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Paint It Red

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Last night Harry Potter let me drag my stained fingers across his skin, let me make him as red, as black, as blue, as he'd once left me. To see my fingerprints marking those perfect planes…we may be a masterpiece.

It wouldn't do to tell him that, of course.

-- -- --

I had believed for many years—it had been true, for many years—that I could detect Harry Potter from across a Quidditch Pitch, blindfolded, in a hailstorm. My sense for him was intuitive, visceral. We called it loathing then, those low sparks firing at the base of our spines, that coiled wrench in the gut. When we shared a classroom or a hallway I never failed to know where he was, how far I'd have to reach to land a jinx or a kick or strategic "accidental" elbow to the ribs.

Those instincts are not the sort of thing that leave you. And though it had become a joke among my friends, the fact remained: I have always known Potter.

If it took me some time to notice him that night it is only because I ascribed the jangling of my nerves to the task at hand. It was a Muggle site, white marble, ten feet high. I'd carved my stencils, prepared my potions, bundled them together in an old burlap sack and thrown it over one shoulder, as I had so many nights before. As I have so many nights since.

I knew they'd want to catch me, of course. They'd call it destruction of property or vandalism or some such bollocks. The sort of minor crime you pin on anyone who dares question the Ministry: too unremarkable to make headlines, serious enough to send someone to Azkaban for life, if you had enough counts to string together.

But I’d figured they'd send the Aurors, whose wool robes, heavy boots, and adherence to protocol would've given me a good head start. I figured I'd already become sufficiently practised at slipping between the shadows. I’d counted on it being late fall, leaves brown and barely clinging to their branches, cold enough that even the robust, backslapping red-robes sought harbour in doorways and fought for regular patrols near the Leaky.

But Harry—he was no longer one of them. He was unencumbered by anything save a light coat. Even Ministry protocols, those laughable attempts at fair play, wouldn't apply since he'd struck out on his own. I wondered if that's why they'd put him on the job. Wondered what sort of an Auror he'd been, before. Was he going to tackle me to the ground, or bind me with spells? Would he know enough to guess that I was wandless or would I, once again, be on the receiving end of Harry Potter’s Expelliarmus? Would he wait until I was finished? Was Harry Potter the sort of man who preferred to watch until it was done or to catch a man mid-act?

There was only one thing he could have done to surprise me. Of course, that's exactly what he did.

Nothing. He did nothing. The bastard.

Were he a Slytherin, I'd have lived that night in terror, imagining elaborate extortions or dramatic revelations, all ending with my wrists in shackles. Were he a Hufflepuff, I'd have imagined that he wanted to consult his keepers, whoever they might be. If a Ravenclaw, I'd have chalked it up to thorough investigation. But with Gryffindors there's no telling.

And so, what to do? I enjoyed a hot shower, did my best to scrub my fingernails clean of errant pigment, passed a sound night's sleep in silk sheets, and laid out my third best casual robes for tea with Pansy. If it was my last night as a free man, best to enjoy those comforts. If it wasn't, well, a down duvet and elf-brewed tea never did a man harm.

I still don’t know if Potter likes elf-brewed tea or down duvets. I do know that he likes to surprise me. Or else he’s as naturally talented at that as…well. He surprised me for the second time in as many days. He didn’t turn me in.

And then a third; he found me again, watched me again. Did nothing, again.

-- -- --

The next night began as so many do; I stood in front of a blank wall. But in this instance I was beginning to doubt my own instincts, wondering if the tightness in my shoulders, the quickness of my breath, was down to the adrenaline or the cold. I noticed the telltale signs of his presence, could swear I heard footsteps, could swear that I felt him. Still, some part of me expected, when I reached for him, to find empty air.

Instead, a fistful of shimmering fabric, pulled askew to reveal a green eye, half a plump mouth, unmistakably his face, obviously shocked.

“Malfoy,” he whispered.

What to ask him? It had not escaped my notice that he was unlikely to be tailing me recreationally, that he could call the Aurors at any moment. Maybe already had. “You’ve been following me.”

