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The Light More Beautiful

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Pansy attempts to squint at her book without appearing to be squinting, which has the unfortunate effect of making her look like she’s got some sort of nervous tic. The sort that Draco’s afraid he’s developing from all the stress he’s under, the most recent source of which is the sheer bloody annoyance of being forced to work with her. It was Pansy’s misreading of the instructions that had led to Draco being forced to rebrew a potion for the first time in his six years at Hogwarts.

With the end of the year fast approaching, with Dumbledore still alive and the Vanishing Cabinet still broken, Draco hasn’t got time to waste rebrewing potions. His parents’ lives hang in the balance, and the scales will be tipped by his success or his failure. And right now he’s stuck here rebrewing a bloody Percipience Potion because Pansy fucked up in class, and Draco wasn’t paying close enough attention to stop her.

Irony, Draco decides, is something he only enjoys when it happens to other people.

And besides. She looks absolutely bloody ridiculous. It’s a small enough irritation, but Draco’s emotional state these days is such that he finds even the smallest annoyances nearly unbearable. With his nerves scraped raw, it doesn’t take much to push him over the edge.

“Honestly,” Draco huffs. “When are you going to admit you need glasses?”

“Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses, darling,” Pansy tells him without pausing in her squinting-not-squinting at the book. “You don’t honestly expect me to find a boyfriend if I look like Speccy over there, do you?”

Draco glances over to the next workstation where Potter’s busily mangling bat spleen while Granger grits her teeth and visibly tamps down the urge to wrest the knife from Potter’s inept fingers and finish it herself. Draco can’t quite blame her. The things Potter’s doing to that bat spleen ought to be illegal. Probably are, in some countries.

“Point taken,” he grumbles. Despite how obviously he’s botching it, Potter’s inexpert technique would earn him nothing but accolades had Slughorn stuck around long enough to see. But he’d fucked off just a few minutes into the remedial potions session, claiming he had papers to mark or some other such twaddle. Reassured Pansy and Draco that they could ask Potter and Granger if they had any questions about the assignment, and Draco had to put his wand away lest he hex someone. Carefully didn’t look at Potter because he didn’t think he could keep his temper if he saw anything like smugness on Potter’s face. Just kept his eyes down and seethed silently. Thirty minutes later, he’s still seething. Merlin, he hates Pansy right now. This whole thing is her fault. “If you hadn’t misread the instructions, we wouldn’t be here.”

“I told you,” Pansy sighs, leaving off her squinting-not-squinting long enough to roll her eyes ceilingward. “You dripped bat blood on the page and the ink smeared. You should be more careful when you’re brewing.”

Draco slaps his knife down on the table. “Are you trying to blame me?” he snaps. Potter remains focused on his work, but Draco’s outburst draws Granger’s attention. He aims a glare at her and lowers his voice. “This is not my fault. This is your fault.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, darling,” Pansy tells him without looking up. She subtly inches the book closer to her face.

Draco sneaks another glance at Potter, the way his dark brows draw together in concentration, how he’s caught his lower lip between his teeth, and Draco has to look away again. It’s taken Draco years to come to terms with the fact that he likes men, but he’ll never come to terms with the fact that one of those men is Potter. Finding Potter attractive is a complication, and Merlin knows Draco’s got enough of those in his life right now.

Not to mention, Draco hates Potter. It’s just that when Potter bites his lower lip like that, Draco also wants to kiss Potter. His hate doesn’t disappear, or even diminish. It just sort of… steps aside a little to make room for the wanting-to-kiss-him thing.

It’s all very confusing.

He gives Potter another glance, avoiding his face and focusing on his hand this time, the awkward too-tight way he’s gripping the knife, the bony wrist and bitten nails, starts to work his way up the arm of Potter’s shabby jumper but thinks better of it and averts his eyes before Pansy can catch him looking. If she saw, she’d want to know why. And Draco can’t answer that because he doesn’t even understand it himself. He hates how Potter looks, with his horrible hair and his stupid glasses and his ugly, ill-fitting clothes. He’s too skinny, all knobbly elbows and knees, gangly and ungainly. He shows too much of his teeth when he smiles and his eyes squinch up oddly when he laughs, and he does it far too often. Draco especially hates Potter’s laugh, hates the strange fluttery-hot-squirmy things it does to his stomach. Potter’s eyes are too bright and his brows are too dark and his teeth are crooked and his lips are always dry and a little chapped. Draco could write whole essays on the physical imperfections of one Harry Potter, but for some incomprehensible reason he also can’t stop thinking about him naked.

He wishes he didn’t know what Potter looks like naked, maybe then he wouldn’t fantasise about it quite so much, but Slytherin and Gryffindor have Quidditch practice back-to-back on Thursdays and he’d forgotten his gloves back in September. Potter had been standing at his locker, his back to the door, and dropped his towel just as Draco walked in, giving him an unimpeded look at his body: the thin limbs and jutting joints, the shadows of his ribs shifting as he breathed, and the slight knobs of his spine dotting a path from where his hair curled damp at the nape of his neck all the way down to the tight curve of his arse. Draco had turned right the fuck around and left, forgetting his gloves for a second time. He didn’t go back again.

Pansy nudges him then in a quick bump of elbows, and Draco realises abruptly that he’s nearly left it too long to add the flobberworm mucus. He takes the uncorked vial she holds out to him and tips it carefully into his cauldron, waiting anxiously while it hisses and bubbles for a few moments before settling back into a simmer. He exhales slowly, then reaches for the minced bat spleen and adds it slowly to his potion, sets the empty dish aside and reaches out a hand.

“Wand,” he says, giving his finger an impatient waggle.

Pansy slants him a look. “What, yours has stopped working?”

“Mine’s hawthorn. Yours is cedar. We’re brewing a Percipience Potion. Any first year would know yours’ll work better than mine for it. Now,” He clicks his fingers and gives them another waggle. “Wand.

Pansy rolls her eyes but hands it over. “Why Draco, you’re such a treasure to work with. I’ve got no idea why we’re not partners all the time because you’re a ray of sunshine in this dreary—”

“Fuck off,” he interrupts, dipping her wand into the cauldron and stirring in slow clockwise rotations. “I’m counting.”

Pansy snorts inelegantly, and Draco’s tempted to point out that not wearing glasses won’t help her one whit if she goes around making noises like an angry thestral. But—nine, ten, eleven—he really is counting.

When he finishes and sets Pansy’s wand aside, he reaches for the jar of powdered moonstone only to find her withholding it. Her lower lip sticks out in a determined pout and Draco knows what she’s going to say.

“Pansy…” he tries to head her off. They’ve got about twenty seconds to add the moonstone before their potion goes bad, and Pansy’s timing is shit.

“I used to enjoy working with you in potions,” she says. “I used to enjoy doing everything with you. But this year—”

“Pansy,” he says again in warning.

“—you’ve been so distant.” Her pout eases into concern. “You know you can tell me anything, don’t you? If something’s wrong, tell me and I’ll help you get through it. Anything you need, Draco.”

Draco’s heart gives a painful twist and for a moment he’s sorely tempted. He wants to tell her, wants to tell her everything because then maybe he won’t feel so alone, but he can’t. “If I don’t add the moonstone in the next ten seconds the potion will be ruined.” His voice sounds brittle to his own ears; he can hear the plea for her to please let this go as clearly as if he’d begged her aloud, so he grits his teeth and puts a little steel in it when he adds, “And if that’s the case, I’ll hex you senseless, I swear to Merlin I will. I’m not brewing this a third time.”

Sighing, she hands over the jar. Draco takes it, and if his fingers tremble as he measures out a spoonful, she’s kind enough to refrain from commenting. He stirs it in and watches as his potion lightens from a deep beige to a delicate eggshell white. Perfect.

“This isn’t right,” Potter says, leaning over his own cauldron. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be that colour.”

And that’s all the warning any of them get before his cauldron explodes.

Granger manages to turn away in time, and while her back and hair are spattered in the gunk, she appears mostly unharmed. Potter, however, got a faceful of the stuff and, judging by the way he’s coughing and spitting, hadn’t even managed to shut his mouth. The force of the explosion flung a few stray droplets all the way to Draco’s worktable, spattering his book, and he idly rubs them away before they smear the ink as he watches gleefully to see what might happen next. Misbrewed potions are the leading cause of accidental poisonings, and there’s any number of things that might’ve gone wrong with this one. Not that Draco wants Potter to die, of course, and there’s a bezoar in the storeroom if it looks like that might happen. But watching Potter be violently ill would be the highlight of Draco’s week.

Granger clucks over him like a mother hen, pushing him down into a chair as Potter scrubs at his face with his sleeve. The potion is thick, but it comes away easily.

“I told you the Prince’s instructions were—” Granger begins, then breaks off after taking a good look at Potter. “Harry?”

Potter just shakes his head.

He’s gone all flushed and breathless, and Draco can see from here how his pulse leaps at his throat. The odds of Potter sicking up seem to be growing better by the second, and Draco’s mood is improving right along with it.

“You could look a little sorry,” Pansy murmurs.

“Why?” Draco asks, barely remembering to add in three drops of essence of moondew and keep stirring. He keeps one eye on the cauldron and one eye on Potter, whose face is now more red than pink, and he’s all sweaty like he’s just played a rough match of Quidditch. “You don’t.”

Pansy shrugs. “Yes, but I’m not radiating joy and happiness like you are.”

Draco shrugs back.

Granger gives them both a glare before turning back to Potter. “Harry, what’s wrong? Do you need to go to the infirmary?”

“I think…” Potter begins, flicking an agonised glance at Draco. His face flushes further. “I think we’ve accidentally brewed a lust potion.” His gaze cuts briefly to Granger before he squeezes his eyes shut. “A really really strong one.”

It makes sense. The Percipience Potion shares many common ingredients with most basic lust potions; both of them have the effect of sharpening the senses and focusing the mind, though to very different ends. If Potter skipped a step or accidentally added the wrong ingredient then he might have tipped the potion from one category into the other. In that case, a mixture of asphodel and moondew would probably be Potter’s best bet. It’s hard to say for sure without knowing exactly how Potter fucked up, but he thinks there’s a decent chance of it neutralising at least a little of the effects Potter’s feeling now. He weighs his enjoyment of Potter’s misery against the chance to show off in front of know-it-all Granger.

“I really think you should get away from me,” Potter tells Granger. “Please, I don’t think I can…” He gulps a deep breath and adds helplessly, “It’s really strong.”

...and Draco decides he’d much rather watch. He’s hoping Potter will make a grab for Granger. Not that she’d let him get anywhere with it, she’s far too capable a witch for that, and anyhow even Draco’s not cruel enough to stand idly aside as Potter mauls her. But Potter would probably get just far enough to make a complete and utter fool of himself. It’s not quite the spectacle sicking up would be, but Draco will take it. Maybe Granger will even be forced to hex him. Draco smiles at the thought.

“Hermione, I’m serious. Go away.” Potter glances over at Pansy. “And take her with you.”

Pansy looks up at Draco, and he gives her a nod. “Go on.”

“Harry, I really don’t think I should leave you alone with—”

“He’s a bloke, he’ll be fine,” Potter cuts in.

“That’s not what I meant,” Granger says, glancing distrustfully at Draco

“Unlike you, my potion’s coming along perfectly. I haven’t got time to antagonise Potter,” Draco says. The last few steps are delicate and as much as he’d like, he doesn’t have time to bait Potter right now. It’s rather a shame.

“You see? I’ll be fine.” Potter rubs the back of his wrist over his forehead. “Everything’s fine. Just go.”

“If you’re sure. We’ll just go get Slughorn, he’s probably in his office—” Granger begins.

“Slughorn’s bloody useless,” Potter grinds out through clenched teeth. “Get Pomfrey.” The girls hesitate by the door, and Potter snaps at them, “Go now!”

They go. The door thumps shut behind them and for a long moment, the only sound in the potions lab is Potter’s harsh breathing. Draco picks up the decanter of purified water from his workstation and carefully pours half of it into his cauldron, takes up Pansy’s wand again and gives it a stir.

“Malfoy…” Potter says.

“I’m trying to work,” Draco says, levelling a scathing look at the front of Potter’s trousers. “I haven’t got time for you and your little problem.”

The hand Potter holds splayed protectively over his groin doesn’t quite disguise the way his erection tents the front of his trousers. And despite what Draco just said, from the glimpse he’d allowed himself Potter’s problem is certainly not little. He dearly wants to take another look, but forces himself to keep his eyes on his cauldron. He doesn’t need to give himself any more encouragement to fantasise about Potter.

“But you see…” Potter goes on.

“For the love of Merlin,” Draco mutters. He glances up to find that Potter has stood. There’s something about the way he’s holding himself, a tension through him that reminds Draco of a coiled snake, poised and ready to strike. The back of his neck prickles.

“You’ve made a mistake,” Potter says, fixing Draco with fever-bright eyes.

“Oh?” Draco asks. His mouth has gone dry and he forces himself to swallow. The way Potter’s staring at him is frankly unnerving. He backs up a step and his arse bumps into the table behind him, and he raises his wand. Not trying to get the asphodel and moondew into Potter when he still had Granger for backup is starting to feel more and more like a miscalculation. “And what’s that?”

Expelliarmus!” Potter shouts, and the wand rips itself from Draco’s fingers. Potter tosses it aside as he advances on Draco. “You see,” he continues, “I don’t just like girls.”

It takes a long moment for Potter’s words to make sense. When they do, and everything they imply clicks into place in Draco’s mind, he does the only sensible thing: he bolts.

But Potter’s quicker. A strong Colloportus seals the door a scant instant before Draco reaches it. He wastes a few precious seconds yanking at the handle before he remembers that the wand Potter had disarmed him of was Pansy’s and his own is still safely in his pocket. He reaches for it, but Potter reaches him first.

Strong hands clamp around Draco’s arms and Potter spins him around, slams him backward so hard that the back of Draco’s skull bounces off the door with enough force to make him see stars. And then Potter’s hot mouth crushes over his own. For a single stunned second, Draco lets himself be kissed. The revoltingly bitter taste of the misbrewed potion lingering on Potter’s tongue kicks him back to reality and he wrenches his head to the side. Potter growls and pushes closer to him, rubbing his face against Draco’s neck, thrusting his hard cock against Draco’s hip. His clothing is still soaked with the botched potion, and Draco can feel it seeping through his own clothing, cold and wet against his skin, can feel it smearing along his neck from where Potter’s hair is drenched with it. He tells himself that’s why he shivers as Potter makes a low and desperate sound and presses closer.

This is everything Draco wanted and not at all how he wanted it.

“No, Potter, stop,” he gets out, and Potter shifts his hips, his erection pressing firmly against Draco’s half-hard cock as he bites down on Draco’s neck. Draco gasps, his resolve weakening. Merlin, he shouldn’t be getting hard from this. Potter doesn’t really want it, will be furious when he comes back to himself and realises what he’s done. “You shouldn’t, you don’t really—ah!—want this, you don’t…”

Then Potter sucks at Draco’s neck and all rational thought flies right out of his head. Merlin, he’d never thought, he didn’t think, he had no idea—

And this time when Potter kisses him, Draco kisses him back. He knows he shouldn’t, knows Potter doesn’t want this, doesn’t want him, but Draco can’t help himself. Draco wants this, has wanted it for ages, spends more nights than he cares to admit to lying in his bed staring up at the dark canopy and trying to stop wanting Potter. This might be his one chance to have him. If he does this, maybe he can move on, let go, get over this ridiculous infatuation and go back to hating Potter in peace.

He rocks his hips up, meeting Potter’s rough thrusts, and Potter groans his enthusiastic approval of Draco’s sudden participation. Potter’s mouth is eager against his own, wet and hot and it’d be absolutely bloody perfect if only he didn’t taste like…

The potion. The reality of it, that Potter doesn’t really want him cuts through the hot blur of desire. Potter doesn’t want this, he’s only doing it because he’s under the influence of a misbrewed potion. Draco may be many things, but he can’t take advantage of Potter like this. There are so many lines he’s been forced to cross; this is one he’s got the ability to turn away from.

He shoves at Potter, his hands slipping on the congealing potion down the front of Potter’s clothing. Potter stumbles back a step, and the distance between them aches. Draco knows he should take out his wand, open the door, and leave. But he finds himself closing that distance and hauling Potter close again.

His arousal has become a living thing, expanding until it fills every inch of him, pressing against his skin, boiling through his blood and lungs and brain. Every nerve in his body feels pulled deliciously taut, thrumming with the force of his need. He needs Potter like he needs air, like he needs to breathe. Draco wonders if the faint traces of the potion he’d licked from Potter’s mouth were enough to affect him too, or if this is just how sex feels for everyone. He’d shared a few curiosity-inspired kisses with Pansy back when he was trying to figure out whether his attraction to men was something he could ignore in favour of making a respectable marriage and producing an heir to carry on his family name. At the time, the experiment had resulted in a resounding ‘maybe’ but after this, he knows he’ll never be able to settle for someone he’s not attracted to.

Like Potter’s not really attracted to him. The thought surfaces briefly, barely long enough to even register, before it’s swept back down. Draco slides his hands up the back of Potter’s jumper, the pilled wool giving way to a soft expanse of warm skin.

“Off,” Potter gasps. “Trousers off.”

Draco hikes up his robes and unfastens his trousers as Potter gets his pulled down, revealing his cock swelled thick and red and Draco aches with how much he wants that inside him. Potter’s hand curls around it and he gives himself a rough stroke. A shiny drop of pre-come beads at the tip.

“I need…” he says, soft and broken and desperate. His other hand twitches toward Draco in a small motion cut short. His fingers curl into a fist. “Can I?”

And Draco says, “Yes.” He drags Potter toward him, who opens his arms to pull him close. “Yes, yes.”

He turns around in the tight embrace of Potter’s arms, lets Potter bend him over the nearest worktable. Potter shoves Draco’s clothing out of the way, and Draco wriggles until the fabric of his robes no longer bunches uncomfortably beneath his stomach. Potter presses him down, one hand warm against the small of his back, and that’s when it clicks in Draco’s mind: Potter’s about to take him dry. For the first time, Draco feels a frissure of real fear sweep through him, sharp enough to pierce the thick haze of desire. He squirms away, one hand reaching for his wand.

“Wait,” he says. “Wait, you don’t want to do it like this.”

Potter pins his hips and presses close again, his cock sliding between Draco’s thighs, and even then Draco can’t help arching his back, rocking his hips so the tip of Potter’s cock drags over his arsehole. Potter leans down and bites the back of Draco’s neck, and Draco moans.

“Just think how much better it’ll be with lube,” Draco goes on, his words coming so fast they tumble over each other. “Think how good it’ll feel if I’m all wet for you, it’ll feel so good when you slide into me.” His cock throbs as he imagines it. “You want it, don’t you, you want me nice and slick for you. I’ll be so hot and tight when you push inside me, stretching me open. It’s going to feel so good if you slick me up first. I’ll be so, oh fuck, I’ll be—”

“I don’t…” Potter hesitates. He’s still thrusting gently between Draco’s thighs, probably not even aware of how his hips keep twitching, pushing closer to Draco. “God, Malfoy. I really need to, to do this.” He angles his hips up and slides his cock up the cleft of Draco’s arse, and Draco shivers as he pushes back into it. “I can’t…”

“The water,” Draco says urgently. He needs Potter to take care of this right the fuck now because Draco can feel his resolve faltering. Already the urgency is fading. He knows distantly, logically, that if Potter doesn’t do something to prep him, then this will hurt. But the rest of him doesn’t care. He needs Potter inside him. “Transfigure it. Come on, I know you’re not useless at Transfiguration.”

Potter pulls himself away, turns and hurries two tables up to Draco’s workstation. He’s only gone long enough to grab the decanter of water but for those long seconds, his absence is nearly unbearable. Draco feels cold without the hot press of his body, lonely without the weight of him. He whimpers, squeezing his eyes shut, and forces himself to remain still until Potter comes back. Potter sloshes water over his hand as he casts quickly, slicks up his cock and swipes lube over Draco’s arse, doesn’t bother to stretch him before he’s pushing inside and fucking Merlin it burns, but even that feels good. Draco’s panting and whimpering, hips twitching, desperate for friction against his aching cock. Potter’s hands smooth gentle down his sides, then dig in hard around his hips. He hauls Draco back against him to meet him halfway for each thrust as he sets up a pounding rhythm, and all Draco can do is cling to the table and let him.

And, Merlin help him, it’s fucking brilliant. The burn eases into a piercing ache that teases the line between pleasure and pain. His cock bounces every time Potter slams into him, the tip brushing against the edge of the worktable with just enough friction to be entirely maddening. Draco wants to take himself in hand and push himself to the edge. It wouldn’t take much, he thinks, he can feel himself hovering close, his climax only just beyond his grasp. And then Potter presses Draco down to the table and leans over him. The change in angle lets Potter’s cock hit something inside him that sends a jolt up his spine on every stroke, still that searing pleasure-pain as before but also somehow more, and seconds ago Draco would have sworn it couldn’t get any more intense but somehow it does and he doesn’t have to worry about wanking himself anymore because in just another four strokes he’s coming, cock entirely untouched.

Draco squeezes his eyes shut as Potter continues to fuck him. If he ignores the hard table beneath him, the sharp smell of potions ingredients, he can almost pretend this is real. He fucking hates that he does this, fixates on the gaping wound of what he cannot have and rubs salt into it with futile wishes that it were otherwise.

This year has been an endless lesson in the dangers of wishing. Everyone’s heard the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it,’ but he’d never understood it until recently. If you’re getting what you want, he’d always thought, how can that possibly be bad?

All his life, Draco had wanted to be important, had dreamed of it for years without understanding that a pawn can be as important as a queen, depending on its position. Important does not mean powerful, and pawns are always expendable.

Potter’s thrusts go shallow and quick, and Draco arches his back, pressing himself hard against Potter’s hips. Potter’s nails bite into the tender skin to the inside of Draco’s hipbones as he pulls Draco tight against him. Draco swears he can feel Potter’s cock throb inside him as he comes with a helpless little cry.

Then his fingers unclench and Potter collapses over Draco’s back, heavy and warm. Draco’s knees feel weak and he’s so tired, and it’s uncomfortable to stay bent over the worktable without sex to distract him. He eases back, and Potter’s cock slips out as they both sink to the floor. He keeps one arm curled loose around Draco’s waist, his forehead pressed to Draco’s shoulder. For a moment, the contact warms Draco until he realises that it’s because Potter can’t look him in the eye.

He shifts slightly, and Potter huddles closer, and Draco lets him. He knows he shouldn’t but the part of him that likes to probe and salt his deepest wounds reminds him that this, his arse tender and aching and Potter curled warm around him, is exactly what he wanted.

He should never have wished for it.

“I’ve never…” Potter says after the silence stretches on.

There’s another long moment of silence, and then Draco takes a deep breath and admits, “Me neither.”

“God, this is fucked up,” Potter says, even as he trails his fingers down the small of Draco’s back and slips two of them into Draco’s arse.

He whines even though Potter is shockingly gentle. His arse is too tender for this to be entirely pleasurable but the edge of pain to it isn’t enough to put him off, and he can feel himself getting hard again. He tilts his hips, lifting up on his knees to make it easier for Potter to press deeper. He whimpers as Potter pushes in up to his knuckles, and the slick sound of Potter’s fingers working in and out of him is deliciously obscene.

“I need you again,” Potter whispers like he’s ashamed.

Draco doesn’t answer, just pushes Potter back enough to kick his trousers off. Then he straddles Potter’s lap, gropes beneath himself for Potter’s hard cock, and holds it steady while he sinks down onto it. At the last moment he loses his nerve, can’t bring himself to look Potter in the eye, so he lets his head rest heavy against the warm curve where Potter’s neck and shoulder meet. Potter fumbles at his robes until he can push his hands beneath them and cup Draco’s arse, encouraging him to move.

He lets Potter guide him into a rhythm that starts out gentle and somehow stays that way, an unhurried rocking that Draco finds easy to lose himself in. Arousal is still curling through him, consuming him from the inside out, but it’s no longer the urgent, desperate thing it was before. It’s receded enough for Draco to think, to really feel. The fullness of Potter’s cock stretching him, fantastic and foreign at the same time. The strange surreality of having another person inside his body. Draco pushes his hands up the back of Potter’s jumper again to stroke along his spine, and Potter sighs at the touch.

The approach of Draco’s orgasm this time is less of a rush and more of a slow build, and he keeps his face tucked snug into the curve of Potter’s neck, where the intimacy of feeling Potter’s pulse hammer against his cheek is slightly less terrifying than what might or might not be in those green eyes.

He’s nearly there when the door opens. Startled, he looks up horrified to find McGonagall and Pansy standing in the doorway. Tries to pull away but Potter’s arms close around him and pull him close. Draco struggles free, gathers his robes around himself, and doesn’t look at either of them as he bolts. McGonagall calls after him, but he doesn’t slow down until he’s almost back to the Slytherin Dungeons. He can’t go in there looking like this, but doesn’t know what else to do.

He darts into a nearby alcove and tries to calm down. He aches everywhere, feels like he can’t breathe, can’t stop trembling. His stomach turns over and for a moment he’s afraid he might throw up. He’s too hot, the air stifling, but he can’t stop shaking.

He just had sex with Harry Potter.

Oh fuck, he just lost his virginity to Harry Potter.

And oh fuck Harry Potter just lost his to Draco.

He doesn’t know how long he stands there before Pansy catches up with him.

“Draco?” she asks, approaching him slowly. “Are you all right?”

He shakes his head, and she makes a small sound somewhere between comfort and concern.

“Did he… Did Potter force himself on you?” she asks.

“No, but I… You don’t understand. I wanted it, I wanted him to. And he wanted, but not really. He won’t when he realises he doesn’t. And I could have stopped him, I could have, but I didn’t…” He’s rambling, not making sense. Draco forces himself to stop and take a deep breath. He still feels uncomfortably warm, and tugs at his tie to loosen it. “I had my wand the whole time. I could have, I could’ve stopped him, I could have done… something.” Could have sealed the door again and had another go at Potter, he thinks. Another flare of arousal twists through him. Then he thinks of McGonagall’s shocked face and he feels sick all over again.

“You couldn’t have,” Pansy tells him gently. “The potion is absorbed through skin as well, as Granger learned the hard way on our way to the infirmary. You weren’t in your right mind. Darling, you didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t your fault.”

He curls in on himself, arms wrapped around his middle, and shakes his head. Because it is his fault. If he’d acted quicker, if he’d been strong enough to resist. If he hadn’t been such a stupid fucking idiot and had spoken up about trying to get Potter to take the asphodel and moondew.

“Come on,” Pansy says, taking him by the elbow. “Let’s get you sorted.”

She bustles him straight to the infirmary. Potter’s already there, sitting cross-legged on a bed with his face buried in his hands. Granger’s sitting next to him, her hand rubbing soothing circles between his shoulder blades. Jealousy and desire hit Draco at once, like a punch to the chest, knocks the breath out of him for a moment. He wants to shove Granger out of the way, press Potter back and—

Madam Pomfrey is at his side in an instant, blocking his view of Potter, and she pushes a cup into his hand and urges him to drink. Draco gulps down the bitter liquid, tastes asphodel, chokes a little, swallowing fast until the cup is empty. He feels the potion work through his body like a shiver. His skin tingles and his breath catches, and then it’s over.

It’s like he’s been wrapped in a warm haze and thought it normal until everything suddenly snaps back into place. He feels like he’s just downed a batch of properly-brewed Percipience Potion. He honestly hadn’t known he was so affected until now that it’s gone, leaving everything around him clear and bright. Including, to Draco’s dawning horror, what just happened down in the Dungeons. The smell of Potter’s skin, the feel of his hands on Draco’s body, the sweet burning stretch of Potter’s cock filling him over and over—

Draco remembers everything, and he wishes he didn’t.

- - - - -

The days that follow are difficult as more details soon come to light. It turns out that a mislabeled jar was to blame for the incident, and powdered unicorn horn looks remarkably like powdered moonstone. Slughorn was reprimanded for that. Unicorn horn can only be harvested from the body of a unicorn that died of natural causes and must be done within the first hour of death or it loses its potency, and thus it’s one of the most expensive potions ingredients. Draco hadn’t thought his opinion of Slughorn could get much worse, but the sheer scope of his disorganisation is unbelievable. The man ought to be sacked. Snape would never have allowed such a thing to happen.

Meanwhile, rumours abound over what happened in the potions classroom that evening. Draco’s on tenterhooks every time he hears someone gossiping, but to his continuing surprise and relief, no one seems to know anything more than there was an explosion that landed several students in the infirmary overnight. Upon his release, Draco does a bit of research, analysing the effects of the misbrewed Percipience Potion. He learns that because of the unicorn horn, it only works on virgins, and that its potency is drastically increased if the individual in question has any sort of romantic feelings. Potter got a faceful of the stuff, but Draco… He runs through his calculations twice more to be sure, then crumples the parchment and Incendios it to ash.

The weeks that follow are difficult as well, though in a different way. He and Potter avoid each other, though Draco’s caught Potter watching him in class or across the Great Hall. He looks tired, with dark circles beneath his eyes and his mouth perpetually pinched into a frown. Draco thinks he looks guilty, which is ridiculous. After studying the results of what Potter had accidentally brewed, there was no way either of them could have resisted it. Potter had swallowed some of it and Draco…

What happened was unfortunate, but it was no one’s fault. Last year, maybe even at the beginning of this year, Draco might’ve found Potter’s unwarranted guilt amusing. Probably would have taunted him about it, poked at the open wound of his shame for the pleasure of watching Potter flinch. But with everything else going on, Draco hasn’t got the time or attention for that.

He’s only spoken to Potter once since then, the morning after. Madam Pomfrey had cleared them both to return to class. Draco had taken his time dressing, hoping that Potter would be gone by the time he finished. Instead he’d found Potter waiting for him by the door.

“Malfoy,” Potter had begun, shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other. “We should…”

“No,” Draco had said. “We shouldn’t. Not ever.” He can’t bring himself to look directly at Potter, but he catches the movement of a nod from the corner of his eye.

“Yeah, okay,” Potter had agreed, sounding relieved. “That’d be best. Never happened, far as I’m concerned.”

And that had been that.

Draco finds that a small part of him is comforted by the fact that no matter what happens in the coming months, whether he succeeds or fails, at least he won’t die a virgin. A smaller part of him is curious whether Potter’s thinking the same thing.

- - - - -

Draco spends most evenings in the Room of Hidden Things, working hard to repair the Cabinet. He dreads what will happen if he fails. He also dreads what will happen if he succeeds, but is able to avoid thinking of that in any great detail.

He taps his wand against the Cabinet, concentrates hard and senses the frayed ends of magic he was working with knit themselves back together. He lets out the breath he was holding and steps back, slides a hand up the smooth side of the Cabinet, closes his eyes and and feels. The magic is there, humming complacently beneath his palm. He can’t find any rough patches, no loose or dangling ends. He can’t even feel the seam where he’d cut into the spellwork. Has he done it? Is this really it?

Draco’s hands shake as he whips the cloth covering from the cage at his feet. Opens the tiny wire door and takes out the bird. He holds it securely with both hands, the feathers downy-soft against his skin. He can feel its tiny heart hammering through its body. It’s a bit of a trick to get it into the cabinet and shut the door before it flies out, but Draco’s had practice. The door is open just enough to push it through, and he withdraws his hand quickly to close it the rest of the way. He hears the sharp-dry rustle of feathers against wood, and then silence.

The lock clicks as he turns the key, and he can feel the Cabinet’s magic shiver. Draco’s heart hammers against his ribs as he reaches for the lock and turns the key again.

He opens the door. The bird is gone.

There’s a long moment of numb shock, and then a wave of sheer relief hits Draco like a Bludger to the gut, elation swelling in him so fast and fierce that he feels his ribs might crack with the force of it. He’s done it, after long months and endless nights, he’s finally done it. Draco refuses to think of what will happen next, of what will come through the Cabinet and the havoc it will wreak. For now, he’s saved his parents. He’ll savour this victory because in the end, it is the only thing that matters.

He closes the door, turns the key, the lock’s tumblers turn over with a click, and again he feels the magic shiver through the Cabinet as the lock engages. He readies the cage and unlocks the door. He opens the door slowly, carefully, with a Stupefy ready and waiting on the tip of his tongue to catch the bird before it flies away.

But what he finds inside is not a bird. It’s a twisted pile of bloodsoaked feathers and snapped bone. Draco can handle all manner of unsavoury potions ingredients, even the most vile of them, without batting an eye. Yet sight of this dead thing has him in the verge of a nervous collapse. Blood feels different when it’s on your hands, it turns out. And if he’s this wretched over a fucking bird, what’s he going to be like when it’s Dumbledore?

Or if he fails in his task, what will he be like when it’s his parents?

The rest of it doesn’t bear thinking about.

The door of the Cabinet slams shut, and Draco’s halfway across the room without thinking. He has so much work to do tonight, reviewing his failure, working out what went wrong, but he can’t stand it. He’s too upset right now, and it’ll be better to face it with a clear head tomorrow. He’ll make better progress if he comes back fresh. It will be easier in the morning.

Draco clings to his platitudes as he slips down the hall, going right instead of left to avoid Crabbe and Goyle standing guard at the end of the corridor, circles roundabout down to the first floor and sneaks into the girls’ bathroom, catching the door before it thuds closed behind him. He can hear the soft murmur of Myrtle’s voice echoing up from the last cubicle. Something deep inside him unclenches and he sighs into it, letting his tension ebb away.

Over the last few weeks since that first accidental meeting with Myrtle when he’d ducked in here to avoid crossing Potter’s path, this has become a safe space for him. A lull amidst the storm that has become his life. Myrtle isn’t the most pleasant company he could wish for and she tends to cry rather more than he’d like, but she doesn’t care about his name or reputation, doesn’t demand anything of him beyond a bit of his time. His relationship with her is uncomplicated; she likes him simply because he comes to visit her sometimes, and he visits her because she’s entirely removed from the tinderbox of Draco’s current situation and sometimes he needs to forget about everything, even if it’s just for a few minutes of conversation with a girl who’s been dead for fifty years.

...whose action is no stronger than a flower...” she’s saying, her voice rhythmic and lilting, and Draco remains silent as her voice drops to an unintelligble murmur, then picks up again. “...against the wrackful siege of battering days, when…” The sole of Draco’s shoe scuffs the floor, and Myrtle trails off. “Draco, is that you?”

He forces a smile as she floats over the top of the row of cubicles, gliding back down to him. “That was very pretty.”

“Sonnet LXV, it’s one of my favourites.” Myrtle gives him a nod and her eyes go all dreamy in a way that reminds Draco uncomfortably of Luna Lovegood. “Jacob Wheeler,” she sighs, floating a few inches higher. “He was a boy in my year. Fancied himself a poet, always going round with books of poetry, Keats and Coleridge and Byron and Browning, the boy one not the girl one. But he always liked Shakespeare the best. I memorised Shakespeare’s sonnets for him, all 154 of them, so we’d have something to talk about if he ever—” She bites off her words, sinking back to the floor. “And then he asked that cow Olive Hornby to the Yule Ball instead of me.”

“That’s a lot of poems,” Draco says desperately, eager to steer Myrtle off the topic of Olive Hornby. Once she starts in on Olive Hornby, she usually doesn’t stop. “How long did it take you to memorise all of them?”

“Oh, not very long at all,” Myrtle says, and by the darkening of her face Draco can tell that this topic isn’t going to be any more pleasant. “I didn’t have any friends, you see. It’s a very efficient thing, not having friends. I’ve so much more free time.”

“You’ve got a friend now,” Draco cuts in before she has a chance to get worked up and start crying. He hates it when she cries. “You’ve got me, haven’t you?” For a moment he’s not sure how Myrtle will take that. Sometimes when he tries to say comforting things to her, Myrtle accuses him of being patronising and retreats to her toilet for a sulk.

But tonight it works. Myrtle beams at him, and Draco honestly has no idea how this has become his life. The high point of his day is chatting with dead girl whom the rest of the school avoids like the plague. He wishes, not for the first time, that he could confide in Pansy instead, but he can’t risk it.

Even with Myrtle he can’t risk speaking plainly about his assignment. Instead he’s forced to talk in circles around the topic, hinting at it here, alluding to it there. Not that he’s afraid she’d let it slip to someone by accident—even the other ghosts don’t seem to want anything to do with her so who would she tell?—but a secret is only truly secret if one person knows it. Draco’s father is fond of saying that two people can keep a secret so long as one of them is dead, but Draco’s still reluctant to tell Myrtle.

Maybe one day he’ll grow desperate enough to fully confide in her, but he’s not yet at that point.

Still, she can tell that something’s bothering him.

“It can’t be so bad as all that,” Myrtle sighs, pouting. “You’re still alive, aren’t you? That’s more than I’ve got.”

He can’t tell for certain whether she’s trying to comfort him or if this is more self-pity, so he settles for a neutral, “That’s true.”

“And as long as you’re alive, there’s a chance things will change,” she says, then brightens, simpering and batting her eyelashes. “And if you die, you’re always welcome to share my toilet.”

- - - - -

Late that night, tucked snug into his bed, Draco thinks about Myrtle’s words. He’s still alive, and so long as he’s alive that means there’s hope.

It’s a ridiculously Hufflepuff-ish sort of thought. Except, Draco thinks with a frown, there’s nothing Hufflepuff-ish at all about his situation. Hufflepuffs are all about loyalty and unity, sticking together no matter what. And Draco is all alone in this.

Gryffindor, then. No cunning here, just a strange and foolhardy sort of bravery that’s pitted him against the world. There’s death on one side and people who wouldn’t spit on him if he caught fire on the other, and only a narrow path between the two. He’s trapped no matter which way he turns, and the only way out is to continue forward into the heart of it. He wonders whether this is what Potter feels like all the time. He’s got his sidekicks, Weasley and Granger, but they can’t understand what it’s like, not really. The Dark Lord is a terror that cannot be imagined—Draco never had, especially not from the shining picture his father’s words had painted—and Potter has been the sole focus of his attention for years now. The Dark Lord’s side wants Potter dead, the other side expects him to be their Saviour, and what choice does he have but to keep moving forward?

Draco is edging dangerously close to empathy now. He frowns again and does his best to put Potter from his mind.

One nice thing about what happened in the potions classroom is that it seems to have called a ceasefire to the open hostility between himself and Potter. But then, Draco supposes even the darkest of clouds must have their silver linings.

- - - - -

It doesn’t last.

Three weeks later, Potter corners Draco in Myrtle’s bathroom and cuts him open from hip to throat.

- - - - -

Draco’s first thought upon waking is how disappointed he is that Potter hasn’t managed to off him properly. He thinks longingly of the deep sense of peace that came over him just before he blacked out. Everything would be so much easier with him dead.

But he’s not dead and it’s not easier. Draco’s second thought is panic-infused dread about how much his injury will set him back in his work on the Cabinet.

Not much, as it turns out. He’s out of the infirmary in just two days. Doesn’t even have a scar, though his ribs ache and according to Madam Pomfrey he should expect mild pain for up to a week as he finishes healing.

He tries to put the whole mess from his mind as he settles back into his routine as best he can. He avoids Potter for obvious reasons. He avoids Myrtle, who sulks because he didn’t die to keep her company for all eternity. He avoids Pansy, who wants to coo over him and offer him unwanted comfort him about his near-miss. He avoids Crabbe and Goyle, who want to talk at length about the horrible curses they’ll use on Potter if they ever catch him alone. He has nightmares every night of bleeding out on a bathroom floor, of the Dark Lord killing his parents for failing to complete his task, of himself murdering Dumbledore. He dreams of crushed birds and the black inside of the Cabinet swallowing him whole. He dreams of Hogwarts burning.

The only small consolation in all of this is that Potter’s guilt seems to have grown so massive that he can’t even stand to look at Draco, much less speak to him. He’d been somewhat afraid Potter would try for another conversation when Draco was released from the infirmary. But Potter’s nowhere to be seen, and this suits Draco perfectly well. He could gladly live the rest of his life without exchanging another word with Harry Potter.

- - - - -

That doesn’t last, either.

Less than a week later, Potter corners Draco in another bathroom. Not Myrtle’s, Draco hasn’t been able to bring himself to go back in there. Doesn’t think he ever will.

He’s just drying his hands when the door opens and he starts, thinks for one wild moment that this is another nightmare when he looks up to see Potter standing in the doorway, blood spreading across the tiles, cold water, Myrtle screaming—

“What do you want?” he demands, levelling his wand at Potter.

Potter holds his hands up, his wand held loosely between thumb and forefinger. “I’m not going to try anything. Here. Look.” With his movements slow and exaggerated, Potter tosses his wand aside. It hits the tiles with a clatter, echoes hollow as it rolls away.

“I could kill you,” Draco says. His heart is pounding and he wills his hands to not tremble.

“You could,” Potter agrees, hands still held up. “But you won’t. You could have killed me on the train at the beginning of the year, I was entirely helpless, but you didn’t. You’re cruel, and you’re spiteful, and you’re petty. But you’re not a killer, Malfoy.”

Draco’s fingers tighten around his wand. “You’re willing to bet your life on it?”

“Haven’t I just done that?” Potter points out, so fucking calm and reasonable that Draco wants to hex him for it.

He draws in a shaking breath. “You know nothing about me.”

“I know you’re trapped,” Potter says, low and calm like he’s talking to skittish animal. It makes Draco furious. “I know you’re being forced to do things you don’t want to do.”

“You don’t know anything—”

“I do,” Potter cuts in. “I went back, after. I talked to Myrtle. She told me everything. It wasn’t much, but I could piece together most of it from what little you’d told her.”

A hot rush of anger boils up in him. He only had one person and even she’s betrayed him. One person, Draco wants just one person in his fucking life to not let him down, and he hates her, and he hates his parents, and he hates Potter, Merlin how he hates him.

The sick feel of deja vu doesn’t hit him until it’s too late. He’s already slashing his wand at Potter and shouting, “Crucio!”

Potter flinches, and it takes them both a minute to work out that nothing’s happened. Draco’s stomach twists in a nauseating mix of frustration and relief. His wand hand drops limp to his side, and Potter risks a step closer.

“Intent,” he says with a wince. “You’ve got to mean it. I wish I’d known…”

A phantom pain lances across his chest and Draco feels sick with the memory of blood, cold water, screaming. And then the terrible sense of calm that came over him, the sweet relief that he didn’t have to try anymore. “What do you want?”

“To help you,” Potter says, and he looks so earnest about it that Draco wants to curse him. “Myrtle couldn’t tell me exactly what you’re planning to do, but it’s bad, isn’t it? And you shouldn’t have to… Look, I can help you. If you’ll let me, I want to help you.”

“Why are you doing this?” Draco asks. His voice echoes small in the tiled room.

“I owe you,” Potter tells him. “I nearly killed you, and… and what I did before that. So I’m giving you a way out.” Slowly, he reaches into his pocket and, even more slowly, withdraws a chipped teacup. He sets it on the edge of the nearest sink with a sharp click of porcelain on porcelain. “This is a Portkey. It’ll activate at midnight and will take you somewhere safe.”

Draco had no idea how badly he’d wanted a way out until Potter sat one right in front of him. But he can’t, he can’t just leave. His parents, his whole life. Everything.

“I don’t…” he begins, but falters. He tries again, “I can’t…”

“Malfoy,” Potter says, his voice terribly gentle. “Take it. Please.” And then he retrieves his wand from the floor and leaves the room.

It’s not until after the door has closed behind Potter that Draco realises Potter never actually apologised for nearly killing him.

- - - - -

Draco retires early that night, early enough that there’s no one around to comment on the oddity of him climbing into his bed fully-clothed and with his shoes still on. He draws the curtains around himself, sits his packed bag up near the headboard, sits the teacup down near the foot, and settles in to wait.

He honestly has no idea what he should do, whether he should take the escape Potter’s offered him. The teacup represents an unknown, and Draco’s never felt comfortable dealing with uncertainties. He needs facts and plans and the comforting rigidity of details. What Potter’s offered him is the equivalent of stepping blindfolded over a ledge and trusting that the ground will be there beneath his feet, that the drop won’t be enough to kill him. What’s here is familiar; what’s out there could be anything.

By eleven o’clock, Draco’s made up his mind. And now that he’s chosen a side, he needs to do everything in his power to ensure that his side wins.

He digs parchment, quill, and ink from his bag and begins to write. He writes all about the Vanishing Cabinet and the Dark Lord’s plan to invade the school. He writes all about his mission to kill Dumbledore and the ways he’s failed. He writes down everything he knows about the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters, their strategies, their suppliers, their spells, their spies. He names everyone he’s ever seen come to the Manor, everyone he suspects of hiding behind a silver mask. At half-past eleven he slips from his bed and sneaks out of the dorm. He doesn’t know how to get past that stupid stone gargoyle and into the Headmaster’s office, so he does the next best thing and breaks into McGonagall’s. He leaves the note on her desk and is safely back in his bed ten minutes before midnight.

With thirty seconds to go, Draco nearly loses his nerve. He takes a deep breath, holds it for a count of five, lets it out slow. He has to do this. He has to leave. If he stays here, his only options are to see his parents murdered, or to become a murderer himself. If he leaves, he can become anything.

Twenty seconds.

He loops the strap of his bag firmly over his shoulder. This is everything he’ll have to start his life over. He’s not stupid enough to trust that he’ll be safe wherever Potter’s arranged to have him sent. The Portkey is a way to get past the school’s wards, and from there Draco’s getting the fuck out of the country as fast as he can.

He doesn’t want to leave England, doesn’t want to leave his mother and his father and his friends and the only life he’s ever known. But that life is already gone, isn’t it? The Dark Lord has already destroyed everything Draco held dear. His parents are no longer the proud and influential people he’d grown up idolising, and Draco’s friends are terrifyingly eager to embrace the casual violence it takes to be a successful Death Eater. And even Hogwarts no longer feels safe. He can’t trust anyone. He’s pieced together enough of the story of Pettigrew and Potter’s parents to shatter his belief that there’s anyone he can ever trust completely.

He has no choice. Draco is every bit as trapped as he was before Potter gave him the teacup. The only difference is now he just might live past June.

Five seconds.

He wraps his hand around the chipped cup and counts down.

This isn’t the end, he reminds himself.

This is only a beginning.

Chapter Text

After the way he’d fled the country, Draco’s return to England is, quite frankly, anticlimactic.

“Welcome to London,” a young witch greets him from the doorway of the small room to which his International Portkey had brought him.

She’s smiling at him. And her smile isn’t flimsy, forced, or fake. If anything, it’s that blandly polite smile most people who’ve been in customer services for a while tend to wear while on the job, and it strikes him that she probably has no idea who he is. He’d been afraid that the moment he appeared back in London, thirteen years’ worth of escaped hatred would crash down on him at once. But this girl doesn’t even recognise him.

Her smile slips a bit when he doesn’t respond right away. “Sir? Your Portkey?”

“Yes, of course. My apologies,” Draco says, handing her the coffee mug that brought him all the way across the Atlantic.

He leaves her to prepare the room for the next arrival, and steps out into the bustling lobby of London’s International Portkey Station. Doorways to the Departure Rooms line one wall, doors for the Arrival Rooms line the other. Draco follows the signs for Customs and Baggage Claim, and can’t help but notice that none of the witches and wizards he passes respond to him in any way. In fact, other than a distracted, “Pardon me,” from a witch as she levitates her enormous steamer trunk past him, no one gives him so much as a glance. He collects his suitcase and joins the queue at Customs.

Draco’s apprehensive that this unexpected indifference might change when someone finds out who he is. He waits anxiously in line, and when it’s his turn at the desk, he hands over his passport and waits to be eyed with mistrust. Waits for the contempt. The disdain. A distant, ridiculous corner of his mind is half-afraid that the man might stand up and denounce him as the Death Eater he was, deny him access into the country.

But the Customs Wizard only gives him a bored, “Welcome home, Mr Malfoy,” as he stamps Draco’s passport and hands it back.

“Yes, thank you,” he says, feeling entirely wrong-footed as he steps aside.

He does his best to shake off his unease and heads over to the Animal Quarantine desk to pick up Lucy from her RAPID testing—Recognising and Preventing Infectious Diseases, bless the British Ministry and their inexplicable and persistent love of acronyms—to collect his owl.

Draco presents his receipt, and the clerk disappears into the back room. A minute later he returns with a disgruntled-looking Lucy.

“Lovely bird you’ve got. What breed is she?” the clerk asks as he hands over the cage.

“Great horned,” says Draco. He sets the cage at his feet and digs in his pocket for three galleons to pay the handling fee.

“Ah,” says the clerk as he drops the coins into his till. “Don’t see too many of them round here.”

“Thank Merlin for that,” Draco mutters, and Lucy’s head swivels sharply to fix him with her large yellow eyes. Not for the first time, Draco thinks how well-suited she is to her breed. The large tufts of feathers on her head make her look a bit like she’s perpetually scowling and a bit like a cat with its ears back. It’s a fairly succinct measure of her personality.

