Draco stared down into the depths of something that, against nature and most accepted wisdoms, was a bright, hallucinogenic pink.
He’d never liked cocktails. He always found them vaguely alarming and certainly deceitful. As such, they should have suited him down to the ground, but really if anything was going to be doing the alarming and deceiving around here it should be Draco, not some over-sweet drink with a naff name.
Yet another strange Muggle song began throbbing and wailing into the sound-system. Draco still wasn’t sure how Stefano had managed to convince him to come to a club, and he was completely in the dark about how he’d coerced Alexandre into it, but there they both were. Both with bright pink drinks. The joke wasn’t lost on Draco, but Alexandre -- if his stormy expression was indicative of his opinion of the matter -- was not exactly bowled over with good humour.
Draco twirled his miniature umbrella around the inexplicable froth on the top of the cocktail. It tasted like a milkshake, which was downright irresponsible. Not to mention that Draco had never had a taste for milkshakes. If drinking he preferred top-shelf spirits, such as his father used to stock. He wondered if his father realised who was behind the mysterious disappearances of his best scotch every school holiday. He probably did, which was yet another example of his exemplary techniques in child rearing.
“Come dance,” begged Stefano, appearing beside him like a sweaty sprite, his hair glued to his head and his eyes luminous. Draco was almost persuaded, until he registered the song Stefano wanted him to dance to, and to which Stefano had already begun jigging in time.
“No, thanks,” said Draco. Stefano shrugged and was gone again in a flash. He inveigled his way into a crowd of happily plastered people, all of whom were Crazy Frogging all over the place.
“This,” pronounced Alexandre, in tones of deepest disdain, “is disgusting.”
Draco glanced around to see which of the numerous offending articles might have caught Alexandre’s attention: the décor, to which 'lurid' was the only fitting adjective, given the amount of fake palm trees; the people, who appeared to be too poor to afford enough clothing between them; the dancing, which might as well have been horizontal; or the nearest couple -- two middle-aged men dressed in leather armlets, shorts and not much else.
“This drink,” Alexandre elaborated. He pursed his lips as if someone were trying to force a spoon of cod-liver oil down his gullet. “It’s probably got more sugar in it than Coke. Are Muggles entirely stupid?”
“Keep your voice down,” said Draco, with a smile for the bartender, who was clearly wondering what a Muggle was: animal, vegetable, mineral or in-crowd swearword. When the bartender was sufficiently flustered by Draco’s attentions to move away, Draco scooted his stool closer to Alexandre’s and hissed in his ear, “You’re the one who’s stupid, breaking security like that! Don’t you realise how strict the British Ministry is about doing magic in front of Muggles?”
“I wasn’t doing any,” retorted Alexandre, but he looked guilty.
“You were using words that might arouse their suspicions, and that’s just as bad,” said Draco. “Clearly you haven’t been doing enough business with your Muggle Relations Department.”
“I’m in Mag -- in Transport,” said Alexandre, after a pause to think. “It’s in an entirely different arrondissement.”
“How lovely,” cooed Draco. He took a large sip of his cocktail and wiped his lips with the back of his hand, correctly guessing that the combined force of these two disgusting actions upon Alexandre would be greater than one alone. Alexandre recoiled slightly.
“You still haven’t told us why you’re here.” Alexandre smoothed down the fronts of Stefano’s jeans. They looked about as homely on him as they would on a shark, but there was no denying that he was very attractive all the same. If Stefano hadn’t been nearby, Draco would have been tempted. But there was no sense in stealing someone else’s apple pie if you had chocolate cake on your own plate.
“I don’t intend to,” said Draco. “My business is my own. You followed me here on your own sufferance.”
“And when your business is concluded, will you be going back to Spain with my brother?”
A good question, thought Draco, tugging a piece of hair out of his eye. He had gelled it into a tousled mess, as fashion dictated. He still thought Stefano’s dark wing of hair, and even Alexandre’s close crop, looked better, but there were some things that it was beyond even the power of magic to change. “I don’t know,” he said, feeling his skin prickle. “I think that may not be my decision.”
