Chapter Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Wherein Blaise takes some evasive action, Draco forgets where he is, there is a debate on the Gryffindor sofa, words don't make sense, Ginny's spellwork is as quick as ever, the trophy room is still the trophy room, and Harry is beyond angry.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 23 - The Second Reckoning
"I, on the other hand, don't see anything interesting about running into you here," replied Draco. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He should have expected this, should have known he would run into Zabini here eventually.
Zabini smirked. "Lolita told me who had taken the room you just vacated. Did you have fun?"
"I should have known you were the type to skulk about in the shadows and spy on people," said Draco, refusing to keep the focus of the conversation on himself.
"Me? Skulk about? I don't think so. I was merely going back to the castle after an enchanting evening with my lady love."
Draco managed a snort. "Your lady love who can't read or write."
"She makes up for it in other ways." Zabini's teeth flashed. "Ways you wouldn't know anything about, apparently."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Zabini had only seen him coming out of a room Potter had paid for. That, in itself, meant nothing. It suggested various unpleasant things, but Draco decided he would keep to an adage his grandfather had been fond of: it is not the thief who is hanged, but one who is caught stealing.
"Do you take me for an idiot?" Zabini asked, pursing his lips. "Everyone knows about Potter's... preferences, but I'd wager no one knew about yours. Until now, that is."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Draco. "Potter and I had something to discuss."
Zabini laughed. "Do you really expect me to believe you?"
"Believe me or not," said Draco, "That's the truth. If I could, I would tell you the subject of our conversation, and then you would understand why we could not have it at Hogwarts."
"There's no conversation that can't be had in the Forbidden Forest or the Hog's Head," said Zabini, shaking his head. "You don't need a bed to have a conversation."
"You don't need a bed to fuck, either," Draco shot back. "Do you really think I would compromise myself like this, knowing that you frequent this lovely establishment, if I really were a deviant? Potter asked me to meet him here; what he's going to do after I am gone is none of my concern."
Zabini gave him a level look. "So. Since nothing untoward went on in that room, I'm sure you won't object if I tell people I ran into you at the Three Broomsticks, coming out of a room taken by a Mr Underhill who wears round glasses and bears a certain famous scar."
"Underhill?" asked Draco, trying to buy time whilst his horror-struck mind tried to come up with a plausible reason for Zabini to keep his mouth shut.
"Very original," said Zabini with a solemn nod. "But you haven't answered."
Draco shrugged. His face felt like there was no blood left in it. "I never knew you were such a gossip monger."
"I, on the other hand, have known you for eight years," said Zabini. "And you never put your hands in your pockets unless you're lying through your teeth."
Draco realised that his hands were in his pockets, as deep as they could be. He didn't know how long they'd been there. He said nothing. They stared at each other.
After a long silence, split a few times by drunken laughter from the pub downstairs, Zabini's voice sounded louder than it was. "What are you going to do?"
Draco blinked at him. No threats? No taunts? He thought back to his mother's story, to the half-hearted nature of Zabini's insults in Potter's direction earlier in the year. "You know about your brother."
Zabini's eyes flashed. "How do you know about him?"
"My mother went to school with him."
"One big gay Slytherin family," remarked Zabini, averting his eyes. "Since my mother told me about him, I sometimes wish I were gay, just so she would be as protective of me as she is of his memory."
Startled by this unexpected confidence, Draco didn't know what to say. He and Zabini had never had much in common, certainly not enough to share their inner thoughts with each other. Still, he knew instinctively that Zabini would keep silent, if only for his mother's sake.
"As for me," said Draco, "I have no wish to disappoint my father."
Zabini glanced at him. "Your father is in prison."
"He won't be in prison for ever. When he comes out, I want him to enjoy whatever is left of his life, without shame for his only son."
"That was all Alistair wanted, too," said Zabini with a bitter edge to his voice.
"But his father knew," replied Draco. "Mine will not."
"Do you really think you can keep it a secret? Sooner or later you're bound to be seen by someone else."
"Someone who won't have a reason to keep quiet, you mean," said Draco. "That's why I'm not just going to keep it a secret. I intend to forget it."
Zabini frowned. "You're going to hire an Obliviator?"
"I wouldn't trust an Obliviator. I've found a way to build a device that will make me forget." Draco had no real idea why he was telling Zabini this; perhaps to even out the score for Zabini's earlier outburst regarding his brother.
