Draco had never understood the phrase 'walking on air' until he'd flown on a broom for the first time. Then, he thought that mere walking was nothing to swooping, zooming and tumbling. Now, as his whole being felt buoyant enough to float and a soppy smile refused to succumb to gravity and fall from his face, Draco felt nearly confident enough to try his luck from the top of the nearest multi-storey building.
He was entirely unprepared to have his arm savagely grabbed and his body slammed against the brickwork of a derelict house.
"What?" he managed. Something hot and wet trickled from his nose. Following the drops as they fell to his shoes, he realised they were red. He was bleeding?
"You," snarled a familiar voice, steeped in rage, "owe me an explanation."
"Blaise?" mouthed Draco. He got a mouthful of cement chips for his trouble.
The hands on his back were abruptly released. Draco turned around, his hand automatically going to his nose to assess the damage. The pain of touching it made him nearly pass out, by which marker he guessed that it was broken.
Blaise was standing in front of him, arms crossed over what Draco realised with a sinking heart were non-descript, dark Muggle clothes on which blood would not easily show up. Two heavies flanked him. They could have been Vincent or Gregory's six-foot first cousins.
"I do not appreciate being lied to," said Blaise. His rage seemed to have passed. In school he'd been known as the Whirlwind for that very reason. "I pay these two here gentlemen to appreciate it even less. Now, you either tell me the real facts about Harry Potter, or I will forthwith unleash their ... appreciation."
"What more do you want?" Draco tried to raise his hackles, but he felt like a kitten among pit-bulls. If Blaise was demanding the 'real' facts, then he must have gained enough of his own to realise that Draco's were the fake ones.
"I want …" Blaise moved into Draco's personal space, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand to attention. "… the truth. And another night."
"You can have as many nights as you like, but that isn't going to change what I've told you," said Draco.
Blaise casually backhanded him, with such force that Draco fell to one knee. Blaise kicked it and Draco crumpled into a ball. He tasted his own blood -- not for the first time, but he'd never really become accustomed to the taste.
"Why?" he wheezed. It was over as soon as Blaise hit him. Anyone in Slytherin knew that the only way to force information through violence was when you knew what information you wanted, regardless of whether the informant knew it or not.
Blaise crouched down beside him, pitching his voice low. So he doesn't trust the lackeys, thought Draco, clueless as to how he could turn this to his advantage.
"I'm a private investigator," he said.
"Some investigator." Draco spat out some pink-tinged saliva. "You don't even know who's hiring you. Hermione Granger never wanted to find me."
"You think I care who hires me or not?" snapped Blaise. "Your sorry arse isn't worth the effort, if you want my opinion. Granger's name is on your file, but it could have been her sweet old grandmamma who was really heading the investigation for all I care."
"Ah," sighed Draco. "Yes. Thank you for that, Blaise."
His expression disconcerted, Blaise said, "You know a girl called Rosaline?"
"I did." Oh dear.
"Well, now I do too." Blaise smirked. "You're a good fuck, Draco, I'll give you that. All the practice must have come in handy. But don't you know there's ways of tracking your sexual partners through your semen? Very handy trick, that one. I found only a few people of real use, mind you, although I did pay a visit to a pair of very pretty Spanish boys. Set them straight about a few things."
"Not much straight about those two," whispered Draco.
Blaise whistled, apparently much diverted. "You can say that again. Couldn't believe they were brothers, in fact, the things they were doing to each other when I tracked 'em down."
Draco frowned, but he wasn't yet stupid enough to interrupt Blaise in mid-flow.
"I had to trek all the way to Egypt to find anyone valuable -- and him with a new baby. Shame on you, Draco." Blaise paced back and forth. "He was such a Muggle, wasn't he? Completely aghast at the news that you weren't normal. And he proved very reluctant to share any interesting information with me. Still." Blaise squatted down in front of Draco. "I know Muggles. I'm sure he had life insurance."
"Had?" managed Draco. A queer buzzing noise had set up home in his ears, vainly attempting to eclipse his thoughts.
