Harry Potter hated Mondays. He really hated Mondays after he pulled weekend rotation. And he especially hated Mondays after he pulled weekend rotation when he had to spend those extra two days with his bloody stupid partner who was a—
“Bloody stupid thorn-in-my-side lazy-arsed bastard shit,” Harry muttered aloud, and a passing witch gasped loudly and leveled a sharp look at him as she went by. “Erm, not you. Sorry. Good morning!” he called after her as she hurried down the hall. He sighed and turned back around. That’d probably end up in the papers. Those sorts of things always ended up in the papers.
Harry went ahead and blamed this one on Heppner, too. That stupid arsehole.
He’d dragged himself into work this morning after only a few hours of sleep, and discovered a summons from Kingsley waiting for him in his office. Harry thought that being only half an hour late was entirely reasonable, considering he hadn’t tumbled into his bed until nearly four in the morning, but he’d probably be hearing about that from Kingsley too. He sighed and walked a little faster.
Harry managed to avoid inadvertently offending anyone else on his way to the Head Auror’s office, and he knocked briskly. The door swung open to admit him, and Harry stepped inside.
“You wanted to see me?”
Kingsley looked up from the folders he had spread out across the desk before him. He flipped them closed and pushed them aside. “Shut the door behind you,” he said.
Frowning at Kingsley’s serious tone, Harry did as he was told and felt the faint tingle of magic that meant that the Silencing Spells layered around the room had activated as the latch clicked shut. He’d expected Kingsley to sound exasperated, maybe even frustrated that he’d have to scrounge up someone new to join the unending Parade of Potter’s Partners, as Ron had dubbed it. Not that he’d have a rough time of it, really. There never seemed to be a shortage of witches and wizards ready to leap at a chance to work with the greatest legend of their time.
But it never took them long to decide that working with the Chosen One wasn’t all they thought it’d be. Half of them were shocked to discover that he didn’t simply step in and save the day with a snap of his fingers time and again, and he actually expected them to pull their weight and, god forbid, actually do work. The other half were so awed by his mere presence that they’d fall all over themselves to agree with whatever he said, even if it was complete rubbish. It took that bunch longer to catch on; they always went through an extended period of confusion while Harry grew increasingly irritated with them every time they agreed with him about something.
Heppner was one of the first type, and he’d made it almost three months. Not Harry’s best, but certainly not his worst. (Amelia Homestead, four days, he'd accidentally made her cry.) In any case, it definitely wasn’t unusual for Kingsley to assign him a new partner on short notice, and Harry didn’t understand why he looked so damn somber about it.
He decided it couldn’t hurt to be overly respectful. “Permission to explain my actions, sir?”
Kingsley sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "You can drop the formality, Potter, you're not in trouble. Though I feel I would be remiss in my duties as your boss if I didn't spare at least a few words regarding your actions toward Auror Heppner.”
“He put the investigation at risk.” And had nearly got Harry killed by whinging about overtime, of all the bloody things, in the middle of a bloody stakeout. He’d been overheard and Harry had been forced to fight his way out of the most vicious duel he’d faced in his five and a half years as an Auror.
“You left your partner Stunned and Body-Bound.”
Harry frowned. “I put a Disillusionment Charm over him and sent off my Patronus for someone to come get him. He was perfectly safe.”
“Regardless, standard procedure dictates…” Kingsley trailed off and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m not having this discussion with you. And I’d suggest you study H.A.R.D. if you honestly believe it was in any way acceptable to leave your partner Stunned and Body-Bound in an alleyway.”
And Disillusioned, Harry added in his mind but knew better than to say it aloud. He pulled a face at the mention of the Handbook of Auror Regulations and Directives. It was notoriously thick and heavy, and the last time Harry had used it as anything other than a doorstop had been when he was a trainee and faced daily quizzes on its contents.
“In any case,” Kingsley went on. “I didn’t call you into my office to discuss your actions.”
That threw Harry. "Sir?"
"This is about Auror Malfoy."
Harry felt a mild tug of alarm. "What's happened to him?"
"Not to him," Kingsley said, his eyes as dark and serious as the expression on his face. "To his partner."
"Oh god,” Harry murmured as he sank down onto one of Kingsley’s hideously uncomfortable guest chairs.
Malfoy had joined up with the Aurors at the same time Harry had and they’d gone through training together. And after the five and a half years that had passed since they’d both graduated from training, Malfoy was the one person in the department who could rival Harry for sheer number of partners. Most people assigned to him couldn’t see past the Mark on his arm and got away from him as soon as they could. Malfoy drove off the rest of them with sharp scowls and a sharper tongue. The first year had been worst (he’d gone through fourteen partners as compared to Harry’s twelve) but after that Malfoy had managed to stop being quite so much of a prick, and his partners began to last longer.
Then the accidents had begun and rumors had started to fly. The first two, in Malfoy’s second and third years, really did look like accidents. A trip and fall down a staircase that ended in a broken neck, and a heart attack. If anyone else had lost two partners within a year like that, they’d have gotten sympathy and compassion. Malfoy, being Malfoy, had gotten mistrustful glances and people muttering suspiciously behind his back.
But it wasn’t until the third death occurred a year and a half after the second that the rumor mill had really spun up. Malfoy and his partner at the time, a young wizard straight out of training, had gone to investigate an old Death Eater property assumed to be abandoned. It hadn’t been, and somewhere in the chaos of the ensuing wandfight, the boy had taken a Dark Curse to his back and spent two days delirious in St. Mungo's before dying.
Like everyone else, Harry had assumed that Malfoy would quit or get fired or otherwise vanish after that. He, and everyone else, absolutely hadn’t expected for a middle-aged witch with steely eyes and twenty years of Auror field experience to volunteer to partner with Malfoy. To keep an eye on him, she said, because someone had to do it. That was just over a year ago, and even though they’d spent the first half of it openly loathing each other, recently they seemed to have settled into something resembling a functional partnership. The rumors had dwindled, and Harry had assumed that’d be the end of the whole bad business.
"What's…” he began and his voice failed him. He cleared his throat and tried again. “What’s happened to her?"
"She's dead,” Kingsley said flatly.
Harry exhaled sharply and slumped in his chair. He'd expected to hear that, but his stomach still twisted to hear it. "And what's that got to do with me?"
Kingsley folded his hands on the desk before him and leaned forward, his eyes boring into Harry’s. "You’re going to be Auror Malfoy's next partner."
"I… what?" Harry blinked. Of all the directions he’d expected Kingsley to go with this conversation, being partnered with Malfoy hadn’t even registered as a possibility.