"Oh? And how might one build such a device?" asked Zabini. Draco could not help noticing that his interest appeared more than casual. Of course; Zabini was carrying on with a witless, illiterate barmaid. He had things to forget, too. Well, if Draco could make Zabini owe him something, all the better.
"There's a po--" he started saying, but a sudden noise caused him to turn around.
Potter stood in the doorway to their room. "Zabini."
"Don't worry, Potter, your secret's safe with me," said Zabini, his tone mocking in a way it hadn't been with Draco.
"I wasn't worried. I wanted to ask you to leave us."
Draco stared at Potter. How much has he heard? Why was he even worried? So Potter now knew that Draco was building a device that would help him forget everything. So what?
Zabini gave Potter a mock salute and sauntered away. "I'll wait for you outside," he murmured to Draco. "Don't take too long; it's freezing out there."
"So you're going to forget," said Potter after Zabini disappeared from view. "Forget everything."
"I will," said Draco. He was oddly touched that Potter assumed he would be successful. Knowing how difficult the potion was, Draco wasn't so certain. But he wouldn't say that out loud. Besides, Potter had no idea about the potion, and Draco would need to keep it that way, lest Potter try and sabotage his "assignment for Slughorn".
"So this is what, to you?" asked Potter, gesturing first to Draco, then to himself.
"Nothing," said Draco. "I do believe I've already made that perfectly clear."
Potter's jaw worked, but he said nothing.
"What?" asked Draco, beginning to feel irritated. "Were you hoping I'd change my mind? Were you hoping I'd fall for your irresistible charms, and we'd live happily ever after, holding hands and skipping through flowering meadows?"
Potter's face was very white, but still he remained silent. He was not looking at Draco any more.
"I've done nothing wrong," Draco told him. "It's not your business what I do with my life, and I've made my choice. I will build my... Pocket Obliviator. I've made my choice." He didn't know why he was still talking, didn't know why he didn't just leave. Most of all, he didn't know where this strange sense of obligation had come from, as if he owed Potter an explanation.
"Fair enough," said Potter, suddenly approaching Draco. "You've made your choice. Let me make it even easier for you. Stay the fuck away from me."
He pushed past Draco and walked down the stairs without a look back.
"No, listen to this: in 1833, the Wizengamot ruled that Augustus Pickle and Charles Stroud were allowed to marry because they were raising a child together," recited Ginny.
Finnigan hooted. "Does it say where Mr Pickle or Mr Stroud squeezed said offspring from?"
"It's called adoption, Seamus," said Ginny, marking her place in the thick tome on her lap and turning to him with a look of haughty disapproval. "Their daughter was left on their doorstep as a baby, and they decided to raise her."
"That was very decent of them," said Thomas diplomatically.
Draco sat at a table near the window and seethed. He was trying to compose a letter to his mother, but the loud conversation on the Gryffindor sofa kept distracting him. For the past fifteen minutes, they'd been discussing how unfair it was that gay wizards weren't allowed to marry legally. He stole a glance at Potter, who had started the discussion, prompting Ginny to run up to her room and return with the enormous book on wizarding law that she now balanced on her knees. It seemed that the man had been born to command everyone's attention, first with his scar and now with his bloody sexual preferences. It just wasn't fair.
Potter appeared at his ease, one arm slung over the back of the sofa, his eyes on Ginny's book. He hadn't looked at Draco or acknowledged his existence for three weeks, six days, fourteen hours and seventeen minutes. Approximately. Draco had very much wanted to repay him in kind, but his mind and his eyes kept wandering to Potter. His only solace was bubbling merrily upstairs; just yesterday, Draco had added the dried fennel seeds, which was the penultimate ingredient. Now, the potion only needed nine grains of Costa Rican sand, to be added in a month. A month after that, Draco could begin steeping it in his Pensieve.
Ginny elbowed Potter in the ribs, and nodded towards Draco's table. Draco realised he'd been staring and quickly looked away, but not before he saw Potter shrug without even bothering to turn around. She knows, thought Draco with a sick certainty. Not that there was anything to know any more.
"Why even bother marrying?" asked Millicent, who didn't seem to have noticed anything. "I know a pair of witches in my village who have lived together for as long as I've been alive, and no one bothers them."