Blaise tossed something on to the ground next to Draco's nose. It was the colour of a grisly rainbow and severely mangled, but the fingernail and the shattered remains of a large amethyst ring told Draco everything he didn't want to know.
"Then, the genetic scans turned up one of our very own Aurors. Fancy that! Gives a whole new meaning to 'sleeping with the enemy.' But between me and you --" Blaise leaned in right next to Draco's ear "-- I was surprised to see Harry Potter wasn't on the list."
Perhaps it was because Blaise's mouth was defiling the place where Harry had last set his lips. Perhaps it was the poorly couched insult in Blaise's words. Perhaps it was pure rage at Blaise's unilateral destruction of the fragile threads of Draco's life. Perhaps it was something even more visceral. Whatever the reason, Draco's voice dragged up a raw cry from the primeval swamps of his brain and let fly his fist. It connected with Blaise's jaw to a most satisfying crunch.
Blaise rocked back on his heels. His eyes narrowed. "Foolish, Draco, very foolish."
Cradling his throbbing hand to his chest, Draco couldn't decide if he was referring to Draco's amateur boxing or falling in love with Harry Potter.
"What do you want with him?" he said. "You couldn't possibly be a Death Eater, Blaise. You're too canny to take sides. In anything. Not even chess."
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Blaise sneered. "On one side, Harry Potter and his band of do-gooder angels. On the other, you and your elitist, exclusionist aristocrats. Can't you see it's not meant to work like that?"
"It doesn't," said Draco, "or hadn't you noticed? Britain is a nation of shop-keepers."
"Don't taunt me, Draco, you're in no position to reap any rewards," returned Blaise. "I'm sick and tired of creeping and crawling, of hiding who I am from the world. I'm a wizard, damn it. So are you. So, for all their intellectual deficiencies, are those two goons behind us. The world is ours for the taking, and what do we do? Hide in pockets of their society, closed behind spells that Muggles can't see. We could rule them and we protect them instead. Tell me why that's right?"
"No one said anything about right," said Draco. "The Muggles outnumber us, millions to one. Or don't you remember your History of Magic? The witch-hunts nearly wiped us out. They were the reason we had to intermarry, the reason the blood is no longer pure, the reason we have Squibs and Neville Longbottom. Do you have any idea how powerful the Muggles are? They don't just have swords and bonfires now. Nuclear weapons, Blaise. Satellites. Bombs. All it would take is the flick of one switch, and that would be it for magic. Forever."
But Blaise had begun shaking his head almost before Draco spoke the first word. "No. Forward planning. We are in contact with every major ruler of the Muggle world. All we need to do is kidnap them and get them to sign some kind of agreement. Muggles love their bits of paper."
Not as much as you might like to imagine, Draco thought, but it no longer concerned him because Blaise was mad. Totally and utterly insane, in a way that didn't show on the outside and hence was more dangerous than any other kind. "I don't understand what this has to do with Harry Potter. Why were you pumping me for information about him when it’s the Muggle politicians you need?"
"What is Harry Potter?"
Draco gave Blaise as dry a look as he could manage, given that his eye was rapidly swelling shut. "A man," he said slowly, in case Blaise had accelerated past the Visual Recognition point on the Insanity Horizon.
"An icon," corrected Blaise. "A hero. A saviour. In short, the most influential wizard alive today."
"Ah," said Draco weakly. "A pawn."
"Exactly." Blaise brought his hands together in delight. "And you fed me a pack of lies about him. At least, that's what Rosaline's information would suggest, and given that I slipped Veritaserum into her wine before I boned her I'd say the balance is in her favour. Plus, fat birds bruise easy."
"Poor Rosaline," said Draco, feeling truly sorry for her. After all, if he hadn't used her first perhaps she wouldn't have so easily fallen for Blaise's blandishments -- and Draco wouldn't be in his current position.
"She enjoyed herself, I made sure of that." Blaise drew on a pair of gloves that glinted silver at the knuckles. "As I intend to. The Muggles have got it right about one thing."
"What?" whispered Draco.
Blaise sank his fist into Draco's belly. "This."