Kingsley leaned forward a fraction more. "After word of Auror Parsons' death reaches the media, we are going to have a cry of public outrage the likes of which we have not faced in a very, very long time. They need to see us handling this situation, but if we confront Auror Malfoy or fire him without the evidence necessary to take him into immediate custody, we run the risk of him going to ground. I need you, Harry, to find me that evidence."
Harry drew in a slow, even breath to hide his surprise. "You think he's guilty."
Kingsley leaned back in his seat. "Harry, once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three is suspicious. Four is, well, four is simply too much. These deaths have been increasingly violent, and you are the only one I trust to not become number five." He met Harry’s eyes and regarded him seriously. “I’d rather not keep him on at all, but we can't risk losing him entirely if I cut him loose now. I need to keep him where I can see him, and you, Auror Potter, are going to be my eyes.”
"Malfoy's not going to be happy about me investigating him," Harry said.
And that was one hell of an understatement. While Malfoy and Harry finally had a relationship that could be described as ‘civil,’ they’d only achieved it because their lives rarely intersected. Other than one highly uncomfortable conversation during the first week of Auror training where they’d essentially called a cease-fire of their schoolyard feud, they hadn’t interacted at all beyond a polite nod if they passed in the hallways or a few lines of stilted smalltalk about the weather if they happened to share a lift. It was pretty safe to assume that Malfoy wouldn't appreciate this sudden intrusion into his life.
“Malfoy won’t know you’re investigating him,” Kingsley said with a sigh that told Harry he should have worked that out on his own. “He’ll be told that you’re in need of a new partner after your… falling out with Heppner. And that his partnering with you will have the added benefit of protecting him from the worst of the public’s outrage that we haven’t fired him once news of Auror Parsons’ death becomes public.”
"He won't like that either,” Harry said.
“No,” Kingsley allowed. "But he will accept it."
Harry sighed. "When do I begin?"
Draco stared down at the mess of papers on his desk—his former desk, now—and blinked against the sudden hot prickling behind his eyes. He looked up at the ceiling and breathed slowly in and out, in and out, bringing himself back under control. Malfoys did not cry, not even in the privacy of their own offices. Or in their former offices, he reminded himself bitterly.
In a remarkable effort of self-discipline, Draco swallowed back the threat of tears and again tried to force his attention to his paperwork. But his thoughts would not obey. They kept returning to thoughts of Parsons, despite every effort he made to bloody well focus. He hadn’t been anything even close to friends with her, but after long months of hostility they’d finally settled into a grudging partnership. At the end, he’d even come to sort of like her, and he thought she might have sort of liked him as well. Or at least tolerate him with some degree of warmth, and most days Draco thought that was the best he could expect from anyone. But now Parsons was gone.
Along with his career, the only thing in his life worth getting up for each morning. True, he'd only started it as a way to rebuild the family name his father had so thoroughly destroyed during the war. But, unexpectedly, he'd come to love his work. For the first time in his life he'd felt like he was doing something good.
Well not anymore. Surely they’d fire him after this. He'd been under heavy suspicion after the third death, and Parsons would push things right over the edge. So he'd already packed his own personal belongings, and if he'd thrown them into the trunk with a little more force than was really necessary, well, there wasn't anyone else here to say otherwise, was there? Now, all he had left to do was get the last of his paperwork in order and take it down to Filing…
A sudden knock at the door scattered his thoughts and then the door swung open before he had a chance to do anything more than look up, never mind invite his guest to enter. Noting the lack of common manners, he really shouldn't have been nearly this surprised to see Potter standing there. Draco's mouth opened, then closed wordlessly.
As with every other time in recent years that Draco found himself within Potter-ogling range, he found himself momentarily speechless at how bloody good he looked. Potter had filled out some since his Hogwarts days. A full year of intense training plus the better part of six more as an active Auror had put a layer of muscle on his skinny frame, and his green eyes gleamed as brightly as ever behind those same stupid clunky glasses, and Draco had the ridiculous urge to run his fingers through that appallingly messy hair that somehow looked so inviting. And when Potter's mouth curved into a very kissable little frown, Draco realized he was staring.
A surge of irritation with himself twisted through his stomach. He'd come to terms some time ago with the fact that he liked men. But damn it, this was Potter. He'd spent his boyhood hating Potter, and his career avoiding him. With great success, too. Occasionally they passed each other in the halls, and Draco was always careful to duck his head and avoid eye contact after the requisite polite nod. And they’d ended up sharing a lift three times, not that he’d kept count or anything. Each of those rides had seemed longer than the last, and he’d very studiously avoided looking at Potter at all, just stared ahead at the small dial that clicked down floor by floor as he tried to ignore the scent of Potter’s soap and the way that his hair, still damp from his morning shower, curled enticingly at the nape of his neck. And now Potter was standing before him, looking smug and handsome and unattainable and—
He worked up a really scathing sneer and caught Potter's gaze before he drawled, "I should have known they'd send you, Potter."
And he really should have seen it coming. It was just the cherry on top of this disaster that was masquerading as his life.
"Send... me?" Potter repeated dumbly, his frown deepening and his brow furrowing as if he really had no idea what Draco was talking about.
"Oh, I'll just bet you're enjoying this, aren't you?" he snarled, his hands clenching into fists. "Well, you needn't bother. I know why you're here."
Potter blinked. "You do?"
Draco glowered at him. "Of course I do. And you can just save your breath and go tell them I'll be gone by this afternoon."
"You're leaving?" Potter blinked again and wrenched his eyes from Draco to look around the room. His gaze swept over the empty shelves and open trunks and stacks of paperwork and then snapped back to Draco's face. "You're packing."
"It's a relief to see that those ugly glasses do more than just clutter up your face," he muttered. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have quite a bit more work to do before I can leave." He picked up a stack of papers from his desk and flipped through it, pointedly ignoring Potter.
"Why are you leaving?" Potter asked, and he sounded genuinely baffled. Draco honestly had no idea he was such a good actor. "Is this about Parsons? I'm sure if you need—"
A harsh laugh burst out of Draco's throat and maddeningly he felt like crying again. He ducked his head to his paperwork. "Really, Potter, I know you’re enjoying dragging this out but you can drop the act. I know I'm fired over this."
"Is that what you think I'm here to tell you?" Potter asked. That kissable little frown was back.
Draco frowned back at him, thought he was fairly certain his frown looked surly rather than kissable. "Isn't that what you're here to tell me?"
Potter dropped his eyes to the ground and scuffed at the carpet with the toe of one shoe. "Erm, no. You're not fired. But, um..."
"Out with it, Potter," Draco snapped. Apprehension squirmed in his stomach.
Potter fidgeted and hesitated, then sucked in a breath and the words came tumbling out.
