The Auror programme thanks you for your interest. Whilst your application made the “best qualified” list, we regret to inform you that we do not have a place to offer you. You are invited to reapply in the future.
Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Ministry of Magic
The first time Draco Malfoy was rejected by the Auror training programme, he took it philosophically.
Potter was massively popular, and the Auror programme had been quick to capitalise on his presence. They’d plastered the Daily Prophet with pictures of Auror trainees-- Potter front and centre. If anyone had somehow failed to recognise him, the new tagline spelt it out: “Join Harry Potter! Be an Auror! Help Defeat Dark Wizards!”
Draco had the ability; he had the motivation. He’d spent his childhood dreaming of becoming a dark wizard. He’d learnt during the war that there was nothing he wanted less. He’d spent seventh year terrified, forced to torture prisoners and classmates. It had been a harsh lesson in his own cowardice. Greyback, the Carrows: they were the perfect models of what he most longed to destroy.
He’d expected the Aurors to receive more applications than they could possibly accept. His should have been one of the few: he’d earned eight NEWTs. In his year, only Granger could claim more, but she wasn’t applying.
After some whinging to Pansy and his mother (always sympathetic) and Blaise and his father (sarcastic), he moved on. He could study potions Slughorn hadn’t taught them, charms and counterspells he’d never learnt. He could practise duelling. It wasn’t a total loss.
The next year, he sent off another application. He enclosed recommendations from his Potions tutor and duelling instructor.
Another missive arrived-- “‘best qualified’ list”, “we regret”-- Draco stared at it blankly.
The shock stayed with him the rest of the day. He registered his parents’ concerned looks, but couldn’t think of what to say. He couldn’t even manage to whinge about it, for God’s sake.
He was still in shock the next morning. He ate mechanically, without pleasure. He was only dimly aware of the house-elves wringing their hands and twisting their ears.
Page five of the Daily Prophet pushed him out of shock and into fury:
Leader Laments Law Enforcement Lacks
Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic, issued a statement Monday about upcoming changes in admission to Auror training. “In the past, the Ministry has been focussed on NEWTs. With the losses sustained in the War, and the lack of qualified applicants, we have decided to modify entrance requirements. Highly motivated applicants who did not achieve sufficient NEWTs at Hogwarts may attempt a series of entrance examinations. These will be available in August, starting this summer. Those completing the entire series will be invited to enter the Auror programme.”
When questioned about the changes, Shacklebolt added, “We’ve been unable to fill half of the slots in our training programme the past two years running. Healer programmes, by contrast, are overflowing. There seems to be a perception that with Voldemort gone, there’s no need for Aurors. We need to broaden the candidate pool. Completing NEWTs, while obviously important, should not be the sole means of qualifying. Harry Potter missed taking NEWTs entirely because he was fighting Voldemort. Who could claim that he’s not the embodiment of what the Auror programme is seeking?”
The rest of the article-- typical of the Prophet-- waxed rhapsodic about Potter. The included photograph was larger than the picture of Shacklebolt, Draco noted with a curled lip.
The Auror programme was unable to fill half its slots, was it? Only pride kept Draco from shrieking at the unfairness of it all. He glared at the newspaper, fingers twitching. At length, he redirected his glare at the picture of Potter. Potter squared his shoulders, clenched his jaw, and glared back behind those hideous spectacles he always wore.
Something of his reaction must have leaked through. His mother’s soft voice enfolded him, muting his rage. “Is something wrong, darling?”
He looked up at her. Her blue eyes were filled with concern. His father cleared his throat, and Draco darted a glance in his direction. He’d never been good at reading his father’s face.
Voice deliberately even, Draco replied, “Of course not, Mother. Just the Prophet being foolish again.”
She sighed and shook her head. He made an effort to smile-- another failure. He grabbed a piece of toast, painted it with marmalade, and took a vicious bite out of it. He directed another glare at Potter’s photograph, covered it over with one hand. Fucking Potter, he thought.
He turned a few pages on, hoping for a distraction. A full-page advert appeared on the last page.
Do You Want to Fight Dark Wizards?
Prevent the Rise of Another Dark Lord?
Join the Aurors!
Do you lack the NEWTs, but think you have what it takes to protect the Wizarding World? Come take the new Auror qualification exam.
All applicants welcome.
They showed an array of wizards and witches in Auror robes, wands raised, alternating serious stares at the reader and meaningful conversation with each other. Potter’s serious stare never altered.
All applicants welcome. Fucking liars, and fucking Potter. Draco threw the newspaper across the room with a curse. His mother gasped. “Nothing important,” he said through gritted teeth.
Draco requested an appointment with Robards later that day. In the glory days of the Malfoys, Draco would have been immediately accepted into the Auror training programme. If by some chance he hadn’t been, his father would have been ushered into the Head Auror’s office, no appointment necessary. Then again, in the glory days of the Malfoys, Draco hadn’t wanted to save the world from dark wizards; he’d wanted to be one.
Since then, he’d grown up. He kept that firmly in mind when he arrived for his appointment at half one.
He took the lifts to level two. Just out of the lift door, he saw a long wooden counter. Behind it stood a thin, twitchy man with lank brown hair and darting eyes. He was flipping through tall stacks of files. Draco cleared his throat softly, but the man didn’t look up. He cleared his throat again.
The man looked up with a sound of exasperation, followed by, “Look, if you’d all just put the files back yourselves--” he shook his head. “Right. You are?”
Draco bit back an acid retort. I want to save the world from dark wizards, he thought. He gave the receptionist a pointed stare. “Draco Malfoy, to see Auror Robards.”
The man drummed his fingers on the desk, and then swished his wand to move a stack of files over, revealing an open appointment book. He nodded. “Right, then. Half one? Follow me.”
The man muttered constantly under his breath about Aurors not filing things properly, but had nothing to say to Draco. He led Draco through a large room with rows of cubicles. Men and women in Auror red sat in some, scratching away with quills on parchment. Others stood off to the side, talking. He strained to hear the discussions, failed.
At length, they arrived at a dark wooden door with brass letters set in it-- “Gawain Robards, Head Auror.” The man motioned for Draco to stay still, and then at the door. A muffled grunt greeted the tapping, and the man slid inside, closing the door behind him. Draco shifted from foot to foot. A few seconds later, and he slid back out. “Go right in.”
His first impression was that the office was filled to bursting. A second later, he revised that opinion: there was little in the office, but its occupant overwhelmed the space. Seated behind a heavy wooden desk was a burly man. He had thinning iron-grey hair, bushy brows, and bulging brown eyes. As Draco entered the room, he leant forward in his chair. The chair let out an audible creak, and Robards crossed massive forearms on the desktop. Two empty metal chairs with green vinyl seats quailed in front of him. “Mr Malfoy, I presume.” His voice was a growl.
“Sit.” Robards gestured to the green chairs.
Draco moved forward and sat, lacing his fingers together. The vinyl seats were hard, the back hitting him uncomfortably mid-spine. Saving the world from dark wizards, he reminded himself. He gave his best ingratiating smile. “Sir, thank you for seeing me.”
Robards’s heavy lips pursed.
“I’ve had my application to the Auror programme rejected twice. I understand, of course”-- Draco smiled again-- “that you may have many qualified applicants.” Robards gave him a blank stare. “I did, however, read the Prophet this morning, and saw that Minister Shacklebolt was trying to encourage--”
Robards raised his left palm. Draco stopped speaking so quickly he nearly bit his tongue. “Mr Malfoy, you cannot possibly have expected to be accepted into the Auror programme.”
“I did, actually,” Draco said blankly.
Robards pulled his arms back, resting his elbows on the desktop and lacing the fingers in front of his lips. “Everyone knows what your family did during the war, Mr Malfoy. And everyone knows what you, personally, did during the war.” He gave a deliberate look at Draco’s left arm. Draco bit down hard on the inside of his cheek. “You received eight NEWTs, Mr Malfoy. I thought you would be smart enough to take a hint.”
Draco bit down harder on the inside of his cheek, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from responding. “I was pardoned. We all were.” They had been-- no charges, no reparations. Shacklebolt had given a heartwarming speech about “forgiveness” and “unity.” They’d got the pardon because of Potter-- Potter had sent a letter to Shacklebolt detailing how Draco and his mother had saved his life. The Prophet had printed it as part of a seven-part series on “the humility of a hero.”
“I’m aware of it.” Robards raised both brows. “But Mr Malfoy, I want trainees who didn’t require pardons.”
He stormed to Pansy’s flat after, too furious to Apparate.
Draco banged on her door until he was admitted by a house-elf wearing a tea cozy. “Tell Pansy Draco wants to see her.”
Pansy came fluttering across the pale marble floor moments later. She wore pink robes and matching pink heels, her heavy black hair curled down her back. Her upturned nose crinkled as she grinned. She moved close, grasped both of his hands and kissed his cheek. “Draco! I haven’t seen you in--”
“-- months, I think.” A bored voice came from within the flat: Blaise.
Pansy gripped his hands tighter, still smiling. “Come in, Draco.”
Her heels clicked on the marble floor as she led him into her parlour, done in black and white with rose accents. Blaise appeared to be part of the décor, lying draped over a sofa wearing matching black. He had his right hand raised, lazily inspecting his manicure. Pansy gestured Draco to a second sofa, and Draco sat. She sat down beside him, still holding his hands in her own. “Blaise,” he said with a wary nod of his head.
Blaise’s eyes narrowed. “What’s wrong this time, Draco?” His voice dripped contempt.
Draco stiffened. Pansy had loosed her grip and was now stroking the back of his hand. He relaxed; he could always rely on Pansy.
Draco recounted the story of his application, seeing the Prophet article and advert, and meeting with Robards.
Pansy cooed with gratifying sympathy, pressing against him as she continued to stroke his hand.
Blaise rolled his eyes and snorted. “What else did you expect, Draco? You were a Death Eater. Your whole bloody family was Death Eaters. You can’t have seriously expected to become part of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Potter was their dream candidate; you’re their effing nightmare.”