Not my finest moment, I’ll concede. Potter’s always tended to take facts as accusations. I’ve no doubt this would’ve fallen into that category if he’d had a leg to stand on.

As it was, his legs were pinned between mine, my hands braced at either side of his head. His, “Yes,” was low, tentative. Perhaps a bit afraid.

“Why?”

“You’ve been…you’re not supposed to be doing this.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.”

“How do you figure that, Potter?”

He was genuinely confused, the poor man, though he swallowed it quickly enough. “Vandalism.”

“Is that what it is?”

“I—yes?”

“Are you so certain?”

“Malfoy, please.” He began to straighten, my advantage almost lost to his stubbornness. “You’re drawing on buildings all over London. Magical and Muggle. Of course it’s vandalism.”

“Hmmm.”

“Hmm?” He was incredulous, drawing back into the brick to look me over. “Seriously?”

“Oh, it’s vandalism, I’ll grant you that much, seeing as your genius detecting has already got us this far. But is it a crime?”

“What?”

“Says, perhaps, the greatest rule breaker in Hogwarts' history.”

“These aren’t rules. They’re, you know. Laws.”

“Like laws against destruction of property?”

He nodded.

“Breaking and entering?”

Another affirmation.

“Assault?”

“Of course.”

“And all of those things are wrong?”

“…Yes.”

“Gringotts. The Department of Mysteries. The seventh floor bathroom.”

He scowled, his bottom lip plumping as he did. “That was different. The Ministry was corrupt, it was being run by Death Eaters.”

“And it’s a bastion of goodness now?” I held my breath while he considered. It was entirely possible that Potter hadn’t picked up a Prophet in months and even more likely that he avoided the political reporting hidden in the back pages.

“There are good people working at the Ministry.”

“There were then, too.” He opened his mouth to object; I dropped a hand from the wall, pressing a finger to his lips. “Come now, Potter. You haven’t arrested me yet. What’s another day?”

And then a fourth surprise. He paused. Nodded once, held my gaze for a moment, then ducked under my arm and disappeared down the street.

-- -- --

Though I’ve never caught him at it, Potter’s always seemed the sort to pick at scabs. He’s never been able to leave well enough alone. The slightest curiosity becomes full-blown obsession. For better or worse, I’m the same.

Anyone else might’ve been surprised that Potter was waiting for me at my favourite tea shop the next afternoon, or that he so readily accepted an invitation to my workshop, or that he came unaccompanied and right on time. But I knew he would—that he would come and that he would listen. He’s inherently incapable of doing anything else.

If only the direction of his righteousness was similarly predictable. There was every chance that he’d fly into a rage, hex me, defend his beloved Shacklebolt to the last. Every chance I’d greet the morning in a Ministry holding cell.

There was nothing to lose, then. No reason not to show him the potions I’ve developed—strong pigments on any surface, but impervious to magical and Muggle cleaning and concealment as soon as they meet brick or stone. No reason to avoid the argument, to withhold the accusations—that the Ministry is either corrupt or confused, that their attempts to “uphold the Statute of Secrecy” are a thinly veiled attempt to track anyone they find vaguely unpleasant, that it’s the sort of thing that’s not likely to stop. That, as a former Death Eater who's surely high on their list, “painting fancy buildings,” as Potter so eloquently put it to me one evening, is the only real recourse. Public, anonymous, and, if Potter’s assignment was anything to go by, under the Ministry’s skin.

“How are you so sure about that?” His eyebrows were drawn as he ran his hand through the purple smoke of a cauldron.

“Because you’re here.”

He laughed. “I’m not even an Auror anymore, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“And why is that, exactly?”

He frowned. Looked at me, and down again, and skimmed a finger over the edge of the cauldron.

I didn’t wake up in a cell. The next morning found me in bed at the Manor, with a full head and an appointment to meet Potter again.