"I'm your new partner."
In the span of five seconds, Malfoy's face shifted through as many different emotions. First, his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open in pure shock. That quickly morphed into horror, which slid rapidly into panic, which was visible for only a split second before becoming outrage, which quickly chilled into a cold fury. He rose to his feet in one fluid motion, with a glare on his face that had Harry taking a quick step back despite himself.
"What. Did. You. Say." He bit out the words, his steely eyes so intense that Harry could practically feel them boring through his skull.
"I, er, seem to have lost my partner last night.” Oh, of all the stupid bloody tactless— “Er, not like you lost, uh. Well, he left, and what with. Um. Parsons and all, and Kingsley thinks that this way will keep the worst of the media off you, so… I’m your new partner."
He didn't think that Malfoy could possibly look any angrier than he already did, but somehow the fury intensified as Harry rambled.
"No you're not."
"Yes I am."
"No you're not."
Harry frowned. "Yes. I am."
"No. You're not." Malfoy seemed unaware of just how childish he sounded.
"Yes I am! And before you tell me again that I'm not, I am!” Harry burst out, exasperated. “Head Auror Shacklebolt assigned me. There's nothing to be done for it."
Malfoy glared at Harry for a long moment, then swept past him and into the hallway almost before Harry had even registered that he was moving.
"Where are you going?" Harry asked, jogging to catch up.
"To see Head Auror Shacklebolt," Malfoy snapped at him. "If he assigned you to this, he can bloody well unassign you."
Harry opened his mouth to argue, but quickly remembered that this was Malfoy. The only thing arguing with him would accomplish would be irritating him ever more. Best to just let Kingsley deal with him, then. Harry sighed and chanced a look at Malfoy as they walked.
Harry hadn't been this near him in quite a while, and if he didn't know better he'd say that Malfoy was avoiding him on purpose. Not that he'd have any reason to want to be around him, really. Malfoy disliked him, that certainly hadn't changed since Hogwarts. And physically, Malfoy hadn't changed much either. His face was still all pointy, his limbs long and slender. He'd grown his hair out some and now wore it tied back in a short tail at the nape of his neck, despite the fact that it was just a bit too short for that and some of it always worked its way loose. Somehow Malfoy, being Malfoy, managed to make it look good. The locks fell artfully over his forehead and temples, framing his face, and looking just disheveled enough to make one think about think about...
Harry gave his head a quick shake.
...well, to make one think about things that he really shouldn't be thinking at all about his new partner. Especially not his new partner who was also Malfoy and would hex him into next Tuesday if he knew that Harry maybe sort of found him just the tiniest bit fit. Harry winced inwardly at his own rambling thoughts and then very deliberately set them aside.
They reached Kingsley’s office and Malfoy rapped sharply on the door.
The word was barely in the air before Malfoy had shoved the door open and stormed inside. Harry trailed after him, shutting the door after himself and activating the Silencing Charm that surrounded the room. Less embarrassing for all of them afterward, that way.
To Harry's surprise, Malfoy didn't just start ranting. He stood, eyes burning fiercely, waiting for Kingsley to finish with the paperwork in front of him and look up to acknowledge him. Harry dropped into the chair he'd occupied not ten minutes earlier and waited for it all to go pear-shaped.
After a few minutes, Kingsley set the files aside and met Malfoy’s stare. "May I help you, Auror Malfoy?"
"I would like for Auror Potter to be reassigned."
Much to Harry's surprise, Malfoy's voice was controlled. Not calm, as the anger bubbling beneath the surface was all too apparent, but he hadn't started yelling as Harry had half-expected him to. Kingsley glanced at Harry, then returned his even gaze to Malfoy.
"And where would you like Auror Potter to be reassigned to?" he asked mildly.
"I don't care, so long as it’s away from me.” Malfoy managed to keep the anger out of his voice this time. He sounded perfectly calm and in control, even though the way his eyes burned gave away his feelings.
“I assigned him to you myself,” Kingsley say, less mild now. “Do you, after only six years as an Auror, think that it is your place to tell the Head Auror that he has made a mistake in his assignments?”
Malfoy hesitated, then drew himself up. “No, Sir.”
"It's all settled, then. Auror Potter is not going anywhere, unless it's along with you." Kingsley reached for his paperwork again.
“I don’t want him with me,” Malfoy said.
“I beg your pardon?” Kingsley’s voice was low and calm as he looked up. Harry winced; he knew the unspoken warning that tone held.
Malfoy clearly heard it too. He hesitated before continuing. “I don’t want him. He said he’s been assigned to protect me from the media fallout, but it’s really to protect you. So that when the media catches wind of Parsons’ death, it looks like someone’s holding my leash. And I don’t want—”
"Auror Malfoy, you are out of line," Kingsley snapped. "Yes, I have done what I feel is best for the department. This is not your decision to make. You can either be partnered with Harry, or you can have your resignation letter on my desk by five o'clock today, do I make myself clear?"
Malfoy stiffened, his shoulders squaring back and his chin coming up a bit. "Yes, Sir."
Malfoy shot a glare at Harry, and Harry gave him a helpless little shrug in return. For the first time he realized just how much Kingsley let him get away with. He'd never been given orders the way Malfoy just had. The realization made him a bit uncomfortable.
"Have you made your decision or do you need some time to think on it?"
"I'll stay," Malfoy muttered, then added, "Sir."
"Excellent, because I have here your first case as partners." Kingsley slid a thin folder across the desk to Harry.
Harry opened the folder and flipped through it. Wizarding duel that had gotten out of control on a crowded street in Muggle London. Both of the duelers had been arrested and taken to the Ministry. The Muggles had been rounded up and were being held awaiting memory modification. Harry flipped through it again, but nothing else made itself apparent.
"Sir, this case looks like it's all wrapped up," Harry said.
"It's not. If you haven't noticed, there are almost a hundred Muggles in need of memory modification."
Harry could only stare. They were being assigned to clean-up duty? He hadn't been tasked with this sort of thing since he was a trainee. Technically this sort of thing fell under the purview of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, though if they found their department stretched too thin then some of their cases would spill over to the Aurors, who typically handled the more dangerous or complex cases. When that happened, the MLEP cases typically went to Auror trainees as a good way to get their feet wet, so to speak. It was unheard of for a fully trained Auror to waste his time on something so trivial.
While he was still in shock, Malfoy grabbed his sleeve and yanked him roughly to his feet, plucked the file from his hand, and drew him to the door.
"We'll take care of it," Malfoy said to Kingsley.
"What the fuck," Harry muttered the moment the door shut behind them.
Malfoy looked up from leafing through the file to give Harry a sour look. "What's got your knickers in a twist now, Potter?"