“Good lord, you are a criminal.” Alexandre sounded amused. Draco shot him a baleful look and slid off his stool.
“I’m going to find Stefano,” he announced. “You have a key to the hotel, yeah?”
“Yeah,” said Alexandre, imitating Draco’s nasal pronunciation. Draco thought about knocking his cocktail into Alexandre’s lap, but decided to drink it instead. At least that would show that he fit into the scene, and not that he was a petty git, even though the latter was true and the former not.
Stefano was indulging in some wild gyrations with an androgynous waif in Galliano, who looked all of twelve. After prying Stefano away, Draco dragged him behind a potted palm and kissed him till his brain tingled.
“You’re keen,” said Stefano, his breathing laboured, and Draco shrugged.
“Let’s just say you’re better company than your brother.”
“Shall we go home? I’m tired,” suggested Stefano, tucking his hand companionably into Draco’s back jeans pocket.
Draco had no objection.
There were places in Knockturn Alley that sold ready-brewed Polyjuice Potion. Happily, they were also the sorts of places where a prospective patron could get away with long, dirty robes with huge cowls, clearly designed to hide a bad case of red eyes or an inconvenient snout. In fact, such attire was very nearly a requirement. After all, if you came to buy illegal potions and sundry other items wearing spotless, neatly pressed robes, you were clearly up to something.
Draco tugged the hems of his robes further down over his fingers. He’d dragged his nails through the dirt in one of the hotel’s houseplants prior to leaving. The fullness under his fingernails felt new and uncomfortable, but he felt that overall it added up to a more convincing image. He’d thought it best to Apparate straight to the Leaky Cauldron, however. Muggles were slightly less accepting of alternative modes of apparel -- clean or otherwise -- than were their magical counterparts.
Tom was still the barman at the dilapidated pub. It gave Draco a peculiar feeling in his gut to see the first of many familiar things, which would be either the same or impossibly different. He didn’t give himself time to indulge in it, though, and hurried through to the back alley without even acknowledging the wizened old man. A tiny thread of thought insinuated into the back of his brain: he would soon know if anyone he’d once called a friend was still alive.
He wasn’t all that knowledgeable about Knockturn Alley, despite the fact that his father had carried out many a business deal within its pleasant surrounds. Fortunately the potion shop -- it had no more grand title than that, because those that needed it knew what it was without being told -- was near Diagon Alley, being in greater use than the more esoteric emporiums.
Within a very short time Draco, with the aid of a bag of Galleons converted by Alexandre on a truncated trip to the Gringotts branch in Diagon Alley, had in his possession a goodish quantity of Polyjuice Potion. He hadn’t been sure how much he’d need, so he’d bought away and above his expectations. Now he needed to find a private place for the transformation and he thought he had the very location: a tiny tavern at the meeting of Alleys Knockturn and Blackweather, much favoured by prostitutes on cold nights and virtually deserted by day.
It was then that his gaze happened to be dazzled by a sudden burst of hot sunlight. In turning his head to blink his eyes clear, Draco caught sight none other than Hermione Granger. She held an infant in her arms who was still bawling, Draco noted with malicious amusement. She trailed another chubby child of indeterminate sex by dint of her robe skirt, which was affixed to its wrist.
Granger stopped abruptly in the street and turned her head back. Draco had the perfect chance to study her, if that was his idea of a good time. It wasn’t, so all he took in was that her face was quite drawn and her mouth down-turned. Presumably she hadn’t been able to find the book she wanted at Flourish and Blotts.
“Cormac!” she called, her voice shrill. “Cormac, please do hurry up! Matilda needs the little girl’s room.”
A man hove into sight. Given that he was dragging two howling children who sported masses of frizzy blonde hair, he couldn’t but be Granger’s husband -- that, or a most unfortunate nanny.