“And this is for you as well,” the clerk says, reaching under the desk and producing a thick yellow envelope with a folded slip of parchment taped to the front. “A lovely young woman dropped it off this morning, said to give it to you when you came by.”

Draco takes the envelope and thanks the clerk, then takes Lucy to an out-of-the-way corner before he opens it up.

It’d been a somewhat hectic process to have everything organised by post, but everything had progressed so quickly. The Ministry had made him very generous offer for a position in the DMLE; he’ll be working part-time as an active Auror and part-time working with one of the Training Instructors. Meanwhile, he’ll have complete freedom to organise and staff his subdepartment however he sees fit. But the one condition of it was that they wanted him to start as soon as possible. It’s been just over two weeks since he’d accepted the offer, and he starts on Monday.

Naturally, this didn’t leave him time to do much more than give his notice and pack his things. So he’d enlisted Pansy’s help in organising things on this end for his arrival. He’d been nervous about asking her as they hadn’t kept in touch very well, but he didn’t have anyone else to ask. To his relief she’d agreed without hesitation. She’ll have found him a flat and had all the utilities set up, as well as made sure his belongings arrived safely.

He unsticks the parchment from the top of the envelope and unfolds it to find that it’s a note from Pansy that reads Let me know as soon as you get in, let’s go out for drinks tonight! He refolds it and tucks it into his pocket before he slides the thick stack of papers from the envelope to sort through them: his lease and the key to his new flat, invoices from having his furniture and personal affects shipped over, paperwork for having his water and electricity activated, and then finally on the very bottom he finds the invoice from having his Floo connected to the Floo Network, and clipped to the top is a small card with his Floo address written on it.

“Drago Mafloy?” he says aloud, then grits his teeth. Merlin, this person has appallingly bad handwriting. Either that or this is Pansy’s terrible idea of a joke. If that’s the case, Draco doesn’t find it amusing in the slightest.

He keeps the card in hand but stows the envelope in his suitcase before picking it and Lucy’s cage up again and making his way over to the bank of Floos lining the far wall. He waits his turn, then steps up to the next available one and takes a handful of Floo powder.

“Draco Malfoy’s flat,” he announces and tosses in the powder.

The Floo belches a large black puff of soot back at him. Draco flinches back, blinking grit from his stinging eyes, and whips out his wand to Vanish the lot of it as Lucy gives him a sharp hoot from her cage. A witch at the next Floo looks at him oddly, and he gives her a distracted sneer. Then he glares at the Floo. Glares at the card in his hand. Glares at the Floo again as he takes up another handful of powder.

Enunciating clearly through clenched teeth, he announces, “Drago Mafloy’s flat.”

The flames flare green and he steps through and, after a short whirling trip, steps out into his new flat. It’s only just past four, but it’s already dark outside. He’d forgotten how much earlier the sun sets in the winter here. Not that it matters since his internal clock is all sorts of fucked from his jump across the Atlantic. He lights the flat with an off-handed Lumos and can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when he gets his first look at it. He’d trusted Pansy’s taste enough to give her free reign when picking out a place for him to live, and it’s nice to see that his faith was not misplaced.

It’s a trendier place than he’d probably have selected for himself, looks like perhaps the building is a converted warehouse. It’s all exposed brick walls and enormous windows and polished wood floors and a few thick columns that stretch up to the heavy wooden beams of the ceiling. Very few interior walls, just the bathroom and bedroom are enclosed, with the rest of the flat left open in a way that makes it feel larger than it is. The kitchen’s all gleaming appliances and stainless steel countertops, but there’s also an alcove built into the wall beside one of the windows obviously meant for a mail owl. There’s a large Floo in the entryway, but the whole place is wired with electricity. It’s the perfect blend of wizarding and Muggle, which Draco has become accustomed to during his years in New York.

He loves it.

And he’ll love it even more once he gets his things set up. His furniture is all crammed into the living room, and all of his boxes are stacked along the wall. Draco opens the cage door and sends Lucy to settle in her new alcove, then gets to it.

- - - - -

It doesn’t take long to get the furniture into place, but unpacking the boxes and organising their contents takes far more effort than a Wingardium Leviosa. Draco runs out of steam halfway through, decides that he’s had enough for today and can finish unpacking tomorrow. He flops down onto his sofa and gazes around his new flat, enjoying a few moments to bask in the progress he’s made so far. Then he Summons parchment, quill, and ink from the nook he’s set up as a small study and writes a letter to Pansy to let her know he’s arrived and is willing to meet her tonight. It’s Friday and thanks to the time difference he’s not tired in the slightest. May as well kill a few hours.

When he finishes, Draco sets the quill and ink aside, and sighs as he folds up his letter and seals it with a Sticking Charm. Merlin, this is going to be fun, trying to convince Lucy to deliver the letter. He’s got no idea which box the owl treats ended up in so he doesn’t even have the benefit of a bribe.

He approaches where Lucy has settled in her alcove and she stares at him. She knows what a paper in his hand means and he can tell she’s displeased. He’s got no idea how he managed to end up with a mail owl who hates delivering letters, but here they are. He slides the window open and tries not to flinch. It’s bitterly cold and spitting down sleet, absolutely miserable out, and he knows this won’t be easy. He offers Lucy the letter.

“Take this to Pansy Parkinson,” Draco says.

Lucy eyes him balefully and makes no move to take it.

“Lucy,” he says sternly. “I know you don’t like the rain, but you’re an owl. This is what you do. Take this letter to Pansy Parkinson.”

Slowly, she reaches out and grasps it with her talons. Pauses to give him another resentful look before she hops up onto the windowsill. Takes her time turning her back to him, twitches her tailfeathers, and then proceeds to just bloody sit there while Draco’s practically freezing his tits off as cold air floods in through the open window. He’s sorely tempted to give her a shove but the last time he did that, she turned around and bit him.

Lucy,” Draco snaps, folding his arms over his chest and suppressing a shiver. “Get your arse moving or I swear to Merlin I’ll pluck out your tailfeathers and use them to write my correspondence.” Lucy swivels her head to peer over her shoulder at him and Draco scowls at her. “Don’t give me that look. As I just pointed out, you’re a bloody owl. And if you’re not going to deliver my letters then you’re going to assist me with my communications in some other way.”

Lucy gives him one last reproachful look, this one accompanied by a disdainful hoot, before she launches herself from his windowsill and sails off into the night. Draco slams the window shut.

He continues to unpack while he waits for Pansy to send her reply. He only has time for two boxes before a tapping at the window signals Lucy’s return. He lets her in and while he’s closing the window, she drops his letter to the floor. When he bends to pick it up, she flaps her wings and showers him in freezing droplets.

“I’d have taken care of that if you’d only waited a moment,” he snaps at her.

She fluffs her feathers indignantly, and he hits her with charms to dry and warm her before she can splatter him again.

“You’re a terror,” he tells her, and she hoots at him. “Fuck you too,” he says, then takes his letter over to the sofa to read it.

Pansy’s note is brief: she gives him her Floo address and instructs him to come over in an hour.

Draco tries to distract himself with more unpacking, but it doesn’t work very well. He’s nervous. It’s been well over a decade since he’s seen her. And other than the flurry of letters they’ve exchanged in recent months as Draco sent her instructions for getting him set up here, they usually don’t exchange more than cards at Christmas, sometimes birthdays too if they remember. They’re neither of them very good at keeping in touch, never have been. Back when they were in school, they’d go without speaking for the entire summer. But the beauty of their relationship was always how when they met at King’s Cross each September, they always picked right up where they left off, like no time at all had passed. But there’s a world of difference between going home for the summer and living in different countries for as long as they have, and Draco’s not sure what to expect when he steps through her Floo.

What if Pansy feels like a stranger to him?

He didn’t intend to stay away for thirteen years, but by the time the war had ended, he’d settled into his new life in New York City. He’d already taken his final exams and had just been accepted into Auror training. It’d be better to complete his training here before transferring back to London, he’d reasoned at the time. Tension was still running high in post-war Britain and he wasn’t sure if his application would be accepted for Auror training there. And then the excuses kept coming—it’d be best to get a few years in the field under his belt before transferring back home, he didn’t want to leave his boyfriend, he was up for promotion, he was working hard to get his subdepartment set up—and somehow more than a decade slipped by.

But then when the job offer came in earlier this month, he didn’t have a reason to turn it down. He was between relationships, his subdepartment was running smoothly and had been for several years, his only close friend had just accepted a new job in Australia, and he hadn’t yet renewed the lease on his flat for the next year. There wasn’t much of anything tying him to New York, and the offer coming when it did felt like a sign.

So he took it.

But now that he’s here, he’s wondering if he’s made the right choice. Yes, there wasn’t much tying him to New York, but there’s nothing tying him here either. His parents relocated to France shortly after the War. Most of his friends have moved on with their lives or fallen out of contact. And at this point, Draco’s spent almost half his life living abroad. He was comfortable in New York. Settled. Content. What if he should have stayed?

He gets through another dozen boxes before it’s time for him to go shower and change his clothes. Then he takes a moment to steel himself before he goes to Pansy’s.

When Draco steps out of her Floo, he’s greeted with indecently loud music and Pansy singing along to it. He finds it an immediate comfort. He remembers Daphne Greengrass complaining that Pansy used to put on the Weird Sisters every morning while she got dressed before class. So at least some things haven’t changed.

He debates whether he should seek her out, uncertain about what state of dress he might find her in, then remembers that this is Pansy who was born without a modest bone in her body, so he follows the sound of her off-key voice to the bedroom where he finds her clad in a black silk camisole and matching pants, dancing and singing about bluffing with her muffin, whatever the fuck that means.

“I could stand to see a little less of your muffin, thanks,” Draco announces over the music. He’s not quite sure what qualifies as a ‘muffin’ but there’s entirely too much of Pansy on display right now so he supposes it’s probably in there somewhere.

Pansy spins around to find him lounging against the doorframe. Part of him had expected her to come rushing into his arms—they hadn’t seen each other in thirteen years, after all—but she only pauses in her singing and dancing just long enough to give him a long-suffering look, then brandishes her palm at him and says in time with the song, “Check this hand ‘cause I’m marvelous.”

Then she does a strange shimmying move that makes her breasts wobble alarmingly, and Draco’s seen all he cares to, more than, actually, and Daphne Greengrass must have the patience of a saint for sharing a dorm with this for seven years.

“Right, then,” Draco says, pushing himself off the doorframe. “I’ll just go wait in the living room, shall I?”

Pansy doesn’t reply, though she does turn around and shake her arse at him, and Draco chooses to interpret that as yes, yes he shall. He leaves Pansy to her caterwauling about how he can’t read her poker face, her puh-puh-poker face, and beats a hasty retreat to the living room.

He sits on the sofa and looks around unabashedly. Pansy’s flat is tastefully decorated, for the most part, with modern furniture and minimal clutter, but there are some oddities. A garishly-coloured knitted blanket is draped over one arm of the sofa. There’s a blue glass vase filled with what appear to be multi-coloured metal knitting needles twisted into odd shapes. And the windchime hanging near the window is made entirely of forks and spoons hammered flat, the wires suspending them from the frame threaded with what appear to be small radishes. He’s glad he didn’t know about these little bits of exceedingly questionable decor before he asked her to find him a flat.

The poker face song comes to an end, and there’s a long pause. Draco turns to look toward the hallway, hoping that Pansy’s ready to go, but after a few moments the music starts back up again. Draco groans and lets himself fall sideways, burying his face in the sofa cushions, fully intending to stay there until Pansy comes out. He refuses to go in there again.

After too many songs, which result in too many questions—like, for example, how can Pansy stand to listen to this noise? and what on earth is she doing in there that’s taking this bloody long? and what the everloving fuck is a disco-stick?—Pansy finally emerges from the bedroom looking…

Draco blinks and sits up. “You’re going out like that?”

“What’s wrong with this?” Pansy asks, smoothing the way her short black dress stretches tight across her thighs. She’s also wearing a pair of towering heels that are secured to her feet with a complex weave of thin straps. Her toenails are bright red.

“Well, it’s not very…” He trails off and gestures.

Pansy smirks at him even as she rolls her eyes. “You know,” she says. “I’d actually managed to forget what a prude you are.”

“I am not,” Draco huffs. “Your outfit is sufficiently scandalous, well done, if I weren’t enormously gay I’d be getting all the wrong ideas about you. But I wasn’t talking about that. It’s November and it’s sleeting out. You’re going to freeze your arse off.”

Belatedly, he realises what he’s just said. He’d never bothered to keep his sexuality hidden when he rebuilt his life overseas, but he’s never spoken plainly about it here. Pansy probably already knew, had to have known after that unfortunate incident with Potter in the potions classroom just before he’d left. Though he’s never actually told her.

But Pansy doesn’t mention it, just rolls her eyes again and says, “We won’t be outside long enough for my arse to freeze off. And speaking of clothes, lose the robes. We’re going Muggle tonight.” And just when he thinks he’s got away with it, she adds, “And it’s about time you admitted you’re helplessly homosexual.”

“I admitted it years ago, for your information,” he says tartly, stripping off his robes, shrinking them small and tucking them into a pocket. He had no idea where Pansy planned to take him tonight, so underneath he’s wearing grey trousers and a black jumper. Perfectly acceptable Muggle clothes. “I just never announced it.”

Pansy looks far too amused. “You never had to announce it, Draco. No straight man spends as long on his hair as you do.”

“I don’t spend that long on my hair,” he protests, but she ignores him and just keeps talking.

“Normally I Floo to the Leaky and walk over, but it’s frightful out there tonight so we’ll Apparate,” she says as she saunters over to the mirror hung in the entryway. She fixes the strand of hair that’s escaped the elaborate upsweep she’s twisted her hair into, then opens the clutch she’s left lying on the decorative entryway table, produces a tube of lipstick and uncaps it.

“Speaking of Floo travel, is this your idea of a joke, you cow?” He digs briefly in his pocket and brandishes the Floo card with his misspelled name at her.

Pansy doesn’t even look, just continues carefully applying her lipstick. “Agnes,” she says.

“What?”

“Agnes is the cow, not me.”

“Who the fuck is Agnes?”

Pansy gives him a bland look. “The cow who fucked up your Floo address.” She goes back to dabbing lipstick on her upper lip. “The offices open at eight on Monday. Good luck getting it worked out.”

“Fucking brilliant,” he mutters, and she snorts, the same ridiculously inelegant thestral sound he remembers from all those years ago. It’s strange for such a small thing to affect him like this, but his heart tugs painfully and before he can think better of it, he’s admitting, “I’ve missed you, you know.”

“Really,” she says idly, rubbing a stray smudge of lipstick from the corner of her mouth with one elegant fingertip. “I couldn’t tell. Or was I supposed to infer that from the single Christmas card I get from you each year?”

Merlin, he doesn’t want to go through this right now. “Pansy…”

“Or how about the way you left? Without even a goodbye?” She turns away from the mirror and meets his eyes, and there’s a years-old hurt in her gaze that makes him feel a bit ill. “You left me there, Draco. In the middle of everything, you just left me.”

He hasn’t got anything to say to that. Leaving her was a shitty thing to do. What’s shittier still is he didn’t even think of her when he sat in his bed that night, staring at the Portkey and trying to decide whether he should stay or go. But no one’s ever accused him of being unselfish before. Sometimes he hates that it’s every bit as much a part of him as his blond hair or pointed chin. That he doesn’t seem to know how to be anything else.

Pansy turns abruptly away from him and picks up her clutch from the table. “But lucky for you, I’ve grown up. I’m not the same girl you knew at Hogwarts.” She twists the lipstick down in one quick motion and recaps it with a sharp click before she drops the tube into her clutch. “I understand you were in a horrible situation. And I’ve forgiven you.” She snaps her clutch shut with a decisive clack.

“I’m sorry,” he says, too little too late.

Pansy shrugs. “I don’t need an apology. I didn’t forgive you for you. I did it for me. That’s one thing I’ve learned over the years. That it’s for my own benefit to let go. That forgiveness truly only benefits myself.”

“You’ve really changed,” he says. The Pansy he knew back at Hogwarts would have nursed a grudge until her dying day.

“A lot of things have changed,” she says, then gives him an exaggerated once-over accompanied by a cheeky smile. “Including you, darling. You’ve certainly grown up well, haven’t you?”

He can tell she’s trying to change the subject, so he lets her. “Oh Pansy, stop, you’ll make me blush,” he says dryly. “Are you finally ready to go?”

“Nearly,” Pansy says, then turns back to the mirror and dips first one hand, then the other, into the top of her dress to adjust her breasts.

A moment ago Draco would have sworn she couldn’t possibly display any more cleavage, but somehow she manages, and the way she smirks at him afterward tells him she’s only doing it to make him uncomfortable. Apparently she hasn’t changed completely from the girl Draco knew in school. He probably shouldn’t feel nearly this reassured to have her flaunting her tits at him, but here he is.

Then she offers him her arm and he takes it, and she Apparates him away. They reappear in a narrow alleyway and the cold and sleet strike Draco like a slap.

“Fuck!” The word explodes from Pansy’s mouth in a cloud of white steam. “Fuck it’s cold!”

And Draco can’t help but laugh. “Of course it’s fucking cold, it’s the middle of November!”

“Fuck!” Pansy says again, and then she’s off, navigating the cracked pavement of the alleyway with surprising agility considering her choice of footwear.

Draco hurries after her, and it takes less than a minute for them to reach their destination.

Pansy kindly pays his cover for him, then leads him into the club. It’s the sort of noisy and crowded place Draco had spent his first couple of years of freedom practically living in, drinking and dancing until the small hours of the morning, occasionally stumbling home with someone afterward. Then he’d immersed himself in his Auror training around the same time he’d started things up with his first boyfriend, and clubbing had become more of a rare-night-out sort of thing rather than a lifestyle. All these years later, the atmosphere, the flashing neon lights, the blaring music turned up so loud he can feel it vibrating through his lungs, the crowd of dolled-up people, all of it hits him hard in an odd mix of nostalgia and discomfort. He’s so far removed from the person he was, and this feels like it hasn’t changed at all. Funny that it should look just the same, no matter the decade or the continent.

But Pansy seems to enjoy it. Seconds after she walks in, she’s already swaying to the beat of the music, does a little half-dance as she takes Draco by the hand and drags him over to the bar. She orders them a pair of vodka tonics, then procures a table for them by chasing a Muggle couple away from one with a subtle Repelling Charm, then casts a Noise-Cancelling Charm around them that dampens the blasting music enough so they can hold a conversation without screaming at each other. She barely bothers to hide her wand from the Muggles, never mind from him, but he’s technically not an Auror until Monday morning so he doesn’t bother to say a word about it. It’s not like she’ll listen to him, anyhow.

Pansy takes a sip from her drink and sets it aside. Her lipstick leaves behind a perfect curve of ruby red on the rim of the glass, and she idly rubs it off with her thumb as she asks, “So, what do you think of your flat?”

Draco gives himself a mental kick. He’d meant to thank her for it straight away, but had been sidetracked by the music and the singing and the half-clothed-ness. “It’s brilliant, really. I couldn’t have picked out a more perfect place myself,” he says. “I don’t know how to thank you enough for arranging everything for me.”

Pansy flaps a dismissive hand, though he can tell she’s pleased with herself. “It was nothing. Percy’s wife, Audrey, is an estate agent and she was glad to help. It was rather fun, actually, looking at flats with her. We turned it into a bit of a girls’ afternoon.”

Percy Weasley? Draco wonders, but before he can ask since when she’s on a first-name basis with any Weasley or having girls’ afternoons with any of their wives, Pansy continues.

“I’m surprised you needed things to move so quickly. Not even three weeks to pack up your entire life and move it across an ocean.” She frowns a bit, her brows drawing together. “Seems a bit unfair to make you move in less than a month.”

“The Ministry was eager for me to begin setting up my subdepartment,” Draco says, and pulls a face. “Beaurocracy. It takes them forever to get anything sorted, and then once they do, they want it all done yesterday.”

Pansy laughs at that. “So, starting Monday you’ll be supplying all the Aurors with these magical whatsits you make?”

“Starting Monday, I’ll begin setting up my subdepartment to supply the Auror department with my magical whatsits,” Draco says. “I actually got the idea for it from the Weasley twins, if you can believe that. Their Wizard Wheezes products. Many of them were surprisingly useful and I thought, what if I could adapt them to suit the needs of Aurors? So I did.” He takes a sip of his drink. “Whatever happened to them? I assume their business venture is a smashing success.”

“Yes and no,” Pansy says. “It’s a success, but it’s just George now. Fred, he… didn’t make it through the War.”

“Oh,” Draco says. He’d never liked the twins, found them far too loud and obnoxious in addition to being ginger, Gryffindor, and Weasley. Three things guaranteed to offend him back then. But even he could recognise how close they were and what a close bond they shared. He can’t imagine how that must’ve felt to lose someone like that, to suddenly be alone after spending your entire life with someone who knows you better than breathing.

Pansy forces a smile and changes the subject, talking on at length about her career. She writes a fashion column that’s published in the Friday edition of the Prophet. She started as an excuse to get herself invited to all the biggest Ministry events, all the annual balls and galas where everyone who’s anyone goes to see and be seen. But she’s turned it into a career and he can tell from the way she talks about it that she loves her job.

Eventually she runs out of things to say about her work. The conversation slips into silence, and Draco lets it. He stares off across the crowded club, watching its smartly-dressed patrons as they laugh and talk and dance. He vaguely contemplates trying to pull tonight, but his flat’s still in half-unpacked chaos and he doesn’t fancy going home with someone else. Still, no harm in looking, is there? He lets his gaze wander from one fit man to another until it snags suddenly.

For a moment, Draco thinks he’s seeing things. Because the odds of Harry bloody Potter walking into this Muggle club the very first night Draco’s back in London… well, they’ve got to be astronomically small, haven’t they? But he blinks and squints a bit to see past the bright whirling lights of the dance floor, and no, that’s definitely him. He looks different, older. The messy hair and famous scar are hidden beneath a black knitted hat, the clunky round glasses have been exchanged for a more unobtrusive wire pair, and. And. Draco pauses. Swallows. Stares. Potter’s got on a battered leather jacket. And Merlin help him, boots. Draco’s got a thing for leather and boots, truthfully he’s probably got a bit of a thing for Harry Potter as well, but the leather and boots certainly don’t help. Mercifully, he’s paired them with a pair of plain dark jeans and a plain dark t-shirt, and he looks more casual than sexy. It’s enough to let Draco wrest himself back under control.

“Dear Merlin,” he says. “You’ll never guess who just walked in.”

“Hm? Oh, finally.” To Draco’s horror, Pansy half-stands and waves an arm wildly. “Pots! Over here!”

And then, to Draco’s continuing horror, Potter catches sight of her and breaks into a broad smile as he makes straight for their table. “Hey, Pans,” he says, sliding in beside her. “Malfoy.”

Good manners dictate that Draco should greet him. Enquire about his health or his family or the bloody weather. But all he can do is gape back and forth between them.

“Really? You two honestly call each other Pots and Pans?” He’s still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Pansy appears to have invited Potter here deliberately and Potter has agreed to it and shown up willingly and has everyone gone mad in Draco’s absence?

“Oh don’t look so put out, darling,” Pansy says, then gives him a mischievous smile. “You can have a nickname too, if you’d like.”

“Yeah,” Potter pipes up. “There’s plenty more kitchen utensils left if you’d like to get in on it.”

Draco stares at him.

“I’ll think on it,” Potter promises with a nod.

“Please don’t,” says Draco. “Pansy? Please tell me what’s going on.”

“Well, you see,” Pansy says, “This is Harry Potter.”

“Hello,” says Potter, lifting his beer bottle in a jaunty little salute.

“I bloody well know who he is,” Draco snaps. “I want to know what he’s doing here.”

“Obviously he’s meeting us for drinks,” Pansy says lightly. She takes a sip from her vodka tonic.

There are a lot of ways Draco would like to respond to that, and a lot of questions he’d like to ask. Mostly why. Like why is Potter meeting them here for drinks? Why did Pansy think that was in any way shape or form a good idea? Why didn’t she warn Draco? And above all, why the hell did Potter agree to it?

The moment passes. Pansy finishes up her drink and Potter holds out a menu to her and offers to buy the next round.

Pansy takes the drink menu Potter offers her, then digs in her clutch for a moment before withdrawing a pair of black cats-eye glasses. She puts them on and flips the menu open. Pansy Parkinson. Wearing glasses. For years, he’d told her to admit she needed them and she always flat-out refused. And now she not only owns a pair, but they’re a flashy pair and she’s wearing them in public.

“What happened to ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses’?” Draco asks before he can stop himself.

“Saves her the trouble of kicking their arses,” Potter says without missing a beat. Somehow Draco had managed to forget how annoyingly quick-witted Potter is. He’s even managed to make it rhyme.

Pansy laughs and pats Potter’s shoulder. “See? This is why I like him. He’s funny. And anyhow, Draco, I haven’t been worried about that for years.”

Potter snorts. “That’s certainly true,” he says, leaning away as Pansy tries to elbow him.

They grin at each other, looking happy and relaxed and blithely unaware of Draco’s inner turmoil, and he feels his entire world turn onto its head. Merlin, if he’s going to get through the evening, he needs something stronger. He drains the rest of his drink and thunks the glass back onto the tabletop hard enough to draw their attention back to himself.

“Right,” he says. “If you’re getting the next round, Potter, I want a martini. Dry, dirty, and with three olives. No more, no less. If you return with two olives or, Merlin forbid, one, I’m sending you straight back.”

Potter blinks at him.

“Three olives,” Draco repeats.

Potter gives Draco a cautious nod paired with a look like he thinks Draco’s come unhinged. Draco has the sinking feeling that this will be a very long evening.

- - - - -

Two martinis later, Draco’s honestly got no idea whether Pots and Pans are truly this revoltingly cosy with each other, or whether it’s all a lofty ploy to fuck with Draco’s head. What’s worse is he has no idea which he’d prefer.

Right now they’re laughing together over the exploits of the youngest Weasley child, and Draco tunes them out. Pansy and Potter appear to have that annoyingly close sort of friendship where they don’t bother to speak half their sentences aloud and Draco finds it somewhat difficult to follow along.

He downs the rest of his martini, bites the last olive from the tiny plastic sword it’d been skewered on, and drops the bit of plastic into his empty glass.

“Can I have your sword?” Potter asks.

It takes a moment for Draco to work out both that Potter’s talking to him, and what he means. “What? Oh. Yes, of course.” With a small frown, Draco hands over the little plastic skewer from his drink.

“Thanks,” Potter says, taking it and then collects Pansy’s as well. He slips both into his pocket.

“He’ll Transfigure it to steel when he gets home,” Pansy explains. “He sneaks them to his pawns.”

“His pawns?” Draco repeats.

“Wizarding chess,” Pansy says. “Do keep up, darling.”

“Yeah,” Potter says, grinning. “It drives Ron mental. Last time we played, one of my pawns took down his bishop.” He heaves a deeply-satisfied sigh. “It was beautiful.”

“He ranted for days,” Pansy adds.

“And then when he tried to take the sword away—”

“—and the pawn stabbed him in the finger!” Pansy jumps in, and dear Merlin, they’re finishing each other’s sentences.

“I don’t see why he was so upset,” Potter continues with a sly smile. “It was just a little prick.”

And then they both laugh so uproariously that Draco’s positive he’s missing some sort of in-joke. And the whole thing is so fucking weird that Draco’s honestly not sure he could’ve been more confused if he’d come home and found that Harry Potter had taken up a career in pole-dancing. He honestly finds it that difficult to accept that Potter is friends with Pansy.

Pansy slides her empty glass over to Potter. “I’ll have another,” she says.

“Pans, are you really going to make me get up?” Potter whines. “My leg hurts.”

Pansy snorts. “I find it interesting how your leg always seems to hurt when it’s your turn to buy a round.” She barely spares Draco a glance. “Old Auror injury,” she says for his benefit, then turns back to Potter and prods at him with one finger. “I got the last round, it’s your turn now.”

“I’ll get it,” Draco cuts in and makes his escape before either of them can say anything.

At the bar he orders himself another martini, another beer for Potter, and then has to describe Pansy’s drink because he hasn’t got the foggiest what it’s called. But luckily the bartender seems to recognise it from the Draco’s description of 'unnaturally blue and involves too many maraschino cherries.' He adds them to Pansy’s tab out of spite, then carries them back to the table.

Pansy and Potter are deep in conversation again when he returns, this time something about their plans for Christmas. They spare him distracted thank yous as he slides their drinks across the table to them, and keep right on debating what they should do for the holidays. It seems that Pansy has been offered an invitation to the Burrow, and she’s reluctant to take it because she might have other plans. Draco does his best to tune out the conversation because the alternative is sulking into his martini. His parents have informed him that they’ll be spending the holidays in Majorca, and Draco doesn’t feel comfortable leaving town so soon after starting his new job. He’d assumed he’d spend the day with Pansy, but it doesn’t seem like she’ll be able to fit him into her busy schedule. The idea that he might very well be alone on Christmas is more distressing than he’s prepared for.

He knows it’s not fair of him to be irritated with her for this. He’s been gone a long time, and picking up their friendship again after this many years isn’t going to be nearly as seamless as picking it up after spending the summer apart had been. Draco left and Pansy built a whole life for herself in his absence, and she’s under no obligation to shuffle things around to include Draco now that he’s suddenly returned.

He knows that, but it still stings.

A new song starts up, and Pansy’s head jerks up like a dog being whistled for.

“Oh!” she exclaims. Draco recognises it as one of the songs Pansy had been blasting in her flat earlier, something about just dancing. Pansy downs about half her drink in a single swallow and thumps the glass down on the table. “I love this song. Pots, dance with me?”

Her pout has no effect; Potter just laughs and shakes his head. “Sorry, I’m not anywhere near drunk enough to dance.”

Pansy turns to Draco and he says, “Absolutely not,” before she can get a word out. There are only two ways he knows how to dance: ballroom formal or slutty as hell. One’s not appropriate for a club, and there’s no way he could relax enough to do the other with Potter watching.

“Draco,” Pansy wheedles.

No.”

“Fine,” she says and her pout turns sullen as she slides from her seat. She struts for the dance floor, snags a passing bloke by his tie and drags him after her. The bloke resists until he gets look at Pansy’s swaying arse. Then he follows along eagerly.

“Unbelievable,” Draco says.

“She is, isn’t she?” Potter agrees. “It’s what I like about her.”

They share a smile at Pansy’s utter shamelessness, and then out of nowhere Draco remembers that he and Potter have had sex. Not that he’d forgotten, or ever could forget, about it. But suddenly it’s all he can think of, that years ago he’d bent over and let this man, who’s sitting across the table from him right this very minute, fuck him up the arse. And then Potter had fingered him, still loose and slippery with lube and come, until Draco ran slick down his thighs and thought he’d go mad if he spent another second without Potter inside him. And then Draco climbed onto his lap and rode him slow. And Merlin Draco wants to have another go at him.

Potter bites the corner of his lip as he idly picks at the label on his beer bottle. Draco quietly has a heart attack.

He’s going to murder Pansy.

Because, along with the fact that he and Potter have had sex before, Draco’s brain has also chosen now to bring up the idea that he and Potter could have sex again. That Draco’s gay and Potter likes men, and they’re both here in the same city again, and Potter really does look very nice in that leather jacket of his.

And if Pansy had warned him that Potter would be here tonight, Draco would have stayed home.

Potter gets the corner of the label worked loose and peels a strip from it. He rolls it between his fingers and drops the little ball of paper onto the table, then begins picking at the label again. Peels another strip. Balls it up. Drops it onto the table. Picks at the label.

He still bites his nails, Draco notices.

And then hates himself for noticing. It’s been over a decade. He’s nearly thirty. Shouldn’t he be over this ridiculous schoolboy infatuation by now? He’d hoped that all those years with an ocean between himself and Potter would have done it, and it might’ve if he’d come back to find the same skinny awkward boy he’d left behind. But the Potter he’s come back to is all grown up, and the lighting in the club may be shit, but Draco can still see he’s grown up quite nicely indeed.

Potter stands, startling Draco from his thoughts.

“Just going to the toilet,” Potter says. “Back in a minute.”

Draco watches him walk away, eyes pinned to Potter’s arse, then catches himself staring and drops his head to thud against the tabletop. His forehead makes contact with something sticky, and Draco groans, sits up, and shakes his wand free of his sleeve to spell the stickiness away, then cleans up the table while he’s at it. Just his side, though. Let Potter and Pansy have a sticky tabletop with all those stupid bits of shredded label. It’s the least they deserve.

Then he puts his wand away and tries to forget all about Potter. He watches the people dancing, thinks again about maybe trying to pull tonight if Potter leaves first, then remembers his disorganised flat and lets the idea go with a sigh.

Potter beats Pansy back to the table by seconds.

“I swear,” Potter tells her as he takes his seat. “You’re the only person I know who can cast an Imperius by shaking your arse.”

Pansy laughs as she slides in next to him. “That’s right, my arse is Dark Arts.”

Dark Arse,” Potter snickers, then asks, “What happened to your thrall?”

Pansy shrugs. “He was getting handsy so I sent him on.”

“Nothing too awful, I hope.”

Confundus,” Pansy says. She lifts her drink and takes a delicate sip.

“You really shouldn’t be casting at Muggles,” Potter chides her. “And you especially shouldn’t be admitting to it in the presence of not one but two Aurors.”

“You asked,” Pansy points out, utterly unrepentant.

“And I really should know better by now,” Potter sighs. He reaches for his bottle again and keeps picking at the label.

Pansy reaches over and takes the bottle out of his hands. “Stop it,” she says. “You know I hate it when you do that.”

Potter rolls his eyes at her, and she wrinkles her nose at him, and Draco wonders if this is what going mad feels like.

The pair of them chatter idly about one of Pansy’s coworkers, some woman named Honoria who is, from what Draco gathers, the bane of Pansy’s existence. He listens with half an ear until Pansy directs the conversation to include him with a polite inquiry into the health of Draco’s parents. And then from there it’s all polite chitchat about families and mutual acquaintances, and it’s superficial enough that Draco is able to relax.

“Shall I get the next round?” Pansy offers brightly when they’ve exhausted their drinks along with their supply of relations and childhood friends.

“Nothing for me,” Draco says. He’s eaten the olives out of his last drink, but hardly touched it otherwise. He’s already worried about whether he’ll be able to Apparate home safely in his state, but he despises the Knight Bus and would rather Splinch himself than call it.

“Sure, I’ll take another,” Potter says, then drains the last of his beer and Draco averts his eyes rather than watch the way Potter’s lips seal to the mouth of the bottle, or the way his throat bobs as he swallows. “I didn’t drive tonight.”

“Small mercies,” Pansy says. “That motorbike of yours is a menace.”

Inwardly, Draco cringes. Boots, leather jacket, and now a motorcycle. Potter’s shaping up to be a complete list of things Draco fancies and he really doesn’t need any more encouragement when it comes to that.

“It’s perfectly safe—” Potter starts.

“Perfectly safe!” Pansy repeats in a screech. “We were nearly killed!”

“I didn’t know there’d be fireworks that night,” Potter says with the weary patience of someone who’s had this discussion a hundred times before. “That wasn’t my fault.”

“And I suppose the geese weren’t your fault either,” Pansy says archly.

“You were screaming at me to land!” Potter protests. “What else should I have done?”

“Not landed in the middle of a field of geese,” Pansy snaps, then turns to Draco. “Did you know that when geese take flight, they shit?” Her mouth presses into a thin line, and she adds darkly, “Because they do, Draco. They do.”

“That was one time,” Potter says.

“Only because I’m not daft enough to get on that thing a second time!” Pansy says. “I was nearly killed and then I was shat upon by an entire flock of geese when we landed!”

For a moment Draco’s entirely captivated by the mental image of Potter and Pansy on a motorcycle, Pansy clinging to Potter and screaming as shit rains down upon them from a flock of startled geese. But one thing doesn’t make sense…

“When you landed?” Draco repeats.

“It flies,” Potter explains. “The motorbike, not the geese. Well, the geese too. But they’re supposed to fly.”

“One of two things they’re quite good at,” Pansy mutters.

“You enchanted a motorcycle to fly?” Draco asks, ignoring her. “That’s all sorts of illegal.”

“Absolutely,” Potter agrees. “But it was my godfather’s. Arthur fixed it up for me after the War and I didn’t have the heart to dismantle the charms. I just don’t use them very often.”

“And thank Merlin for that,” Pansy says. She pats Potter on the shoulder as she stands up and leaves for the bar. “I need another drink to deal with my trauma.”

“Drama queen,” Potter calls after her, and Pansy flips him off.

Potter laughs to himself and begins to pick at the label of his empty bottle. His side of the table is already littered with little balled-up bits of paper from the previous label, and Draco resists the urge to reach over and clear them off. It’s a welcome distraction from the effort of resisting the urge to ogle Potter. All night he’s been struggling to keep his eyes off the man, and it’s growing more and more difficult.

“So, you start Monday at the Ministry?” Potter says when the silence stretches unbearably between them.

“First thing,” Draco says, relieved. He’d been about to bring up the weather just for something to say. “Well, nearly. I have to get my Floo address sorted first.”

“Let me guess,” Potter says. “Agnes?”

“How did you know?”

“I had the same problem when I moved a few years ago. Word of advice? Don’t get shirty with her.” He glances around, then leans over the table, lowering his voice. “I lost my temper and spent the next six weeks inviting people over to Happy Pooter’s House.”

Draco chokes on a laugh. “Oh. That’s… quite horrible,” he manages. “And it’s the Happy that makes it so bad.”

“Oh,” says Pansy cheerfully as she returns to the table, drinks in hand. “Are we discussing the Dark Days of Happy Pooter?”

“We don’t talk about Happy Pooter,” Potter says gravely. “You know that, Pans.”

Pansy rolls her eyes. “You brought it up.”

“I was warning Draco about Agnes,” Potter protests. “And anyhow, should I have used a different example? I could have told him about Pantsy—”

“Don’t speak that name,” Pansy cuts him off.

“What name?” Draco asks. He honestly can’t imagine her last name being butchered any worse than Pooter. It’s amazing how one changed letter can be so devastating.

Pansy jabs Potter with a finger. “I mean it. Tell him and you’ll regret it.” She sends a glare across the table at Draco, and he’s glad he’s out of range of her poking. Those fingernails of hers are deadly, judging from the way Potter just winced. “He’s terrible and won’t ever let me hear the end of it.”

Draco’s just annoyed enough to say, “Are you referring to my tendency to remind you at every opportunity of the time you—”

“Draco’s Birthday List,” Pansy interrupts, and Draco immediately clams up. For Merlin’s sake, he was six years old, she really should learn to let things go, and she’s fucking cruel for even bringing it up, especially in front of Potter.

“What’s this about a birthday list?” Potter asks, looking between them.

“It’s up to Draco whether I explain that or not,” Pansy says, arching her eyebrows and staring at Draco. “Am I going to be explaining it, Draco?”

“You’re a cow,” Draco mutters.

“I thought not,” Pansy says smugly. “Sorry, Pots. You’ll just have to live in wonder.”

“Somehow I’ll carry on,” Potter says dryly.

Draco scowls at Pansy. There’s no doubt in his mind that she’s going to tell him all about it the moment Draco’s out of earshot.

And quite suddenly he’s had enough. Of Pots and Pans and their annoyingly close friendship. Of this place, the obnoxiously dim lighting and crowds and loud music. And especially of Potter looking ridiculously attractive in his stupid jacket, and why hasn’t he taken that thing off, he’s indoors now for Merlin’s sake. All Draco wants is to be away from him, to have a nice cup of tea and read a few chapters of his latest mystery novel and then spend eight uninterrupted hours with his bed.

Draco reaches into his pocket and feels around until his fingers find a small bit of metal. He shouldn’t be doing this, but curiosity overrides logic. He stares hard at a spot on the back of Potter’s chair that’s mostly in shadow and concentrates as he squeezes until he feels it click. He lets go and the small clockwork ladybug flitters away, taking a lazy, looping path to the spot to which Draco had directed it. The Bug alights, and neither Pansy nor Potter take any notice of it. And even if they do, they probably won’t do more than shoo it away, if that. It’s why Draco chose the ladybug in particular for his device; it’s one of the few insects that most people don’t try to smash on sight.

“I believe I’m ready to call it a night,” Draco says. “International Portkey travel always exhausts me.”

They make their goodbyes, and Draco leaves without looking back.

Outside the club, Draco walks two buildings up the street and ducks into the doorway of a clothing shop where he’s sheltered from the worst of the wind. It’s stopped sleeting and the sky has cleared up a little, the crescent moon a bare sliver of light peeking through the clouds. It’s a lovely night to look at, but Merlin, it’s miserable out here. He hopes Potter and Pansy won’t be too long.

From his pocket he takes the other half of the Bug, an identical clockwork ladybug, and clicks it as well before he puts it up to his ear. It tickles a bit as the Bug settles into place until the Numbing Charm takes effect and can no longer feel it in there, and then he can hear Potter’s laughter as clearly as if he’s sitting right next to him. Draco’s stomach flutters pleasantly; he still sounds exactly the same when he laughs.

“Oh, Lucius was furious,” Pansy says over Potter’s laughter, and damn her. Draco just knew she’d tell. “But he couldn’t actually say anything about it in front of all the guests. So his face just kept getting redder and redder as Draco went on.”

“To have been a fly on the wall,” Potter says, still laughing.

“Entirely worth the price of admission,” Pansy assures him. “Draco was spoiled rotten, don’t get me wrong. But he was sweet about it when he was a child.”

There’s a long stretch of silence, then Pansy asks, “Are you all right?”

Both the sudden shift in conversation and the depth of concern in her voice surprise Draco.

“Yeah, yeah,” Potter sighs. “It was just hard to see him again.”

He sounds weary and worn-down. Draco hadn’t picked up on so much of a hint of Potter being anything other than entirely at-ease. He wonders whether he’d been distracted enough in Potter’s presence to not notice, or whether Potter’s become a good enough actor to fool Draco.

“You knew it would be,” Pansy says gently. “It’s why we agreed to do it like this.”

“Where it’s socially acceptable for me to be drunk, you mean?”

“If that’s what it takes. I know how hard it was with Liam, and your relationship with him wasn’t half as complicated as yours is with Draco.”

“God, don’t remind me. It was a blessing when he went back home.” A pause and Potter makes a wry sound. “You don’t suppose I’ll get lucky and Malfoy will move to Dublin too, huh?”

Pansy doesn’t laugh. “Pots, you’re going to be seeing a lot of him. And it’s only going to get more difficult. We’re only two days until the new m—”

“I know,” Potter snaps. “Do you think I don’t know?”

There’s another stretch of silence, and Draco frowns to himself and wonders what Pansy had been about to say.

Then Potter says, “Sorry. It’s just difficult.” Another pause. “Look, I don’t think I’m going to be very good company for the rest of the night so I’m going to go home now.”

“If you’d like,” Pansy says. “Call me if you need anything, all right?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Pans.”

And then there’s a rustle of movement and Draco knows he’s heard all he’s going to.

He tilts his head to the side and thumps his temple with the heel of his hand. The Bug falls out onto the damp pavement with a small clink. He aims his wand at it and activates the self-destruct. A quick flare of light and a curl of smoke, and it’s blown into pieces too small for the naked eye to spot. The one Draco left inside the club will have done the same.

And then he goes home.

- - - - -

At eight o’clock on Monday morning, Draco, despite his better efforts, gets shirty with Agnes.

And now his Floo is no longer connected to Drago Mafloy’s flat; no, he now resides at Dorko Morfloy’s flat. When he tried to Firecall the offices again, he was informed that Floo Adjustment, Cleaning, and Directory Extension Services didn’t have an available appointment until next week. Gritting his teeth and cursing Agnes to the blackest depths of hell, Draco booked the appointment.

So he’s not off to the greatest start when he shows up at the Ministry, fifteen minutes late for his first day on the job. Head Auror Gawain Robards is kind enough to abstain from mentioning it overtly, though Draco’s sure he can see the man thinking it. Probably wondering if Draco was worth all the fuss they went through to recruit him. Or thinking that Draco feels he’s too good to show up on time. Neither of those is an impression he wants to be making straight off.

“My apologies,” he says briskly, reaching to shake Robards’ hand. “I was unavoidably detained trying to straighten out an issue with my Floo. It won’t happen again, sir.”

Robards’ mouth twitches up into a smile. “Let me guess,” he says. “Agnes?”

Draco blinks at him. “How did you know?”

“Everyone knows Agnes,” Robards assures him, taking his seat and gesturing for Draco to take his as well. “I’m convinced the only reason they haven’t sacked her is because they’re all afraid of her.”

“With good reason,” Draco agrees, settling down into the surprisingly comfortable guest chair across from Robards’ desk.

They make polite small talk for a few stilted minutes. Robards asks how Draco’s transition was, whether he’s found a flat and settled in. That sort of thing. Then they get down to business. Robards gives Draco a thick packet of papers that outline all the rules and regulations he’ll have to follow when setting up his subdepartment and goes over the basics before discussing Draco’s other assignments.

“I’d wanted to put you with Auror Casey, who runs our Stealth and Sneaky Surveillance class,” Robards says. “From what I understand of your devices, I feel this is the area our Aurors would put them to the best use. But she teaches on a strict schedule and requested that you consult with her one-on-one to develop a new training regimen for next year. We’ll organise it so your class and her class will be taught back-to-back, as much of your curricula will overlap.”

Draco nods. That’s how they’d done it back in New York. He’d instruct the trainees on the uses of his devices, then pass them along to the Stealth instructor where the students would put the devices to use in training simulations.

“In the meantime, I’ve spoken with the Auror who runs our Practical and Necessary Tactical Spellwork class.” Robards grimaces as he says it, and it takes Draco a moment to work out why. He hides a smile as Robards continues, “He’s volunteered to work with you starting immediately, so that you can get a feel for how we run our classes. Your supervisor had nothing but praise for your duelling skills, so I trust you’ll have no problems with the subject matter. As we get your devices inspected and approved, you will of course be free to integrate any of them you’d like into your lessons.”

“Not many, I’m afraid,” Draco says. “As you said, most of my inventions would be far better suited to stealth and surveillance.” And in any case, he knows the speed at which the wheels of bureaucracy turn. He’ll be lucky to have a half-dozen of his devices approved before the New Year, despite the fact that his last department has been using them to great effect for years now.

“I assumed as much,” Robards nods, and continues on about the details of Draco’s position. He’s required to assist with at least three classes per week, but Robards would prefer more if Draco’s caseload as an active Auror will allow it. Draco is given a copy of the Auror’s Instruction Manual, which, at a glance, appears just different enough from the American’s version that it’ll be an enormous pain in the arse to learn.

Minutiae taken care of, Robards and Draco leave the Head Auror’s office and Robards guides him on a tour of the DMLE. There’s a bustling canteen. A small infirmary staffed by a single Mediwitch who’s authorised to treat injuries and ailments too minor to warrant a trip to St Mungo’s. The training wing on the Ministry’s lowest level, which consists of about a dozen classrooms, several enormous physical training rooms, each complete with complex charmwork to adjust their size as needed, and two locker rooms, one for men and one for women. Draco meets Auror Casey, but the Auror with whom Draco will be working doesn’t have a class first thing Monday mornings and hasn’t come in yet. They go down the hall to a spare training room that will temporarily house Draco’s lab until Maintenance can shuffle things around upstairs to make space for him, which probably won’t happen until after the holidays, Robards warns him. Then they go back upstairs and Draco is shown through Filing, the temporary holding cells, the interrogation rooms, and finally, the offices.

They come to a stop in front of a door. “Tactical Spellwork meets at two o’clock in room 394. Until then, I’ll leave you to settle in and get yourself up to speed on your cases. You’ll be working with Auror Weasley, who is one of our finest—”

“Wait,” Draco interrupts. “You’re putting me with Weasley? Ron Weasley?”

“Yes, his current partner is on maternity leave so he was the only one of our Aurors with a lengthy opening.” Robards gives him a searching look. “I understand the pair of you share a somewhat unpleasant history, but I’ve spoken with Auror Weasley and he has assured me he has no problem leaving the past where it is. Will this be a problem for you, Auror Malfoy?”

Draco shakes his head. “No, sir.”

“Just as I thought. Go on, then. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to do, coming up to speed on Auror Weasley’s casework.”

And with that, Robards turns around and swans off down the hall, leaving Draco standing in front of Weasley’s door.

It takes him a disconcertingly long time to work up the nerve to knock. But as he raises his fist he decides, fuck it. This is his office too, now. He doesn’t need to knock.

He opens the door and and finds Weasley sitting at one of the room’s two desks, an array of folders spread out over the top. He’s scribbling something into a small notebook. Draco steps inside and shuts the door behind him, has a look around while he waits for Weasley to acknowledge his presence. Weasley keeps his office neat enough. A little cluttered, but not unbearably so. Lots of pictures on his side of the room, mostly of Granger and small ginger children Draco assumes are his, but also of his parents and many siblings. He spots a few of Potter mixed in there, too. One in particular catches his eye, of Potter in that black leather jacket and boots, straddling a gleaming black motorcycle and grinning at the camera. Draco hastily looks away.