Draco glared at him, pressing closer to Pansy. “I was pardoned.”
Blaise wasn’t finished. “Yes, keep holding onto that, why don’t you? Do you pay any attention to the rest of the world?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Blaise dropped the hand he’d been inspecting. He sat up, glaring in Draco’s direction. “Being entirely focused on your own problems, as you always are, you’ve clearly missed that everyone thinks Slytherin is synonymous with evil coward,” he snapped.
“Oh, shut it, Blaise,” Draco said. Blaise was always complaining that the world was out to get him.
But Pansy was nodding rapidly. That was new. He felt unease coiling in his stomach. “What’s going on?”
“Look around. Pay attention for once in your bloody life, Draco. I took a NEWT in Potions, and I can’t get a job working for an apothecary in Knockturn Alley. Pansy can’t go out in the street without being spat on. And we weren’t Death Eaters.
“You come in here-- and that’s another thing: we don’t see you unless you want to gripe about something, Draco. You come in here and complain that you can’t get into Auror training? You’ve got vaults full of Galleons to fall back on. You don’t have problems.”
Blaise had vaults full of Galleons. Pansy’s flat didn’t proclaim poverty. As for Draco, he’d come to visit Pansy and Blaise, just last… last year. It had been the first time he’d been rejected by the Aurors. He hadn’t seen Goyle since the battle with Voldemort. He was a terrible friend.
Not that they were any better. Pansy and Blaise had steered clear of him when they had all returned to Hogwarts. Daphne Greengrass had fought with Potter, Blaise had said, she was a better bet. Goyle had gone off to Durmstrang, and he’d never owled. The only person who’d sought him out was Granger. She’d abruptly declared him her NEWTs revision partner in late September. He’d been pathetically grateful.
Blaise had paused. When Draco said nothing, he continued, sounding less angry and more despairing. “Read the Prophet, Draco. Look around. If you believe in ‘forgiveness’ and ‘unity’-- God help you, you’re the only one.”
Draco stayed a little longer, trying to assuage new feelings of guilt. Pansy had been his friend most of his life. Blaise was irritating and obnoxious, but he might very well be right.
The next day, he took Blaise’s advice: he read the Prophet. Fashion articles discussed new Muggle-inspired styles, disdaining robes-- “too pureblood,” they noted, as if it was an insult. Green was to be avoided unless you were a Healer. Everywhere he looked, there were snide references to purebloods in general and Slytherin house in particular.
After breakfast, he told his parents he intended to buy a book at Flourish and Blotts. He defiantly selected robes in black and green before he left.
He Apparated outside Diagon Alley. Walking down the street, he saw the displays in shop windows-- sometimes red and gold, sometimes blue and bronze, sometimes yellow and black-- but never, he noted, never green and silver.
Nearly everyone wore some variation on Muggle clothing-- trousers, shirts, skirts, dresses. It didn’t take him long to notice the way people flinched from meeting his eyes, the whispers that followed him as he walked past. The clerk hesitated before taking his money-- for a simple Potions manual, nothing dark. He wanted to scream, hit, hex until everyone acknowledged he’d been pardoned. Instead he walked out of the shop with his head held high, pride and outmoded robes wrapped around him.
At Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, the shop window was filled with products he remembered: Skiving Snackboxes, Canary Creams, Instant Darkness Powder.
He looked away. A smiling, dark-skinned witch stood in front, balancing a tray with one hand. It was filled with little paper cups, each containing a sliver of sparkling sweets. She wore a red jumper and Muggle jeans, her black hair in tiny braids. She’d been the Gryffindor Quidditch captain before Potter. He remembered telling Crabbe to knock her the fuck off her broom. What was her name? Johnson-- Angelina.
He could tell when she noticed him; her smile dimmed. The Weasleys didn’t like him. They had good reasons for it. He felt guilt followed by anger. He wasn’t going to cringe in terror for the rest of his life. He’d been pardoned. His mother had saved Potter’s life. Draco steeled himself, asked politely, “New product line?”
Her flinch was almost undetectable. She matched his polite inquiry in her response. “Yes.”
It wasn’t the pitch she’d have offered anyone else, but he gave her points for Gryffindor courage. “What do they do?” he asked, reaching out to take a cup.
Her smile took a malicious edge. “Try one and see.”
He held her eyes.
She shrugged. “Worth a try. No name yet. I’m thinking ‘Glamourous Gleams.’ In this size, they last a few minutes at most. Here.” She tapped at her jumper and jeans with her wand. “Gets a bit constricting.” She grabbed a cup from the tray, and dumped the contents in her mouth. It was gradual; he couldn’t interpret it until the shift was complete. Her jaw thickened, brow growing heavier. Her shoulders broadened, waist spreading. Her breasts were reabsorbed into her chest. He couldn’t prevent the incredulous look downward: an unmistakeable bulge at her groin. Her hair and eyes remained unchanged. When she spoke, her voice was deeper. “Works either way-- boy to girl, girl to boy. Easier than casting a glamour, lasts up to half an hour in normal size.” Her voice picked up enthusiasm. It sounded practised now. “Perfect for pranking!” He stared at her, unconsciously pulling the sample cup he’d taken closer to his chest. Seconds later, the changes reversed, and he found himself staring at Angelina Johnson again. She was smiling. “Try it now? You’ve got robes; you don’t need to worry about the clothes stretching.”
He tried and failed to read a dig at his clothing in her reference to robes. He licked at dry lips. “I-- no. Maybe later. Thank you.” He dropped the cup in the bag with his new potions book. He managed a brief but genuine smile as he walked away.
The whispers resurged, following him as he continued up the street.
He walked past Madam Malkin’s. He thought he heard the click of a camera shutter. He stopped, snapped his head around.
The last time he’d walked through Diagon Alley, he’d been photographed. His mouth twisted. The incident itself hadn’t been horrible, though the fallout had seemed so at the time.
He’d been shopping for his texts before that last year at Hogwarts. He’d just been leaving Flourish and Blotts. A loud “Oi, Malfoy!” and he’d halted mid-step; he reached for a wand he no longer had.
He turned carefully, scanning the crowd for threats.
Potter was jogging up to him, panting.
Potter hadn’t changed at all; his black hair still stuck out in all directions. His clothes still didn’t fit. The sprint to catch Draco had knocked his round glasses askew. His sidekicks ran a few paces behind him, red-faced and puffing. Draco gritted his teeth; he wasn’t their friend, and he had no interest in pretending he was. But he owed Potter everything; he could be polite.
He nodded. “Potter.”
Gasping in a breath, Potter stopped about a pace away. “Look, Malfoy. I wanted to give this back.” He patted at his robes. Gripping it point first, he offered Draco a familiar hawthorn wand.
Draco hesitated, and then reached out his hand to the grip. He felt an absurd rush of gratitude. “Thank you.”
“Saved my life.” Potter shrugged, the sunlight glinting off his spectacles. He had left his hand extended. “And so did you.”
Draco felt his lips tighten again. He tossed the wand to his free hand, and reached out to take Potter’s extended hand. “You’re welcome.” That was the moment that Weasley and Granger reached them. It was also the moment the photograph was taken.
The next week’s worth of Prophets had reused the image multiple times as they analyzed several years of conflict between Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter, lauding Potter’s graciousness in the face of years of petty disagreements. They’d somehow left out the time Potter had tried to eviscerate Draco in the girls’ toilets. By contrast, the time he’d broken Potter’s nose on the train had been covered in loving detail. Draco had tried not to mind. But the wand wouldn’t work for him anymore. Like everything else, it had preferred Potter.
Draco spent the next week hiding around the house. His photograph hadn’t graced the Prophet, but nothing was different. Articles still sniped at Slytherin house, adverts enjoined people to join the Aurors. Everything praised Potter. It was repulsive.
His mother tried to persuade him to adopt a new goal-- politics, teaching, working with small, furry animals-- “Anything, darling; I hate to see you like this.” He couldn’t see how it would be different to his attempt to become an Auror. Political power was unattainable. No one would want a former Death Eater teaching their children. (And what would he teach? His real strength was Potions, and Slughorn was firmly entrenched at Hogwarts.)
His father just gave him exasperated looks.
All he’d dreamt about during the war was being safe in his own home with his parents. Now that he was, he saw he hadn’t dreamt far enough.
He got an owl from Pansy and Blaise saying they were taking an extended trip to the Continent. He grabbed a quill and scratched out a reply. It seemed like what one ought to do to mourn the death of a dream. In under an hour, he’d filled a trunk with all of his possessions.
His parents hadn’t been happy. They hadn’t tried to stop him, either.
Draco stayed with Pansy and Blaise less than a month. They were looking for work; he was looking for anything but. He left them in Paris, moved on to Berlin, Prague, Vienna. His Grand Tour quickly turned into a tour of Wizarding pubs. Then-- why discriminate?-- he’d moved on to Muggle pubs.
It hadn’t taken long before he’d started picking up women. From there, it was only a short hop until he started picking up men. He’d slept around, seventh year. Everyone had. They’d none of them thought they’d survive.
It hadn’t made him happy then, and it didn’t now. Then again, maintaining a sterling reputation for the past two years had earned him nothing.
By February, he was half-drunk in Amsterdam.
A familiar voice called out. “Draco!”
He turned in his seat. Pansy was shoving her way through the crowd toward him, left hand clamped around Blaise’s wrist, dragging him behind her.
He surprised himself by being glad to see them. He ordered a few rounds of drinks. They talked. It was pure chance, they claimed. There were easily a dozen Wizarding pubs in this area alone; how odd they’d ended up in the same one.
Later, they’d moved to the hotel room Pansy and Blaise shared. Blaise was still bitter; he’d lost his position brewing potions in Paris. He’d blamed anti-Slytherin prejudice. Draco didn’t contradict him-- although, he thought, so-called anti-Slytherin prejudice hadn’t manifested in any of the beds he’d rolled into and out of over the past few months.
Reminiscences didn’t get them far. Alcohol, on the other hand, and some of Blaise’s recreational potion supplies, went quite far indeed. Before long, the three of them were twined together on the floor.
