Chapter Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Wherein Draco decides that a little deception has never hurt anyone (much), Harry receives his morning post, Moody is as unsettling as always, Zacharias Smith underestimates Gryffindors, Blaise's eyebrows get a workout, and Draco wants to disappear through the ground.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 14 - Cause and Effect
There's no harm in letting him think it was me.
The thought materialised in Draco's head unbidden, but he liked the sound of it. If Potter thought he'd been the one to talk to Skeeter, he certainly wouldn't come within two feet of Draco ever again. He might've given his word, but Draco's father always said that words were like the wind.
Draco met Potter's hateful gaze evenly and allowed his lips to curve into a smirk. For a moment, he thought Potter would say something, but he didn't. He pushed the Daily Prophet off to the side, rose, and stalked away. More than one head turned to watch him go. Ginny called his name from the sixth-years' table, but Potter ignored her.
"You're disgraceful," Millicent told Smith, holding her fork like a weapon. Her voice sounded fit to freeze the pumpkin juice in every glass.
"The public deserves to know about him," said Smith.
"What is he talking about?" demanded Thomas, turning to Millicent. She didn't respond. Longbottom rose to his feet -- when had he become so tall? -- and glared down at Smith. "If you had anything to do with this," -- he gestured with the newspaper in his hand -- "you'll be sorry."
"What are you going to do?" asked Smith, sneering. "Throw your toad at me?"
Longbottom's frown deepened, but he said nothing. Still clutching the newspaper, he stalked away towards the Great Hall doors. Draco didn't envy Smith. Longbottom may not have been the sort to carry a personal grudge -- his acceptance of Draco proved that -- but he would not forget a slight on one of his friends.
"Would someone please explain to me what's going on?" demanded Finnigan. "Since when is Harry making the papers for bad behaviour? It ought to be me."
Lavender Brown giggled, but it sounded strained, nervous. A thought struck Draco: what if Potter got so angry at him that he told people? Or would his Gryffindor buddies tell him it had been Smith? One way or another, Draco lost. Why couldn't things go his way for once? Just for once?
The proverbial Kneazle was out of the proverbial sack regarding Potter's sexual preferences, and that resulted in some unexpected entertainment at every breakfast.
Numerous wizards and witches with subscriptions to the Daily Prophet felt it their duty to inform Potter exactly how they felt about his carousing ways. There had only been a few Howlers -- any subsequent ones were diverted on McGonagall's orders for "disturbing order", but the letters Potter received were filled with heartfelt support, frothing rage, and everything in between.
The contents of the letters were no secret because Finnigan and Thomas seemed to think it good sport to read them aloud -- at first, Potter had protested, flushing, but they'd brought him around to their way of thinking.
"We can laugh at the idiots together. There's nothing wrong with you," Finnigan had said. "But don't get any ideas," he'd added hastily. Potter had rolled his eyes, and that had been that.
A few envelopes contained confessions of love, complete with photographs of the senders. Some of those photographs contained full-frontal nudity, but Draco couldn't be certain, for he never even glanced at the photos when they were passed around. He'd sooner die than be caught staring at some stranger jerking off for Harry sodding Potter. One disturbed woman wrote Potter approximately eight letters, filled with anxious urgings to find his way back to the right path, because she had raised her daughter for the express purpose of marrying him one day. People were mad. Draco wasn't sure whether he ought to have been annoyed at the attention Potter was receiving or relieved that he wasn't the target of all that insanity.
Two weeks into the deluge, Potter received an envelope filled with sneezing powder, after which Moody began to screen his post before someone sent something worse. Draco thought he remembered an incident with Granger and Bubotuber pus, in fourth year. Back then, it had been Draco -- and Pansy -- who'd been behind the inflammatory article. No wonder Potter had immediately blamed him for it. At any rate, the breakfast entertainment stopped after the sneezing powder, because Moody appeared to have taken it upon himself to only forward the nice letters without any nude photographs.
As for Draco, Potter acted like he didn't exist. This suited Draco just fine. It didn't matter that Potter no longer stole glances at him at meals, no longer dawdled in the common room when they happened to be there at the same time, no longer watched Draco undress when he thought Draco wasn't looking. The article had been a boon, really -- it had proven that Potter didn't have any feelings for Draco, that he'd merely intended to use Draco. Not that it would have mattered if feelings had been involved, of course.