"We're being assigned to clean-up! God, this is ridiculous. We haven't had to pull clean-up since we were trainees."
"No," Malfoy corrected bitterly. “You haven't had to pull clean-up since you were a trainee."
Harry stopped walking, and then had to jog several steps to catch up to Malfoy again. "What?"
"I mean, they rarely trust me with anything else," Malfoy said, then turned to Harry and flashed a sudden, vicious smile. "I do hope you weren't terribly attached to all the exciting cases you've gotten, because you won't be getting any of them now that you're partnered with me. My cases are exclusively MLEP overflow. And by overflow, I mean I get the ones even the Patrols think are a waste of time.”
Harry frowned at him. "But that doesn’t make any sense.”
"Still just as dense as ever, aren't you, Potter. Allow me to enlighten you,” Malfoy snarled. He yanked Harry to a stop. "I could work here until I'm one hundred and fifty, and they'll still only see a Death Eater. I'm not trusted with anything more complicated than clean-up because they Don't. Trust. Me. In fact, I consider myself lucky they hired me at all." He started walking again.
Harry jogged another few steps to catch up. "But you’re an Auror. They can't just—"
"Obviously, they can," Malfoy said sourly.
"It doesn't bloody well matter, Potter, I'm still a Death Eater." Malfoy spat the words and scowled at the floor ahead of him. He looked suddenly uncomfortable with the line of conversation, even though he was the one who’d brought it up. "I picked the wrong side and now I'm living with the consequences. There's nothing to be done for it.”
Harry watched him carefully for a moment. "I was at your trial, you know," he said quietly. "You were a child. They were your parents. You didn’t have a choice."
Malfoy laughed, a bitter and ugly sound. "We always have a choice, Potter. I chose to stand with my family. Can we please not talk about this anymore?"
"All right, Malfoy," Harry said, risking a glance at his face. Malfoy looked cold, his profile set in sharp, angry lines. Something in Harry wanted to reach out and smooth those lines away. "Just... It wasn't much of a choice, was it? And I don't blame you for it. I never did, really."
Malfoy flinched away as if Harry had pelted him with stones instead of offered a few kind words. “Ah, forgiveness from the Savior himself. At last, I shall be able to sleep easily,” he sneered. “Unfortunately, the rest of the world disagrees. Come along, we're almost at the MAP."
The Ministry’s Apparition Point was still quite a distance away, but Harry didn't argue. Malfoy obviously wanted the conversation to be over, and Harry could use a little time to think. He'd been assigned to Malfoy to watch him and determine whether he was a murderer. Yet less than ten minutes into his new assignment, here he was, trying to defend Malfoy. To himself, of all people.
This was ridiculous. Malfoy had always been able to get to him, get under his skin in a way that no one else ever had. He’d been stupid to think that eight years from Hogwarts could possibly have changed that. Well, he’d just have to keep that in mind and do his best to stay objective. Just do the job, prove Malfoy guilty or prove him innocent, then move on with his life.
Draco kept his mouth compressed into a firm, thin line the rest of the way to the Apparition Point as if that could keep any other foolishness from escaping. He knew Potter kept sneaking concerned little glances at him, but Draco didn't give him the satisfaction of eye contact and walked a little faster. Contrary to what he'd told Potter, the MAP—a small room where the Ministry’s wards were set to allow Apparition in and out—was still some distance away. Potter, surprisingly, had been polite enough to not point that out.
In his head, he could still hear the echoes of Potter's voice, his kind tone, almost as if he believed with that undying conviction he applied to everything he did that Draco really did deserve to have his past mistakes left in the past. But he could also hear his own voice spitting the two words that represented a damnation, a life sentence that no one could crawl out from beneath: Death Eater. He'd allowed himself to be branded as such, and that was how the rest of the world saw him. Nothing to be done for it now, other than sweep up the pieces and move along as best he could with the rest of the world still thinking the worst.
Except Potter, evidently. But then, this was the Boy Who Lived, befriender of Weasels and mudbloods and half-giants and rabid hippogriffs. What was one more lost cause in the grand scheme of things?
Still, a part of Draco felt vaguely pleased at the way things were going. A very very small part to be sure, and buried deep underneath the great pile of seething resentment he felt at being forced to take shelter beneath Saint Potter's wing. There was something nice, something familiar about Potter. As if just being near him meant that everything would turn out all right. And the way he talked to him, Merlin, Draco didn’t deserve him to be so civil, not when he’d done nothing but sneer at him and try to get him reassigned and flaunt the fact that Potter would only get MLEP cast-off cases from here on out. Not a terribly great start to their partnership.
Yet Harry still looked at him like an equal, spoke to him like an equal. Like he saw Draco as neither the silly pureblood prat he’d been at Hogwarts, nor the evil Death Eater he’d been branded by the media. It was nice to have someone treat him like the Auror he’d grown up to be, for a change.
Draco clamped down on that train of thought before it could continue. He already had this stupid physical attraction to Potter. No need to encourage it.
They finally made it to the Apparition Point.
"Do you know where we're going?" Potter asked.
"Of course I know where we're going. I read the bloody file," Draco snapped.
"Oh. Good. Side-Along, then?" He held out his arm to Draco.
Draco hesitated. He'd never had an issue Side-Along Apparating with partners before. But this was Potter. And Draco really, really didn't want to touch him. "I'm sure you can figure it out," he snarled, slapping the file against Potter's chest. And he turned on his heel and was gone.
He appeared just inside a Muggle coffeeshop. Other uniformed Aurors blocked the entrance, and the place was packed with Muggles. Confused or angry or frightened by being held up, or the duel that they'd just witnessed, they complained loudly amongst themselves. Draco debated casting something to quiet the room, but decided to save his strength. Fucking hell, he’d need it for this.
"You’re here for clean-up?" someone called from behind him.
Draco turned to see a tall, gangly Patrolman a little younger than himself approach. He couldn't put a name to him, but the face looked familiar enough, and friendly besides. That was something of a rarity.
"Oh, Malfoy,” the Patrolman said, and now Draco felt vaguely guilty he didn’t remember his name. “Thank god they sent you for this one, I was beginning to worry they’d just send..." The boy broke off as he caught sight of Potter suddenly popping into existence at Draco's elbow. "You..."
"My new partner," Draco snapped and looked pointedly around the crowded shop. "Where are we going to be working?"
The boy glanced back at Potter a few times, his mouth working open and shut, and Draco could practically see the struggle. Say something about Potter and risk Draco's legendary ire, or keep on Draco's good side and ignore the Golden Boy. He fixed his eyes on Draco and gestured to a narrow doorway at the far end of the counter. Smart lad, then.