Although of course her name wouldn’t be Granger any longer; and it seemed so pointless to call her ‘Mudblood’ after the low types Draco had been driven to consort with, that he hardly knew what to call her.
“God, Hermione,” the man panted. He ripped his hand from one child’s grip to mop his glistening brow. The little boy wailed all the louder at the deprivation, which clearly did nothing for the man’s temper. “You do nag a man. And these two haven’t shut up for an hour straight, demanding bloody ice cream and God knows what -- must take after you.”
“Please don’t swear in front of the children,” hissed Granger. “And where is Angus?”
“Here, Mum.” A solemn child emerged from behind his father’s robes and blinked in a manner more suited to an owl than a human being. He was struggling under the weight of a bag of books that almost equalled him in height. Granger shot her husband a filthy look and snatched up the bag, losing hold of her other child in the process.
Draco reflected that for a girl who, despite her deficiencies of blood, had been quite intelligent, it was a surprise that she’d never come across the concept of ‘birth control.'
Four of the children set up a crying chorus -- all but Angus, who looked impatient but accustomed to their behaviour. Cormac scooped up two of the children and administered sound slaps on their curly heads, which shocked them into silence. Granger pressed her lips into thin lines of chalk at this, but said nothing. Cormac strode on with his two captives in hand.
Angus knelt to soothe his sibling, who had stuffed some of Granger’s robe into its drooling mouth in search of comfort. Angus managed to coax it away and hoisted the bag of books on to his shoulder as well, for in rocking the baby Granger seemed to have forgotten about it.
Draco leaned out of the alley entrance in order to watch the miserable party leave. Angus’ charge caught sight of him and set to roaring -- a little in fear and a lot in want of attention paid it, if Draco was any judge. Angus noticed Draco as well. Despite what Draco was sure was his at least mildly terrifying aspect, Angus did nothing but send Draco an exasperated look as he popped a boiled sweet into the cavernous mouth of his sibling.
Draco put them out of his mind with ease as he meandered down to the narrow, winding end of Knockturn Alley. He had taken Polyjuice Potion once before, against his will, and did not look back on the event as one of his choicest memories. Still, needs must if the devil rides. Draco just wasn’t sure who the devil was any more.
“Name and business?” recited the receptionist, twirling her quill. It was a feat of considerable skill, given the length of her shiny purple fingernails.
“Michel Rodriguez,” lied Draco. He ran his hands through his -- Stefano’s -- silky black hair and marvelled at its lightweight texture. It felt so different when it was on his own head. “Oh -- I’m an reporter for a Spanish newspaper. I’m here to interview Harry Potter.”
The receptionist emitted a sceptical noise. It sounded like a squirrel being squashed to death in a concertina. “Well, you can go on up, but I doubt you’ll get to interview him. Room twenty-four, next the Closed Ward on floor three. He doesn’t see many people, and security’s rather high.”
“Really? Why?” Draco affected astonishment, although he knew what her answer would be.
“Oh, there are still a lot of horrible people who resent his defeating You-Know-Who,” said the receptionist, sounding as if she couldn’t have come up with a more tedious topic if she tried. “And of course there are your average crazies. Next!”
Draco climbed the stairs, feeling as if someone were adding lead weights to his feet with every step. The cheap spiral-bound notebook, which he’d bought in the Heathrow branch of W.H. Smith, dug into the flesh of his palm like a crown of thorns.
When he reached the Closed Ward level, he saw that it was indeed crowded. There were about five reporters, judging from their scowls and acid green quills; a few alert-looking wizards in dove-coloured robes; and the inevitable Weasleys, who were probably on shifts. Draco didn’t see any he recognised, for which he was grateful.
The mirror told him that he was a tall, young and extraordinarily handsome Spanish man, but he knew that inside he was still a skinny and not particularly attractive Englishman. He was sure that someone would somehow see that and arrest him, although he had taken pains to pour three doses of Polyjuice into a Butterbeer bottle and enchant the same to look like light brown liquid.