Draco woke up alone with gaps in his memory, a raging headache, a sore arse, bite marks all over his shoulders, and a good portion of his chest hair shaved in some unrecognizable pattern.
It certainly wasn’t the first time, and it likely wouldn’t be the last.
He staggered back to his hotel and downed a hangover potion before breakfast and a morning drink. There was a lot of the Continent left to see and consume, and he might as well get back to it.
It was April in Leipzig when the idea struck. He’d grown tired of the drinking, the sex. It wasn’t fun anymore, if it ever had been. He’d rather be home, reading about potions. He searched through his trunk, dragging out the book he’d bought in Diagon Alley.
He flipped the bag, spilling the book onto his bed. A crumpled paper cup came with it. He remembered: Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Angelina Johnson, Glamourous Gleams.
He slipped off his robes, stood naked in front of the mirror. He raised the cup to his lips, dropped the sweets on his tongue. His waist curved in, breasts easing out from his chest. The light dusting of hair on his chest and jaw disappeared. Most disturbingly, his cock and balls drew up into his body. He turned around slowly, mind whirling.
He laughed, freezing momentarily when it came out higher than expected. That the solution might be so simple... He’d thought of using glamours or Polyjuice before. He’d discarded both ideas almost as quickly. A simple glamour would have failed; it required effort to maintain, and, worse, he would have had to reapply it each day. Polyjuice would require a large quantity of expensive ingredients and constant timely consumption; worse, it would require him to find a specific person to imitate. In any case, the Ministry had added protections against both after the war; they were too easily abused. This was something different: a consistent glamour, and he would lay odds that the Ministry had no means to detect it.
Two minutes later, his body returned to normal. He stared in the mirror as the right corner of his mouth curved up into a mocking smile. The current change was too subtle; he’d have to make it more extreme. He’d also have to find a way to extend it. It would require some effort, but he’d taken eight NEWTs. He could do it.
He went back to the Manor in June. His mother had rushed toward him when he’d walked in the main door. She’d wrapped her arms around him and tugged at his longer hair. Even his father had smiled. It had felt achingly good to be home.
A week later, he laid on his bed, staring at the heavy, carved posts, the weighted grey velvet draperies. If he turned, he could see his poster for the Montrose Magpies. The team flew about the pitch, demonstrating formations. It wasn’t the same as it had been when he was a child; they’d redecorated when the Death Eaters had gone.
He’d told his parents at supper that he’d be leaving before the end of July. His mother’s face had fallen; his father had winced.
Draco heard a tap on his door, rolled to face it. “Come in.”
His mother walked in, sat down near the foot of the bed. Her fingers twisted together near her knees. Her blond hair had fallen from its smooth knot; it looked almost touchable. She turned to look over her shoulder, facing him. “What will you do?” she asked him, her blue eyes wide.
He hated to lie to his mother of all people, but could hardly tell her the truth. “More travelling, I think.” He blessed the fact that she had no idea what he’d got up to on his Grand Tour.
She sighed. Her smile was brilliant, but brittle. “We love you, Draco.” She looked more fragile than he’d seen her since the war.
“I know. But I can’t stay here.”
She nodded. “Of course. But find yourself, Draco. Don’t get lost.” Her eyes locked on his face. In them, he saw he’d been a fool to assume she knew nothing of what he’d done the past several months. If she knew, his father knew. He wondered who had told them-- not Pansy and Blaise. It could have been any number of people; his parents had connexions on the continent. He’d used some of them.
“I promise you, Mother. I won’t lose myself again.”
Draco arrived for the Auror examination at half six. He’d been expecting crowds, but saw only a witch sitting at a long table in front of the testing room. He guessed that she was in her mid-forties, greying brown hair piled loosely atop her head. Her dark eyes had faint wrinkles at the corners; her lips were pale and unsmiling. He knew precisely what she saw when she looked at him: a tall woman in a blouse and Muggle trousers. Wearing the ring, he became slender rather than wiry, with small, high breasts, thin hips, grey eyes, and long, straight blond hair. “Here for the Aurors?” she asked.
“Aquila Macmillan.” The Macmillans were a large enough family. His false parents were childless diplomats in Hungary. He’d bribed them, and he’d bribed several second cousins to boot.
She flipped through a stack of parchments, slid one out, and handed it to him. “Written exam begins at seven, practical at noon. If you score well, you’ll be back tomorrow for the next set. Clear?” He nodded. “Good. Turn this back to me when it’s complete, I’ll hand you your badge, and you can go in.”
He took the parchment, got out his self-inking quill, and completed the page with his constructed persona-- Aquila Macmillan, twenty-one, born in Britain, grew up abroad, attended Durmstrang, flat in Greenwich, ready to do her duty defending the Wizarding World from dark wizards. He’d spent months and a considerable amount of money putting Aquila together, and she would pass any checks the Aurors subjected her to. Durmstrang, in particular, owed his father a considerable debt, and had repeatedly assured him that he’d nothing to fear in searches of their records.
He gave the parchment one last stare, then stowed his quill.
The welcome witch traded him a name badge for his parchment. “Macmillan,” it said. It showed an image of his false face, lifting its chin proudly. “This is charmed for access to the testing area, and keyed to you. Don’t lose it.” She finally smiled. “And good luck, dear.”
The room was nearly as large as the Great Hall, filled with worn wooden tables and chairs. A clock and chalkboard hung on the far wall. It was empty; the heels of his shoes rang against the stone floor as he walked. He chose a table near the centre of the room and waited, eyes watching the clock.
As the hour approached, more people filed in. There were ringing footsteps, muffled conversations, scrapes of chairs on the stone floor, rustles as they settled in place. He was calm, ready. He could do this. He pulled out his self-inking quill, then a standard quill and inkwell-- backup. He set them on the table before him. His hands shook.
He took in a deep breath, glanced around the room. He recognised most of them, if vaguely-- they’d been years ahead of him at Hogwarts. One, he recognised quite well-- the shock of red hair, the awkward slouch, the coarse handmade jumper: Ron Weasley.
He’d thought Weasley was permanently ensconced at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. He swallowed. He glanced over at Weasley again, caught him looking back. Weasley lifted his brows, and then looked away, shifting in his chair. Draco clenched his hands into fists. They still trembled; he fought against it. His disguise would work. Weasley wouldn’t make it anyway.
A wizard garbed in Auror red walked to the front of the room, holding a stack of parchment. As the clock struck the hour, he waved his wand; the parchment dispersed: one sheet per table.
Draco looked down, lifted his quill with tense fingers. “Describe how to brew Amortentia, including ingredients, proportions, and procedures. Discuss ethical implications of the usage of Amortentia. Give historical examples where appropriate.”
His tension fled.
Each afternoon, he was warned that failing the day’s examinations would mean he would not be allowed to return. Every morning, his badge granted him admission to the testing room-- Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts. By the fourth day, the initial forty candidates had dwindled to eight.
To his surprise, Weasley was one of them.
The final examination could be chosen among Astronomy, Arithmancy, Muggle Studies, and Divination; he selected Arithmancy. The sixth day, only four candidates were in the testing room. Weasley smiled at everyone; Draco didn’t smile back.
Four people in Auror robes-- two men, two women-- entered the room, each beckoning toward one of the candidates. Draco walked over to a man whose slight build was overpowered by long, curling brown hair. “Miss Macmillan?” he asked, his voice high and nasal.
“I’m Musculus Benedict. Congratulations. You’ve done exceptionally well.” A smile flashed across his face, was gone quickly. “We’ve contacted your instructors at Durmstrang, and they speak highly of you. Today, you’ll face an aptitude assessment. Presuming it goes well, we’ll discuss what’s involved in being an Auror.”
Draco hadn’t realised the tension he was carrying in his shoulders until he felt them relax. He wanted to throw his arms up and shout; he wanted to run upstairs and rub his victory in Robards’ face. “Thank you, Sir.” He held out his hand. “I’m looking forward to it.”
As Hogwarts had, the Auror training programme began on the first of September. Weasley was there, along with the two others who had made it to the aptitude assessment. They were joined by twenty others, presumably all recently out of Hogwarts. He couldn’t have named them. Even as a prefect, he’d paid little attention to the lower forms.
Mornings began with physical challenges-- apprehending suspects when you couldn’t easily use your wand on them. As long as it required miles upon miles of running, they’d be prepared. Concealment covered glamours, disillusionment, and practical methods of blending into the background. Potions classes covered identifying illegal substances. They played endless Apparition games-- pop in, grab an object, pop out. And, of course, they practiced combat with magic, singly or in groups. There were formal duels, in which Draco had a considerable advantage, and ambushes, in which he had none.
It was two weeks into training when he was approached by another trainee.
“Macmillan, isn’t it?”
Draco looked over with a frown. “Yes.” Fresh out of Hogwarts, muscular, dishwater blond hair-- he racked his brain to remember the other’s name. “Fry?” he ventured.
“Would you like to get a drink with me tonight? You’re doing well in Potions. Maybe you could help me out. Maybe I could give you some pointers in combat and athletics; that sort of thing.” He gave a sheepish grin. “No pressure, though.”
What? Draco hadn’t had problems with combat or the physical challenges. He shot Fry a puzzled look, and then noticed the other man’s eyes were travelling from his chest down to his hips. “Thanks, but no.” He’d spent months rolling from bed to bed. He was done with it. He shuddered at the idea of pulling while under the glamour.
“Busy? Another night?” Fry’s voice went from wheedling to offended. So much for no pressure.
“Not interested,” he snapped.
Fry scowled, and then turned on his heel and walked away. Draco could have sworn he heard a muttered, “Bitch.”
Other trainees tried their luck over the next few weeks-- several of the men, a few of the women. He stared at his glamoured body the evening after his eleventh suitor: fine bones, pointed nose, long white-blond hair. He made a face.