Draco spared him a curt nod and strode to the doorway. Inside, he found a cramped storeroom. A bit dusty and dim, but it would suit his purposes well enough. Harry followed him in and slumped over onto a stack of empty milk crates, looking bored and grumpy. Normally this would cheer Draco, but now it did nothing. Mentally, he’d already set aside everything that didn’t have to do with the task at hand. The door opened and a young man in an expensive suit walked in.
"What's going on? I demand—"
The spell hit the man so hard he stumbled back, blinked fuzzily a few times, then smiled blankly.
"Potter, what the fuck?" Draco burst out.
"I'm cleaning up. Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing? Erasing memories of a duel?" Potter sounded sulky.
"Not like that," Draco told him with a glare. The man wandered back out, and a petite woman was ushered inside. Draco forced a pleasant smile and put his back to Potter. "Hello, what’s your name?"
"Maggie," the woman answered, blinking around. "What's going on?"
"Oh, just a routine follow-up. I understand you saw some interesting things."
She nodded warily. "Yes..." She paused as Draco raised his wand. "What are you..." Maggie trailed off, her eyes growing glassy.
"You were never here," Draco said in his most soothing tone. "You left work a bit early. Pleasant afternoon, warm sunshine. You should go to the park this evening, the evening will be nice. You stopped at that little cafe on the way home, talked to the waiter you like so much. Handsome fellow, you think he might be interested. Perhaps you'll stop in tomorrow to see him again."
Maggie smiled. "Of course, that sounds lovely. I should be going now, I really shouldn’t waste this lovely weather, yeah?"
"Of course not," Draco said gently. "Go on, then."
She walked out of the room, and Potter sucked in a breath between his teeth. "That's illegal."
Draco didn't spare him so much as a glance as the next Muggle came in. Slouching, sulky, and teenaged. Merlin, had he ever looked like that, so angry with everything and still too young to know what anger truly was? He hoped not, but rather suspected that he had.
"So you gonna tell me what's going on?"
"Oh, absolutely," Draco said easily, and pushed his mind out again as he raised his wand.
"What…” The kid trailed off.
"You went straight home from school, missed the bus again and had to walk." Again, Draco kept his voice low and even. "It was for the best, it gave you some time to think. That fight you had with your mum this morning, you may have overreacted a bit. There will be other parties you can go to, but you only ever get one mum, and she’s really not so bad. And you'll be going off to University next year. She may nag you, but that's what mums do. She loves you. Don't stay angry with her."
The young man nodded slowly, still dazed. "Kate’s parties always suck, anyhow," he muttered and slunk out the door.
Before the next Muggle could enter, Potter stuck his head out the doorway and told the Patrolman outside to wait a moment. He slammed the door shut and turned on Draco.
"I can't watch you do this!”
Draco scowled at him. "Watch me do what exactly?"
"This!" Potter said, waving his hand at the dingy little storeroom.
Draco clenched his teeth together in a futile effort to keep his temper. "We've got a job to do and I am doing it,” he ground out.
"Illegally!" Potter burst out, then shoved a hand through his hair. He didn't do it any favors; it stood up more wildly than it had before. "You're fucking with their minds!"
"I am using the slightest bit of Legilimency to come up with a believable story to replace the memory I wipe." Draco hated the way his voice sounded, all prim and defensive. In that moment, he hated Potter for making him sound like that. He hadn't hated anyone like this in a very long time, and he hated Potter all the more for bringing it back now. "I assure you it's perfectly safe."
"Perfectly safe?” Potter repeated like he didn’t believe Draco at all. “You're—"
"I'm doing my bloody job!" Draco broke in. "And yes, I am aware that it’s not quite legal. And no, I do not care, and neither do the Patrolmen out there because I am bloody good at what I do. It's better than the alternative, although you'd obviously rather just blast them all with Obliviate and let them stumble back out into the great wide world. That first bloke is likely still wandering about feeling like he's got his head stuck up his bum, and I can only imagine the headache he'll have recovering from it tomorrow. My way is painless and leaves them without a great gap of missing memory they suddenly need to account for."
"And making them do things? That's better too?" Potter's eyes were glowing with that angry spark they used to get back in Hogwarts. Draco felt his blood rise in response, just the way it always did.
"Oh, is that what this is about. Worried I'm modifying too much? Playing God?” His hands balled into fists. “I'm not telling them to do a damn thing they don't already want to do. And it's not as if I'm forcing them under Imperius. Just giving a little nudge. Half of them will talk themselves out of it again five minutes from now, anyhow. And if they don't, it's not as if I'm telling them to commit arson or go jump into the Thames. What do they get? Finally working up the courage to flirt with that bloke they like? A rare evening where they don't pick a fight with their mum? Tell me, what am I hurting?" His voice was rising and he didn’t care to stop it.
"So you're doing this from the goodness of your heart? I thought you didn't even care about Muggles."
The way Potter sneered at him lit his mounting irritation into something hard and hot, and Draco felt the last shreds of control deep inside him snap. "I don't care about Muggles, I care about my stupid bloody job!" he shouted. "I suppose that doesn't matter to you, not to the Great Harry Potter or any of the other Aurors who come in to do this and are more concerned with doing it quickly than doing it right, because they consider this beneath them. This is only clean-up duty after all, but it's all that I've got and I'm going to do the best I can at it and then maybe someone will finally fucking notice how much I've—" Draco bit off his words and felt his vulnerability yawn out between them like a chasm. Potter was staring at him, his eyes wide and startled and so very green. Draco let out one shaky breath and drew in another. "This is how I work, Potter," he said. That overly-formal, defensive tone was back, and this time Draco clung to it. "And if you don't like it then you can kindly fuck off."
He turned his back on him, opened the door, and leaned out. The Patrolman just outside, the same young one he'd dealt with earlier (Patrolman Winters, Draco’s brain suddenly supplied) was doing his best to act like he hadn't heard anything but the dark flush that crept up his cheeks and the nervous way he slid his gaze over Draco gave him away. Still, Draco appreciated the effort and he nodded once.
"If you'd please send in the next witness…?”
Winters nodded back. "Yes, sir."
Three and a half hours later, the last Muggle walked back out of the storeroom. Grateful, Harry stood and tried to stretch some of the knots from his back. Half the afternoon spent perched atop a stack of empty milk crates certainly hadn't done him any favors. As much complaining as his back and, yes, his arse were doing right now, he had to be feeling worlds better than Malfoy. Nearly an hour ago, Malfoy had begun gritting his teeth. Thirty minutes more and one hand kept sneaking up to rub at his temple. Now he looked washed out and exhausted and a little bit ill. He moved carefully, placing each foot in small, precise steps as he walked out of the storeroom and into the coffeeshop.