Weasley finishes jotting down a note before he looks up from his paperwork. “Ferret,” he says.

“Weasel,” Draco replies, and then in the next instant is horrifically reminded of Pansy and Potter calling each other Pots and Pans, and he’ll be fucked if he’s going to have cutesy nicknames with Ron Weasley of all people. “Lee,” he quickly adds. He coughs. “Weasley.”

Weasley frowns, his ginger brows drawing together. “Malfoy,” he says carefully.

“It’s been a long time since we were children,” Draco says. “I see no reason why we can’t maintain a civil working relationship.”

Weasley just gives him a nod. “Of course. I assume Robards briefed you on what you’ll be doing here?”

“More or less,” Draco says. “He gave me a brief tour of the facilities and explained that I’d be working part-time with you and part-time with one of the training instructors in between setting up my subdepartment. The Auror who runs Practical and Necessary Tactical Spellwork, I’ve been told. And really, who on earth let that name through?”

Weasley seems to hesitate. “He didn’t tell you which instructor you’re going to be working with.”

“No,” Draco says, watching Weasley suspiciously. He has a very bad feeling about this. “Who is it?”

- - - - -

Potter. Of course it’s Potter.

The idea that he’ll have to work closely with Potter for the foreseeable future hangs in a dark cloud over Draco’s head for the rest of the morning. However, it does have the silver lining of distracting him from focusing on the fact that for the foreseeable future he’s also going to be working closely with Ron Weasley.

But things with Weasley proceed much smoother than Draco would have anticipated. Other than the initial ‘Ferret’ comment, Weasley treats Draco with the same courtesy and respect he’d afford any other Auror. And if at times he appears to be gritting his teeth or biting back unkind words, Draco still appreciates the effort. They spend the morning going over Weasley’s case notes for the string of burglaries he’s currently investigating, and by the end of it Draco’s fingernails have left crescent-moon divots in his palm from clenching his fists, but not a single disagreeable word has left his mouth.

All in all, it feels rather like a success and he’ll bloody well take it, considering how this afternoon’s likely to go.

At one o’clock, Draco takes his lunch. And at a quarter til two, he heads down to the lowest level and room 394 and an afternoon with Harry Potter.

A small pang of relief flares through him when he sees that he’s arrived after Potter but before the trainees, just as he’d hoped. He feels he ought to get some things out of the way before they work together, and he’d rather not have an audience for it. He steps into the room where Potter’s laying out mats on the floor and gets his first good look at him. And then promptly fights down the urge to turn right around and leave.

Because Potter’s hair is going grey. Not completely, but more than enough for the strands of silver scattered through the black to be clearly noticeable. Potter had worn his knit hat all evening on Friday, but here, bareheaded beneath the bright lights of the training room, it’s impossible to ignore. And Draco has such a thing for men who go prematurely grey, moreso than the boots or the leather jacket or the motorcycle. And the fact that Harry Potter has all of those things feels like something of a perfect storm.

Oh, Draco’s fucked.

And, he thinks as he sneaks a glance at Potter’s arse, not at all in the way he wants to be.

Potter notices him just then and pastes a big bright smile over his face, and Draco’s momentarily distracted from Potter’s hair by the way Potter’s smile seems brittle around the edges, like he’s forcing it. And then he’s distracted from that by the slight limp to Potter’s step. Draco vaguely recalls Pansy mentioning something about an old injury, and he wonders if that’s the reason Potter’s become an instructor. It must’ve been a bad injury if magic couldn’t heal him completely.

“Malfoy,” Potter says, holding out his hand.

Draco takes it and gives it a firm shake. “Potter,” he says as Potter releases him.

He can do this. He got through the morning with Weasley, didn’t he? And yes, his history with Potter is deeper and more complicated than his history with Weasley, but they’re both adults. They’ve grown up and put the past behind them, and they are both perfectly capable of moving forward. ‘It was just hard to see him again,’ Draco remembers Potter telling Pansy on Friday night. And Draco can sympathise because it’s hard for him to see Potter as well. But they both got through Friday night with a minimum of fuss, and they can get through this too.

“I suppose we should clear the air between us,” Draco says. He hates that he feels so awkward around Potter, and he doesn’t particularly want to have this conversation. But it will make things easier going forward. “I mean, we’ve got a lot of rather unpleasant history between us, especially the events that occurred shortly before my departure, and now that we’re going to be working together, we ought to get all that out of the way.”

Potter shrugs. “If you feel you need to.”

That throws Draco off. “If I need to?” he repeats.

Potter blows out a long, slow breath and lets his gaze slide up to the ceiling. “Malfoy,” he says, and Draco gets the impression he’s choosing his words carefully. “What happened between us… it was during the War. Truthfully, I don’t like to think about anything that happened back then. If you’ve got something you feel you need to say to me for your own sake, then say it. But I’ve already let go of all that.”

A flare of pure rage explodes behind Draco’s ribs. Perhaps it’s because of how many nights he’s spent thinking of Potter back then, and how many nights he’s continued to think of Potter over the years. Perhaps it’s just that he’s always wanted Potter’s attention, and it still irks him as much as it ever has to see how little Potter cares about him. Potter was an enormous part of Draco’s adolescence. Apparently Draco was a small enough part of Potter’s that he found it easy to let go of entirely. To set aside and simply not think about.

The anger is a welcome rush, and Draco embraces it like an old friend. Years ago, Draco had hated and wanted Potter in equal measures. The conviction that Harry Potter was a stupid fucking git had balanced out his desire to shove him up against the nearest wall and snog him senseless. It’s why he’d felt so uncomfortable with Potter on Friday. Because he’d discovered, somewhat unexpectedly, that thirteen years has been long enough for him to stop hating Potter. And without the anger there to hold it in check, the potency of his desire is fucking terrifying.

That’s certainly not a problem right now.

“I wonder,” he says before he can stop himself, “Did you plan that little speech to intentionally make yourself sound like an enormous twat, or does it just come naturally?”

Back in school, Draco had always had a particular talent for getting under Potter’s skin. It’s somewhat gratifying to see, despite the years that have gone by and the growing up they’ve both done and how determined Potter had been to get along with him on Friday night, that Draco’s ability to piss him off is still as sharp as ever. And though it’s been years since he’s had the opportunity, he finds it’s like just riding a broomstick.

Potter visibly reins in his anger. Takes a deep breath and says, “Look, I know you’re probably not thrilled to be working with me. I’m not thrilled about it either—”

“I heard you volunteered,” Draco says. “No one’s forcing you to work with me.”

Potter’s mouth tightens into a grim line. “Only because no one else wanted anything to do it. And not because of the Death Eater thing; it’s because you were such an arsehole back in school.”

Draco’s lip curls into a sneer. “I think you just can’t resist making a martyr of yourself. Did you inherit that along with your mother’s eyes?”

And Potter snaps. In a flash his wand is out and pointed at Draco, and thank fuck he doesn’t actually cast anything because Draco’s just a hair slower on his draw. For a long moment they stand locked into their tableau, half an inch off hexing each other.

But even at the height of his anger, Draco is still rational enough to recognise what a terrible idea it would be to hex someone who teaches duelling for a living. So he does the only reasonable thing he can: he holsters his wand, turns on his heel, and leaves without another word.

As he pushes through the door and into the hall, it strikes him how childish he’s being. This is his first day on the job and he shouldn’t be skipping his first class because of a silly spat with Potter. But the idea of going back in there, of facing Potter and, Merlin forbid, apologising, is untenable.

He can’t do it. He won’t do it.

And he only feels more angry about it because he knows he should. What Potter had said to him was bad, but Draco had been something of an arse when he was in school, and it’s unsurprising people haven’t forgot about it. But what he’d said to Potter…

He really should go back and apologise.

Instead, Draco storms down the hall, heading for the small room Robards had designated his laboratory. He bursts inside and indulges in slamming the door shut. The resounding bang! makes Draco feel better, so much so that for one ridiculous moment, he’s tempted to open the door just so he can slam it again. Instead, he slumps against it and looks around the room. It’s barren aside from the stack of boxes piled unsteadily in one corner. He takes out his wand, finds the box labelled ‘furniture and fixtures,’ and gets to work.

Ten minutes later, he’s satisfied with his efforts. He’s enlarged the room to a more reasonable size using the built-in Expansion Charms, and installed long rows of shelving on one wall and a set of cupboards along another. His desk and filing cabinets take up a third, and in the middle of the room sits a large worktable. He eyes the stack of boxes, but after unpacking his whole flat this weekend, he doesn’t particularly want to do more unpacking right now. He’ll do it later.

For now, he thinks some basic and mindless work might help him calm down, so he prioritises setting up his tools first. Then he sorts through his boxes until he finds a set of Bugs he’s been meaning to do some routine maintenance on. He releases the Shrinking Charm on the first one, and it grows to roughly the size of a breadbox. But with his temper still high, he cancels the Shrinking Charm on the second Bug too quickly. The Charm releases unevenly and he hears something inside the Bug snap.

“Fuck,” he spits, dropping it onto the worktable with a loud clang of metal on metal. He scrubs his hands over his face and sighs again, “Fuck.”

Potter has him so rattled, so completely turned around, that he can’t even do the most basic of tasks properly. For a moment he’s tempted to throw things. His tendency to throw things when he’s in a pique made him something of a legend at his last job, but he hasn’t yet hired any minions for his subdepartment to clean up after him, and anyhow there’s no one to witness it.

It’s just past two, but Draco decides he’s had all he can take for one day, so he leaves.

- - - - -

“Pansy!” Draco shouts into the Floo. “Pansy, I need you.”

“For fuck’s sake, Draco,” Pansy shouts back as she comes stomping into view. She’s wearing Muggle jeans and a black jumper, her hair pulled back into a loose bun. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen her dressed so casual, including when he walked in on her in her underthings the other night, and for a moment it distracts him from the irritation writ plain across her face. That doesn’t last long because then she opens her mouth. “It’s the middle of the bloody day, and shouldn’t you be at work? I was in the middle of—” She breaks off when she gets a look at his face, sees something that makes her sigh. “Fine. Come on through.”

He pulls his head back from the Floo, tosses in a handful of powder, and steps into Pansy’s living room where she’s waiting for him with her arms folded over her chest and a scowl on her face.

“I can’t do it,” he says. “I can’t stand—” He cuts himself off, noticing at last that Pansy’s not alone. “Lovegood,” he says. “My apologies, I didn’t realise you had company. I’ll come back…”

“Luna,” she corrects gently. “Please.”

“Luna,” he repeats. “My apologies.”

“That’s all right,” Luna says with a smile. She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. “You’re Pansy’s oldest friend. And I’m sure you have lots of catching up to do.” She turns to Pansy, her soft smile turning warm. “Will I see you tonight?”

Pansy glances at Draco. “After supper, most likely.”

“Wonderful,” Luna says, then stretches up on tip-toe to kiss Pansy. “I’ll wait up.”

Draco stares after her as she vanishes into the Floo, then looks back to Pansy. Perhaps he might’ve mistaken the kiss as Luna’s way of showing affection for a close friend, but the wary way Pansy’s watching him now makes it difficult to call it anything but what it is. For a moment he’s not sure how to react, which feels ridiculous considering he’s gone through this himself, but he’s never been on this end of things.

“Well,” he says, desperate for something to say before the stretching silence does damage. “When I was younger, my parents wanted me to marry you. I guess that wouldn’t have worked for more reasons than I thought.”

Pansy laughs, and just like that the tense moment breaks. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” she says lightly. “We get on well enough. You could have kept your boys on the side and I could’ve had my girls, and never the twain shall meet.”

“Our parents would be horrified,” he says.

“Even better,” she says with a cheeky smile that reminds Draco of long warm evenings and lazy conversations in the Slytherin common rooms. “I try to do at least three things a day that would scandalise my mother.”

“I’d also like to point out the hypocrisy here,” Draco says, unable to resist needling her a bit. “The other night when you were poking at me about not telling you I’m gay?”

“Oh Merlin, I should have known you’d fixate on that,” Pansy says, rolling her eyes.

“Exactly,” he says, smirking at her. “So would you like to be the kettle or the cauldron?”

“I’d like the cauldron, if you don’t mind,” Pansy says immediately. “It’s got a round bottom and my arse is way better than yours.”

“My arse is not flat,” Draco tells her, half-offended even though he knows she’s teasing.

“Compared to mine, it is,” she points out, and he can’t quite argue with that. Pansy’s grown into pin-up girl curves while Draco’s just stayed bony. “And speaking of kettles, I’m going to go put one on. Can I interest you in a cuppa?”

“Please,” Draco says, trailing after her into the kitchen. “So, you and Luna?”

“Me and Luna,” Pansy says as she fills the kettle and switches it on. She stretches up, reaching into the cupboard for a box of teabags and a couple of mugs.

The furnace kicks on and the forks-and-spoons-and-radishes windchime tinkles softly in the warm flow of air from the vent. Suddenly the odd bits of decor scattered around Pansy’s flat make so much more sense. He looks at her then, really looks at her, the Muggle clothes she wears, her feet casually bare. She’s humming to herself as she makes tea for him, and it strikes him that Pansy looks relaxed and happy in a way he’s never seen before. And he’s happy for her that she’s found this version of herself, even if it makes him a bit wistful that he wasn’t here with her when she made the transformation.

“Tell me about her,” Draco says, taking a seat at the table.

“Not much to tell,” Pansy says. “Before I got my weekly column with the Prophet, I was writing freelance for anyone that would publish me. Luna’s taken over most of the day-to-day running of The Quibbler, and sometimes they’d print my work. We got to talking one day and,” She shrugs, “it just sort of happened.”

Her tone as she tells her story is equal parts fond and brisk, like she’s told it many times before, so Draco guesses this happened a while ago. Still, he asks how long they’ve been together.

Pansy tosses a smile over her shoulder as the kettle comes to a boil. “Almost six years.” She drops teabags into the mugs and pours water over them. “It’s going well.”

“I’m glad,” Draco says, and means it.

Pansy carries the mugs to the table, little paper tabs on the ends of the strings fluttering, and passes one to Draco. He takes it gladly, cups his hands around the hot porcelain and lets it warm his palms.

“So,” she says after giving him a few minutes. “Can I assume that it’s something to do with Potter that brings you to my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon?”

Draco sighs. He really doesn’t want to tell her this. But he does, every word of it, because if he doesn’t then Potter probably will. When he gets to the bit about Potter’s mother, she winces.

“Oh, Draco. You didn’t.”

He sighs, turns his mug on the tabletop so the handle faces left instead of right. “Unfortunately, I did. And you don’t have to tell me what a shit I am, because I’ve figured that out for myself, thanks.”

Pansy searches his eyes for a long moment. “I know this is difficult for you, but it’s difficult for him as well,” she says.

Empathy isn’t something Draco’s ever been fond of, especially when he’s feeling both aggrieved and guilty. But he takes a deep breath, holds it, lets it out. And tries to see things from Potter’s point of view. Their history is complicated at best. Five years of mutual animosity suddenly interrupted by an involuntary shag. At least Draco’d had the advantage of conflicted feelings; Potter hadn’t had anything but hatred. And then added to that, the guilt of nearly killing him.

Now Draco’s come back and they’re thrown together and yes, that can’t be easy for Potter. But hell, it’s awful for Draco too. At least Potter’s only got dislike and a bad history to put aside, if they’re to work well together.

That he already has put aside, he corrects himself.

Draco wishes he could put Potter out of his mind so easily.

Pansy sighs, blows across the surface of her tea, and takes a sip. The forks-and-spoons windchime chimes gently in the silence. “You’re a shit, but he can be an arse. There’s no doubt in my mind that he fell into it just as easily as you did. But you know what? It’ll get easier,” she says at last. “Give it time. He’ll warm up to you and everything will be easier.”

“I fail to see how that’ll make anything easier.”

She sets her mug down on the table and gives him a look. “You do realise that this whole hating-Potter thing started because he didn’t want to be your friend?”

Draco folds his arms over his chest. “This whole hating-Potter thing started because he’s an enormous git,” he corrects.

“And every time you perceive him rejecting you, it escalates?” Pansy continues, ignoring him entirely.

Draco doesn’t like where this is going, so he settles for glowering at her.

“But you’re both adults now, whether or not you’re acting like it at the moment. This is only difficult right now until you get used to each other. Once he accepts you, things will get better. You only really act like a shit when you’re insecure.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Draco says.

“Draco,” Pansy sighs, like she thinks he’s being deliberately difficult. “You like him. You always have.”

“There is an enormous difference between liking someone and wanting to shag his brains out.” He slouches in his seat, stretching his legs out so his feet are beneath her chair. He hopes it’ll annoy her. “They’re not mutually inclusive, you know. I can think he’s an attractive man and still dislike him. Intensely. Which I do.”

“Which part?” Pansy asks, one corner of her mouth twitching up into a smirk. She shifts slightly in her chair to avoid his feet. “You find him intensely fit or you intensely dislike him?”

“Both,” Draco snaps. Merlin, how had he managed to forget how trying this woman could be? “And that’s exactly my point.”

“Right,” Pansy says with a snort. “That’s why you skipped out of work on your first day and are sitting in my flat, drinking tea and bitching about Potter. Because you dislike him.”

“I do,” Draco insists, because that’s exactly why he’s here. Because Potter’s an arse, and all right, perhaps Draco shouldn’t have pushed him and he certainly shouldn’t have said the thing he did, but he dislikes Potter, he really does.

“Right,” Pansy says again. “Intensely. But Draco, I’ve seen how you behave about people you dislike. You dislike Weasley, don’t you?”

Draco frowns, sensing a trap. “Of course,” he admits carefully.

“And you spent the morning with him, yet you haven’t said a single thing about that.”

He opens his mouth. Shuts it again as he thinks back over his interactions with Weasley. He’d walked in, determined to not antagonise him. They’d had a brief conversation about leaving the past behind them and proceeding with their new professional relationship with civility on both sides. Indeed, it’s exactly what he’d intended to do with Potter. But for some reason the idea that Potter had put the past behind him more than Draco had incensed him.

The idea that Pansy’s observations may have merit is just too terrible to contemplate. Instead, he steers the subject away from any Potter-feelings Draco might or might not harbour.

“Speaking of,” he says. “I didn’t say a word about Weasley, as you pointed out. How did you know I spent the morning with him?”

Pansy’s gaze slides sideways. “Pots may have mentioned it the other day,” she admits. “The details of where and with whom you’d be working have been finalised for a week or so. We were talking about it on our last night out.”

The fading embers of Draco’s irritation spark at the idea of Potter and Pansy discussing him behind his back, though he’d already known they did that from bugging the table on Friday. Still, he’s annoyed that neither of them had mentioned he would be working together with both Potter and Weasley. Although, Pansy’s comment to Potter about meeting Draco in a more informal setting makes a lot more sense now. Draco has no idea what would have happened if he’d seen Potter today for the first time in years. It was bad enough they’d sprung Weasley on him.

“How are you even friends with him?” he asks.

Pansy shrugs and cups her hands around her mug. “I suppose it must all seem very sudden for you, but Pots and I didn’t get where we are overnight. It took years.”

She hesitates, looks over his shoulder and out the window, and he sips at his tea and says nothing, letting her gather her thoughts.

“I don’t like to talk about this,” Pansy says eventually, looking down into her tea. “But during the War, during the Battle of Hogwarts, he demanded that we turn over Potter to him. He said he’d spare the rest of us if we’d just give him Potter. And I…” She draws in a deep breath and doesn’t look up. “I stood up, and I said that we should.” There’s a slight chip in the handle of her mug, and Pansy runs her thumbnail over the uneven porcelain. “After everything was over, I owled Potter and requested that he meet me, and I told him I was sorry for what I’d done. And he told me that he appreciated me making the effort of apologising, but he’d already forgiven me, that the War was over and he didn’t see much point in hanging onto old grudges.”

She pauses, and he can tell she’s working herself up to continue. He holds his tongue. Waits her out.

Pansy glances up at Draco and gives a little laugh. “I’ve never told him this, but do you know why I owled him to apologise? For how it’d make me look. After the War, things were hard for anyone who’d been on the wrong side. So I picked a very public location and a very busy time. I pretended it was for his benefit, so he’d feel comfortable meeting with me, but I spoke loud enough to make sure I’d be overheard. I wanted everyone to see how the Chosen One forgave me.” Her smile turns wry. “How Slytherin of me, right?”

“I’d have done the same thing in your place,” Draco says, though he suspects there’s a better than even chance he wouldn’t have. His pride has always been his biggest weakness. He has the self-awareness to freely admit that, at least within the privacy of his own head.

Pansy smiles and reaches across the table to give his hand a pat. Her fingers are warm from her mug. “You absolutely would not have,” she tells him, but her smile says, ‘Thank you for saying you would.’

“All right, so the great Saint Potter forgave you,” he prods. “That doesn’t explain how the pair of you are now best friends.” He considers the fact that he was able to say the last two words without a trace of sarcasm to be a great personal accomplishment.

“We kept running into each other,” Pansy goes on. “Ministry functions, friends in common, that sort of thing. But Luna’s the reason Pots and I are what we are. When he was injured…” She trails off, and her gaze slides off to the side again. “Well, we joke about The Dark Days now, but it wasn’t funny then. Ron and Hermione meant well when he was injured, but they were smothering him with their concern and his temper was already short. So he spent a lot of time with Luna because she didn’t treat him any differently, and since I was around Luna, too… And then I suppose he decided that he liked how I didn’t take any of his shit, so after things got better we stayed close.”

“What happened to him?” Draco asks. “You mentioned the other night that he’d hurt his leg.”

Pansy shakes her head. “It’s not my story to tell.” He’s about to press her for details, but she cuts him off. “Don’t. He wouldn’t want me to tell you, and I won’t.”

“All right,” he says, letting it go for now. He’s curious, but if he pushes her about it, she’ll just dig her heels in.

Give it time, Pansy had told him. He can do that. He can be patient. So he lets it go, and they talk of inconsequential things while they finish their tea. Then Pansy puts on that horrid poker-faced muffin-bluffing woman again while she makes dinner for them. She even forces Draco chop vegetables for her.

He never thought he’d be in a kitchen, cooking dinner with Pansy Parkinson. It’s odd, but in a nice sort of way, how relaxed this feels. And the fact that he hasn’t yet seen Pansy wear anything but Muggle clothes, and Draco still hasn’t quite wrapped his head around the fact that she’s dating Luna Lovegood, of all people. But her happiness is a deep and steady thing, and Draco thinks that he’s probably all right with this being his new normal.

But because some things never change completely, he lobs a chunk of carrot at the back of her head, interrupting her singing and arse-shaking. Pansy yelps in mock-outrage and sends him a glare, and Draco laughs when she flings a tea towel at his head in retaliation.

Yeah, he’s pretty sure he can get used to this.

- - - - -

Draco falls into a routine by the end of the week. Things with Potter grow easier on the surface, but Draco’s inner turmoil grows worse. Mostly it’s due to spending several hours a day watching Potter duel. Draco’s always appreciated a man who knows his way around a wand, and Potter’s more than capable. His casting is quick and competent, with a slight edge of brutal determination to it that Draco can’t help but admire.

By unspoken agreement, they’d started over fresh on Tuesday. They’d greeted each other, shaken hands, and not spoken a single word about their argument on Monday. Potter shared his lesson plans, and Draco assisted the trainees in their current focus of strengthening their Shield Charms, which mostly consisted of him hurling hexes at them while Potter gave them pointers about their technique. It was more enjoyable than it probably ought to have been.

He and Weasley are getting along better as well. As they’ve continued to work together, the uneasiness has faded into a somewhat grudging mutual respect for each other in a professional capacity. Weasley, as it turns out, is far more intelligent than Draco ever gave him credit for back in school, with an uncanny knack for taking disparate clues and building them into a logical conclusion. And he’s mentioned that Draco’s eye for detail and memory for case particulars is unparalleled. Together, they tied up the burglaries case by Thursday and the perpetrator is in custody and awaiting trial.

They’ve also been assigned to an illegal potions case, along with another Auror pair. Recently they’ve had someone brewing and selling love potions so strong they make Amortentia look like child’s play. ‘Devil’s Kiss,’ it’s being called. Robards thought that since Draco spent so many years out of the country, he’d more easily be able to infiltrate and gather evidence. It sounds exciting, but Draco had started out his Auror career on the Illegal Potion Suppression Unit in New York. He knows that these ‘exciting’ potions cases are nearly all research and barely any action. So far, he and Weasley, along with Pierson and Halbard, the pair they’ve been assigned to work with, have spent long hours sorting through customer records and tracking shipments of ingredients to try and pinpoint a supplier.

Draco helps out with that in the morning, then works on organising his subdepartment in the early afternoon. Then in the late afternoon he assists in Potter’s last class of the day, after which he works alone in his lab to fine-tune his newest inventions.

Today Potter has unexpectedly tagged along with him to his lab. Draco isn’t sure whether he’d meant to. They were talking after class about the upcoming lessons Potter has planned, and he hasn’t finished with his description by the time they reach Draco’s lab so he follows Draco inside and keeps talking. Then he has about a thousand questions to ask about the Bug Draco’s tinkering with, the one he’d botched the Charm release on and still can’t figure out what the bloody hell broke inside it.

Potter starts off with, “Why’s it so large?” and Draco delves into an explanation of its intricate parts and the way he’s woven Shrinking Charms throughout it, one set to keep it small and a second set worked through as a failsafe. In the event of a Bug’s discovery or deliberate deactivation, the second set activates and it Shrinks down to roughly the size of a grain of sand before the self-destruct kicks in. Potter, to Draco’s surprise, seems genuinely interested. He hops up to perch on the corner of Draco’s worktable, swinging his feet and listening attentively, and asking questions in all the right places.

Weasley stops by shortly after his shift ends to tell Draco they’ll have to work tomorrow but it’s a stakeout so Draco doesn’t mind too much about having to put in hours on a Saturday. Apparently a tip came in this afternoon about a shop that’s selling illegal potions ingredients. It’s a potential source for whoever’s brewing and distributing Devil’s Kiss. It’s Weasley’s pet theory that the person behind it all is someone with Death Eater connections; as he'd pointed out to Draco, the ridiculously melodramatic name is exactly their style.

Then Weasley and Potter get into a long debate about the Cannons’ upcoming match against the Appleby Arrows. Draco would have thought that their chatter would annoy him, but it provides a pleasant backdrop to his work. Also, it’s rather amusing to watch Weasley get all worked up in defence of his team, pacing agitatedly back and forth across the lab as his face turns more and more pink. At first Draco wasn’t entirely sure whether Potter’s deliberately winding him up, but when he innocently asks whether Weasley thinks the fact that the Cannons have consistently scored a total of ten points per game for the last five matches is a deliberate strategy, and Weasley launches into another impassioned argument, Potter slips Draco a wink.

And it’s nice, Draco thinks, having them in here together. He and Weasley have yet to exchange a single word that’s not about work, and things with Potter are still awkward when they’re alone together, made more uncomfortable for Draco because he can see how hard Potter’s trying to pretend that things between them are not awkward. And, yes, all right, also by the fact that Draco can’t look him in the eye without wanting to pin him against the nearest flat surface and rip all his clothes off. His hair evokes the same response. So does his arse. In fact, pretty much everything about Potter makes Draco want to tear his clothes off so Draco spends a lot of his time around Potter trying to avoid looking at him any more than he absolutely has to.

But when he’s with Potter and Weasley together, all of that eases. The depth and strength of the friendship between Potter and Weasley sort of carries the rest. Draco fades almost into the background as they talk with each other, discussing who’s going over to whose house for dinner this time, and laughing over the latest antics of Weasley’s children, and arguing over Quidditch. It feels like a small taste of the ease that’ll come as he continues to settle in with them. Of the friendships he might someday forge.

And Merlin help him, forging friendships with Gryffindors. If his sixteen-year-old self could see him now he’d probably faint dead away.

Just then, an interoffice memo zips into the room and straight into the side of Draco’s head. He snatches it out of the air. Merlin, the Ministry hasn’t come up with anything better in all these years? He unfolds the crumpled paper, reads it, then smashes it into a ball and pitches it into the nearest bin.

“What was that?” Weasley asks, momentarily abandoning his delusions that the Cannons will ever do anything useful.

“I need a name for my department, but they’ve just rejected Magical Accessories Development and Testing,” Draco says, reaching for his pliers again.

“They’ll reject anything that’s not an acronym,” Potter says with a shrug. “Save yourself a lot of bother and just come up with one straight off.”

“The Ministry and all their bloody acronyms,” Draco mutters, using the pliers to grasp a cog and carefully slide it free. He holds it under the magnifying glass clamped to the edge of his worktable and examines it for physical damage. “I ought to make it something that spells out COCK.”

Potter shakes his head. “They won’t let you. I tried to name my class Training In Tactical Situations and they turned me down. Besides, K’s a tough letter.”

Weasley snorts. “But never let it be said that Harry Potter gives up easily,” he says, and lightly punches Potter on the shoulder. “And you’d know all about the letter K because you tried Knowing Necessary Offensive Basics next. And then Casting Under Noticeable Tension.”

“No, no, then it was Training With Advanced Tactics, and then Casting Under Noticeable Tension,” Potter corrects. “And then Casting Reliably And Proficiently. Oh, and Beneficial And Long-Lasting Spellwork. I really thought they’d take that one.” Potter grimaces. “But no, then they reported me. Apparently what I was doing is considered harassment. I had to write a formal apology and everything.”

Weasley rolls his eyes. “Which you titled So Honestly I’m Terrible-Feeling And Really Truly Sorry.”

Potter nods. “And then they reported me again.”

“I don’t really blame them for that one,” Weasley says. “I told you it was too much, putting the first letter of each word in a fancy script.”

“Yeah,” Potter sighs. “Sometimes less really is more.”

“Shitfarts,” Draco blurts out, belatedly piecing together the word. “Your superiors asked you to write a formal apology and you titled it shitfarts.”

“That was my second choice,” Potter says regretfully. “I really wanted to title it fuck off. But like I said, K’s a tough letter.”

“What the fuck,” Draco says. “Are you twelve? Have you really not matured past your second year?”

Potter shrugs.

“Dark Days,” Weasley mutters, and jumps back out of range when Potter takes a half-hearted swing at him.

“Shut up, Ron,” Potter says, then nudges his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and glances at Draco. “I just think the acronyms thing is bloody stupid, is all. And the arseholes up in Name And Moniker Establishment are a bunch of twats. Like we haven’t got anything better to do than sit around, coming up with class names that spell out words.”

“So in retaliation you sat around and came up with class names that spell out rude words?” Draco asks in disbelief.

Potter shrugs again. “Pretty much, yeah.”

Draco shakes his head. “And then they let you have Practical And Necessary Tactical Spellwork after all that?”

“I know, I was surprised they let that one through,” Potter says, one corner of his mouth twitching up into a crooked smile that Draco finds alarmingly endearing. “Admittedly, pants isn’t really that bad, but still. I had more.”

“Frankly, I think by that point they were just sick of dealing with you,” Weasley puts in.

“Probably,” Potter agrees, and the crooked smile spreads into a full-blown grin. “Persistence really does pay off.”

“Unbelievable,” Draco mutters to himself as he strips off another gear and holds it under the magnifying glass. He doesn’t quite know whether he’s referring to Potter or himself, there.

Potter’s ridiculous and immature and kind of an arsehole.

And Draco knows all of that and wants to fuck him anyhow.

“Unbelievable,” he says again. One for each of them, then. They both deserve every syllable.

- - - - -

It’s been a while since the last time he went on a stakeout, and Draco would be lying if he said he wasn’t looking forward to it. He’d done a fair number of them early on in his Auror career, but once he’d started inventing his devices they’d tapered off, and once he’d begun teaching they’d stopped almost completely. He’d assisted on plenty of active casework, but most of his time had been spent in his lab.

Draco hums distractedly to himself as he double-checks his supplies. Emergency first-aid kit. A fresh set of Bugs. Magical signature scanner. A Disillusioner. A heavily-modified tent. Lockpicks. Three heavy blankets with Warming Charms woven through the wool. Pad of paper and self-inking quill. Camera equipped with a No-Flash-Necessary Night Lens, which Draco didn’t invent but sort of wishes he had. And the most important things: a wax paper packet of sandwiches, half with jam and half with ham and swiss; thick slices of battenberg cake; and a large thermos of strong tea.

He’s just checking over the Warming Charms on the latter when Weasley walks in and stops short. Draco ignores him as he carefully settles the thermos into his Bottomless Bag.

Weasley gives him an odd look. “Are you humming ‘Bad Romance’?” he asks after a moment.

Blast. He bloody well is. “Pansy,” he says with a grimace. Then, “Wait, how’d you recognise it?”

“Hermione,” Weasley says, looking rather pained himself. “I know all of those songs. Hermione likes to play them while she does housework. I have no idea why.” Then he eyes Draco. “But I’ve never hummed them to myself.”

“That you’re aware of,” Draco retorts, though he’s not sure if the fact he was humming unconsciously really helps his case. Probably not, if the look Weasley gives him at that is any indication. “Have you got everything?”

“Yeah,” Weasley says, patting the bag he’s got slung over one shoulder. “You ready?”

Draco nods, and together they make their way to the Apparition Point in the Atrium, and from there they Apparate to a narrow street located in a section of Muggle London just outside the bounds of the Wizarding section. They linger in the mouth of the alleyway they’d appeared in, cast Disillusionment Charms over each other, and check up and down the street before they step out onto the pavement.

It’s about a five minute walk to the shop they’re meant to watch tonight, but they move cautiously and keep to the shadows so it takes them closer to ten. The night is clear and cold, the moon is a bright curve overhead and the few stars that aren’t washed out by the lights of London sparkle like crushed glass. Weasley had scoped out this area on Friday afternoon and shared the pictures with Draco. Together, they’d come to the conclusion that there wasn’t a good place to set up their surveillance. There are no convenient alcoves or shadowy doorways in which to linger, and there’s several bars on this street which mean crowds of people so they can’t just Disillusion themselves and sit on the pavement or they’ll risk Muggles literally tripping over them.

But Draco has exactly the things for this. He reaches into his bag and pulls out the Disillusioner, and small lantern-like device that radiates Notice-Me-Not Charms and subtle Redirection Spells that work together to ensure that anyone in the vicinity will both not pay attention to them, and also notice something very interesting in another direction. He passes it to Weasley and leads the way to a promising stretch of brick wall.

Digging in his bag, Draco pulls out the modified tent and unfurls it. It’s little more than a large square of canvas with a tent flap stitched onto the front, but it’s the spells layered over it that make it special. Draco uses a Wingardium Leviosa to lift it up to just over his head and a series of Sticking Charms to keep it in place. From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything more than a particularly uninteresting advertisement plastered over the brickwork. Weasley gives him a boost so he can reach into the flap and snag the end of the rope ladder, and then he climbs up.

The inside is layered with a network of spells that form a bubble of Wizard Space, and it creates an alcove just large enough for two grown men to sit in without knocking into each other. Draco ties the curtains back out of the way and gives Weasley a hand up before pulling the ladder in after him. He takes the Disillusioner and hangs it on a hook in the entrance of the tent. The canvas is charmed with its own set of disillusioning and silencing spellwork, but Draco’s always believed in being over-prepared.

Reaching into his bag again, he pulls out one of the blankets and spreads it over the floor of the alcove, then pulls out the other two and hands one over to Weasley. They sit down, Weasley with his blanket still folded in his lap. Draco has no qualms about wrapping his around himself. It’s bloody cold tonight, and it only takes Weasley a minute or so before he unfolds his and wraps it around himself as well.

They’ve got a perfect view of the shop’s entrance, but it’s early yet and nothing’s happening. They sit in silence. Draco sighs.

Well, this is bloody awkward. Every conversation Draco’s had with Weasley since his return has either centered around work or had Potter present to help it along. Without his folders of evidence, Draco doesn’t have anything to say about work that Weasley won’t already know, and Potter isn’t here to provide a distraction.

“So,” he says, watching the door of the shop. “You have two children?” Weasley slants him a look, and Draco quickly asks, “Three?” He tries to remember how many names have popped up in the conversations he’s overheard Weasley have with Potter, but Weasley’s siblings all have children and all the children seem to be fairly close in age and Draco’s never paid close enough attention to be able to sort out who belongs to whom. He’d thought there were only two children in the pictures on Weasley’s side of their shared office, but they’ve all got red hair and all children below a certain age look the same to him, anyhow. “There’s not more than that, is there?”

“Two,” Weasley says tersely.

He looks genuinely annoyed, and Draco has no idea why until it comes back to him in a rush how often he’d made fun of Weasley’s parents at Hogwarts for having too many children and not enough money to spend on them.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” Draco huffs. “I wasn’t trying to insult you so kindly untwist your knickers. I was trying to make smalltalk. You’re a parent and parents love talking about their children, don’t they? I just hate sitting here in silence and I figured if I could get you talking it’d be less awkward.”

And really, he has no idea why he’d bothered. As much as Pansy seems to think that if he gives it time he’ll settle in and everyone will be friends, that’s not going to happen. There’s too much history clouding up their interactions. It’ll never be that easy, will it? He thinks of Potter and Weasley yesterday, smiling and relaxed as they joked with each other about Potter’s rude acronyms. How had Draco thought even for a moment he’d be part of that?

“Rose,” Weasley says, and Draco looks up.

“What?”

“Rose,” he repeats. “She’s the oldest. Smart as a whip, too. Takes after her mum, of course. She’s six. And Hugo just turned four. He’s a handful. Probably wouldn’t be half so bad if Harry didn’t spoil him rotten, but now that Teddy’s off at Hogwarts it’s like he can’t stop himself.”

“Teddy?” Draco asks. His voice comes out oddly choked, but surely it can’t be what it sounds like. He’d have heard if the Chosen One had a child. Wouldn’t he?

“Harry’s godson,” Weasley explains, and Draco can breathe again.

Not that he’s got anything against Potter being a parent. He’d probably be an amazing father. But being a father means there’s a mother somewhere in the picture, and even though there’s no ring on Potter’s finger, the idea of him involved with someone else made Draco feel like he’d been kicked in the chest. He might still be involved with someone, Draco realises a second later. He hasn’t mentioned anyone special in his life, but they’re not exactly friends, are they, so why would he tell Draco?

Pansy. Pansy would have mentioned it. Draco grasps this idea with both hands and holds on like he’s drowning. She would have told him. She knows he’s lusting after Potter, and she knows how jealous Draco can be. She’s even tried to hint that there’s more to Draco’s feelings, and she certainly wouldn’t do that if Potter’s unavailable. Right?

“Remus and Tonks’ boy,” Weasley’s saying, and Draco tries to focus.

“That’d make him my…” he trails off, working through the family tree.

“First cousin once removed,” Weasley says without missing a beat. He quirks a smile at Draco. “I’m pretty good with working out family connections, as you can imagine.”

Draco, who’d never been in contact with enough of his extended family to ever bother learning, nods. “Of course,” he says.

Weasley goes on for a while, talking about his children and the ridiculous things they do. There’s a wide supporting cast for their adventures: his wife, his parents, his siblings, his impressive array of nieces and nephews. And of course Potter. Draco tries to ignore how those ones always hold his interest more than the rest.

The conversation tentatively branches out from there. From his children he moves on to Granger, who’s risen to the illustrious position of Senior Healer—the second youngest in St Mungo’s history, Weasley can’t resist bragging, and with good reason; Draco finds himself grudgingly impressed—and then to Granger and Potter, then to Potter and Pansy. Turns out Weasley finds the whole Pots and Pans thing just as appalling as Draco does. He talks a bit more about Potter, and Draco shares a few childhood stories about Pansy. He makes sure they’re really embarrassing ones, to make up for the ones she’s undoubtedly shared about him.

Their conversation tapers off around midnight, and still no one’s entered or exited the shop they’re watching.

“Hungry?” Draco asks.

“Yeah, did you bring anything?”

Draco pulls out his supper, and Weasley digs in his own bag and pulls out a container. Opens up the container and groans.

“Hermione,” he sighs, showing Draco his supper of a plain baked chicken breast, wild rice, and green beans. “She’s got it into her head that I need to eat more healthy.” He shakes his head dejectedly. “And yeah, maybe I could’ve stood to eat fish and chips a little less often, but Merlin. That woman gets an idea and runs full-tilt with it. Never does anything by halves.”

That’s precisely what makes Granger so formidable, Draco thinks but doesn’t say. From the way Weasley’s tone is half-fond even through his complaining, Draco suspects he feels the same.

“Here,” he says instead, sitting the wax paper packet of sandwiches between them. “I brought more than enough. These are jam, and these are ham and swiss.” He picks a jam one for himself and takes a bite, swallows, and adds, “I’m not sharing my tea, though.”

Weasley toasts him with his own thermos and takes a ham sandwich. “Cheers.”

He looks amused, and Draco really doesn’t see anything at all amusing about sandwiches. “What?” he asks. “You’re looking at me oddly.”

“Nothing, nothing,” Wealsey says, biting into ham and cheese, then adds, speaking through his mouthful, “It’s just rather common, isn’t it? For you?”

“They’re sandwiches,” Draco says. “Everyone eats sandwiches.”

Weasley laughs. “Yeah, but since when are Malfoys everybody? Thought you lot were always too good for things like sandwiches.”

“What, you think I should be hauling around a five-course meal on a stakeout? Should I have packed the fine china and the good silver as well?”

Weasley snorts. “Wouldn’t put it past you, actually.”

“I have cake, too,” Draco says. “And I was going to offer you some, but just for that I don’t think I will.”

“I’d commit murder for cake,” Weasley says.

“And then I’d be forced to arrest you,” Draco points out. “I’m an Auror, you are aware.”

“You wouldn’t be able to arrest me,” Weasley says reasonably. “I’d have murdered you for cake.” He takes another bite of his sandwich, mumbles through his mouthful, “It’d be worth it, too. Nobody’s too good for cake.”

They finish the sandwiches, and Draco ends up sharing the cake just so he doesn’t have to put up with Weasley sulking and eyeing him like a crup begging for scraps.

“You know,” Weasley says when he’s finished, brushing crumbs from his hands. “You’re not such a wanker.” He glances at Draco and adds, “That’s a compliment.”

“A compliment like that, I can see where you’d need to clarify,” Draco grumbles, but inwardly he’s pleased. Apparently all it takes to win Weasley over is illicit baked goods. Not that they’re anything like friends, but in the middle of poking a bit of fun at Draco, Weasley appears to have forgotten to watch him like he expects the next word out of Draco’s mouth to be Mudblood. That’s a start.

Weasley starts to say something else, but a flash of light across the street catches their attention and instantly both of them are all business. The light above the shop door has just turned on.

Draco checks his watch. It’s just past midnight, as their tip had said, and from there they don’t have to wait long. The stream of men and women going into and out of the shop is thin but steady. Weasley snaps pictures with the camera, and Draco notes the time in his notepad.

After about an hour, the stream of customers slows, until twenty minutes go by without incident. Draco’s tired of waiting.

“I should go in,” he says, standing up and stretching the knots from his spine. “Find out exactly what’s going on.”

“What? No!” Weasley protests, scrambling to his feet. “We’re not approved for that. This is reconnaissance only, Malfoy.”

Draco looks at Weasley, lifts his eyebrows a fraction. “That’s what I’m doing. I’m just getting a closer look.”

Weasley doesn’t back down. “No,” he says again.

“It’ll be fine—” Draco begins, and Weasley flinches, actually flinches, when he says it. “All right. What’s going on here? This is about more than me bending a few rules. Because you know if we went into the Ministry right now and filed the right paperwork, I’d have no trouble at all getting approval to go in there.”

Weasley looks conflicted. Opens his mouth, draws breath like he’s going to speak, then lets it out on a sigh. “Look,” he says at last. “Harry and I used to be partners. And he’s… well, you know how he is. He didn’t always follow the proper channels, and I went along with it because he was good at what he did. And, bloody hell, he’s the Boy Who Lived, you know?” Weasley scrubs a hand through his hair. “We never thought anything would happen.”

Draco has a fairly good guess what happened next, but he keeps his mouth shut in the hopes that Weasley might give him the details Pansy held back. However, when long seconds tick past without Weasley saying another word, he prods, “What was the case you were working?”

It works to get him talking. “It was a little like this one, actually,” Weasley says. “St Mungo’s started getting cases of patients who’d been dosed with a mind-control potion. Basically it was Imperio in liquid form, but there were some nasty side effects, and the formula kept changing. Harry and I were after them for months, and the case broke when we were on a routine surveillance assignment.”

He goes silent again, and this time Draco waits him out.

“We broke procedure,” Weasley says. “We went in without waiting for backup. Harry was sure we could handle it, thought we didn’t have time to wait. And it nearly got him killed.” His eyes flicker to Draco before fixing back on the shop door. “I’m not taking any risks like that again. We don’t know what’s in there. You could be hurt.”

“Why, Weasel,” Draco says blandly, covering his disappointment that Weasley didn’t say exactly what happened to Potter. “I had no idea you cared.”

It takes a moment, but Weasley cracks a smile. A little faint around the edges, but still a smile. He cuffs Draco’s shoulder. “Shut up, Ferret. I just don’t want to deal with the paperwork you’d make by getting yourself hexed.”

A small part of Draco is irritated that Weasley’s smacked him, but he’s seen him do the same thing to Potter enough times over the last week to recognise it for the gesture it is. Apparently Weasley’s the sort of oaf who sees light punching as a valid expression of manly affection. Draco rolls his eyes. But he lets it be.

“Monday,” he says instead. “We’ll file the paperwork on Monday. I want to see what’s going on in there.”

Weasley nods, and they settle back down for the rest of their watch.

- - - - -

Draco peers through the magnifying glass as he carefully unscrews two delicate parts and lays them flat on his worktable, then leans over them and tugs his goggles down into place. The world around him flares bright with colour, the brightest of which is a steady bluish-white glow coming from himself, but Draco focuses on the two small cogs. These goggles—another of his inventions—let him inspect the delicate spellwork laid into his device. These two pieces appear to be functioning perfectly, so he sets them aside and pushes the goggles back up his forehead, pauses and blinks a few times to clear the spots dancing before his eyes. The Ministry is crawling with magic, and it’s all so intense it gives him a headache to look at for too long. He leans back over the magnifying glass and strips another set of gears free of the mechanism, tugs the goggles back down into place to inspect them.

The door opens and Draco makes the mistake of looking up, because the person who’s just walked in is powerful-as-fuck. The glare of colour is nearly blinding, bright white and gold and—he squints—dark. There’s some nasty Dark Magic twisting throughout him, shifting and pulsing, a larger blot of it concentrated in the intruder’s left leg, but it twists throughout his entire body in curling veins of black and grey.

He pushes the goggles back up his forehead, and Potter snaps sharply into focus.

“What’s that?” Potter asks in lieu of a greeting because he’s a mannerless git. He gestures to the disassembled device as he steps fully into the room and lets the door fall shut behind him.

It forms a sphere when it’s properly assembled, but currently its copper casing is cracked open in three parts, its clockwork insides spread over most of Draco’s worktable. “Well, it’s supposed to penetrate even the heaviest wards.” He heaves a sigh. “But so far all it does is explode.”

Potter huffs a soft laugh. “I take it it’s not supposed to do that?”

“Not in the slightest,” Draco says. He’s dying to ask about the darkness he saw in Potter’s magic. As it’s concentrated most strongly in the leg Potter favours, he assumes it has something to do with the injury that had taken him out of the field. From the way no one will talk about it, Draco had assumed Potter had taken a very dark curse, but he had no idea its effects were still so very much present.

“What do you call it?” Potter asks, leaning over the worktable for a better look at the parts.

“Haven’t come up with a name for it yet,” Draco says. He strips off his gloves and drops them onto the table, pulls the goggles off and tosses them on top.

Potter glances up at him, eyes sparkling mischievously. “Need help coming up with one?”

“Merlin, no,” Draco says. “You’ll probably want to call it something that spells out arse.”

“I was thinking wank, actually,” Potter admits. “You know, to get ‘wards’ in there.”

“I thought K was a tough letter,” Draco points out.

Potter gives him a cheeky grin. “I’m nothing if not determined. I’m sure I could come up with something.”

Draco finds himself smiling back, and forces himself to stop. “Did you need something or were you just stopping by to bother me?”

“Just bothering you,” Potter says, reaching across the table to snag Draco’s goggles. “Peterson was being an arse again so I set them all to running laps. They’ll be at it for a while.”

Draco raises an eyebrow and casually tucks his left arm behind his back as Potter loops the strap around his head. “And you left them unsupervised?”

“Williams is a tattle-tale. He’ll tell me the minute I come back if anyone skives off.” He carefully settles the goggles over his glasses, and moves his head in a slow turn to look around the room. “Whoa.”

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Draco says mildly. Inwardly, he’s a bit enchanted by Potter’s reaction. There are drawbacks to witches and wizards being raised as Muggles, but respect for magic is not one of them, and the sheer reverence in Potter’s voice brings a smile to Draco’s face. Despite living in the magical world for nearly two decades, there will always be a part of Potter that’s occasionally struck speechless by magic, able to find a joy and wonder in it that Draco, raised as a pureblood, will never match.