He sidled up to a likely looking reporter who had a Muggle trilby hat on backwards, in addition to tartan robes with leather patches sewn on the elbows.
“What’s the lowdown on Potter?” asked Draco, not in a carrying whisper but in quiet tones. He smiled disarmingly at one of the dove-coloured witches, who blushed and looked away.
“Eh?” said the reporter, sounding irritable. “I’m expecting my four o’clock relief. We’ve been waiting here round the clock in case the great Potter should chance to allow us an interview, but nothing doing.”
“Nothing?” Draco was a little dismayed. Potter had been such a glory-hog when he was younger. Draco had been counting on the fact that Potter would be holding interviews at every possible interval. Perhaps he was still tired, although that had never seemed to hinder him before.
“Nope. Oh, at some time every day Potter gets impatient and lets someone in to ask one question, if you don’t mind, but he keeps saying he wishes everyone would go home and leave him alone.” The reporter adjusted his hat with a cough that managed to sound as exasperated as its creator. “I’m the Prophet’s current affairs reporter, but for God’s sake, I reckon this story should be human interest. It’s Rita Skeeter’s dream.”
“Well, where is she?” asked Draco. “And for that matter, why’s Potter still in here? It’s been over a month since he woke up, hasn’t it?”
“One month, two weeks and three days, and that’s the question, innit?” said the reporter in deeply put-upon tones. “As for Rita, dead people don’t make for good reporters, do they? Mind, you wouldn’t know, being foreign and all.” He expectorated a number of hacking noises, which sounded like the dying croak of a vulture. Draco realised after a moment’s consideration that the man was laughing.
Draco sidled up to the young witch in dove-grey robes. She was an Auror; not only her uniform but her nervous, blushing, nail-chewing manner gave her away. She was, in fact, the perfect poster girl for the British Aurors. No one looking at her would ever imagine that she fronted a crack team of wizards, ninety percent responsible for dismantling of the Dark Lord’s regime after his demise.
“Hi,” said Draco. He clasped his hands behind his back to hide his crossed fingers and discovered, to his delight, that a bashful blush came to his cheeks without effort. In his own skin, Draco never blushed except in rage. But he’d always noticed that it was one of Stefano’s most charming assets and he intended to use it to full advantage now that he had it.
“Hello,” she replied. Her own blush deepened to a blotchy flush, so that her face closely resembled a diseased apple.
Draco inched closer and attempted a trick with which Stefano enjoyed a lot of success. It involved his lips, his forefinger, a certain cast to his hip and, within subsequent minutes, Draco dragging him off somewhere private. Draco hadn’t the least interest in taking this dumpling girl to bed, but he was correct in thinking that the appearance of such an intention was enough to attract her attention.
“What’s your name?” she whispered, after a good minute and a half of shuffling about.
Draco was grateful for his assumed timidity, for it covered the second’s frantic recall of what name he’d chosen this time. “Michel Rodriguez,” he remembered, in the nick of time.
“I’m Rosaline Holt,” she replied. Draco managed not to roll his eyes -- for all that he was wearing Stefano’s perpetually alight face, surely some of his real boredom got through? -- and curved his lips instead. It had always been an action that required some thought, smiling. He had never understood how other people’s mouths could be so loose, moving almost of their own accord. When Draco smiled he really meant it. In this case, he really meant to use his new physical advantage to get into Potter’s room.
“Are you a reporter?” she asked. Her fingers were pleating the cloth of her robes. It was not the best idea she’d ever had, for it tugged the material tight over her rotund belly. Draco would’ve asked her when the baby was due if he weren't so focused on getting her on his side.
“From Spain,” said Draco, with a nod. He hadn’t even lied. “I’m here to see Harry Potter.” Well, that was true as well.