Harry felt a small twinge of guilt as he followed. Malfoy wouldn’t be in such bad shape if his partner had done a fair share of the work. But for the first hour Harry had been more concerned with making a point than with pulling his weight. Then by the time he finally got himself around to offering to help near hour two, Malfoy had given him such a vicious glare that he’d kept his mouth shut for the rest of the session.
Malfoy gingerly made his way to the door, pausing to clap a hand to the shoulder of the young Patrolman who stood beside it on guard, and the boy nodded in return. "Thank you, Winters," Malfoy said roughly, and continued onto the street.
"Look, um, Malfoy," Harry started, then stopped, awkward, when Malfoy turned his head and squinted at him. He forged ahead. "It's nearly five. Maybe you should just head home from here. You look rather… um."
Malfoy’s laugh came out as more of a croak. "I look ‘rather, um’? Don't sweeten the truth on my account. I look awful, and I can assure you I feel worse. I just need to get back to my office. I have some potions there that’ll help me.”
“Does this happen often, then?” Harry asked
“More often than I’d like. But it’s worth it, doing a proper job of it.” He stared at Harry as if expecting a challenge.
“Right. Er, Side-Along back to the Ministry?” Harry offered his arm. “You look like you could use a lift.”
Malfoy hesitated, and Harry could see the indecision on his face. But his exhaustion won out and he looped his arm firmly through Harry’s. He smelled good, Harry noticed after Malfoy had stepped close, the smell of a spicy and likely expensive aftershave mingling with the subtler scent of his shampoo. He realized he was standing there, smelling Malfoy of all the ridiculous things, and turned abruptly on his heel while thinking of the Ministry. Too abruptly, given Malfoy’s state. As they appeared back at the MAP, Malfoy stumbled and nearly went down. Harry’s arms went around him without thinking. His nose bumped the crown of Malfoy’s head and he got a lungful of that shampoo smell. It smelled sharply of apples and made his mouth water.
Harry jumped back, again too quickly as Malfoy nearly lost his balance again.
“I… Sorry, I just—“
Malfoy cut him off with a raised hand. “Please, don’t talk.”
They made their way, slow and careful and silent, back to Malfoy’s office. Harry lingered in the doorway as Malfoy stumbled to one of the trunks and dug through it. He made a little triumphant ‘Ah-ha!’ noise as he came back up with a vial of bright yellow liquid. He carefully popped the cork free and downed it in one gulp. Harry definitely didn’t stare at the way Malfoy’s throat worked as he swallowed.
“Hm. Much better.” Malfoy recorked the vial and tucked it back into the trunk.
He certainly looked much better, all traces of tiredness and pain gone. “What was in that?” Harry asked.
“My own brew,” Malfoy replied. He sounded proud. “Based on a variant of Pepper-Up, but with a good dose of pain blocker for the headache, and just a light calming drought because fuck if I don’t also need to feel calmer any time I need a dose of it.”
“Oh. You still work with potions?” Harry asked, because he felt like he should say something.
“A bit,” Malfoy said. “I dabble some.”
“Oh,” Harry said again. “I always thought you’d end up becoming a Master.”
“Obviously I didn’t.”
And there it was, what Harry was afraid of. Now that they didn’t have Malfoy’s pain between them, the silence was awkward and the longer it stretched on the more difficult it became to break it. Malfoy shifted slightly where he stood, his gaze passing over the mostly-packed trunks that cluttered his office.
Harry cleared his throat. “Mine’s bigger,” he blurted out.
Malfoy’s head whipped around to face him and he made a small choking noise. “What?”
Harry felt his face flame as he realized the implications what he’d just said. “My office,” he clarified and turned his back to Malfoy under the guise of closing a trunk lid. “If we’re partners, we’re going to be sharing, right? And my office is bigger than yours. And you’re already mostly packed up, so…”
“It makes sense for me to move there. Right. I’ll just finish up here, then, and meet you there?” He sounded flustered.
Harry nodded. His face hadn’t cooled and he didn’t dare turn back to face his new partner. “Sounds good. I’ll just go up to mine and make sure Heppner’s cleared all his things out.” Harry couldn’t imagine that he hadn’t, not after being Body-Bound and left behind, but it was an excuse to escape until his face wasn’t quite so pink. And so he took it, and fled.
The words replayed in Draco’s head as he stacked the last of his files and piled them into a trunk. Potter certainly hadn’t meant for it to come out quite like that, if the dark flush that swept up his face and down his neck had been any indication. And, really, it wasn’t as if Potter made a habit of going around bragging about his cock. But for a second there, one heart-stopping second, Draco had thought that Potter was bragging about his cock, and then he’d turned and seen the mortification writ plain on Potter’s face and he’d immediately felt the fool for assuming, even for one heart-stopping second, that Potter had been referring to his pride and joy.
Although in his defense, he had had several wank fantasies over the years that started out with those words, albeit rarely someone other than him speaking that line and never starring Potter. Well, except for that one in the showers in the Quidditch locker room after a game, where Potter just happened to glance over at Draco and then Draco set about proving that size wasn’t everything, not that his wasn’t a perfectly respectable size, thankyouverymuch, it was just that Potter had edged him out in everything else in his life so far, so why shouldn’t it stand to reason that Potter’s cock would too?
Merlin. He had to stop thinking about Potter’s cock. He had to stop thinking about cocks in general. He had to stop even thinking the word cock. Cock, cock, cock.
Draco growled and slammed the last of his files into the trunk. He’d just blame this ridiculousness on exhaustion from three hours of delicate magic, and the fact that his nerves were still raw from the news of Parsons’ death, and the fact that his new partner was Harry bloody Potter. Whose cock was probably bigger than Draco’s.
Fuck fuck fuck.
The headache that had faded with the use of his potion threatened to return, and though Draco knew he would regret it at three this morning when he wasn’t able to sleep, he rummaged through his belongings until he found another vial. Rather than swallowing this one quickly, he took a slow sip. It tasted faintly of bananas and, inexplicably, sunshine. A soothing warmth radiated from his esophagus down through his chest, and he felt muscles throughout his neck and shoulders that he hadn’t realized were clenched tight suddenly loosen and relax. He breathed in and out slowly, and was able to avoid thinking about Potter and cocks and Potter’s cock in particular for almost half a minute.