It’s a shame it took two decades and a move across the ocean for Draco to pull his head out of his arse and realise that.

“Is this… Am I seeing magic?” Potter asks, voice hushed with awe. He looks at Draco then. “That’s you? That’s your magic I’m seeing?”

“Yes,” Draco says. He feels more vulnerable than ever before, cracked open and stripped bare and entirely on display. Draco’s magic is everything he is, and Potter looking at it feels almost unbearable in its intimacy.

With some difficulty, Draco does his best to set that feeling aside because he knows watching how someone’s magic works as they cast is bloody fascinating. When he’d perfected the goggles, he’d spent half an hour in front of a mirror, casting spells and watching his magic work. That was how he’d learned that too long in the goggles at once gives him a hell of a headache. Still, it’s bloody fascinating.

“Many of the spells I use are delicate and I layer dozens of them over the same components,” he explains. “The goggles allow me to see how they all interact. But cast spells… Watch me, now. Accio pliers!”

Potter gasps as Draco neatly catches the pliers that come hurtling out of his toolbox. “Do it again,” he says.

Accio wire cutters,” Draco says, trying consciously to slow it down for Potter’s benefit.

If he concentrates, he can feel it working, and he knows exactly what Potter’s seeing, has watched it in himself often enough to picture it flawlessly in his mind. Draco’s magic gathers into his core when he begins to cast, pulsing deep through his belly and chest, flaring brightly there as his arms and legs go temporarily dim. It throbs as he completes the spell, rushing up through his shoulder and down through his arm, his wand flashing bright as ten inches of hawthorn and unicorn hair focus his magic into intent. Accio is always a bright yellow-gold explosion of fine filaments spiralling toward the target, weaving around it lightning-quick and pulling it back to Draco.

The wire cutters come sailing across the room, and he catches those too.

“And you invented these? This is seriously the coolest—” Potter’s reaching out to pick up one of the gears from the worktable, the one that’s sparkling red and gold and blue in a vaguely paisley-ish pattern, if Draco recalls correctly, when he freezes.

He moves his hand, turning it palm-up and staring at it, then slowly looks down at the rest of himself. Draco can tell the exact moment Potter notices that the darkness throughout his body stems from the injury to his leg. His breath hitches and he flinches back, like he can get away from it.

“Potter,” Draco says, calling his attention, and lets his left arm fall to his side. Potter looks up, and Draco knows he sees the Mark, the skull and snake a black blot against the brightness of Draco’s magic, the twisted tendrils sprouting from it and coiled through his arm like tree roots, curled tight from wrist to elbow in strands of faded grey.

Draco meant it to be reassuring, comforting that Potter’s not the only one who’s got darkness in him, but Potter reacts violently, yanks the goggles off so fast he knocks his glasses loose. He manages to catch them, tosses the goggles onto the table, and fumbles the glasses back onto his face.

For a long moment they stare at each other. Then Potter swallows. Takes a deep breath. Says, “I, er, should probably be getting back to check on my class.”

“All right,” Draco says.

Potter nods to him and practically flees the room.

And Draco has no idea what to do other than let him go.

Chapter Text

The paperwork requesting permission for Draco to go undercover passes through without incident, and on Monday evening they again Apparate to the narrow street just outside of Diagon. Weasley’s dressed warmly in a bright orange hat and matching scarf that do extremely unflattering things for his complexion. Draco’s dressed all in black for his part, his robes of very fine quality. He knows he looks every inch the haughty pureblood, and between that, his name, and the Mark on his arm, his patronage in the shop shouldn’t be questioned.

When they watched the shop on Friday night, the light outside had remained on for precisely two hours, which happened exactly as their tip said it would. It was busiest just after midnight, with business slowing considerably after one. So to miss most of the other customers, tonight they’ve come late. There’s only fifteen minutes until it closes for the night.

Draco’s job is simple: he’s to go inside and make contact with the proprietor, buy something as illegal as he can get away with, and then leave.

Simple, straightforward, not a whole hell of a lot that can go wrong. Draco’s been doing this sort of thing for years. None of that has stopped Weasley from fussing over him like a nervous mother sending her baby off to school for the first time.

“I’ve read the same intel you have,” Draco interrupts when Weasley launches into yet another recitation of the case particulars. “And even if I hadn’t, you’ve already covered it three times. Believe it or not, I’m good at my job.”

“Untwist your knickers, Malfoy,” Weasley says, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “I’m sure you’re perfectly capable, they wouldn’t have gone through all the fuss of getting you back here anyhow. But we’ve never worked together before and I’m not going in there with you to watch your back. I may think you’re a git, but you’re a git who’s my partner, you know?”

This is a man who’d watched his best friend nearly killed in front of him on a raid gone bad, Draco reminds himself.

“Untwist your knickers, Weasley,” he says. “I’ll be fine.”

Weasley nods tightly, and Draco takes pity on him. His Bugs aren’t technically approved yet, but this isn’t for anything more than Weasley’s peace of mind. He reaches into his pocket for the set he carries with him and clicks one before tucking it under his collar, the little metal feet itch faintly as the Sticking Charms activate. Clicks the other and holds it out to Weasley.

“Put that in your ear,” he says.

Weasley moves to take it, then recoils when he notices what he’s reaching for. “That’s a bug.” He shakes his head. “Sorry, I don’t do insects. Spiders and things, ugh.” He gives an exaggerated shudder.

Draco sighs, exasperated. “There’s so much wrong with that I almost don’t know where to begin. First, spiders aren’t insects, they’re arachnids. Second, this is clockwork and spells, it’s not real. Third, it’s a ladybug, are you honestly telling me you’re afraid of ladybugs? Fourth, just put the damned thing in your ear.”

“I’m not afraid of ladybugs,” Weasley says, sounds sulky as all fuck about it, but he does take the Bug from Draco. “I just don’t like them. And I certainly don’t want one in my ear.” He holds it up to his face, squinting at it. “This is really clockwork?”

“It’s the same thing you saw me working on when you and Potter stopped by my lab on Friday, only with the Shrinking Charms activated.”

The look Weasley gives Draco says very plainly that he doesn’t want to do this, but he gamely puts the Bug in his ear, jerking his head when it tickles its way inside. Then he blinks and pokes a finger at his ear when the Numbing Charm activates.

Draco slaps his hand away. “Don’t do that,” he says. “Can you hear me?”

“Yeah,” Weasley says, a slow smile dawning. “This is brilliant, Malfoy.”

“I know,” Draco says. “Now that you’ll be able to hear exactly what’s going on, will you calm the fuck down?”

Weasley nods. “I’d feel even better if we had a code word for if you get into trouble and need me to come rescue your arse.” He smiles again, and Draco doesn’t like the look of it. It’s the same smile Potter gets when he’s about to say something particularly arsehole-ish. “What about a code phrase? ‘My father will hear about this,’ perhaps?”

“How about ‘fuck you’?” Draco shoots back. Then he turns in a swish of dark robes and strides across the street.

Weasley’s crack about his father has irritated Draco, but he embraces that irritation. Lets it remind him of the person he used to be. He needs that person right now.

He falls more into character with every step. It’s been a while since he’s played the spoiled pureblood scion dabbling in dark arts, but it’s a role he’s comfortable with. He straightens his posture, keeps his strides long and his steps clipped. Hardens his expression and tips his chin up an imperious fraction as he pushes through the door and steps inside.

One seller of questionable artefacts looks remarkably like another, but this inside of this shop is a little too close to Borgin and Burke’s for Draco’s peace of mind. There’s even an iron maiden propped up in one corner. The rest of the shop is taken up with cluttered shelves and crowded display cases, but Draco barely spares those a glance. The sort of merchandise he’s after won’t be kept out in the open. Still, he takes his time as he approaches the desk, tugging his gloves off one at a time to tuck into his pockets and ostentatiously looking around.

“May I help you?”

Draco turns his attention to the wizard behind the counter, a tall and thin man with brown hair and the greenest eyes Draco’s seen this side of the Boy Who Lived. Draco recognises him instantly from his case files. Alexander Tielman, three arrests for trafficking in illegals—one for potions ingredients and two for dark artefacts—but never anything serious enough to earn him time in Azkaban. He’d served a total of ten months of community service and then (presumably) gone right back to what he’d been doing. No known criminal associations, including Death Eaters. In fact, like Draco, Tielman had left the country during the War. He’d stayed out until after the post-War crackdown on Knockturn Alley, then waltzed right in and set up shop in the void that remained.

“I certainly hope so,” Draco says, letting his lip curl up in the barest fraction of distaste. “I am interested in some, how should I say, more difficult to acquire ingredients.”

“Might have what you’re looking for,” Tielman says slowly, looking Draco up and down. “But I’m always far more inclined to help friends, and we haven’t even been introduced.”

“Malfoy,” Draco says shortly. “And your surname?”

He can see the instant Tielman clocks him as a typical pureblood, more interested in power than the law, and Draco inwardly breathes a sigh of relief. Weasley had been concerned about Draco using his real identity for this, but Draco had argued it’d be a calculated risk. He’d be more likely to get information using the weight of his family’s prominent history. It’s not common knowledge that he’s even returned to England, let alone become an Auror. And anyhow, even if he’s made as an Auror, the worst that will happen is Tielman will refuse to sell anything to him, and Draco will come back tomorrow under polyjuice.

“Tielman,” he says. “You wouldn’t happen to be Lucius’ boy, would you?”

Draco looks down his nose at the man. “Lucius is my father, yes.”

Tielman nods. “He was an associate of my uncle’s. He owned a shop in Knockturn back in the 80s. I used to help out during the summers I was home from Hogwarts.”

“Rackham & Stalworth,” Draco supplies as a dim childhood memory comes floating up out of the depths of his mind, of a dusty shop and a big man with lots of dark hair and being boredboredbored as Lucius took ages to interrogate Tielman’s uncle regarding every last detail of his purchase. “Yes, I remember. My father was an occasional patron of your uncle’s shop.” He racks his brain for details, comes up with a few more. “He was well-known for the quality of his Hands of Glory, if I’m not mistaken.”

Tielman breaks into a wide smile, and Draco knows he’s got him. “Right, right. He used to pickle them himself. Didn’t trust anything to be done right if he didn’t do it himself, my uncle. Taught me everything I know.”

“That’s excellent news,” Draco says, allowing his haughty expression to ease the barest fraction. “It gives me great confidence that your merchandise will be held to a similar standard of quality.”

“Only the best,” Tielman assures him. “What is it you’re looking for?”

“Several things,” Draco says, producing a list from his pocket with a flourish. He passes the folded sheet of paper over the counter. “If you don’t mind.”

Tielman takes the list and scans over it, nodded distractedly to himself as he reads. “I believe I’ll be able to help you with all but one of these. The unicorn blood I’ll have to special order for you, but I can have it by—”

“Don’t bother,” Draco snaps quickly. “I need it by tonight.” Trafficking in unicorn’s blood is a more serious offence than anything Tielman’s been booked on so far, but Draco’s unwilling to have a unicorn killed just to get him on it.

Tielman hums, then produces a stub of pencil from his pocket. “I don’t like to send customers to my competition, but this is a man who may be able to help you,” he says, jotting down an address on the bottom of Draco’s list. “He’s not as careful about quality as I am, mind you, but if you need it in a hurry he might have something on hand.” He starts to set the pencil aside, then mutters, “Bugger,” and takes it up again, crosses out part of what he’d written and scribbles something else. “Sorry, the shop changed hands recently and they’ve renamed it. Used to be Albridge’s Antiques and now it’s Campbell & Collins. I’ll be right back with your things.” He tucks the pencil stub back into his pocket.

Draco inclines his head. “I appreciate that.”

He browses through the shop while Tielman disappears into the back room to gather Draco’s ingredients for him. As he’d suspected, though he spots a few items of shady origin on the shelves and in the display cases, there’s nothing outright illegal in plain sight. Tielman returns promptly with a paper sack in hand, and he sets it on the counter while Draco counts out twenty-seven galleons and six sickles. He ought to have Tielman brought up on charges of robbery as well, he thinks to himself as he hands over the coins. What he’s bought shouldn’t have cost more than twenty.

Draco takes his bag and his note with the address scrawled on the bottom, wishes the man a pleasant evening, and leaves.

He knows the chances of being followed are slim, but he walks for about five minutes before he signals to Weasley, steps into a shadowy doorway, and Disapparates. Draco makes it back to the office shortly before Weasley.

“That’s the stuff?” Weasley asks as soon as he walks in, gesturing to the paper sack Draco’s carrying.

“Everything except the unicorn blood,” Draco tells him, dumping the bag on Weasley’s desk. “However, Mr Tielman was kind enough to point me at an associate of his who may have some in stock.” He slaps the paper down on his desk.

Campbell & Collins,” Weasley reads aloud. “I’ve never heard of them, and I’ve been wading through documentation of illegal shops all week. Good work, Malfoy, McPhee will be over the moon to have a new shop to investigate.”

Draco sighs. McPhee is the self-appointed head of all things illegal potion-related, and does such a fantastic job coordinating and managing it that no one’s tried to make him stop. “That man. I’ve never seen anyone get so excited about illegal potions. He’s like a child on Christmas morning.”

“How do I…?” Weasley asks, poking at his ear.

“Tilt your head to the side and thump your temple,” Draco tells him.

Weasley does as he’s told and the Bug falls onto the desk. Draco removes his own as well, clicks them both to deactivate them, and slips them back into his pocket. He glances at the clock. Not quite two, and he’s still feeling keyed up from his undercover work, uneventful though it may have been. He’s surprised to discover how much he’s missed routine fieldwork.

He’s about to suggest they get their report written and submitted before they call it a night, but Weasley yawns hugely.

“I’d best be off,” Weasley says. “Hermione’s got an early day tomorrow and she always insists on waiting up for me when I work nights.”

A pang of unexpected envy swells behind Draco’s ribs. It’s been so long since he’s had anyone to go home to. Only one of his relationships had got serious enough for them to move in together, and that’d ended more than four years ago. It’d been nice, though, spending late nights on the job and coming home to a light left on for him. To know that someone had been thinking of him, that he was cared for and missed when he wasn’t around.

“Right, of course,” he says and flaps a hand in Weasley’s direction. “Go on, then. I’m just going to jot down a few details before I head home.”

Weasley gives him a nod. “Night, Malfoy.”

“Goodnight,” Draco says, settling in behind his desk.

He pulls out a fresh sheet of parchment and inks up a quill, and tries not to think of the fact that the only one waiting for him at home is Lucy.

- - - - -

Potter comes to find him the next day. It’s probably not a coincidence that he shows up just as Weasley leaves for lunch. Draco’s elected to eat at his desk today because he has a meeting tomorrow morning so he’s trying to get ahead with his casework. The canteen at the Ministry is about what he’d expect as far as food quality goes, but he’d taken the risk because it’s difficult to screw up a cheese toastie and tomato soup. And besides, it’s cold and drizzly today outside. It’s the perfect day for soup and a hot sandwich.

He’s just taken a big bite of his cheese toastie when the door opens and Potter pokes his head in. “Hey.”

Draco tosses his sandwich back on the plate and swipes at his mouth with the back of his hand to wipe the crumbs from his lips. “Potter,” he says, swallowing quickly and washing it down with a hurried gulp of tea.

“Er, hey,” Potter says again. He shuts the door after himself and sits on Weasley’s desk. His limp is more pronounced, and Draco wonders if it’s got something to do with the weather.

He notices Potter looking askance at his plate. “What?”

“Nothing, just. I dunno, I never thought you’d eat something so pedestrian.”

Draco rolls his eyes. “I beg your pardon, oh Saviour. I tend to save the champagne and caviar for the weekend.”

Potter shrugs. “It’s just weird, is all. Like finding out the Prime Minister eats jam sandwiches or something.”

Draco, who sees absolutely nothing wrong with jam sandwiches, gives Potter a frown. “And why’s that?”

“I don’t know, it’s just not the sort of thing I thought you’d eat, is all.”

“Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the things I eat?” Draco asks. He’s having a hard time working out where Potter’s going with all this.

“No, just… Look, forget it,” Potter says. He’s getting all flustered and Draco has no idea why. “I just came by to say that some of us were going out tonight, if you wanted to come along.”

“Who’s some of you?”

“Me, Pans, Ron, maybe Hermione if Molly can watch the kids tonight. Probably Luna. Ginny and Dean for sure, and Neville might, if he can get away from work. I think Blaise is out of the country again. He travels a lot.”

“Blaise?” Draco echoes, not sure why he’s surprised that Potter’s apparently friends with him too.

“He’s nice,” Potter says, just a bit defensive.

‘Nice’ is not a word Draco would ever apply to Blaise Zabini, but at this point he just lets it go because he doesn’t think pointing it out will do any good. And anyhow, he’s still trying to unravel the mystery of what Potter’s doing in his office. Inviting him out, it would seem, but there’s no reason Potter couldn’t have waited until Draco joined him down in Tactical Spellwork this afternoon to tell him this. But he goes along with it.

“You’re all going out on a Tuesday?” he asks.

“Pansy,” Potter says, like that explains everything.

And to be fair, it pretty much does.

“Pansy,” Draco agrees. “Well, I’m not doing anything else so why not?”

“Great,” Potter says. Then again, “Great.”

He makes no move to leave, and Draco sips tea, scratches a few notes into the margins of his paperwork, and waits him out.

“Look, about yesterday,” Potter says at last. “About what you saw in me, that dark stuff. I just…”

Draco discovers, to his dismay, that at some point his conscience has grown larger than his curiosity. Potter looks miserable, like he’d rather be anywhere but here, rather be doing anything else but trying to explain himself to Draco. But he’s determinedly going forward with it anyhow, for reasons Draco doesn’t quite understand. If it were him, he’d likely pretend it’d never happened.

“Well,” Potter continues. “The thing is…”

“Potter,” Draco cuts in. Otherwise they’ll be here all day, at the rate he’s going. “What I saw yesterday was none of my business. I didn’t mean to see it, you didn’t mean to show me, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s that.” He picks up his teacup just for something to do with his hands. “What time is everyone meeting up tonight?”

“Right after work,” Potter says, throwing himself into the change in topic with a desperate sort of enthusiasm. “The Oak and Acorn. I’ve never been but Pans likes to try new places. It should be a bit quieter than the last place we went, probably. Fucked if I can remember what that one’s called.”

“It doesn’t matter. It was rather obnoxious, wasn’t it?” Draco says.

Potter smiles, half of his mouth lifting higher than the other so it’s charmingly crooked. “Yeah. I’m not much for clubs, but Pans likes to dance.”

Draco hums. “I’m not much for them either, truth be told. I got all that out of my system years ago.”

They talk for a bit more about Pansy and the different places she’s dragged Potter to over the years, and by the time he finally leaves, he appears far more relaxed than he was when he’d come in. When the door shuts behind him, Draco turns his attention back to his paperwork and his lunch. Thinking of Potter’s endearingly crooked smile, he doesn’t even notice that his soup’s gone cold.

- - - - -

Class that afternoon goes smoothly. It’s theoretical rather than practical, to Draco’s relief. Duelling is strenuous at the best of times, but the way Potter runs his class is downright exhausting. Draco ends more days sore and sweaty than he really prefers, but the locker room is just down the hall and the showers are hot so he supposes he can’t complain too much.

He doesn’t need them today, though. Potter has the trainees run through some staged duels against a row of targets while he grades them on technique, scribbling notes down into a small book, and then has them finish up their class by running laps. Draco offers to clear up the mats and targets because Potter’s limp has grown worrisome. He doesn’t point it out, of course, but he shoos Potter off to his small office to get ahead on his marking, and Potter must be in pain by then because he does as Draco suggests without a word of protest.

Draco takes his time piling the mats against the far corner and pushing the targets into a neat row against the wall. Then he heads down the hall to his lab where he keeps several changes of clothing, locks the door, strips off his robes, and redresses in trousers and a warm wool jumper. The pub sounded Muggle when Potter spoke of it earlier. Draco digs in a drawer, comes up with a hat and gloves but no scarf. When he’s lingered as long as he’s able to without making it entirely obvious he’s giving Potter as long as possible to be off his feet, he ambles over to his office.

It’s even smaller a room as Draco’s lab had been when he’d taken possession of it, but unlike Draco, Potter hasn’t bothered with Expansion Charms. The room is just big enough for Potter’s desk and chair, and two large filing cabinets.

Draco leans in and taps on the open door. “Ready when you are.”

They go down to the Atrium and approach the nearest Floo.

“I need to stop by my place to change,” Potter says. “Do you know where the Oak and Acorn is?”

Draco shakes his head. “No, sorry.”

“Oh,” Potter says. He leans against the Floo, cocks his hip to take the weight off his bad leg. “If you don’t mind a bit of waiting, you can come to my place with me and then we can Apparate together from there.”

“Sure,” Draco says, trying his best to tamp down on the thrill that he’s about to see where Potter lives.

“Great,” Potter says with a smile as he pushes upright and takes a handful of Floo powder. “It’s Harry Potter’s flat. Speaking of, did you ever get your address straightened out?”

“No,” Draco sighs and wrinkles his nose. “I’m currently at Dorko Morfloy’s flat, but I’ve another appointment tomorrow morning. I’m optimistic.”

“Dorko?” Potter repeats with a laugh. “Don’t tell Pans, she’ll never let you hear the end of it.”

He tosses in his handful of powder and disappears in a whoosh of green flame. Draco takes his own handful and follows him in.

Draco steps out of Potter’s Floo and into his entryway. Like Draco’s flat, Potter’s home appears to be a blend of wizarding and Muggle. Unlike Draco’s, Potter’s home also appears to be an odd mishmash of styles, flatpack bookshelves sitting beside an antique sofa. Fine paintings hung on the walls next to childish fingerpaintings. A brightly polka-dotted rug spread over the polished oak floorboards and—

Dear Merlin. There’s a troll’s foot umbrella stand just beside the Floo, made all the more garish by the sparkly pink varnish on its toenails. Where the fuck did Potter get that and why did he think it was a good idea?

“That’s, er, quite unusual,” Draco says when Potter catches him staring.

“Rose likes to decorate,” Potter explains. “Ron and Hermione’s girl. She’s six.”

Draco remembers Weasley mentioning an obsession with all things sparkly and pink. That still doesn’t explain why Potter’s got a troll’s foot for an umbrella stand in the first place.

Best not to ask, probably.

“I’ll just be a minute,” Potter says, leading the way into the living room. “You can wait in here, if you don’t mind.”

There’s a flash of movement from near the window, and Draco turns to see a barn owl peering back at him from its perch.

“That’s Wally,” Potter says.

Wally lets out a blood-curdling scream and Draco starts.

Potter laughs. “Yeah, and that’s how he got his name.”

Ears still ringing, Draco blinks at him. “What?”

“Wally’s short for…” Potter steps over to a curtain hanging on the wall and whips it open. “Walburga.”

“FILTH! UNWORTHY PEASANTS! VILE INTERLOPERS AND PERVADERS OF THE NOBLE AND MOST ANCIENT—” Her voice cuts off abruptly as Potter yanks the curtain back into place.

“Silencing Charms,” he explains. “Lots and lots of Silencing Charms.”

“I see,” says Draco, giving Wally a glance before looking back to the curtain. He reaches out and lifts the corner.

“—TURNING OVER IN THEIR GRAVES WITH A BLOOD-TRAITOR NOW LIVING IN—”

Draco drops the corner and her voice cuts off again.

“Right,” he says, giving Wally another glance. “I see the resemblance. May I ask why you even keep her around in the first place?”

Potter shrugs. “Ron and I turned her into a drinking game a while back. The words ‘unworthy,’ ‘freaks,’ ‘filth,’ ‘dishonour,’ and ‘scum,’ are all one shot. ‘Mudblood’ and ‘blood-traitors’ are two, and anytime she says ‘the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’ is three. If you can guess what she’s going to say before she says it, the other person has to finish their drink.”

Draco has no idea what he feels. It’s an odd mix of revulsion, amusement, and sheer disbelief. But whatever it is must have shown on his face because Potter gives a sheepish shrug. Draco reviews what Potter had explained, goes over what Walburga had said, runs the numbers and comes up with a startlingly high number of drinks in a very short time.

“How have you not died playing this game?”

Potter snorts. “Yeah, we’re never able to play it for very long at a time.”

“I…” Draco shakes his head. “I honestly don’t know what to say to that.”

“We call it The Noble and Most Ancient Game of Drinks,” Potter says.

Draco blinks at him.

“Toujours saoûls,” Potter adds with a grin. “Always sozzled. Because that’s what happens when we play.”

Wally shrieks again, fluffs his feathers, and shrieks a third time.

“Coming, coming,” Potter says as Draco rubs his ears. He crosses to the window and opens it, and Wally hops onto the windowsill and launches himself off into the night in a matter of seconds. Potter closes the window behind him

“Dare I even ask how you ended up with a portrait of my oh-so-charming great-aunt?” Draco asks, possibly against his better judgment but then again it’s not like his judgment has ever been too keen where Potter’s concerned.

“She’s my godfather’s mum. I inherited the Black house. Lived there until a few years ago, actually.” He shrugs. “Ron and I came up with the idea for the game around then, and when I moved, I took her along.” He adjusts the curtain carefully, making sure every inch of the portrait remains covered. “She was stuck to the wall of Grimmauld Place with some sort of irreversible Sticking Charm. We actually had to cut out part of the plaster along with her frame to get her down.”

“Score one for Gryffindor tenacity,” Draco says. He can’t imagine going through that much fuss to have this horrible woman in his home. He remembers meeting her once, shortly before her death. He must’ve been about four or five. She’d scared the shit out of him.

And Potter and his friends had the audacity to turn her into a drinking game.

“Your life,” Draco says, “is so odd.”

Potter laughs. “Yeah, it rather is. That’s one thing you should know about me if we’re going to be friends. My life is not normal, never has been and probably never will be.”

“Are we?” Draco asks, pauses and clears his throat awkwardly. “Friends, I mean.”

Potter thinks for a long moment, then says, “No. But I think we’re getting there.”

“Very well then,” Draco says and puts out his hand. “To getting there.”

And Potter smiles and takes it.

For a long moment they stand there, hands clasped together. Potter’s gaze slips low, pinned to Draco’s mouth, and for one long and terrifying moment Draco is certain that Potter’s going to kiss him. Then the moment breaks. Potter lets go and takes a step back.

“I’ll just be a minute, okay? Make yourself at home,” Potter calls over his shoulder.

He disappears upstairs and Draco takes a seat on Potter’s sofa. His stomach is still fluttering, his mind spinning. Did he imagine it? He wants Potter to kiss him, has been thinking about nothing else since he’s come back. Was he projecting that desire onto Potter?

“Fuck,” he sighs, leaning back and closing his eyes.

A few minutes go by, and Draco looks up to see Potter coming down the stairs, leaning heavily on the banister as he descends. He’s dressed similarly to how he was the first night Draco had seen him, in dark jeans and boots, a dark shirt and that battered leather motorcycle jacket layered on top.

“Ready?” Draco asks as he stands, carefully not looking at Potter and that fucking jacket of his.

“Yeah, just about,” Potter says. “Would you mind if we took my motorcycle, or would you prefer to Apparate?”

Draco gets a vivid mental picture of Potter sitting astride his motorbike. It’s something he’s thought about a lot recently.

“That depends,” Draco says, and is pleased by how light and casual he sounds. “Did you check for fireworks tonight?”

“Geese too,” Potter says with a wink. “Come on, Malfoy. It’ll be fun.”

Well. Fun is definitely one word Draco could apply to the idea of sitting behind Potter on his motorcycle, holding him tight. He can think of loads of others off the top of his head as well. “Sure,” he says. “If you’d like.”

“Great!” Potter says, lighting up. “The pub’s not too far so we won’t have to fly there. Although,” He pauses, looks Draco up and down, “We could if you wanted to.”

“Sure,” Draco says again, and Potter looks even more pleased.

They head for the back door, and Potter digs a plain black hat, a pair of black leather gloves, and a scarf knit in broad stripes of lime green and turquoise and hot pink from the basket of winter accessories beneath the coat rack. Draco pulls on his own hat and gloves, and Potter offers to let him borrow a scarf. Draco hesitates, eyeing the bright one Potter’s got on, and Potter laughs.

“I noticed you didn’t have one so I took the worst one for myself. Molly knit it for me but Rose picked out the colours. Surely this one’s not so bad.”

The scarf Potter holds out to him is a deep burnt orange that reminds Draco of autumn leaves. “Thanks,” he murmurs, winding it around his neck. He didn’t bring a coat, but a strong Warming Charm cast over his jumper and trousers works just as well.

Potter casts over him too, weaving a protective layer of Shielding and Cushioning Charms around Draco to protect him in case of a crash, and Draco does his best to repress the urge to swoon like some silly character in a romance novel at the feel of Potter’s magic winding around him. Potter casts the same spells over himself while Draco recovers his composure, and they head out the door.

Potter leads the way across the back garden and to a small shed, unlocks it and hauls the door open to reveal a gleaming black motorcycle, and a wonderful fantasy of Potter bending him over it springs to life in Draco’s brain. The metal would be cold, Potter’s body so hot as he whispered ‘hold on tight’ and pushed into Draco’s body.

Dear Merlin, this is not the time for that. He shakes off the fantasy, swallows thickly and tugs the hem of his jumper a bit lower because his stupid cock’s gone half-hard. Draco stands aside as Potter rolls his motorcycle out of the shed and locks up behind him. Swings his leg over the bike and starts it up. Gives the engine a rev and grins at Draco.

And the rest of it, all the bits of Potter that inspire all the dirty fantasies are one thing, but that charmingly boyish grin is entirely another. For a moment, Draco can’t breathe. Like his ribs are too small for his lungs. He feels light-headed and too hot and too cold all at once. Because it’s just occurred to him that he could actually fall in love with this man, with his barmy owl and his stupid portrait game, his greying hair and bright eyes and obnoxious sense of humour, his black boots and leather jacket and ridiculous scarf and his enchanted motorcycle, and how despite everything Potter’s gone through in his life, he’s still capable of smiling like that. Draco could fall in love with him and it would be so bloody easy. All he’d have to do is let it happen.

“Malfoy,” Potter calls over the rumbling purr of the bike’s engine. “Are you coming?”

“Yeah,” Draco manages, clears his throat. “Yeah, I am.”

Draco climbs aboard and perches on the seat behind Potter, carefully keeping a bit of distance between his groin and Potter’s arse. Potter reaches back, hooks his hands under Draco’s knees, and hauls him forward so he’s snug up against Potter’s back. Then grabs Draco by his wrists and pulls his arms around him, pressing Draco’s hands flat against his belly. Draco squeezes his eyes shut and tries to think about anything other than the fact that he’s had sex with this man before.

It doesn’t work.

They take off, gentle at first as they bump over the dirt path Potter’s worn across his garden. The kerb is a larger jolt, and then Potter turns them, aims the bike up the alley, and comes to stop, the rumbling engine fading to an idling purr.

“Hold on tight,” Potter says, and what a coincidence, that’s exactly what the Potter of Draco’s fantasy said.

This isn’t helping Draco’s cock, which has taken a definite interest in being so close to Potter’s backside. He tries to scoot back again to put at least a little bit of distance between them, but then Potter revs the engine again and they take off, the motorbike jouncing sharply over the uneven pavement, and then the ride goes suddenly smooth as Potter steers them up into the air. Draco’s hands scrabble at Potter’s jacket and he squeezes tight, feels Potter laugh against him, and then they’re soaring up and up, the houses falling away beneath them and growing smaller by the second. Potter levels off, and Draco lets go of him just long enough to tug the orange scarf up over his nose. It smells like Potter.

“Are you in a hurry to get there?” Potter shouts over his shoulder. “We can fly straight there, or we can take the scenic route if you don’t mind?”

“No, that sounds fine,” Draco says, raising his voice to be heard over the wind rushing in their ears. At this point he doesn’t care if they take a detour to Scotland. He’s entirely in favour of anything that lets him stay up here, alone in the sky with Potter, for as long as possible.

Potter guns the engine and they pick up speed, soaring faster above the city until Draco’s world becomes nothing but bright lights shining through the darkness, the cars and houses and streetlights below, the pinpoints of stars and half moon above. And caught in between are Draco and Potter, the cold air rushing around them, the rumble of the motorcycle. It feels lonely, but in an achingly sweet sort of way. Draco never wants this to end.

They end up hitting all the touristy bits of London. Draco holds Potter tighter as they bank into a gentle turn around Big Ben. He leans forward, letting his cheek brush the supple leather of Potter’s jacket as they curve past the London Eye. When they level off, Draco doesn’t relax his hold, and Potter doesn’t react to it as they glide out over the river.

Potter pats Draco’s hand where it rests on his stomach. “Hold on,” he says again, and that’s all the warning Draco gets before they dive, dropping so low the tyres skim the surface of the Thames, kicking up a rooster-tail of water in their wake.

Potter guides them under the first bridge, the rolling roar of the engine exploding into echoes when they’re caught between steel and cement above and water below, then the sound flattens out as Potter steers them along the river and then up over the next bridge, following the Thames over to Tower Bridge. They soar up into the sky, circle back, skim over the Tower and then take off over the city. Draco loosens his hold on Potter to turn and look back, sees the Thames as a dark ribbon winding through the lights, rapidly fading behind them. He turns forward again and slides his arms around Potter’s waist, resists the urge to rest his cheek against Potter’s shoulder.

When they finally reach the pub, Draco is thoroughly chilled and more than a little giddy. Potter touches down in an alleyway with a small bump and Draco takes this last opportunity to clutch him tightly, then Potter drives out onto the main road and finds a place to park. He guides the motorcycle in between a couple of cars and turns off the engine. In the sudden silence, Draco reluctantly lets go of Potter. His disappointment at that only lasts as long as it takes to get a look at Potter’s face.

“Well? What’d you think?” Potter asks as he dismounts.

“Brilliant,” Draco says, entirely unsure if he’s referring to the ride or to the way Potter’s smiling at him right now. “Absolutely brilliant.”

He didn’t think it possible, but Potter’s smile grows brighter. “Come on,” he says. “They’re probably wondering what’s kept us.”

Potter leads the way to the pub, and they find they’re among the last to arrive.

Draco hates how nervous he feels as he tugs off his gloves and hat, and tucks them into a pocket as he follows Potter across the pub to the back corner where their group has commandeered a couple of tables. He spots Granger and Weasley—the girl one, for the life of him Draco can’t recall her first name—along with Longbottom, Thomas, Lovegood, and a young couple Draco doesn’t recognise.

Potter makes the introductions, for which Draco is grateful even though he knows almost everyone from school. The couple turns out to be not a couple at all, but two of Granger’s colleagues. The man is named Clarke and the woman is Elise, but more importantly, Girl-Weasley’s first name is Ginny. Everyone is very determinedly polite as they shake hands with him, and the last of the good mood from the ride over on Potter’s motorcycle evaporates with the way Thomas pulls his hand back a bit too quickly and how Longbottom won’t quite meet his eye.

The tense moment breaks when Weasley returns to the table with three pint glasses.

“Sorry, mate. You just missed this round,” he says to Potter as he passes drinks to Thomas and Longbottom, the only two at the table without a glass in front of them, and keeps the third for himself. “Malfoy. Glad you could make it tonight.”

“Weasley,” Draco replies with a polite nod. He looks to Potter. “I’ll get us drinks. What do you want?”

“Stout. Whatever’s on tap is fine, I’m not picky,” Potter says.

Draco gives him a nod and makes his escape. Safely on the other side of the room, he leans against the bar and waits for the bartender to finish up with the drinks he’s making for three young women at the end of the bar. He’s still waiting when a commotion goes up from the corner, and he looks back to see that one of the Weasley twins and a young woman Draco vaguely remembers playing Chaser for the Gryffindors have joined the group. Potter leans across the table to clasp her hand, and then the woman says something that makes him laugh.

Potter’s laugh is infectious and smiling is an involuntary reflex which Draco makes himself stop as soon as he realises he’s doing it. Potter’s quiet now, but he’s still smiling. Not as brightly as he was just after their trip here, Draco notes with no small amount of satisfaction. He knows it was probably just the exhilaration of riding a flying motorcycle—and really, if the two of them were any sort of Aurors they ought to arrest themselves for it, Notice-Me-Not Charms or no—but a small corner of Draco can’t resist toying with the possibility that maybe it was him. Potter had Draco over to his home and took him on a brief aerial tour of London. That doesn’t quite fit with the old-rivals-turned-coworkers-slash-friendly-acquaintances they’re supposed to be. But it makes perfect sense if Potter’s attracted to him. He remembers the moment in Potter’s living room where Draco thought he was about to be kissed.

He looks back across the room at where Potter’s describing something to Ginny that involves lots of grand gesturing. It feels impossible that Potter wants Draco like Draco wants him. But still… what if?

“Well, Draco,” Pansy says smugly, sidling up to him. “You’re practically glowing.”

Draco’s face grows warm, but the pub is dim enough that it’s probably not noticeable. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

Pansy heaves a put-upon sigh. “Let me guess,” she says, pressing her fingers to her temples like she’s having a vision. She used to do the same thing at Hogwarts when she mocked Trelawney. “You came here… with Potter… on his motorbike.”

“How did you…?” Draco begins before he realises he’s as good as admitting to that being the cause of his ‘glow.’ Pansy always was far too perceptive for her own good.

“I saw it parked outside,” she says, and damn her, she sounds even more smug. “Also, that’s his scarf you’re wearing. It’s cute, really, how you’re borrowing his things.”

“I didn’t have a scarf and Potter was kind enough to lend me one,” Draco grits out. “Stop trying to read more into it than that.”

“Right,” Pansy drawls. “You’re wearing his favourite scarf because you’re cold.”

“I am,” Draco insists, conveniently ignoring the fact that he’s taken off his gloves and hat after coming inside but left the scarf. “Wait, his favourite?”

Pansy smirks at him, and she doesn’t have to say a single word. That look on her face says it all.

“I dislike you,” he says, glowering at her.

“Intensely?” Pansy asks, arching her eyebrows. “Because as far as I can tell that’s Draco-code for I want to push you onto the nearest flat surface and make sweet, sweet love to you and then marry you and have a dozen babies.” While he’s gaping at her, she flutters her lashes at him and adds, “I’m flattered, darling, really I am. But I don’t like cock.”

“I’m not—That’s not—” Draco stammers. “I don’t want to have his babies.” Merlin, he’s off-balance. Here he is, insisting he doesn’t want to do something that’s not physically possible anyhow. “Shut up.”

“It’s sweet,” she croons. “Or it would be if you’d admit you like him. Then you could be boyfriends.”

“I don’t like him,” he insists. “And I don’t want to be his boyfriend.”

“Right,” Pansy says, reaching out to tug the end of his scarf. “Of course you don’t.” She’s still smirking, damn her.

“I don’t,” he says again.

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” she says.

“You’re not even using that right,” he tells her in an effort to steer her off-topic.

“I don’t see why it’s so difficult to admit,” she continues with a shrug. “You can admit to wanting to fuck him but not to liking him?”

Draco can feel his cheeks growing warm again. Merlin, what’s taking the bartender so fucking long? “I don’t want to talk to you about this.”

“And you shouldn’t be. You should be talking about this with Pots.”

He turns to her, alarmed. “You’re not going to say—”

“Relax,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I’m not going to say anything to him about how desperately you want to ride his cock.”

“Pansy!”

“I’m sorry,” she says with a laugh. “Did you want him to ride yours?”

“Stop it!” Fuck, he can feel his cheeks growing warm again.

Pansy laughs and nudges him with her elbow. “Draco Malfoy, you’re such a prude.”

“I’m sure I only seem that way to you because you’re shameless,” he grumbles.

She laughs again, and the bartender finally makes his way over to Draco. He orders a stout for Potter, whisky for himself, and then Pansy adds her own drink to his order while not making any move to pay for it. He gives her a glare but she’s not even looking at him so it’s entirely wasted.

The bartender moves away to get their drinks, and Pansy turns to him. “You should talk to him,” she says. Her voice has gone low and serious.

“For the last time,” he sighs. “I don’t feel that way about him. And he certainly doesn’t feel that way about me.”

Something in his voice has her backing down. They stand in silence until the bartender finishes getting their drinks. Draco pays, and Pansy takes up her gin and tonic and saunters off across the room. Draco sighs and gathers up his and Potter’s drinks before he follows.

“Malfoy, you remember George and Angelina, yeah?” Potter says when Draco returns to the table. “Didn’t think they’d make it tonight.”

“Really shouldn’t have,” Angelina says, slanting a look at George. “The inventory’s not going to count itself.”

“Eh,” George says with a shrug. “What’s the point of being the boss if I can’t take off when I feel like it?”

They descend into good-natured bickering, and Draco watches them, amused.

“You know,” Potter says when conversation’s picked up all around the table. “She only does that to put people off-balance. If you don’t react, it takes the fun out of it for her.”

Draco blinks at him, surprised. “What?”

“Pans,” Potter says, and Draco glances down the table to where Pansy’s just said something that’s made Longbottom blush to the tips of his ears. “She looked like she was giving you a hard time about something. She was probably only doing it to get a rise out of you.”

“It was nothing,” Draco says quickly, taking a sip of his whisky. He ordered the best one they had, and it’s not terrible, though that’s really the nicest thing he can say about it.

“Yeah, I’m sure it was. That’s why you’re all tense, because it was nothing,” Potter says.

Draco doesn’t want to admit he’s tense because he’s surrounded by Gryffindors he spent most of his time at school antagonising, so he just shrugs. And yes, all right, perhaps some of what Pansy said had struck a nerve, but Potter certainly doesn’t need to know about that.

Potter lifts his pint glass to his mouth and takes a long sip. His throat bobs as he swallows, and when he sets the glass aside, there’s a smudge of foam clinging to his upper lip. He licks it away with one quick swipe of his tongue.

Draco gets a quick flash of what else Potter might do with his tongue, and can feel his cheeks going warm again. He hastily looks away to find Pansy watching him. She smirks. He scowls. Potter laughs at something George just said, and Draco resists the urge to look at him. Pansy smirks again. Draco sighs into his whisky.

Merlin, this is going to be a long bloody night.

- - - - -

Several hours and more whiskies than Draco can reasonably recall later, he’s had enough, though truth be told, the night wasn’t anywhere near as bad as he’d feared. Early on, Potter had pointedly mentioned to George that Draco had taken inspiration for his devices from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, which had started off a conversation about the enchantments they use for various inventions. George seemed particularly impressed with Draco’s description of the goggles he uses to inspect delicate spellwork. Then Angelina had dragged him off into a conversation about Quidditch, claiming they didn’t skive off work just to talk shop. One of Granger’s coworkers, Clarke, took pity on him and struck up a conversation about work. A nice, safe small-talk topic in any situation. Draco told him a bit about Devil’s Kiss, nothing that’s not already been printed in the papers, but Clarke seemed particularly interested. It turned out that he and Granger and Elise all work in Potions and Plant Poisoning together, and they’ve been assigned the victims who’ve been brought in dosed up with Devil’s Kiss. He and Clarke have a long conversation about the potion’s effects, and then engage in a bit of wild speculation about who the culprit is.

Now it’s growing late and the pub is steadily emptying, and Draco’s edging more towards maudlin than he’d like. The easy chatter and gentle teasing and bright laughter of his companions had started out warm and enjoyable, but as suddenly as flipping a switch when Draco reached a certain level of drunkenness, the good cheer of everyone began to grate on him. Each laugh at an inside joke, every reference to an event he wasn’t here for, each time anyone carried on with a conversation he didn’t have the frame of reference to participate in, all of it only served to remind Draco of what an outsider he is. He’s made progress with Potter and Weasley, and Pansy’s always been his friend, but the rest…

No one even said anything when he finished the last swallow of whisky in his glass and stood up and walked away.

He’s been outside long enough that he’s had to refresh his Warming Charm when Potter comes looking for him.

“There you are,” he says, stepping outside in a rush of warmth and light and sound from the pub. The door falls shut behind him, cutting it off again, leaving the street dark and cold but a little less lonely than it was moments before.

“Here I am,” Draco agrees, slouching against the brick wall.

Potter steps over and leans against it beside him, cocks his hip to keep his weight off his left leg. “I know they can be a little overwhelming at first,” he says. “Give it time.”

It’s funny how three simple words from Potter can burn away Draco’s foul mood in an instant. Because the implication behind them, that there will be more nights out with Potter’s friends, that Potter sees Draco as enough of a constant to assume he’ll come along. That he wants Draco to be there. It does all sorts of wonderfully fluttery things to Draco’s insides.

“Yeah,” he says.

Potter lets his head fall back against the bricks and tucks his hands into his pockets. The street lamp above them reflects sodium-yellow from Potter’s glasses, glints off the buckles and zips of his jacket. Dark locks of hair curl wild from beneath the brim of his knit hat. The same one he wore at the club Draco’s first night back. He looks almost exactly the same as he did then, except for the ridiculously bright scarf looped around his neck. Draco remembers Weasley talking about how Potter dotes on his godchildren, and something about the contrast between the silly scarf and the leather jacket makes Draco find him all the more attractive.

One moment Draco’s thinking how appealing Potter looks, the next moment he’s saying it out loud.

“Have I told you how much I like your jacket?” Draco asks. He bites his tongue immediately afterward, but he can’t take the words back. At least he didn’t say anything about the scarf. Or about how he’d like to pin Potter up against this wall and snog him breathless.

Potter smooths his hand down it, tugging at the hem. “Thanks. It was my godfather’s.”

He has to know that Draco knows Sirius. Is related to him, in fact, yet the few times Potter’s mentioned him, he always refers to the man as ‘his godfather’ rather than by name. But it’s not until tonight that Draco’s caught the possessive edge to it. As if by using their relationship in place of his name, Potter’s keeping hold of that connection even though Sirius has been gone for years.

“You miss him,” he says without meaning to.

Potter’s smile turns a bit wistful. “Yeah. But he wouldn’t want me moping about him. So I sold off the house he hated, I use the hell out of his motorcycle and his jacket because he loved them, and I’m disrespectful to his mum’s portrait. And it’s enough, you know? I think about him all the time but I’m not sad about it. I think he’d like that.”

Draco nods, and Potter lets out a long, slow breath.

“It drives Ron and Hermione up the wall, how I spoil their kids. I know I do, but my godfather would’ve done the same for me, if he’d been able.” He stares up into the street lamp and blinks a few times. “And anyhow, they’re good kids. Teddy, too.” Potter looks over at Draco. “He’s your cousin. He’ll be home for Christmas hols soon, you know, if you want to meet him.”

The love Potter holds for his godchildren is readily apparent in his voice, different from how obviously he loves his friends, but no less powerful. After everything Potter’s been through, it’s nothing short of incredible how well-adjusted he turned out. How, despite all the losses he’s suffered, he still has the ability to love so deeply. Potter loves fiercely and completely, with every inch of himself. Draco sometimes wonders what it would be like to have that sort of intensity focused on him.

“My first cousin once removed. And, I think I’d like that. To meet him,” he says, and Potter beams.

“I’ll owl him in the morning,” Potter says, pushing off the wall. “Do you need a ride home?”

“Mm,” Draco says, thinking. He prods his nose, finds it numb, prods his forehead, finds that numb too. When he can’t feel his eyebrows, it’s usually a sign he shouldn’t try to Apparate. Did it once and Splinched off his toenails, and frankly he was lucky it wasn’t worse. “Yeah. I probably had too much to Apparate safely.” He squints at Potter. “Are you okay to drive?”

“Yeah, I only had a two drinks and that was when we first got here,” Potter says. “Come on, let’s say goodbye to the others.”

Draco follows Potter back inside the pub. Neville’s already gone back to Hogwarts, and Ginny and Dean are getting ready to head home for the night as well. Who knows where Pansy and Luna have disappeared to. They say goodnight to the others, and head back outside.

The protective cocoon of spellwork Potter had cast over Draco back at his house that evening has faded, and Potter recasts. His magic is a comforting sort of warmth as it curls around Draco, like sinking into a warm bath after spending too long outside in the cold. His fingertips and toes prickle pleasantly, and he shivers.

“Cold?” Potter asks, and before Draco can say otherwise, Potter adds a strong Warming Charm to the mix.

The sliding-into-a-warm-bath sensation intensifies, and Draco can’t suppress another shiver. “No, it’s your magic.”

“My magic?” Potter echoes.

“Yeah,” Draco sighs. He has the idea that he’s probably too drunk to be talking about this. “Feels nice.”

“Nice?” Potter echoes. “I’ve never noticed that magic feels like anything at all.”

“Mm-hm,” Draco says. “I’ve always been sensitive to it. Some people are, some people aren’t. It’s why I’m so good at making my devices. I’m good with the…” He flutters his fingertips. “...the little fiddly bits of spellwork.” He nods to himself, studying Potter. “You can tell a lot about someone from how their magic feels.”

“How does mine feel?” Potter asks. He tucks his hands into his jacket pockets.