October brought with it colder weather and fewer trips to Hogsmeade: the seventh-years were struggling under an ever-increasing workload. Draco didn't know how he had any energy left over for Quidditch practices, which were becoming more frequent as the first game of the season -- sixth-years versus seventh-years -- approached. On top of everything else, he had the Auror Fast Track lessons. They'd started out innocently enough, with lecture upon lecture of law enforcement history, but by mid-October, all that changed.
"Next Tuesday, we don't meet here," said Moody, pacing the front of the classroom. "We meet at the Quidditch pitch. It's not the Compound, but it'll have to do."
Moody was referring to the Training Compound at Pentland Hills, where future Aurors lived whilst preparing for their career. Draco thought it sounded like a nightmare: most of the first year consisted of physical training, and the Compound's list of facilities sounded harrowing in itself, never mind having to use those facilities. He still didn't fully understand why an Auror needed to know how to ride a horse, for example. Or play "tennis". Whatever on earth that was.
"Do you mean to say we're starting physical training now?" asked Millicent.
Moody's magical eye swung on her. "Is that a problem, Miss Bulstrode?"
She shook her head soundlessly. Even Millicent was wary of Moody.
Moody glanced at the cuckoo clock on his desk: there were still five minutes left until their hour was up. "The Ministry wants me to indoctrinate you," he said, and poked at a stack of papers with his wand. "I've got all these exercises I'm meant to go through, ones that'll make sure you have the right way of thinking by the end of it all."
Behind Draco, Potter snorted. "What makes them so sure they can change the way we think?"
"You'd be surprised, lad," said Moody gravely. "I've seen boys enter the Compound with one outlook and come out with another. Why lie, I was one of those boys. It's not just a job. It's a way of life. The Department doesn't want the wrong sort of people to live that life. And since they can't fully control who gets into training, they do their best to control who gets out."
"That sounds rather sinister for a government organisation," protested Macmillan.
"It is, and I'd be flayed for telling you as much as I have if I were still an Auror. But I'm retired, and quite mad, they say." Draco couldn't be sure, but he thought he saw Moody wink. "If you were to go around repeating what I've told you, you'd just be assured I'm not right in the head."
The cuckoo announced that their time was up, but Draco stayed in his chair long after everyone left. The more he learned about Aurors, the less he wanted to become one. The way Moody told it, they were all a bunch of brainwashed automatons who would arrest their mother if she so much as picked up a book on the Dark Arts. But there was no other way to help his father, was there?
As Draco neared the common room, he became aware of two familiar figures standing next to the Fat Lady's portrait. Potter's shaggy mop of hair was unmistakable, as was Ginny's long, flowing mane.
"You're sure about this?" Potter asked. Draco could almost see the frown on his face, just from the way his voice sounded -- carefully steady. Too carefully.
Draco coughed, deliberately. The last thing he wanted was to inadvertently overhear anything interesting. He didn't want to think about Potter and his secrets. Didn't want to think about Potter at all. He was surprised when Potter didn't immediately look away after glancing up at him. Ginny nodded at Draco, but no more. Her mouth was tight. Draco told himself not to think about it, muttered the password, and climbed through the hole without a glance back.
He'd just got out his Potions textbook and arranged his notes in his lap when Potter and Ginny returned to the common room.
"Smith." Potter's voice was like a whip cracking.
Draco couldn't help but look over at one of the tables by the wall, where Smith and a Ravenclaws were playing checkers. Smith had one arm draped across the back of the chair next to him, which happened to hold Lisa Turpin. He turned around at the sound of Potter's voice. His eyes narrowed slightly, but his mask of cool arrogance did not waver. "Yeah?"
"Did you tell Rita Skeeter how much you loved it?"
Smith's eyes widened, and he let his arm fall to his side. "What?" The common room's usual bustle died abruptly. All eyes were on Potter an Smith.
"I just want to know. You told her all about me, but I wonder if you told her about you."
Smith's face was growing redder and redder. He also looked afraid, and Draco didn't blame him. He had seen Potter in a fury so potent that the lights flickered, but that cold gaze and level voice were far more terrifying. "I don't know what you're talking about," Smith said finally.
"'Course he does," said Millicent. "Thought you would get away with it, didn't you?" She shot a triumphant look at Cornfoot, who hid his eyes. Since the rumours first started flying, she had been gleefully abusing her position as Quidditch captain to wring the last drop of sweat out of Smith and Cornfoot.
Potter seemed to ignore Millicent entirely. His icy glare was for Smith alone, and Draco suddenly felt absurdly grateful that he wasn't the recipient of it, for once. Even if it meant that Potter would no longer hate him. Oh, shit. He hoped Potter wouldn't feel it necessary to atone for "falsely accusing" Draco, even if he'd never verbalised it. Potter was a Gryffindor, after all, and there was just no telling, with Gryffindors.