“I’ll just check if he’s letting anyone in,” murmured Rosaline. Draco beamed at her, quirking his lips to one side, just as Stefano did when he was wheedling something. Draco hadn’t realised quite how much of a study he’d made of Stefano, but it was certainly coming in handy.
Rosaline opened the door a crack and conferred with someone through it. She squeezed in a little further so that her head was poking in, leaving her body bulging outside like something that had been caught in a trap. Free of her gaze, Draco regarded her without pleasure. He really couldn’t understand what other men saw in women. They usually tended towards the squishy side and, even when they didn’t, there was something equally unappealing about the sinews on skinny women. Perhaps that explained why he’d only ever let Pansy touch him. Flat-chested and slim-hipped, she was practically a boy.
Someone else pushed past Rosaline, a familiar someone with a stump in place of a leg and a fearsome ball where one eye should be. Draco shrank back, sure that the eye would see through his disguise to the ferret that quivered within. He wasn’t permitted to shrink very far, though, because Moody clasped his shoulder and tugged him forward. Draco stumbled with him; it was that or be dragged.
“Potter’s giving you buggers another question, because you won’t go away,” growled Moody, flickering his magical eye over the small crowd. Draco, from under his arm, noticed that none of the reporters met Moody’s gaze. His friend in the trilby was edging away, casting glances over his shoulder for his replacement. Draco deduced that he wasn’t stupendously keen on getting the first-hand scoop. As for the rest, Moody had probably made them feel ashamed for hounding the Boy Who Lived -- as if he didn’t live for the attention!
“Today we’re allowing this one,” added Moody. He shook Draco till his head snapped, just in case anyone hadn’t noticed his previous manhandling. “In you go, then,” he said to Draco, giving him a slight shove through the door. Draco, massaging his elbow, decided that Moody didn’t know his own strength.
He didn’t have long to dwell on the pain, for Moody was ushering him through an antechamber where half-a-dozen Aurors were playing cards. They didn’t even make an effort to hide their activity; nor did they meet Draco’s eye, either to scorn or to swagger. If Draco had been a journalist in truth, he would have noted that -- they were so long in the tooth that they could no longer see the point in their assignment. Mutiny in the ranks! Aurors kick up their heels at pointless protection of Potter!
Draco was absorbed in these pleasant thoughts when Moody gave him one final thrust, propelling him into a large, octagonal chamber that was as white as a ghost. Draco, dazzled by the sunlight pouring in the huge bay windows like molten beer, thought at first that Moody had got the wrong room. He had been in a couple of the modern Muggle cathedrals, the factories where they worshipped their metal god with tortured pieces of machinery. This looked a lot like that, a cross between a hospital and an exploded working diagram of a computer. In one corner, a lot of fancy silver instruments were whirring and being tended sporadically by yet more dove-grey people. In another was a huge table, piled high with parchments and books.
The furthest corner from the door was bathed in light. Paper trails and shining cords covered the floor between Draco and it, but in that small space the floor was bare. Seeming forgotten by the room and the people in it, Harry Potter lay in a bed, his head turned to the glass of the windows.
It was a good thing that Potter’s hair was so dark. The paleness of his skin bled into the glacier-coloured sheets, and he was so slight that the only impression his body made was a hinge in the giant-sized pillows. If it weren't for that and his shock of hair, which stood out like dribbles of spilled ink on ice, Draco wasn’t sure if he’d have spotted him at all. Potter was enclosed in his pool of quiet in the midst of all the activity as if in a cage.
Draco had prepared himself for the old bitterness, the burn of rage on seeing Potter’s face once more in the flesh. He had cleared a space in his mind to hold it. It lay empty as he approached, step by step, and even his surprise at the space’s emptiness didn’t fill it.
At his footfall Potter turned his head. Draco was disgusted at how animated his adversary’s face became. Truly he must be pining for attention, unlikely as the prospect was.