The original charmwork had been subtle: the slightest alterations possible to make the user’s appearance convincingly match the opposite sex. He’d been impressed with it, but decided it was necessary to modify it. The charm already interacted with body hair; he made it do more: when he wore the ring, his hair lengthened to sweep past his shoulders. He altered the line of his face and his nose, bringing both closer to his image of ideal femininity.
He disliked looking in the mirror while wearing the ring; it was too far a departure. But the original glamour might not have passed muster.
He wasn’t making any efforts to act feminine, whatever the hell it meant. The transfiguration-induced changes to his hips and thighs took care of shortening his strides for him. The first time he’d worn his disguise, he’d attempted to channel his mother’s elegance, Pansy’s flouncing. People had stared. He’d tried more subtlety: cosmetics, feminine clothing. The cosmetics and clothing made him distinctly uncomfortable. It was fancy dress, but there were limits. He’d eventually discovered that the sheer fact of having a female-seeming body was enough to convince everyone he encountered that he was, in fact, female. Some part of him even took pride in it: he was admired, as he ought to be. And yet… he wasn’t female. He wasn’t himself.
He pulled off the ring and set it on the bedside table before climbing into bed. As always, it was a relief to revert to himself.
When heavy footfalls approached him after class the next day, he didn’t look up from shoving his books into his rucksack. “Look; I’m not interested in dating, all right?”
“No, no.” The familiar voice caused him to look up.
“Right, yeah. I’ve noticed this lot can’t keep off your back. I thought I’d ask you if you wanted a drink. Really a drink. I’ve got a fiancée and a few hours to kill before she’s free. A friend and I are meeting for a pint, and I thought you might like to join us.”
Draco gave him a suspicious stare.
Weasley stepped back a pace, raising both hands. “Seriously.”
Draco pushed the last book into his rucksack. “All right, Weasley.”
“Call me Ron, would you?” He made a face. “Too many brothers; feel like I need to look for one of them when I hear my last name.”
“Go ahead and call me Aquila, then.”
Weasley’s taste ran to the plebeian, but Draco had expected that. The lights were dim, the seating worn, the brass losing its shine. Everything smelled of stale cigarettes. What Draco hadn’t expected was Harry Potter in red Auror robes, waving at them from a table in the corner. He stopped dead. Weasley kept walking, lifting his right hand to wave back.
“Your ‘friend’ is Harry Potter?” Well, who the fuck else were you expecting? Weasley hadn’t recognised him, but Potter knew him better. He clutched his left hand tight, feeling the ring, cool against his index finger.
Weasley paused, looked back. “What? Oh, yeah. Didn’t I say? Sorry. Yeah, it’s Harry Potter. He’s my best mate; you’ll like him.”
“You’re not setting me up with him.” It was the only objection Draco could think of immediately.
“What?” Weasley looked shocked, and then laughed. “No, no. Just a drink; like I said. He’s leaving next week anyway for long-term assignment as liaison with the American Aurors. Nothing to worry about.”
The response gave Draco another easy excuse: “If he’s leaving soon, I’d think you’d prefer--”
Weasley’s headshake stopped Draco’s attempt at escape. “Anyone’d think you didn’t want to meet Harry Potter! What kind of Auror candidate are you?”
Draco nodded stiffly. He followed Weasley across the pub. Potter had scarcely changed since their last encounter. His hair remained wild, the glasses the same rounded style. He was still small-- slightly shorter than Draco’s medium height. His features were a little less round, his skin a little more tan. His shoulders were broader-- the effect of a few years and Auror training.
Weasley stopped directly in front of the table. “Harry, mate, this is Aquila Macmillan. She’s one of the trainees in my group. Aquila, this is Harry Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World and all that.”
“Ron!” Potter winced. He gave Draco a rueful grin, colour rising in his cheeks. His green eyes met Draco’s. “Sorry about him; he thinks he’s funny.” Potter paused, and his thick brows drew together. “Have we met before? You seem familiar.”
Draco swallowed. He spoke with forced calm. “Not that I’m aware of, Auror Potter.”
Potter shook his head, waving a hand dismissively. “Oh, call me Harry. And sit, please.”
Draco sat, Potter joining him. Weasley announced he was off to order himself a pint, offered to do the same for Draco. Draco wanted to insist on going himself, but he’d already made too many protests. Potter had said he looked familiar.
He stared at the miserable-looking plate of chips in the middle of the table. He licked his lips, casting for a topic. “Weasley-- Ron-- says that you’re going off to America?”
Potter slid his glass from side to side, traced his finger absently against the wet ring it had left on the tabletop. “Yes; next Tuesday. It’s a new programme that Kingsley-- the Minister-- has put into place. We’ll have someone stationed over there; they’ll have someone here. I volunteered.”
Typical Potter, emphasising that he was on a first-name basis with the Minister of Magic. “How long will you be gone?”
“Two years? Why?” It was a long time to leave his adoring public.
Potter sighed, looking down at his finger. “You’ve not been here long, right? You don’t really read the papers?”
Draco shook his head. Out of morbid curiosity, he’d bought an issue of the Prophet when he’d first returned to England. He had no desire to buy another. Nothing had changed. The Minister still preached “forgiveness” and “unity,” and the Prophet preached the inferiority of purebloods. The whispers and mocking glances when he’d walked down Diagon Alley had confirmed which of the two attitudes held sway.
Potter looked up again. His eyes were very green. His voice was soft, twined with something that Draco identified as bitterness. “I’m in the papers a lot, here. The Americans have scarcely heard of me.” He laughed lightly and shook his head. “It’ll be a pleasant change.”
Draco couldn’t have managed a response if he tried. Draco had learnt to hate the press over the past few years.
“They just keep writing,” Potter said suddenly, looking down. He seemed to be staring at the worn and faded decal on his pint glass. “It doesn’t matter what I do. They wrote this stupid series a few years ago-- ‘The Humility of a Hero,’ they called it. Should have been ‘The Humiliation of a Hero,’ really.” He flushed, colour in his cheeks almost matching his robes. “Some people have it worse than me, I know. I shouldn’t be whinging, given what--” He cut himself off, shook his head sharply. He looked back up at Draco, smiled. “You don’t need to hear it, I know.”
Draco was struggling with the destruction of several of his most cherished assumptions. Fortunately, he was nothing if not resilient. Potter was playing the victim; Draco was the victim. Potter was complaining that the Prophet was being too nice to him. Potter’s way into the Aurors had been easy. He hadn’t had to sit NEWTs; he hadn’t even had to sit the entrance examinations. Draco had had to do both, and wear a disguise as well. Potter had been cosseted at school, and he was cosseted now.
Potter gave him a considering glance. “So, then: why’d you decide to join the Aurors?”
Draco shoved his dislike of Potter into the corner of his mind. “Aquila Macmillan” didn’t have a history with Potter. Draco answered Potter’s question with the truth. “That’s the only thing I’ve really felt like doing since I finished school.”
“Ron said you sat the entrance exams with him. I’d have thought you’d have entered straight out of school,” Potter said. He leant his chair back on two legs, resting his shoulders and head against the wall.
“There were a few things I needed to do first.”
Potter nodded. “Ron waited, too. He spent a couple of years in his brother’s shop-- and, honestly, I think his mum was happy he was out of danger.” Granger hadn’t been happy; Draco remembered that. She’d thought Weasley was wasting his potential; at the time, Draco hadn’t thought Weasley had any to waste. “Sometimes I wish I’d waited,” Potter continued, “but Kingsley wanted me in the Aurors.” His mouth turned up, then down. The dim lights flashed amber off his lenses, obscuring his eyes. “I didn’t know what else to do. They sent us letters, offering us places back at school. I couldn’t stand the idea of going back, after...” his voice trailed off. He shook his head slightly, seeming to remember where he was and that he was talking to a supposed stranger. His voice was suddenly cheerier. “No point talking about that, I suppose. Whatever you did, I gather it worked. Ron says you’re doing well in training.”
“Thank you.” Draco remembered the invitation to return to Hogwarts. He’d laughed, crumpled it, and thrown it across his room in a fit of rage. Go back to Hogwarts? Any happy memories had been eclipsed by the horror of his sixth and seventh years-- the years where he’d nearly become a killer, the years when he’d nearly died.
His mother had come by, picked up the ball of parchment, flattened it, told him he had to go. If he could endure the Manor-- if all of them could-- he could endure Hogwarts. He’d gone. Potter would understand how he’d hated it. But he couldn’t tell Potter. Aquila Macmillan had missed the war. He searched for something else to say, but his mind was caught, now, by memories.
Weasley’s return rescued him. He accepted the drink from Weasley, took a mouthful as Weasley pulled out a chair, sat down.
Weasley waggled his eyebrows. “D’she tell you that she’s the top of the class? It’s a struggle for me.”
“I--” Draco’s protest was cut off by Potter’s reply.
“It gets easier, mate-- oh, sorry, Aquila-- but it does.” Potter directed a sympathetic smile at Weasley.
“Can’t be soon enough for me. Some of these instructors-- I swear I miss Snape.” Weasley let out an exaggerated groan.
Draco bit his tongue when Weasley and Potter laughed; for them, it was a joke.
Weasley looked in Draco’s direction, had the grace to blush. “Sorry. Old teacher; you wouldn’t have known him.”
Weasley and Potter had never liked Snape. Draco had gone through periods of hating him, periods of idolising him. Snape was dead. Casting about for another subject, Draco found one. “Tell me about your fiancée, Ron.” It had to be Granger. He almost missed her ridiculous revision timetables.
“Hermione,” Weasley said. “She’s a junior clerk in the Department for Regulation of Magical Creatures. Give her a few years, though, and I reckon she’ll be running the place. Nobody can stand in Hermione’s way when she’s got the bit between her teeth.” He tossed his head in Potter’s direction. “No offense, Harry, but if we’d just let her sort it, You-Know-- Voldemort would have been dead first year.”
They could speak the name. Draco couldn’t. He’d had terror drummed into him by a series of insane masters. “Does she have a particular focus?”
“Cutting back on regulations on werewolves, and,” Weasley winced, “she’s dedicated to freeing the house-elves from bondage. Don’t ask if you aren’t ready to hear the lecture.” His arms waved dramatically, eyes wide with imagined horror.
