minds.”

“Would someone whose magic visibly burns on his skin be enough?”

His mother jerked her head up, her eyes wide enough that for a second Draco worried about her. “What?” Narcissa whispered. “There is no—there is no way that that is going on.”

“I saw it myself today, when we were in the ballroom and I was teaching him how to walk.”

Narcissa closed her eyes and exhaled in a way that expressed her disbelief without being crass. Draco had never learned how to imitate her. “Such power is the matter of legends, yes. But on the other hand, Potter is trying to persuade them to share their power and their money, not intimidate them. Will his magic help him do that?”

“Oh, I have every intention of showing him that it can.”

Narcissa glanced up. “Why are you so invested in this, Draco? Even if you do feel that we owe him a debt, you could have contented yourself with a few bits of advice and walked away. Instead, you’re giving him more of yourself than I—knew you could still give.”

Draco’s smile twisted. It was true that since the war, he’d become considerably more reserved, holding himself aloof from even his mother. He sighed and reached out to touch her hand. Narcissa immediately closed her fingers around his.

“I never meant to hurt you like this, Mother,” Draco murmured. “But the truth is that the debt I owe him is comprehensive. My freedom, Father’s freedom, our lives, and my chance to learn the truth of what our heritage could be, instead of what it is.”

“That makes it sound like you’re about to join him in his crusade.”

“Hardly. The only thing Potter’s dreaming of right now is this one home for abused children, or others who need it. I mean to drag him into mine and show him that we can create a wizarding world where true nobility still thrives.”

Narcissa stared at him. “You’re thinking of the legends that the last wizard with his magic to burn visibly on his skin was—”

“Merlin. Yes, Mother. I think Harry Potter has the power and the passion to be the next Merlin.” Draco eyed her over the rim of his wineglass. “And we all know what Merlin accomplished.”

“He accomplished those things in a world that was devoid of all the social structures we now have in place.” His mother was frowning. “There was no Ministry, no system of laws that made certain expressions of magic illegal. Harry Potter cannot act like Merlin.”

“He can act like him, just not identically to him,” Draco pointed out, and got a mild glare from Narcissa. She hated it when he indulged in semantics like that. “And I mean to show him how we can accomplish more than he dreams of.”

“If he’s so focused on this children’s house, will he agree to go along with your plans?”

“How much do you know of Potter’s life in the last few years, Mother?”

“Only what I’ve read in the papers.”

“Which means almost nothing,” Draco said, and clucked his tongue when she glared at him again. “I am merely being practical, Mother. But Potter has become isolated through—I will not say no fault of his own, but because of his personality and goals. The people who followed him in the Battle of Hogwarts don’t trust his attempts to ingratiate himself with pure-bloods, and the pure-bloods don’t trust him because of his politics. He still has his friends, of course, but even they have made statements to the press that they wish he would give up this pursuit.”

“What is your point, Draco?”

“I can give him a wider political vision, and I can give him friendship, as well. The friendship that’s slipped out of his life.”

Narcissa shook her head slowly. “You are still the boy who’s upset that he was rejected on the Hogwarts Express. Sooner or later, you need to choose a different goal, Draco.”

“This way, we both get everything we want. I don’t see why I need to give that up. It would do a disservice to us both.”

Narcissa sighed after a long moment of staring at him, when she seemed to realize that she wouldn’t convince him to yield. “I only hope that this works out the way you think it will.”

“At the moment, I don’t see why it wouldn’t.” Draco hid his smile behind his next sip of wine.

*

“You haven’t been here before?”

“No.” Harry consciously relaxed his shoulders and walked through the door with the help of the spells that Malfoy had first cast on him in the Manor’s ballroom, and almost continually since. His heart was jumping uncertainly, but he kept his gaze focused straight ahead, on the gleaming round crystal table that awaited them, and the chairs around it that looked to be made of pure silver. “At one point, I was going to meet someone here for dinner and a discussion of the children’s home, but he canceled.”

“Of course,” Malfoy sounded half-amused for some reason as his hand rested on the small of Harry’s back. Harry choked away the desire to protest. Malfoy was trying to help him, and to participate in guiding the way Harry walked. He wouldn’t touch him otherwise. “This is a rather exclusive restaurant. It shouldn’t be beyond your means, but the owners are blood purists.”

“When did you change your mind about being one?” Harry asked, as Malfoy tugged out one of the silver chairs for him and Harry decided to go along with it. Malfoy’s hand brushed against his shoulder in a fleeting touch, gentle and proprietary. Harry looked around the Silver Shadows’s gleaming décor before he turned back to Malfoy, and tried to calm his own stupid flush.

“When I realized that I couldn’t think of a single stupid thing a Muggleborn did that a pure-blood didn’t also do,” Malfoy said, seating himself across from Harry and snapping his fingers. Napkins floated off the tabletop and settled on both their laps. “And that the people who did the most good in rebuilding Hogwarts and otherwise helping our society recover after the war were all half-bloods or Muggleborns.”

Harry nodded, and tried not to start as the air next to them blurred and opened like a glass door. The server stepped out from behind it and bowed. She was a tall woman with blonde hair that turned into silver filigree halfway down her back, and huge gleaming butterfly wings projecting from beneath that. Harry had no idea if either was real.

“Greetings, Mr. Malfoy, and welcome to Silver Shadows.” She ignored Harry completely. “What can I get for you this afternoon?”

Malfoy stared at her in freezing silence for a second, then said, “Courtesy.”

Harry watched in interest as the woman’s face turned bright red. He hadn’t even known that blood purists had that much blood in them.

The woman coughed, cleared her throat, and began over. “Welcome, Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Potter. I—I apologize.”

Harry opened his mouth to accept the apology, since it was more than he’d received at any other time something like this happened, but Malfoy leaned forwards a little and shook his head. Harry fell silent, feeling his eyebrows creep upwards. What was going on?

“I want to know what you apologize for?” Malfoy said, almost purring. “And who put you up to this in the first place?”

The woman stared at her hands, which had silver paint on her nails that was the exact color of the filigree in her hair. “No one put me up to it, Mr. Malfoy. At least if you mean the owners of Silver Shadows. I—it is my belief that…”

She trailed off, but Malfoy kept watching her. Harry touched his elbow in silence. He didn’t want to speak up right now and ruin the unified front they were supposed to be presenting, but on the other hand, he didn’t want Malfoy to be cruel.

Malfoy covered Harry’s hand with his own, shocking Harry into silence utterly. Malfoy’s eyes, meanwhile, bored into the woman, and he said softly when she only stood there and stared at her hands, “Yes?”

The woman swallowed and glanced up. “It is my belief that Muggleborns are traitors to our world, and children of traitors,” she whispered. “Since they must be descended from either Squibs or wizards who gave up our world to live in the Muggle one.”

Malfoy studied her for long enough that Harry felt his heartbeats become dim and blurred in his ears. Then he stood up. “Well, that makes sense,” he said to no one in particular. “And we are leaving now.”

“Wait! Mr. Malfoy, please!”

Malfoy was drawing Harry’s chair back and standing him up with an arm around his shoulders, but he glanced back. “What words can you say to atone for hating someone who sacrificed his life to save yours?” he asked. “There’s nothing. Therefore, I don’t see why we should plague Silver Shadows with our custom.”

“Mr. Malfoy.” A witch had stepped out from behind a door on the side of the building that seemed to lead into darkness, instead of the silvery dusk that filled the rest of the restaurant and which Harry knew was its claim to fame. “I wonder if I might persuade you to reconsider?” Unlike the witch who had tried to serve them, Harry thought her silver hair was natural.

“Only if you can explain why we should stay when one of your servers was such a fool that she wouldn’t even serve the man she owes a life-debt to.” Malfoy’s voice was as flat and cool as crystal. His fingers moved on Harry’s shoulder, digging in. Harry shot him a glance, wondering if Malfoy was telling him to be quiet and let the “intelligent” pure-blood handle it, but instead, the fingers moving felt more like a massage.

And, well, Harry was glad to have someone here besides him. Things had never gone well when he tried to confront bigots over their bigotry. He relaxed and watched as the witch nodded in what seemed to be consideration of Malfoy’s words.

“We welcome the pure in the Silver Shadows,” the witch said. “And of course any guests they choose to bring with them.”

“Why is it welcoming for that witch to ignore Harry?”

Harry tamped down on the start he wanted to give, but he did wonder when Malfoy had decided that referring to him by first name was imperative.

“She was merely expressing her beliefs—”

“Which, of course, can interfere with the work she’s supposed to do.” Malfoy shook his head and glanced at Harry. “I don’t think anything will make up for the insult to us, will it, Harry?”

Harry didn’t know how he’d sensed this, but he knew how he was supposed to answer that question. He shrugged. “A few things could, but a restaurant that allows a bigot to work here would hardly do them.”

“Please, Mr. Potter, let us make an effort.”

The witch was focused on him, although she was leaning subtly away from him as well, to make sure their robes didn’t come into contact. Harry sneered to himself. Did she think he wouldn’t spot that? Or maybe she was really doing it unconsciously and couldn’t help it.

“A donation to the children’s house I’m trying to establish wouldn’t go amiss,” Harry said coolly. “As well as a proclamation that you’ll support it.”

“I mean…Mr. Potter—”

“I told you that they wouldn’t,” Harry told Malfoy with a sigh. He delighted in the way that Malfoy’s eyes seemed to glow at him, and knew that he would play along with whatever Harry came up with. “Not that I take pleasure in saying ‘I told you so.’”

Malfoy swept him a deep, absurd bow. “I don’t have any right to object, when I assured you that everything would be fine here and it turned out not to be.”

Harry opened his mouth to continue the teasing, more interested in that than the restaurant owner’s response, and the witch spoke again. “Yes, of course. A donation and a declaration of support. And in return, you won’t—tell anyone?”

“No,” Malfoy said. “We won’t, at least if that makes sense to my partner?” He glanced at Harry, who barely managed to shut his mouth in time so he wouldn’t gape. No one had ever called him their partner except some of the Aurors he had worked with before giving up that job to politically campaign full-time.

“That makes sense to me,” Harry said. “Of course, I’ll only consider that you’re keeping the bargain if you make the donation within a week, and the proclamation of support within a fortnight. My house-elf will come to collect the payment.”

That earned him a bit of respectful attention as the witch bowed. Maybe half-bloods were better when they had house-elves, Harry thought. “Of course, Mr. Potter. Thank you for giving us this second chance.”

Harry might have stayed to taunt her, honestly, because it was kind of fun, but Malfoy was firmly ushering him towards the door, and that was probably for the best. Harry returned a remote nod to the owner of the Silver Shadows, and stepped out into the twilight, heading towards the Apparition point.

*

Draco had severely controlled his reaction as long as he imagined there was someone around who might see them, but when they returned to the Manor, he knew it would be only his mother and house-elves. He burst out laughing, and, when Potter turned to him in astonishment, clasped the man’s shoulders and pressed him up against the wall of the sitting room they’d landed in.

“That was bloody brilliant,” he breathed.

“It was?” Then Potter seemed to remember himself, and gave him an arrogant smile. It did wonders for his face, and for Draco’s sudden leap of flame inside his soul. “Of course it was. I did it.”

Draco took a deep breath as the flame seemed to spread through him. He’d thought in terms of using Potter to advance his political agenda and paying his debt, maybe earning his friendship—because his mother was right, that was still a goal. But now he was thinking in terms of something else.

It still wouldn’t do to rush and scare Potter, though. Instead, he smiled at him and let his fingers trail a little down Potter’s arm before he withdrew his hands. Even though it was through the cloth of Potter’s shirt, those bright eyes still widened. Draco nodded. “You have no idea.”

“I—okay. Do you have a grudge against the Silver Shadows or something?”

It was risky, but Draco was riding the high of watching someone haughty and pure-blood submit to Potter, and the high of what he had just discovered, and he had to reveal something. His pride was easier than his fascination.

“I have a grudge against the whole of this rotten pure-blood society,” he said. “Do you want me to tell you more about it?”

Potter blinked rapidly. “So that’s why you’re helping me, more than any notion of a debt?”

“The debts matter, too.” Reluctantly, Draco stepped back from Potter. “I meant what I said about the Malfoy family owing you more than we ever have anyone else. But there’s plans that I hoped I could encourage you to take part in. And I’ll explain them to you unless you think that you’re only going to want to establish the children’s home and do nothing else.”

Potter studied him, and then his gaze strayed away from Draco and up and down the corridor, as if he were considering the Malfoys’ wealth and hoped it could help him. Draco remained quiet. Honestly, at this point, he would hope Harry would consider the Malfoys’ wealth. It wasn’t as if they had much else to offer.

Potter said, “I want to change more. But…”

“Yes?” Draco held back the temptation to reach out for him instead.

“I thought I should concentrate on just the children’s home because I thought there was no other way to proceed.” Potter studied Draco, squinting a bit. “If you could…if there was some way to…”

“To change more than that. To make the structure of pure-blood society reel and tremble and fall down.”

Potter’s eyes widened. Then they narrowed. “I think I’ve got good enough at Legilimency by now to know when someone else is using it on me, and you weren’t. So you’re going to explain how you know that, Malfoy.”

Draco half-bowed. “Of course. Come this way. I’ll have the house-elves serve us that dinner that we didn’t get in the Silver Shadows.”

*

Despite Harry’s apprehensions, they didn’t end up in some enormous formal dining room in the middle of Malfoy Manor, which meant he didn’t have to try and remember if this was a place that Nagini had eaten people at Voldemort’s command. They sat on either side of a small, round table, almost like the ones in the restaurant, with silver and crystal and delicate goblets of a sparkling wine that Harry had never had before but liked.