“Warm. Like, like a bathtub.”

“My magic feels like a bathtub?”

“Yeah. But warm. Can’t forget the warm, the warm’s the important bit.”

Potter studies him for a long moment. “You’re rat-arsed,” he says with a slow smile.

Draco can’t keep from smiling back. He feels helpless with Potter smiling at him like that. It’s sort of nice. Does nice fluttery things to his stomach, and that’s nice too. He’s probably going to find all of this very alarming in the sobering light of morning. Right now he doesn’t care.

“Probably,” he says.

“Come on, then,” Potter says, and his voice sounds as warm as his magic feels. “Let’s get you home.”

“We should take the long way back,” Draco says, sliding his arms around Potter. He leans his cheek against Potter’s shoulder. “The city’s nice at night.”

Potter gives Draco’s hand a pat, then steers the motorcycle down the street and then up into the air, and Draco closes his eyes.

The ride back home passes too quickly. There’s no tour of London this time, but Potter takes a roundabout way back to his flat and drops him off on the roof. Even opens up the access door and walks him down two flights of stairs to his flat, waits while Draco unlocks his door. Such a gentleman.

He’s tempted to invite Potter inside, but this isn’t a date, he reminds himself. He wishes it was. Maybe then Potter would kiss him goodnight.

“I…” Potter says. He licks his lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

Draco nods. “Right. Tomorrow.”

“Right,” Potter says, taking a step back. “Goodnight, Malfoy.”

“Night,” Draco says.

Potter takes another step back and Disapparates. A few moments later, Draco hears his motorcycle roar to life. He goes inside, locks up after himself, and makes it to the window just in time to see the twinkle of Potter’s taillights disappear around the next building over. It’s not until he’s turning away from the window that he realises he’s still wearing Potter’s scarf.

- - - - -

Draco’s next appointment with Agnes the following morning doesn’t go any better than the first. He tries to keep his temper with her, he truly does. But he’s a little hungover and she acts like it’s somehow his fault he’d been assigned Dorko Morfloy and he gets snippy with her again. He apologises, but it’s too late. The damage has been done. She reaches through the Floo and hands him a card with his new address written on it.

Drrcg Mlhlfry’s flat, it says.

“What the fuck,” Draco says, momentarily forgetting he’s supposed to be nice to her. “How the fuck am I supposed to pronounce this?”

“What do you mean, how do you pronounce it,” Agnes says flatly. “It’s your name.”

And then she slams the grate closed right in his face.

“It’s not my name, my name has vowels in it!” he shouts at the empty Floo.

To add insult to injury, he’s then forced to Firecall her back. He gets her secretary, who informs him that the next available appointment isn’t until after the New Year. Draco tries to argue with her. He points out that he was only just speaking with Agnes and it only took her a minute to change his address to this terrible thing, it won’t take her more than a minute to bloody well change it again, preferably to something that’s actually his name this time.

Four minutes later, the grate slams shut in his face for the second time that morning. He’s got an appointment for the fourth of January. And until then, he’s going to be going home to Drrcg Mlhlfry’s flat. If he can even work out how to bloody well say it, that is.

He goes into work and his day continues to go downhill when he discovers that the wankers up in Name and Moniker Establishment—and Potter was right, they really are a bunch of wankers—have rejected his new subdepartment name yet again and because of the way the Ministry’s organised, he can’t hire lab assistants until he’s got a name. He flat-out refuses to make up an acronym because at this point it feels like admitting defeat. Maybe if he threatens to set Potter on them for a second round of Spell Out A Rude Word, they’ll let his next name through.

Draco entertains a brief fantasy of Potter-assisted, expletive-filled vengeance before he dismisses the idea. They’d probably both end up reported, and Draco’s been employed here for less than a month. He should probably be here a minimum of six months before he starts getting himself reported for things.

When he makes it into his office, he finds that Weasley has come down with a cold since yesterday.

“Children are plague rats,” he explains to Draco, blowing his nose into a handkerchief. “Tiny, adorable plague rats.” He blows his nose again. “Hermione insisted on sending them off to Muggle school. Says wizarding education is lacking or some rubbish. I don’t know why, they don’t learn anything there they couldn’t learn from my mum and they keep coming home sick.” He coughs. “I was homeschooled, and my mum offered to teach Rosie and Hugo too. Less plagues, that way.”

Draco nods, and wards his side of the office with a nice strong Impervius.

It’s hard to be sympathetic about Weasley’s illness when Weasley then spends the entire morning making a wide array of disgusting noises with his face. Draco’s about half an inch off hexing him by the time he leaves for lunch.

That afternoon, Draco spends several hours tinkering with his as-yet-unnamed ward disrupter. It’s long, tedious work of tweaking delicate spells. He really thinks he’s got it this time, until he turns it on and it explodes. Again.

So he’s not in the best of moods when he goes down the hall to join Potter for Tactical Spellwork.

“Hey, Malfoy,” Potter says when he walks in. “How’d it go with Agnes?”

“Augh!” Draco says, flinging his hands into the air.

“That’s… not a word,” Potter says.

“Neither is my address, but at least what I’ve just said has got vowels in it,” Draco snaps.

“You,” Potter says, pauses, blinks. “Wait, no vowels?”

Draco glares at him.

“Right. Okay. I was going to spend class today having them work on perfecting their advanced Shield Charms. But I think today we can move along to more offensive spellwork.” He quirks a grin at Draco. “Shall we give them a show, Malfoy?”

No matter how far they’ve come, there’s always going to be a part of Draco that lives for fighting with Potter. He feels a little of his sour mood ease at the mere thought of it. “You’re on.”

They talk a little more about it while they wait for the class to arrive, outlining the rules and the classes of spells they will and won’t use. The trainees arrive, and Draco joins them in jogging a few warm-up laps, then leads them through stretching. And then he and Potter fight.

There’s a lot of formal nonsense in duelling, standing and posing and pacing and bowing. He and Potter don’t bother with any of it. Criminals certainly won’t.

“Ready, Malfoy?” Potter calls from more-or-less twenty paces.

Draco raises his wand. “Ready when you are,” he calls back.

And then it’s on. Potter opens with a predictable Expelliarmus, and brings up his Shield Charms as Draco twists out of the way. The Blasting Curse Draco fires off a split second too late goes careening off it and explodes against the far wall with an echoing bang! and Potter slings a Confundus at Draco.

Potter is beautiful when he duels.

He does it with the same passion and enthusiasm with which he does everything else. He’s fierce and bold and so wonderfully, beautifully alive.

Draco finds it highly distracting, which is fine when he’s watching Potter fight against someone else. Not so good when he’s fighting against Draco. His bad leg prevents him from moving too quickly, so Potter’s duelling style focuses more on a combination of heavy shielding and relentless offensive spells, standing his ground and breaking his opponent quickly.

Draco, in contrast, relies on lighter shielding and agility. He doesn’t need the heavy Shield Charms Potter uses if he can get out of the way before he’s hit. When he duels, he draws out his opponent, tests his weaknesses and when he’s got him figured out, Draco brings him down hard and fast.

At least, that’s what he does when he’s fighting anyone who’s not Potter. With Potter he can’t get past the Shield Charms, and really it’s not fair. Potter’s more powerful than anyone Draco’s ever seen, he doesn’t have a hope of getting through to him on strength alone. So he’s forced to get creative. He nearly gets him by Transfiguring the mat to mud beneath Potter’s feet. Potter slips, slides, and his Shielding flickers. But he manages to jump back onto solid ground.

Inwardly, Draco winces at the way Potter grits his teeth at that, how his bad leg buckles and he nearly goes down. Outwardly, he presses his advantage and fires off a barrage of spells. None of it gets through, and while he’s overextended, committed to offensive rather than defensive spellwork, Potter lashes out with a Blasting Curse that tears right through the Protego Draco’s wrapped around himself and catches him square in the chest.

It feels like being slammed with a Bludger, actually knocks him off his feet and sends him flying backward. He goes down hard on the mat, head knocking into the ground hard enough to make him see stars for a few long and painful seconds.

Potter comes over to him, his expression caught somewhere between triumph and concern. “You okay?”

“Other than feeling like I’ve been hit by the Hogwarts Express, I’m perfectly wonderful,” he says, resisting the urge to groan. “Ever heard of pulling your spells?” He drops his head back against the mat. “Bloody hell.”

“I was pulling my spell. Sorry,” Potter says. He doesn’t sound sorry at all, now that he’s seen Draco’s well enough to be capable of complaining.

“Apologise to my ribs, not to me,” Draco says. He reaches a hand up to Potter.

“Feeling better now?” Potter murmurs as he pulls Draco to his feet.

“Yeah,” he says. “I am.”

Draco is sweaty and exhausted, bruised and sore, and he despairs at the thought that getting his arse kicked by Potter is the best part of his day. But, as he watches Potter turn to the trainees and begin to lecture about the differences in his and Draco’s duelling techniques, Draco can’t deny that it’s true.

- - - - -

By Friday, Draco is thoroughly ready for the weekend. Potter’s taken to duelling with him in class to demonstrate certain techniques or tricks, and it affects Draco more than he should. Potter kicks his arse up and down the training room, and even though Draco’s annoyed that he only manages to win one duel out of every three, he still looks forward to it because fighting Potter is just that much fun. He’s got no hope of matching Potter for sheer magical strength if he comes at him straight on, so he instead approaches from every other angle he can think up. It forces Draco to think creatively, to pull out every trick he knows and make up a few new ones. And it’s great fun, for the most part. He hasn’t had a challenge like this in ages.

The downside, however, is that duelling is strenuous and sweaty work, the way he and Potter push both themselves and the trainees. And so afterward they all pile into the locker room to shower off. It’s ridiculously inappropriate, in Draco’s humble opinion, for the trainees and instructors to use the same showers. He’d mentioned as much to Weasley.

“Makes sense, if you think about it,” Weasley had responded. “Today’s trainees will be tomorrow’s Aurors. Someone who’s your subordinate right now will become your equal. It’s why we all eat in the same canteen and use the same toilets. Creates a sense of companionship, you know,” He’d paused, punched one fist in the air, added with forced enthusiasm, “We’re all in this together!”

“We can all be ‘in this together’ with separate showers,” Draco had muttered.

Weasley had peered at him speculatively, and Draco had been thoroughly unnerved by the sharp gleam in his eyes. “Yeah, but then you’d have to share a shower alone with Harry. That’d be awkward, don’t you think?”

Draco had promptly dropped that topic of conversation. If he finds out Pansy shared her absurd Draco-likes-Potter theory with Weasley, he’s going to murder her. Cheerfully murder her, and then gladly spend the rest of his life in Azkaban because it’ll have been worth it. He does his best to ignore the fact that her theory is not quite as absurd as Draco wishes it was. It’s not that he’s in denial or anything so ignorant as that, it’s just that he prefers not to think of it because thinking of Potter in any sort of romantic sense sets off a dull ache behind Draco’s ribs and up his throat, so intense it feels like he can hardly breathe.

And he doesn’t like that at all.

Besides. The dirty fantasies he’s been having keep him more than occupied.

He’s still thinking about Weasley’s words later, though, while he’s soaping himself up in the showers after class. Weasley’d made one hell of a point about it being awkward if it were just him and Potter in here, because he’s sure that the trainees are the only thing saving him from himself at this point. Lowsley keeps up a running commentary of his plans for after work, Chambers laughs loudly as he relates something he’d heard on the wireless that morning, and MacIntyre sings in the shower loudly and off-key despite the vicious mocking he gets from the rest. The room echoes with boisterous chatter, and the echoing bang of lockers opening and closing, and snippets of conversation: “Did you hear about Stalton’s mum…” and “...meeting them after work, I can’t wait…” and “Bloody hell, mate, are you dying in there? You sound like you’re dying,” and “Oi! Throw me a towel, will you?”

It’s enough of a distraction to keep Draco from being entirely swept away by fantasies of slipping into Potter’s cubicle and pinning him up against the wall of the shower, kissing him deep and frotting against him, of imagining Potter’s skin slick and glistening with water and flushed pink from the heat, his unruly hair soaked through and temporarily pressed flat. Potter’s eyelashes will look darker, clumped together and beaded with droplets. His eyes will look so green.

Draco still thinks about all of that while he showers, because he’s only human. But he doesn’t lose himself in it completely and at this point, he thinks that’s all he can realistically hope for.

It’s more than a little terrifying how much he thinks about Potter. The dirty fantasies are one thing, and he definitely spends a lot of time thinking of those. Of them twined together, sweaty and thrusting, of sucking Potter’s cock and Potter sucking his, of Potter’s fingers pushing into him and stretching him open. By this point he can say with reasonable confidence that he’s pictured himself and Potter having sex in every position imaginable. He wants to lick every inch of Potter’s naked body.

But what’s terrifying is how much he thinks about Potter with his clothes on as well. He fantasises just as much about lazy evenings on a sofa, curled up under a blanket and snuggled close. Of long, aimless rides on the flying motorcycle. Of quiet cups of tea on cold days and attending Quidditch matches together and Saturday morning lie-ins when they’ve nowhere else to be and the brilliancy of Potter’s smile. He wants to touch Potter’s hair. He wants to hold Potter’s hand.

It’s driving him mad.

Irritated with himself all over again, Draco ignores the ache in his chest and twists the knobs to turn off the water, snags his towel and roughly dries himself. Tucks it around his waist and flings open his curtain. His Marked arms gets a few lingering glances but most of the students ignore it entirely by now. Draco gives Adams a pointed frown, and the boy looks away. Draco strides to his locker and dresses quickly, then lingers, waiting for Potter while trying to not make it obvious he’s waiting. Merlin, this is ridiculous. He’s behaving like a first-year with a crush. And he can’t seem to stop himself.

He’s reorganised the contents of his locker twice and is in the middle of a third by the time Potter finally turns off his shower. He always drapes a clean set of clothing over the top of his cubicle before he goes in and Draco watches as the items disappear one by one until they’re all gone, and then Potter emerges fully-dressed.

Draco hurries to get his things put away as Potter ambles over.

“Bloody hell,” he says, picking up a jar of moisturiser. “You’ve got a whole salon packed away in there.”

Draco snatches the jar away from him and stows it in his locker. “I have delicate skin,” he says, then winces at how defensive he sounds.

“Right, okay,” Potter says, looking far too amused as he peers into Draco’s locker. “Delicate hair, too?”

Draco slams his locker shut.

As always, Potter’s taken so long that they’re the last ones out of the men’s locker room, though as they pass by Draco can hear Levi and Stalton talking in the women’s. They leave, Potter rambling on about his plans for the next class, and Draco’s so busy trying to ignore the way that Potter’s damp hair curls at the nape of his neck that he very nearly walks straight into Weasley.

“Frances is in St Mungo’s,” Weasley says. “She’ll be fine, but she won’t be out until Monday at the earliest.”

“Oh fuck,” says Potter, looking like someone’s just killed his crup. Then he lights up. “Malfoy!”

“What?” Draco blinks.

“That’s why I’m here,” Weasley says. “Keep up, Harry.” He gives Potter a light punch on the shoulder and Potter swats his hand away. “Malfoy, what’re you doing tomorrow?”

“I was thinking about spending the day in Diagon getting my Christmas shopping sorted.”

“Not anymore you’re not,” Weasley says. “You’re playing Quidditch with us.”

“I am?”

“The Department of Magical Games and Sports runs a sort of informal interdepartmental Quidditch league,” Potter explains. “Rather, I should say that Ginny runs it.”

“I’m Keeper for the Aurors,” Ron says. “Frances is our Seeker, but she won’t be able to play tomorrow when we go up against Magical Law Enforcement Patrol.”

“And they’re a bunch of wankers so we need to win,” Potter finishes.

“Especially Harper,” Weasley says.

Especially Harper,” Potter echoes.

“Who’s Harper?” Draco asks.

“MLEP’s Seeker,” Potter tells him. “God I wish I could play. I’d love to beat his arse. Instead,” He claps a hand across Draco’s shoulders, “I’m forced to live vicariously through others. And also referee. But mostly live through others. Kick his arse on my behalf, Malfoy, I’m begging you.”

Draco shrugs out from under Potter’s arm because for one heart-stopping moment he’d come close to leaning into it. He flatly refuses to think about Potter begging under any circumstances whatsoever. Instead, he asks, “You’re going to referee the match? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

“Probably,” Potter admits, jamming his hands into his pockets.

“But no one’s willing to say that to the Chosen One’s face,” Weasley adds.

“Lucky us,” Potter says dryly, then looks to Draco. “So, are you in?”

It’s been ages since Draco’s played Quidditch. They don’t really play it in the United States. They play Quodpot there, which is better than Quidditch because it’s got explosions, and worse than Quidditch in pretty much every other way imaginable. The brooms they use are heavy and slow, the players are encouraged to be unnecessarily violent due to a complete lack of roughing fouls, there’s no Seeker and no Snitch, and they use some ridiculous arse-backwards scoring system that Draco’s never quite been able to figure out.

So yes, he’d agree to a game of Quidditch even if Potter weren’t currently looking at him with great big hopeful puppydog eyes.

“I suppose,” he says with a shrug. “It beats Christmas shopping and I haven’t got anything better to do.”

- - - - -

On Saturday morning, Draco Apparates to the public Quidditch pitch hidden on the outskirts of London. It’s part of a large Wizarding park, carefully warded from the Muggles, and Draco remembers coming here several times as a child. This pitch isn’t as nicely kept up as the one at Hogwarts. The hoops are in dire need of repainting and the grass of the pitch itself is a bit sparse, even considering the season.

Yesterday he’d been looking forward to the match. But today’s only just above freezing and spitting down rain, and Warming Charms don’t do shit when it’s wet. Merlin, this is going to be one of the most miserable games Draco’s had the misfortune to play, and that includes the one he’d played at Hogwarts in the middle of a blizzard. At least Warming Charms hold up decently well against snow.

He’s been here barely a minute and already he’s shivering, but he gamely casts Warming Charms over himself and his clothing, hikes his broomstick over his shoulder, and starts for the group of people lingering near the middle of the pitch. He skirts the largest patches of mud, and the ground squelches beneath his feet as he walks.

“Malfoy!” Potter calls out, breaking into a smile when he catches sight of Draco.

Potter’s excitement at his arrival sends a bright flare of hope twisting through him and sets off an answering excitement in him. Draco does his best to wrest it back under control. He’s only partly successful.

“Potter,” he says. “Weasley.”

“Come on, meet the rest of the team,” Potter says, drawing him over to a small group of talking people.

He meets Argent and Phillips, the Beaters. The other three, Sawyer, Chan, and Velez, play Chaser. Ginny, Potter, and a bloke named Kielson who works in Misuse of Muggle Artefacts will be the referees for the game. The other team is standing in their own group a short way down the pitch, and Potter identifies them as Wankers One through Six, points out a man standing a bit off to one side and names him Chief Wanker.

“Ignore him,” Chan says, taking Draco by the elbow and steering him away from Potter. “He’s a bad influence.”

"I'm not a bad influence," Potter protests.

"You most certainly are a bad influence," Chan shoots back. "That's why they keep you in the basement."

"Teaching trainees!" Potter says. "They wouldn't let me have access to impressionable young trainees if I was that bad."

Potter most certainly is that bad, but Draco rather thinks that it's a matter of Pansy having been the bad influence on Potter. He doesn't say anything as Chan steers him away from Potter, and nods as Chan rattles off the names of the MLEP team. Chief Wanker turns out to be Harper, the opposing Seeker. He must’ve caught his name because he looks over to them, frowns, then approaches.

“Who’re you?” he asks, barely sparing Draco a glance before scanning over the rest of the Aurors. “Where’s Goldman?”

“St Mungo’s, from what I’ve heard,” Draco says. He puts out his hand. “Draco Malfoy. I’ll be filling in as Seeker.”

“You can’t do that, you’re not officially on the team.”

“Fuck off, Harper,” Weasley says, coming up behind Draco. He clamps a heavy hand on Draco’s shoulder and gives him a small shake. “Malfoy’s an Auror and that means he can play. The only reason you don’t want him to is because you know he’s going to kick your arse.”

Harper looks at Draco. Sneers. “You’ve been in America, haven’t you? Can’t imagine you’ll be much of a challenge if you’ve been playing Quodpot for the last decade.”

Part of Draco wants to disagree with him just for the sake of it, but he can’t bring himself to defend Quodpot in any meaningful way. It really is shit.

“Just think of how awful you’ll feel when I win,” he says instead. Pairs it with a quick shrug and just the right amount of carelessness, because nothing irritates like trying to pick a fight with someone who doesn’t seem to care.

It works like a charm. Harper glares and snaps, “Keep imagining it. That’ll be the only place you see it happen.” He turns and strides off back to his teammates.

“What an arse,” Draco huffs, glaring after him. “Someone ought to knock him off his broom.”

“I have to say,” Weasley comments. “Since we’re on the same team now, the fact that you play a dirty game of Quidditch is suddenly a hell of a lot more appealing. You’d better beat him to the Snitch, Malfoy. Any means necessary.”

Draco smirks. “I may have a few tricks I can pull.”

“Are you talking about purposely committing fouls?” Ginny asks. She looks him up and down. “Because I am employed by the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and as such I am duty-bound to maintain my professional integrity and remain entirely impartial for the duration of this match.” She glances around and lowers her voice. “That said, the match hasn’t started yet and Harper’s an arse. You should know that Harry tends to look the other way for most of the roughing fouls. Just don’t try anything in front of me or Kielson, we’ll both call you on it.” She winks at him and strides off down the pitch.

Draco looks across the pitch to where Potter’s talking with Sawyer and Velez. “And he seems so innocent and noble.”

Weasley snorts. “Yeah, that’s our Harry.” He thumps Draco on the shoulder. “Come on.”

They rejoin the rest of their team and spend a short time talking strategy while spectators slowly make their way into the stands. Most of it doesn’t involve Draco, since he’ll be off by himself for most of the game. But Weasley gives him a few tips about how Harper flies. Potter’s visibly restraining himself from jumping into the conversation. Looking the other way on fouls is one thing, but apparently coaching Draco on how to beat the other team is where Potter draws the line. But Weasley’s got a surprisingly good grasp of Harper’s Seeking technique, probably picked up from discussions with Potter based on the way he phrases certain things, Draco figures, and that’s good enough.

“I guess this is about as good as we’ll get,” Potter says after a while, surveying the stands. There are only a few dozen people up there, bundled up in raincoats and huddled beneath large umbrellas. Draco spots Granger with two small ginger children up near the top. “The turn-out’s usually better than this, but the weather’s crap today.”

Right on cue, the rain picks up. Potter frowns up at the sky and casts an Impervius over his head. Draco doesn’t bother; it won’t do him any good once he’s on his broom. He lingers near the centre of the pitch while Potter confers briefly with the other two referees, then Ginny gives three short, sharp blasts of her whistle. Both teams assemble, and Kielson flips a coin for robe colours. The Aurors charm their robes blue while the MLEP team charms theirs red. The players mount their brooms and take their positions, the referees release the balls, and the game begins.

Within the first five minutes of the match, Draco’s soaked through. The Warming Charms he’s cast protect him from anything so dire as hypothermia, but it’s still bloody miserable up here. He angles his broom up, soars high in lazy spirals, attention divided between watching the sky and watching Harper, who’s circling the opposite end of the pitch. Draco waits about twenty minutes before he steers closer, making sure he’s well within sight before he drops into a sudden dive. Every Seeker worth his salt knows the Wronski Feint, so Draco doesn’t head straight for the ground. Instead, he pulls up sharply when he’s still forty feet up, veers hard to the left, and streaks off down the pitch. He senses more than sees Harper fall in beside him, and smiles fiercely to himself as he continues to chase his imaginary Snitch. He dodges Chan, pulls into a tight spiral around Wanker Number Five, and drops low again, testing how close Harper’s following.

Extremely bloody close, it turns out. Perfect. Draco falls into a shallow dive and banks into a sharp turn, then pulls up steeply and scans the playing field until he finds a Bludger, drops down and turns tight again to keep Harper more focused on following him than trying to spot the Snitch he thinks Draco’s chasing, shoots up and then pushes hard for the last bit of speed to put himself in the path of the Bludger right as the MLEP Beater sends it careening at Chan.

Draco drops down at the last possible second. The Bludger barely misses him and exactly as he’d planned, Harper doesn’t have time to get out of the way. But Draco's timing is off by a hair and it only clips Harper’s broom bristles, knocks him into a brief spiral from which he recovers easily. Still, it’s satisfying the way Harper comes out of it red-faced and glaring. Draco wonders if he can convince him to fall for the same trick a second time.

At close to an hour in, the score is 50-40 with MLEP in the lead, and there’s still no sign of the Snitch. Draco’s shivering constantly now, his Warming Charms fading. He’s just debating whether to risk a foul by taking out his wand to refresh them when a burst of magic curls around him, sinks into his clothes and slides over his skin. Draco loses himself in it for a moment, then blinks open his eyes just in time to see Potter slipping his wand back up his sleeve. No one else appears to have noticed him cast, and Potter doesn’t acknowledge what he’s done in any way as he steers his broom in a wide curve along the boundary of the pitch.

Draco’s heart beats a little faster, and he does his best to put the feel of Potter’s magic wrapping warm around him out of his mind. He aims his broom away from where Potter’s gone and floats in lazy spirals, scanning the sky for the Snitch.

He’s drifting near the stands when he makes out a tiny piping voice. “Mummy, I see it! Look, Mummy, look!”

Draco looks down to see Weasley’s youngest pointing, follows his line of sight and there it is. Maybe later Draco will feel embarrassed that a four-year-old spotted the Snitch before he did, but there’s no time for that right now. Harper also heard and is barrelling toward it at top speed, managed to react before Draco did, but Draco’s nearer and they close in on it at roughly the same time. The Snitch zips left, then right, then left. Draco grabs for it, misses, slams an elbow into Harper’s side, grabs for it again. The Snitch leads them down and they both follow.

Draco pushes harder and Harper pushes right along with him. He leans forward, stretches, his fingertips brushing the Snitch’s madly fluttering wings, veers sharply to dodge a Bludger, and lunges just as Harper locks broom handles with him and forces him into a dive.

At six feet off the ground and the speed they’re moving, there’s no time to correct. Draco spins sideways and slams into the ground, the sudden dousing of cold mud as much of a shock as the impact of hitting the earth. Draco’s broom goes one way and he goes another, tumbling arse over tit and landing sprawled across the soggy grass, shivering and bruised and dazed, but—he thrusts his hand into the air, the wan sunlight glinting off the Snitch—triumphant.

The sudden explosion of applause from the stands feels as good now as it ever did back in school. Better than, he corrects as he pushes his mud-splattered goggles up onto his forehead and watches the players land. His team converges around him, and there’s Potter grinning at him like he hung the moon. Ron pounds him on the back with a clap that sounds more like a splat, given how wet his robes are, but Draco doesn’t care. He bloody well won, and while beating Harper’s not quite as exhilarating as it would’ve been to beat Potter, it’s pretty bloody close.

“I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Malfoy,” Potter murmurs to him, nudging him quick with an elbow. “Nice game.”

And Draco decides that maybe it’s for the best he didn’t play against Potter. Not when him winning has got Potter smiling at him like that.

Hands are shaken all around, and then the players begin to Disapparate. Draco’s looking forward to a hot shower and a hot cup of tea, and he’s trudging across the pitch to retrieve his broom when Potter catches up with him.

“I had some ideas for the next class,” Potter says.

“Can it wait?” Draco asks. “Right now I’d prefer to be somewhere that isn’t freezing cold and raining, if you don’t mind.”

“Yeah, right, of course,” Potter says. “I just was thinking that I wanted to start teaching specific counters for some of the more dangerous curses in class next week and it’s been a while since I’ve practiced with them and,” He pauses, rakes a hand through his wet hair. “I was wondering, if you’re not doing anything this afternoon, maybe we could go back to the training rooms and get in a bit of duelling?”

Draco thinks it over. He’s tired from the match, but spending time alone with Potter is a truly tempting offer. Plus, the water pressure in the locker room showers is better than in his flat. And Potter’s eyelashes, dark with raindrops, make his eyes look so very green right now. He’s almost certain he’d agree to go to the farthest reaches of Australia, if Potter asked him with his eyes like that.

“Sure,” Draco says casually. “I haven’t got anything else planned. Side-Along?” He offers Potter his elbow.

Potter loops his arm through Draco’s, and Draco Apparates them to the Ministry. They track water through the halls as they make their way down to the training wing with its showers, and Draco tries not to think of how in a few minutes he’s going to be naked in a room with Potter in it. And that Potter will also be naked. And they’ll be entirely alone.

They talk a bit about the match as they take the lift down to their floor. Potter does an amusing impression of Harper’s face when he saw Draco caught the Snitch, and says again how glad he is that Draco won.

Talking to Potter is relaxed and easy until they get to the locker room and Draco catches sight of himself in the mirror. He stops to get a better look.

“Merlin,” he says. “I look a fright.”

And he does. His robes are soaked through, his Quidditch leathers and robes smeared with mud. His hair is tangled and filthy. He’s got a streak of dirt across one cheek and another over his forehead.

“Mm,” Potter says from over by the showers.

He’s not even looking, to Draco’s relief.

Draco sets to work getting himself stripped down, but his fingers are half-numb and pale with cold, and he’s having a hard time working the buckles and laces of his Quidditch gear. Draco’s managed to get his gloves and arm guards off when the sudden splat! of sodden clothing hitting the floor draws his attention. He glances up to see that Potter’s taken off his shirt. He’s angled away from Draco, so Draco gets a good look at one of Potter’s shoulders and his side, and then Potter steps into one of the shower cubicles and out of Draco’s line of sight. A few moments later, Potter’s trousers and pants sail out to land near his shirt, and the metal rings rattle over the curtain rod as Potter draws the shower curtain closed. The water starts up a second later.

Draco gets back to work on his own clothing, manages to get his shin guards and boots off before the lure of a hot shower grows too great, and he loses all patience and just Vanishes the rest of his clothing. He snags a couple of towels from the stack near the sinks, and heads over to the row of showers. He hits both towels with Warming Charms.

“Here,” he says as he drapes one over the top of the cubicle Potter’s occupied. Potter hadn’t grabbed one. He also hasn’t draped his clothing over the top as he normally does, and Draco’s not sure at all what to think of that.

“Oh, thanks,” Potter says.

Draco takes a deep breath. Knows he should leave a gap of one at least, but in an audacious rush he hangs his own towel over the top of the cubicle right next to Potter’s, steps inside, and closes the curtain. He turns on the water and retreats to the far corner while it warms, then steps under the spray and lets the hot water sluice mud from his body. Honestly, he’d been covered with Quidditch gear from neck to toe, he has no idea how this much dirt has managed to make it onto his skin. He rubs his hands over his body and tries to ignore how his cock’s gone half-hard just from being in the same room as Potter. Naked Potter. In the same room as naked Potter whilst naked himself. With naked Potter only a few feet away with nothing but a flimsy divider between them and their nakedness.

This isn’t helping his erection go away.

There’s a soft sound, barely louder than the hissing rush of water spattering on tile from two showerheads. Draco freezes, ears straining, and a few seconds later it comes again. It sounds like a half-smothered gasp.

Dear Merlin, is Potter wanking?

He has to be mistaken. There’s absolutely no way Potter’s tossing one off with Draco in the shower right next to his.

No. Fucking. Way.

Then he remembers this is Harry Potter he’s talking about. Ridiculous, headstrong, impulsive Potter, who thinks that rules are things that only apply to other people. If he fancied a wank, would he really resist the urge simply because little things like the unwritten rules of how one ought to behave in a public bathroom say that he should wait until he’s alone before he has one off?

Draco hears another poorly-muffled gasp.

Oh dear Merlin. Potter’s wanking.

Draco feels a bit faint. His cock, however, perks right the fuck up.

There’s a gap between the bottom of the cubicle and the tile floor, and Potter’s standing near enough to Draco’s side that if Draco bends over a bit, he can see Potter’s feet.

Draco takes a deep breath and holds it while he curls one hand around his cock, freezes like that and waits, then feels a bit silly when nothing happens. Of course nothing will happen. There’s a divider between them and Draco’s better at keeping quiet than Potter apparently is. He hunches over a little more, just enough to see Potter’s feet up to his ankles, and gives his cock a long, firm stroke.

There’s something about a man’s bare feet that Draco’s always loved. They’re such a basic part of the body, not taboo or titillating in the slightest. But they’re something that are kept hidden away all the same, covered up by socks and shoes. Potter has surprisingly attractive feet, straight toes with neatly trimmed nails, bony insteps and knobby ankles. There’s a faint dusting of dark hair at the base of his great toe. He’s pale and skinny enough that Draco can just make out the slight tracings of his veins, the tight stretch of tendons beneath skin.

He hears another barely-stifled gasp and Potter’s toes curl against the tile floor. Draco gives his cock another stroke.

Draco lets his eyes fall closed as he touches himself, and thinks of Potter’s naked shoulder, the faint shadow of his ribs, the subtle curve of his waist. He thinks about slipping into Potter’s shower cubicle and pinning him up against the wet tile wall. All that hot, slippery skin. Draco would wank him slowly, Potter’s cock hard and heavy and hot in his hand. He thinks of dropping to his knees and taking Potter into his mouth, sucking hard while Potter gasps above him. Merlin, if he’s this loud when he’s having a clandestine wank, what will he sound like when Draco’s trying to make him moan? He remembers how it felt to have Potter inside him, Potter’s breath on the back of his neck, Potter’s hands on his hips, Potter’s body warm and hard against him and inside him and—

He opens his eyes, watches Potter’s toes flex, the tendons standing out stark as they stretch over his instep, then curl against the tile floor.

Draco bites down on his lip and silently comes all over his fingers.

- - - - -

It’s been almost a week since the Quidditch match. Six days. Six long days during which Draco can’t stop thinking about Potter in the showers on Saturday. And after six days—and six nights, he can’t forget the nights because Draco’s always done most of his mulling over Potter at night—he still has no idea what to make of it.

After coming, he’d finished up his shower, dressed quickly, and left the locker room to give Potter a bit of privacy as he dressed. By the time he finished laying out the mats in the training room, Potter joined him and then had proceeded to act completely normal, so Draco was left with little choice but to also act completely normal. They practiced their spells, ran through a few duels, reviewed the next week’s lesson plans, and then they said goodnight and went their separate ways.

Draco still doesn’t know what all that wanking business was about, because a convenient lead-in has yet to present itself for him to ask, “So, did you wank because you knew I was right next to you, or did you just fancy having one off right then and didn’t care I was nearby? Oh, and I could hear you. Was that deliberate?”

So he hasn’t asked, but that doesn’t stop him from wondering. Constantly wondering. Obsessing, really, if he’s being perfectly honest about it. Not that obsessing is something all that different from how he’d been thinking about Potter prior to that day. Just, now it’s a more detailed sort of obsessing.

Stupid fucking Potter.

Draco gives the man in question a glare, then does his best to return his attention to his latest project, a scanner that detects trace signatures of magic. It’s similar to the scanner he’s already made that can detect signatures on active spells, but he’s been having trouble making it more sensitive. Potter’s slouched at Draco’s desk, marking the latest batch of essays from his class. It’s something he’s taken to doing on evenings Draco works late. Sometimes he does his own work, sometimes he watches Draco do his. It’s rather nice, and Draco appreciates the company. He just wishes he knew why Potter suddenly decided to spend his free time with Draco. When he’d asked, Potter had shrugged and replied, “No one waiting for me at home but Wally.”

A small motion catches his eye, and Draco looks over at Potter again. He’s pushed his glasses up onto his forehead to rub at his eyes, then settles them back on the bridge of his nose and takes up his quill again, dips it into a small pot of red ink, and scratches something into the margin of the essay he’s got spread over the desk. Draco frowns.

Potter’s seemed off recently. Nothing too overt, but early this week he’d been unusually keyed up, brimming with nervous energy. And then on Thursday he’d come in looking like death warmed over, pale and hunched with dark circles beneath his eyes. Class that day was theoretical, and Potter dismissed them all a full fifteen minutes early. He looks much better today, though still somewhat tired.

He vaguely wonders if Potter’s managed to catch whatever his godchildren have given to Weasley. Though the lack of snot probably means no to that. It’s been more than a week and Weasley is still sniffling, though he appears otherwise recovered. Apparently he was unfortunate enough to get a strain that’s resistant to Pepper-Up. So far Draco’s Impervius charm in the office seems to be working because he’s gone this long without catching it as well. Which is good news for Weasley; Draco would be forced to murder him if he’d passed along his illness, and that would’ve put something of a strain on their professional relationship.

Potter sighs and stretches his arms over his head, and something in his back gives a loud crack. He sighs again and looks over his shoulder to Draco.

“I think I’m about ready to call it a night. Are you nearly finished?”

Since his concentration is pretty well shot anyhow, Draco might as well. “I could be,” Draco says, setting his wire cutters aside.

“You know, Pansy’s having a few people over to hers tonight, if you’d like to join us?” Potter asks as Draco packs up his things.

“Sorry,” Draco says. “I can’t. I’m on surveillance tonight.”

“Oh, all right,” Potter says.

He sounds disappointed, and more than that, he sounds wistful. Probably misses fieldwork, Draco realises, and before he can stop to think about it, he suggests, “Why don’t you come with me?”

Potter gives him a look. “You do realise I’m not an active Auror. We could both get written up and suspended for this.”

“Since when do you shy away from rule-breaking?” Draco retorts. “And anyhow, it’s not as if you’re going to be required to chase down criminals. It’s going to be uneventful enough that they’ve authorised me sitting solo for it.”

Potter frowns. “What happened to Ron?”

“He had to go home early. Apparently Granger’s colleague fell ill a couple of days ago. Clarke, I believe? The bloke that came out with us last week?” Draco waits for Potter’s nod before he continues. “Anyhow, he’s still out sick and she had to cover his shift tonight, so Weasley had to stay home with the children.”

He gives Potter a brief overview, though he’s pretty well up to speed on their case already. The rival shop Tielman had directed Draco to for unicorn blood turned out to be the best lead Draco and Weasley had stumbled across yet. As far as they can tell, Tielman is nothing more than a seller of ingredients. But this other place—a shop down at the very end of Knockturn—is a distributor of the potion itself. Draco will eventually pose as a customer to go in there, but tonight is the first stage of reconnaissance. He’ll watch to get a handle on what sort of clientele frequents it, the hours they visit the shop, their behavior. It’s only a matter of setting up his modified tent and then sitting there for a few hours and taking photos and notes. No reason at all why Potter can’t come along.

“I’d like to arrive there close to eleven. Meet me at my flat,” he says.

Potter grins at him. “It’s a date.”

- - - - -

“Lucy!” Draco scolds as she taps impatiently at the window. “For the love of Merlin, I’m coming!”

The tapping gets louder, and Draco growls to himself as he hurries across the room to let her in. He’d let her out for some exercise since he’ll likely be gone most of the evening, and of course she’d come back just as he was sitting down with a cup of tea and a toasted bagel slathered with cream cheese. He gets all the way to the window before realising both of his hands are occupied. He doesn’t have a plate for the bagel, and he’s learned the hard way that sitting a full cup anywhere in the vicinity of Lucy’s perch is just begging to have it knocked over because she’s a terror like that. He starts to turn back to the kitchen to set his things down but Lucy slams her beak against the windowpane so hard Draco’s afraid she’ll either break the glass or kill herself trying. He growls again as he turns back around. For fuck’s sake, this fucking owl.

Draco bites into the bagel, holding it in his mouth as he wrestles the window open one-handed to let her in. Then stands there as the frigid December air pours in, shivering as his bloody owl just sits there, staring at him.

“Cmm uhn,” he snarls around the bagel. She continues to sit there, so he takes the bagel out of his mouth, like speaking intelligibly will make any sort of difference. “Come on. Get in. You wanted to come in, didn’t you?”

Lucy gives a gentle coo and fluffs her feathers. He’s tempted to grab her and haul her inside, but knows she’d bite him if he tried.

“Or is this what you wanted, for me to come over here like an idiot, open up the window and then freeze my tits off? Get the fuck in here, you terrible fucking bird.”

Lucy cocks her head to the side and makes no move to come in, then continues to stare at him as he swears at her, and of course that’s when Potter knocks on his door.

“It’s open!” Draco shouts, and Potter lets himself in.

“Sorry, am I interrupting something? I guess I’m a bit early,” Potter says, coming over to him. “What’re you doing?”

“Shutting the fucking window, that’s what I’m doing,” Draco snaps.

He sticks the bagel back into his mouth and reaches for the window, and that’s when Lucy launches herself off the windowsill and nearly knocks him over as she flies in. Draco stumbles back and accidentally bites all the way through his bagel.

Potter’s hand darts out Seeker-quick and he catches it easily. He holds it as Draco slams the window shut, glares at Lucy, and swallows his mouthful of bagel.

“Thanks,” he says when his mouth is clear, taking the bagel back from Potter.

“No problem,” Potter says, and sucks a smear of cream cheese from his finger, lips pursed pink around his knuckle, cheeks hollowing as he sucks.

Draco has to look away. He glares at Lucy instead. “I honestly have no idea why I keep you.”

Lucy stares at him, then very deliberately reaches out with one foot and knocks her water dish onto the floor. Potter covers up a laugh with an unconvincing coughing fit as Draco cleans up the mess, puts her water dish back into her alcove and secures it with a Sticking Charm, refills it with an Aguamenti.

“I’ll trade you,” Draco says. “Your owl for mine. I’d rather be deaf than deal with this unholy terror.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’s not so bad as all that,” Potter says, reaching for her.

“Careful, she…” Draco begins, and pauses as Potter gently strokes her feathers with no repercussions. “...bites,” he finishes lamely.

“She’s fine, Malfoy. It’s all in how you handle them. If you’d paid attention to Hagrid in Care of Magical Creatures, you’d know,” Potter says, shooting a smug look over his shoulder.

And perhaps that’s what Draco should have warned him of. Lucy can’t abide smugness. She leans into Potter’s touch, lets him stroke her feathers twice more, and then bites his fingers.

“Jesus fuck!” Potter yelps, snatching his hand back.

“Told you,” Draco says. “She’s terrible.”

“Fuck,” Potter says again.

“Oh, it’s not so bad as all that. Here, let me see,” Draco says, reaching for Potter’s hand.

The finger she nipped is bleeding, but the wound’s not too deep and Draco heals it easily. It leaves a faint scar, but Potter can stop by the infirmary at work to have that taken care of. The Mediwitches there will have him sorted in just a minute or two.

“Lucy, huh?” Potter says, rubbing his newly-healed finger. “What’s that short for, Lucifer?”

“Lucius, actually,” Draco says.

Potter starts to laugh, then stops. “You’re fucking with me.”

“No, her name really is Lucius. I’d tried to name her Brutus, originally. But my father went off on some codswallop about ‘disrespecting my ancestors’ so I named her after him instead. I still haven’t heard the end of that.” Lucius had sent a Howler for that. Lucy hadn’t liked the noise and had deposited a pellet on Draco’s pillow in protest.

“Dare I ask why you keep trying to give your girl owl boy names?” Potter asks.

“That’s funny coming from you and Walburga,” Draco points out. “And anyhow, it’s not as if I knew she was a she when I bought her, did I? All owls look the same, more or less.” He shrugs. “And assuming someone should be named this or behave like that based on gender is bullshit anyhow. Who the fuck cares about what’s supposedly appropriate for whom just because of what bits they’ve got.”

“That,” Potter says, “is probably one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard you say.”

Draco shrugs. “I dated a man in New York who wore skirts and heels and things for no other reason than he liked wearing them, and fuck what everyone else thought about it. He was the person who taught me the most about not being an unintentional arsehole.”

“Unintentional?” Potter echoes.

Draco gives him a smirk. “Of course. When I’m an arsehole, I like to be so deliberately. Surely you can understand that, Mr Terrible-Feeling-And-Really-Truly-Sorry.”

Potter snorts. “Those wankers deserved it.”

“Merlin, tell me about it,” Draco sighs. “Do you know they’ve rejected me again? I even gave them an acronym, and they still rejected it. I went down there in person and you know what they told me? ‘It’s not a very good one, is it?’ Apparently they’ve got standards.”

“Ah,” Potter says, his eyes lighting up with a terrifying sort of eagerness. “Would you like me to help you come up with names?”

“Why, Potter,” Draco says. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“I’ll think on it,” Potter promises.

“Please do,” Draco tells him, then abandons his bagel and mug of tea on the counter before he offers Potter his arm. “Shall we?”

Potter takes it, Draco Accios the bag he’d packed from across the room, and Apparates them away.

- - - - -

As he did with Weasley, Draco hands Potter the Disillusioner to hold while he gets the modified tent set up across the street from Campbell & Collins. Potter is impressed and once they get settled inside, Draco spends the first fifteen minutes explaining the spellwork that went into it.

It’s cold inside the tent, and even under Draco’s enchanted blanket he’s still chilly.

“The next time I’m between cases, remind me to take this thing apart and add Warming and Cooling Charms to it,” he mutters, reaching for his wand.

“Here, let me…”

Potter has his wand out before Draco can say anything else, and casts. A Warming Charm rolls over him, and Draco sighs into it. He lets his eyes slide shut for a moment as he concentrates on the faint tingle of Potter’s magic sweeping over his skin before it fades into warmth. He thinks of Potter’s magic, the bright yellow-gold, and wishes he could see him cast. Warming Charms are always a soft rose-gold haze.

“Thanks,” he murmurs.

Potter’s not looking at him, gaze fixed so intently on the doorway across the street that for a moment Draco thinks he’s seen something. But nothing’s there, just the closed door and dark window. He sighs and settles back against the wall of their alcove and tries to focus on the stakeout rather than the way he can still feel Potter’s magic tingling over his skin.

“Thanks for inviting me along,” Potter says after a while. “I know it’s not terribly exciting, but it’s still nice to feel useful.”

“You’re useful,” Draco says. “You’re an instructor. Shaping the future and all that.”

“Yeah,” Potter sighs. “I love teaching, I really do. But I’ve always gone out there into the thick of it and got my hands dirty. And sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and let other people run out there and put themselves in danger without me.”

“You teach eighteen-year-olds combat duelling,” Draco says dryly. “One would think that’s more than enough danger for you.”

That gets a laugh out of Potter. “It is, most of the time. But sometimes I still miss this.”

Draco can understand that. Before he transferred back to London, he’d spent most of his time either in his lab or in the classroom. And yeah, he’d missed this too.

“Pans tells me I’m being ridiculous. That I’ve already done more than enough and no one expects me to keep saving the world a little bit at a time. But sometimes I still feel…” He breaks off with an awkward laugh. “Sorry, I’ve no idea why I’m dumping this on you.”

“Empathy was never Pansy’s strong suit,” Draco says, then shrugs. “You get used to it, to working in the field. I understand how it is. It’s hard to let go.”

“Exactly,” Potter says. “And, you know, I’m Harry Potter, the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived and all that nonsense. I feel like it’s expected of me. Like everyone expects it of me. Including myself, sometimes. Especially myself.”

Draco’s not sure what to say to that. He can sympathise with being taken out of the field; there’s no way he can understand what it’s like to be the Saviour.

“Cheer up,” he says after a few moments. “This way you get the pleasure of kicking my arse in duelling five days a week.”

“Not all the time,” Potter says. “Sometimes you kick mine. And that’s really something, Malfoy. Not many people can hold their own against me like you do.”

“Yeah, well, enjoy it while you can,” Draco says. “I’ll run out of tricks sooner or later, I’m sure. Magically, I’m nowhere near as powerful as you are.” He’s pleased to note that only the slightest trace of bitterness colours his voice. He’s supposed to be cheering Potter up.

“You’re clever, Malfoy. And that’s a different sort of power,” Potter says. “That’s not any less impressive than what I can do. All this…” He waves a hand around the modified tent. “I could never do what you do. I haven’t got the patience for it, for one. Or the eye for detail. And delicate spellwork’s never been a particular talent of mine.”

“Well,” says Draco as a curious warmth spreads through him at Potter’s words. “I suppose that’s true.”

He changes the subject to Quidditch, a nice safe topic, and Potter cheerfully spends the next while getting Draco caught up on how the season’s going so far. The Kenmare Kestrals are predicted to take the League Cup this year, though Potter tells him to keep an eye on the Harpies.

They pause their conversation several times whenever someone approaches Campbell & Collins. They’re always cloaked and hooded, and they knock in an odd pattern. The door opens, they present their wand, and are allowed inside. A few minutes later they emerge again and sneak away up the street. Draco takes notes, writing down the particulars, any unusual behaviour, and the time. Potter takes a photograph.

Shortly after midnight, Draco takes out the packet of sandwiches he’d prepared. Potter declines his offer of sharing, and from his pocket withdraws a small cotton sack. Reaching inside, he pulls out a couple of clementines. Sets one aside and takes the other in hand.

Draco watches as Potter digs his thumbnail into the fruit, peeling away the skin in small fragrant puffs of mist, the faint smell of citrus lingering in the air.

“Do you want one?” Potter asks.