"Are you saying you're not the one who talked to Rita Skeeter about my... indiscretions?" He said the word as though it were an oath.
Smith seemed to have gathered his wits; the arrogant sneer was back in full force. "You mean to say you've forced yourself on more than just me?"
Potter's eyes cut to Draco for a fraction of a second, and Draco thought he would die on the spot. No one seemed to notice, though, as no one turned to stare owl-eyed at Draco. He released a breath as quietly as he could.
"Forced myself?" Potter laughed -- laughed! "Oh, oh, don't stop, God, that feels so good," he intoned in a breathy moan that sounded far too genuine for comfort.
What little of Draco's blood wasn't busy rushing into his cock was spreading across his face. Draco pulled his notes up into his lap, mortified, hoping that no one would notice the obvious swelling in the front of his robes. What the fuck was Potter doing, moaning like that in front of everyone? Indecent.
By contrast, Smith's face was paler than fresh snow. "I don't know what you're talking about," he repeated.
Potter laughed again. "No? How about I fetch my Pensieve and let everyone hear for themselves?"
Draco almost started to object that Potter didn't have a Pensieve, but then he realised that a man with his own Invisibility Cloak might well have his own Pensieve.
Maybe you could borrow his Pensieve to keep your unwanted memories in. Draco snorted at the thought. He could hear it now: Potter, would you mind terribly if I used your Pensieve to dispose of some inconvenient memories for a time?
He realised that both Potter and Smith were staring at him. For a brief moment, he panicked -- had he said that last bit out loud? But no one else seemed to be staring, so they were probably were reacting to his snort. He returned Smith's stare. "Oops," he said quietly. "Looks like you lose."
Smith's sneering mouth twisted even more.
"So, what's it going to be, Smith?" asked Potter, crossing his arms.
Smith shoved his chair back and rose. "What the fuck do you want from me?" His hand was in his pocket, lightning-fast.
"I hope you're not thinking of using that wand," said Longbottom. The weather is nice today. That was how he said it, but his own wand, levelled at Smith's chest, told a different story. Beside him, Finnigan had pulled his own wand, too.
Smith's jaw worked, but he took his hand out of his pocket, empty. "What do you want?" he asked again, his expression sullen.
Potter smiled. "A front page retraction of that article. By Rita Skeeter." Smith's eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to protest, but Potter kept speaking. "What did you think, when you went to her? That I wouldn't find out? And if I did, that I would take it like a good little poofter?" Potter looked around the room, a challenge in his eyes. No one stirred.
"She'll never do it," said Smith. "She hates you--"
Potter shrugged. "That's your problem. There are other reporters who work for the Daily Prophet. I'm sure they would find my memory as fascinating as Skeeter found your tale."
"There's nothing I wouldn't do," spat Potter. "I didn't fight Voldemort to spend my life ashamed of who I am. You don't have to like it, but you will accept it."
News of the confrontation in the common room travelled faster than the first rumour about Potter and Smith. Some called Potter arrogant for it, but most people seemed to admire his strength. To Draco, it was just a reminder that Potter brought chaos and disorder to the wizarding world. A gay man proud of who he is? What a ridiculous notion. What was there to be proud of -- skilful fellatio?
But Potter was Mr Saviour of the Wizarding World and few dared oppose him openly. Draco still remembered Moody's warning after that ill-fated detention earlier in the year. One word from Potter, and the Ministry would crumble. Moody had likely exaggerated for effect, but there was some truth in it.
You don't have to like it, but you will accept it.
Maybe Potter knew more about his standing in the wizarding world than anyone, including Moody, thought. Draco suddenly realised something, and it made his stomach twist uneasily. Potter had been flapping in the wind since the war, since losing his friends, since losing what little purpose his life held with the Dark Lord still alive. Gryffindors were the sort to need causes to function. And now, Potter had found a new cause.
Such were Draco's thoughts on Friday as he sat inside the Three Broomsticks, nursing a Butterbeer and watching Zabini make a fool of himself. His trysts with Lolita seemed to have done nothing to reduce his interest in the woman -- that, in itself, was strange. Zabini had always been one for the chase, quickly growing bored with his conquests after they gave in to him. Right at that moment, he was staring at her taking an order from a couple of unkempt warlocks, grinning like an idiot.
"So what do you think about it?" Draco asked, snapping his fingers in front of Zabini's face.