Potter laughed. “True enough.”
Draco remembered Granger’s S.P.E.W. badges; she’d tried to force one on him during their study sessions. Some things never changed.
He glanced over at Weasley. Some things never changed, but some things did. Five years ago, he could never have imagined himself sitting down with Weasley and Potter over a pint.
If he’d entered Auror training as himself, it might never have happened. The war would have hung between them.
“Harry here used to date my sister.” Weasley pointed his thumb at Potter. Apparently bringing up Granger had been taken as a suggestion to discuss everyone’s dating history. He didn’t want to talk about his own, even in obscured form.
“I’m not sure whether you’re happy or sad that didn’t work out, Ron.” Potter’s cheeks were flushed.
They’d been the Gryffindor version of young love’s dream. He’d got to know Ginny Weasley, too, that final year at Hogwarts. She’d occasionally succumbed to Granger’s incessant entreaties to revise-- “You know how important your future is, Ginny!” More often, she’d been out practising Quidditch. He remembered her looking up from her Charms text, hazel eyes lighting... she’d been full of dreams of her future with Potter. He’d fully expected them to be married by now. He lifted his brows in deliberate question, looking at Weasley, then Potter.
It was Potter who responded. “Ginny’s a professional Quidditch player,” Potter said. “Reserve Seeker for the Holyhead Harpies.”
Apparently the incessant Quidditch practise had paid off.
“They recruited her straight out of Hogwarts,” Weasley said, practically beaming with pride. He leant forward, speaking in a conspiratorial whisper. “I follow the Cannons myself, mind.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Good God. They’ve never won a game.”
Potter buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking.
Weasley narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, well. They came close once. Doesn’t mean they never will. If they’d got her as a Seeker, they damned well might.” He glared in Harry’s direction. “And stop laughing, mate.”
“Tell yourself whatever you need to. It’s never going to happen,” Draco said.
Potter raised his head, lips twitching.
Weasley shook his head slowly. “And which team do you follow?”
“I went to Durmstrang. I don’t know any of them that well.” He made the excuse, then realised he’d contradicted it already. “Except for the Cannons, obviously. Everyone knows which professional team has never won a game in the entirety of its existence.”
Weasley made a face. “They might,” he insisted.
Draco stared at him incredulously. “Oh, if we suspend the rules and feed the entire team Felix Felicis...”
“Hey--!” Weasley looked up, lips parted. Draco was anticipating his outraged response with glee.
Potter broke into the conversation again, voice soothing. “Durmstrang-- you must have seen Krum play, then.”
“Oh, Krum,” Weasley muttered, looking down again.
Draco turned to face Potter, a bit disappointed to be deprived of the argument. Weasley had a temper-- so had he-- but they’d not fall to hexing each other, as they had in school. He considered. They’d probably not fall to hexing each other as they had in school. “He was several years ahead of me, but, yes, I did.” Krum had stayed in Slytherin house during the TriWizard Tournament. Draco had sneaked out to the Quidditch Pitch several times to watch him play, had gone out alone later to try to copy every move. He’d never improved enough to beat Potter.
“Wait-- d’you play?” Weasley said, voice rising with enthusiasm. Their disagreement over the likelihood of the Cannons ever winning a game appeared to have been forgotten.
“I used to,” Draco said slowly. He hadn’t played since sixth year. It was another joy which had been tainted by life.
“Well, then. Maybe we can set up a casual game or two.” He rubbed his palms together.
“Ron, don’t push her.” Potter’s voice carried a warning.
Weasley waved it off. “Nah, she can hold off a host of obsessive Auror trainees; she can turn down a Quidditch game if she wants.” He turned to look at Draco. “You can, too. Just, y’know, don’t.” He grinned. “What position did you play?”
He hadn’t had Durmstrang claim he was on a Quidditch team. It hadn’t occurred to him. His mind raced. It was a casual question; he wouldn’t be claiming to have been on a house team. He’d admit to Seeker, but say he’d never been good. He gritted his teeth; he’d never been one for humility. “Seeker, but I wasn’t...”
Weasley laughed. “Going to say you weren’t that good?”
He leant forward, patted Draco’s hand where it was wrapped around his pint glass. “Don’t worry about it too much. I’ll tell you a secret: neither am I. We’re a bit shorthanded. Now Harry’s going, it’ll be even worse. Sometimes Hermione plays, and, well...” He shrugged. “She hasn’t fallen off her broom yet, but it’s only a matter of time.” He leant back again, the issue clearly settled in his mind. “Hermione’d probably like to meet you, too. We’ll invite you by for dinner sometime. Just don’t mention house-elves.”
Draco smiled. “I’ll take your word on it.”
Weasley seemed to have decided that they were fast friends. He sat near Draco in most of their courses. All of the things which had irritated Draco about Weasley were still there; he’d discovered, as well, that Weasley could be screamingly funny.
He had lunch with Weasley a few times; they often went out to the pub after training. Granger’s day at the Ministry apparently ended later-- quite late, if Weasley was to be believed.
Weasley got occasional owls from Potter, filled with stories about American Aurors. Weasley was always excited to pass them on. “Can you believe that the killing curse isn’t illegal there?” Weasley had said, shocked. “They say they need it to defend against Muggles with firearms.” Draco had muttered appropriate horrified noises, thinking that the Americans were insane to allow Muggles to carry firearms at all.
He’d been invited out for supper with Granger. He’d declined gracefully. Eventually, he’d felt compelled to accept; Weasley gave broad hints that Granger was jealous. Draco didn’t entirely believe him, but even Slytherin house had heard of Granger and pecking birds. After he’d accepted, supper was repeatedly postponed because Granger was too busy with work.
December brought the Christmas holidays. His mother had sent repeated owls enjoining him to come to the Manor for Christmas. He’d put her off with claims of a glorious concert series in Vienna and winter sleigh rides in Russia. Instead, he’d spent the time sitting around in his flat without the ring. It should have been dull; it wasn’t.
It was January before the long-promised meal with Granger was arranged. He dreaded it; she’d known him. Yet-- Weasley had never given any indication of recognising him. Potter had failed to identify him. “She’ll like you,” Weasley kept insisting.
Granger’s tastes were nowhere near as plebeian as Weasley’s-- Italian, elegant, expensive wine list. His mother would have willingly eaten there. Granger and Weasley were seated at an upstairs table when he arrived. She was facing away; he saw only her bushy hair. Weasley was looking at her.
Draco was halfway to their table when Weasley looked up, saw him, and smiled. Weasley rose to his feet. “There you are,” Weasley was saying. “Aquila, meet my fiancée, Hermione Granger. Hermione, this is Aquila Macmillan.”
Granger rose and turned toward him, her hand extended. The bright smile on her face faded immediately when she met his eyes. Draco realised he’d made a very large mistake. He reached out quickly and clasped her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
She frowned. “I-- yes-- I’m pleased to meet you, too. I’ve heard so much about you.” Her voice started out hesitant, then smoothed as she continued. The bright smile reappeared, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “You look so familiar.”
“Do I?” He kept his voice even.
Hers narrowed. “Yes. You look like someone we went to school with-- Draco Malfoy, in fact.”
Weasley laughed. “Malfoy? You’re mad.”
Draco shrugged, trying to make it look relaxed. “We’re all related. A second or third cousin, perhaps?”
Granger shot him an incredulous look. “Oh, perhaps.”
Draco sat in the open chair. After a moment, Granger and Weasley sat, too.
Granger was still staring at him. Her gaze moved from him to Weasley, and Draco drew in a breath. “You don’t see it at all?” she demanded.
Now Weasley was looking at him consideringly. “I mean, the hair, sure. The eyes, maybe. But other than that? No. She’s nothing at all like Malfoy, really. He was so… pointy. And he was an obnoxious git; you know that.”
“Ron--” Granger gave Draco a flustered look. She lifted a hand, and then dropped it at her side.
“Yeah, yeah. I forgot you’d actually got along with the git that last year. Project smarm and all that.”
Draco had always known he’d been one of Granger’s projects. He’d suspected she’d given it a name, and a dreadful one at that. “‘Smarm?’” Draco lifted one eyebrow.
Weasley laughed. “Good, isn’t it? Particularly if you knew him. S’mine. Stands for ‘Secure Malfoy Against Revenge-Minded.’”
Granger’s response bore the weary air of frequent repetition. “It would be Vengeance-Minded. It doesn’t work at all.” She looked at Draco. “Frankly, I always used to think of it as ‘Helping Understand Malfoy Properly,’” she said, an evil smirk playing around her lips.
H.U.M.P.? He cleared his throat twice. Weasley was blushing, he saw. “Did you?” Draco asked, voice rough from his attempt to contain horror or laughter.
She nodded quickly, bushy hair bouncing. “Oh, yes.”
“Didn’t make sense to me, Hermione,” Weasley said. “One weekend, you said he was your revisions partner. You never said how it happened.”
“It just did, Ron.”
Weasley chuckled. “You’ll never convince me that you didn’t just announce that he would be studying with you.”
Granger’s cheeks reddened, and Draco bit back laughter. Weasley was right; that was exactly how it had happened.
He’d been utterly surprised when a pile of books thumped onto the table in the library. He’d chosen an isolated table, nestled deep in the stacks. He’d looked up from his Arithmancy text to see Granger’s bushy hair. Her jaw was set in a determined scowl as she dragged out a chair and dropped into it. “Hello, Malfoy.”
Draco blinked in her direction for several seconds. “Granger.”
“We’ve most our classes together. I wondered if you’d be willing to help me revise.”
“Granger, it’s September.”
“I’ve worked out a revision timetable.” She frowned. “I fell behind last year, Malfoy.”
He snorted. “Behind? You’re lucky to have missed it.”
“I’m serious, Malfoy. Are you in or out?”