-- -- --

He wanted to know how it was done. Needed time to think, he said. Needed to know more.

Was it foolish to invite him back? I’d love to claim it as the most brilliant of my Slytherin machinations. It wasn’t. There was little else to do. An extra pair of hands has its uses, certainly, and watching Potter, with all his clumsy fumbling, make an attempt at art was sure to be amusing. But the fact of the matter was, he had me on the ropes.

We met at my workshop again. I showed him how to bottle the pigments, how I’d made sure they didn’t leave any magical traces, how they were made without any of the ingredients on the Ministry’s ridiculous list of monitored ingredients. I showed him how to cut stencils, guided his hand as he carved into the material with my second favourite blade.

I didn’t miss his curiosity, the near-wonder on his face as he carved. Nor the way he relaxed against me when I moved to guide his fingers, how he leaned into my arms.

It was properly cold, that night. Cold enough to see his breath once we’d Apparated. Cold enough to see it speed up as he approached the concrete wall he’d chosen. Cold enough to account for his trembling fingers.

The cold could not account for the thrilled look of visceral pleasure written across his face the moment his wet brush met stone. He never looked away, never wavered. Even in those few first, simple words, crudely scrawled on a pedestrian underpass, he gave himself over completely.

Harry Potter, the Ministry’s Golden Boy, brush in hand, defacing public property, and it was bloody glorious.

-- -- --

The sort of singular fixation Potter brings to everything he does might, in some circles, be considered a liability. He has since admitted it would’ve spelled the death of his Auror career even if he hadn’t left voluntarily. He’d pick a case and let it become him, assignments be damned. Not that anyone who’s faced him on the Quidditch pitch could think otherwise.

I have, of course, so his delighted infatuation with a singular task was nothing new, He took to the brush as easily as the broom, letting it become an extension of his body. He did not surpass me for skill, but for enthusiasm, no one could rival him.

I asked him, once, on our fourth night out together, if it was strange for him to do this while he was, ostensibly, in the Ministry’s employ, when he had been tasked with catching the same man he was now abetting.

“Huh?” He said, rubbing his forehead with the back of a forearm. “What?”

I looked at him, agog. “The Ministry?”

“Oh,” he shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. It’s fine. “

“And when Shacklebolt comes asking?”

He shrugged again, his focus still trained on the alley wall we’d chosen to decorate. “Guess I’ll tell him I’m still working on it.”

“Are you?” A wave of concern crashed into my chest. There was no doubt that his enjoyment was genuine, but his actions have never been predictable.

The corners of his mouth turned up and he raised his brush. “Obviously.”

I studied him, not entirely sure of whether he was joking, or what about. His brow was furrowed and he squinted as he tried to fix a letter. He had a smear of blue paint on the back of his left hand. He kept licking his lips and then biting them, rolling his bottom lip between his teeth as he worked. If he was joking, it wasn’t evident to look at him.

He didn’t notice my silence until he noticed that I’d stopped working. It was my brush he followed, first and foremost. When he saw that it had stilled, he turned to me. Smiled. “C’mon,” he urged. I began, in that moment—that guileless, irrepressible moment—to believe in Harry Potter.

When I raised my brush, he grinned at me over the crook of his elbow. His eyes met mine. He faltered, letting his arm fall, opening his mouth and closing it again. His chest stilled.

He looked away a moment later, inhaling, shaking his head clear, and returned to the task at hand.

-- -- --

It won’t take much imagination to guess how we first fell into something more than a working relationship. Two more nights of painting the town, of confused, longing looks followed by disciplined self-correction. A climactic moment—footsteps approaching, the two of us forced to take cover, pressed together in an alcove, our bodies a hair’s breadth apart, his breath ghosting, sweet and cold, across my lips. The same look he’d been directing my way recreated without the benefit of distance. Our heads leaning in, his bottom lip dragging over mine, finally capturing my mouth in a kiss that left his glasses fogged and my heart racing. His hands, ice cold, pulling an uncharacteristically graceless yelp from my throat as he slipped them into my waistband. We came, gasping silently, in each other’s hands. Then we returned to work.