Malfoy had some sort of spiced chicken, while Harry, testing the boundaries of what he would be allowed to get away with, asked for fish and chips. Malfoy only flicked up one eyebrow, and the house-elves squeaked and clapped and disappeared to get it. Harry snorted. “They seem delighted to prepare Muggle food.”

“Wizards eat it, too.” Malfoy had his hand clasped around the stem of his wineglass as he drank, and Harry found himself staring at the long, delicate, pale fingers. Then he swallowed and looked away. Malfoy didn’t appear to notice. “They’re excited because they get to prepare something different.”

“What did you mean about wanting to knock down pure-blood society?”

“You spared the lot of us Azkaban for your testimony.” Malfoy leaned forwards. “But you couldn’t spare us the scorn of our peers.”

“Because your father was a Death Eater? I thought that a lot of your peers had Death Eaters in the family, too.”

“No, because he got caught.” Malfoy sat back as his chicken dish appeared in front of him, and picked up his fork to eat it. Harry found his eyes lingering on Malfoy’s fingers again. Malfoy kept eating and speaking as if he noticed nothing amiss. “And I was a Death Eater, too, remember? This time, though, it was your testimony that we needed. Our actions were too public, and there were too many witnesses. Most of the others still managed to bribe their way out of it.”

Harry blew his breath out hard enough to make his fringe flutter, and nodded. “I know. It’s one of the things that stinks about the whole system.” He hadn’t been able to bring himself to approach any of the others he knew were Death Eaters, no matter how much they could have helped him monetarily.

Malfoy nodded to him. “Well. I did some harsh thinking, those days when I sat in a holding cell in the Ministry waiting for a trial. What kind of society did we live in where getting away with crimes was more important than not committing them?”

“A Slytherin society?”

“Those rules might do well enough for a House at school, Potter. But out in the real world? Where someone you hex could lose more than points? And some people never learned not to hex others at all?”

Harry jumped as his fish and chips appeared in front of him; he’d been staring so intently into Malfoy’s eyes that he’d forgotten they were coming. Malfoy laughed under his breath, but for the first time, Harry wasn’t inclined to resent it. He spread his napkin over his lap and asked, “And just like that, you changed your mind?”

Malfoy snorted. “It took months of thinking on my part, Potter—which I’m aware doesn’t cover me in glory. No, not just like that. And I began to think that the course my family had been forced to pursue should be the honored one.”

“So, in a way, this is about retaining the power and position that you want your family to have.”

“Yes. I have to bring what I was taught in line with my morals—and those morals are ascendant now, something the rest of my peers can’t see. It’s about getting a bit of revenge on them, too, I admit.”

“I don’t think it’s so much in ascendant, or the Wizengamot would have agreed to fund my children’s house without such pressure from me. And there would be fewer places like the Silver Shadows where someone’s hanging around muttering insults based on blood.”

“It’s still changed a lot from a few years ago, or someone like Granger would never have been able to get such a foothold in the Ministry,” Malfoy answered, pouring some more of the pale wine for Harry before he could either ask or object. “And I know that she’s only one Muggleborn, but she’s changing things.”

Harry smiled, a little sadly, at the thought of Hermione. “Yes, she is.”

“What exactly did happen between you and Weasley and Granger, Potter?”

Harry glanced up, searching for a shadow of mockery in Malfoy’s eyes but not finding it. “We’re still friends.”

“I don’t think the kind of friendship you have could be ended that easily,” Malfoy said, and smiled a little when Harry stared at him. “I can recognize the value of things like that now, Potter. But I know that you aren’t as close to them, and they aren’t helping you with your children’s house even though it seems like the kind of cause Granger would be all over. Why not?”

Harry sighed and swirled the wine around in his glass, vaguely remembering that you were supposed to do that to look high-class, or something. “Hermione is—she values the cause of freeing house-elves or ensuring they’re treated better above all else.”

“Above your children’s home?”

Harry nodded. “And she also thinks that I shouldn’t confront the system the way I’m doing. She thinks the only way to change things is to work inside it.”

Malfoy made a sharp snorting noise to himself. “In some ways, she’s correct. But what she needs to remember is that audacity can work as well as guile.”

“What a Gryffindor thing to say,” Harry muttered before he could stop himself, but only shook his head, and likewise, Malfoy’s only reaction was to give him an amused look. “Shit, it’s really hard to stop thinking that way. Sorry.”

“At least it should convince you that I have changed.” Malfoy leaned back in his chair. “One thing to remember is that pure-blood society can accept sudden changes better than it can gradual. It has to do with the way people like that work. They get surprised by something they can’t hold back or change, and it’s the ‘graceful’ option to pretend it was that way and they were in favor of it all along. That happened during the first war, when Voldemort suddenly rose to power. They pretended they had never opposed him, had always helped him, and wanted to be Death Eaters.”

“And the graceful option here would be…?”

“Going along with the wave of political and monetary power you’re going to bring to bear on them.”

Harry frowned. “You still haven’t said how we’re going to do that.”

“Do you know how the Blacks kept in power for so long?”

“Because they had more money than anyone else and their fellow pure-bloods looked up to them as an example of inbreeding?”

Malfoy gave a short laugh that Harry found himself leaning forwards to hear. He flushed and leaned back, but Malfoy said nothing about it, only giving him a sidelong glance, before continuing. “No. Those factors played into it, but it was blackmail material that got them what they wanted. It’s how they pressured some of the doubtful into following Voldemort.”

“But I don’t know those secrets.”

“And you would assume that Grimmauld Place and the Black vaults have none of them left? Secrets that the Blacks wouldn’t think to entrust to their heirs while they were still children, but might to them when they were adults?”

Harry stared at him, and then felt stupid that he’d never looked. “And you don’t think they’d have spells on them that would block non-family members or non-pure-bloods from touching them?”

Malfoy took one last delicate sip of his wine and put down the glass empty. “You ought to know better than that, Potter. There are no spells that distinguish between pure-bloods and anyone else. There’s no difference there.” He raised an eyebrow. “And let me tell you a dirty secret: inbreeding doesn’t always create the best fertility record. A good portion of the Blacks have been adopted. They could have used spells that restricted the blackmail to people of a certain lineage, but they didn’t dare.”

Harry laughed, and noticed the way Malfoy’s eyes caught on him. He pushed down the thrill of delight and asked, “And you’ll come with me to the vaults to look for this material?”

“Potter.” Malfoy bowed to him. “It would be my pleasure.”

*

“I don’t think anything in here’s been touched since the Order of the Phoenix lived here.”

Draco looked around, nearly stopping several times at the sight of certain books on the shelves. He sighed a little when Potter glanced at him. “I—would like to come in here at some point and look around for books that I’ve heard of but never read.”

“Feel free.”

Draco turned to Potter, and didn’t try to stop his eyes from snagging on him in certain ways that resembled the way they had on the books. He got a faint smile in return. “Not many people would offer me free use of their family library like this.”

“I don’t think of any Black as family except Sirius. And you’re doing enough for me already.”

“I told you about the debt that I feel we owe you—”

“I know. But I don’t like talk of debts.” Potter shook his head and jammed his hands into his robe pockets, ruining the line of the cloth. Draco frowned but didn’t say anything, because Potter was charging on. “Anyway, at a certain point, it all evens out, doesn’t it? I do certain things for you, you do things for me, we—survive together. It becomes a little silly to keep talking about debts.”

“You’re talking about being friends.”

“I’d like to.”

Faced with those brilliant eyes meeting his so fearlessly, Draco found himself glancing away and nodding. Then he stepped back and waved his wand. Several books in the room lit up at once with a dark purple glow.

“What is that? Checking for curses?”

“No, checking for hidden things,” Draco said, noting the relief throbbing in Potter’s voice. He must have decided that he wanted to get past the awkward moment, too. Well, Draco could always renew it later. “Anything that isn’t part of the book’s binding and isn’t glued or bound into the spine.”

Potter still had the sense to check the nearest glowing book for Dark Arts and hexes, which Draco was glad to see. When he took it from the shelf and opened it, a cascade of paper rippled out from it. Potter scanned it, then snorted. “It’s either written in a language I don’t know or some sort of code.”

Draco leaned over Potter’s shoulder to see, and took some pleasure in the way Potter went quiet and still, other than turning his head a little. “It’s a code, and it looks like a difficult one. But we have an advantage there.”

“We do?” Potter’s words were just a little slurred, and his eyes glued to the pulse in Draco’s throat, which Draco found more interesting than anything they might learn. He still forced himself to grin and step away.

“My mother is a Black.”

*

“Some of these secrets are ancient, Draco.” Mrs. Malfoy was sorting through the pieces of paper Harry and Malfoy had pulled out of the Black library, shaking her head and clucking her tongue. “I don’t think some of these families’ modern descendants will care so much what their ancestors did.”

“But there are some we can use?”

Malfoy was lounging in a chair across from his mother in the Manor’s library, his eyes narrowed and shining with good humor. Harry found it difficult to keep his gaze away from Malfoy’s face. He would have said that it was nothing but pointed and pale a short time ago, and yet now…

It’s fine, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my campaign.

“Oh, yes, of course.” Mrs. Malfoy nodded to a large stack of folded pieces of parchment she had already laid aside. “These are crimes that still have consequences, or the really interesting secrets. The embarrassing ones.” She smiled, and for an instant, Harry saw where Malfoy had got some of his looks from. “How did you think to go looking for these?”

“Malfoy suggested it, when we started talking about ways to make pure-bloods do what we want.”

Malfoy inclined his head to Harry and smiled, one of those expressions he owed to his mother. Mrs. Malfoy looked back and forth between them, but only nodded when neither of them said anything else. “All right. I would suggest that you try to put pressure on the Greengrass and Nott families first, Draco.”

“You are so vindictive, Mother,” Malfoy said affectionately, reaching out to trail his fingers down the back of Mrs. Malfoy’s hand. “I love it.”

“Why is she being vindictive?”

Malfoy grinned like a manticore. “After the war, the Nott and Greengrass families were the first two to denounce us. Theodore Nott and I were friends all through school, and I protected him from the Carrows once, but my father’s arrest tainted that. They divested themselves of our shared business interests, and Theodore made a public announcement that I was no longer his friend and he’d always been pretending that I was.”

Harry winced. He’d had his disagreements with Ron and Hermione, but the thought of them doing something like that was impossible. “And the Greengrasses?”

Malfoy gave a restrained quiver. “I was at one point engaged to marry Astoria, their younger daughter.”

Harry stared at him. “And she just gave you up like that? I mean, if you loved each other…”

“I thought we did,” Malfoy said, his voice as restrained as his body had been. “But I got a message from her parents saying that our engagement was off. I insisted on speaking to Astoria myself. I thought it wasn’t impossible that her parents were lying or manipulating her. But she told me the same thing, and I was casting detection charms on her all the time and served her the antidote to several mind-control potions in her tea. Nothing.”

“I’m sorry, Malfoy.”

“I’m several years past mourning it. But we can certainly entertain ourselves with it.”

“Yes, we can.” Harry found himself looking forward to the interviews with the Notts and Greengrasses, even though it wasn’t him they had harmed. And Malfoy was giving him a speculative glance that suggested—

Keep your eye on the goal, Harry, Harry promptly cautioned himself. Just because you might think that Malfoy would do a lot to help you doesn’t mean you should let your mind go there. Especially with a man who might be straight if he was engaged to a woman.

“Then let’s go ruin some lives,” Malfoy said. He walked behind Harry’s chair, and for a second, his hand descended and trailed along the curve of Harry’s shoulder. Harry found himself catching his breath sharply, staring at Malfoy’s back. Malfoy paused to glance at him, a corner of his mouth lifting. “Coming, Potter?”

Harry swallowed down all the extremely unfortunate innuendoes that might have followed that, and ignored Mrs. Malfoy’s knowing glance as he stood up. Maybe bisexual, rather than straight.

*

“How the fuck did you get in here?”

Draco smiled at his former friend and nodded at Potter, standing at his side with a glow of magic still visible in his eyes. “When you have someone who’s a magical powerhouse attack your wards, you should hope that they’re stronger than that.”

Nott swallowed, his pale throat bobbing. Draco sneered at him. He knew as well as Nott that the wards surrounding the estate had been extremely strong, cast in ancient days by various Nott ancestors and empowered with human sacrifice.

Once Potter had heard that, he’d been practically volunteering to tear them down.

“You could have come to the front door like a normal person. I would have seen you.”

“After your little speech denying a friendship that had existed for two decades?” Draco shook his head and drew his gloves off, drawing out a chair at the library table for Potter. Potter glanced at him once, eyebrows up, then sat down instead of making a fuss about it, to Draco’s relief. “I’m sure.”

“I—what do you want, Draco?”

“Malfoy,” Draco corrected. “You lost your right to call me by my first name with that speech.” He caught Potter’s eyes and smiled a little; there was someone in the room whom he wouldn’t mind calling him by his first name.

But he banished the thought from his mind, because Nott had always been annoyingly good at picking up nuances, and nodded to him. “So, we came here because of what we found stashed away in the Black library. I believe this once belonged to your grandfather?” He laid down the parchment in front of Nott with a flourish.

Frowning, Nott leaned forwards to read it, while keeping his hands well back from the paper. He choked in seconds and stared at Draco in horror. “This can’t be real.”

“Yes, it is.” Draco grinned. “And in your grandfather’s hand, and the confession at the end is real, too.” He nudged the parchment a little nearer Nott, who ended up recoiling into the arm of the chair behind him. It would probably leave a bruise in the small of his back later, Draco thought. Good. “Your ancestors felt a need to invent a potion that would let them have sex with a centaur and produce a living child.”

All this time, Potter had been silent, eyeing Nott in a critical way that Draco knew had more to do with their plan than simple magical exhaustion. And now, following the cues perfectly again, he shook his head and turned to look up at Draco. “I don’t get it. You said there would be obvious signs of his centaur descent, but I don’t see them.”