Draco shrank down the trunks and tucked them away into his black work satchel. He slung it over his shoulder and took a last look round his empty office. Former office, that is. He hadn’t been here long, but he’d settled in. It hadn’t been easy at first, Parsons and he had both seen to that. Two people who were too damn stubborn for their own good. But in time they’d settled with each other. In time, as his files multiplied on the shelves and he’d put pictures on the walls, Parsons grew on him. He’d begun to open up to her a little about his past, about his family and his role in the War. She’d talked a bit about her bastard of an ex-husband and the daughter she hardly ever saw. They’d quit dancing in circles around each other and fallen into step side by side. They’d worked well together. And now she was gone.
Draco’s chest tightened, but the calming effects of two doses of potion won out and he could breathe. For the first time, he let himself remember. They hadn’t been particularly close, even at the end. Not like the partnerships other Aurors formed, deeper and more complicated even than some marriages. He’d come to trust her to do her job, as she trusted him to do his. She was a good witch, and he respected that.
This was the last place he’d seen her, right here in this room, just behind her desk as she’d stood and stretched and gathered her things together at ten to five.
“Hot date tonight?” he’d quipped dryly with a pointed glance at the clock.
“Yeah,” Parsons had shot back, flipping him two fingers. “With these right here.”
“Ugh,” he’d said. “That’s disgusting, don’t be crude.”
She’d laughed, that full deep laugh that came up from her belly and made her eyes sparkle. He’d always liked her laugh, even before he'd liked her. “Too easy to get to you prissy pureblood types. C’mon, Malfoy, it’s Friday. What say you knock off early tonight, get an early start to enjoying your weekend. You’ve been chin-deep in papers all week, you deserve a little break.”
He’d only shaken his head. “I’m nearly done here, I won’t be long.” He didn’t know why she’d asked; she knew how he liked to get everything in order at the end of the week to start next Monday fresh.
“Suit yourself,” she’d replied, then paused in the doorway. “Only, some of us were talking about heading down to the White Hart for a pint or two. Thought maybe you might want to come along?”
He’d paused at that. Parsons had never invited him out with her before. No one had invited him out with them before. But in the end he’d shaken his head again. “No thanks.” He’d dug into a pocket and pulled out a sickle. He’d flipped it to her, and she caught it neatly. “Buy your date a drink for me, though, yeah?”
She’d looked at him, confused. He’d waggled his fingers at her, and she tipped her head back and laughed that full, deep laugh again. He’d smiled in return.
“Right, then. Night, Malfoy.” And she walked through the doorway and was gone from his life.
He’d still been here three hours later when they’d come into his office and told him that Parsons had been found dead in an alley a few blocks from her intended pub. She’d never arrived. If he’d taken her up on her offer, knocked off early and gone out for a drink or two, if he’d escorted her to the pub, if only—
No, that way was the path to madness, he knew. Merlin knew he’d spent enough time second-guessing himself in his youth. What if he’d been smarter, quicker, stronger. Maybe if Potter had taken his hand that first day, if he’d made a better first impression, maybe, maybe, maybe. He had no time for what-ifs and maybes in his life anymore. Here, he’d made an innocent choice, what had followed had not been his fault.
Draco drew in a long steady breath and released it. He let the calming effects of the potion sweep over him again. He patted the trunks in his bag and turned away. In the doorway he hesitated, then turned back to let his gaze wander the empty shelves, the bare desks.
“Goodbye, Penelope,” he whispered, then put his back to his past and strode off to face his future.
His future, he saw as he entered his new office, was currently trying to shove what appeared to be a half-eaten sandwich into an already-overflowing rubbish bin.
“You’re right,” he couldn’t resist saying. “Yours really is bigger.”
Oh fuck, there he went with the cocks again, but it really was worth it for the way that Potter’s head snapped around and how his eyes got wide and round as he tried to figure out whether Draco was serious or taking the piss or, heaven forbid, flirting. Draco didn’t help him, only kept his face perfectly impassive.
“Er, I told you it was,” he managed to get out eventually.
Potter’s cheeks were turning pink again and Draco didn’t think he could keep his face straight any longer. He turned and set his trunks on the floor beside his new desk and cancelled the Shrinking Charms them. When he turned back to survey the rest of his new office, Potter appeared to have gotten himself back under control. Shame, that. Draco had always liked forcing Potter off-balance and flustered.
“So,” he said, tucking his hands into his pockets and letting his gaze sweep over Potter’s side of things. “This is it.”
“Yeah.” Potter ran a hand through his hair. “I tried to tidy up a bit.”
“Really. I couldn’t tell.”
Potter’s half of the office was messy, to say the least. The shelves were crammed with teetering piles of paper that looked ready to avalanche down on anyone unsuspecting enough to brush against them. The top of Potter’s desk was entirely buried beneath more paper and files and quills and stoppered inkpots and no less than half a dozen used teacups, and that was just what Draco could see from the doorway. There was a small sofa against the wall just opposite the door, between their opposing desks. At least Draco assumed there was a sofa underneath the discarded clothing and empty takeaway bags heaped on top of it in a jumbled mess. Draco stepped forward and edged a pair of dirty trainers back onto Potter’s side of the room, noting with faint horror that there appeared to be a stale scone tucked neatly inside the left one. He didn’t ask; he didn’t want to know.
The first thing he’d do before he unpacked was get rid of all this mess. He didn’t think that he could work if he was forced to look at all this stuff. It made him feel anxious.
“I’m working on it,” Potter muttered.
At first Draco thought Potter had read his thoughts, but then he realized that the distasteful expression he currently wore said it all. “Right. Well—“
Draco was cut off by the door banging open. Without a knock or pause for an invitation to be issued, he noted as Weasley came barging in like an errant hippogriff. Clearly, the common courtesy of knocking before coming in wasn’t something Gryffindors were at all familiar with.
“Harry, there you are. Rough luck, mate. I heard about all the uproar with Heppner and then this with—Malfoy.” He broke off as he finally noticed that he and Potter weren’t alone.
For a long moment, he and Weasley stared at each other. Weasley hadn’t changed much from Hogwarts either, though he appeared to have gotten even taller, if that was possible. Still ginger and freckled and lanky. At least he’d finally quit wearing hand-me-downs. Weasley’s Auror robes were in perfect condition, even though the crisp carmine color clashed horribly with his complexion.
Potter, meanwhile, stood gaping uselessly between the two of them. Merlin’s beard, if someone didn’t do something they’d be here all night and Draco had quite a lot to get done. He put out his hand.
“Weasley,” he said evenly in greeting.
Weasley, to his credit, just replied, “Malfoy,” and pressed his hand just long enough to be considered polite. He turned his attention back to Potter. “Anyhow, Harry. I heard you had a rough day, what with that business with Heppner. And I heard you got stuck with clean-up on a settled case?” He shook his head at the great injustice of the Savior wasting a day caught up in the details of a case when clearly Potter ought to be off chasing down wicked wizards and rescuing puppies or whatever else it was that he usually did around here. “Hermione’s working late tonight, thought you might be interested in some takeaway curry and a pint at my place?”