-- -- --

I had seen him, for weeks, sneak out under cover of darkness to write our messages across wizarding London. I knew his manic fascination, his unfailing dedication to the task. I was not surprised; I had seen him with a Snitch. I knew that nothing would draw his focus.

The problem with Potteresque singularity of purpose is that the outside world is rarely so agreeable. It was two blissful weeks of midnight expeditions and three a.m. orgasms before Shacklebolt called him for a meeting.

-- -- --

It was, undoubtedly, stupid to forget that Harry was technically working for the Ministry. I knew he spent his days in an office in Diagon Alley, helping old ladies find their missing cats. Knew he had been an Auror. Knew the wider wizarding world still thought of him as one. As more than that—the Auror, the hero, the savior.

Harry never was that for me. He was the rude boy in oversized denims, the usurper of House Cups, the Quidditch opponent, the obstacle, the witness, the enemy, the boy behind those pleading, puffy eyes in the Manor’s sitting room. The boy I’d not turned in, the man who’d not turned me in, who had joined me instead. The man who got hard from the threat of being discovered, who wrapped his hand around my cock at the end of the night.

The hours he spent with Shacklebolt were some of the longest of my adult life.

He came back exhausted, collapsed into a chair, and smiled up at me, looking as pleased as he did weary.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask. Not in so many words. I sat across from him, leaned forward, caught his gaze, raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve told them,” he rasped. My breath froze, my lungs a solid block threatening to sink through my stomach. “Kingsley said they needed every lead. Part of an across-the-board crackdown.” He looked right into my eyes. “You were right.”

Those words would’ve been sweeter than treacle in any other instance, but this. “You told them,” I repeated, hoping the shock wasn’t too evident.

“I told them,” he confirmed, “that it looks like a bunch of teenagers. Not sure what they’re using, but it doesn’t look terribly sophisticated, probably something they stumbled onto by accident.”

“They’re looking for kids?” On the one hand, a brilliant diversion. On the other, best not to look too pleased at the prospect of falsely accused teenagers in Potter’s vicinity.

“No, no. Wouldn’t want the Ministry to look like a bunch of bullies. They’re calling off the investigation. Pursuing new youth programming. It’s over.”

“Over?”

“The search. They’re not looking for you. For us.” His brow furrowed. He searched my face, confused, for a sign of relief, of happiness.

There wasn’t one to be found. “And when we continue on?” He frowned. “And when they try to pull dozens of teenagers into some Ministry reprogramming course?” His jaw fell open, mortification written across his face.

“Oh.”

“We have, what, two or three nights left?” I could hear the panic rising in my voice, unresponsive to my efforts to quell it. “And that’s it. And then what?”

He leapt to his feet, came to me, gripped my arm, woeful, apologetic. “I needed to get you out. We couldn’t—you shouldn’t go to Azkaban for this. Not when what you’re saying—”

I glared.

“—what we’re saying, not when it’s right.”

I shrugged him off. “It doesn’t matter if we can’t say it. They’ll start looking again if it doesn’t stop, you know they will.”

He squared his jaw, looked at me. “We’ll just have to make it good, then.”

-- -- --

We waited two nights. Plotting. Planning. Making quick runs past old haunts to scrawl a few words, lest the pause seem too coincidental. He was quiet, tense. Kept his hands to himself.

At the end of our second run, he turned to me. “There’s another option, you know.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“They won’t send me to prison.”

I nearly dropped a half-full container. “No. You can’t mean—”

“They won’t do anything to me. You know they won’t.’

He wasn’t wrong.

“We do one more thing, one really big thing. Or a few of them, maybe. I go see Kingsley, tell him I have more information. Get him to stick me somewhere big, where there will be lots of press. To support Ministry programs, find criminals, something like that. A press conference. Then I tell them.”

“You’re mad.”