Draco came to within a foot of the end of the bed and hovered, unsure as to the proper course of action. Should he conjure a chair? He couldn’t, anyway. Should he sit on the bed, the floor? Remain standing?
Meanwhile, Potter had wriggled into a more upright position. There was stock of sweets on the shelf behind his bed, a broomstick propped up beside it. Potter’s arms looked wasted and there was a child’s pull-toy peeking out from under the slipped sheets. All this Draco noticed in the second before Potter spoke. His voice scratched.
“Hello,” he said, sounding almost eager, “I’m Harry Potter,” as if anyone in England wouldn’t know that. “Moody said there was a foreign reporter today.”
“Moody said that? That’s rather polite of him, isn’t it?” Draco's candour carried him away before he realised the folly of it -- admitting to knowing Moody! Bad move, Malfoy!
But Potter just laughed. A sound so ludicrous that Draco had to pinch his own skin and remind himself that it was the colour of toffee, because there was simply no way that Potter would laugh in the presence of Draco Malfoy.
“Actually, what he said was ‘a rum dark bugger,’” admitted Potter, “but Rosaline has control over picking the reporters, so there wasn’t anything he could do about it.” Draco gave himself an imaginary pat on the back. “So, what’s your name?”
“Michel,” replied Draco without dropping a beat. He’d better take care not to mention that name to Stefano or Alexandre, now that it was coming so smoothly to his tongue. “Rodriguez, from the Spanish branch of the Daily Prophet. We’re run mainly for English wizards living in Spain.” He flicked his fringe back, hoping his awkward action didn’t mar his glib words. He wasn’t used to having such silky, sliding hair. His real hair stuck out from his head a little, like taped-down colourless candyfloss, but it never went in his eyes. It was too light for that.
“Are there many English wizards in Spain?” asked Potter, his eyes bright. They were about the only thing that were; the rest of his body looked faded, like it had been left out in the sun for too long. His pyjamas were short, pulling back on wrists that put Draco in mind of the elongated bones of some prehistoric bird, and the blue stripe was only one shade darker than the white.
“Oh, plenty,” said Draco, adjusting his notebook, “hundreds.” For all he knew there might be; Alexandre seemed to have contacts there. But he didn’t say plenty of wizards, or hundreds of Englishmen. That’s what people didn’t understand about lying. Most of the time, you didn’t even have to do it.
“I’m sorry.” Potter stared at his feet. “There’s a chair there, usually, but I think one of the researchers stole it. Peter!” he called, his voice a breathless squawk, but Peter was obviously used to it.
Peter, when he approached, turned out to be an attractive middle-aged wizard with salt-and-pepper hair. His trim dove-grey robes suited him a lot better than they did Rosaline, and Draco stared at him thoughtfully as Potter sorted out the seating arrangements.
“Moody says only one question per day,” explained Potter, when Draco was seated. He sounded genuinely apologetic, but Draco was more interested in the sprinkling of colour that had settled on Potter’s cheeks like pink flour. He leaned back in Peter’s chair, wondering if there were other chairs he could have been sitting in. After all, there was a nucleus of witches talking in loud voices a good ten yards nearer to Potter than Peter had been and, behind the witches, a stack of rickety stools. Draco didn’t mind, though. The chair was warm and Peter’s baking-bread aftershave lingered as well.
“So I’ve heard.” Draco unclipped his pen to further the pretence of note-taking. If Potter wanted to blame Moody for his own attention-seeking that was none of Draco’s business. Plus, it wouldn’t take much to make him despise Potter once more, even though the place in Draco’s mind marked out for Potter-hate was still curiously blank.
“Don’t you have a Quick-Quotes quill?” Potter looked askance at the ballpoint that Draco had nicked from the hotel. Potter’s fingers were spread out to their fullest extent on the part of the bedspread that covered his knees. They looked like two dead starfish. Twins. Except the forefinger on the left was longer than the one on the right. Not identical twins, then.