Draco realises with a start that he’s been caught staring. “Oh. Ah, no thank you. I’m fine,” he says, toasting Potter with his half-eaten sandwich. “That smells good is all.”

“They’re my favourite,” Potter says, peeling away the last strip of orange rind. He splits the fruit in half, pulls one section free. “I look forward to the cold weather just because I know that’s when they’re in season. If you change your mind, I brought plenty.”

He pops the slice into his mouth, gives a small satisfied hum as he chews, and Draco has to look away because the pure joy on Potter’s face is enrapturing. One thing Draco’s learned about Potter in the time they’ve been spending together lately is the deep appreciation he has for the smallest of things. Unexpectedly running into a friend. The first sip of a fresh pint. Coming in from the cold. And in this case, eating a clementine.

It’s really incredible. Harry Potter, with his shit childhood and a madman chasing after him for his adolescence, with more blood and death in his formative years than anyone should have to face. With his money and his fame and more magical power than any one man’s got a right to have.

And all it takes to make him happy is a clementine.

He truly is a marvel.

Last week when Draco saw Potter on his motorcycle, he knew he could fall in love if he let himself. But tonight, he realises that it’s going to happen whether he lets it or not.

The thought makes him feel helpless and terrified and wonderfully, frighteningly elated.

He’s saved from a full-blown crisis by another wizard approaching the shop. Like the others have been, he’s wrapped in a dark cloak with the hood pulled over his head. Draco notes the time and Potter snaps a photo as the man knocks on the door, presents his wand, and is let inside.

A few minutes later, the hooded figure exits the shop, lingers in the doorway for a moment. A sudden gust of wind catches the hem of his cloak, revealing the bottom few inches of the gaudy yellow robes he wears beneath in the instant before he Disapparates.

Draco jots down his observations, notes the time, and closes his notebook. Somehow he has the feeling that this was the most exciting thing he’ll see tonight. A wizard with bad fashion sense buying an illegal potion. Not the most helpful clue in this case.

They sit in silence for a long while. Potter eats another clementine and Draco doesn’t look at him. After a while longer, Potter stands up, using the wall of the alcove to push himself to his feet.

“What are you doing?” Draco asks.

“Stretching,” Potter says, doing just that. “My leg acts up if I stay in the same position too long.”

“Oh.” Draco fiddles with his quill as Potter bends over, and keeps his eyes averted until Potter finishes up what he’s doing.

“I’m surprised you haven’t asked me about it,” Potter says as he levers himself down the wall to a sitting position again. “You know, about what happened.”

“From the way no one will talk about it in any detail, I’m assuming it’s something you’re not comfortable with me knowing,” Draco says. “Weasley did mention something about an illegal potions case and some rulebreaking, but that’s as much as I know.”

Potter stretches his legs out in front of him, crosses one ankle over the other. “Yeah. We were working a case about four years back. My last one. It was a potions case, these people were brewing something like a drinkable Imperio. Something they could slip to people who worked high up in the Ministry and take over. It wasn’t working properly yet, hadn’t done much more then make a handful of people sick enough to land in St Mungo’s, but they hired on a Potions Master to look at it for them. Ron and I found out at the last minute and went in without waiting for backup.” He looks down at his feet, shrugs. “We probably should’ve waited.”

“But they were caught afterward, right?”

“Most of them. Three of them,” Potter says. “Thirty years in Azkaban each. The last one got away, plus the potions expert they brought in. Fled the country, as far as we can tell.” He sighs, shifts uncomfortably. Uncrosses his ankles and crosses them again the other way.

“Does it hurt?” Draco asks after a moment.

Potter glances at him. “Not really. Aches, mostly.” He pulls a face. “Constantly.”

“Is it your knee?” Draco asks. Knees are delicate things, he knows. He worked with a witch in New York who’d been removed from active duty after a grievous knee injury that’d never healed right.

Potter nods. “Sort of. It goes down to my knee but the worst of it’s higher.” He reaches out and touches Draco’s thigh. “Right here,” he says.

Draco’s breath catches, and Potter looks up at him, and Draco feels like a shit. Potter’s finally opening up to him about his injury, obviously a very painful and difficult topic for him, and all Draco can think of is Potter’s hand on his thigh. Merlin, he’s starting to get hard from it. He tries to look sympathetic but probably just looks pained.

Potter’s still watching him, his brow creased like he’s trying to work through a difficult Arithmancy equation. Glances down at his hand. Looks back up at Draco. And then slides his hand an inch higher.

Draco freezes. Flat-out freezes, because Potter is running his hand up Draco’s thigh. Not much, and now he’s stopped. But an inch is an inch and it’s still an upward motion and both of those together means that Potter’s hand is now one inch closer to Draco’s cock and oh fuck Draco has no idea what he’s expected to do.

“Potter,” he begins, and then nearly bites his tongue when Potter shifts his hand another inch higher.

Because this time his hand doesn’t stop. He keeps sliding it up, up, up, until he runs out of thigh and his hand’s at the crease of Draco’s hip. And then his hand shifts over and he cups Draco’s cock and balls just as bold as you please.

“Oh fuck,” Draco says. “That’s my. You’re. Fuck.”

“Yes.”

“What?”

Potter curls his fingers, giving Draco a gentle squeeze. “Fucking,” he says. “I’m saying yes.”

And before Draco can say anything to that, Potter leans in and kisses him. Draco’s brain shuts down entirely at that point, because he’s got Potter’s hand on his cock and Potter’s mouth pressed to his, and nothing good can possibly come of thinking about any of this. Potter’s lips move, coaxing Draco’s mouth open. Draco gives in, lets Potter deepen the kiss. He tastes of clementines, and Merlin, Draco’s never going to be able to smell citrus again without thinking of tonight. He clutches at Potter, pushes his hips up against the warm pressure of Potter’s palm, and kisses him back.

“I thought—” Draco pants in between kisses. “I wasn’t sure—”

“Malfoy,” Potter says. “Stop trying to talk and just kiss me, okay?”

Draco stops talking and does as he’s told, gives in and lets Potter kiss him, and after a while he gets brave enough to reach out and lay his hand over Potter’s groin, and is fucking delighted to find that Potter’s just as hard as he is. He rubs his palm against it and Potter makes this deliciously breathy little whimper so Draco keeps doing it, swallowing down every beautiful sound Potter makes.

He leaves off kneading Potter’s cock, plucks desperately at the fly of his trousers, then breaks the kiss.

“What are you—” Potter gasps as Draco straddles his lap and kisses him again. “We shouldn’t. We’re supposed to be watching—”

“I know,” Draco says, even though part of him admits that Potter’s got a point about being on duty, and part of him wants to point out that Potter fucking started this. “I know. But I want you, I’ve wanted you for so long and now you’ve said I can have you. I’m not going to be able to concentrate if I don’t, if we don’t. We’ll make it fast.” He reaches down and rubs the flat of his hand over Potter’s erection. “Will that be a problem for you?”

Potter’s breath hisses out between his clenched teeth. “No, no problem at all. Handjobs, then? And we’ll do this properly after?”

“Yeah, okay. That’s.” Draco leans in, kisses Potter again. “Yeah, that’s good.”

After all the time he’s spent fantasising about Potter since he’s come back, all the nights his mind had wandered through what-ifs while he’d been away, all the time he spent thinking about this while he was still in school. He can scarcely believe he’s doing this now. That he’s about to touch Potter’s cock and make him come, and Potter’s about to touch Draco’s cock and make him come too. It’s brilliant.

He gets Potter’s trousers open and Potter lifts his hips for Draco to pull them down, and Draco stops kissing Potter so he can get a good look at him.

Potter’s cock is every bit as marvellous as Draco remembers. Long and thick, not obscenely so, but easily the largest Draco’s had the pleasure to encounter. A small part of Draco can’t help comparing it to his own, and is a little put out that Potter’s cock is bigger than his. But then again, Draco’s the one who’s going to get fucked with it later tonight, so he rather thinks he comes out ahead.

He wraps his fingers around it and gives it a stroke. It’s so hot in his hand, the head damp with precome, and Potter lets out a stuttering breath and yanks at Draco’s trousers, gets them open and takes Draco in hand, and then curls his free hand around the back of Draco’s neck and pulls him in for another kiss. They stroke each other hard, and Draco lets himself get lost in it, his world shrinking down to Potter’s cock in his hand and his hand on Potter’s and the wet warmth of Potter’s mouth against his. He never wants this to end, but eventually it does, as all good things do.

“Malfoy, fuck, Malfoy,” Potter gasps out against Draco’s mouth just before his cock throbs in Draco’s hand, spurting long white streaks over his fingers.

Potter pauses in stroking Draco to wipe Draco's messy hand with his own, then goes back to Draco’s cock. Potter's fingers are slick with his own come and he’s using it to wank Draco, and fuck the whole thing is so wonderfully filthy that Draco can hardly stand it.

“God you’re beautiful,” Potter says, and Draco comes hard.

It’s a bit awkward afterward. Potter reaches for his wand and cleans them both up, and Draco gets off his lap and settles down beside him again, and wonders how the hell he’s supposed to get through the next hour of surveillance.

“You’re too far away,” Potter says after a minute. He tugs at Draco’s sleeve.

Draco blinks at him. “We’re on a stakeout and you want to cuddle?”

Potter rolls his eyes. “We’re on a stakeout and we just wanked each other off, so yeah, I want to cuddle. Get over here.”

And Draco can’t really argue with that, so he scoots close and lets Potter wrap an arm around him.

Potter’s got that look on his face again, that unexpected-friend, in-from-the-cold, eating-a-clementine sort of blissful smile. Draco’s stomach gives a nervous swoop, so he leans his head on Potter’s shoulder, and does his best to focus on the shop across the street.

Really, he’s just lucky nothing else happens for the rest of his watch. The world could end right now and Draco’s not sure he’d notice.

- - - - -

The last fifteen minutes of surveillance had been a unique sort of torture. Potter, the impatient Gryffindor git that he is, apparently couldn’t make it the full hour they had left on their watch. He’d got all handsy and now Draco’s so worked up he can hardly think straight. He gets his things packed up, the modified tent taken down, and they Apparate back to Potter’s house.

Potter’s on him almost before the world’s stopped spinning, and for some reason they’ve ended up in the kitchen. Potter doesn’t even seem to notice. He pushes Draco back against the cabinets, the edge of the countertop digging into the small of his back, but he doesn’t care about this small discomfort because Potter’s kissing him. The Disillusioner hits the ground with a crash and he’s probably going to have to fix it on Monday, but that seems like such a trivial thing compared to the more pressing issue of Potter’s mouth on his.

Draco’s pretty sure he could quite happily continue kissing Potter forever, but Potter breaks off and yanks Draco’s robes open to tug at his belt. “Trousers off,” he says.

“We’re doing this here? What happened to doing it properly?” Draco asks, already shucking off his robes and reaching for his belt. “Properly implies there’ll be a bed involved.”

“We can involve the bed next time,” Potter says. “Bed’s too far. Fuck, we need lube.” He scans the countertop, reaches for a bottle of olive oil, and Draco slaps his hand away.

“Oh no,” he says. “You’re not touching me with that stuff. The only extra virgin thing that’s ever been near my arse is you, and once was quite enough.”

He wishes he could take the words back the instant they leave his mouth, but Potter only kisses him again. “You were my first,” he murmurs between kisses, his voice rough and possessive. “And I was yours.”

That’s a particularly rosy way of looking at what had happened between them, but Draco doesn’t care to correct Potter right now because to do so he’d have to stop kissing him and everything else seems terribly unimportant compared to that. He fumbles between them and gets his belt unbuckled and his fly unbuttoned.

“But we need—” Potter begins, breaking off the kiss, glancing back at the bloody olive oil.

“For fuck’s sake,” Draco snaps. He gets his trousers open and pushed down and kicked off. “Are you a bloody wizard or aren’t you?” He yanks off his shirt. “You know what? Let me handle it.”

“Right,” Potter says, pulling Draco close and nipping at his collarbones. “Fuck, you’re beautiful.”

The idea of turning on the tap and concentrating long enough to Transfigure the water seems feels too difficult right now, so Draco gropes for his wand and Conjures a handful of lube. He dislikes the Conjured stuff, much prefers a thinner lube and the Conjured stuff always comes out a bit thicker than he’d like, but it’ll work in a pinch. He reaches back and begins to work himself open. They didn’t discuss who’d top and who’d bottom, but Draco needs to have Potter’s cock in him. He pushes a second finger too deep too quickly and winces as the slight pain.

“God,” Potter gasps. “I can’t wait to be inside you. I’ve been thinking about this.”

“Really? How long have you been thinking about this?” Draco asks, pleased they’re entirely in agreement about whose cock goes where. He pushes a third finger into himself. It hurts a bit, but he can take it. He’s as ready as he’s got the patience to make himself. “Come on, Potter, trousers off.”

“A long time. Since you came back. Since before you came back. But it’s been really bad since that day after Quidditch,” Potter says, fumbling with his own trousers. “You’ve no idea how you looked, do you? All messy with your clothing wet and sticking to you.”

“I was covered with mud,” Draco protests, running his hands over Potter’s shoulders, can’t stop touching him, can’t quite believe he’s allowed to touch him.

“I know, you were bloody gorgeous. You’re always so neat but that day you were filthy and smeared with dirt, and your hair, and I couldn’t even look at you. I couldn’t look at you because God, I wanted you. I wanted to bend you over right there and fuck you hard.” Potter manages to get his trousers open and shoves them down his thighs just far enough to expose himself. He pushes up against Draco and shivers as their cocks rub together. “And then you were wanking.”

“You knew?” Draco was sure he’d been quiet.

“I could smell your arousal,” Potter growls, nipping at Draco’s neck. “I could smell when you came.”

“What?” Draco asks. He grabs for Potter’s wrists, pushes him away, makes him stop. “Wait, what? You could smell me?”

Potter’s head jerks up and he blinks at Draco, his eyes wide. “Oh fuck. Fuck.” He tugs his hands free of Draco’s loose grasp and scrubs them through his hair. “Fuck,” he says again. “Well, I guess now’s as good a time as any to talk about it.”

“I could think of more convenient times,” Draco says, and can’t resist rocking his hips against Potter’s. There’s a tinge of dread to Potter’s voice that tells Draco that whatever Potter’s about to say is something that Draco’s not entirely sure he wants to hear. He’s wanted Potter for so long, and now he’s so close to having him. Can’t he have sex first and then have everything blow up in his face?

“Really, this is important,” Potter says. The look on his face, that strangely Potter-ish mix of reluctance and determination, is the same one he wore that day in Draco’s office, after Draco had got an inadvertent glimpse of Potter’s magic.

Merlin. He doesn’t want to hear this, but he thinks he needs to. “Fine,” he says.

“There’s… I don’t think there’s an easy way to say this.” Potter hesitates, steels himself. His eyes slide to the side so he’s staring at the wall just over Draco’s left shoulder. “I’m a werewolf.”

Draco can’t help himself; he flinches back. His back bumps into the counter. “What? You’re—Fuck, you were kissing me, and—”

“I’m not contagious,” Potter snaps, glaring at Draco. “I’m on suppressants. I don’t transform and you can’t catch it from me. So you can calm the fuck down.”

Potter reaches for him and Draco jerks back again before he can stop to think.

“But you’re…” Oh Merlin, the veins of darkness twisting through Potter’s magic make so much more sense. And Potter’s sudden illness the day before. The full moon was Wednesday night. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why, so you could react like this?” Potter snarls. “So you can flinch away from me and look at me like I’m some sort of disgusting thing? You haven’t changed a bit, Malfoy. I don’t know why I thought… Never mind. Forget it, forget everything. I want you to leave now.”

Oh fuck, Draco really fucked up. “I’m not—” he begins, reaching for Potter.

Potter knocks his hands away, hikes up his trousers and starts to turn away from him, and Draco panics. Throws himself forward and slams Potter backward into the wall. Potter grunts at the impact, and Draco’s kissing him before he can recover.

“Malfoy,” he gets out, twisting away. He tries to push Draco off him but doesn’t put much effort into it.

“No,” Draco says, curling his fingers around Potter’s arms. “I’m bare-arsed naked in your kitchen and you’re going to fuck me. I don’t care if you hate me afterward, but I’m not leaving here until you—”

Potter kisses him hard and Draco gives into it, sliding his arms around Potter and holding him tight, frotting against him. Potter’s jeans are rough against his cock, but Draco’s so desperate that he doesn’t even care. Potter breaks the kiss and turns them around so Draco’s the one pushed up against the wall. He grasps Draco’s arms just above his elbows, his fingers digging in hard enough to bruise. The plaster is cold against his back but Potter won’t let him away from it, gives him a little shake when Draco tries to struggle.

“You’re an arsehole,” Potter says. He’s angry, his eyes fierce and bright, his mouth set in a firm line. “You’re such an arsehole.”

“I know,” Draco whimpers. All he can think of is sixth year in the potions classroom, when Potter pinned him up against the door. He remembers what came after and Merlin, he needs this. He needs Potter. He’s acutely aware of how empty he is and he needs to be filled up. “I know, I know. Just fuck me. I want you to fuck me.”

Potter yanks him around so Draco’s facing the wall, and he splays his palms on it, bracing himself, spreads his legs and waits. The fluttery-excited-nervous tremble in his belly grows as he hears the whisper of cloth over skin, then Potter’s hand is on his hips, urging him to tilt his arse up. Draco arches his back and closes his eyes, and then the blunt head of Potter’s cock presses against his arse. There’s a long moment where Potter doesn’t move and Draco’s trembling in desperate anticipation. He needs this so much, he’s never felt more desperate to be filled up, to be stretched wide and taken. He rocks his hips back.

And Potter pushes inside in one long stroke. Draco cries out, and Potter doesn’t give him a chance to adjust before he’s pulling out and slamming in again, setting up a hard, fast rhythm.

“Yes,” he pants, arching his spine as the mild pain eases into a sharp pleasure that burns through him. He pushes back against Potter. “Yes, yes.”

Potter grasps his hips, fingers curled hard around his hipbones as he hauls Draco back against him to meet each thrust. Draco wraps one hand around his cock and tugs at it, Merlin, he’s already so close, can’t believe how close he is already. He stops stroking himself, just keeps his hand on it for a bit of friction as Potter fucks him. It’s brilliant, it’s so brilliant and Draco never wants this to end. Potter’s groaning now, soft breathy little grunts punctuating each thrust. Draco feels his orgasm building, lets go of his cock to press his hand over Potter’s on his hip.

And three strokes later he comes so hard he honestly can’t remember the particulars of it after it’s over. Just being overwhelmed by a sweet piercing rush so intense his skin’s still tingling from it. It’s probably the most intense orgasm he’s had in recent memory, can’t really say for sure because his brain doesn’t feel like it’s working properly after that. He’s breathing hard and faintly dizzy. His knees have gone wobbly. Potter pulls out, and Draco turns to blink at him.

“Did you…?”

“Yeah,” Potter says with a nod.

“Good. Then I’m going to sit down,” he mumbles, sinking to the floor. It says something that he doesn’t even flinch at the chill of the tile floor meeting his bare arse. He leans back against the wall and closes his eyes, listens to Potter settling down beside him.

“Sorry,” Potter says after a few moments. “I didn’t mean to be so…”

“Potter,” Draco says without opening his eyes. “I’ve just had what was quite likely the best sex of my life. If you try to apologise for it, I’m going to slap you.”

“Oh,” Potter says. There’s a rustle of clothing as he shifts a bit. “Okay.”

Draco lets a few minutes slip by in silence, until he feels he’s capable of holding a conversation, then opens his eyes. Potter’s sitting beside him just far enough away to not be touching, left leg stuck straight out in front of him, right leg bent so his right foot’s tucked under his other knee. He’s looking down at his hands.

“If anyone should be apologising, it’s me,” he says in a rush. He’s grown better at admitting when he’s wrong, but it’s still not something he enjoys. “I reacted poorly.” He takes a deep breath. “When the Dark Lord came back, he forced my parents to take him in, along with all of his followers. And Greyback liked to frighten me. Father and Bellatrix were able to keep him at bay, but after they were sent to Azkaban, he didn’t see myself or my mother as enough of a threat to make him back down.” Draco shivers, his stomach clenching as old memories come rushing up, of being young and afraid and utterly helpless to make it stop. “He used to like to stalk me around the Manor, corner me and tell me how he was going to turn me. How he’d make me like him. How he’d bite me and then lock me up with my mother—”

“—and when the full moon comes you’ll rip her throat out and you’ll love every second of it. Imagine the smell of her fear, the way she’ll scream before your teeth sink in, the taste of her blood—”

“I had nightmares for years,” Draco says. “He scared the shit out of me.”

“Greyback was a monster,” Potter says. He seems to draw in on himself. “I’m not—”

“I know,” Draco says quickly. “I know you’re not, and you would never be. And I’m sorry for how I reacted. I’m not trying to make excuses for it, but I want you to understand. I wasn’t thinking properly and it wasn’t right of me to only think of the worst example. The other werewolf I knew was a good, kind man.”

“Yeah, he was,” Potter says.

“But I sometimes have a hard time letting go of the fear. Of remembering that it’s not the condition, it’s the person beneath that makes it bad. And you’re not like that.”

“It’s okay,” Potter says. The soft way he says it tells Draco that it’s really not, but the tentative way he peeks up at Draco says that it will be. “Really, Malfoy. It’s fine. Greyback was—Yeah. He was. I understand. It’s just… I don’t like what I am. And when you reacted poorly to me, I reacted poorly to that.” He gives Draco a wry smile. “You may have worked out it’s a bit of a sore spot.”

“And I hit it.” Draco leans over so his shoulder presses to Potter’s. “So we’re both sorry,” he says. “In any case. While we’re on this uncomfortable subject, what’s it like for you? I mean, if we’re…” He trails off, because he’s not entirely certain what they are. “If we’re whatever-we-are, then—”

“Boyfriends,” Potter puts in. “I’d like you to be my boyfriend.”

“All right, if I’m your boyfriend,” Draco says. Merlin, Pansy’s never going to let him hear the end of this when she finds out. He’ll let Potter make the announcement to her. “I should probably know exactly what’s going on with you. So I don’t say or do the wrong thing, at the very least. But I’d like to think if you’re sleeping with me, you trust me to some extent.”

“I do, it’s just…” Potter sighs and scrubs a hand through his hair. “Yeah, okay. You’re right, you should know this.” He shifts where he’s sitting, leans his knee against Draco’s leg. He doesn’t seem to have realised he’s done it until Draco puts his hand on it and gives him a reassuring little pat.

“Go on,” he says.

“I said before that I’m on suppressants,” Potter says. “They’ve made a lot of progress with them post-War. Fenrir Greyback turned a lot of people, so there was a sudden demand. Wolfsbane keeps a werewolf docile during the full moon, but the transformation is still unpleasant. The suppressants I take keep me from transforming at all, but my body spends the night fighting against itself and I usually feel like arse the next day.” He wrinkles his nose. “Arse warmed over. It’s pretty awful.”

“But other than tiredness after the full moon, there’s no other differences?” Draco asks with a frown. “I thought you said you could smell me.”

“Yeah, there’s that. My sense of smell is tremendously sharp. And physically I’m a little bit stronger than I was. And for the few days leading up to the full moon I have loads of energy, which is sort of nice. I usually get all my cleaning done then. My sense of smell gets even better around then. Er, some other physiological changes happen then too, but not really…” He takes a deep breath. “The worst change is the possessiveness. Wolves are all about pack, so I get anxious if I don’t spend time with my friends, which is why we get together so often. But it’s worst about anyone I’m… Well, anyone I have sex with. I feel like they're mine. Like I need to keep them, and if I can’t, then... it’s really hard to be around them.”

“Is that what happened with Liam?” Draco asks before he remembers he’s not supposed to know about that. “Ah, Pansy mentioned.” Technically true, and luckily Potter doesn’t question it, just nods.

“Yeah. We’d already broken up when I was turned, but we were still friends. And because we’d had sex in the past, the wolf part of me saw him as mine. Except the human part of me knew he wasn’t, and honestly didn’t even want him to be. We’d broken up because the relationship didn’t work, and I was fine with that. But I still wanted him back and was insanely jealous of his new boyfriend.” He sighs. “It was just hard for a while.”

Draco frowns. “And is that the case for people you’ve slept with recently? Or ever?”

He tries his best to sound casual and uninterested, but Potter sees right through him. One corner of his mouth ticks up into that endearingly crooked smile. “Ever.” He reaches for the hand that Draco’s still got draped over his knee, laces their fingers together and gives them a squeeze. “But I think being around you would be difficult even if we hadn’t had sex.”

“Oh?”

“You’re bloody gorgeous,” Potter says. “And you smell brilliant.”

“What do I smell like?” Draco asks.

Potter leans in, tucks his nose into the curve of Draco neck and breathes deep. “Like someone I need.”

Draco strokes a hand through Potter’s hair. “You’ve got me. Now come on,” he says, standing. He holds out a hand to Potter. “You can have me just as well in a nice, soft bed. The floor is cold and my arse is sore.”

“Sorry,” Potter says, allowing Draco to haul him to his feet. “I was rough with you.”

Draco turns back and kisses him. “You were perfect,” he says. “Now come along, I’m cold.”

They stumble to the bedroom together and Draco curls up in bed, and seconds later Potter hits the bedclothes with a Warming Charm and Draco sighs in pleasure. He closes his eyes while Potter strips down before he slides in beside him. He’s still wearing his t-shirt and pants. The sheets are warm and Potter’s warmer, and everything smells like him. Draco buries his face in the pillow, breathes deep, and falls asleep between one moment and the next.

- - - - -

He wakes a few hours later to Potter kissing his neck. Draco moans and tips his head forward, giving Potter better access. Potter spoons up behind him, one hand sliding over Draco’s stomach and down to his cock, gives it a gentle squeeze as he presses his groin against Draco’s backside. His pants have conveniently disappeared, and Draco moans as the head of Potter’s hard cock slides against his arse.

They take their time getting each other worked up, and then Potter stretches out on his back, tugs the sheets out of the way, and Draco gets his first look at Potter’s leg. The scarring’s about as bad as he’d expect for getting mauled by a werewolf, livid pink against the pale skin of Potter’s thigh, starting at the top of his knee and stretching nearly all the way up the side, the muscle beneath uneven and twisted. Merlin, this is what Potter described as ‘aches’? Frankly, Draco thinks it’s nothing short of a miracle Potter walks with as faint a limp as he does.

“Don’t look at that,” Potter murmurs, tugging at Draco.

He allows himself to be manoeuvred into place, straddles Potter’s hips and sinks down onto him in one long press. The rising sun spills in through the window, painting Potter’s body in warm rose-gold light, and Draco thinks of Warming Charms and the feel of Potter’s magic.

He’s still sore from their first round in the kitchen, but somehow that just makes this that much better, the faint memory of pain echoing every movement, how slow they go, how gently Potter treats him. Draco pushes his hands up under Potter’s t-shirt, sliding his palms over Potter’s belly.

“Take this off,” he says, tugging at the hem.

Potter hesitates. He won’t quite meet Draco’s eyes as he says, “Don’t stare, okay?”

He seems to expect an answer, so Draco gives him a nod, and Potter takes off the shirt. And Draco can’t help it; he stares for a long moment before he catches himself and looks away. Potter’s leg isn’t the only scarring he has. Four long claw marks are scored over half his chest, starting at his sternum and curving over his ribs and down his side in raised pink scars. His imagination supplies a view of what might’ve happened, the claws digging in and tearing, blood and screaming and Potter falling down on a tile floor, cold water and blood everywhere and—

Fuck this.

“Sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that,” he says, pointedly staring at the scars before looking back up to meet Potter’s eyes. “I’m absolutely going to stare at you because you’re bloody gorgeous. Every inch of you.” He slides his hand up Potter’s chest, presses over where the scars begin, makes sure he does it firmly, with no hesitation and no flinching.

“God,” Potter says. He catches Draco by the back of the neck and hauls him down for a kiss.

Draco lets him, then sits back and begins to move, rocking gently against Potter, working him in small thrusts, keeps his hand pressed to the scars on Potter’s ribs while he rides him slow. It’s odd how sex between them can be this easy, gentle thing, and somehow it’s not any less intense than what happened in the kitchen. Draco wonders if everything with Potter will feel like this, too sharp, too much. It’s addicting.

Potter comes first, then eases Draco off him and onto the mattress, slides down and sucks him until he comes too. Draco shudders through his orgasm as Potter swallows down every drop, then they curl together, warm and sleepy.

“What?” Draco asks when Potter makes a small humming sound.

“Nothing, just,” Potter sighs, presses a kiss to Draco’s shoulder. “Thinking it’s sort of weird, isn’t it? That I’ve got Draco Malfoy in my bed. That we’re in a relationship now.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Draco sniffs, though truth be told he’s sort of feeling the same way. It’s brilliant being here with Potter, although it feels a bit like an impossible dream he’s afraid he’ll wake up from at any moment. But he sounds confident when he says, “It’s meant to be.”

“Yeah, right,” Potter says wryly. “We’re like a fairy tale.”

“We could be,” Draco says. There’s certainly been enough blood and violence in their pasts to qualify. The Brothers Grimm weren’t exactly soft and fluffy.

“What, like Little Red Riding Hood?” Potter asks, cuddling Draco a bit closer. “That’s the only one I can think of with a wolf in it, and sorry but red’s not your colour.”

For a moment Draco’s unsure how to respond. But Potter’s sense of humour has always leaned a bit dark, and Draco understands that, to an extent. Sometimes laughing at things is the only way to make them bearable.

“I was thinking more along the lines of Beauty and the Beast,” Draco says cautiously.

Potter snorts. “More like The Beast and the Aloof Prat.”

“Who’s Also Beautiful,” Draco adds.

“Who’s Also a Prat,” Potter counters.

Draco laughs, presses a soft kiss to Potter’s shoulder just because he can. “The Beast and the Aloof Prat Who’s Also Beautiful Who’s Also a Prat,” he says. “That’s not a very good title. Too long.”

“Well how about we simplify things and make our own fairy tale,” Potter says. “How about, Five Times Harry Blew Draco’s Mind?”

Draco snuggles into Potter’s side. “I rather like the sound of that, though I do feel compelled to point out that we’ve only shagged twice so far.” Well, and the handjobs, but he thinks he’ll not count that in case Potter decides to take him up on it. Three more orgasms is better than two more.

Potter gives him a smirk. “Neither of us has to be anywhere today.”

“Well,” Draco says, pushing himself up on one elbow. “I do believe I’d like to see you try.”

Potter rolls him over and pins him to the bed. “That sounds like a challenge, Malfoy,” he says before he leans in and kisses him slow.

Draco smiles and kisses him back.

- - - - -

True to his word, Potter gives him a total of five mind-blowing orgasms that day. They spend the entire morning and afternoon in bed, dozing together between bouts of sex. The last round happens around suppertime and that one in particular, fucking hell. Draco honestly thinks he’s spent at that point, but Potter works him up and up and up until he plateaus, caught right on the edge for what feels like forever, until he’s a writhing, begging, desperate mess. And when he finally comes he feels like it’s wrenched out of him. He feels it down to his fucking toes.

“I don’t think I can move,” he says honestly as Potter presses warm kisses along his collarbones.

“That’s okay,” Potter says and keeps kissing. “You’re fine right where you are.”

Draco flops a hand over Potter’s head, tangling his fingers through strands of black and scattered silver.

“You’re brilliant, you know?”

“I know,” Potter says, “But I’ll let you tell me anyhow.”

Draco’s barely begun to edge into a light doze when his stomach grumbles.

“Hungry?” Potter asks.

“Mm, a bit, yeah.”

Potter sits up, begins to dig through the tangled bedsheets in search of his pants. “I’ll make us some dinner.”

“Sweet of you,” Draco sighs, stretching. “But aren’t you supposed to have bought me dinner before taking me to bed? You’re doing this all wrong, you know.”

“Hey, I offered you a clementine. It’s not my fault you turned me down.” Potter stands up, winks at Draco. “You don’t have to get up. In fact, I’ll ask that you don’t.”

Draco leans back against the pillows. “I won’t complain about that. But why?”

Potter leans down and kisses him. “I like you naked in my bed. I like knowing that I’m going to come back here to find you waiting for me, just like this.”

Chapter Text

Work with Potter is interesting, to say the least. They’re not hiding their relationship, but Draco’s still trying to not be too obvious about it. He feels that it’s important to separate his work and his private life. To maintain a constant air of professional dignity in the workplace.

Potter apparently doesn’t have the same concerns.

He behaves himself while he and Draco are teaching Tactical Spellwork. But the rest of the time, all bets are off.

He seems to be minding his manners today, at least. By which Draco means that Potter’s maintaining his usual levels of audaciousness and ridiculousness, but he’s keeping his hands to himself while doing so.

“Are you humming ‘Bad Romance’?” Potter asks from where he sits on the corner of Draco’s worktable. Draco’s taken to keeping it cleared off for him, because Potter’s arse will be there whether he likes it or not.

“Fuck off,” Draco says without looking up from his work. “It’s a good song.”

“I know it is,” Potter says. “I just didn’t expect you to know it.”

“Pansy,” Draco says.

Potter tips his head to the side, watching him. “You’re not going to continue? You were just getting to the good part.”

Draco sends him a glare.

“Come on, Malfoy,” Potter says, leaning over to poke him in the ribs. “Keep going.”

“Fuck off,” Draco says again, slapping his hand away. So much for Potter keeping his hands to himself.

“Come on!” Potter slides off the table, grabs him and pulls him into an awkward, shuffling sort of dance that consists mostly of hip-grinding and arse-groping and, to Draco’s horror, he starts belting out lyrics. Draco thinks he’s getting them horribly wrong until it clicks that Potter’s just making them up as he goes along. About the two of them. And well now, that’s just inappropriate.

“Stop it!” Draco says, trying to push Potter off him. It’s a struggle to keep from laughing, but he knows if he does it’ll only egg Potter on. “You’re not even singing the right words.” He doesn’t succeed in dislodging him. Merlin, Potter’s like an octopus. An octopus with a terrible singing voice and no sense of rhythm and a somewhat frightening sense of humour.

Draco finally makes him shut up by sticking his tongue in Potter’s mouth, and mercifully Potter’s more interested in snogging than in continuing his ridiculous made-up lyrics.

“Merlin,” Weasley says from the door. “Clearly I’ve come at a bad time.”

Draco shoves at Potter who still refuses to let go, and Weasley looks far too amused. He leans against the doorframe and does nothing to help Draco.

“You could help me, you know,” he says, trying unsuccessfully to pry Potter’s hand from his arse.

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” he says. “You got yourself into this, mate. You knew what he was like when you took up with him.”

“Some partner you are,” Draco grumbles.

“Hi, Harry,” Weasley says. “Would you mind unhanding Malfoy? Just for a few minutes? I’ve got some case developments I need to go over with him, and then the two of you can get back to whatever kinky sex thing you’re doing in here.”

“We’re not doing any kinky sex things,” Draco protests as Potter lets him go and takes his seat on the worktable again. Potter snickers and Draco scowls at him. “Well, I’m not. Fuck knows what he’s trying to do. I’m trying to work.”

“Right, if that’s what you’re calling it,” Weasley sighs. “I’ll make this fast so you can get back to…” He flaps one hand. “Whatever. I don’t want to know. Look, you know how Pierson went into Campbell & Collins last night?”

Draco tamps down the wave of irritation that rises up in him at that. He and Weasley had spent another two nights watching the shop, gathering information about how its customers behaved. They’d worked out the timing, the password, the secret knock. They’d been prepared for Draco to go in, and when they’d requested permission, they were denied. It seems the papers had finally got wind of Draco’s return. ‘Too risky,’ Robards had said. There was a good chance Draco would be made as an Auror.

So last night Pierson went into the shop in Draco’s place, and what irritated Draco all the more was how bloody good Pierson was at playing his part. With just a change of clothing and a few potions combed through his hair and rubbed into his face and dripped into his eyes, he transformed from a respectable, upstanding Auror to a pathetic potions-addicted wreck. Lank and greasy hair, dark circles beneath red-rimmed eyes. Sallow, sunken skin. He even had the mannerisms down perfectly, nervously rubbing his hands together, hunched shoulders, flinching at every sudden sound. Draco very much disliked Pierson at that moment; he never did like it when someone is better than him at something. Draco is good at playing the haughty pureblood dipping his dainty toes into the dark arts. In just a few minutes, Pierson became the sort of potions addict that most people looked away from and pretended didn’t exist.

“He’s in St Mungo’s,” Weasley says. “Hermione just contacted me. She and Clarke and Elise caught his case.”

“What?” That’s not what Draco expected him to say.

“They’re still working out what exactly happened, but he’s been dosed with Devil’s Kiss. He was caught breaking into Filing early this morning and trying to steal case notes. He won’t say what he was trying to take. They’re getting a Mind Healer involved because Clarke thinks he was Obliviated, and he’s usually not wrong about things like that.”

“If he was dosed while breaking into Campbell & Collins, why haven’t I been notified of a raid being organised? It seems like this is the evidence we were waiting for,” Draco says.

“Can’t,” Weasley sighs. “They sent in a surveillance team to keep an eye on it while we assembled a task force, and the whole place has been cleared out.”

“Wonderful,” Draco grumbles, folding his arms and slumping against his worktable. “So we’re back to the beginning.”

“Yeah, it looks that way,” Weasley says. “Anyhow Robards has started notifying Aurors, and I wanted you to hear about it from me. You know how the rumour mill is around here.”

“Right,” Draco says with a grim frown.

“Don’t worry,” Weasley says, clapping a hand on Draco’s shoulder. “I have a couple other leads we’re looking into. I’ll let you know if anything shakes loose.”

“Thanks,” Draco says as Weasley turns to leave.

“So,” Potter says, hooking his fingers through Draco’s belt loops and pulling him in as soon as the door falls shut. “About those kinky sex things you insist we’re not doing…”

Draco sighs. Briefly contemplates skipping out early for the evening to go home and fuck Potter. But no. Between leaving early to shag Potter earlier this week and the chaos of the impending holidays, he’s starting to fall behind. He really should try to get through a bit more today.

“Half an hour,” he begs. “Keep your hands to yourself and let me work for half an hour and then I’m yours for the rest of the night.”

“One last…” Potter says, kissing him deep and groping his arse until Draco squirms away. “All right. Can I do anything to help?”

Draco ends up giving Potter his magical goggles. This’ll go faster if he doesn’t have to keep taking them on and off. He sets a timer for twenty minutes, well within the window of safety for avoiding a headache, and continues to take apart his Disillusioner, passing each piece to Potter for inspection. He doesn’t bother to give Potter much instruction on what to look for; when delicate spellwork goes bad, it’s usually blatantly obvious.

They work comfortably together, and quickly fall into a rhythm.

“I think this one’s broken,” Potter says holding up a pinion.

Draco takes the goggles from him and slips them over his head to inspect the piece. Sure enough, this is the problem. The spellwork has unravelled, what should be a deep, even blue is fizzling and spitting sparks. Worse, the spell that’s gone bad has tangled in the others. Draco’s going to have to strip it clean and recast everything. He sets it aside with a sigh. He’ll take care of it tomorrow.

He catches a quick look at Potter before he takes off the goggles. The darkness twisting through his magic has started to recede a bit. It’s interesting to see how, in just the few glimpses he’s had, the darkness ebbs and grows with the phases of the moon. He wonders if Potter realises.

Draco doesn’t say anything about it, though. Maybe he’ll mention it around the new moon. But for now he sets his goggles aside and offers Potter his hand.

“Come on,” he says and gives Potter a smirk. “I think you’ve behaved yourself long enough.” He catches Potter’s hand and twines their fingers together. “Let’s go home.”

- - - - -

“Ten laps. Go,” Potter says as they wrap up the day’s lesson.

The trainees take off running, and Potter and Draco head to the locker room to shower off. Draco strips off his sweaty clothes and steps into a shower cubicle, starts up the water and rinses off while Potter starts his own shower in the next cubicle over. Draco bends over a bit, sees Potter’s feet, and smirks.

Potter jumps as Draco slips into the shower with him, slides his arms around him and pulls him close.

“We can’t,” Potter murmurs against Draco’s mouth as Draco kisses him. “There’s no time. MacIntyre never takes more than twelve minutes to finish.”

“Better hurry, then,” Draco says.

He drops to his knees and takes Potter’s cock into his mouth. Potter hasn’t had time to get fully hard yet, and Draco sucks him firmly, loves the feel of him swelling and stiffening against his tongue.

“Oh fuck,” Potter groans, sliding his fingers into Draco’s wet hair and urging him on. “Okay, yes. Hurrying’s not going to be a problem.”

Draco hums in response, sucks harder. He puts to use every trick he’s learned about Potter in the past two weeks they’ve been spent in each other’s beds. Runs the flat of his tongue along the underside while he lets the head rub against the roof of his mouth, listens to Potter gasp above him. Waits until Potter’s moaning reaches a crescendo and pulls off, stroking him with one hand.

“Draco, I’m gonna…”

“I know. Do it,” Draco says.

“Oh my god,” Potter says, blinking water out of his eyes. “You…”

“Come on, do it,” Draco says, holding Potter by the hips, leans in to give the tip of his cock a teasing little lick. Tips his head back and locks eyes with him. “I want you to come on me.”

“Malfoy,” he whines, starts to let his head fall back as Draco keeps stroking him, then forces himself to watch. Harry’s mouth drops open and he gasps as his body tightens and he comes in long white streaks over Draco’s mouth and chin.

Draco works him through his orgasm, then holds eye contact with him as he very deliberately licks his bottom lip. Potter drags him to his feet and pushes him against the cubicle wall, kissing him deep, his come smearing between their mouths, and it’s wonderfully filthy. Merlin, Draco adores this man. He’d like to keep snogging him, but time’s running out. He regretfully pushes Potter back and swipes a wet hand over his face.

Potter eyes the floor. “I’m sorry, I want to blow you, but I’ll regret kneeling if I do.” He turns Draco in his arms, presses up against his back. “How about this,” he says, reaching around to stroke Draco’s cock with one hand.

Draco lets his head loll back onto Potter’s shoulder, and Potter kisses his neck. “I suppose this is tolerable.”

“Just tolerable? You git,” Potter says and nips him. “You’re talking bollocks and you know it. Tell me I’m good.”

“I’ll tell you you’re the Queen of France if that’s what you want to hear, so long as you keep doing that,” Draco says. Potter’s added a little twist to the end of each stroke and it’s driving Draco wild.

“France hasn’t got a queen,” Potter says. His hand goes still. “They haven’t had a queen in a very long time, actually.”

“I can’t be expected to keep track of who’s got what. We’ve got a queen, why shouldn’t they?” He rocks his hips forward, pushing into Potter’s hand. “Why have you stopped?”

“Yeah, no, this is sort of important,” Potter says, removing his hand altogether which is the exact opposite of what Draco wants him to do. “How did you not know France hasn’t got a queen?”

“Other places have queens. Belgium, I think they’ve got one. France and Belgium are sort of close.”

“Oh my god,” Potter says. “You’re not actually telling me you get France and Belgium mixed up, are you? Because I’m really starting to worry now.”

“No, I meant geographically close. And anyhow, they speak French in Belgium too, don’t they?”

“Parts of it. Mostly the southern part, I believe.”

Frankly, Draco doesn’t care. All he cares about is the fact that Potter’s hand is no longer on his cock and he really has no idea how they ended up talking about sodding Belgium when they’re supposed to be having sex. “Can I ask why the fuck we’re talking about governments and geography when you should be giving me an orgasm? I’d like to remind you that we’re on a time limit.”

“Hermione’s right,” Potter says as he begins stroking Draco’s cock again. “Wizarding education is seriously lacking in some areas.”

They barely make it. Draco comes, gives Potter a quick kiss, and has only just slipped back into his own shower cubicle when the door opens and MacIntyre’s heavy footfalls cross the room. In the cubicle next to his, the water shuts off and he hears Potter rubbing his towel over himself to dry off. Draco smiles and begins to soap up.

- - - - -

Platform 9 ¾ feels sweetly nostalgic to Draco. It’s a place he’s always associated with the excitement of going off to school, and the comfort of coming back home, of seeing both friends and parents after long months apart. It’s something that’s remained entirely untarnished by the War.

Harry is bouncing along with all the excitement of a first year off to Hogwarts for the very first time, pushing through the crowds of parents waiting on the platform, his gloved hand linked with Draco’s, tugging him along, pacing back and forth in search of the best place from which to see Teddy when he arrives.

All week, he’s been talking of little else but seeing his godson again, and his excitement is infectious. Draco urges him to step back out of the way. There’s a bench nearby that he thinks he can talk Potter into resting on until the train arrives, but a whistle cuts through the air before he can try.

“It’s here,” Potter says and shoots Draco a smile before he takes him by the hand again and drags him off into the crowd as the Hogwarts Express pulls into the station.

And then the platform descends into cheerful chaos as the students begin to disembark, the shouts and laughter and greetings, all around them families reuniting for the holidays and friends calling out goodbyes and promises to owl. Potter’s up on his tip-toes, craning his neck and trying to look everywhere at once.

“Harry!”

Draco turns to see a boy barrelling toward them full-tilt.

“Teddy!” Potter exclaims, opening his arms just in time for Teddy to slam into him so hard he staggers back a step.

They hold each other tight, and Teddy’s hair turns from bright turquoise to a wildly curling navy blue, almost exactly halfway between what it was and Potter’s. Draco looks him over. He’s not much impressed with the boy’s appearance: strange hair, torn jeans and a worn black coat over a black jumper, scuffed black boots flapping around his ankles with the laces undone, and Merlin this current fashion trend of new clothes that look old is absurd. But Teddy looks beyond happy to see his godfather, and Draco supposes the rest of it doesn’t really matter. Potter takes Teddy by the shoulders and pushes him back, makes a big show of looking him up and down.

“You have grown two inches since September,” he pronounces gravely.

“Have not,” Teddy says, shrugging free of Potter’s grasp.

“Two inches at least,” Potter insists, ruffling Teddy’s hair. “Keep going at this rate and you’ll end up taller than I am. I can’t be shorter than my godson. That’s so not on.”

“S’not like I can help it, you know,” Teddy says again, flattening his hair back down. He seems to notice Draco for the first time. “You’re Draco? My cousin.”

“Once removed, yes,” Draco says, putting out his hand.

Teddy ignores it entirely and flings his arms around Draco.

“Yes, er,” Draco says, giving Teddy’s back an awkward pat. “Hello.”

“Sorry,” Potter says, looking terribly amused. “Should’ve warned you. Teddy’s a hugger.”

“Can’t imagine where he’s learned that,” Draco says dryly as Teddy releases him.

“Are we going now?” he asks. “I don’t want to be late or we won’t get good seats.”

Potter’s arranged for the three of them to attend a Quidditch match today. None of the national teams have a game until January, but two of the local teams are playing this afternoon. According to Potter, Teddy’s about as Quidditch-obsessed as they come. He’s more than happy to watch anyone play.

“We’ll be fine,” Potter assures him. “We’ve got almost an hour. Where’s your trunk? I’ll Shrink it down for you so we don’t have to stop by the house.”

They arrive for the match almost fifty minutes early so they get excellent seats near the top of the stands. Teddy keeps chattering all through the game, never quite stops talking altogether but he does intersperse commentary about the game in between telling Potter all about his classes and his friends and the small everyday adventures that make up life at Hogwarts. Potter nods along, sometimes shares a story of his youth, and occasionally draws Draco into a short analysis of some move one of the players performed over the pitch.

But for the most part Draco simply sits back and watches, and he’s content with that. It’s clear to see how Teddy adores Potter, and that Potter dotes on him in return. They may not be blood relatives, but they’re undoubtedly a family, in some ways more than a family. The pair of them are practically glowing, they’re so thrilled to be together. Draco’s never had that sort of connection with any of his relatives.

After the match, they all Apparate back to Potter’s house.

“Why don’t you take your trunk up to your room,” Potter suggests, restores Teddy’s trunk to full size and casts a Wingardium Leviosa on it so it floats a few feet off the ground.

“Okay,” Teddy says, snags his trunk by one handle and heads for the stairs, taking them at a run as his trunk bobs along behind him.

“And don’t let it bang into the—” A loud thud! echoes from upstairs, and Potter sighs and finishes, “...wall.” He shakes his head. “Every time. He’s probably left a dent in the plaster. He always leaves a dent in the plaster. I’ve no idea why I keep fixing it.”

“That boundless Gryffindor optimism of yours?” Draco suggests.

Potter rolls his eyes. “Yeah, that must be it.” There’s a loud crash from upstairs. “Anyhow, as you can see I’m probably going to have my hands full for the next while. He’s with me until after Christmas when he goes to Andromeda’s.”

Draco’s heart clenches at the thought of four days without Potter. “Right. Well, you know where to find me.” He leans in for a kiss. “Have a good time with Teddy.”

“I wanted to ask…” Potter begins. He suddenly looks nervous. “I know we’ve only been together for a few weeks. But I was hoping maybe, if you didn’t have other plans, well. I’ve talked to Molly and Arthur and they’ve extended an invitation for you to spend Christmas with us at the Burrow.”