He scuffed the toe of a trainer on the pavement, shrugged. “Maybe.” He looked up at me then. “What do you say?”

-- -- --

Tomorrow afternoon he’ll stand in front of the wizarding world. He wrote a statement; I rewrote it. He’s spent today away from the office. Spent it here, instead, practising. Waiting.

There will be banners, we’ve decided, hung across Diagon Alley. He’ll charm them to open at the conclusion of his speech. I suggested we continue on, one more night in the streets together.

“No.” He objected with an unexpected vehemence. “Something bigger, let’s—” he reached for my hand, twining our fingers together. “Just in case. Let’s make this one memorable.”

I thought he meant the banners. Perhaps, in some sense, he did.

He’d bought pieces of canvas in the Muggle world and insisted we lay them out and surround ourselves with every colour we had to hand. He wanted something grand, unmissable. That Harry can’t draw worth two sickles was a minor complication, made major by his absolute inability to sit still. We agreed that he could trace; my lines first, in charcoal, quick and sketchy, his slower and more lasting.

He was hot on my heels nevertheless, restless and restive, nudging me out of his way, urging me to move faster, to do more. Having come so far in our partnership, it would have been rather a waste to strangle him. Instead, I turned, palm extended, meaning to tell him to stop it, step back.

He was so close behind me that instead of air my palm pushed into soft white cotton, and he fell back with an indignant, “Hey, watch it!” He held the hem of his t-shirt away from him, examined it. The imprints of my fingers were arrayed over his chest, five distinct marks arcing across his heart.

The furrowing of his eyes was replaced by an impish gleam. Always a sign of danger where he’s concerned, and this was no exception. He retaliated viciously, drawing a heavy black line up my sleeve.

If I shivered, if I felt the line of his brush travel up my bicep even once he’d stopped at the elbow, if breathing proved suddenly challenging, I did make some attempt to hide it. Perhaps not the most successful attempt, but the combination of a ruined shirt and a swelling prick would distract the best of us.

He noticed, in any event. Noticed, grinned his roguish grin, and traced a finger through the still-wet mark. I glared. He trailed his finger up the inside of my arm, looping broken trails over my shoulder, using it as a feeble excuse to lean close until he could whisper, “You really oughta take that off.”

I swallowed. I’m sure he could see it, but I couldn’t—can’t—bring myself to care. For years, I’d watched Potter chase his various obsessions. I knew what it was to watch him seek but I’d never understood what it was to be his Snitch.

His focus was unwavering, hot. He dipped his hand into my collar, ran the fabric between his fingers as he moved to wrap my top buttons in his fist and pulled, bringing my lips to his.

By the time I recovered my higher faculties he’d made quick work of my shirt, leaning up to slip it off my shoulders and catching my lower lip in his teeth. He tugged at it, wrapped his arms around my neck, and pulled me flush against him, my hips resting on top of his, his hands trailing over my shoulder blades.

He was laid out against the canvas, the ends of his black hair blending into the freshly painted lines behind him. They were sure to be smudged beyond recognition.

I tried to draw back, to speak. It came out as a whisper, and a gravelly one at that. “You’ll ruin it.”

He shook his head, his eyes never leaving mine.

“You’re dirty.”

The corners of his mouth quirked into a smile. “Yes.”

He reached one arm above him, grabbing a jar and dipping his thumb below the rim, pulling out a single, dripping, dark red digit.

His hand came to my face and I felt the featherlight weight of his thumb tracing a wet trail across my cheekbone, down my jaw. “You too.”

I was staggered. Astounded. Hard.

Determined to retaliate.

All it took was a shift of my weight against his, his hips locked into place as I sank down against them, bracing my hands on either side of his head and pinning him to the ground with a kiss that left one side of his face streaked with crimson.

I moved to nip an earlobe, only pulling away when he tilted his neck for more. “Think you’re an artist?”

He smiled, lust-blown, hazy, and silent. And then his smile grew into a grin. He nodded, bucked his hips, and sent me reeling. My back hit the canvas with a heavy thud.