Draco sometimes thought he really should have been a journalist. His brain, when in panic mode, sucked in details like there was going to be an Inquisition afterwards. “No,” he said slowly, still thinking the words as they erupted, “I prefer to have control over what I’m writing. My own opinion’s the best, after all.”
Potter, he realised, was actually falling for it, for a cheerful expression appeared on his face like a dropping curtain.
“Besides,” added Draco, arching his eyebrows, “even a Quick-Quotes won’t get much out of one question.”
Potter laughed then, and Draco relaxed. He was safe for the moment.
“I think they’re going to let me do a full interview when I’m stronger.” Potter pulled a face -- whether at the prospect or at his current weakness, Draco couldn’t tell.
“You should hold a press conference,” suggested Draco, “then I could come.”
He watched, startled, as the flecks of colour on Potter’s cheeks coalesced into a full-blown blush. He’d truly underestimated the power of wearing Stefano’s face. The incongruity struck him: he was a twenty-five year old borrowing the body of a seventeen-year old, and Potter was a seventeen-year-old woken up in the body of a twenty-five year old.
“What’s a press conference?” Potter wanted to know, sinking back on the pillow and turning his face to the leaves at the window. His pyjama shirt stood upright, giving Draco ample view of how Potter’s blush had spread down on to his thin chest.
Draco tried to judge how much control he’d had over his body at seventeen, and seemed to remember having very little indeed. Although Potter was eight years older than that, it seemed to make no difference. Age was truly a state of mind. In Potter’s case, it was in a very embarrassing state, one that wanted a cold shower quite badly. Draco turned his own face away, out of a show of politeness but really to bite his lip in glee.
“It’s a big meeting, held by a celebrity,” explained Draco, to his fingernails, “to which he -- or she -- invites a whole bunch of journalists and reporters and photographers, and answers their questions. Very popular with Muggles. I believe they invented celebrities just to accommodate them.”
“I’m not a celebrity,” said Potter. His voice was a very quiet rasp now.
“No, you’re a hero,” Draco countered. He hoped the sarcasm in his voice would be somehow filtered by the prettiness of the mouth that was saying it. “That’s twice as good.”
Potter sent him a sharp look, which Draco defused by smiling. Stefano had a persuasive smile -- and persuasive hands, although Potter would be very lucky indeed if he suffered that particular brand of persuasion.
“Well, your question?” said Potter. “I really don’t have anything interesting to say, you know. Hermione and Ron have brought me some old papers, and everything that happened back then was in them. Everything anyone could possibly want to know about me.”
“What you ate for breakfast,” supplied Draco, wishing he’d had access to some of these papers. Then again, wherever he’d been at the time -- Munich, Marseilles, Mukachevo, some city beginning with an M, anyway -- had been short on up-to-date Chosen One resumes.
“Yup,” said Potter. Draco gave a startled snicker. “Honestly -- it was Witch Weekly, I think. Hermione agreed to do a question and answer by owl post. She said what colour boxers I wore were no one’s business but my own, though.”
“She didn’t know,” guessed Draco.
“Got it in one,” said Potter, with a grin. “And it would have been beneath Hermione to check the underwear of an unconscious invalid, even if she had wanted to satisfy those poor old maids.”
“Don’t forget the dirty old men,” Draco couldn’t resist adding. Potter went all wide-eyed for a minute, then decided to mask his discomfort with a rather lopsided smile.
“Either way,” he said, and hurried on with, “Just so you don’t waste the question, I don’t know why I’m here or when I’m getting out, nor do I have any plans to marry soon, and I can’t remember a thing from when I was asleep. I woke up thinking it was maybe a few days after Voldemort died, and the first thing I saw was Hermione screeching, ‘He’s awake!’ with a baby in her arms.”
“A shock,” said Draco, because he thought that could very well have been the most traumatic thing Potter had seen since the business end of the Dark Lord’s wand.