“Weasley’s parents have invited me over for Christmas?” Draco repeats.

“Well, yeah. I mean, you’re important to me. And I’m important to them. And I just thought it’d be nice if all the important people in my life were together for Christmas.”

Draco frowns at him. “Is this a werewolf pack thing?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Potter says. “More of a… Well, I don’t have much family so it’s really important to me—Not that I think you’re family yet, we’ve only just started dating and oh god I said ‘yet’ like I think it’s just a matter of time. Not that I don’t think it’s a matter of time because it’s too soon to think anything about that, isn’t it, and I’m saying this terribly. I’m sorry, I should have rehearsed this. It’s just that it’s Christmas, you know? And I’d like you to spend it with me.”

Draco smiles, partly because he’s always enjoyed Potter flustered and off-balance no matter the occasion and partly because his heart is soaring at Potter telling Draco he’s important to him. “I’ll be there,” he says. “Owl me the time when you get a chance. And if I should bring anything.”

He’s nervous about it already, but he’d brave a thousand Weasley family Christmases to make Potter smile like that. He pulls Draco in for another kiss which starts out as a brief kiss goodbye and somehow turns into a slow snog, complete with Potter’s wandering hands.

“Oh, gross!”

Draco jumps back, but Harry laughs and pulls him back in for another quick peck before he turns back to face Teddy.

“Another few years and you won’t think kissing’s so bad anymore,” Potter tells him, and Teddy rolls his eyes.

“I’m never going to think you kissing anyone is not gross,” Teddy tells him. He glances at Draco. “No offence.”

Draco remembers being horrified around that age when his parents kissed each other. “None taken.”

Potter gets that grin on his face that means he’s about to be sort of an arse, then catches Teddy in a loose headlock and gives him a loud smacking kiss to the top of his head while Teddy sputters with all the indignity a preteen boy can muster, which to be fair is quite a lot, and squirms away.

“Ugh,” he says, and turns his hair sickly green. “You’re awful and I can’t believe we’re related.” He watches Potter suspiciously, like he’s expecting to be grabbed again and forced to bear the ignominy of a second kiss. “When’s dinner? I’m starving.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, I’d never let you starve,” Potter says, turning for the kitchen. Tosses over his shoulder, “I’ll owl you later, Draco.”

Draco steps through the Floo to the sound of Potter and Teddy debating what sort of pasta they should make for dinner. Draco sighs, looks around his flat, and misses Potter already. He anticipates four long and lonely days until they can spend time together again. Even the next twelve hours feels unbearable; he's grown used to sharing a bed with Potter every night.

But on the bright side, at least he’s got something to do now. He’ll probably spend every minute of every day until Christmas worrying about spending it with the Weasleys. Ginny and Weasley won’t be a problem. And Hermione’s all right. Potter, of course. And Teddy too.

The rest of them, though, he’s not so sure about. And there are a lot of them.

He sighs again. Oh yes. This’ll be fun.

- - - - -

Draco gathers up his things and goes over them to make sure he has them all. Potter assured him that he shouldn’t feel obligated to bring gifts for everyone, but he’s picked out a nice bottle of wine for Molly and Arthur, wrapped an old and rare book written by Ada Bridgerton who helped to found St Mungo’s for Granger, and he’s made a second pair of his magic-detecting goggles for George. They’re not anywhere near as sensitive as his are, but most of the Wheezes George develops aren’t anywhere near as complex as Draco’s inventions. He’s wrapped a book on Quidditch strategy for Teddy, since he’d mentioned hoping to try out for the Hufflepuff team next year. And for Weasley, he’s located the wizarding chess set he used back at Hogwarts, where the pieces are dragons instead of men. That should put an end to Potter’s cheating; dragons don’t use weaponry. Draco hasn’t mentioned that last one to Potter. He’s sort of curious to see how long it’ll take him to figure out a way around that.

He feels a bit odd that his gifts are things he either dug up from the Manor or made himself, but the Weasleys strike him as a bunch who put more emphasis on thoughtfulness rather than the amount of money he’s spent. It’s not how Draco’s ever approached gift-giving in his life, so it feels a bit odd.

To balance that out, Pansy got a small bottle of hellishly expensive perfume and he sent along a colourful silk scarf for Luna. Lucy’s still sulking in her alcove from being forced to make the delivery for him.

Draco double-checks the gifts he’s packed into a bag. At the last minute, the removes the gift he’s wrapped for Potter and sets it aside. He thinks he’d like to give it to him privately.

He takes a deep breath, tosses a handful of powder into the Floo, and calls out, “The Burrow!”

And steps out into cheerful pandemonium. He’s still got one foot in the Floo when he’s nearly bowled over by a small girl with red curls who’s in hot pursuit of another ginger girl. They’re both shrieking and being chased by a man with red hair and wire-rimmed glasses who looks vaguely familiar, one of the Weasley siblings, obviously, and one that probably attended Hogwarts at the same time as Draco, but he has no idea who he is, and Merlin, Draco’s going to have to use their given names to keep them all straight, isn’t he?

“Hi, Malfoy, Harry’s in the kitchen!” the man throws over his shoulder.

That would be useful to know, except Draco has no idea where the kitchen is, and everything is loud and he has no idea how he’s supposed to fit into this. He entertains the comforting fantasy of going back through the Floo and retreating to the quiet sanctity of his flat. The only thing that stops him is that sometimes it takes two or three tries to pronounce his vowel-less Floo address.

To his immense relief, Granger comes up to him with a knowing smile. “I know, it’s a bit overwhelming at first, isn’t it?

“A bit?”

She laughs. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”

She takes him by the elbow and leads him to deposit his gifts beneath the massive Christmas tree. Then takes him around introduces him to everyone. They go into the kitchen last where Molly is directing Bill, Weasley (whom Draco will never think of as ‘Ron’), Audrey, and Harry, who lights up when he sees Draco.

“Hey!” he says, leaning in for a quick kiss. “Merry Christmas!”

Draco takes in his appearance. He’s wearing a green wool jumper with a large yellow H stitched onto the front, with a frilly blue apron over that, and mismatched potholders—one blue and white striped and one yellow with pink polka dots—over his hands.

“Merry Christmas,” he says, smiling. “I like the new look.”

“I’ve been pressed into service,” Potter says, glancing at Molly.

“Don’t listen to him,” Molly calls from where she’s mixing a big batch of punch. “He volunteered to help. And hello, we’re glad you could come.”

“Thank you. I, ah, I brought you this,” Draco says, offering the bottle of wine.

“Thank you, Draco, just set it on the counter over there. Harry, that roast needs to come out of the oven now.”

She seems more than a little harried, and Draco can’t blame her with the massive dinner she’s preparing. He leaves the bottle where he’s told and escapes into the living room, lets Granger lead him over to an unoccupied sofa and sits down with her. There’s a stack of books on the coffee table. Draco scans the titles. Touch Me Fall: 101 Common Love Curses and Make Whole the Ruined: A Healer’s Comprehensive Guide to Undoing the Consequences of Love Potions Gone Wrong and Of Your Broken Little Hearts: The Lingering Effects of Reversing Love Spells. He doesn’t have to guess that she’s still deeply involved in the same case he is.

“Are you making much progress?” he can’t help but ask, gesturing to the books.

Granger reaches over and picks up the top book from the stack, flips it open.

“No,” Weasley interrupts, leaning over the back of the sofa to pluck the book out of his wife’s hands, and Draco looks behind him to see that he and Harry have been released from kitchen duty. Potter gives Draco a fond smile and reaches down to give the back of his neck a brief rub. “No, no, no,” Weasley goes on. “It’s Christmas. No talking about work.”

Granger glances between them, then says to Draco, “It’s rather complicated. It might take a while to explain.”

Draco casts a look over the rest of the house, full of red hair and boisterous cheer and entirely too many small children for Draco to feel at ease. “I’m very interested,” he insists, and is pleased to hear that he only sounds the slightest bit desperate.

“Well, we’ve made some progress with—”

“Hermione,” Ron whines.

“Hush, Ron,” she says, taking her book away from him and waving him off. “I’m making polite conversation with a guest.”

“Come on,” Potter says, linking his arm through Weasley’s. “I’ll let you trounce me at chess. That always makes you feel better.”

Hermione glances after them as Potter pulls Ron across the room. “He’s got a new stash of charmed swords, doesn’t he?”

“I’m afraid so,” Draco says. They’d gone out with Pansy earlier in the week and Potter had fed Draco a rather large number of martinis just to get the little plastic swords that came skewered through the olives. Draco had ended up far drunker than he’d intended to, but didn’t mind so much because then they’d gone home and Potter had thanked his ‘commitment to the cause’ with a truly glorious amount of sloppy drunken sex.

She nods. “I thought as much. He always gets that look in his eyes when he’s about to cheat.”

Draco thinks of Weasley’s gift, sitting wrapped beneath the Christmas tree. “Let him get one last time in.”

Granger eyes him speculatively. “Have you figured out a way to make him stop?”

“Not quite,” he admits. “Rather, a way to prevent him from doing it. Unless he gets extremely creative. Which honestly I wouldn’t put past him, but at least Weasley should get a few games in without worrying about Potter cheating. You’ll see. Now tell me about the latest cases of Devil’s Kiss you’ve had.”

“As of yesterday, the formula’s changed again,” Granger says. Her voice gets brisk as she switches into business mode. “Less side effects, harder to detect, and harder to reverse. We were lucky enough to get our hands on a sample of it shortly after they appear to have made the change, but it’s still being analysed.” She shakes her head. “It’s nearly impossible to get, but right after they make a change it seems that whoever’s making it gets a bit careless. We get a new handful of victims brought in to St Mungo’s, and a dose or two of it usually ends up in Auror hands.” She gives a little laugh. “Sorry, I know you know all of this already.”

“That’s one thing that doesn’t make sense about this case,” Draco muses. “With other illegal potions, the point of making them is to sell them to desperate people for absurdly high prices, right? The whole point of doing it is to turn a profit.”

“And it’s hard to turn a profit if they’re largely unavailable,” Granger agrees, nodding. She tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Clarke and I were discussing the same thing at work the other day. Elise thinks its because the potion is so powerful the developer is being exclusive about handing it out, but I don’t agree.”

“I don’t either,” Draco says. “This isn’t the work of someone with any sort of conscience.”

Granger grimaces. “That’s certainly true.” Her brows draw together and her frown turns contemplative. “We ought to organise a meeting,” she says. “Get the Aurors and the Healers who’ve been involved with it to sit down together and go over everything they’ve got so far. Something, some detail we’ve missed might be brought to light. So far it’s mostly been me and Ron passing information back and forth, but I think getting everyone together at once might prove useful.”

Draco nods in agreement. “Talk to your superiors, I’ll clear it with mine, and we’ll get something worked out.”

They talk for a bit more, and Granger goes into more detail about the ways they’re trying to reverse the effects of Devil’s Kiss until she’s forced to intervene when Hugo attempts to scale the Christmas tree. He sits alone for a few minutes and feels awkward until a voice shrieks his name.

Draco turns just in time for Teddy to fling himself at Draco. He’s wearing a ridiculous orange jumper with a big turquoise T on the front, and his hair is festively red and green.

“Hello, Teddy,” he says, patting him on the back. “Have you had a nice time with Potter?”

Teddy launches into an excited recitation of all the things he’s been up to with Potter, and a few minutes later his grandmother comes to find him. Draco recognises her immediately, though he’s never met her before.

“Oh,” he says, standing up and offering her his hand. “Aunt Andromeda. Teddy and Potter have both told me so much about you, I’m so glad to finally meet you.”

Things are a bit awkward with her. There’s a lot of bad history between Andromeda and Narcissa that was never mended after the War, and it becomes clear within the first few minutes that she’s only making an effort for her grandson’s sake. By the end of their short conversation, Draco hasn’t won her over entirely, but he thinks he’s begun to show her that he’s grown into more than the child his parents raised.

After she leaves to greet the other people here, Draco sits alone for a few minutes before he notices Percy is also sitting alone, and goes to strike up a conversation with him. He, like Draco, seems most comfortable on the outskirts of the ruckus (when he’s not chasing his small daughters) and together they commandeer large glasses of Molly’s punch and a quiet corner, and settle into a long conversation about the latest goings on at the Ministry. They’re in the middle of a lively debate about the validity of the rumours going around about Kingsley Shacklebolt running for Minister when Molly calls them in to dinner.

Draco ends up seated between Potter and George. Teddy is on Potter’s other side, and he’s so excited for his first Christmas at the adult’s table that he scarcely stops talking. Potter listens indulgently, so Draco spends most of the meal talking to George and Angelina about their shop.

After dinner, everyone pitches in to clean up. The kitchen is crowded, everyone talking and laughing as they trip over each other and fall into their tasks of clearing the table and washing and drying and putting away. Draco lingers awkwardly on the outskirts of the action, until Arthur invites him into the living room where Percy and Audrey are already at work, sorting through the presents piled beneath the tree, getting them organised and ready to hand out.

When the kitchen is clean and dessert is in the oven, everyone troops back into the living room and sits down, and with great ceremony and excitement, Arthur begins to pass out gifts.

Draco had worried over his own gifts, but they go over well. Granger and George and Teddy are appreciative of their gifts, but Weasley is thrilled when he unwraps his new chess set, stands up right where he is and brandishes it at Potter.

“No swords!” he exclaims, shaking the box. One of the pieces inside gives a small roar. “No swords ever again!”

Draco receives an assortment of Wheezes from George and Angelina (for inspiration, George tells him) and a beautiful leather journal and cut glass ink bottle from Granger and Weasley.

Potter gives him a leather motorcycle jacket with the explanation, “You’re always staring at mine.” And Draco’s not certain whether Potter thinks he just likes the jacket or if he’s figured out it’s the jacket on Potter specifically that he likes, at least until Potter leans over and whispers to him, “I thought it’s time you returned the favour and gave me something to look at.” He gives Draco a wink.

The last round of gifts turns out to be a bunch of coloured jumpers with big letters on the front. Potter’s is a deep plum with the H done in royal blue. He beams like a child, gives Molly a hug, and immediately begins to take off the jumper he’s wearing to put on his new one.

“This one’s for you,” Molly says with a tight smile, handing Draco a squashy package wrapped in red and green striped paper. His surprise must show, because her smile grows a bit less tense and she adds, “You’re a guest in my home on Christmas, what sort of hostess would I be if I let you leave empty-handed?”

“Thank you,” he manages, feeling entirely wrong-footed. Everyone’s watching him now as he tears off the shiny paper to find a scarf knitted in soft slate-blue wool. His fingers stroke over the neat rows of stitches. “Thank you,” he says again. “It’s lovely.”

“Come on, Malfoy,” Potter says, still wrestling his arm through the sleeve of his jumper. His hair is rumpled and his glasses are askew. “Try it on!”

Draco gamely wraps the scarf around his neck, and Molly’s smile shifts to something small but genuine. “Just as I thought. That’s your colour, dear, it brings out your eyes.”

“Now you can finally give mine back,” Potter says, poking Draco in the ribs. “You still have it, you know.”

Draco is well aware. He kept it deliberately, and sort of wonders what Potter would say if he knew that Draco smells it sometimes. He feels a bit creepy when he does it, but Potter smells really good and Draco’s already admitted to himself that he’s rather hopeless where Potter’s concerned. “I know exactly where it is. Remind me later.”

“Sure,” Potter says. He leans against Draco and grins at him.

He looks so happy right now, surrounded by so many people who love him. And Draco can’t help but feel honoured to number among them.

- - - - -

The Weasleys are lovely. They’re also loud and excitable, and the house is too crowded and too warm and too lively, and Draco’s anxiety rises by inches until he needs to get out now. Christmas at the Manor was always a formal affair with just his parents, and in New York he’d usually volunteer to work so he didn’t have to spend it alone. No one seems to be paying him much attention, so he takes his new scarf, casts a few strong Warming Charms around himself, and slips out onto the back porch for a few moments of silence and fresh air.

Of course Potter comes after him. He pauses in the doorway to cast his own Warming Charms, then crosses the porch to where Draco’s leaned against the far railing. A thin layer of snow coats the wooden boards, and it scrunches beneath his shoes as he walks.

“There you are,” he says.

Draco gives him a tired smile. “Here I am,” he says. He turns back around, rests his forearms on the railing. The night is clear and cold, the stars a bright sprinkling of light overhead with the moon shining above.

Potter comes up beside him, follows Draco’s line of sight, then looks away over the dark garden.

“Are you okay?” he asks after a few moments.

“Yeah,” Draco sighs. “It just feels like a bit too much. I needed some air.”

“Understandable,” Potter says. He shifts closer until his arm presses against Draco’s.

Draco leans against him and sighs, the small puff of steam from his breath dissipating quickly . “And… This is your family. I don’t quite feel like I belong.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” says Potter. “You belong here because I want you here. Everyone else wants you here because you make me happy.”

“I know, I know that. Everyone’s been so welcoming and I suppose that’s why there’s a part of me that’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like with Molly. I just don’t understand why she’d knit me a scarf,” he says quietly, toying with the fringe. “She clearly doesn’t like me.”

“She doesn’t know you,” Potter says. “All she knows of you is your parents, and they didn’t exactly get on with her and Arthur. But she knows I wouldn’t be dating you if you were like that. And Ron’s been talking you up to her, too.”

Draco slants him a look. “Why on earth would he do that?”

Potter shrugs and doesn’t look at Draco. His cheeks have gone a bit pink, but Draco can’t tell if he’s blushing or if it’s from the cold. “He claims it’s because you do such good work. Personally, I think he was trying to smooth the way for this. He figured out I wanted you before I did, you know. I mean, I knew I wanted to fuck you, but he figured out that I could have more than that with you. And he knows it’s important to me that his family accept anyone I’m with, so…” He shrugs again. “And, well, knitting things is sort of a point of pride with Molly.” He glances over his shoulder, aims a fond look at the warm light spilling from the kitchen window. “Keep it up and you’ll probably get a jumper next year.”

The idea that Potter wants Draco to be here next year as well explodes through his belly in a dull burst of warmth. “I think I’d like that.”

Potter holds out his hand. “Come on, it’s cold as fuck out here. Let’s go back in.”

He stays right by Draco’s side for the rest of the evening, and before too long the parents are bundling their small ones off to home and bed. Potter lingers, squeezing in as much time with Teddy as he can get before he follows Andromeda through the Floo.

“I thought we’d go back to mine tonight,” Draco says as Potter takes up a handful of Floo powder.

“Oh? Any particular reason?” he asks. “Not that I mind, I’m just curious.”

Draco likes his flat well enough, but he’s only just moved in there and it doesn’t quite feel like home yet. Potter’s house, on the other hand, feels warm and lived-in. The strange collisions of decor have grown on Draco simply because all of it suits Potter so well. It makes Draco feel closer to him, and so they always end up there when they spend the night together.

“I’ve left your present there,” he says.

“Oh, I see,” Potter says, his smile turning wicked. “And does this present involve you being without clothes?”

Draco smirks at him. “In a sense, yes.” He starts for the Floo, then turns back to Potter. This is going to take a bit of explaining. “Drrcg Mlhlfry,” Draco says, and Potter blinks at him.

“What?”

Draco repeats it, slower this time. “That’s my Floo address.”

Potter attempts to say it, and mangles it horribly.

“It helps if you sort of cough while you say Drrcg,” Draco offers.

Potter tries it again and doesn’t get much better. He sighs and frowns at the Floo. “Well, okay. This’ll be fun.”

Ever the Gryffindor, Draco thinks fondly.

"I'll go first," Draco says. He takes up a handful of Floo powder and flings it in, and steps out into his entryway.

There’s a long pause during which his Floo remains cold and dark, and then there’s the crack of Apparition from out in the hallway, followed by a knock on his door. Draco opens it up to find Potter.

“Give up?” he teases as Potter comes inside.

“No, I did not give up,” Potter huffs. “I ended up in bloody Cardiff, is what I did. Said the hell with it at that point and just Apparated. It took me a few jumps to get here.”

“Ah,” Draco says. “Well, perhaps I can make you feel better.”

“Is it sex? Sex always makes me feel better,” Potter says, trailing after Draco and into the living room.

“Sex later. This first. Here,” Draco says, offering Potter a small package wrapped in silver paper dotted with little blue stars.

Potter grins and shreds the paper in his eagerness to get it unwrapped. But his smile turns a bit confused when he discovers that he’s been given his own scarf.

“Not that I don’t appreciate you returning it,” he says. “But this was already mine.”

Draco says nothing, but he pulls out his magic-detecting goggles and gives them to Potter.

He still seems a bit baffled as he slips them on, then gasps, running his fingers reverently over soft orange wool. “What have you done to it?”

“Warming Charms that automatically switch off once you’re indoors. Water-Repelling Charms. Sticking Charms, so it never slips once you put it on,” Draco lists. “And you know how when you pull it up over your nose and breathe through it when it’s really cold, but then it starts to smell a bit odd? There’s a charm to warm and freshen the air that comes through it. I’ve also added a rather neat little charm that activates if you ever forget it somewhere—” And then he can’t keep talking because Potter yanks off the goggles and kisses him. “But there’s more.”

“Tell me later,” Potter says, nibbling at Draco’s lower lip. “You can tell me everything later.”

“If you insist,” Draco says as Potter mouths his way down Draco’s neck. “I take it you like your gift?”

“It’s brilliant,” he says, one hand wandering down to Draco’s trousers. “I now own the most brilliant scarf in the world.”

“Keep doing that and we won’t make it to the bedroom,” Draco warns as Potter’s hand rubs firmly over his cock.

And they don’t.

But it’s all right. Draco’s sofa is wide and comfortable, and the room is quite cosy with a fire roaring in the fireplace. And he’s finally got Potter back in his arms, right where he belongs.

- - - - -

New Year’s has always been Draco’s favourite holiday. Pansy used to tease him about it when he was younger and all their other classmates liked holidays that centered around gift-giving or sweets. New Year’s had neither of those.

But Draco’s always liked it because of the clean-slate feel that came along with it. It’s always felt a little like going to King’s Cross, both the sweet nostalgia of coming home after another finished year at Hogwarts and the giddy excitement of reuniting with his friends and going off again for a new year in September. Of letting go of the past and starting over fresh. He’s eager to share that with Potter.

The full moon falls on New Year’s Eve, he knows. Recently he’s been paying closer attention to the phases of the moon than he has since the last time he took a course in astronomy. And now that he’s looking for the signs, he can see how Potter’s affected. He pushes himself harder in class. His appetite increases. His limp grows less pronounced. For the past two days, he’s been nearly insatiable in bed.

But it’s not all good. He fidgets almost constantly. Paces back and forth like a caged animal whenever he’s indoors. And when Potter was describing the symptoms of his lycanthropy, he completely neglected to mention the mood swings. The smallest things seem to irritate him, but his annoyance is transient because the smallest things also seem to delight him.

“Peterson,” Potter announces as he comes banging into Draco’s lab on Thursday afternoon.

Draco looks up to see the familiar glow of Potter’s magic, the bright yellow-gold shining steadily, but the threads of darkness are at the height of their power, thick and deep and inky black, curled throughout his body. Draco pushes the goggles up his forehead and blinks his eyes a few times.

Potter scowls. “He’s such an arse, I couldn’t even deal with it today. He was making fun of Stalton’s duelling again so I sent him the fuck home.”

The look on Potter’s face tells Draco it probably wasn’t quite that simple. He also wonders what Potter’s done with the rest of his class but thinks it best to move along to safer topics. “I got you something.”

Potter brightens immediately. “Really? What?”

“Over there,” Draco says, gesturing to the tiny wooden crate on his desk. A dozen clementines nestle inside, each one wrapped in crisp white tissue paper. He knows Potter buys his from a Muggle store, Draco’s seen them on his kitchen counter, sometimes in a blue cardboard box, sometimes in a bag of orange plastic netting. But Draco went to Diagon for these, just because he thinks there’s a certain satisfaction in unwrapping the paper from each one.

“Oh,” Potter exclaims, taking one out and unwrapping it in a soft rustle of tissue paper. He grins at Draco. “I just ate my last ones this morning.” He balls up the tissue paper and tosses it into the bin, then turns the clementine over in his hands but doesn’t peel it. “What’re you working on?” he asks, coming up beside Draco to peek over his shoulder.

“Just a pet project I’ve had for a while and haven’t been able to get working properly,” he says, gesturing to the stack of coloured folders. “What happened with Pierson attempting to steal files made me think that we need better security.”

“How do you mean?” Potter asks.

“Here,” Draco says, sliding a folder over to Potter. “Open that.”

Potter gives him a suspicious look, but picks up the folder and flips it open. It bursts into confetti in his hands. “Clever,” he says. “But not terribly useful. I’ve just destroyed whatever was in here.”

“That’s the bit I haven’t got working yet,” Draco says. “When it’s working properly, there’s a Vanishing Charm that will activate on the contents, bringing them safely back to a designated shelf down in Filing. But yes, for now it just destroys the whole thing.”

“But surprisingly useful if you want to throw a party,” Potter says, shaking orange and white bits of paper from his hair and dusting them from his shoulders.

“I’ll keep that in mind if this whole Auror thing falls through for me,” Draco says dryly, taking the next folder off the top of the stack and spreading it over the table in front of him. He begins to cast, periodically pulling his goggles down over his eyes to inspect his progress.

Potter sits quietly and watches him for approximately four seconds before he gets bored, heaves a sigh, and begins to toss the clementine up in the air and catch it, over and over and over. Draco does his best to ignore him, but he really is trying to concentrate and Potter wears his patience thin. He slaps his wand down onto the table and snags the clementine out of the air a second before it would have dropped neatly into Potter’s waiting hands.

“Do you need to go home?” he asks, and Potter shakes his head and sighs.

“Pans is having her annual New Year’s party tonight,” Potter says, taking the clementine back from Draco and digging his thumbnail in near the stem. He peels off a strip of orange rind and drops it into the bin.

“Are you going?” Draco asks. Pansy had mentioned it to him, but this is the first time Potter has.

Potter shakes his head again. “Full moon,” he says bitterly. “I’ll be in no shape for polite company. Or whatever sort will be at any party that girl plans to throw.”

“Oh,” says Draco, then sidles up to Potter with a slow smirk, nudges his knees apart and presses up between his thighs. “Well. I’m rarely polite, you know.”

“I’m well aware,” Potter says with a smile. “I’m rather fond of that, actually.” He sets his partially-peeled clementine aside and puts his arms around Draco. “Are you still trying to get your work done, or do you think I might talk you into leaving early today?”

“I suppose I could be convinced,” Draco says, then asks, “What about the rest of your class?”

“I sent them home too,” Potter says. “Just, er, with less yelling than Peterson. God I can’t wait to be done with him.” He pushes Draco back so he’s got space to slide off the table. “Ready?”

Draco smiles and takes his hand.

- - - - -

They make a date of it. By the time they leave the Ministry, Potter’s too anxious to be in public, so they order takeaway Thai and Draco goes out to pick it up. They eat right out of the boxes, curled up together on Potter’s sofa. Draco’s favourite New Year’s tradition has always been to get completely sozzled on champagne and play Exploding Snap with whatever friends he could talk into joining him, but Potter says he prefers to avoid alcohol during the full moon, and Draco doesn’t want to get drunk alone.

So instead they listen to the wireless for a bit, curled together under a thick knitted blanket. Potter’s combing his fingers through Draco’s hair and it’s making him sleepy.

“I need you,” Potter says out of nowhere.

His voice has an edge to it that Draco hasn’t heard before. Something helpless and desperate. He shakes off his drowsiness immediately. Potter’s eyes are fixed on him, intense and predatory. Draco suppresses a shiver as an intoxicating mix of arousal and nerves courses through him. He wonders if Potter can smell it.

“Shall we go to bed?” he asks casually, standing. He turns the wireless off with a flick of his wand.

Potter nods, and they go upstairs. Draco starts to undress but Potter stops him. “I need to talk to you first,” he says, and waits for Draco to nod before he goes on. “Do you remember the first time we had sex in my kitchen? How you asked me how my lycanthropy affected me? And I’d mentioned other physiological changes?”

“Yes?” Draco says.

“Well… there’s one thing I’d sort of brushed over. I’ve never… Er, truthfully it’s a bit embarrassing and I thought I’d just never bring it up, but seeing you, and you being here tonight, I really really want…” He takes a deep breath, looks Draco in the eye. “I’d like to knot you.”

“Oh,” Draco says, imagining it. Potter stretching him wide, of them being locked together after. “All right.”

Potter kisses him, hard and hungry, and Draco melts into it. Lets himself go limp and pliant, lets Potter take control. They’re both fully hard by the time they get undressed and on the bed. Potter stretches out on his back and Draco begins to straddle his hips, but at the last moment he turns so he’s facing away from Potter.

“Thought you might like to watch,” he tosses over his shoulder as he gropes behind himself for Potter’s cock. “You should have a particularly nice view from back there.”

Draco sinks down slow, listens to Potter gasp behind him. His hands curl around Draco’s hips, smooth over his bum, slide up to curl around his hips again. Draco braces his hands on his knees and leans forward to give Potter an even better view of his cock sliding into Draco’s arse as Draco rocks his hips, working him in long, slow thrusts.

He rather wishes he could see it too, but instead he watches Potter’s toes flex and curl like that day in the showers. He must do this all the time, Draco realises. He wonders if Potter’s even aware of it. He watches Potter’s toes as he wanks himself.

“Wait,” Potter says. “Wait a minute, I need to touch you.” He struggles to sit up, puts his arms around Draco and holds him close. “You were right. The view was great, but you’re too far away from me like that.”

“You’ve got your cock up my arse, I’m not sure I can really be far away,” Draco points out, but Potter’s stroking him, urging him to move again.

Their rhythm picks up, and Draco can feel Potter’s knot when it begins to form, swelling inside him, stretching him wide at the end of every stroke until it grows large enough to keep him in place.

“Oh,” he gasps, grinding himself down on Potter’s lap. “Yes, yes.”

Potter nips at the back of Draco’s neck, then again, harder. Draco moans and lets his head loll forward. Potter bites him and doesn’t let go, tightens the arm he has wrapped around Draco’s middle, speeds up stroking Draco’s cock. His knot is stretching Draco to the point where he feels wonderfully, intensely full as it locks them together. Draco rolls his hips, the thrusts shallow but the friction is amazing. He speeds up his motions, keeping up with the rhythm Potter’s set with wanking him in firm, strong strokes. He can feel himself getting close.

Potter’s bite tightens to the point of pain, and Draco cries out and comes hard, and the sharp pain of Potter’s teeth breaking skin gets lost in the blur of pleasure. He barely notices Potter coming too.

Afterward, his neck aches, and his hand comes away bloody when he wipes at it. He ought to be upset, he thinks, but really he just feels tired. It takes a bit of adjusting, but they’re able to able to lie down with Draco on his side with Potter curled up behind him.

“I’m sorry,” Potter mumbles into Draco’s shoulder. “I, er, I think I mated you.”

Draco snuggles back against him. “Mmm, if that’s what you’re calling it these days…”

“No, I mean mated. Like, sort-of-bonded.” Draco tries to sit up, forgetting that he and Potter are still knotted together. He doesn’t get very far, and has to settle for twisting his back to try and get a look at him. “It won’t affect you,” Potter quickly reassures him. “Just me. And, er, not even me, really.”

As always, it’s amazing that Potter can be so confident and competent in every other aspect of his life. But once things get personal, he goes all tongue-tied and awkward. It’s sort of cute. Would probably be cuter if Draco weren’t currently preoccupied with worry about what sort-of-bonded might mean.

“Spit it out, Potter,” he says. “What have you done?”

“Nothing!” Potter says quickly, then corrects, “Well, almost nothing. As long as I stay on the suppressants, it just means I’ll want to knot you around the full moon.” He hesitates, hiding his face against Draco’s shoulder before he continues, “And, er, only you. If we ever break up, and I’m seeing someone else, I won’t be able to knot them at all.” He hesitates again. “Not that that’s… bad, really. I mean, knotting feels good and all, but it’s not bad enough that you should feel obligated to, I mean. Not if you want to… leave.”

Draco sighs and presses himself back into Potter’s embrace. Grabs Potter by the wrist and forces his arm around Draco. “Well,” he says. “I don’t plan on leaving, so you’ll never have to worry about that.”

- - - - -

They rest for an hour or so, just long enough for Potter’s knot to ease and for Draco to drop into a light doze. He wakes to Potter kissing the back of his neck, warm and open-mouthed and punctuated by little flicks of his tongue. It hurts a bit, and Draco slides a hand up there, probing gently with his fingertips along the tender wound where Potter broke the skin with his teeth.

“Sorry,” Potter murmurs.

Draco rolls over to face him. Doesn’t say a word because there’s nothing to say about it. He’d have said no if he’d had a choice about it, but he understands how affected Potter is by the full moon, and saying that Draco wouldn’t have agreed to this if he’d been asked about it would only upset Potter. Instead, Draco kisses him, warm and slow, runs his hands over every inch of Potter’s body he can reach while Potter holds him close and rocks his hips against Draco’s until they’re both hard again.

“I thought maybe we could try it the other way,” Potter murmurs against Draco’s mouth. He keeps his eyes closed. “I’ve never… but, I’d like to. With you.”

It takes Draco a moment to work out what Potter’s asking for. “You’d like me to fuck you?” he asks, and Potter nods, his eyes still closed, and Draco kisses him again. “Turn over,” he says.

Potter rolls over and stretches out on his stomach, and Draco scoots down the bed and pushes his legs apart so he can lie between them. He runs his hands up the insides of Potter’s thighs, urging him to spread wider, watches him shiver. He does it again, and again, intending to draw this out as much as they can both stand. Potter’s got a gorgeous arse, and Draco is nearly faint with glee that he’s going to be the first person Potter allows to have him like this.

It’s greedy of him, he knows. But Potter is always so delightfully responsive, so wonderfully vocal when they have sex. Draco’s sure he’s going to react beautifully to being filled up and fucked for the first time. And no one else in the world will get to see it but him. He traces his fingers down Potter’s thighs, brushes them over the tender skin at the backs of his knees.

“Don’t tease me,” Potter says. It’s not anywhere near begging, but it leans enough in that direction that Draco’s deliciously tempted to see whether he can push him to it.

Draco strokes his thighs again, then hooks one hand behind Potter’s right knee and pushes his leg up to spread him wide, exposing his hole. Potter whines and pushes his face into the pillow. His leg shifts like he’s trying to close himself up, but Draco doesn’t let him move it back down. He cups Potter’s arse cheek with his other hand, spreads him wider, and Potter whines again. His arsehole twitches.

“What are you doing? You don’t need to be staring at it,” Potter says, his voice muffled because he’s talking into the pillow. Everything about his body language is radiating embarrassment and uncertainty.

“Shh,” Draco says, pressing a kiss just where Potter’s thigh curves into his arse. “You’re beautiful.”

And he is. Most of the time it’s Potter’s intensity that Draco finds beautiful. His confidence and his power and his unwavering strength. Even when he’s uncertain and off-kilter, he’s still determined and strong. But this version of Potter is deliciously shy, blushing and hesitant, and Draco wants nothing more than to debauch him thoroughly. He knows it won’t last. Potter’s always been a quick learner. Once he’s done this the first time, he’ll have his confidence back. There’s a certain sort of power in bottoming, Draco’s learned. It’s all in how one goes about it, and there’s no doubt in his mind that Potter will learn that and learn it well. Draco will be entirely helpless and he’ll enjoy every fucking second of it.

But for now, Draco plans to enjoy every moment of Potter’s submission.

Draco smirks to himself. If he’s only going to have it this once, he might as well get all he can out of it.

He leans in, breathes warm over Potter’s arsehole, feels him shiver.

“Draco…” He sounds almost pained, helpless and confused and embarrassed.

And Draco revels in it, in making Potter feel this way, in pushing him past the limits of his comfort. He fastens his mouth over Potter’s arse and sucks lightly, pushes the tip of his tongue against him until he feels his body give way, works inside in little teasing licks while Potter writhes and whimpers, can’t quite seem to decide whether he wants to get away or push himself closer.

Draco takes his time opening Potter up, getting him all wet and relaxed, delighting in every sound he makes.

“Never had anyone rim you before, have you?” Draco asks, though Potter’s reaction to it was all the answer he needed. He lubes up a finger and gently circles Potter’s opening.

“No,” Potter says. “I’ve never—God, yes. Oh, that’s…” He draws in a shuddering breath as Draco's finger sinks deep. “That’s why people do this, then. Holy fuck.”

Draco smiles to himself as he draws his finger slowly out and pushes back in, stroking over Potter’s prostate, fingering him gently until he’s begging for more. He slicks a second finger and pushes it in, feels Potter’s body stretching to take him, fucks him with it while he debates whether or not to add a third. Personally, Draco likes to feel the burning stretch of a cock forcing him open, but Potter’s never done this before and neither of them know how Potter will like it best.

Erring on the side of caution it is, then. Draco pushes a third finger inside him. He’s so hot and tight, the sounds he’s making are as intoxicating as Draco thought they’d be. The thought of sliding his cock into Potter’s arse steals his breath, makes his ribs feel two sizes too small. He’s harder than he’s ever been in his life, his arousal so sharp it feels like he’s burning up from inside out.

“I need to be inside you,” he says. “Right now.”

“Yeah, okay,” Potter says. “Do it. God, please.”

Draco tugs his fingers free of Potter’s body, feels how his muscles tighten around Draco’s fingertips when he pulls them out. He crawls up the bed and lines up his cock, kisses the sharp curve of Potter’s shoulder blade as he pushes slowly inside.

Restraining himself feels like the most difficult thing he’s ever done. Forcing himself to go slow, and then to stay still to give Potter’s body time to adjust to him. But he manages to keep his baser urges in check, because he wants so much for this to be good for Potter. Wants him to tremble and squirm and blush, yes, but he wants Potter to love every second of it.

So he gently strokes Potter’s back with one hand, and gives him as much time as he needs.

“Okay,” Potter says. “Okay, I’m good now. You can move.”

Draco leans down and presses a kiss against Potter’s spine, then pulls out and pushes back in, again, and again, until he’s thrusting in a smooth rhythm as Potter pants and moans beneath him, twists his hands in the sheets. He’s trembling, shifting restlessly, torn between pushing back against Draco and grinding his cock against the mattress.

“Draco,” Potter whines. “God, Draco.”

“Merlin,” Draco breathes. “I wish I’d known sooner how desperate you’d be.”

Potter whines, arches up against Draco. “I… Please,” he gasps. “Please.”

“Look at you,” he says. “Look at what a slut you are for this, how you’re begging for my cock.”

Potter makes a soft sound, and Draco honestly can’t tell whether it’s meant to be words. The idea that he’s temporarily destroyed Potter’s vocabulary is an unexpectedly potent turn-on. That Potter’s been reduced to this wordless, needy, slutty thing. It’s incredible. Right now, in this moment, Draco owns him and it’s exhilarating.

Draco fucks him harder, watches Potter fall apart more. “Look at how much you need my cock in you. Fuck, you’d do anything for this. I could make you beg for it. I could make you beg.”

He runs his hands up the warm, smooth expanse of Harry’s back, down over his sides, the fingers of his left hand bumping over the scarred ridges running over Potter’s ribs. Potter pushes up against him, rising to his knees, and Draco takes him by the hips and quickens his thrusts. Potter keeps his face pressed into the pillow, and the idea that he can’t see a thing, that all around him is darkness and the sound of Draco’s words and the feel of Draco behind him and inside him, it’s intensely arousing.

Draco’s control is slipping, he feels like he’s barely able to control himself, slamming himself into Potter over and over. “Slut,” he gasps. “You’re such a slut, but you’re mine. You’re mine, fuck.”

Potter comes hard, so lost inside himself that he doesn’t even cry out. His body goes rigid and jerks, his arse tightening almost painfully around Draco’s cock, and that’s all it takes for him to come too. He pulls out gently and rests his head against Potter’s back as he tries to catch his breath.

“I’m sorry,” Potter mumbles, his words soft and slurred. He starts to move like he intends to sit up. “I don’t know why I…”

“Shh,” Draco says, smoothing his hands down Potter’s bare back, gently pressing him down to the mattress. “It’s all right. Just lie there, just relax. You were lovely.” He keeps stroking, feels Potter go limp and pliant beneath his hands. “You were so beautiful, the way you let go.”

He sits up and continues to rub Potter’s back, murmuring gently to him, telling him how wonderful he is, how beautiful he is, how lucky Draco feels to have shared this with him. He digs his thumbs into the muscles below Potter’s shoulder blades and feels him groan, keeps massaging until Potter’s too relaxed for even that. He leaves off, stroking his fingertips lightly up and down Potter’s spine.

“Better?” he asks.

“Mm, yeah,” Potter sighs. “It’s just… I really shouldn’t have done it like that. My leg hurts now.” He rolls halfway onto his side and peeks up at Draco through his dark fringe. “Would you rub it for me?”

As if Draco could deny him anything when he’s looking up at him with those puppydog eyes. “Of course. Let’s just get cleaned up first.”

Draco reaches for his wand and casts several gentle Cleaning Charms over himself and Potter and the bed. When he finishes, he nudges at Potter until he rolls onto his back.

“Warming Charm first,” Potter says, settling back against the pillows. “Then your hands.”

Draco nods and casts, and Potter sighs. Draco sets his wand aside, and then hesitates. He’s never touched Potter there before, on the scarred skin stretched taut over twisted muscle. Too late, he realises he’s waited too long and Potter’s mistaken his reluctance for disgust.

“No,” Draco says quickly, putting one hand over Potter’s thigh. Part of him is irritated that Potter thinks so little of Draco, but he swallows it down. Potter is sensitive about this. And it’s going to take a while for him to get past the way Draco reacted in the kitchen that first night. “I just don’t want to hurt you. That’s all.”

Potter’s face eases. “You won’t,” he says. “Just go slow. Use the flat of your palms, and not too hard.”

Draco takes a deep breath and presses down, feels the tense muscles spasm and Potter’s breath comes out in a pained hiss. Draco backs off immediately.

“Sorry, sorry,” he says quickly.

“No, s’fine,” Potter says between clenched teeth. “S’good. Keep going.”

Draco does as he’s told, pressing down again and again, still wary of every noise from Potter. It’s interesting how visible the results are. He feels the muscles in Potter’s thigh ease, sees the tension in Potter’s face ease along with it. He continues until there’s no more twitching, until Potter relaxes fully against the mattress. Draco casts a final Heating Charm and curls up beside him, his head on Potter’s chest. He closes his eyes and listens to the steady thump of Potter’s heart.

“You’re a treasure for putting up with me,” Potter murmurs after a while, stroking Draco’s hair. His voice is deep and echoes oddly where Draco’s ear is pressed to his ribs, drowns out his heartbeat for a few seconds.

Draco frowns and lifts his head. “Why?”

“Well, I’m sort of a lot of bother, aren’t I? And you haven’t said two words about it.” Potter tightens his arms around Draco. “I mean, the knotting thing is sort of weird.”

Draco thinks the knotting thing was sort of brilliant. And yes, a little weird, but mostly brilliant. “I enjoyed that,” he says. “Quite a lot, actually.”

“But it’s not normal, is it?”

“Potter, stop it. No, it’s not normal, but since when have you ever been? It was brilliant, and you’re brilliant. And anyhow, there’s all sorts of things I like about you.”

Potter’s fingers in Draco’s hair go still. “Like what?”

Draco props himself up on an elbow so he’s half-draped over Potter’s chest. “Well, your hair, for one.”

“My hair?” Potter asks, flattening it with one palm.

“Yeah,” Draco says, reaching up to comb his fingers through it, fluffing it back to its usual buoyancy. “It’s going silver.”

One corner of Potter’s mouth twitches into a smile. “That’s an odd thing to like about me. What else.”

“Your toes,” Draco says, thinking of watching Potter’s feet in the showers after the Quidditch game. “They’re, er, nice,” he finishes awkwardly.

“My toes?” Potter echoes with a small laugh. “I’m almost afraid to ask what else.”

“Oh no,” Draco says. “I’ve given you two, now it’s your turn.”

“Your goggles,” Potter answers immediately. “While we’re on the topic of weird things we like.”

“What?”

“The goggles you wear when you’re working on your devices. They make you look a bit like a mad scientist. All you’d need is the lab coat.” He gives a sigh. “I should get you one just so I can take it off you.”

Draco laughs. “You’re an odd one, Harry Potter.”

Potter gives him a fond smirk. “Says the man who likes me for my grey hair and my nice toes.

“There’s other reasons, too,” Draco says, reaching down to wrap his hand around Potter’s cock. He squeezes gently, feels it begin to stiffen. “This, for example.”

“Oh,” Potter says softly, tilts his head up a bit to brush his lips across Draco’s. It’s a distracted sort of kiss that feels a bit unintentional, and Draco loves that he can make Potter kiss him without meaning to. “I’m unconvinced. Perhaps you should show me in more detail.”

Draco continues to stroke him and he’s fully hard again in no time, hips pushing up into Draco’s touch, groaning when Draco gives him a particularly firm stroke. Draco’s only half-hard himself, wishes he could get it up for another round, but he needs longer than this to recover from the last one.

“I’m impressed you’re ready to go again so soon,” Draco says.

“Full moon,” Potter manages, his breath coming in soft gasps. “Always gets me like this for a few days, leading up to it. Might as well take advantage, I’m going to feel like shit tomorrow.”

Draco’s hand goes still. “The Quidditch match. In the showers after, that was a few days before…”

“Yes,” Potter says, bucking his hips up, pushing into Draco’s hand. “God, yes. And you were so fucking hot. Still are, just keep… fuck, keep going.”

“Why don’t you tell me again,” he urges, slowing his strokes to something slow and maddening. By the way Potter growls and clutches at the bedsheets, Draco thinks he’s succeeding at it fairly well. “Tell me again how you could smell me.”

Potter whines, arching his back, and dear Merlin, Draco will never get tired of this. Of Harry Potter naked and writhing and desperate for his touch.

“You were aroused,” Potter manages. “I could smell how much you wanted me. I was so close to going in there with you and fucking you senseless. I needed you so much.”

The grandfather clock downstairs strikes midnight, and Draco slows his touch as he counts the tones.

“You know,” he says, when the last one fades away. “There’s a belief that whatever you’re doing at midnight on New Year’s is what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year.”

“You’re going to spend the rest of the year touching my cock?” Potter asks. “I think I’m okay with that. Keep going, please.” He rocks his hips up.

And Draco obliges him, wanking him until he spills over Draco’s fingers. Draco fondles his softening cock for a few moments, then catches Potter’s eye and lifts his hand to his mouth. Slowly slides one finger inside and begins to suck it clean. Potter’s eyes darken as he watches.

“Come here,” he says. He cleans Draco’s hand with a murmured spell, and draws him down to snuggle close. “If you’d kept doing that, we would have gone again. I just want to hold you for a while.”

Draco puts his ear against Potter’s chest and listens to the steady thudding of his heart. Potter rubs his thumb in small circles over Draco’s shoulder and presses a kiss to his hair.

- - - - -

When Draco wakes up beside Potter on the first day of January, he looks like an entirely different man than the one Draco spent the prior night in bed with. Potter’s pale and trembling, bleary-eyed and looking like he didn’t get any sleep at all.

“Tea,” he croaks out, dragging the duvet over his head. “Please. And dry toast.”

Draco hastens to get it for him, returns with the requested tea and toast, and climbs back into bed while Potter eats it. He looks like he’s forcing himself to swallow each sip and bite, but he tells Draco that he needs to get something in his stomach or it’ll only be worse. Potter looks so awful, Draco’s having a hard time imagining what ‘worse’ might possibly entail.

“You can leave, if you want,” Potter says when he finishes. “I’m probably just going to stay in bed today.”

“Promising me a day spent in bed isn’t the best way to get rid of me,” Draco teases, and that gets a smile out of him.

Draco gets a book from Potter’s library and reads aloud while Potter naps on and off beside him. He’s looking much better by lunchtime, and Draco heats up soup and fixes them a couple of cheese toasties. When they finish, Draco coaxes Potter into the shower, and afterward they bundle up on the sofa beneath heavy blankets and spend the afternoon listening to wireless dramas.

All in all, Draco thinks it’s a pretty brilliant start to his year.

After seeing how ill Potter was after the full moon, Draco’s amazed at how quickly he recovers from it. Just two days later, he’s acting completely normal.

“Are you free tonight?” Potter asks after Tactical Spellwork finishes up for the day. “A bunch of us are meeting at the Hart and Hen later after work.”

Draco gives him a look as they walk down the hall to Draco’s lab. “This is something I’m curious about. Do you ever meet at the same bar twice?”

Potter wrinkles his nose. “Pans,” he says. “It’s like she’s determined to visit every club and bar and pub in London. She’s dragged me to about a thousand of them so far.”

“Are there even a thousand pubs and bars in London?” Draco asks with a frown.