Draco staggered into the lobby trailing blood and dirt, only to find the elevators weren't working. Feeling a sob rise up to choke him, he dragged himself up the stairs. Each one was perfect torture, better than anything Blaise could have devised.
Usually when Draco suffered for his wages, he could immediately spell away the damage. When forewarned about his patron's proclivities, he tended to cast a few localised numbing charms. Blaise had one up on him there. He'd broken Draco's wand with the second punch.
Draco's head was buzzing from having been smashed into the pavement once too often. It felt only nominally attached to his body. The suite was in darkness when he finally pushed the door open, only to fold up on the floor.
He was in an ideal position to watch the sky blush pink through the casement window. He could no more have moved than he could sing an aria. He decided to start small: his hair hurt. No, his scalp -- most of his hair had come out in the flunkies' enthusiasm.
It was there that Stefano found him a few hours later, when he emerged yawning, his hair tousled and his boxers creased.
"Jesus Christ," he swore, and dropped to his knees beside Draco. That was the last thing Draco saw for a while.
When he came to, he still ached all over. But he was sheathed in deliciously cool sheets and his fingers no longer bent at angles that had made him throw up twice on the way home.
Alexandre and Stefano appeared at the door as soon as he opened his eyes and came to flank the bed like dark-haired book-ends.
"Hello," said Draco. It was spectacularly inadequate, even by his standards.
"I thought you'd like to see this," said Stefano. He held out a copy of the Daily Prophet, bent over so that only the huge headlines were visible. A moan escaped Draco's lips as he saw Harry's name splashed in the print over and over, along with words like 'coma,' 'magical illness' and 'drained of magic.'
"The warrant is also out for your arrest, Draco," said Alexandre. "For collusion with Death Eaters, accessory to a homicide, criminal impersonation, and use of illegal potions, among others."
Draco pressed his hand to his head, surprised to find it wrapped in nubbly fabric. "Is there a reward?"
The brothers exchanged a puzzled look. "No, why?" asked Stefano.
"Thought it'd be nice for you to get something out of your association with me." Draco shrugged and sunk against the pillows, unable to meet their eyes.
"Oh, we got something all right." Alexandre's voice was grim, but the brown hand that reached down for Draco's was not. "You betrayed my brother --"
"Cheated on me, over and over," chimed in Stefano, "broke my heart."
"Acted like an all-around bastard," Alexandre picked up the theme.
"It hasn't been this good since Dad was alive." Stefano grinned and took Draco's other hand.
"Anyway, that Blaise fellow has taken the wind out of my sails," said Alexandre. "He's done everything to you that I wanted to, and then some."
"You've been punished enough, is what my brother is trying to say," said Stefano.
Draco thought of the line that cut Harry Potter's lower lip in two. "Have to agree there," he said.
"So that's why we're going to help you," said Alexandre.
Draco had suffered so many shocks in the past twenty-four hours that he merely rolled his eyes at this. "Oh, yeah?"
"He took some talking around," said Stefano, cheerfully. "But I reminded him of that thing you do with your tongue and the --"
"Anyway," Alexandre broke in, "we're going to get you away before the Aurors arrive."
"And in return?" Draco looked from one set of arched brows to another. "I'm assuming there's a codicil."
"Well, there is one small tiny thing …" began Stefano.
"Harry Potter," said Alexandre. His eyes, when Draco met them, were a hurricane storm cloud to Draco's murky sky.
"I can guarantee you that whatever else Harry Potter is, small and tiny are not it," joked Draco. This rejoinder clearly amused no one but himself, for Stefano looked confused and Alexandre mutinous.
"You've been interviewing him," said Alexandre, demonstrating his monumental gift for pointing out the obvious. "And I know you weren't responsible for these scurrilous lies." He shook the newspaper.
"I'm heartened that you think so well of me," drawled Draco.
Alexandre snorted. "Don't be. The only reason I know that is because you're far too concerned with saving your own skin to do something so wholly self-destructive. Whoever wrote this knew that more people than just Harry Potter were going to be tarnished by it."