Draco!”

“I did tell you not to use my first name, Nott.” Draco leaned down and let his face hover next to Potter’s for a second, pleased when he saw his pupils dilate and his breath come faster. That says something. “And I did tell you that the signs of centaur descent might not be that obvious. Maybe where no one could see them. You saw his grandfather’s confession. You know what traits he was trying to breed for.”

Potter looked politely puzzled for a second, the perfect picture of Gryffindor naivete. Then he let his eyes widen and dart towards Nott’s crotch. He nodded. “Ohhh. Yes, I understand what you mean.”

“Malfoy!” Nott wailed, at least getting the name right this time.

Draco grinned at him. “Why would it be such a bad thing for this to get out, Nott? You’d probably have a few adventurous witches inspired by that centaur Divination professor we had for a few terms.”

“Get—out?”

“Oh, certainly. You know we came here for a purpose.” Draco shrugged a little. “We have some causes that we’d like you to throw your support behind. A few parchments to sign, a few speeches to make, a few interviews in the paper. Nothing onerous.”

“You can’t make me.”

“No. Of course, we can’t make people stop talking to you about your grandfather’s desire to breed creature blood into his line, either, once this gets out.”

Nott stared at him with loathing. He wasn’t very good at it. Draco had been loathed by experts. He stared back calmly, until Nott said, in a half-gasping voice, “Everyone knows how our friendship ended. No one would believe this. They would just think that you were using it to get revenge on me.”

“Oh, they might believe that if I was the one who was going to spread the gossip,” Draco agreed calmly.

He was pleased to see that he hadn’t just mistaken stupidity for cleverness all the years that he’d called Nott a friend. Nott turned to Potter and stared hard at him. Then he said, “Nobody would—believe him.”

Potter propped his chin on his hand and widened his eyes. Draco blinked. He had seen numerous photographs of Potter exactly like that in the papers, and suddenly it hit him that that may have been play-acting, too.

I should know the difference between when he’s pretending and when he’s not. If anyone should, it’s me.

“Didn’t you know that I testified for the Nott family when the Wizengamot asked me to?” Potter asked, his voice high and breathy. He sounded like an idiot, but a sincere idiot. “They asked me if I knew anything about Theodore Nott being a Death Eater or conspiring in the attack on Hogwarts at the end of sixth year, and I said truthfully that I didn’t.

“I esteem the Nott family. I supported them! And then this came out, and it’s so dreadful, but it’s something that I feel no choice but to talk about. Because a family that discriminates against beings and creatures was trying to breed with them at the same time…” Harry shook his head. “I’m the Hero of the Wizarding World. Thousands of people tell me so, every day. I would have no choice but to expose such hypocrisy.”

Nott stared with his eyes crossed. Draco curled his fingers and tried to rejoice in the vision he knew was crossing Nott’s mind—his family facing the same kind of subtle ostracism that Draco’s had—more than his pleasure in Potter’s duplicity.

Harry. You called him Harry in your head a second ago.

But that was not something he would admit aloud, not until Potter made the first move and asked for Draco’s name, or offered his. Using it for publicity purposes in the Silver Shadows was different than saying it in private. And he wouldn’t give in to his desire to touch Potter’s hair, either.

“What do you want?”

Nott sounded broken, which was all that Draco had wanted to achieve. He stepped away from the back of Potter’s chair and nodded. “For you to say that you’ll support the children’s home Potter wanted to establish. And that you’ll push for fairer laws regarding the treatment of beings and creatures.”

Potter shot him a lowered-eyelid, skeptical glance, but Draco ignored it. He knew that the slow unraveling of pure-blood society would be better-served by laws like that than any other method they could choose. Among other things, those laws were the basis of a lot of the pure-blood superiority bollocks.

“I—that would destroy me socially.”

“Think of it as the debt that you’ll pay for your grandfather’s experiments,” Potter said brightly. “And keep in mind, we never actually found any notes that said he had been unsuccessful in creating a child with a centaur…”

After that, all Nott wanted to know was where he could sign.

*

Harry flopped back on his couch with a grin that he couldn’t contain. Yeah, maybe it was a little unnatural to grin after being in Malfoy’s company for hours, but he didn’t care. He had already taken a huge step towards his children’s home with the donations Nott had promised, and one that he would never have been able to take on his own. Even if he’d found the blackmail that the Blacks had stored on the Nott family, he wouldn’t have been able to gain entrance to the house, or maybe even bring himself to apply the subtle torture Draco had.

Malfoy. You should call him that until he tells you otherwise.

Harry shrugged a little and got up to get himself a cup of tea. Yes, he would do that, but at this point, he was pretty sure it was inevitable. And he thought Malfoy would probably let him know if Harry did slip up and he didn’t want to be called that. He wasn’t shy.

Harry had come back to the couch but only taken one sip of his tea before the Floo flared. Harry leaned forwards in curiosity. There weren’t a lot of people who would try to Floo him at this time of the night.

“Harry? Are you there?”

And even fewer I actually want to talk to, Harry thought, concealing his grimace behind the cup as well as he could. “Yeah, Hermione, I am.”

There was a long pause, and then Hermione’s head appeared floating in the fire. She had a slightly wary expression. Harry sighed. Their argument had been both their faults, really, but Hermione had the tendency to treat anyone who disagreed with her about house-elves as though they wanted to slaughter all elves.

“I heard that you’ve been visiting Malfoy Manor, Harry. Is that true?”

“Who told you?”

“Ron.”

“And how did he know?”

Hermione folded her arms, an odd rippling motion in the green flames. “You know that he works for the Apparition Monitoring Department, Harry Potter.” That department had been set up after the war, with the development of new spells, to try and track the movements of anyone of interest to the Ministry. “And come on. Tell.”

“I wasn’t aware that I was suspected in a crime, and thus the Ministry needed to track my movements,” Harry snapped, lowering his cup until it clinked hard on the table next to him. His good mood was entirely gone.

“You aren’t, of course not,” Hermione said in a soothing tone. “But you know that Ron and I like to keep track of you, since—since The Fight.”

Harry stared at her and said nothing. He hated the way she gave that capital letters, as if it was the only fight they’d ever had. He hated the way Ron had been tracking him. He hated the way that, even though Hermione seemed to think their friendship was broken half the time, she still thought herself entitled to know why he’d been visiting Draco.

“Why were you there, Harry?”

And Harry threw caution to the winds, if only because he was pretty sure Draco wouldn’t mind. It would all be public in a few days or weeks anyway, depending on how long it took them to get Nott’s announcements published and deal with the Greengrasses. “He’s helping me get money and support for the children’s home.”

Hermione took a long breath and closed her eyes. “Oh, Harry,” she whispered. “Can’t you see that he’s just going to hurt you?”

“For Merlin’s sake, Hermione, I’m not looking to date the man.” Even though part of me certainly wouldn’t mind…

Harry shoved that part of himself to the back of his mind and cut it off from his mouth. Yes, he was fully-prepared to talk about it eventually, but the “eventually” part of it really mattered.

“Malfoy is a pure-blood supremacist,” Hermione said, with the tone of voice that she had used sometimes to explain Ancient Runes to him and Ron during their repeated year at Hogwarts. “He’ll never change his mind and he’ll never support a home that you want to open for Muggleborns.”

“It would be for all magical children, not just Muggleborns,” Harry corrected her. “And he’s told me that he’s changed his mind. He might have done mostly because he feels that other pure-bloods ostracized his family after the war, but at least it’s something.”

Hermione shook her head. “People like him never change.”

Harry snorted and finished his tea. “Well, let’s say that he’s supporting it for his own reasons. It’s still support. And he’s already showing me the tactics I can use to make other pure-bloods pay attention to me.”

“Harry, I wish you would listen to me when I tell you why that house can never be a reality.”

“I’m tired of listening to you. Mostly it boils down to you thinking that if I push the Wizengamot enough on this, they might not give in when you present laws to them on the better treatment of house-elves.” Harry raised an eyebrow when Hermione blinked. “Yes, I listened. I just decided that I didn’t want to put off my own dream for years because you have one, too.”

“A more important one! If you only—”

“I’m tired of arguing with you,” Harry said, and stood up. “I love you, Hermione, but get back to me when you can see that abused children deserve to have help, too, not just house-elves.”

And he shut down the Floo, making her face disappear in mid-speech. It immediately buzzed and chimed again, but Harry ignored it and settled back on the couch to think about something else Draco—admit it, Harry thought to himself, you want to call him that—had told him before he left.

Another reason I think we might be able to persuade the pure-bloods to go along with us, no matter how stubborn they are, is the level of your magical power.

Harry grinned and lifted his hand. The white fire that ignited around his fist was an easy trick to do, and he had shown it to Draco when he asked what magic Harry could do most instinctively. Then he had watched Draco’s jaw drop further when Harry had revealed that that magic was more than just a fire.

“We’ll see,” Harry whispered, and drained his cup.

*

“Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter here to see the Chief Warlock.”

Draco kept his voice utterly bored as they faced the security wizards who had accosted them the minute they came out of the Floo. Potter stood next to him, his own face quiet and stony. Draco wondered if he was the only one who could feel the power gathered and vibrating around him.

If the people in the puce robes couldn’t feel it, they at least didn’t know what to do with one famous and one infamous wizard in the middle of the Atrium. “You—the Chief Warlock requires access by appointment,” said the one on the left, a blonde woman with pulled-back hair that reminded Draco of Rita Skeeter’s.

“He’ll see us,” Draco said. “And it doesn’t matter what kind of appointment schedule he has this morning.”

“At least tell us what sort of business you have with him,” said the wizard next to the witch. He crossed his arms and made his robes bulge around his wand holster on his left elbow. Draco would have said that he’d been careless, but he was sure that it had been done on purpose, to make him seem more of a threat.

Harry raised his eyebrows and dropped whatever muffling charm he’d worked on his magic. Suddenly the Atrium filled with the soft hiss of crackling fire, mixed with a high, piercing song on the edge of hearing. The wizard gaped at them.

The witch, on the other hand, clapped her fists to her mouth, her eyes abruptly swimming with tears. “I know what that is,” she whispered. “I heard it once before. That’s a phoenix. What are you—who are you?”

“Harry Potter,” Harry said, and dimmed the song of his magic until Draco was sure that only the people immediately around it could still hear it. Of course, that didn’t stop the half of the population of the Ministry that was in the Atrium at the moment from gaping at them. “But you knew that.”

“Roger,” said the witch without looking away from Harry, “I think these two need an appointment with the Chief Warlock right away.”

“Berenice—”

Right away,” she hissed, turning just briefly to look at him. Whatever Roger saw in her eyes, it made him gulp and nod.

“Er, if you’ll come this way, gentlemen,” he muttered as he led them towards the security station where their wands would be registered. Draco exchanged a look with Harry, and found him wearing a fierce grin. Yes, he thought. This ought to be interesting.

Harry extended his holly wand to be registered, and the minute Roger put it in the scales they’d started using after the war, the air around him burst into fire and song. Harry tilted his head a little to the side, accommodating the click of the cameras that Draco could hear, and looked slightly bored.

It was perfect. Draco’s doubts that they would be able to pull this off were fading by the moment.

“What is that?” someone whispered from behind Draco.

Draco turned and frowned at the woman who had asked the question, who blushed and tried to duck her head when she saw him. “You don’t know?” he asked, and made sure the question dripped with disdain. “You don’t recognize the Signs of Merlin when you see them?”

“That’s impossible.” The woman’s face was pale, and she backed a step away. Draco had anticipated that. There were some people who would always fear Harry, no matter what steps he took, because he was powerful and had no obvious chain on his neck.

But at the moment, Draco was just as happy to see it. It meant that they would have the ability to use fear as a weapon.

“Signs of Merlin?” asked a weedy wizard behind the woman, blinking.

“What happened when Merlin laid his wand on the rock in front of the first Council of the Round Table,” Draco said, keeping his voice slightly impatient, as if he couldn’t believe that other people didn’t know this and was already tired of repeating it. Experience told him it was the right move. “The fire and the song were there, signifying that he was both powerful and pure.”

“Potter isn’t pure!”

Oh, look, there’s the lovely Daphne. Draco faced her and raised his eyebrows a little. Even though Astoria was the one who had refused to marry him, he had no very fond feelings for the rest of her family, either. “In the sense of blood? The outdated one?”

“Yes.” Greengrass seemed to realize that she had few allies as other people stared at her, but she kept her head up, her blush only mounting in her cheeks as she seemed to realize that no one would stand with her. Then again, she had always been good at ignoring reality. “His mother was a Muggleborn.”

“Such polite language for the public, Greengrass, I’m impressed,” Draco taunted her in a low voice, and watched her eyes flash. Excellent. Her self-control was always imperfect when she was angry. “Don’t you know that purity of magic matters more? This shows that Potter has never allowed the Dark Arts a hold in his heart or mind. With a wizard so powerful, I think we can only be grateful.”

“Um, sorry,” said the weedy wizard again before Greengrass could retort. He flinched when Greengrass turned to stare, but kept on. “What does that mean, that he hasn’t allowed the Dark Arts a hold in his heart or mind? Isn’t that the same thing as never casting them?”

“No,” Harry said quietly. He had retrieved his wand and put it back in his holster, making it obvious that the fire and the phoenix song were surrounding him and not it. “That I cast Unforgivables during the war is a matter of public record. It was only after the war that I began to think about whether I needed to. The idea that perhaps I didn’t need to, that there were better ways out there, and that casting the Unforgivables was as wrong for me as it was for my enemies, hit me pretty hard.”

“Then why did you do it?” demanded Greengrass.