"It's the principle of the thing," said Potter. "It's like Muggle-borns being treated like lesser people just because they're Muggle-born--"
Colin Creevey made a protesting squeak. "It's not the same thing at all!" he said. "Nobody wants to kill you for being gay."
"You don't know that," said Ginny.
"Yes, I do! There's never been a war because somebody wanted to wipe out all the gays--"
"Oh, let's have a pissing competition, shall we?" snapped Potter. "My minority is better than your minority because we're more persecuted?" he continued in a slight falsetto.
"That's not what I said," muttered Creevey, but Potter's obvious irritation seemed to subdue him.
"My point is, no one should be denied the right to live how they want," said Potter.
Draco wanted very much to call him a hypocrite, but that would necessitate announcing the circumstances under which Potter had denied Draco the right to get off when he wanted. The thoughts of "Potter" and "getting off" juxtaposed made Draco want to tug at his collar; his school robes suddenly felt too hot and he began to think it would be a grand idea to go and bury himself in the snow blanketing the school grounds.
Frustrated and angry at himself, Draco put a full stop at the end of a sentence so vigorously that the tip of his quill broke with a sharp crack. He glanced down at his letter to Narcissa.
How is life at the Manor? Here at school everything is as to be expected in the final stretch of N.E.W.T. year, but you know that, of course. I'm not even sure why I write to you any more, seeing as you can read the highlights in that book of yours -- I suppose I'll just have to provide the details that the book cannot. For instance, did you know that Charles Stroud and his daughter Augustus adopted a pickle? Gryffindors can't live without deviants, and it looks like the sexual hero Harry Potter has married the cause of stupid missions being unable to take up.
Flushing, Draco crumpled up the parchment. He couldn't even keep his written words in order whilst thinking about Potter! Really, it was unacceptable.
"I know how you feel, Draco," called Millicent. "I've done the same to my first five drafts of Slughorn's essay."
"Yeah," said Draco, stuffing the balled-up parchment in his pocket as he rose. "Looks like I need to do more research. I'll be in the library."
He had developed a habit of announcing where he was going whenever he was in Potter's earshot. Even though he knew perfectly well that Potter had his strange map, and if he wanted to find Draco in the castle, he could always use that. Every time he was alone in a corridor, he kept expecting Potter to come running behind him, to push him into one of those secret passages and...
Draco hung his head and stared at his feet, which took him past the library floor, down to the Entrance Hall, and out of the castle. At the beginning of the year, he had wanted nothing more than for Potter to forget he existed. Now that Potter seemed to have done so, Draco was exquisitely unhappy, in a way he had never known before.
"Solace," he whispered to himself, thinking about his potion. Whatever madness had got hold of him would be gone once he could not remember Potter's kisses, his intent eyes, the way his hands knew just how to make Draco go weak-kneed. His memories pursued him; all Draco had to do was close his eyes and let his mind drift through the past six months, starting from that first night in June and ending with that last night three weeks, six days, fourteen hours and forty-seven minutes ago. Approximately.
The memories seemed to get stronger for their constant recollection, but Draco supposed this was a good thing. He would remember everything on the day he used his Dreamcatcher, everything down to the littlest detail. All the better to forget it all after a few hours of sleep. A thought occurred to him then: would he have to wipe out memories of remembering, too? Or would those memories fade away, with no context to root them in his mind? Would he have to forget even thinking about Potter in order to forget completely?
Maybe the book on Dreamcatchers would have an answer. After all, forgetting a nightmare wasn't the same as forgetting having the nightmare, especially if you discussed it with someone. Draco stopped next to one of the greenhouses and turned around, heading back inside the castle. He didn't even realise he'd been cold until he stepped into the Entrance Hall and felt his nose and ears tingling in the heat. He rubbed vigorously at his nose and collided with someone coming down the marble staircase.
"Watch where you're going," he muttered without looking, and kept going up the stairs.
"Did you just hear something?" Potter. Potter's voice. Draco whirled around, but Potter wasn't looking at him. He was walking down towards the Entrance Hall with Ginny at his side.
"Yes, I heard Malfoy tell you to watch where you were going, because you were trying to walk right through him," said Ginny with a look back at Draco.