Draco took another look at the paper. Unless Rosaline or one of the other Aurors had squealed, there was only one person who could possibly be responsible for revealing this depth of information. Blaise. Draco was quite certain that if the Aurors didn't haul him off, Blaise would come back for seconds -- and this time, he'd finish the meal.
"So what do you propose to do about it?" asked Draco. "As you can see, I'm a few hours shy of being a convicted criminal, and probably a few months short of being a dead one. Besides which, all of this is true. Potter has lost his magic, and I did visit him under false pretences."
"Yes, about that," said Stefano. "If you'd wanted my hair, all you had to do was ask. We could have done far more kinky things with your illegal potion than stalk washed-up celebrities."
"Please." Alexandre held up his hand. "I don't even want to consider what you mean by that. As for your question, A -- Draco, have you ever heard the saying 'there's two sides to every story?'"
"Certainly," said Draco. "In this case, there's the side where Harry Potter lost his magic whilst battling a dread magical dictator, and there's the side where he robbed the world of the greatest leader it had ever known and lost his magic in just punishment for same. I can't say I entirely subscribe to that one, but they've already covered the other angle."
"You spent two weeks with the man." Alexandre thumped the paper for emphasis. "Surely you found out more about him than that."
"I suppose," said Draco slowly. Probably there were people amongst the Prophet's readership who would be intrigued to discover that Harry Potter's hair was as soft as frayed wool, or that he got terrible bags under his eyes when he hadn't slept well. "But I can't see what this has to do with you."
Alexandre exchanged glances with Stefano. "Let's just say we have our reasons," said Alexandre. His voice sounded odd, almost choked.
"Far be it from me to deny you that, if it's to be the price for my freedom." Draco shrugged. "Mind you, I did expect something a little more drastic. Involving handcuffs and whips, perhaps."
Alexandre sucked in an affronted breath. Stefano looked struck. Draco smirked, a little of the old oomph returning.
"Very well," said Alexandre, after a brief pause during which he adjusted the front of his jeans. Stefano didn't seem to notice this, so taken was he with Draco's off-hand suggestion. "You promise to write another version of this story? The one that shows the real Harry Potter, whether he's good, bad or indifferent, and contradicts this one. To show the world who Harry Potter truly is."
"I promise to write the true version of this story," Draco promised. Carefully.
"Good." Alexandre's brow cleared. "I was going to make you do an Unbreakable Vow --"
"Good grief, that's rather extreme," murmured Draco. Alexandre ignored him.
"-- but Stefano trusted you to hold to your promise, so I will too. Reluctantly. But I will."
"You are as gracious as ever." Draco inclined his head, making sure to let the sheet slip down to pool just this side of decency around his hips.
Alexandre flushed and addressed his next remarks to the ceiling. "I'll get packing. Take care of the anti-tracking spells and such. So you two can say goodbye properly."
"No fear," said Stefano, with a broad grin.
Alexandre coughed and exited the room rather hastily. Draco watched his tight bottom leave with something close to regret.
"Hey, you." Unnoticed, Stefano had shucked off his t-shirt and slipped into bed next to Draco. He aligned his body alongside Draco's. "I should probably hate you for everything, but I think we can save all that till later." He began to stroke Draco's belly in lazy circles.
"Hmm," said Draco. "I totally agree."
"I've decided to take up the place at Hogwarts, too," said Stefano. His hand rubbed a little lower. "Who knows, some extra magic might come in handy. Like if I ever want to hunt you down for revenge sex."
"Hmm," said Draco, a little more pointedly this time. With the tiny part of his brain that was still rational, he resolved to guard against such an eventuality with all the magical skill he possessed.
Stefano's hand dipped down to cup the warm weight in Draco's boxers. Draco parted his legs and pulled Stefano between them, enjoying his pretty mouth for the last time.
As Stefano rasped his knuckles against the flesh of Draco's thighs, Draco spared a thought for Alexandre. Perhaps he'd have time to wish him farewell, too.
A/N: 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy' is paraphrased from Hamlet; 'England is a nation of shop-keepers' has been attributed to Napoleon. Again, I wrote it as though Blaise and Draco were themselves quoting the lines, but I make no pretence of ownership.