The riot of sensations that followed escapes even my best attempts at recollection. I remember the rough drag of glass against the floor, his nipples just out of tongue’s reach as he stretched for another jar, and another. I remember the strength of his hand around my wrists and bucking under him, my sides spasming and back arching as he dragged the fine bristles of his brush over my ribcage. I still bear the marks he left: twin stripes of black down my sides; red streaks on my shoulders matched by raised pink welts where his fingernails bit through my skin; half a cobalt handprint on the inside of my thigh and a full one where he’d grabbed my arse.

I remember his silent entreaties to turn over. How he slowed once I did. He traced my back with such excruciatingly attentive care I might have screamed if I could’ve mustered the will to move beyond my most automatic reactions. I know now that he used every colour he could reach, that my back is an advertisement for rainbows and house unity, save the long, blank strip he reserved for his tongue.

It was shocking, that. The paint had begun to dry; it picked up every draught and left every hair standing on end, left me trembling for the heat of his touch. And then it was there, hot, wet, trailing over the one expanse that had remained unmarked.

Perhaps the moments where my memories run together are a salve to my dignity; it was certainly lacking then. I was on my hands and knees for him in an instant, pushing back against his face, grinding against his tongue. He met me eagerly, the vibrations of his grunts and moans running up my spine as he licked me open. I’m sure I’m glad I can’t recall the sounds I made when he added a stained, spell-slicked finger to his efforts.

I shivered when he withdrew, stretching towards him with my head on my forearms and my arse in the air, thighs trembling. There was a flurry of fabric, a zipper, more rustling as he scrambled behind me. And then his skin met mine.

Bliss. For all our early morning one-offs, we’d never been like this, pressed together without obstacle. He bent to cover my back and his skin was as warm as the air was cold; I melted against him in relief, in warmth, in abject desire.

“Okay?” Even as he whispered it, he drew a hand along my flank, trailing his fingers along till they were wrapped around my hipbone. I nodded, pressed back into him, reached for his hip to pull him closer.

He didn’t take much coaxing. A mumbled incantation, the head of his cock pressed against me, and a magnificent fullness that left me arching and aching, scrambling for purchase as he withdrew and entered me again.

He had the presence of mind to reach down and wrap a hand around me—more than I could have managed in that moment, had our roles been reversed—and to strike up a steady rhythm, pushing me into his fist as he filled me, dragging shaky fingers over the head of my cock as he withdrew.

I came far too quickly, shuddering under him before he’d left any deeper imprint, post-coital oblivion tinged with the sad certainty that I wouldn’t feel him after he’d withdrawn, wouldn’t be reminded of this moment as I moved through the day. But when he followed, gasping against my back and digging his fingernails into my skin, it was of no matter.

He collapsed beside me, wide-eyed and smiling, his chest still heaving as he came down.

That’s when I saw it; every mark he’d left on me echoed on his own skin. His chest ran with sweat and pigment. Dyes pooled at his follicles, streaked across his nipples, the blue handprint he’d left on my arse transplanted to his hipbone.

He lay back against the canvas, breath slowing, and held out an arm for me. I took it, with one purpose in mind. I rested my head on his shoulder and splayed my fingers across his bare chest. We lay there, him with his eyes closed and his breath long and even, me with my hand determinedly unmoving on his skin as the paint dried.

-- -- --

I should’ve known he’d not be the sort to rise with the birds. That he’d scratch his bollocks and throw an arm over his eyes to hide from the sun. That I’d have to nudge him awake, to remind him of what the day held, no matter what I’d like to have done instead.

We were finished painting just in time for him to leave. He had to charm our banners still, to change, to glamour away the last lingering streaks from his face and fingernails, to go out to meet the Minister.

To go out to meet the Minister—to fight against the Minister—with my handprint fixed on his chest. With the lines of my palm still framing his heart.

Harry Potter has done many things to surprise me. I’m beginning to suspect he might never stop.

-- -- --