“Because I was young and stupid,” Harry said, and paused for the laughter that ran around the Atrium. It was there, slightly to Draco’s amazement. It seemed that Harry had been right about his ability to control and court the public’s attention now, as long as he was going along with Draco’s plan. “And because in a time of war, no one is thinking very clearly. But I want to know, Greengrass. We aren’t at war any longer. What’s your excuse for thinking that it matters that my mother’s Muggleborn?”

“You’re not a pure-blood,” Greengrass hissed, and tightened her arms across her chest.

“I did rather notice. But why does it matter?”

“You’re not pure.

Harry gave her a blank stare, then shrugged and turned away to look at Draco. “You’re right. They’ve been in their own private bubble so long that they don’t even realize they don’t have coherent arguments.”

As Greengrass spluttered, Draco took out his own wand to be registered and smiled pleasantly at her. “Yes, that bubble has grown to encompass their heads and their brains.”

Harry laughed aloud and leaned against him for a second. Draco was glad he didn’t freeze. The laughter had been planned, to show that they were allies acting in concert; the physical touching hadn’t been.

If anyone else noticed his reaction and thought of it as unusual, they didn’t seem inclined to say so. Draco smiled all the way onto the lifts and up to the Chief Warlock’s office.

*

“You can’t simply force the issue before the Wizengamot. We understand that you want money and support for your cause, Potter, but so does everyone. What makes your cause so special?”

Harry snorted a little as he looked across the desk at Charles Rosier. The man had insisted after the war that he wasn’t a Death Eater and didn’t know where the family members of his who had been Marked had gone, and he’d proven that much under Veritaserum. But that didn’t make him much less of a pure-blood bigot, just someone who wasn’t willing to defend his beliefs with murder.

“You’ve probably heard about the commotion in the Atrium by now, Rosier,” he said, and met those fierce blue eyes without a trace of backing down. The other times he’d been here, he’d been trying to compromise and be flexible, and he saw Rosier flinch a little, noticing the difference at once. “And if you haven’t, I’ve displayed the Signs of Merlin.”

“That’s impossible.”

Harry shrugged. “I can summon as many witnesses as you want. Along with one impeccable pure-blood witness right here.” He leaned back and let a lazy hand glide along Draco’s shoulder, taking in Draco’s quick hitch of breath with some smugness.

“The Signs of Merlin are the song and the fire,” Draco said quietly. “Would you like to see them demonstrated here, sir?”

Rosier glared at them from beneath a fringe of shaggy white hair, and then shook his head. “You also know the third of the Signs of Merlin.”

Harry managed to keep his face still, but he was sure Draco hadn’t mentioned a third Sign. He glanced at Draco without turning his head. Draco’s face was calm.

“Yes, I do,” Draco said. “I wonder if you do? You would have realized that Mr. Potter had already manifested it if you did.”

Rosier sneered. “He didn’t restore a rightful government or—” He stopped himself abruptly.

“Stop the greatest threat that the wizarding world was currently facing?” Draco’s smile reminded Harry of a thin paper-knife he’d seen lying on his office desk at one point. “Of course, we can dispute as to whether the Ministry is a rightful government; there are people who would disagree, and for good reason. But if facing down a Dark Lord and restoring the government of the wizarding world isn’t a Sign, then what is?”

Rosier stared at Harry. “But he can’t be,” he said, his voice small now, certainly smaller than Harry had ever heard the overbearing Chief Warlock sound. “He’s not a pure-blood.”

Harry might have opened his mouth and said something unfortunate, but luckily, Draco intervened. “Where in the prophecies or the Litanies of Signs does it say that he has to be?”

“I—of course we assumed he would be.”

Draco laughed aloud. “Ever since I heard the stories about Potter when I was a child, I haven’t assumed that. Are you truly going to tell me that the collective intellectual might of pure-blood Britain didn’t manage to come to the same conclusion that a five-year-old did?”

Rosier was flushing, and Harry wondered for a moment if they had pushed him too far. Then Rosier let out an exasperated breath and massaged his forehead with one hand, the way Harry used to do when his scar hurt too much. “Ah, hell, Malfoy,” he breathed, suddenly much more human and approachable than Harry had ever seen him. “Can you blame us for wanting to put the time of prophecies and Signs behind us with the fall of the Dark Lord?”

Harry blinked. He was glad every day that he’d come to Draco for help, but he’d never imagined that part of what Draco would teach him about navigating pure-blood society was simply the right way to insult people.

“Not blame so much as despise you if you ignore them now.” Draco shrugged, his gaze intent on Rosier. “Are you going to ignore them?”

“No, you know very well that we can’t.” Rosier pushed his glasses up his nose and turned to Harry. “So you’d claim the place of Merlin? How exactly are you going to restructure our society?”

Damn it, Draco, you didn’t tell me enough about this. But from the slight smile Draco still wore, Harry realized that he wasn’t worried at all.

Which meant that Harry did know the right way to handle it.

He straightened in his chair and gave Rosier a cool stare. “I think you know that our laws are bigoted in ways that nearly every magical society outside Britain left behind long ago.”

“Wait just a minute—if you’re talking about the way we treat Muggles, we have to take some measures to hide from them—”

“We could come up with better ways than the Memory Charm, if what Draco said is right and the whole of, what, the pure-blood intellectual might of Britain was turned to the task, but that wasn’t what I meant right now. You know that we could treat house-elves better, centaurs better, goblins better. Not to mention Muggleborns.”

Rosier stared at him. Harry, who had expected immediate disagreement, waited. Finally, Rosier muttered, “I suppose Muggleborns can’t be as weak as I always thought, if one of them gave birth to the next Merlin.”

Harry held back his own grimace, because honestly, this was better progress than he’d expected. They could use their opponents’ belief in blood against them, and he had no compunction about doing that. He nodded. “And that means that we’ll have to change our minds on other things. I haven’t come as a savior of some sort for just wizards and witches, Rosier. I’m here for the creatures and the beings, too.”

“And the Muggles?”

“At some point in the future,” said Harry, and grinned at the sight of the expression on Rosier’s face.

*

“Can I talk to you in private, Malfoy?”

Harry had already gone ahead through the Floo, something about an owl he’d received from Nott and the way Nott wanted to make his donation. Draco turned around with a smile on his face that Rosier would misinterpret as polite. “If you like, Chief Warlock.”

Rosier drew him into an alcove along the dark walls that had once held a statute of some kind, according to the faint outlines of a plinth base that Draco saw on the floor. “You must know that this particular setup makes—no sense.”

“What setup are you talking about, sir?”

“Potter can’t be the second coming of Merlin. That’s a story told to babies.”

“Well, I know that he’s manifesting the Signs. I suppose that I won’t know for certain unless it’s the kind of thing that we find out after death. But he’s here and you’ll have to work with him, sir.”

Rosier squinted at him. Draco looked back with a bland, fixed smile. That was all Rosier was going to get out of him, besides platitudes.

“I wish I knew what you were getting out of this,” Rosier muttered. “You have more money than Potter, and I know that he isn’t signing over any of the Black properties to you—that would have been in the papers.” Draco had to work hard to control his face at the thought that Rosier still trusted the Prophet to report the truth. “But you’re a pure-blood, and you stand to lose as much as we do if the laws Potter wants are passed. So what is it?”

“I’m a bit offended, sir, that you don’t think participating in a fairer future for the wizarding world is enough for me.”

Rosier stared at him. Draco just stood there and took it. Rosier finally turned away with a disgusted wave of his hand. “I would offer to double it, whatever he’s offering you, but I don’t think I can.”

Draco kept his expression the same as he walked through the Atrium to the same Floo Harry had used because there were probably monitoring charms watching him by now. But inwardly, he was slightly amazed that Rosier wasn’t even considering revenge as a motive.

Do they all think that a Malfoy driven away and persecuted wouldn’t seek revenge? Or do they assume that I have the same shame at being ‘caught’ as my father does and I should spend the rest of my life licking my wounds?

Draco shrugged. It made no sense, but then again, the lack of a firm foundation to the pure-blood nonsense was a major reason for his helping Harry.

And the other is that he’s pretty goddamn fit.

*

“So I’m going to donate a thousand Galleons a month to Granger’s House-Elf Relief Fund.”

“Generous of you, Nott.”

Harry didn’t glance around as Draco joined him, stood behind his chair and gave Theodore Nott an amiable scowl, but he felt his pulse jump for a second in relief. Nott had been strange all through their meeting in the drawing room of Harry’s flat, half-apologetic and half-snarling, like an abused dog that wanted to bite. Harry’s “Slytherin expert” was more than welcome to take over the conversation with him, as far as Harry was concerned.

“Malfoy.” Nott glanced to the side for a second, toying with a thick silver ring on his finger that Harry supposed was significant in some way, and then swallowed and nodded. “Fine. I—think it’s generous.”

“It is,” Harry said. “Not to mention all the other donations that you’ve already agreed on for the various causes.”

He got a flash of the abused-dog look again before Nott turned his head to the side. “I thought so,” he whispered.

“And of course we’ll set up ongoing donations so that you can continue being generous,” Draco said briskly. “After all, we don’t want what some people would call temptations to set back your recovery process, do we?”

For a second, Nott’s jaw clenched in a way that Harry thought meant trouble was coming. But then he nodded and glanced at Harry’s currently-empty fireplace as if he couldn’t wait to be gone. “Yes, that makes sense.”

Draco started talking about numbers and mechanisms and interviews, which left Harry free to the attend to the nagging buzzing noise from his pocket. He touched it and found the communication mirror there vibrating.

He grimaced. He had studied for a year until he was able to repair the shattered mirror Sirius had left him, and then had searched Grimmauld Place with Kreacher’s help until he found its twin. There had even been a third mirror, although that one had required another six months of work to remove the dark curses on it and attune it to the other two. He and Ron and Hermione had carried them for years now, but lately they’d been speaking to him less and less.

And frankly, he didn’t want to answer right now. He leaned back and watched Nott with his eyes half-closed, interjecting now and then when he needed to provide information or sway the conversation in a certain direction.

Draco didn’t speak directly to Harry other than to agree until Nott had gone through the Floo. Then he flopped into the blue armchair across from Harry and raised his eyebrows at him. “I’m surprised you let me handle so much of that. You know Nott might go back to certain people and report that you’re easily-controlled by a pure-blood.”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t care. I’ve had to swallow so many insults in the last few years that I wouldn’t even have objected to what they did at Silver Shadows unless you were with me. And if they actually attack me physically, they’ll see what I can do.”

“They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that.”

There was a frosty edge to Draco’s smile. Harry nodded. “I know. But I thought at the time I had to endure it to get their support.”

“They never would have supported what you wanted unless they saw something in it for themselves.”

“And they wouldn’t.”

“I don’t think so, bar one or two guilty consciences. But those are pretty rare among the pure-bloods in charge.” Draco eyed the mirror curiously as Harry took it out of his pocket. “What is that?”

“A mirror that the Blacks used to use to communicate with each other. Ron and Hermione and I repaired and attuned them.” Harry gave Draco a faint smile. “Ready to be silent support during this conversation?”

Draco paused in the middle of getting up. “You want me to leave?”

“No. But I don’t want them to know you’re here right now, either. I just—don’t want to deal with them alone.”

Draco nodded and sat back, staring with wide, fascinated eyes as Harry touched the silver rune on the back of the mirror and the glass parted like mist to reveal Hermione’s face. Harry wondered how much curiosity of his own Draco had had, and hadn’t been able to indulge because of his past, or his father, or his prior beliefs.

Then he focused on Hermione, and began.

*

“You can’t be serious.”

“You mean about the Signs of Merlin thing?” Harry shrugged. He looked casual and powerful doing that, Draco thought, his eyes trailing over the soft material of Harry’s new green robes and how they hugged his shoulders.

And you would never think that if you weren’t attracted to him.

Draco acknowledged the thought and put it aside. He had come to terms with many things during his time in the holding cell after the war, including how he felt towards men.

“Of course! You know that’s pure-blood nonsense and propaganda, Harry.”

“I know, but that’s what makes it so useful to manipulate them. We went to talk to Rosier today, and he didn’t want to believe us and I think mostly didn’t. But it does mean that he’s going to see laws put before the Wizengamot to vote on that mean house-elves, and goblins, and centaurs, are going to be treated better. Those were the specific ones we mentioned. Oh, and of course we’re working on improving the legal rights of Muggleborns. And I mentioned that I want to see the use of the Memory Charm on Muggles discontinued.”

Draco smiled at Granger’s silence. He couldn’t see the face of the mirror, but that didn’t matter; he could hear her voice perfectly. And he would rather see Harry’s face, anyway.

“How is that going to work?” Granger asked finally, her voice curiously flat.

Harry smiled a little. “That’s one thing we’re going to be working on. There are certain legends that claim Merlin was in charge of the magical government, but they vary so much that I know we can’t just rely on that. More to the point, we’re going to ask for debate on those laws and force the bigots to consider some things that will make sense from their bigoted perspective.”

“Like what?”

“Like how, if Muggleborns are so weak and pathetic, one of them managed to give birth to the next Merlin.”

“But that’s playing into their hands. It’s using their racist rhetoric—”

“Against them, I know. But it’s been seven years since the war with no sign of budging otherwise, Hermione. I know what you tried to do, and it’s wonderful of you to assume there were reasonable people among those pure-bloods. But there aren’t, and at a certain point I think we need to accept that and start looking for other ways.”

“You mean the ones Malfoy proposed?”

“The ones Draco did, yes.”

Draco jolted a little. Harry smiled at him with one eye and the left corner of his mouth, presumably so Granger wouldn’t notice.

“I still wouldn’t trust him, Harry.”

Harry sighed and shook his head. “Why? You extended the benefit of the doubt to other people who were marked as Death Eaters, Other pure-bloods. Other people who had used the word Mudblood. Why not him?”