“It bloody well feels like it,” Potter sighs. “But ask Pans. I’m sure she knows. She’s got a map all marked out and everything. I don’t know why she’s made it her life goal to never visit the same place twice.” He shrugs. “But everyone should have a hobby, I suppose.”

“Slytherin ambition?” Draco suggests, stepping into his lab with Potter close behind.

“That’s a nice way of saying it,” Potter says, taking his customary seat on the corner of Draco’s worktable. “How do you feel about curry tonight?”

Draco arches his eyebrows. “Didn’t you just say you wanted to meet up with Pansy?”

“Yeah, but I don’t want pub food. I want curry. We can be late to the pub if there’s curry involved,” Potter insists.

“On your head be it,” Draco mutters, searching for his other glove. Finds it where it had slipped off the far edge of the table and onto the floor.

Potter smirks at him. “I thought we could take the bike,” he says.

Suddenly this plan for curry is a lot more appealing. “I don’t know,” he says with feigned reluctance. “Driving’s so much slower than Apparating. I wouldn’t want to be too late.”

Potter sees through him in an instant. “Fine, fine,” he says with a laugh. “We can fly, you git.” He slides off the edge of the table. “Anyhow, I forgot to tell Ron about it at lunch today, so I’m going to try to catch him before he leaves. Back in a minute.”

Draco watches him leave, then turns his attention to his work, eager to get as much done as he can before Potter comes back to distract him.

- - - - -

“Fucking Agnes,” Draco spits, slamming into the office the next morning.

“Who are you this time?” Weasley asks without pausing in jotting down notes in the margin of the parchment spread over his blotter.

Darco Malfrot according to that cow,” he grumbles, and Weasley looks up at him.

“It’s not that bad,” he tries to say.

Draco levels a glare at him. “I want you to close your eyes and imagine what Potter’s going to say when he hears about it.” Because Draco can imagine it quite clearly. ‘What’s that, French for bad frot?’ because Potter thinks he’s all sorts of clever, and all right, maybe most of the time he is, but Draco’s a perfectly good frot, thankyouverymuch, and Potter bloody well knows it.

“Okay, maybe it is that bad. But it’s not Happy Pooter bad.” Weasley shrugs. “And anyhow, everyone’s dealt with Agnes. Practically a rite of passage for moving to London. I spent three days directing my guests to Robe Weasler’s Flat.”

“Robe Weasler?” Draco echoed.

“Yeah. As Ginny pointed out, it sounds like some sort of pervert.”

“She’s not wrong,” Draco says. Then, “Three days? How did you get yours sorted so quickly? I’ve been dealing with that horrid woman for almost two months now.”

Weasley grins and leans back in his chair, tucks his hands behind his head. “I sent Hermione to deal with it.”

Draco thinks about Granger and how she used to get when she was on a crusade back at Hogwarts. He thinks about how much she must have honed that skill over the years.

“Weasley,” he says. “Can I borrow your wife?”

- - - - -

Granger is a goddess made mortal and sent to earth, Draco’s sure of it. She doesn’t even Firecall for an appointment, just goes marching right in, ignores the secretary’s indignant sputtering, and pushes open the door to the inner office. Agnes actually flinches back from her, and Draco’s glad Granger’s on his side. She’s one absolutely terrifying witch when she’s got her back up about something.

They have his Floo address sorted in about thirty seconds flat.

Draco could just kiss her. He settles for shaking her hand, thanking her profusely, and making a mental note to send flowers to her office.

He’s feeling so good about it that he makes a little detour over to Name and Moniker Establishment on his way down. He demands to speak to Mr Ingham and refuses to leave until he’s done so. Eventually the secretary relents and takes him to a small office where a short man with a puckered frown and a truly unfortunate comb-over looks up and glares at the interruption.

“Mr Ingham? Draco Malfoy,” he says. “You’ve rejected five of my requests for department names. Consider this my sixth. I’d like to call my subdepartment Magical Accessory Development.” He slaps his written request onto the desk.

Ingham looks down his nose at it but makes no move to pick it up. “That’s not a very good name.”

“I don’t care what you think of it,” Draco says. “You’re going to approve it.”

“Oh?” Ingham says, looking Draco up and down. Honestly, the man is a powermad nutter. “And why am I going to do that?”

“Because this is the alternative,” Draco says, slapping a second sheet of parchment down over the first. Potter has been hard at work coming up with new acronyms, some of which make the ones he’d applied with to name his class look positively mild. He’s pleased to note that Ingham goes a bit pale as he reads over the list. “Approve my request, or that’s what I start submitting. And,” He pauses and gives Ingham a nasty smile, “I’ve got more than just those. I’ve got the really creative ones on a separate list.”

“You’ve been talking to him,” Ingham says.

And Draco has to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. He’s going to tell Potter about this later, that the people in this department refer to him in the same tone of voice people used to get when they talked about You-Know-Who. Potter will laugh himself sick.

“You know we reported him,” Inham goes on.

Draco arches his eyebrows. “And how well did that work out for you?”

Ingham sputters a bit more, goes all flushed and indignant, and Draco's forced to pull out his second list and hand it over. He watches the blood drain from Ingham's face as he works through the first name—Very Innovative Complex Inventions Organised Using Supremely Creative Or Complicated Key Magics Or Necessary Spellwork To Ensure Results—and he can see the exact moment when Ingham comes up with vicious cockmonster. His cheeks flush pink and his eyes get comically round.

It's more than a bit unwieldy, too long to even fit properly on the form, but Potter had been so proud of it when he'd presented it to Draco, announcing that he'd even fit in a letter K.

Ingham stamps Draco’s application approved right then and there, doesn't even bother to read the rest of the list, which is rather a shame because the whole thing is wonderful. Potter's brain truly is a thing of terrifying beauty.

“I am having the best day,” Draco announces to Weasley when he makes it back into his office. “Your wife is terrifying and my boyfriend strikes fear into the hearts of megalomaniacal parchment-pushers. I don’t know why I didn’t use them both sooner.”

“Got your Floo address fixed, then?”

“We were in and out in under a minute,” Draco says. “And I got my subdepartment name approved.” He spreads his arms wide. “You’re looking at the new head of Magical Accessory Development.”

“Wonderful,” Weasley says as Draco flops down into his desk chair. “You’re on a roll today, so why don’t you go through this new batch of tips we got in and see if you can keep it going?”

Draco pulls a face at him, but settles in to work. The way his day is going, he may very well crack the case open, he thinks.

But it turns out it’s not him who cracks it. It’s Granger.

A new Devil’s Kiss victim had been brought to St Mungo’s. Like the others, he couldn’t say where he’d been or who he’d been around that could possibly have dosed him. Unlike the others, he had a small scrap of parchment crumpled up and jammed into one of his pockets. A scrawled address and a single name: Filmore.

As much as Draco would love to jump right in, they have to go through the proper channels. A surveillance team is dispatched, and they quickly report back that the address is an abandoned building in Muggle London, heavily warded. Robards calls an emergency meeting, organises a dozen Aurors, and Weasley and Halbard quickly go over the relevant points of the case, briefing the rest of the Aurors who’ll be serving as support. When the meeting is finished, they all stand up and prepare to make their way down to the Apparition Point.

“Go on,” Draco mutters to Weasley. “I’ll catch up.”

He knows he shouldn’t be doing this, but he wants to see Potter before he leaves. If something goes wrong, Merlin forbid, he doesn’t want the first Potter hears about it to be when they’re informing him Draco’s been injured.

Draco pokes his head into his lab, then goes down the hall to check Tactical Spellwork even though it’s long past when class would have ended. The training room is empty, as is Potter’s office.

Hurrying, he makes it up to the Apparition Point just as the others are preparing to Disapparate. Draco falls into position, and then he’s gone in a crack of sound.

- - - - -

They knew the Aurors were coming.

Draco doesn’t know whether they’d been tipped off about the raid or whether they’d been nervous and taken precautions after they’d made Pierson as an Auror.

It doesn’t really matter either way, because the end result is the same.

The building is a large cinder block warehouse with small high windows and a broad door, and it’s heavily warded. Draco and the other Aurors cast a bubble of wards of their own, strong Notice-Me-Not Charms woven in with Anti-Apparition Wards, to keep the suspects from escaping and to keep themselves from being noticed by Muggles. The Ward and Resistance Disassemblers come in, but it takes them a long time to work through the complex layers of spells warding the building. Several hours pass, and it’s well into nightfall by the time the wards finally come down. Draco wishes he'd been able to find Potter. They'd made loose plans to get dinner together after work, and now it's long past when they should have met. He's probably heard about the raid by now, and Draco's sorry he couldn't tell Potter himself.

Though everyone’s nerves are running high by this point, they still take their time. Aurors surround the building and ward the windows, though they’re all high up and look as if they don’t open. The Ward Disassemblers create an Apparition Point around the side of the building, in case they need to Apparate any wounded away. They position lookouts at the corners of the building, and the rest of the Aurors assemble at the only door.

They open up the door and push inside, and all hell breaks loose.

Several dozen fireworks, aimed straight at the doorway, go off at once in an overwhelming flurry of loud bangs and bright flashing colours. And while the Aurors are temporarily blinded and deafened and utterly disoriented, the wizards they’re after fire curses into their midst.

The Aurors are forced to lower the Anti-Apparition Wards they’d layered over the warehouse in order to transport the injured to St Mungo’s. The condition of several of the Aurors is dire enough that they don’t have time to make it to the designated Apparition Point they’d left around the side of the building and they have to disable the entire bloody thing. And of course as soon as they do, four distinct cracks of Apparition come from deeper in the warehouse.

Draco comes through it without a scratch.

But Weasley isn’t so lucky. A curse had caught him squarely across the ribs, shredded his robes and begun to peel his flesh back in long strips. Draco hits him with every first aid spell he knows, holds him tight and Apparates him to St Mungo’s where several Healers take him away while another lingers to question Draco about what spell Weasley had been hit with.

Draco answers his questions, and the man rushes off, leaving him standing in the middle of the hallway with no idea what to do next.

The front of his robes are soaked with blood, and Draco doesn’t even notice it until a young Mediwitch draws him aside and cleans him up with a few gentle spells. “There you are,” she says with forced cheer. “You’ll want to look presentable when you visit your partner after he’s patched up.”

“Yes, thank you,” he says, brushing his hand over his robes. They’ll take care of Weasley. He’ll be fine, and Draco should be presentable when he visits. “Thank you.”

She gives his arm a sympathetic pat and directs him to a waiting room. At a loss for what else to do, Draco takes a seat and settles in to wait.

- - - - -

He hears the approaching slap of running footsteps, and Draco turns to see Potter come sprinting up the hall, his unfastened robes flapping behind him. He skids to a stop, socked soles sliding on the polished floor. He looks like he just tumbled out of bed, still clad in his blue and white striped pyjamas, his hair a wild mess and his glasses askew. He’s still got pillow creases down the left side of his face.

“Ron,” he gasps. “Where’s Ron?”

Draco’s so relieved to have Potter here that at first he doesn’t even think to question how Potter knows about Weasley’s injury, just holds him close and murmurs reassures to them both that he’d got Weasley here in time, that Weasley will be fine, that everything’s okay. Potter trembles against him and presses his face to Draco’s neck, and Draco holds him tight, rocks him slowly back and forth.

After a minute, Potter pulls away, takes a deep shuddering breath. Stands up straight, but he clutches Draco’s hand in his.

“What can we do?”

“For now, nothing,” Draco says. It’s not the truth, exactly. He could be back at the Ministry, barricading himself in his office and combing over their evidence in search of new clues. Those wizards won’t be at the warehouse anymore; they’ll have gone somewhere else. The pieces are there, they have to be there. But he looks at Potter, pale and determined, scared out of his mind at the thought of losing his best friend and trying like hell not to show it. No, Draco’s place is right here with him.

“How long did they…?”

“They didn’t say. It could be minutes, it could be hours. Come on, let’s sit down.”

Draco tugs on Potter’s hand and leads him to a couple of empty chairs. A wave of his wand Transfigures two of them into one small sofa. Both he and Potter could use a bit of comfort, and they don’t need armrests between them. They sit close enough that their knees touch, and Potter keeps hold of Draco’s hand.

“How did you know?” Draco asks after a few minutes. He needs something to fill the silence. “They wouldn’t have had time to contact you. They’re still working on getting ahold of Granger and she’s here in the building.”

Potter gives a strange laugh and scrubs his hands through his hair. “Oh my god,” he says. “You’re not going to believe this.”

“Is this another installment of Harry Potter’s Weird-Arse Life?” Draco asks, frowning.

“Oh yes, very much so,” Potter says with a grimace. “I knew because I dreamt about it. In my dream I saw Ron get hurt, and I saw you take him here.”

Draco slants a sceptical look at him. “So, what, you’re some sort of seer?”

Potter shakes his head. “No, not really. Not like… crystal balls and tea leaves and all that rubbish. I can’t see the future. Just bits of the present, and only Death Eaters.”

“What?” Draco blinks at him.

Potter sighs and slumps in his chair. “Hermione’s looked into it a bit. The magic Voldemort used to Mark his followers was a living sort of magic, attached to himself. And as best we can tell, when he died, that left a void, and the magic left behind in the Marks sort of… reached out for the next best thing.”

His Mark itches faintly, as it always does when he thinks about the awful magic that made it. Draco folds his arms over his belly and does his best to ignore it. “But why would it replace that connection with you?”

Potter shifts in his seat. “It’s complicated,” he says finally, darts a glance at Draco and looks away again. “I’ll tell you, but not here. Not in public.”

Draco frowns at him. “But… it means you can see me all the time?”

“Not really. I can’t control it. I just get dreams, and it’s not even all that clear. Mostly impressions. I dream about Azkaban a lot.” He glances up at Draco and looks down at his feet. “But you’re different. It was after…” He trails off, looks around, lowers his voice before he continues. “After I bit you, I haven’t dreamt of anyone else. Just you, and it’s still just glimpses, but clearer.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about that. You watching me like that.” Even though Potter can’t control it, it still unnerves Draco to be spied upon.

“I guess you’ll just have to sleep with me every night. That way I don’t see anything more exciting than you lying next to me,” Potter says with a wan smile. It sounds like it’s meant to be a joke, but all Draco hears is don’t leave me.

He reaches out and links his fingers through Potter’s. “You really do have the strangest life.”

“Yeah,” Potter sighs. “I wish I didn’t.”

“Nonsense,” Draco says briskly. “Your strange life has made you who you are. And I—” I love you, he’d been about to finish. “I’m… rather partial to the person you’ve become,” he says instead.

“Thanks,” Potter says with that crooked smile that turns Draco’s insides to melted butter. He gives Draco’s fingers a squeeze.

He’s not afraid to tell Potter how he feels, Draco assures himself as they continue to wait for word on Weasley’s condition. It’s just that this is hardly the appropriate time or place for it. After this, after all this is over. He’ll find the right time for it when everything’s okay again.

- - - - -

Ten minutes later, Granger comes dashing into the waiting room.

“I just heard,” she says, her eyes darting from Draco to Potter and back again. “Where is he? What’s happened?”

Draco assures her that they’re taking care of Weasley. He’ll be all right. Everything will be fine. Potter joins in with the reassurances, and Draco wouldn’t have ever guessed he’d been on the verge of letting his nerves overtake him just fifteen minutes earlier.

They sit down together, Potter expanding Draco’s two-seat Transfiguration to something that will fit all three of them. They lapse into anxious silence.

Draco notices for the first time that she’s not dressed in the traditional lime green robes of St Mungo’s Healers. “Did they finally get rid of those awful green uniforms?” he asks. “Can’t say that colour’s much of an improvement."

Granger straightens her vivid yellow robes across her knees. “Not entirely, Magical Bugs and Diseases still wears green,” she says. “But the other floors have been assigned new colours. Artefact Accidents is pink, Creature-Induced Injuries is turquoise, and Spell Damage got lilac. Potions and Plant Poisoning got stuck with yellow.” She grimaces. “They’re all fairly unattractive shades, but the yellow’s just a little bit worse, I think.”

“Absolutely worse,” Draco agrees. “It’s positively gaudy.”

A faint feel of deja vu tugs at the back of his mind, but just then Beller, an Auror Draco recognises from around the Ministry, comes to find him. They’d like him to submit his account of what happened while the details are still fresh. A part of Draco is tempted to argue, but Potter and Granger have been friends since they were children. They’ll be able to comfort each other. They’ll be okay.

Draco promises to return as soon as he’s able, and follows Beller to the lobby and Apparates to the Ministry.

He gives his account three separate times to three separate Aurors, before sitting down to fill out a form with a written description of what happened on the raid. It’s long and tedious and repetitive, and Draco’s tempted to tear it in two and walk out, get back to St Mungo’s where his boyfriend and his partner and Granger all need him to be. He wonders if Weasley has been healed already. He pictures Potter and Granger at Weasley’s bedside, Potter in his pyjamas and Granger in her gaudy…

He goes still, a drop of ink dripping from the end of his quill to splot onto his report.

...yellow robes.

He gets a brief flash of sitting in his modified tent alcove with Potter. Watching Campbell & Collins. The wizard who stepped out on to the pavement, the gust of wind that caught his cloak and revealed the yellow robes he wore beneath.

It could just be a coincidence. It could just be a customer, someone who’s addicted to potions or needed an unsavory artefact of some sort or even someone who just likes that ugly shade of yellow.

But Draco doesn’t think so. The pieces line up far too neatly. The whole case so far has been too careful, too deliberate. It’s not as simple as a black market brewer trying to make money. It’s about something bigger, more complicated than a common criminal. There has to be a bigger plot behind it. In fact, the particulars, the relative unavailability of the potion, the way a few cases would crop up and then the formula would change before another few people were dosed with it, it feels almost like…

Oh fuck.

He doesn’t have evidence yet, but Draco’s learned to trust his hunches. When they’re this strong, they haven’t led him wrong yet.

Draco abandons his half-written report and leaves without a word.

He knows he should tell someone, but he’s technically not an active Auror at the moment. Auror regulations demand that after the grievous injury of a partner, the uninjured Auror must submit to testing to be sure they’re in a fit emotional and mental state to go back into the field. And Draco hasn’t got time for that right now, and in all honesty he probably wouldn’t be able to pass it even if he did. He hurries back to St Mungo’s, finds out that Weasley’s going to be fine but hasn’t woken up yet. Draco goes to his room and finds Potter alone, pacing. He’s no longer in his pyjamas, but has changed into a jumper and jeans and a battered pair of trainers.

“Stop that,” he says, forcibly guiding Potter to a chair and making him sit. “You’re going to aggravate your leg. Where’s Granger?”

“Popped out for a moment,” Potter says. “She went to explain to Molly and Arthur what’s going on. She didn’t want them to hear about Ron from some random Auror. She should be back any moment. Did you need her?”

“I need to ask her about her coworkers.”

Potter frowns at him. “Why?”

“The potion case you were investigating when you were injured,” Draco says. “The Imperius one. They were trying to control certain influential people and take over the Ministry, right?”

Potter’s frown deepens. “Yeah, that’s what they said.”

“But they never got it working right. And anyhow, mind control is messy.” Draco stands up, paces to the door, turns back. “Any Potions Master worth his salt could say that. Imperio’s hard enough and that’s direct mind-control. Easier to use but easily tested for. A potion’s subtler, but it’s hard to get it just right, to make the victim act naturally. For it to be undetectable. If you were a Potions Master, what would you suggest?”

It’s a rhetorical question, but Potter answers, “Make a different potion. Make something more subtle.”

Draco nods. “Something where the people you feed it to aren’t doing what you want because they’ve been told to do it.”

“But because they want to do it,” Potter says. His eyes are getting wider. “Like, if they were in love.”

“From a potion so strong it made Amortentia look like child’s play.

Potter sucks in a deep breath. “All the people in St Mungo’s who were dosed with Devil’s Kiss—”

“—were test subjects, yes. Because it’s still not right. It’s still not subtle enough.”

“And it’s got all sorts of nasty complications and side-effects,” Potter adds. “Hard to be subtle about it if the person you’ve dosed can’t keep food down or hallucinates.”

“That night we watched Campbell & Collins. That last person who left, the wind caught their cloak,” Draco says. “They were wearing yellow robes.”

“Yellow robes, like… Oh my god,” Potter says. He stands and paces. “No, okay, that makes sense. Because even if a Potions Master has the knowledge to test reactions and adjust his formula, he probably doesn’t have the equipment or the funds, never mind how hard it’d be to keep hostages.”

“But if he’s someone who works for St Mungo’s…” Draco says.

“...he’s got all the equipment right here, and he can perform whatever tests he needs because he’s helping.” Potter stops short. “I know who it is.” He spins back around to face Draco. “Clarke. It has to be! He started work here six months after I was bitten. And he’s… oh my god, how did we miss this? He’s always asking Ron about work. He’s always asking me, and when we went out, that’s all he wanted to talk to you about. I always thought he just really loved his job, Hermione’s so work-obsessed I just assumed it made sense for her coworker to be too, but he wanted to see if we were anywhere near catching him.”

“The first isolated incidents of Devil’s Kiss started about a year and a half after that,” Draco says, mentally flipping through the case particulars. “One in May 2004, one in January 2005, two in September and October of 2006, then another two in March 2007, and then four between November 2007 and February 2008.”

“And then starting a few months ago, there was suddenly a whole string of them.”

“He’s getting close to perfecting it. Close enough that he needs test subjects to finish adjusting the formula,” Draco says. “We need to get him right now.”

“He’s here tonight,” Potter says grimly. “His shift started a few hours ago.”

“How thoughtful of him,” Draco says, drawing his wand. “And how helpful for us.”

Draco hates to leave Weasley alone, but Potter said that Granger will be back any moment and he’d dearly love to have Clarke in custody and be well on the way to capturing his accomplices when Weasley wakes up. Weasley will understand, because Draco would want the same thing done if their positions were reversed. Any Auror would.

Together, they step out into the hall and take the lifts one floor up for Potions and Plant Poisoning, and head for Clarke’s office. Draco hopes he’s there. He’d rather get this taken care of in the relative privacy of an office rather than in the busy hallway or, Merlin forbid, in a patient’s room.

Potter has his wand out as well, gives him a nod, and Draco flings the door open.

The room is dim and empty, the only light coming from the steady glow of monitoring charms along one wall. All of them are glowing soft blue except for one, glowing brightly green. No sound comes through it at first, but then they clearly hear a door open, and footsteps, and Granger softly calls out, “Harry?”

“Fuck,” Draco says. “He heard everything. He knows, and we have to find him now. If we don’t…” He runs a hand through his hair. “But I have no idea where he’d have gone.”

“I do,” Potter says. “His house has a full potions lab in the basement. He’ll have gone there before he leaves. He probably keeps a copy of all his research and he’ll need that before he runs.”

“Okay, fuck, we need to go now.” He turns to Potter. “I don’t have time to go to the Ministry. I don’t have time to get back-up. I shouldn’t ask this of you, but…”

“You don’t have to ask; I’m going with you. No way am I not going to be a part of this.”

The determination in Potter’s voice throws Draco off a bit. He blinks.

“That arsehole turned me into a sodding werewolf,” Potter snarls. “Even I have my limits.”

“Wait,” Draco says as they hurry back down the wall, heading for the lobby so they can Apparate out. “Clarke’s a werewolf? How do you know?”

“He’s the one who bit me,” Potter said. “We identified the others. The only one we didn’t identify was the Potions Master, because he was transformed at the time.”

“How have you not recognised him? Isn’t your sense of smell keen enough to detect other werewolves?” Draco’s been doing a bit of research on his own after he was caught off-guard by the whole knotting and mating things. He knows werewolves identify each other by scent. Potter should be able to tell not only that Clarke’s a werewolf as well, but that he’s also the one who’d turned him.

“Suppressants. The suppressants I’m on hide my…” Potter grimaces and grudgingly continues, “...my natural musk.”

And oh, Draco’s going to tease the hell out of him for that later. Now’s really not the time.

“And I know for a fact that he’s on the same ones I am,” Potter says. “Because he bloody well recommended them to me. And I assumed it was because he was a Healer, that he’d know about which potions worked best because of his job.” He pauses, conjures a Patronus and gives it a short message about who’s behind this and where they are. The shimmering white stag gallops off and vanishes through the wall, on its way to Robards. Potter turns to Draco and offers his arm. “Ready?”

Draco takes it and tightens his grip on his wand. “Let’s go.”

- - - - -

They arrive on the street outside a modest home on the outskirts of London. Draco can feel the staticky crackle of some seriously heavy wards layered around the property. They cast strong Disillusionment spells over each other, so that each of their magical signatures will allow them to see the other.

“Don’t worry,” Potter says with a fairly terrifying sort of smile. “I can get through those.”

Draco braces himself as Potter takes his arm again and Apparates. But there’s no impact, no grating of magic, no backlash of torn wards unravelling. Potter seems as surprised as Draco feels.

“I wonder,” he says. “I’ve been here before. He had a small dinner party and I came with Ron and Hermione. I wonder if he never bothered to ward the place against me afterward.” He stares up at the front door. “That arrogant prick.”

“Come on,” Draco says quietly.

For a criminal, Clarke is remarkably lax about security beyond the wards he’d put up around his property. There aren’t any secondary wards on any of the doors or windows, so all it takes is a simple Alohomora to get them inside.

The ground floor is dark and quiet, and Potter leads the way down the hall to the kitchen where a door stands open. A steep staircase slants down into the basement, where there’s warm light and a soft mumble of voices.

They’re outnumbered, but they’ve got the element of surprise. Draco takes the lead now, goes slow on the stairs because Potter can’t take them as quickly as he can. He counts five men, Clarke and four others, three of them busily working while Clarke and one of the unidentified men argue about something on the far side of the room. Potter and Draco reach the bottom of the stairs, and Draco looks around for the most tactically sound places in the room to attack from.

A large worktable takes up the center of the room, and several full cauldrons sit on top of it. A set of bookshelves take up the far wall, crammed with books and stacks of parchment. The three men are working to wrap jars of finished potion in protective gauze and packing them up in crates. There’s a small alcove between the furnace and a stack of boxes just to their right where Potter will be well-defended, and Draco tugs on his sleeve and leads him to it. There’s another set of stairs leading up, presumably to the back garden, that Draco intends to sneak across the room and hide himself in.

But before he can move away from Potter, Clarke lashes out with his wand and shouts, “Expelliarmus! Finite Incantatum!

Draco tries to hold on, but his wand wrenches itself from his hand and sails across the room along with Potter’s. The other four men gasp as Potter and Draco are suddenly made visible.

Clarke gives them a smirk. “Clever,” he says. “But I could smell you coming. Oh, not you, Harry. The suppressants take care of your scent. I could smell him. You’ve mated him, haven’t you? He reeks of it.”

That’s something none of the werewolf books Draco had perused had mentioned. If he gets out of this, he intends to write a series of strongly-worded letters to their publishers.

“Give up,” Potter says. “The Aurors know we came here. They’ll arrive any minute.”

“And by the time they get through my wards, we’ll be long gone.” He looks from Potter to Draco. “And you’ll both be dead. It’s rather a shame. Personally, I do like both of you. But I can’t have you giving me away. You especially, Draco Malfoy,” Clarke sighs. “I had so dearly hoped you’d chosen to follow in your father’s footsteps. You’ve quite a mind. I could have used you.”

Draco sneers at him. “I’d never help someone like you.”

“Ah, but you already have,” Clarke says. “Did you like the fireworks I left for you? You gave me the idea for that with the conversation we had at the pub that day, about how you based your designs of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. I thought to myself, why not just go straight to the source? I think it worked quite effectively. Don’t you?”

“You injured half a dozen Aurors,” Potter says. “You’re a fool if you think they’ll ever stop looking for you.”

“I doubt that,” Clarke says, giving him a smile. “I turned their Saviour into a dark creature and no one’s found me yet.”

“I’d like to point out that we found you,” Draco says, laying a restraining hand on Potter’s arm.

“An unfortunate stroke of luck,” Clarke says, gesturing to the man beside him. “Filmore here fucked up the Floo address and it was unfortunately out of commission. I was forced to come and go via the front door like everyone else.”

“For the last time,” Filmore grits out through clenched teeth. “When we changed the shop name, I had to change the Floo address.”

“And for the last time,” Clarke shoots back, “I told you not to piss off Agnes!”

“When we take over the Ministry, that bitch is going to be the first to go,” Filmore says.

Clarke holds out a restraining hand. “All in good time. She’s only part of the problem. The Ministry is corrupt. It’s become a sluggish thing, weighed down by bureaucratic ineptitude, so thoroughly rotten that the only way to cure it is to tear it to the ground and rebuild it.” He gives Filmore a nod. “My colleagues here had a good idea, but they lacked the expertise to follow through. They planned to control key members of the government to further their own agenda, that of blood purity and the protection of our culture. As more and more Muggleborns join our world, they erode our traditions, our values, our—”

“Oh my god,” Potter says. “Are you monologuing?”

Draco tries to elbow him to make him shut the fuck up, because antagonising a bunch of dark wizards while said dark wizards have them cornered and disarmed and outnumbered doesn’t seem like the best way to go, and Draco’s something of an authority on antagonising others, if he does say so himself.

But Potter’s having none of it. He swats Draco away and keeps talking. “I mean, really. Do you know why Voldemort never won against me? Because he couldn’t shut up. If he’d just killed me, that would’ve been that. But instead he was always banging on about his grand plans and his tragic past.”

“Potter,” Draco warns.

“Don’t speak of the Dark Lord like that!” Filmore hisses, stalking forward. This time, Clarke lets him go.

“It’s true,” Potter says. “Like, just after he got his body back? He totally had me. I was restrained and unarmed. And do you know what he did? Blathered on about his sad childhood and the glory of his Death Eaters, then instead of killing me outright, he gave me back my wand and tried to make me fight a duel with him.” He snorts and rolls his eyes. “Really, who arms their enemy?”

“The Dark Lord is—”

“—dead,” Potter interrupts, putting his chin up. “Voldemort is dead, and I killed him.”

“And I will take such pleasure in avenging him,” Filmore says. He gets right up close to Potter and digs his wand into the underside of Potter’s chin.

And then Potter punches him in the face. Draco throws himself behind the stack of boxes as curses come shooting at them. Potter wrests Filmore’s wand away from him and shouts, “Accio wands!”

The wizards manage to hold onto theirs, but Draco’s and Potter’s come flying across the room and Potter catches them both neatly and tosses one to Draco.

Protego!” Draco shouts, and the response from his wand feels just the slightest bit off. He realises he’s got Potter’s wand, but it does his will without hesitation so he doesn’t try to get his own back.

Though Draco’s been practicing his duelling far more in recent weeks than he ever has before, he’s still hard-pressed to hold out when they’re outnumbered five to two. But luckily for him, one of those five is unarmed and one of his two is Harry bloody Potter, so they quickly take down two of the men, leaving just three.

Draco’s locked into a duel with Clarke while Potter’s battling one of the other wizards, when things go wrong. They’d both discounted Filmore because Potter had taken his wand. But he crawls along the floor to where one of his compatriots lies sprawled and unconscious, takes his wand, and lashes out.

Avada Kedavra!”

The jet of green light lances straight at Draco, and Potter’s already moving. He slams his shoulder into Draco, knocking him clear, and gets his wand up barely in time to cast an Avada Kedavra of his own. The two spells meet and explode in a shower of green sparks, and Clarke casts at Potter, and Filmore casts at Draco, and the duels go on. The third wizard, who’d previously been duelling Potter, takes the opportunity to make a run for it, goes dashing off across the basement and disappears up the stairs.

Two against two. Draco smiles grimly. These bastards don’t stand a chance.

Draco casts and counters, ducks and dodges, biding his time, waiting for an opening.

There’s a loud bang, and Draco glances over to see that Clarke’s decided he can’t get through the heavy shielding Potter’s cast around himself. Instead, he’s cursing the floor beneath Potter’s feet. It’s cracked and jagged, and Clarke hits it again and Potter nearly goes down. It doesn’t look like it’ll survive another spell.

Filmore fires off a curse at Draco, and he counters it easily before Filmore casts again. This one goes wide, and Draco aims his counter at Clarke instead, blocks the curse he’s aimed at the floor as Filmore’s spell strikes the table, smashes into it and sends everything flying.

Including the cauldrons of potion.

A spray of liquid hits Draco’s face, temporarily blinding him, and then a cauldron slams into his head.

The world spins, he hears Potter rap out Expelliarmus and Incarcerous in quick succession. Then there’s footsteps and a crack, another bright sizzle of a spell zipping by overhead, and then the last thing Draco sees before he blacks out is Potter’s frightened face.

- - - - -

Being an Auror is dangerous work, dangerous enough that when Draco wakes up, past experience means he knows he’s in a hospital before he even opens his eyes. The cool and unnaturally crisp sheets. The steady hum of monitoring charms. The air is too cold and a little bit too dry for comfort. Draco opens his eyes.

Oh yes. Definitely St Mungo’s.

“Malfoy,” Weasley says, leaving his chair and coming to loom over Draco’s bed. He’s got a strangely concerned look on his face. “How are you feeling?”

Draco pauses for a moment to take stock of himself. His head aches faintly, but otherwise he feels fine. Or at least well enough that he’s not sure why Weasley’s looking at him like that. “Fine,” he says, and his voice comes out gentle, vague and somewhat slurred. And all right, that’s a bit alarming. “Where’s Potter?” His voice is still all soft and drifty, despite his efforts to sound otherwise. Definitely on potions, then.

Weasley darts a nervous glance to the door. “Outside. He’s fine, don’t worry. And we caught Clarke and the rest. All of them are safely in custody and awaiting trial. As you can see, I’m fine too. Thanks for asking.”

That’s all well and good, and Draco’s pleased to hear it, but it doesn’t answer the question of why Potter’s not in here with him. “I want to see Potter.”

The look on Weasley’s face grows pained. “I should go tell your Healer you’re awake,” he says.

Draco frowns at him as he leaves. He knows that Weasley knows that the monitoring charms cast over Draco will have alerted his Healer the moment he woke up. He sits up in bed and waits for someone to come in and tell him what the fuck is going on.

Barely a minute later, a Healer flanked by a pair of Mediwitches enter the room. Draco is asked all the routine questions: does he know his name, does he know what day it is, what’s the last thing he remembers. They take his vitals and ask him whether he’s in any pain.

“A bit achey but not too bad,” he says. “I’d like to see Potter, if you don’t mind.” Weasley had said he’s fine, but Draco needs to see with his own eyes that Potter’s not hurt.

The Healers and Mediwitches exchange apprehensive looks, and the Healer gives the other two a nod. “Bring him in.”

One of the Mediwitches leaves, and returns a few moments later with Potter in tow. He looks anxious as he approaches the bed and lingers at the side. Not a bloody scratch on him, thank Merlin, or Draco would have to murder him himself. Potter doesn’t say anything, just looks down at Draco anxiously.

“You,” Draco says, faintly alarmed at how his voice slurs all soft and dazed even through his anger. “You fucking idiot.”

Potter’s eyes go comically round. “What?”

“You heard me, you’re a fucking idiot. I don’t even have to ask what you were thinking when you threw yourself in front of me like that because I know you weren’t thinking anything at all.”

“What? You’re really going to scold me over that? When you protected me over protecting yourself?”

“I got myself clunked over the head and dosed with a potion. You could have been killed,” Draco shoots back. “You didn’t even know that would work! And if your timing had been off even a fraction of a second—”

“But it wasn’t and I’m fine,” Potter insists. “And you’re fine too.”

“That’s not my point, my point is you had no idea whether the Killing Curse could be deflected like that, but that didn’t stop you from—”

The Healer bustles forward, pushing Potter back, putting himself between them. “That’s enough now, that’s enough.”

“Hey,” Draco says. “I wasn’t done with him.”

But Potter lets himself be pushed away to the other side of the room, and then the Healer turns back to Draco.

“Mr Malfoy, how do you feel?”

“Like I had a fucking cauldron dropped on my head and I’ve got an idiot hero for a boyfriend,” he snaps. Or tries to snap. His voice is still coming out soft. His head feels like it’s been stuffed with wool batting.

“How do you feel about Mr Potter?”

Draco leans around the Healer to aim a glare at Potter. “Like I want to slap him.”

The Healer blinks at him. “You don’t feel any differently about him?”

“No,” says Draco. “I pretty much always want to slap him.”

“That shouldn’t be right,” the Healer says, looking quite baffled.

“Oh, but it’s true,” Draco says. “It’s very interesting, you see. He’s the Boy Who Lived, inspires courage and determination and whatnot in everyone around him, except for me. I only feel inspired to hit him. It’s really not fair.”

“Not fair?” the Healer repeats, and Merlin but that’s getting old fast. This bloke seems a bit too slow on the uptake to be a proper Healer, and Draco wonders how he got through his training. He’ll have to lodge a complaint.

“Extremely unfair,” Draco says. He’s growing very sleepy at a somewhat alarming rate. “There are regrettably few circumstances in which I am allowed to hit him. He choked on biscuit crumbs once, and I got to wallop him on the back. It was the highlight of my week.”

“I shall endeavor to choke on more biscuit crumbs in the future,” Potter vows solemnly from across the room.

“This is why I’m partial to you,” Draco says, letting his eyes slide shut. “You’re very accommodating.”

“But this doesn’t make sense,” he hears the Healer say. “He should be madly in love.”

But I am, Draco thinks as he drifts off.

He doesn’t hear if Potter replies.

- - - - -

Potter is beside him when he wakes up a second time. And unfortunately, whatever lovely spell or potion they’d used on his head has worn off.

“Oh Merlin, that’s unpleasant,” he groans, pressing a hand to his forehead.

Potter levers himself up out of his chair and sits down on the side of Draco’s bed. “What’s wrong?”

“My head hurts.” Draco feels carefully along the bandage they’ve wrapped around his head. He didn’t even notice it when he’d woken up before. “I feel like I was hit by a Bludger.”

“Bludger, cauldron. They’re both made of iron,” Potter says, and Draco considers pointing out that cauldrons aren’t made of iron, most of them are made of pewter. But frankly it feels like too much effort, and he’s not sure he’d be able to tell the difference between getting knocked over the head with one or knocked over the head with the other, so it’s probably a moot point. And he’d already known how terrible Potter is at Potions, no need to point it out again. “I’m sure your Healer will be in with something for it in a moment.”

“I don’t want him,” Draco grumbles. “Can’t I have Hermione?”

Potter snorts. “I’m going to tell her you said that.”

“If she comes here I’ll tell her myself. And tell her to bring me a pain potion while she’s at it.” Merlin, his fucking head is pounding.

Potter gropes for his hand among the bedsheets, finds it and grips tight. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“Of course I am,” Draco sighs.

“But I was so afraid you wouldn’t be,” Potter says. “You were doused head-to-foot in a potent love potion.”

Draco frowns. “Well I’m fine. And lucky me, Clarke appears to have worked out the negative side effects of it. We were just in time, weren’t we?”

“We were,” Potter says fondly. “Though he would’ve had to start over again, wouldn’t he? If the potion doesn’t work?”

“Actually,” Draco says. “I think the potion’s fine.”

Potter frowns. “You really are affected by it?”

Draco sighs. “No, not at all. I think… or at least as far as I can tell from what I’ve read of the analysis and what Granger’s told me. But I think it didn’t make me fall in love with you because I was already there. So it had no effect.”

“You…” Potter says, his eyes getting very wide.

“I love you,” Draco says, because he wants there to be no doubt in Potter’s mind what he’s trying to say.

Potter kisses him, and Draco forgets all about his aching head and kisses him back, loses himself in the warmth of Potter’s body and the feel of his mouth against Draco’s. Tangles his fingers in Potter’s hair and presses hard against him.

And of course, that’s when his Healer walks in.

- - - - -

Less than a month later, Draco’s given up his trendy flat for Potter’s cosy home.

“Don’t you think you’re rushing?” Weasley had asked when they’d announced it.

And Potter had laughed. “We had a thirteen-year pause in our relationship.” He slung an arm around Draco’s neck. “If anything, we’re overdue.”

Draco had asked him about it later, whether Potter really counted that as the beginning.

“It was the beginning, for me at least,” Potter told him. “It’s when I started to think about you differently.”

The day they move feels more like a party than a chore. Their friends have all turned up for it, Weasley and Granger and Ginny and Dean and Neville and Pansy and Luna. There’s not actually much to move—Draco and Potter had already sorted through Draco’s flat to decide what to get rid of and what will replace Potter’s furniture—but everyone offered to come help, and Potter can never say no to his friends.

They do it after work on a Thursday evening. It takes less than an hour to get all the furniture settled into Potter’s house and all the boxes stacked neatly out of the way for Draco to unpack later.

“Potter,” Draco says to get his attention, and shoves an armload of jumpers at him. “Take those upstairs for me?”

“Sure,” Potter says and goes off to do just that.

Draco waits until he hears the floorboards creak overhead before he slips from the living room, leaves all their friends chatting and cracking open bottles of beer, and hurries after him. He hesitates on the landing, takes a few deep breaths and runs a hand through his hair. He wears it a bit longer these days to cover the bite on the back of his neck. The imprint of Potter’s teeth has scarred silvery-white, barely noticeable against his pale skin. But still, it’s his, his and Potter’s alone, and he doesn’t like the idea of anyone else seeing it but them. Draco indulges in one more deep breath, and walks up the hall. He catches Potter just as he’s stepping out of the bedroom, and Draco pulls him back inside without a word.

Potter, the beautifully wanton thing that he is, gives Draco a grin and slides his arms around his waist. “Would you care to discuss Belgium?” he asks.

Draco rolls his eyes. He’s given up on trying to get Potter to quit using that as code for, ‘I’d like to shag your brains out right now, please.’

“That’s not why I’m up here,” he says.

“Oh?” Potter asks, looking adorably lost. Like Draco plus bedroom not adding up to equal sex is something he hadn’t even considered.

“No,” Draco says. His heart is thudding against his ribs as he rounds the bed to the nightstand on his side of it, opens the top drawer, and takes out the book he’d stashed there two days ago. He opens it to the page he’d marked, and takes a deep breath. He’d planned out all sorts of things to say, but all that comes out of his mouth as he thrusts the book at Potter is, “What about this one?”

And then it’s too late to take it back. He holds his breath and watches Potters eyes move back and forth over the lines of text.

“You want to bond with me? But this…” Potter frowns, reads over the passage again, then looks up at Draco. “This is barely a bond. It hardly has any effects and you can break it just by saying a counterspell.”

“Exactly,” Draco says. “That’s why I chose it.”

Potter’s frown deepens. “Why, so you can leave me if you change your mind?”

“No, you idiot. Because you’re bonded to me—”

“Sort of bonded,” Potter corrects.

Draco rolls his eyes. “Fine, because you’re sort of bonded to me—”

“Well it sound stupid when you say it like that,” Potter says, and for Merlin’s sake, now he’s gone all sulky. This isn’t at all how Draco planned for this to go.

“Potter, it sounds stupid when I say it at all. Will you let me finish?” Draco sends him a glare, and Potter mimes locking his mouth shut and tossing away the key. Merlin, this man is going to be the death of him. And Draco must be mad because he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I chose such an easily reversible bond so you know that I’m with you because I want to be, not because we’re stuck together. You’re mated to me, but that only affects you one night a month. You can leave me anytime you want. I want this bond because either of us can break it with a few words, walk away and not look back. But we won’t, because we’ve chosen to be with each other. And that means more to me than bonding permanently. Because as long as we’ve got this fragile bond between us, we’ll know that we’re together for no other reason than because we want to be.”

It makes sense in his head, but it does sound rather silly when he says it aloud. Still, he can tell from the way that Potter’s eyes are shining that Draco’s chosen exactly right.

“Let’s do it tonight. Right now,” he says.

Draco blinks at him. “What?”

“Why not?” Potter presses, eager now. He’s smiling and Draco already knows he’ll end up agreeing to it because he can’t deny Potter anything when he’s like this, bright and enthusiastic and impulsive and so very much Harry that Draco feels like he’s drowning with how much he loves him. “All our friends are here, it doesn’t need any preparation to cast. Let’s do it now.” He drops heavily down to one knee and catches both of Draco’s hands in his own. “Draco Malfoy, will you bond with me?”

Draco can only laugh and tug at Harry’s hands. “Get up, you berk. And you can’t ask me, I’m the one that asked you.”

“Ah, but you didn’t ask properly,” Potter says, standing up again, staggering a bit but Draco keeps him steady. “Just shoved a book in my face and said ‘What about this one?’ That’s hardly a proposal.”

“That’s because it’s not a proposal,” Draco says. “We’re not getting married.”

“Might as well,” Potter says. “We’re forever, as far as I’m concerned.”

Draco hesitates. “Are you… You didn’t just… ask me?”

Potter gives him that crooked smile, the one that turns Draco’s insides to melted butter. “Yeah. I want to. Draco, will you marry me?” He glances down. “I’d get on the floor again but I’ve been pushing my leg today and I’m not sure I can get up a second time.”

But Draco’s not listening to him anymore because he’s too busy hugging Potter and saying yes.

Holding hands, they go back down the stairs.

“Hey!” Potter shouts from the doorway to the living room. “Draco and I just got engaged.”

The room explodes into cheering and shouted congratulations, and there’s a whole round of hugging before either of them can get a word in edgewise to explain about the bonding. Then there’s another whole round of shouting and hugging and congratulations before Granger takes charge.

They do it in front of the fireplace with their friends in a loose semi-circle around them. Granger performs the spell. Pansy stands up beside Potter and Weasley stands up beside Draco. And then with a wave of a wand and a few spoken words, Draco can feel the magic wrap around both of them.

They finish the bond with a kiss. The spell doesn’t call for it, but when the magic sparks to life between them, Potter leans in and Draco tips his head to meet him. It’s the perfect way to end the small impromptu ceremony they’ve had, and the perfect way to begin their life together.

- - - - -

But of course nothing in Harry bloody Potter’s life could ever end so neatly, Draco thinks half an hour later. Instead, after the toasts and the wine and the congratulations have subsided, Weasley speaks up.

“There’s only one way to end this night properly,” he says gravely. “The Noble and Most Ancient Game of Drinks.”

“Toujours saoûls!” Ginny hollers as Hermione sighs, “Oh Ron, no.”

“Why not? It’ll be the best game ever. Can you even imagine her face when we tell her the half-blood who’s inherited her estate just got bonded to one of the last surviving members of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black? And they’re both men?” Weasley goes on. “She’s going to be livid.”

“It’s incredibly disrespectful,” Granger says firmly. “You know how I feel about this. She may have been a terrible woman, but she’s dead and it’s still—”

Weasley’s eyebrows raise a fraction and he twitches the curtain open.

“VILE INVADERS! FILTHY BLOOD-TRAITORS!” Walburga’s piercing stare fixes on Granger. “DISGUSTING MUDBLOOD DEFILING THE NOBLE AND MOST ANCIENT HOUSE OF BLACK WITH HER UNCLEAN PRESENCE!”

It’s interesting, Draco thinks. He can practically see Granger’s blood boil.

“Oh hell,” she says. “Give me the damn bottle.”

“Toujours saoûls!” Ginny shouts gleefully, handing it over, and this time it’s echoed all around.

It’s a fairly ridiculous game. It’s loud and disorganised and mostly involves people shouting, at each other and at the portrait. Wally gets overexcited about the noise and begins to shriek as well, adding to the pandemonium. Lucy swivels her head to give him a disgusted glare and shuffles sideways on her perch to put as much distance between them as she can.

“FILTH AND IMPURITY!” shouts Ron as Walburga screeches, “FILTH AND CORRUPTION!”

“Bloody hell,” he says, taking a drink for ‘filth.’ He sighs. “I really thought I had that one.”

As Potter had warned Draco when he’d explained the rules, they’re not able to play for more than a few minutes. Neville buckles first, getting up and closing the curtain, cutting off Walburga mid-rant about how they’re all debasing her glorious home with their mere presence. Draco wonders if she’s saying that out of force of habit, or if she genuinely doesn’t realise she’s been removed from Grimmauld Place.

“Sorry, but I have to work tomorrow,” Neville says. “And there’s nothing worse than facing the first years with a roaring hangover. Ask me how I know.”

Potter snickers. “That’s the advantage of teaching grown-ups,” he says. “Also, I’m not above threatening them with laps if they provoke my headache.”

“Yeah, but they all think you’re a bit mad anyhow,” Weasley tells him.

“They wouldn’t be wrong,” Ginny puts in, grinning.

“I’m not that bad!” Potter protests.

“Shitfarts,” Weasley says, as Pansy says, “Armed pawns,” and Dean adds, “The Lumosed quill.”

Draco has no idea what that last one refers to, but from the way everyone reacts to it, it must be a story well worth hearing. He’ll have to ask Potter to tell him later.

Draco looks around, at his friends and Potter’s friends who have somehow become theirs. At Potter, face flushed with laughter. At the home they now share. Potter catches him looking and gives him a grin, grabs his hand and pulls him in for a quick kiss. He doesn’t let go after, but lets their hands dangle between them, fingers loosely entwined.

And Draco can’t help but smile.

This is everything he never knew he wanted, and it’s exactly as he’d hoped it would be.