"What?" Zabini looked irritated, but the silly grin faded, and his face returned to his usual look of haughty indifference.
"I was asking what you thought about the whole thing with Potter," said Draco. "Him strutting about the school as if it's perfectly natural to want cock up your arse."
Zabini stroked his chin. "He doesn't seem the type to take it up the arse, actually. More like the other way around."
"Whatever," said Draco impatiently. "You know what I mean."
Zabini shrugged. "If Potter wants to prance about lifting shirts, it's no skin off my nose, just so long as it's not my shirt he's after."
"Don't worry, you're not my type," said Potter from behind them.
Draco choked on his Butterbeer and turned around. "What are you doing here?"
"I want a word with you," said Potter.
Draco straightened in his seat. "Well, here I am. Have your word." What he really wanted was to run away screaming, but he wasn't about to cause a scene in full view of Zabini and the rest of the pub.
"Not here. Outside."
Draco glanced at Zabini, who lifted one eyebrow.
"No, we're not shagging," Potter said to Zabini, who snorted, casting a meaningful glance in Draco's direction. Draco knew exactly what he meant to say -- Potter's supposed crush on Draco. Oh, he was going to kill Potter just as soon as they got outside.
Draco rose from his chair with deliberate slowness. "Lead the way," he said briskly. "Since it doesn't appear like I have a choice."
Potter frowned at him. "If you don't want to talk to me--"
"I don't have to like it, but I will accept it?" said Draco with a rueful smirk. "It's OK, I heard you in the common room."
"No, that's not what I meant," protested Potter. "You're not Smith. I just--"
"You're going to want that word one way or another," snapped Draco. "So let's go and get it over with. I've already got up from my chair and everything."
For a moment, Potter looked like he was trying not to smile. Then he turned around and headed for the doors.
"If you're not back within twenty minutes, I'm calling Rita Skeeter!" called Zabini in a whisper that only reached Draco's ears. Draco rolled his eyes at him as he walked away. He had to keep a straight face, had to keep acting as though none of this affected him. If he behaved like Potter's request bothered him -- which it did -- Zabini might suspect something.
No sooner did the pub doors close behind Draco, that Potter turned to face him.
"Why did you let me believe it was you who went to Skeeter?"
"I did no such thing," said Draco. "Is that all?"
"But you did. You saw me looking at you after reading that article, and you fucking smirked at me."
"Potter, I think you have a bit of an ego problem. So I smirked at you. Your face looks funny when you're pissed off. Worthy of a smirk or two."
Potter rolled his eyes. "Very funny, but why don't I believe you?"
"I don't know, but the Encyclopaedia of Wizarding Maladies might interest you. Look under 'delusions of grandeur'. That ought to do it."
"So I've been told. Now, was that all? Or are you trying to ensure that I catch a cold?" It was cold outside, and the sky looked like it would start spitting rain any minute.
Potter sighed. "I don't understand you, Malfoy. Every time I think I do, you--"
"Well, we're not engaged to be married, thankfully, so it's not your duty to understand me," said Draco, a bit more harshly than he intended. "And to be perfectly honest, I'd rather not be seen talking to you like this. People might think the wrong thing."
Potter's eyes burned with barely suppressed rage. He grabbed Draco by the arm and dragged him around the corner until they were between the pub and the small storage shed, with barely a foot of space between them.
"No one can see us here," he growled. "Now will you talk to me?"
Draco swallowed. "You gave me your word--"
"I won't touch you," muttered Potter.
He looked regretful, which made Draco happy for some bizarre, not-of-this-world reason. Perhaps it was just nice to feel wanted, especially after weeks of being ignored. What? No! How stupid was that? Draco's mouth was suddenly dry. Potter wasn't touching him, but he might as well have been -- his whole body appeared to be rebelling against his better judgement. His pulse raced as his heart beat with abandon, pumping blood everywhere but his brain.
"Was this where you and Smith--" he started, but broke off. He didn't want to know. He didn't know why he'd started to ask.
"Yeah," said Potter. "But I don't want to talk about him."
He seemed perfectly oblivious to Draco's distress; an unexpected blessing. Draco couldn't run -- he couldn't go back inside with a raging hard-on, and he wasn't safe from Potter anywhere else. He couldn't even Disapparate, his mind was in such disarray. He had to stand here and talk to Potter and hope that the twisting heat inside his lower belly would go away. Bloody Potter. He'd done it with nothing but his voice yesterday, and today he'd done it with a look. Merlin in a teapot, what was Draco going to do?