There was a long enough silence that Draco had to shift his weight. Harry eyed him, but he didn’t say anything, so Draco assumed the sound of crushing fabric was small enough not to sound through the mirror.

“You’re going to think this sounds stupid,” Granger finally muttered.

Probably, Draco agreed in silence, and Harry eyed him again as if he knew exactly what that thought was. Then he said to Granger, “You know I wouldn’t think that. What is it?”

“He—he insulted me personally. And he apologized in front of those cameras, sure, there was that whole article in the Prophet about how he’d changed his mind and he wouldn’t use that word again and he knew Muggleborns were as strong and special as any other wizard or witch, but he didn’t make it personal. He just apologized to everyone. He never looked me in the eye and told me he was sorry for doing it to me.”

Draco let his eyebrows creep up. Of course he’d never done that, because it had never occurred to him to do so. He had insulted and hurt so many people that he would have had to spend years seeking them out to do it personally.

Then again, he hadn’t apologized to Harry, either. He settled back and considered that option for later, smiling a little.

Harry gave him half a distrustful stare, probably for whatever he saw on Draco’s face again, and turned back to the mirror. “Okay, I think I see that. Do you want me to ask him if he would give you a personal apology?”

“No, because he’d just be doing it to appease you. Not because he wanted to.”

Harry nodded, as if that made sense. The way Draco saw it, an apology was an apology, like a political victory was a political victory. What did it matter if you were lying a bit when you achieved it?

He put the thoughts aside again as Harry repeated, “Okay. Will you be able to work with him when they call you in as an expert witness on offenses against house-elves?”

“You really think that’s going to happen?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “I know you haven’t had much success, Hermione, but this—I don’t know, maybe appealing to reason and common sense and making a lot of noise would work in the Muggle world. It doesn’t here. So we have to hang them with their own rope.”

“It does work in the Muggle world. It would have worked here if you’d given me more time.”

Draco rolled his eyes. Harry’s facial expression didn’t change. He nodded. “Fine, but this is the way I chose. Are you actually going to refuse to cooperate if it’ll give house-elves better legal protection?”

A silence from the mirror that Draco knew was conflicted even without seeing Granger’s expression. Then a long sigh that made him roll his eyes again. “If I have to.”

“I do want to work with him, Hermione. This is the closest I’ve ever come to getting what I want.”

“It’s based on a lie, though.”

“Those pure-blood bigots believe so many lies that they’re not going to open their minds to truth,” Harry said flatly. “So fuck them. We’ll knock down the bloody barriers in the way and ride to victory over the shattered corpses of their beliefs.” His eyes reflected a little of the weaves of gold that had begun to twist over his shoulders and arms.

Draco was glad that Granger couldn’t see out of the mirror so that his own dropped jaw wouldn’t embarrass him. He swallowed heavily when Harry caught his eye, and shrugged a little. Harry frowned at him as if to say that they would be discussing his reaction later, and turned back to the mirror.

Draco settled back with a sigh and rubbed his nose with a finger, and hoped that Granger was at least acting the same way in the mirror.

“I want to destroy them,” Harry said quietly. “But if I can get them to help me destroy themselves, I’ll settle for that.”

“Your magic, Harry.”

“Oh, that old thing?” Harry lost the battle against his own smile a second later, and laughed quietly. “That’s part of the reason why the Ministry is willing to give me anything I want right now, Hermione. Us,” he corrected a second later, with a glance that nearly went straight to Draco.

Luckily, Granger was probably too distracted to notice if it had. “But you know that all those legends about Merlin are bollocks.”

“Yes, Hermione.” Harry rolled his eyes. “I do know the tactic that we decided to use, you know.”

“Did Malfoy suggest it?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know all the legends about Merlin myself, or how his magic showed up around him when he was angry.”

Draco drew out his notebook to write himself a reminder of the next books he should buy Harry. Harry’s mouth twitched at him again.

“I—well, if it achieves what we want, and it avoids violence, and someday we might be able to tell people the truth, then I reckon I can support this.”

Draco didn’t bother to hide the roll of his eyes. It was such a stupid, stringent list, when they were helping Granger get what she wanted, too. But he supposed that was what came of having principles untempered by realism.

“Thanks, Hermione,” Harry said gravely. “I am pretty tired after that day of negotiating with the Chief Warlock, so I think I’m going to eat an early dinner and go to bed. Unless there was something else you wanted to discuss with me?”

“Not tonight, Harry. Just—” Another long sigh that made Draco wonder how often Granger needed to clear her lungs. “Be careful.”

“It can’t be worse than fighting a giant basilisk or going into the Forbidden Forest to surrender my life.”

“I didn’t want you doing that, either!”

Harry laughed and then bade Granger good night and pressed a rune on the back of the mirror that seemed to dim the surface and end the ability to speak through it. He slid the mirror back into what must be a pocket of his robe that he’d constructed himself—which impressed Draco more because the tailor had avoided putting a pocket in the robes so as not to ruin the lines—and ran his fingers through his hair for a second.

“If you’re tired, I can go,” Draco offered.

Harry started and turned to face him. “Oh. No, I only said that because Hermione might notice some of the little twitches I made and worry about me otherwise. She’s not above trying to Floo over to investigate even when I’ve got the Floo shut. And.” He smiled, a smile Draco hadn’t seen before. It seemed to change his whole face. “I wanted to thank you for what you did today.”

Draco felt a quickening in his belly, but he told himself Harry might not mean what Draco thought he did. “I told you before, the Malfoy family owes you a debt—”

“I told you why I didn’t accept that, too. But then I realized that better than trying to tell you something you won’t listen to either way, I would just claim a debt of my own. I think I owe you a debt.” Harry nodded seriously. “And that means that I want to reward you.”

“How?” Draco’s throat was as dry as new parchment.

Harry stood up and ran his glance over Draco. Draco tried his best to resist the blush and the inevitable stirring between his legs, but he was glad he hadn’t when Harry’s smile deepened and changed once more.

“You know that the rumors about me liking blokes weren’t just rumors, right?”

“I—knew. But no one ever said that a wizard had claimed to date you.”

“Up until this point, I went to the Muggle world for that kind of thing as often as I could.” Harry made a face. “There were a few people in the early days who…required persuasion not to sell my secrets to the Prophet.

Draco felt the heat inside him start changing to a different kind, but Harry shook his head and stepped forwards, his hands reaching out to settle gently on Draco’s shoulders. “It’s been years. And I would much rather think about something more pleasurable right now.”

He watched Draco for a second, poised, as if expecting him to break away. Draco caught his breath and waited. He wanted to ask, but he wanted Harry to make the decision more than he wanted to do that.

Harry smiled at him, and then leaned in to kiss him.

Draco clasped his shoulders back, drawing Harry towards him, kissing him so hard that Harry shuddered a little with what, Draco smugly noted against his leg, was pleasure. Harry reached out and raked his hand up Draco’s neck and through his hair.

“I always wanted to see what it looked like mussed-up,” he murmured.

“Even in Hogwarts?”

“Well, yeah. But just because it would have irritated you then.”

Draco stopped Harry from speaking with his mouth, and Harry moaned softly and shifted against him. Draco thought that was more than enough asking, and eased them towards the couch in front of the fireplace.

*

Harry could almost hear the chorus of voices telling him that this wasn’t a good idea, but he hushed them. He was riding on the high of finally getting what he wanted, in so short a time after so long a struggle.

And Draco was handsome, and sarcastic, and he had changed, and he was on Harry’s side, and he wasn’t frightened by Harry’s power or in need of the money he could get by betraying him, and—

Yeah, Harry thought, and arched up against Draco, his legs spread. Draco fell a short way down between them and caught himself with splayed hands and wide eyes. He stared at Harry. Harry laughed.

“What, your tongue can be inside my mouth but you can’t be between my legs?”

“I want to be between them,” Draco said, and his eyes were bright and focused and made Harry stretch languidly across the couch, his magic wrapping his skin again, to see the way he could make those eyes flare. “I just didn’t know if you would want to go that far the first time.”

“The first time, oh, yeah,” Harry said, dizzy at the thought, the promise between them, that there would be more than one time, and he thrust his hand behind Draco’s neck and dragged him down, twisting a hunk of his hair again.

Draco grabbed him with one hand and waved his wand with the other, slitting Harry’s robes open. Harry laughed again, breathless, glad, and said, “So even you care less about robes than—”

Draco kissed him and wrapped his legs around Harry’s, thigh to thigh and cock to cock. Harry gasped and slid his hand under Draco’s shirt, feeling and gripping slick, shifting, shivering muscle, while all the world narrowed to Draco’s erection and eyes and hands.

Pleasure was already spreading through him, thick as the cock nudging his own. It had been so long since he’d done this with another wizard, and never with someone who was staring at him for some reason other than the scar on his forehead. Harry tilted his head up and caught Draco’s lips again, and Draco’s tongue thrust faster and warmer than his cock did. Harry had no idea how he was keeping that up, the quick rhythm of his tongue and the languid roll of his hips, without confusing them, but it was wonderful.

Draco was huffing, at least, Harry noticed when he opened his eyes again. That was something. But he was also grinning at Harry, and Harry only had the time to furrow his brow a little before Draco loosed a bolt of his own magic.

Heat was on Harry’s skin, reaching down and coiling around his throat and heart and groin at the same time, tugging him higher. Harry shuddered and let his orgasm consume him at the same time as he raked Draco with his magic.

Draco was still shaking when Harry had recovered, his head bowed and his face buried against Harry’s neck. Harry touched Draco’s nape hesitantly. “Are you all right?” he whispered into his ear.

“Of course,” Draco said. “It’s just that no one’s ever made me feel like that before.”

Harry restrained his smugness as best he could, and kissed the side of Draco’s face. “Then I’m glad I was the first one.”

Draco licked his lips and kissed him again, softly, on the mouth. “Would you want to share your bed with me tonight?”

“I’d really like that.”

*

Draco had expected the morning after to be awkward, not because he really doubted that Harry liked men or that there had been anything wrong with sleeping together, but because they hadn’t been allies that long and, well, there was such a thing as regret. He made himself tea in Harry’s kitchen, or rather, let Kreacher make it, and sat down at the table, tapping his fingers, trying to fortify himself.

Harry breezed into the kitchen only wearing trousers, took one glance at Draco, and snorted. “Well, look who’s ready for the executioner’s axe.”

“Do you intend to drop it on me?” Draco had to admit that he was less nervous than he had been only a few minutes ago, given how Harry had reacted, but maybe the regret would come later.

“Of course not. You were great in bed, you’re helping me, and you slept snuggled up to my back the entire night. I woke once because I had to go the loo, and you pretended you were asleep, but I could feel you staring at me in adoration.”

Draco could feel himself flushing. “I was not.”

“It’s all right, Draco.” Harry picked up a cup of the tea that Draco had had ready for him, cast a tiny Warming Charm on it, and then stepped around the table to kiss him. “I really like it,” he whispered into his ear.

Draco tilted his head back and kissed Harry, taking the chance to find out what his chest felt like without cloth covering it. Slitting his robes last night hadn’t really let him know. Harry shivered and melted into him as much as he could while holding his teacup out to the side where it wouldn’t spill.

Draco reluctantly sat back only when he knew that his teacup would probably spill if they didn’t stop it. “What made you want to sleep with me?” he asked.

“That’s the least subtle way of fishing for compliments I’ve ever heard.” Harry sat down in the chair next to him.

Draco touched the back of Harry’s hand with one fingertip. “I’m serious. Would—is it really just because I helped you?”

Harry frowned for the first time that morning. “I’m going to have to talk to you about some things. But I’d prefer if we were having breakfast while I did it.”

Draco settled back with a small smile that he couldn’t hide. “Then you think it won’t ruin my appetite?”

Harry shook his head. “I just don’t want to be angry while I’m telling it. It makes me angry enough. And I get irritated when I haven’t had anything to eat.”

Draco settled back in his chair with a warmth spreading through him as he said, “Me, too.”

It was a ridiculously small thing to have in common, to feel relieved and surprised by. But Draco felt it anyway, and from the hang of his smile as he stood, so did Harry.

*

“Master Harry be eating more than that.”

“I ate an enormous omelet and three pieces of toast, Kreacher.” Harry rolled his eyes at the stubborn look his elf was giving him. “That’s going to have to do for now.”

Kreacher gave a sigh that made his ears flap and glanced over at Draco. “Mr. Malfoy properly cleaned his plate,” he said, and nodded. “He be eating all his bacon.”

“And if I hadn’t eaten an enormous omelet and three pieces of toast, I would have, too.”

Kreacher eyed him dubiously one more time, then popped away with the plates and forks. Harry sipped his tea and closed his eyes for a second, then turned his chair to face Draco. He was amused to notice that Draco’s gaze kept lingering on his chest.

“I could put on a shirt, if you want?” he offered innocently.

Draco cleared his throat and turned away with a slight pink blush around his ears that Harry found fascinating. “I—no. That’s okay. I’m surprised that you have Kreacher, still, what with Granger and her militancy.”

Harry shrugged a little and sipped his tea again. “Kreacher changed his mind about a lot of things, but not about wanting to stay with me. I think it was only because of what I did for him during the war—”

“What?”

“Later. We already have a long story to get through.”

Draco lifted an eyebrow, then nodded. He looked good doing that, but then, he looked good doing everything, Harry was finding.

And to make sure that Draco understood how Harry thought wasn’t the result of impulse, any more than their sleeping together had been, Harry had to tell him the truth.

“Anyway, Kreacher cried so hard when Hermione tried to free him that she had to give up out of sheer compassion.” Harry shrugged, and then said, “You should understand, no one has supported me during this struggle to get the children’s house off the ground.”

“Not your friends.”