He tapped the fingertips of his right hand against his open book. He’d made the point of being polite to Granger; he hadn’t anticipated this direct approach. Perhaps he should have. This wasn’t about revision at all-- well, it was Granger, he shouldn’t go that far. It was somewhat about revision, then. But Granger had decided to make him her new charity project. He tapped his Arithmancy book again. The reasons for her project didn’t matter; he had his own. He was tired of being a social pariah. “In.”
She smiled. “Good. So, Arithmancy--”
It had taken only a few weeks before she dragged Ginevra Weasley into their study group. She didn’t seem any happier to deal with Draco than Draco was to deal with her, but neither of them was willing to fight the power of Granger’s almighty revisions timetable.
Granger was an all-fired menace to Wizarding society.
Supper went on smoothly. Weasley and Draco discussed Auror training. Granger talked about her job at the Ministry (and, of course, house-elves). By the time Weasley excused himself from the table briefly, Draco had allowed himself to believe he was safe.
Granger leant across the table. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Malfoy, but don’t think I’m stupid. You look like yourself; you act like yourself. You drawl. You even wrinkle your nose in the same way when you think you’re being funny. I know it’s you. You’d better have a good explanation for this.”
Draco clenched his left hand tightly, feeling the ring press against the adjacent fingers. He wasn’t going to play at stupidity. “Granger: lunch, tomorrow, noon. You pick the place.”
“Fine. Here. And it had better be good.”
Weasley returned not long after, and the three of them maintained the smooth flow of conversation through pudding and tea. He and Granger were excellent actors.
When he got home that night, he took off the ring, tossing it next to the bed. He’d put too much into this for it to end now.
He arrived early to lunch, requested and got an isolated table. She saw him, walked over to his table. He started speaking before she finished seating herself. “I applied to Auror training twice, Granger. Twice. I met all the bloody NEWT requirements.” He couldn’t keep the pride out of his voice. “I’d bet they never opened my applications. As this?” he gestured at his body. “I took the examinations and they were falling over themselves to accept me. I’m not giving it up.”
Granger leant back against her chair, frowning. “Malfoy-- “
It wasn’t said with the sympathy he’d hoped. “Don’t you understand? I was bloody pardoned. What else can I possibly do? And don’t tell me to want something else, Granger. Just don’t.” He spat the words at her.
He could detect the exact moment when he returned to the status of a Granger reclamation project. “But you should have protested, Malfoy! You could have complained to the Daily Prophet.”
“The Daily Prophet? Hardly, Granger. What do you think that would accomplish-- ‘Death Eater Whinges About Unfair Treatment’? And that’s if I’m lucky. No one wants to deal with Slytherins; they sure as hell don’t want to deal with me.”
She flushed. “All right; not the Prophet. That was a bad idea. But Kingsley-- he’d help,” she protested.
He gave her a level stare. “What-- more pointless speeches about ‘forgiveness’ and ‘unity?’ That’s gone so well for me so far.”
She stared at him. “Malfoy, you can’t seriously be planning to keep this up for three years of training.”
He lifted one eyebrow. “Why not, Granger?”
“Look-- it’s fraud, isn’t it? If you were to get caught…” her voice trailed off.
“Then I simply have to not get caught, don’t I?”
She shook her head. “You’re too much like yourself.”
He gave her a disbelieving look. “You recognised me, yes, but you know me well. In the current environment, I can guarantee that I won’t be encountering anyone who knows me well in the Ministry.”
“Malfoy, even if you can do this for three years-- and I’m not saying I think you can-- are you going to keep it up for the rest of your life?”
He didn’t much care for her expression of disbelief. “If that’s what it takes.”
He leant forward. “You have no idea what it was like: having the Dark Lord living in your house, threatening your family. You weren’t there, seventh year at Hogwarts. People think Slytherins were favoured, that we weren’t under threat. We were, every minute of every day. There is nothing I want more than this, and I’ll do anything to get it.”
She tossed her hands up in surrender. “All right, Malfoy.”
He had several more arguments ready. It took a moment to realise she’d given in. He closed his eyes and leant back, relieved. He opened them again, looked at her. “Thank you.”
They had to stop speaking for a few minutes while the server took their order. When the server left, he looked back at Granger.
She sat in silence for awhile. She drummed her fingers against the tabletop and narrowed her eyes. “What are you doing with Ron?” The tone accused him of nefarious deeds.
He’d never been as capable a villain as she thought him; he ought to be flattered. Instead, he raised his hands between them. “He thought we should be friends, Granger,” he protested. “It wasn’t my idea.”
She gave him an appraising glance. “How does it work, anyway? It’s not Polyjuice-- you’re too much like yourself. I can’t imagine you could hold the same Glamour this long. If it were just illusion, it wouldn’t be effective against touch.”
Of course Granger would be curious about the mechanics of it all. He lifted his left hand, rotating it back and forth to show her the ring. He pulled out his wand and spelled his clothes and shoes, then looked around the restaurant. No one was within easy viewing range. He slipped off the ring, felt himself shift.
She tapped at her pursed lips with her index finger, frowning. “Is it a dark artefact?” she asked.
He scoffed. “I copied the charm from a Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes product. Ask them.”
She stared at him, then at the ring. “You made it?”
He nodded, feeling smug at her surprise. “I did.”
She thrust her right hand toward him. “Let me see it.” When he hesitated, she snorted and rolled her eyes. “C’mon, Malfoy. I won’t break it or disenchant it. I want to look at it.”
Draco set the ring in her hand, and she snatched it back toward herself, studying it closely. She pulled out her wand, tapped the ring with it. He didn’t recognise the charm she’d cast. A shimmering cloud rose from the ring, and then dissipated. She made a shocked noise, looked at the ring again, and then glared at him. “Glamourous Gleams. They were Ron’s idea.” She looked offended. “I helped him with the charm work.”
“Thank you?” he ventured, reaching out his hand for the ring.
She glared at it before returning it to him. “How did you make it permanent?” she demanded.
He’d had no one to appreciate his efforts; she would. He let the pride fill his voice. “I initially thought it might be a potion, but it’s a charm based on contact of the sweets with the tongue. The charm is tied to both the glimmer and the hard structure. I tried gold and silver. They were shiny enough, but the structure was wrong-- too malleable. This made the charm malleable as well-- I’d shift and keep on shifting. Gemstones would’ve been perfect, but weren’t easy to keep constantly against skin. I looked at other stones, and ran across this. It’s spelled to the interior of the band only; otherwise it’d shift anyone who touched the ring.” He remembered to spread a little flattery in her direction. “I don’t entirely understand how you constructed the original charm, Granger, but I was able to find a way to transfer it. I was also able to modify it to make a more extreme alteration to my appearance.”
She nodded slowly. “I’m impressed.” She paused, considering. Her front teeth bit into her lower lip. “Does it hide--?” she gestured at his left forearm.
The reference frustrated him. He told himself to interpret it as concern that he might be exposed. He reached down to his cuff, unbuttoned it, and then pushed it up past his elbow. He lifted his arm, turning it so she could see it clearly. “No one has a Dark Mark anymore, Granger. They vanished when the Dark Lord died. I’ve no doubt the Ministry finds it inconvenient-- so easy when all of the dark wizards have a convenient brand-- but there’s nothing to hide.”
She leant forward. He couldn’t doubt her earnestness. “You look too much like yourself,” she said in a low voice. “Polyjuice would’ve been safer.”
He shook his head. “Until I forget to take it every hour, or run out of time to brew it, or run out of hairs…and the Ministry can detect the use of Polyjuice and standard glamours. You know that. I look female. I sound female. You may have recognised me, but Harry and Ron didn’t.” Their names still felt awkward in his mouth.
She rolled her eyes. “It took Ron four years to recognise that I was a girl, Malfoy. As for Harry-- it took him months to notice I’d straightened my teeth. They’re not the most observant people I know. Even so, Harry thought you looked familiar, didn’t he?”
She wasn’t wrong. There was nothing he could do about it. “Maybe you’re right, but I can’t change anything at this point. I don’t intend to court recognition. Even if Harry were likely to recognise me, he’s in America for the next two years. Why would it come up?”
Granger sighed. “Let me tell Ginny.”
He frowned. “Why?”
“Harry and Ron are completely oblivious, but she won’t be. If you’re spending time with Ron-- and you are-- she’ll see you eventually. If you don’t want to risk her giving you away, I’ll have to let her know.”
“Anyone else?” The phrase, “Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead,” was running through his head. But he wasn’t a killer, and she was right.
“I don’t know, Malfoy. I really don’t. I don’t see how Harry and Ron could have possibly failed to see it.” She stared at him. “It would have been best if you’d just fought it, Malfoy. This can’t end well; you have to know that.”
“Maybe.” Maybe it couldn’t, but he was committed now.
She grinned. “Oh, and Malfoy?”
“Call me Hermione, would you? Keep calling me Granger, and I guarantee that even someone as oblivious as Ron is going to notice.”
Days bled into weeks, then into months.
He had occasional Saturday lunches with Granger. Ginny Weasley joined them sometimes in the off-season.
Casual Sunday afternoon Quidditch games were frequent. Sometimes they drew for positions and played a standard game. Others, they played variations-- everyone a Seeker, everyone a Chaser.
Longbottom showed up to a few games. He consistently battled Granger for the title of worst flyer, and it was a close-run thing. Draco might have mocked Longbottom for it. First year, he certainly had. But Longbottom was a war hero, now. More importantly, Longbottom could be counted on to wink in his direction when he noticed Draco cheating at Quidditch.
And Draco had hated that snake.
Auror training’s physical challenges continued, now including endurance training as well as hand-to-hand combat. New courses were added in Wizarding law, including interacting with different magical races, and strange oddities dating back to the Goblin Wars. Muggle studies included special content on working with Muggle police.
Concealment coursework moved into Stealth and Tracking. At the end of their second year of training, they’d been given a target to follow and submitted a report on the target’s movements for a week. The targets had all been volunteers-- knowing they’d be tracked at some point, but not when.