“Yeah,” Potter said, brightening more than he had in Draco’s presence all day. “Sounds great.” He took a few steps toward the door, then glanced back to Draco as if he’d just remembered his partner still standing there. “Um. That is, unless you want me to help you get settled here?”
Draco put on his best horrified face. “You want to make my half of the office look like that?” he demanded, and flung a hand at the wreckage that encompassed Potter’s side of the room. “I think not!”
Potter rolled his eyes. “Fine. Whatever. I was just trying to be nice.” He pushed past Weasley.
“To be fair, it is a bit of a mess, mate,” Draco heard Weasley saying from the hallway as he followed Potter out.
“Shut up, you…” The rest of Potter’s reply cut off as the door shut and the silencing charms activated.
Draco sighed and looked around. Well, best get to work, then. He had a lot to do. But first he thought he might stop by the break room for a nice bracing cuppa before he got to work on settling in. Plan in place, Draco firmly set Potter from his mind and got on with his night.
It was a truly marvelous thing to have a friend who knew what he needed before Harry even knew himself. He leaned forward and put his empty container on the coffee table next to the empty dish that Ron had abandoned there nearly five minutes earlier. Spicy takeaway curry and a pint of beer had done wonders for easing away the day’s stresses.
“Now can we talk about it?” Ron asked, both exasperated and eager. “I’ve been hearing the rumors flying around all day, I’d love to know the truth.” He’d asked Harry about it earlier, but Harry had put him off, unable to deal with it on an empty stomach.
Rather than answer, Harry tipped his pint glass back and swallowed down the last inch of beer that had slowly warmed in the bottom. “Get me another? Can’t talk with a dry mouth.”
Ron rolled his eyes and collected his own empty pint glass to take to the kitchen for a refill. Harry leaned back on the sofa and let out a sigh. Ron and Hermione’s flat was just as comfortable to him as his own place, but the squashy leather sofa and matching chairs and thick rugs and dark wood fireplace reminded him a little of Hogwarts. He’d pointed out the similarities to Hermione once, and she’d just smiled and so he assumed she’d done that deliberately. Ron returned with the newly filled pint glasses. He handed one of them off to Harry before taking a pull from the other one as he sat. He smacked the foam from his lips and waved his hand in a little ‘after you’ sort of gesture.
So Harry took a sip of his own beer and set into recounting the story of the weekend’s pursuit and Heppner and how he’d eventually Stunned Heppner for being a twat and got on with the chase by himself. When he got to the part of describing his conversation with Kingsley and how he’d been assigned to gather evidence against Malfoy, Ron interrupted.
“Wait, so Shacklebolt thinks he did it?” Ron asked with a frown.
“Apparently,” Harry said with a shrug and went on describing breaking the news to Malfoy and then their first assignment. When he told Ron about Malfoy’s use of Legilimency on the Muggles, Ron interrupted again.
“That’s what I told him,” Harry sighed, and related the argument they’d had, then wrapped up with going back to the Ministry and moving Malfoy into his office. He left out the bit about how awkwardly he’d gone about telling Malfoy that he had the larger office, or how Malfoy agreed that it was bigger when he’d come in. Harry still couldn’t tell what exactly Malfoy had meant by that. Bastard had one hell of a poker face, Harry had to give him that. For one crazy moment Harry had thought that Malfoy was actually flirting with him, but in the end he just assumed Malfoy was making fun of him. At least that was familiar enough.
He waited expectantly, for Ron to say something, the silence stretching on.
“Well?” he asked finally, impatience winning out.
Ron picked up his glass again, took a long swallow, and set it back on the coffee table. “I’m sorry, I’m still stuck on the bit where Kingsley thinks Malfoy’s a murderer but is keeping him around.”
“He’s afraid that Malfoy will run if he’s cut loose.” Harry sighed and took another gulp of his beer. “He needs evidence to arrest him, and in the meantime he wants Malfoy where he can keep an eye on him. Or, where I can keep an eye on him, I guess.”
“So he’s partnered you with him? Bloody hell, Harry, I know you’re supposed to be the Boy Who Lived and all…” Ron trailed off and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Do you think he’s guilty?”
“No,” Harry said without thinking, then again, stronger. “No.” He thought of Malfoy on the Astronomy Tower all those years ago, lowering his wand. “He’s not a murderer. He doesn’t have it in him.” He cast a sidelong glance at Ron. “Do you?”
“I don’t know, I honestly don’t. I think probably he’s capable of it, given the right motivations. But I also don’t think he’s stupid enough to start murdering his partners without setting up a solid alibi first. And certainly not four times,” Ron said.
“I don’t think he’d murder his partners at all,” Harry said. “He really cares about his job. He knows how people look at him and see nothing but a Death Eater—“
“And that’s another thing that makes me suspicious,” Ron broke in. “Don’t you think it’s odd that Malfoy would be opening up to you of all people about that? You know how Slytherins are. They don’t do anything without a reason.”
Harry flopped back against the cushions and kicked his feet up on the coffee table since Hermione wasn’t around to tell him otherwise. “It’s been a long time since Hogwarts, mate. I think we can leave House differences in the past,” he said. “And he did have a reason. He only said all that stuff about being a Death Eater and not being trusted to throw it in my face that I wouldn’t get any exciting cases as his partner. And the bit later about taking his job seriously, well, that was my fault. Looks like I’m still able to push his buttons as easily as ever. He was angry and wasn’t thinking, and as soon as he realized what he was saying he shut his mouth.”
Ron sighed. “What if he’s only showing you what he wants you to see? Hey, now,” he said as Harry opened his mouth to object. “You need to consider all the angles here. All I’m saying is you need to keep your eyes open on this one. On the one hand, I get it, it’s just Malfoy. He’s always been snotty and obnoxious, but mostly harmless. And on the other, four of his partners are now dead. Something is clearly going on, and Shacklebolt thinks he’s guilty, and—“
“All right, all right, I get it. Constant vigilance,” Harry grumbled. A few seconds of silence ticked by.
“So you really don’t think he did it?” Ron asked.
Harry shook his head. “No, I really don’t.”
Ron watched him carefully for a few moments, blue eyes alight with concern. “Are you willing to bet your life on that?”
Harry gave his friend a wry smile and reached for his beer. “I don’t exactly have much of a choice, do I? He’s my partner now.” He sighed and took a sip of his drink. “But I’ll keep my eyes open, and I’ll be careful.”