Draco’s voice rode somewhere along the edges of a question. Harry met his gaze. “Ron thought I would never succeed, and he wanted me to give up so that I didn’t get hurt. Hermione…well, to be frank, she assumed that I would ‘bother’ the pure-bloods enough that none of them would listen to her about house-elf legislation, and she thought that was more important.”

“I see. And of course the people you spoke to at the Ministry didn’t think it was important. You found no other allies?”

Harry felt his mouth compress, and he had to look away. Draco leaned forwards and touched his fingertip to the back of Harry’s hand. Harry sighed and let himself focus on the gestures for a second before he continued.

“People who were abused children themselves didn’t want to talk about it. People who were spoiled children don’t understand—I mean, generally they don’t understand,” Harry added hastily, and was glad when he heard Draco laugh quietly.

“Yes, you’re right. My parents spoiled me abominably. It was a nasty shock when I came to Hogwarts and encountered the real world, honestly. So. You found no allies?”

“There were people who said it was nice and would donate a few Galleons, but they didn’t want the political work. There were people who wanted my help on other causes, ones that would have dragged me off the track of what I wanted to do. There were good people who were concerned that it would mean the Ministry pure-bloods would seize the chance to take Muggleborn children from their families. There were people who despised me for speaking to those in power at all.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Revolutionaries without action.”

“Oh, some of them had plans that were revolutionary enough—”

“And never enacted,” Draco said harshly. “I think that’s one reason Granger spoke to you the way she did last night, Harry. People who talk about changing society are always nervous and edging away from it when it actually starts happening.

“Or they disagree with the methods.”

“I suppose that could be it.”

Harry fought back the quiver that his lip wanted to make, and just nodded. “Yes, well, I found myself mostly alone. I thought that I had to appeal to the pure-bloods, and that was why I started trying to learn how to ingratiate myself with them. But I doubt I would have succeeded without you.”

“And my supporting you wholeheartedly…”

“I know that some of it is the revenge motives and wanting to topple the whole rotten structure. And without you, I never would have thought of presenting myself as the second Merlin.” Harry leaned towards Draco, aware that his gaze had gone intense, and hoping that it would be too intense for Draco. “But you’re the first person who’s accepted what I wanted to do and even helped me push it further in the seven years since I decided I wanted to set up a home for children from all families. Yes, excuse me if I was overcome with—happiness and gratitude and lots of other things.” He tilted his head. “It doesn’t hurt that it’s years since I’ve had sex with a wizard and I missed what it could be like.”

Draco lowered his chin in what wasn’t quite a nod, but his eyes were brilliant with amusement. “And I should tell you that you’re fantastic. I can’t wait until we can get into a real bed.”

I wonder if he knows that I can see how scared he is to make himself vulnerable. On the other hand, Harry couldn’t see what point would be served by bringing it up now. He did reach out and slide his knuckles gently down Draco’s cheek. Draco’s eyelashes fluttered and he turned to kiss the side of Harry’s hand.

“No one has done what you’ve done,” Harry said softly. “That’s part of what led me to be with you last night, but it’s the future that will keep me at your side if you want me there.”

“I can’t imagine wanting anything more at the moment,” Draco whispered.

Knowing what Draco wanted and why he had helped him in the first place, Harry felt the heady warmth of power rush through him. He conjured the golden flames dancing in place on his palms that Draco liked so much, and kept them there until Draco opened his eyes again. He started, but didn’t pull away.

“We’re going to achieve so much, you and I,” Harry whispered, and the words echoed between them like an oath.

*

Draco had never seen the Wizengamot hall so full, not even during the Death Eater trials after the war.

He managed to banish that thought, and glanced around in mild interest instead. Rosier was sitting in the Chief Warlock’s seat with his face numbed in a frown. Other people were whispering and muttering with their eyes locked on Harry. Minister Shacklebolt sat in his traditional seat, which he had decorated with a small illusion of a maelstrom above his head. He had narrowed, shrewd eyes that hadn’t left Harry since they’d stepped into the hall.

Harry had looked at Shacklebolt once and then turned away. Draco had looked a bit longer, first to make sure that he wasn’t a threat, and then because he wasn’t sure what the man would do next. He knew Harry, he understood him, and Draco’s first emotion had been surprise that he hadn’t supported Harry’s goals.

On the other hand, like Granger, Shacklebolt had shown himself to be a reformer since the war, not a revolutionary. And what Harry and Draco intended to do today would present a direct threat to his office. What need was there of a Minister, some people would think, if they had the second coming of Merlin himself returned to them?

Shacklebolt caught Draco’s eye and frowned at him. Draco tilted his head a little in return and turned away. He had other things to do at the moment.

One of them was to reassure Harry. He was wearing the new robes and he had walked into the hall with the grace and the movements that the charms and Draco had taught him, but there was a sharpness to his stride that Draco knew came from nervousness. That would ruin all their plans if Harry displayed it openly.

Draco stepped up next to him and bent his head, keeping one eye on the golden hourglass that hovered over the door, noticeable against the plain grey walls. Nearly all the sand had run out. There would be no more people allowed into the hall when that happened. “What do you think they’re thinking right now?”

It worked. Harry started and looked up at him, then relaxed with a snort. “Probably that they can control me and they have to find out what I want and use that as a lever.”

“Exactly,” Draco said, and smiled at him. Harry stood taller and straightened his shoulders. “Just remember that they think of you as the second Merlin.”

“Not everybody. A lot of them must know it’s a propaganda tactic.”

“Remember,” Draco breathed, “these are the same people who thought following Voldemort was a good idea.”

Harry laughed, and on that note, as people stared at them, the sand in the hourglass ran out and the doors clanged shut. Draco saw Granger, one of the last people in, lean against the wall for a second, her arms folded and her gaze burning at Harry. She saw Draco and gave him a scowl.

“We have been called here to get an idea of what the supposed next Merlin plans for us,” Shacklebolt said. His tone was a little ironic, cool, distancing, but he had already ceded the ground, as far as Draco was concerned. He had said “been called.” Draco refrained from rolling his eyes and just listened. “Mr. Potter has asked us to consider giving him money for the children’s house he has been campaigning for, as well as passing an incredible number of laws relating to changed treatment of house-elves, centaurs, goblins, and Muggleborns.” He didn’t want to mention the politically-charged Muggle issue yet, Draco thought. Shacklebolt leaned forwards. “Why don’t you tell us by what right you claim the power to call us together, Mr. Potter.”

Harry smiled and stretched out his arms. Draco turned to him. They hadn’t discussed this part. Draco had thought it better to leave it up to Harry’s sense of showmanship, which had improved over the years that he’d been trying to impress pure-bloods.

A phoenix manifested in the air over Harry’s head.

Draco felt his jaw drop open, and saw from the corner of his eye that Granger was watching him instead of Harry. Maybe she wanted to make sure this was as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone else…

The phoenix settled on Harry’s shoulder and nestled in his hair. This close, Draco could feel the heat pouring off it, and even though he knew it must be an illusion, a conjuration of Harry’s magic, it didn’t seem that way.

“This is Leo,” Harry said with a small smile, scratching beneath the phoenix’s wing and receiving a croon in return. Draco found himself listening for it to turn into phoenix song, but Harry only went on petting Leo, and the sound faded away. “Or at least, that’s what I call him. He’s consented to be my advisor, much like Fawkes was to Professor Dumbledore.”

“I—excuse me?” Shacklebolt asked faintly. “Did you just say that Fawkes advised Professor Dumbledore?”

“Well, yes, sir,” Harry murmured, the picture of innocent confusion. He took his hand away from Leo’s wing, but the phoenix nudged him, and Harry went back to petting him, this time along the bird’s breast feathers. “You didn’t think Fawkes was a pet, did you?”

“I thought he was Albus’s companion,” Shacklebolt said, after a visible search for the right word. “But I never realized that Albus could communicate with him, or that Fawkes would have offered advice.”

Harry shrugged. “The way I can communicate with Leo is very limited. I propose courses of action, and he indicates his approval or disapproval with his body language. I assume that it’s probably similar to the way that Fawkes and Professor Dumbledore interacted.” He touched the phoenix’s head, which was covered with brilliant golden plumes, and Leo bent his neck and snuggled closer, into the crook of Harry’s collarbone. “But he fully understands English, and the way that the laws in Britain are currently run.”

Leo leaned forwards and stared at Shacklebolt. Then he turned his head and stared at Rosier, and did some more targeted staring at other people in the audience, like Nott, who Draco knew had opposed these kinds of laws in the past.

“Leo wants to see things change,” Harry said casually, ruffling the feathers on the phoenix’s crest this time. Then he drew his wand and conjured a perch, which caused some more silence. No one was supposed to be able to cast spells in the Wizengamot’s hall who didn’t have special permission from the Minister, and usually Aurors were the only exception. Harry ignored the wards like they were nothing as Leo stepped from his shoulder to the perch. “And so do I.” He turned around, and this time, the smile on his face was positively feral. “Listening to me wasn’t enough. Listening to common sense or decency wasn’t enough. Listening to people who have fought for these laws for years wasn’t enough.” For a minute, his gaze brushed over Granger. “So now we’re going to subject you to the stare of a phoenix.”

Leo trilled sternly, and more than one person flushed. Draco held back his own chuckle, and extended his hand. Leo leaned over to nuzzle his beak against Draco’s fingers.

Draco had to close his eyes. That was how he knew it had to be an illusion, because no phoenix would grant him such whole-hearted approval with the life he’d led and the Mark still marring his arm. But it felt real beyond real.

He opened his eyes and found Harry watching him with far too much empathy. But Harry turned away a second later and said, “I’d like to open the debate by pointing to these frankly archaic laws about how pure-blood parents have more claim to their children in divorces than their spouses of different blood statuses do, even if there’s evidence that a pure-blood parent abused those children.” The air next to him sparked and shifted, and large scrolls appeared, the letters on them big enough to be read from across the room. “What do you have to say for yourselves?”

*

“What in the world were you doing, conjuring a phoenix like that?”

Harry blinked. It wasn’t the first question he had expected to hear from Draco. That had been more about the strategy he’d tried and how risky it was. He shifted so that Leo could leave if he wanted, but the phoenix settled down and nestled against his neck again, so he gave up. “What do you mean?”

“I—what if someone had figured out it was an illusion?” They were still in the Atrium of the Ministry, more than an hour after the meeting had ended, because of how many people had wanted to talk to Harry. Draco had at least lifted a privacy charm around them, though, Harry saw from the way the air shimmered.

Harry stared at Draco. “Leo isn’t an illusion.”

“So you mean to say,” Draco muttered, his voice gloomy with sarcasm, “that you’ve been talking to a real phoenix for years and he just appeared when you said?”

“Well, I didn’t know he would come when I said,” Harry confessed. “He’s a free-willed being. But I reckon he decided that showing up to help me was pretty important.”

Leo trilled into his ear and then nibbled the shell. At least Harry no longer jumped when he did that. He just rolled an eye up at Leo, who fluffed his feathers and made it clear he was settling in for the duration.

“But you’ve been speaking to a phoenix.” Draco’s voice was heavy, and he leaned against the wall with a frown and folded arms that Harry frankly wanted to yank away. “For how long?”

“Since the war?” Harry realized it sounded like a question, and he sighed. “Since the war. Leo came to me for the first time the day after I defeated Voldemort.”

“Potter, if you’d told me…”

“Oh, we’re not going back to the ‘Potter’ nonsense now,” Harry snapped. He felt his magic quivering under his skin, and subdued it with a jerk of his head. He never wanted to show it in anger to Draco, when so far he had only showed it in joy or to impress some idiot. “I didn’t know it was remarkable. I thought he was there for reasons of his own—”

Leo made a smug noise, and Harry touched his breast feathers again. “And yes, you were,” he said. “But—I mean, I didn’t know that other people would see anything remarkable in it, Draco. I didn’t even know Merlin had a phoenix who was supposed to accompany him until I read those books you gave me, because that was the sort of pure-blood shit I never looked into.”

Draco stared at him. “And you didn’t think part of Dumbledore’s reputation was based on having a phoenix for his companion?”

“No. I thought it was based on being Albus fucking Dumbledore.”

Draco laughed a little and relaxed. “All right, I suppose it was more that he defeated Grindelwald and held several political positions, and the phoenix was more like a confirmation. But…Harry, this is huge.

Harry snorted. “I know that now, after reading those books. But I didn’t know that when Leo started visiting me. And it wasn’t like he ever stayed for long. He really did seem to want to be there just to discuss some of the problems I mentioned with me.” He studied Leo, who was holding out his golden wings and flickering flames along them as if to warm himself. Harry drew his wand, but Leo chirped emphatically at him, and Harry put it away again. He supposed Leo would ask for help keeping warm if he needed it. “And I didn’t know if he would come to my call in front of the Wizengamot, either.”

Silence from next to him, and Harry glanced over, wondering what he’d said this time. Draco was watching him with a dazed expression on his face, although luckily his jaw hadn’t dropped open again. That was something so unexpected that Harry would be just as glad not to see it again.

“You—you Gryffindor,” Draco said.

“What was that about House prejudices not mattering except to stupid people?”

Draco shut his eyes. “What were you going to do if Leo didn’t show up?”

“Create an illusion.”

“Which was what I thought you’d done.” Draco shook his head and sighed. “Fine. Just—next time, please tell me what’s going on. I would have planned the strategy differently if I’d known we could count on a fucking phoenix.”

“That’s just it, though, Draco,” Harry said, and Draco opened his eyes to look at him. “I didn’t know I could, not for sure. Leo has always come and gone as he pleased. I know some of what he approves and disapproves of, but I couldn’t be sure that making him public now was one of those things. Likewise, I didn’t keep him secret from you specifically. I kept him secret from everyone, because he asked me to.”

“Even Weasley and Granger?”