In the process, he’d learnt that Percy Weasley’s life was even duller than he’d imagined it. He half-suspected it was deliberate, and wondered what, precisely Percy Weasley intended to conceal. Ron Weasley had rolled with laughter at his comment, assuring Draco that Percy had never had an interesting bone in his body. Ron Weasleyhad been assigned Gwenog Jones, and never ceased waving it in Draco’s face. Fry had been assigned a dragon keeper. Draco had taken joy in the slightly singed outcome.
Pansy still sent occasional owls; Blaise had long since lost his Potions position in Amsterdam. He lost another in Venice. Reading between the lines, Draco wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Blaise was quietly pocketing potions and ingredients. He’d always had an overarching sense of entitlement. Draco responded with as much sympathy as he could muster. He felt sorry for Pansy-- Blaise, less so.
He received frequent owls from his mother-- always wanting to know when he’d come home. He tried each year during summer, Christmas, and Easter holidays. It made it harder to return to wearing the glamour, but it was a relief to be himself for once. If he was quiet about his supposed Continental adventures, they didn’t ask.
The first summer he came home, his mother had looked tense. She seemed to steadily calm as the days passed. Watching her, he wondered how his parents were treated in public, whether the Prophet libelled them. He was ashamed that he’d never wondered about it before. Blaise, he thought, was right about him being self-centred.
He couldn’t figure out a way to ask the question. Instead, she’d asked him one, fixing her steady glance on him at breakfast. “Are you happier?”
He shot a quick glance at his father, who was staring deliberately at a newspaper. His father’s posture was too stiff; he was listening intently. Draco thought. He was happy, he supposed, or at least content. He nodded.
“When you left last time, you seemed shattered. When you came back, you were angry. You seem so much better now, darling. I wouldn’t have thought it.” She reached out, as if to touch his cheek. She was too far away; she dropped her hand to the table. “Perhaps it’s not what you wanted before, or what I would have chosen for you, but if you are happy, it’s all I could ask for.”
And he was, though not happy enough to read the Prophet. He listened when his father mentioned politics, and gave considering nods to it, too, as if they would ever be at the helm of events again.
His mother encouraged him to meet a nice girl, but accepted it when he shook his head. He couldn’t have any but the most casual relationship as himself; it would be too hard to juggle truth and falsehood. Maintaining his disguise meant maintaining the fiction that Draco spent most of the year outside England.
As for the other option, he wasn’t willing to have any relationship at all with his false name and body. He’d considered it once, early on, while he was still testing the ring. He’d wondered whether the glamour would hold, what it would feel like, whether he’d enjoy it. But the idea of it felt wrong to him.
There were no good options. It was easier to do nothing at all.
It was March in Draco’s final year of Auror training when Potter returned. Weasley had mentioned several times in February that they’d be throwing a party to celebrate. Weasley had talked endlessly about preparations-- “Mum’s making the treacle tart; George’s thought up the perfect party favours.” Draco had done his best to ignore it; Potter’s return had nothing to do with him. It was a week before the party that Weasley said, “Look, why don’t you come?”
Draco started, frowned. “I barely know him.” It was true. He had been acquainted with Potter and his friends since they were eleven years old. The time he’d spent with Granger and Weasley since leaving Hogwarts had shown him he’d never known anything about them. Grinding down Potter’s self-importance had been the obsession of Draco’s adolescence. From Weasley and Granger’s descriptions, Potter had never had any to begin with.
Weasley was laughing. “Nah, Harry won’t mind. Probably a relief to hear normal voices after years of dealing with Americans.”
“I might be busy.”
Weasley rolled his eyes. “You’re not. You never are.”
Draco’s tongue darted out, brushing at his lower lip. Potter hadn’t recognised him the time they’d met before his departure. He’d gone unnoticed in dozens of Quidditch games. What was he worried about? “All right.”
When Draco arrived, it took a moment to adjust to the sea of red-haired Weasleys. Some showed up occasionally to Quidditch games, but he’d never seen the entire clan together. George Weasley’s wife was heavily pregnant. The two of them stood together, his arm around her waist, her braids trailing over her shoulder. They were talking with Bill Weasley and his wife. Draco looked away. He’d never felt right interacting with them. He owed them too many apologies.
Arthur Weasley was waving around a hair-dryer; his exclamations about the ingenuity of Muggles were audible from the doorway.
Perhaps it had been a mistake to come. He decided to just find Potter, Granger, and Weasley and leave.
Potter and Weasley were over in the corner chatting; Longbottom quailed before Granger a few feet away. House-elves, Draco thought, most likely.
He made to move forward, but stopped at a touch on his left arm. He turned toward it.
Lovegood stood next to him, her head cocked to the side. “I’m glad to see you’re still doing well. It’s nice to see you came for Harry; I’m certain he appreciates it.”
He’d not seen Lovegood up close since his final year of Hogwarts. She’d never come to one of the Quidditch games. He hadn’t expected her today. He licked at his lips. “Do we--”
She patted his arm. “Wrackspurt got your tongue? Don’t worry.” She smiled serenely. “Harry’s always been interested in how you got on, of course.” A flash of light hit her earrings-- silver balls etched with cats and mice. As he watched, the mice streaked around, cats pursuing them. “And I always liked you, you know.”
“Thank you,” he said. Lovegood had been insistent on liking him when she was trapped in the Manor. She’d repeatedly told him about her quest for imaginary beasts. He’d made it through years with the Aurors. Now, he was standing in the midst of a clan of Weasleys, on the verge of exposure by someone who believed in Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. It was nearly sublime in its ridiculousness.
“Oh, you needn’t thank me. You were kind when you didn’t need to be. And call me Luna, of course. What would you like me to call you?” Her eyes were entirely guileless.
Her brows drew together. She pursed her lips and gave him a slow nod. “It doesn’t suit you as well, you know.” She cocked her head to the side, the effect birdlike. “I hope you’ll keep away from Austria.”
He could only blink at the non sequitur. “Nargles?” he ventured.
She frowned. “Oh, no. They aren’t in Austria.” She shook her head reprovingly. He didn’t offer the observation that they weren’t anywhere else, either. “No, I think you must have a doppelganger, and of course it would be deadly for you to meet.”
“Why would you think that?”
“The Prophet talks about you. Last week, they claimed you were at a museum in Vienna.” Her serene smile was eerie. “I knew it was wrong, of course. You can’t be in two places at once-- unless you’re a Dwalmimple, of course.” She gave him a questioning look. He blinked, and then shook his head. “At The Quibbler, we’re a bit more open to other possibilities.”
She gave him a sweet smile. “But stay out of Austria.”
Just then, he felt a light touch on his arm and turned to see Weasley behind him. “Glad you came. Come see Harry.”
Draco tensed before forcing himself to relax. He followed as Weasley wove through the crowd to a corner. As they got closer, Draco saw that Potter was sitting next to Ginny Weasley. He was leant forward, his voice low, his gestures tight and intense.
“Harry! Mate!” Weasley said. Potter stopped midsentence and mid-gesture, looking up. “You remember Aquila Macmillan from my training group, don’t you?”
Potter nodded absently, and then turned toward Draco.
His lips parted, and Draco heard a sharp intake of breath.
Potter’s eyes were wide, and Draco had a split second of panic. And then Potter was moving again, “Hello. Yes, I remember.” He held out his hand, and Draco took it. “I’m pleased to see you again.”
“Yes-- me, too.”
“I’m just telling Ginny about America. Come join us.” Potter released his hand, gesturing at an empty chair. Draco sat. “Ron? You want to join us, too?”
Weasley laughed. “I’ve heard them at least twice, mate. They’re good stories, but not that good. I need to see what Hermione’s up to; stop her from talking someone’s ear off.”
Potter shook his head. “Werewolves or house-elves?”
“Not sure; probably both.” Weasley waved, disappearing into the crowd.
Draco listened for the next half an hour to Potter’s adventures as the liaison to the American Aurors. Weasley was right; they were good stories.
They switched, after awhile, to talking about Draco’s time in the Auror training programme-- “I can’t believe you’re enjoying the Potions courses,” Potter said with a blend of smile and grimace. “They nearly did me in. Who’s the instructor for Law? Ours was shite, let me tell you.” Draco scarcely noticed when Ginny Weasley excused herself.
Talking to Potter was pleasant. Draco shouldn’t have been shocked; Potter’s friends had been surprisingly pleasant for more than two years. Potter himself had been kind in the pub. Yet, Potter remained his childhood nemesis. Draco had been expecting something to justify their years of mutual antipathy. Potter didn’t oblige.
That’s because he doesn’t know it’s you.
Draco finally left an hour later, realising that he had monopolised the guest of honour. Potter smiled at him as Draco rose from his chair. “We’ll have to take lunch together sometime, now I’m back.”
“Right,” Draco said, with a smile of his own.
He saw Potter a few times at lunch, and sometimes when he had drinks with Weasley.
One evening, Potter was telling him about an odd series of thefts on the Continent. Galleries had been hit in Italy, Austria, France. The thefts had occurred in broad daylight. Muggle authorities were baffled; wizard involvement was suspected. Hit Wizards had been despatched to review the camera footage, but had seen nothing consistent.
“You’d be surprised how many cases go unsolved,” Potter said. “Wizards must be involved, but they’re near impossible to catch.”
“On your watch? Surely not.” Draco laughed.
Potter shook his head, smiled sheepishly in return. “I’m not all powerful, you know, no matter what the Prophet says.”
“I don’t read the Prophet. I’ll have you know I read that in The Quibbler.” He had started buying it after speaking to Lovegood. It was as horrible as he’d remembered. On the other hand, every page didn’t drip contempt for purebloods.
Potter groaned. “That’s even worse. I’m not secretly seven feet tall with twelve extra eyes.”
Draco laughed, patting at Potter’s hand. “No, that was last month. This month, you have the power to wandlessly summon criminals through the ether to your side.”
Potter’s cheeks reddened, hand tensing beneath Draco’s. Draco felt guilty. He knew how Potter hated press coverage. “That would be convenient, but still, no,” Potter said at last. He managed a stiff smile.