“You can say that again.” Potter was grinning. His hands were no longer splayed on his legs, but active; one moment he was biting a hangnail, the next tugging down his pyjamas. “I mean, I thought that was the first! Instead he’s just the latest in a series!”
“And Ron, too,” said Draco. It stuck in his craw to say Weasley’s name without some kind of nasty rejoinder. Yet, he was gaining a perverse enjoyment from watching and listening to Potter, as if he’d not only stolen a body but the place of one of Potter’s friends as well. A place he must have even wanted once, although he couldn't think why.
Draco quickly uncapped his Butterbeer bottle and swigged from it, wiping his hand over his mouth to cover his shudder at the astringent taste. Potter was too busy throwing his eyes up to heaven to notice.
“Two at once!” he was saying, as Draco tuned back into Station Potter. “I know twins run in the Weasley family, but it’s so weird to have Ron as a dad. Hermione was always mothering us, but Ron …” He trailed off, shaking his head.
Draco would have liked to probe Potter's opinion on the lack of nuptials between his best friends, the Mudblood and the blood traitor, but that would have been a waste of questions to end all waste. Draco didn’t care anyway.
“So.” Draco opened his notebook in the middle to hide the fact that every page was a brother in freshness and emptiness. “My question.”
Potter nodded, his tongue flicking out to dampen his lips. Draco divined, all of a sudden, that Potter was nervous, a spectacular emotion coming from him. It made Draco angry -- after all, this was foolhardy, brash, devil-may-care Potter, he wasn’t allowed to be nervous -- but he swallowed it down to make room for, “Dumbledore.”
“What about him?” Potter was instantly alert, pain that must have still been fresh to him welling behind eyes that the childish glasses made so ludicrously large.
Draco shrugged. “What are you going to do about him?”
Potter’s shoulders hunched, the collar of his pyjamas sweeping around his narrow neck like a hula hoop. He should get more, thought Draco, a pair that fits. Potter had both lost weight and grown, however he managed it, and that sort of behaviour never worked wonders for fashion.
Draco supposed that this was the interval where one should have felt sympathy for Potter, if one was in the way of feeling that sort of rot.
“As soon as I’m ready,” said Potter, sliding his clenched hands under the bedclothes, “Severus Snape is going to stand trial for his murder.”
Draco spread his fingers in a gesture of supplication. He was begging for alms, because he’d used up his question quota. Where is Severus Snape, what have you got to do with the trial, who are the witnesses, are there any left alive to tell the tale? Although Draco hoped they were dead; he hadn’t been as afraid of anyone as he was afraid of Fenrir Greyback.
Potter took a deep, shuddering breath. He stared hungrily out of the window, with an expression that suggested he’d like to fall out of it. Or through it. “When I’m ready,” he repeated.
“Well, that will satisfy our readers.” Draco let his impatience snap his words. “They’re a bit more voracious than that.”
Potter sent him a cold look. Perhaps it was just the way his glasses refracted his gaze, but it urged Draco to scramble to his feet and take to his heels. This he did not do, but he did stand up.
“Thank you,” he added, his voice formal. He had nothing he wanted to thank Potter for, that was why he didn’t say his name. But he was thankful for some things. Oxygen, and not being caught yet, and sex, and that he seemed to have got away with this ruse.
He turned to leave, plucking his robe with two fingers in a way that made it twirl around his feet. Snape had been fond of that trick, although few people cared to copy it.
“Wait,” said Potter.
Draco froze. Around him, the sounds of the room ebbed and flowed, like waves. There was a metallic clicking, the chink of mugs against wood, crackling paper, murmuring voices, scuffling feet -- he even thought he could pick out a strain from the antechamber, someone crowing in delight over their winning hand. At Exploding Snap, probably. There was nothing of Potter there, nothing he could claim to own. He didn’t even make the bed squeak.
An emotion tried to fill the space Draco had kept clear for Potter, but Potter’s own words chased it away.
“Come back tomorrow,” said Potter, “and you can ask another question.”