“Yeah. He just didn’t want to meet them, and he never really explained why.” Harry shrugged. “I think the thing that matters most is that he’s here now, and he can be part of our strategy moving forwards.”

Leo answered with a low croon, and then turned his head. Harry looked with him, but at first didn’t see what Leo was looking at, the Atrium was bustling with so many people. Then he realized. It was that stupid statue of the wizard and witch standing triumphant over other magical creatures. Supposedly the Fountain of Magical Brethren, but Harry had never thought that much of the name.

“Draco, get ready. I think Leo’s about to do something dramatic.”

Draco looked up and dropped the privacy charm just as Leo flared his wings and soared out from the perch. People gasped and cameras flashed and a few people even hid their faces, which Harry found amusing. Hadn’t they been lingering around to stare at him and the phoenix?

Leo landed on the Fountain of Magical Brethren, on top of the wizard’s head, and stared around until he seemed convinced that he had everyone’s attention. Then he delicately lifted his tail.

The load of green-black shit that slid down the back of the wizard’s head wasn’t delicate at all.

There was mostly silence, mingled with a few bursts of laughter, as Leo glided from the statue back to his perch. He combed his feathers with his beak and scratched his face with one busy foot. Then he turned and stared hard at Harry.

“That’s the end of the public interaction for today,” Harry said wryly, and Transfigured the perch so that he could hook it onto his shoulder. Leo enjoyed being above his head that way.

The silence got interrupted with shouted questions as Harry and Draco made their way towards the lifts, but Harry only answered one of them. “Aren’t you afraid that he’s going to do it to you, too, Mr. Potter?”

“Why?” Harry asked, turning his head and staring at the questioner. “He doesn’t think I’m guilty of promoting that kind of bigotry.”

That made the man fall silent, and some of the other question-askers, too. Harry held in his snort as he stepped through the lift door. They would have to go up to an Apparition point to go home with Leo on his perch, but what did it matter? He was still leaving with a fucking phoenix, and they weren’t.

He sighed as he pressed the right buttons. “First time I was in one of these was to go down to my trial for underage magic when I was fifteen, in front of the full Wizengamot. And now look at me.”

“You don’t have trials for underage magic in front of the Wizengamot, Potter.”

“Oh, great, now he’s calling me ‘Potter,’” Harry told Leo, who ruffled his feathers and looked away as if to say that was what Harry deserved for some of his choices. He sighed and glanced back at Draco. “Yes, you do. That’s one reason I want to make sure that children have some place to go before they get so stressed that they perform accidental magic. It’s the same way in the Muggle world. Children get tried for some crimes like adults there, too.”

The lift stopped, but Draco stuck out his arm in front of Harry when he would have stepped off. Harry raised an eyebrow. Draco was staring at him in what seemed to be honest distress. “Draco? What is it?”

“Harry, you know that happens very rarely, right?”

“Like you would know anything about the Muggle world, Malfoy.”

“Harry, no. Really. I want to talk to you about this.”

Harry sighed when he saw how many curious heads were turning towards them, although here a few people had backed away instead of gaping at the phoenix. “Can we go home before we discuss it?”

Draco nodded and tucked his arm around Harry’s shoulders. Harry eyed him skeptically as Draco led him towards the Apparition point. Draco seemed to think Harry needed some kind of comfort, but on the basis of his pale face, Harry would say it was Draco who did.

The thing he didn’t know was why.

*

The minute they got back to Malfoy Manor, Draco requested mulled wine from the house-elves, and a fire lit in the blue drawing room. Harry was giving him a concerned look by the time they sat down. “Draco, seriously, what is it? I thought everyone knew about that hearing. It was reported on in the papers at the time.”

“I thought it was—one more lie Fudge came up with to make you look bad,” Draco admitted, and he leaned forwards so that he could put one hand on Harry’s knee. “But that’s not what I really want to talk to you about. It’s about your impression that children can be tried as adults in the Muggle world and the wizarding one.”

One of Harry’s eyebrows rose. “Like I said,” he murmured as the mulled wine appeared in front of him, “I can’t really think that you know more about the Muggle world than I do, Malfoy, when I grew up in it.”

Draco sighed. He supposed he deserved that when he had been the one to call Harry by his last name in the lift and restore some of the old dynamic between them. “I’m sorry, but I know this. It happens, but it’s rare.

“No, it’s not.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because I heard often enough about what would happen to me if I did some of the things my relatives thought I would do.”

Harry’s voice was low, and the way he looked away made Draco’s breath catch. Shit. He should have known, really, based on Harry’s passion for that children’s house where abused children would be among the ones welcomed. And everyone knew that Harry had grown up in the Muggle world. And there had been rumors floating around Slytherin, sometimes, that a friend of a friend of a friend had seen how skinny Potter was every autumn…

But Draco had dismissed them along with most everyone else. He’d thought of Muggles as uncomplicated creatures then, driven mostly by greed. If they didn’t like having a wizard in the house, well, Potter was rich enough that he could bribe them to tolerate him, surely.

“What did they tell you, Harry?”

Harry had started to lift the cup of mulled wine, but he set it down again with a bang. “I really don’t feel like discussing this.” Leo, whose perch one of the elves had set up in a corner, gave a soft trill.

“That’s too bad, since it’s my plan for this evening.”

“Why, when I was going to invite you into my bed?”

Draco’s heart stuttered, and the way Harry was staring at him started flames burning in the back of his mind. But then he caught himself back, and shook his head sternly. No, he was not going to be distracted this way, and he also wouldn’t let Harry turn what they had into a cheap manipulation. He smiled. “Maybe we can do that afterwards.”

Harry hissed at him, a sound that wasn’t Parseltongue but sounded on the edge of it. “Why does it matter, Malfoy? They weren’t good to me. It’s over. It’s done. You can’t change things. What matters is that I used the pain they caused me to start doing good for other people, to decide that I could establish this house, and now I’m on the verge of doing it.”

“The pain they caused you isn’t in the past, is it?”

Harry’s eyes closed fully. Then he said, “But what does it matter? It’s not like I’m going around lashing out at people and yelling about it.”

“It matters to me, the same way everything about you matters.”

Draco felt the moment hum around him, fragile as a glass bowl, when Harry opened his eyes and stared at him. This could go right, or it could explode into shards that would wound them both.

Draco didn’t know what expression was on his face, and for the first time in years, he wasn’t consciously trying to control it. He only stared at Harry and trusted that he would be wearing the right one because he felt the right way.

Harry gave a sharp burst of sound, not coherent enough to be a sigh or a groan, and said, “I—it won’t make pleasant hearing.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Draco used his wand to Transfigure the chair he was sitting on into a wide couch. He could have gone over to Harry, but at the moment, he thought it was important to have Harry come to him instead. “Please.” He held out his hand.

Harry stood and clenched his fists at his sides. Draco wondered how much courage it took him to keep from bolting out the door. But in the end, he inclined his head and walked towards Draco.

Draco tugged him in and touched the side of his neck for a second, using his hand. If he used his mouth, he was afraid that Harry’s mind would get turned right back into bed, and that really had to remain separate from this. The first time he was inside him, Draco wanted Harry focusing on him, not the ghosts of his past. “Tell me.”

Harry sighed and said, “They hated magic. They knew what had happened to my parents when I was left on their doorstep-”

“When you were what?”

“Dumbledore put me there with a letter for my aunt to tell her that Mum and Dad had died and she needed to take me in to have protections on her family and the house. She did it, but she didn’t like it. They didn’t tell me about magic or how my parents had really died for years. They said it was in a car accident and they were—a drunk and a whore.”

Draco closed his eyes. The part of himself that had once found the idea of being a Death Eater and punishing his enemies attractive, and which he had defeated rather than suppressed, was currently roaring underneath his breastbone, and he spent a moment to subdue it. Then he breathed out and said, “You’re remarkable, you know?”

“What, for being an abused kid?”

Draco hugged Harry harder when he tried to withdraw, and whispered, “No. For being so at home with magic that you can convince people you’re the second coming of Merlin when you didn’t even know about it until—when?”

“When they sent my Hogwarts letter. My aunt and uncle kept trying to take it away from me, but they sent hundreds of letters.” There was a thread of quiet laughter in Harry’s voice. “In the end, Dumbledore sent Hagrid to make sure I got the letter. I didn’t know about magic until then.”

“And then you met me the same day, and I was a right arse.”

“I don’t hold that against you, you know. I did at the time, but—I’ve seen so much worse since then. And even at the time, you weren’t as bad as my relatives.”

“What did they do, besides deny you magic?”

Harry sighed. “They called me a freak. They had me doing chores around the house from the time I was very young. They left me out of as much as they could. I never got a present for my birthday, never got taken anywhere when they went to do something fun or went on a holiday if they could possibly help it.”

“And what else?”

“Why do you assume there’s something worse?” Harry asked, sounding ready to fight now. He sat up under Draco’s arm and glared at him. “Because part of you hates Muggles and always will?”

“You’re really good at this.”

“At what?”

“Deflecting. Manipulating.” Draco stared right into his eyes and did until Harry looked down. “Pity it won’t work. What else, Harry?”

Harry stirred for a second, and then laughed weakly. “You’re pretty good at it yourself, Draco. How did you know that I would want to tell you, that I’ve always wanted someone to ask, and that I wouldn’t just get up and storm away?”

“A certain kind of luck,” Draco said softly, thinking of the way his childhood had been and the things he had learned from it. His parents had never been abusive, but some of the principles they had emphasized had let him know things like this. “Tell me. Please.”

Harry sighed and then murmured, “When they were really angry with me, they would withhold food from me. I didn’t get that many meals a week.”

Potter’s so skinny, why is he like that? Draco remembered the idle conversations in the Slytherin common room, and felt sick.

“And the last?” Draco didn’t know how he knew there was something else, but it could have been as simple as Harry’s watchful tension underneath his arm. There was something else, something he was both longing and fearing to tell.

“They had me sleep in a—in a cupboard under the stairs.”

Draco shuddered and curled himself even harder around Harry. It was a miracle that he was here, that he had survived everything thrown at him by the Muggles and Voldemort and the school and that he could even make jokes about things like—

“Draco?” Harry said softly, and cupped a hand beneath his chin. A moment later, he sighed wearily. “This is exactly why I hate talking about it. I don’t want to upset other people.”

“I’m fine, I promise,” Draco soothed him, kissing his temple this time. It wouldn’t lead them into bed, not right away. “Just—Harry, please tell me, besides not wanting to upset people. Why did you never tell anyone?”

“Ron asked me some questions, sometimes,” Harry said. “He came to get me with his brothers during the summer after our first year, when they didn’t get any answers to their letters. There were bars on my window. But he was just a kid, and I asked him not to tell anyone. And Dumbledore said that he knew I would have ‘dark and difficult years’ there, but I had to stay, because it would keep me safer than anywhere else. And if he said that, well, most of the adults I knew either hated me, or saw me as the Boy-Who-Lived, or followed him. What chances did I have of things changing if Headmaster Dumbledore said I had to stay there?”

Draco shook his head, silent, overwhelmed, but fearing that Harry was probably right. It wasn’t like he could have turned to Draco’s parents, as they had been then, or that he had been close to Granger’s parents—who were Muggles, and Draco had heard some rumor about her Memory Charming them and sending them out of the country during the war—or that he had had any other close friends at school. The Weasleys were kind people, Draco thought, and could admit now, but they had been Dumbledore’s close followers.

“And so there was no one to spare you.”

“No. Although it was never that bad after my second year. It wasn’t great, though.” Harry was quiet for a minute. “I did sort of improve my relationship with my cousin after I saved his life from Dementors, but I haven’t seen any of them since the war. Maybe someday I’ll contact Dudley. Other than that, I never want to see them again.”

Draco nodded in silence. He wished he could feel that Harry had healed because he had forgiven the Muggles. The problem was, Harry was too forgiving, and so there was no way to know how many of the wounds in his mind were still bleeding.

On the other hand, Draco would take shameful advantage of that easy forgiveness when it applied to himself.

He leaned forwards and gently kissed Harry. Harry still for a second beneath his hands, then pulled away and stared at him.

“Would you still like to share a bed tonight?” Draco asked. “I don’t mind if we sleep together or only sleep.”

“Yes, but only sleeping,” Harry whispered. “There’s just no way that this won’t feel like a pity fuck, even though I know it’s not that for you.” He glanced up as Leo whistled from his perch, and smiled a little. “He scolds me for things like that, but I don’t know if it’s for the language or the concepts.”

“Maybe just for thinking of yourself as less worth than anyone else,” Draco said, but put his hand up when Harry tried to speak. “No, really, it’s all right. We’ll sleep beside each other tonight, and see how we feel in the future.”

“Thank you for understanding.” Harry took a deep breath. “And so far, I don’t regret telling you about the Dursleys. In the past, whenever I even hinted around it, I felt regret pretty much right away.”

Draco smiled because he couldn’t help it, even though he knew it would look smug. He ran his hand down Harry’s spine and murmured, “I think you ought to know that that’s an accolade I’m going to cherish.”

He got both a sweet kiss and another whistle from Leo for his troubles, which made it no trouble at all.

*

Harry opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling—which was white marble flecked with impossibly delicate little blue veins—and then turned his head to the side and stared at Draco, who was sleeping beside him, bare-chested and nearly as pale as the marble.

But with much better muscle definition, Harry admitted to himself, and took a deep breath. The regret still wasn’t there, and he wanted Draco.

He reached out and ran delicate fingers down Draco’s chest and to the nearly-invisible trail of blond hair that disappeared into his pants. Draco stirred at once, rolling his face towards him and opening hazy eyes. His smile, though, was as clear as light.

“Something you wanted?”