"So it was nothing, then," said Potter, and kept going. Ginny cast another glance backwards, mouthed something that looked like "boys", and hurried after him.
Draco didn't know what came over him then; blind rage exploded in his chest and he heard himself shout, "I suppose if I sent a Stunner at him, he wouldn't feel it, would he?"
His wand was out, but so was Ginny's, and she was a fraction of a second faster than Draco. He felt his body go rigid and unresponsive, rooted to the spot where he stood on the stairs. Petrificus Totalus.
"Wands in the corridor!" screeched Filch's voice from somewhere far away.
"This is all your fault," complained Draco to Ginny, who was glowering at her pile of unpolished trophies.
She looked over at him and rolled her eyes. "Right. Because I was the one who wanted to Stun Harry, clearly."
"You didn't have to stop me."
"Then you wouldn't have the pleasure of my company right now," Ginny shot back, and picked up a heavy eagle statuette. "To Louis Jupenet. Doesn't say what he did to deserve it."
"Probably something insignificant," said Draco, finding himself unarmed in the face of Ginny's indifference. Ginny said nothing.
They polished trophies for a good half hour before Draco blurted, "You know, don't you?"
Ginny set aside a moss-covered plaque and looked at him. "Know what?"
"You know what."
She made a face. "Is that what they mean by 'love that dare not speak its name'?"
"No one said anything about love," said Draco quickly. She did know. So much for Potter's promises. "How long have you known?"
"Three weeks or so," came the laconic reply. "He was going to tell everybody, but he started with me."
Draco felt short of breath. "He was going to do what?"
"He was so pissed off at you that he was going to tell everyone what you two had been up to." Ginny peered at him, her eyes serious. "You hurt him."
Draco scowled. "He hurt himself. If he tells anyone else, I'll kill him."
"No, you won't." It sounded like a threat. "Besides, he won't tell anyone else."
"What makes you so sure?"
Ginny swiped her rag across the moss on her plaque. "I made him promise."
Draco gaped at her. "Why would you do that?"
She seemed very intent on clearing away the moss. "I suppose I still felt like I owed you. For Ron. But if you hurt Harry again, I'll--"
"Again? I didn't hurt him in the first place," snapped Draco. "He knew from the start that I hated it, knew I didn't want to be... like that. Just because famous Harry Potter can afford to flaunt himself around doesn't mean the rest of us can."
"If you didn't want it, why did you do it?"
"I don't know," said Draco with absolute truthfulness. He didn't know why he had been unable to stop himself from being drawn to Potter, didn't know why he still couldn't stop stealing glances at him whenever they were in the same room, didn't know why Potter's complete dismissal of him made him so miserable. "I wish I knew."
"I see," said Ginny. The expression on her face suggested that she didn't see anything, but why would Draco care? She knew, she had made Potter promise to keep it quiet; that was all that mattered. Now there were four people who knew -- Draco's mother, Millicent, Zabini, and Ginny Weasley. Four, and three of them had found out within the last month.
Zabini was right, thought Draco. The longer it would have gone on, the more people would have found out.
"Zabini knows, too?" asked Ginny, her eyes wide. "Zabini?"
Draco kicked himself for thinking out loud and nodded. "Bonds of friendship are not exclusive to Gryffindors, you realise." Unlike Millicent, Zabini wasn't Draco's friend, but all the same, he would not tell Zabini's family secrets to some Gryffindor. Even if she had saved him from eternal shame.
They completed the rest of their detention in silence, and when Filch came to fetch them, he seemed pleased at the peevish look on Ginny's face and the morose one on Draco's. The pile of trophies seemed untouched, but that didn't seem to matter to the caretaker. Rightly so thought Draco. It never grows any smaller.
When Draco walked into the dormitory to change into cleaner robes and to wash his hands after the disgusting grime that covered the trophies, he found Potter there, alone, crouching next to his trunk with a preoccupied expression on his face.
"How dare you," said Draco before he could even think. "How fucking dare you tell anyone about-- about--"
Nothing, he realised. He had told Potter it had been nothing, but obviously it had been something. Otherwise why would his heart hammer quite so fiercely, why would he fear that Potter was going to ignore him again?
Potter got to his feet and walked out of the room, his eyes trained on something ahead of himself. Draco stood very still until the urge to run after him -- and make him talk! -- had passed.