“You inside me this morning,” Harry murmured, and Draco’s eyes darkened and his breath caught, and the thing that Harry felt then was still not regret, but a heady surge of power.

Harry smiled and knelt up, then dragged his own pants off. When he reached a hand behind himself, he also unleashed a bit of his magic, and Draco made a soft shocked noise as he watched the golden flame twine around Harry’s fingers.

“Is that—”

“Yes, a lubrication charm,” Harry said, and tossed his pants away. Still there was no regret, and by now, he was beginning to think there would be none. He wasn’t ashamed of anything, not the wetness on his fingers or his hard cock standing up against his stomach or the clenching need in his belly.

“Only you would use the magic of Merlin for something like that,” Draco whispered, and choked harder as Harry slid his fingers into himself. “And only you would reach in like that.”

“Aren’t you glad that I’m not a blushing virgin? You should have seen the first time someone put his fingers inside me.”

“I would want you no matter what you were like.”

That was the thing that threatened to make Harry avert his eyes and blush like a virgin, but he didn’t let it. He just grinned at Draco and then nodded at his pants. “You’re still clothed, and I’m over here and ready. Someone is letting down the side here.”

Draco didn’t look anywhere but Harry’s face while he got undressed. Harry let his eyes drop, though, and had to sigh at the sight of Draco’s cock, long and bright red and waiting for him.

“You look as if you want to swallow me.”

“That comes later,” Harry told him seriously, and then raised himself up as Draco rolled towards him. Probably he was about to make another comment, like a prat, but Harry had settled himself on top by then, with a wriggle and a groan. Draco was the one who gasped and clawed at him as his cock disappeared into Harry.

“What?” Harry asked as he settled and rocked, a little impressed by his own lack of breathlessness. “Too soon?”

“I—didn’t know if you had been prepared enough.” Draco’s eyes were wide, his hands limp. At least that couldn’t be said of the satisfyingly hard shaft inside Harry now. Harry shifted and squeezed and smiled as Draco jumped as if he’d been shocked.

“Come on, fuck me,” Harry said.

That got Draco going. His eyes darkened further, and he seized Harry by the shoulders and rolled him onto his back. Harry laughed in exhilaration and relaxed, spreading his legs, trying his best to take in the expanse of Draco’s hips, and prepare himself for the really hard fucking he knew he would probably get in a moment or two.

And he did.

Draco had probably cast some charm on his eyes that meant he didn’t blink, because he thrust above Harry without looking away from him. Harry had never done that with someone before, and he had to writhe and close his eyes and just luxuriate in the shudders of pleasure going through him sometimes.

But when he looked up again, Draco was there, waiting for him.

“You’re amazing,” Draco gasped after a few seconds. Sweat was pouring down his sides and back, and he had settled into smaller thrusts. Harry didn’t mind, not with how hard they were, and how hard they made him. “You—no one else has ever—”

“I know,” Harry said very seriously. “I’m the second Merlin. You might have heard.”

And just to show he knew what he was talking about, he called up his magic and flared gentle fire around the place where Draco entered him.

Draco came with a cry, and Harry rolled his head back as warmth filled him. He would have reached for his cock, but even in the middle of a surprise orgasm, it seemed Draco had good manners. He’d already grabbed hold of Harry and stroked him once, and riding on the high of having a lover fuck him like that and his own magic practically inside him, Harry came right after.

It took a long, long moment of shattering-apart sensation before Harry basically returned to his body, and then he smiled at Draco, who was sprawled across his chest, staring at Harry with dazed eyes.

“Thanks,” Harry murmured as he reached up and hooked his fingers behind Draco’s head, drawing his face down. “That’s a compliment.”

“What is? I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t need to.”

Harry gently covered Draco’s face with lazy kisses, using his magic to ease some of the soreness spreading through him, but not all. He liked being sore, knowing where it had come from, and that he’d had another wizard in bed with him again, and that this wasn’t the last time.

From the almost claw-like way Draco’s fingers had closed around his ribs, it wasn’t about to be the last time.

*

“Do you want me to come with you?” Harry had asked, and Draco had shaken his head and decided that he would confront the Greengrasses by himself with the blackmail material that Walburga Black had collected personally.

Now, watching Daphne and Astoria sit on their chairs and stare at him, he wished he’d taken the offer of Harry’s companionship.

They hadn’t offered him a seat, or tea, or anything else. Well, then, this meeting would be formal. Draco nodded to them both and floated the two pieces of parchment he’d brought along out of his robe pocket, since they probably wouldn’t take anything from his hands. “I thought you might be interested in seeing these.”

Both Daphne and Astoria let the parchments hover in front of them as they read, which Draco had expected, in a way. He watched in mild interest as they both gasped, and Astoria physically leaned away from the writing.

“This is—not the writing of a Greengrass,” Daphne whispered.

“An extract from your mother’s diary when she was a girl, as I understand it,” Draco offered mildly. “How my great-aunt got it, I don’t know, but I do understand why you wouldn’t it to be widely-known that your mother was plotting murders from the time she was thirteen.”

“You made this up,” Daphne said, but she looked pale and ill. Astoria hadn’t said a word. Then again, she had always been the smarter of the two, which was why Draco had been attracted to her at one point. She stared at her painted nails and tapped them against her legs.

“You know I didn’t,” Draco said. “And in return for keeping it secret, I assume that you’ll be happy to donate money and support to the cause of Potter’s children’s house, and the changes that he wants to make in wizarding society.”

Astoria looked at him. “Why are you behind Potter?”

“Because I think what you represent is rotten to the core,” Draco said, and kept his chuckle to himself as she flushed deeply. He’d always wanted a chance to say that sort of thing to someone, although it was so much a cliché that he’d thought he’d never be able to. “Are you going to do as I ask, or will people have to know that your mother is mad?”

“She—never actually committed one of these murders,” Daphne began, but Astoria put a hand on her arm, and she stopped speaking.

“It seems we have no choice,” Astoria told Draco steadily. “You can tell Potter that he will be able to count on our support.” She stood up and walked across the room to hand him back the parchment.

Draco, however, was smarter than either of them, and saw the slap coming before it got there. He gripped her wrist hard enough to make her wince and shook his head. “If you had any true honor or sense of reality, Astoria, you would have changed your mind without being forced to.”

“All this because I canceled our engagement?” she hissed at him as he released her.

“No, because you canceled it because my father was caught,” Draco told her quietly. “Not because you thought it was wrong to be a Death Eater.” His eyes flickered to the photograph on the mantel that showed her cousin Everard, who had been several years ahead of them at Hogwarts.

Astoria glanced in that direction and then flushed with something that might have been pretty if he hadn’t known it was rage. “That’s different. He didn’t—”

“Get caught,” Draco finished, and shook his head. He had seen Everard in Malfoy Manor himself, but the bastard had been out of the country by the end of the war, on some mission for Voldemort, and had simply never come back. That wasn’t the same as innocent or even remorseful.

“You want to blackmail me, but you’re no better, resorting to blackmail.”

Draco shrugged. “I’ll admit that this sort of tactic isn’t my first choice anymore, but nothing else will change your minds. And you wouldn’t bother drawing back on principle if you had that sort of blackmail on me. You’d use it. Excuse me for not caring much about the opinions of hypocrites anymore.”

“I’m so glad that I decided not to marry you.”

“So am I,” Draco said, and bowed to her, and left the house. In the corridor, he let his shoulders drop, but only a little, because the Greengrasses had house-elves who would have been told to spy on him.

In the end, while having Harry there would have made him feel better, he had got through it on his own.

He makes me stronger even when he isn’t here.

*

“Do you disapprove?”

Mrs. Malfoy had come downstairs and found Harry at the breakfast table, but then, she hadn’t seemed surprised about it. She had nodded to him and then taken her own tea and what looked like an egg white omelet from the house-elves. She had chatted with Harry about a few articles in the paper, but said nothing about the lead one, featuring a photograph of him and Draco in front of the Wizengamot.

Mrs. Malfoy looked up at him. “What you and my son are doing?”

“And the fact that we’re not going to part soon.”

Mrs. Malfoy didn’t pretend that she didn’t know what Harry was talking about, but then, a witch brave enough to lie to Voldemort was brave enough to face up to her son dating someone she didn’t like, Harry thought. She sighed and laid the paper aside. “I do wish that he had found someone female, because I have to admit I like the thought of blood grandchildren.”

Harry blinked. He hadn’t thought—ahead to children. Part of him had decided, when he began to work for the children’s house, that he would never have enough time for a family of his own.

Mrs. Malfoy looked at him unflinchingly. “But my son has been shutting himself more and more away from the world since the war, since his father left Azkaban and proved unequal to most social interaction. You’ve touched him with a new flame. I cannot mourn that, Mr. Potter.”

“I was lucky. He’s given me the same sort of hope.”

Mrs. Malfoy nodded. “And that’s the reason I can’t say that you should leave him, Mr. Potter. His life is going to be more difficult because of this, but it would be as difficult if he had shut himself away in a stone vault the way he was on the verge of doing.” She smiled a little. “He was bored often as a child. I don’t think he will have that problem anymore.”

“Thanks. And your husband?”

“Lucius is going through treatment for Dementor-induced madness,” Mrs. Malfoy said, looking past Harry for a moment. “He may recover. There are experimental potions on the market now that promise much. But he is in no shape at the moment to know.”

Harry swallowed. “Draco never said anything about that. I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t want you adding to your unnecessary guilt complex,” Draco said, and his arms encircled Harry from behind as he bent down to kiss his forehead. “You still made it possible for him to have the chance to recover, instead of spending the rest of his life in Azkaban.”

Harry just nodded, flushing at the look Mrs. Malfoy was giving him. Then he stretched up and slid his hand along the side of Draco’s neck. “Are you ready for that little meeting that we’re going to have before the Wizengamot?”

“I think that I’m more ready than you are,” Draco whispered to him, and stepped back.

“Have fun playing politics,” Mrs. Malfoy said, gathering up the paper again. “And I’m glad that the blackmail was useful.”

“Did you tell her?” Harry asked as they left the kitchen.

“My mother knows these things,” Draco said. “I’ve given up wondering how. I have better questions to ask.” He grinned at Harry, and Harry felt a flutter of heat in his stomach. “For example, is Leo coming with us to the Wizengamot today?”

*

“You never told us that you were chatting with an actual phoenix, mate.”

“Leo didn’t want me to,” Harry said. His smile was easy, if a little sad, as he studied Weasley and Granger. Draco hung back, since they were in a small anteroom outside the doors of the Wizengamot’s hall, with five minutes still to go before the meeting.

Draco was watching Harry, not Weasley and Granger and the small frowns on their faces. He sighed. Yes, Harry could be disappointed in his friends but still forgive them. It was nothing like the rupture that had happened between Draco and Nott, or between him and Astoria.

But perhaps he could learn how to do it from Harry, moving forwards, even if it was just to rein in some of his emotions. Draco restrained his smile, in case Weasley and Granger thought he was mocking them, and waited.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Granger muttered. “Why would he want to keep himself secret?”

“That, I really don’t know. I asked Leo, but it’s the kind of question that’s hard to answer with limited body language as our own method of communication.”

“Could I talk to him?”

Harry glanced at the phoenix who sat on his shoulder. “What do you think, Leo?”

Leo aimed his beak at the closed doors of the hall where the Wizengamot would be meeting soon and waited. Harry chuckled. “Maybe he will later. Right now, I think he’s reminding us of the time issue.”

“You could have told us about this, mate.” Weasley sent a cautious look in Draco’s direction. “And about Malfoy.”

“Well, you knew I was visiting him and talking with him,” Harry said blandly. “That’s more than almost anyone else did before we walked into the Wizengamot together.”

Draco smiled and couldn’t hide it, this time. They had decided to tell Weasley and Granger that they were sleeping together as well as working together after the Wizengamot session, so that it wouldn’t distract Harry’s friends if they had to make arguments for house-elves during the meeting.

From the way Weasley stared back and forth between Draco and Harry, he might be getting it already. But Granger was the one who spoke. “You could have told me about being willing to work on the house-elf issue, Harry.”

“I tried. And we had that argument. And now we’re working on it the way that Draco and I wanted. And Leo,” Harry added, as the phoenix pecked the side of his neck. He held out his hand, and Draco was there to take it as the doors of the hall trembled and opened.

“Harry—”

“We’ll talk,” Harry promised her. “But it’ll take a bit more time, okay?”

Granger bit her lip and eyed Draco mistrustfully. Draco beamed at her and escorted Harry inside with a hand on the small of his back while Granger was speechless.

The pure-bloods inside, and the people who had always been too much a bunch of cowards to support anything that would change the power structure, stared at them apprehensively. Draco smiled at them and then stepped back, gesturing. Leo fanned his wings out on Harry’s shoulder and began to sing.

The song poured across all of them in the room like cleansing rain, and Draco saw certain faces take on expressions of wonder they might not have worn in their lives. Granger stood straighter. Weasley glanced back and forth between them again, and this time there might have been an edge of a smile to his eyes.

And Harry stood there like the second Merlin, and he shone.

Draco turned to the Wizengamot again when the song was finished and Leo had flown to the perch Harry had conjured for him. They had put the laws before the Wizengamot the other day, and given them time to ponder on those words and how they might become the new reality of the wizarding world.

Which is no longer just the wizarding world, Draco thought as he saw the first of the goblin delegation march in through the doors.

That got the first objections going, but that was all right. Draco knew he had been right when he’d told Harry that the best way to force his fellow pure-bloods to adapt was a series of short, sharp shocks.

They would win what they needed, in the end.

Harry stepped up beside him and threw his head back. Draco eyed the hang of the robes on his body automatically and resisted the urge to adjust them. They were more than adequate.

And when Harry caught his eye and smiled before he began to speak, Draco knew that his face must be shining, too.

The End.