The next Saturday, he was at lunch with Granger. She’d picked at the meal, and now was picking at her pudding. She kept sighing, setting down her fork, darting a glance at him, and picking it up again.
Finally, he lost patience. “What is it? It’s clear you have something to say.”
She swallowed, set her fork down, and leant toward him. “Harry really likes you, you know that?”
Draco frowned. “And I like him. I don’t understand.”
She rolled her eyes and huffed. “No. I think Harry likes you. He talks about you a lot.”
He understood, then. “Has he said to you that he’s interested in me?”
“No.” She seemed to recognise his look of incredulity, because she rushed on forcefully. “Look, Draco, it’s not just me. Ginny’s seen it, too.”
He couldn’t identify how he felt. Eventually, he recognised it as fury. “What the fuck do you expect me to do with this information, even if I believed it? Go up to him and say, ‘Hey, Harry, Hermione thinks you’re interested in me. I’m Draco Malfoy! Remember how we used to try to kill each other? Would you like to try again now?’ Is that what you’re going for?”
“You need to tell Harry.”
“Based on some insane theory that you and Ginny have concocted?”
“We’re not wrong,” she insisted. Her jaw took on a stubborn line.
“Don’t be ridiculous. What he will no doubt be is just as self-righteous as I remember him being at school, and I’m out of the Aurors and indicted for fraud.”
“Harry wouldn’t do that.” Her disagreement was more automatic than convincing.
He gave her a look of sheer disbelief. “Of course he would.”
“It’s-- he’s your friend now.”
“So is Ron-- speaking of whom: you’ve certainly not been concerned about Ron.”
“Ron will lose his temper, rave for a few hours, then refuse to speak to you for two months. After that, he’ll decide you like Quidditch, and you’re not so bad after all. Harry-- Harry’s not like that.”
“And what is it that Harry is like?” he snapped.
“Look, you can trust me, and you can trust Harry! I told Ginny, and I wasn’t wrong about that.”
She hadn’t been wrong, but Ginny Weasley was not Harry Potter. Potter had connexions to everything that mattered to Draco. “I’ve invested too much in this to risk exposure.”
“Do you still honestly believe you can maintain this for the rest of your life, Draco?”
“Yes. I’ll put it on with the red robes, take it off, after. I’ve done it this long.”
She bit at her lip. Her voice took on the self-righteous tone with which he was distressingly familiar. “You have to see that it’s not going to work.”
“It can. It will.” He needed it to work.
Granger wouldn’t leave the topic alone. The next time they had lunch together, she brought up Potter’s supposed interest again.
This time, he was able to treat it with some humour. “Even if he were interested in me-- which is patently foolish, I’ll have you know-- he knows I don’t date.”
“You’d think so, and maybe you’re right. But Harry’s going to be hurt, Draco.”
“By what? That I wouldn’t date him? I don’t think so.”
She looked down, picked up a teaspoon, and spun it between her fingers. Colour rose in her cheeks. “I’ve never asked you this, and I shouldn’t ask at all. I don’t mean to pry. After all, it’s none of my business. I’m just wondering--”
“Spit it out, Hermione. Pry if you’re going to pry.”
“Look. I read the Prophet articles. They were gross invasions of privacy, of course. But I know you...” Her face had moved beyond red and into maroon. She gave him a helpless look, and then squared her jaw. “I know you like... men. Is Harry-- are you...? Are you interested in Harry?”
He frowned. He shook his head rapidly, trying to make sense of what she’d just said. To begin: “Which Prophet articles?”
She cringed. “Don’t you realise this is embarrassing to me?” she asked crossly. “If you’d just...” Her voice trailed off and she stared at him. “You don’t know,” she whispered. Her voice gained strength. “But you said you don’t read the Prophet. Then why--?”
He clapped his hands. “I don’t read the Prophet because it believes all purebloods-- particularly Malfoys-- should be in Azkaban. Now which articles, Hermione? Focus!”
She reached up, covered her eyes with her right hand. She moaned. “I never thought you didn’t...” She drew in a visible breath, let it out. Her voice had firmed, but she kept her eyes covered. “That last year. When you were on the Continent. There were a lot of reports that came back about you. They were in the gossip column at first: ‘Which Wizard was seen picking up Muggles in pubs in Vienna?’ and the like. They were gossip, and it was the Prophet, and no one believed... Well, then it changed. They had pictures: a lot of them. There was the series with you, and Pansy Parkinson, and Blaise Zabini. They’d been taken from a distance, but it was obviously you. And they did interviews with Slytherins-- they talked to Daphne Greengrass, I remember-- about seventh year at Hogwarts. They even asked me, and I told them it was none of their business. They tried to interview your parents. And I....” She dropped her hand, met his eyes. “I thought you knew.”
He stared blankly. He’d wondered if his parents knew what he’d done on the Continent. He’d decided his mother suspected. It hadn’t crossed his mind that it would have been covered in agonising detail in the Prophet. He tried to control his face, feared he might have failed. He couldn’t control his fingers; they twisted together. “I wasn’t aware of it, no.” He drew in a breath, let it out. “Do you want to know if it’s true?”
Granger gave him a humiliated look. “Look, Draco, I--”
He shrugged. “It is. I suppose I shouldn’t say that: there may be something false.” He couldn’t keep the acid bite from his tone, didn’t want to. “The Prophet delights in exaggeration. They wouldn’t have to exaggerate much in this case. I’ve slept with men, and women for that matter. Sometimes at the same time. Muggles, Wizards”-- he shrugged-- “I didn’t much care. As for Pansy and Blaise: yes. For your specific question about Harry, I haven’t thought about it.”
She leant back in her chair, crossed her arms firmly over her chest. Her face was still furiously red. “Start thinking about it, Draco.”
Much to his dismay, he did.
Draco spent the next few weeks watching Potter. Granger was imagining things. Potter’s eyes didn’t follow him when he moved. He never caught Potter in the blank stares he’d become familiar with from his classmates. Potter didn’t touch him-- in fact, he was very careful not to. Potter never directed the conversation anywhere untoward-- they spoke of Quidditch, training, and sometimes of cases.
Potter treated him like a friend, he concluded.
Examining Potter for hidden interest had clear downsides. Draco found himself wondering.
Potter was smaller than Draco usually preferred in lovers, but the chest and broad shoulders made up for it. The hair was a disaster; it always had been. But it was dark, and Potter’s voice was deep enough that Draco felt it in his bones. Potter’s eyes were arresting, and he felt-- comfortable. If Potter hadn’t been so obviously straight, so sickeningly wholesome-- Draco would have quite willingly taken him to bed.
Now, he woke up from dreams, Potter’s name on his lips. He pulled himself off in the shower, imagining Potter’s hand on his cock, Potter’s arm hard around his chest. He found himself watching Potter across the pub table-- imagining shoving him hard against the wall, lacing his fingers in Potter’s hair, forcing Potter’s mouth open beneath his own.
Then Potter would look up at him, smile. Draco would smile back, shoving the fantasy aside. They’d talk-- about training, about cases, about Quidditch.
A few minutes later, Draco would find himself staring at Potter’s hand, imagining it sliding around behind his neck. He’d wonder how Potter would react to Draco’s hands on his chest, how he liked his cock to be touched.
It was Granger’s fault for putting thoughts in his mind. It had been awhile since he’d pulled anyone. He had to maintain his disguise, and it would be even longer. That’s all it was.
He made a point of visiting the Prophet’s offices. He looked through the rolls of microfiche, skimming past waving photos until he found the article series Granger had mentioned. Nothing was false.
Granger had refused to comment-- to Draco’s surprise, so had Weasley. Skeeter had asked Potter whether he regretted requesting clemency for the Malfoys, given Draco’s “obvious moral degeneracy.” Potter had slammed the door in her face, though she’d done her best to pretend he hadn’t.
It only made Draco want Potter more.
He continued having drinks with Potter and Weasley, continued meeting Granger for Saturday lunch. It was all very comfortable, all very friendly. It was all so very easy.
By mid-June, training would finally be over. One way or another, Draco would pick up his life. Potter wouldn’t be a part of it.
Potter arranged a Quidditch pitch for early April. When he heard they’d all be playing Seeker, Draco smirked. Quodpot wasn’t a Seeker’s game, and Potter had been in America for two years.
Lovegood released the Snitch, waved absently, and then wandered off. There was a lake nearby; she was probably hunting Dabberblimps.
Longbottom and Granger grabbed their brooms and wobbled upward, laughing. Weasley rose up with a shout, flying in ever widening circles.
Draco looked over at Potter, saw him looking back. “Ron says you’re good,” Potter said.
“Mm.” Potter looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Neville says you cheat.”
Draco threw his head back and laughed. “It keeps things interesting,” he said, “but I’ll play fair with you.” He smirked. “Scared?”
“You wish,” Potter said.
Draco launched himself into the air. Potter was half a beat behind.
It was a clear day, the sun was shining. Draco lifted a gloved hand to shield his eyes, scanning for a glint of gold. He felt a slight breeze, looked to see Potter hovering nearby. He was grinning.
“You’re competitive,” he shouted.
“I hate to lose,” Draco shouted in reply. He turned back, still searching.
Weasley flew by, his broom spinning in corkscrews. “Don’t just sit there, you two! Don’t you know how to have fun?”
Weasley had interrupted his search pattern; Draco started again. With this many players-- skilled or not-- it wouldn’t take long for someone to spot the Snitch. He had to be ready.
And there it was: the edge of the pitch, left and up. A quick look-- Potter hadn’t seen it, yet. He feinted right; Potter followed. He stopped, flipped end over end. He flattened himself against the broomstick, racing after the glint of gold.
Potter was gaining, but Draco still had the lead. If he could hold it; if no one else saw--
A flash of red, a sharp upward trajectory, and Ginny Weasley floated in the air before them. Her fist was closed around the Snitch, golden wings fluttering through the fingers.
She gave them a broad grin and a wink. “Too slow, the both of you.”
Potter laughed, and Draco shook his head. He looked at Potter, shrugged. “Next time,” he said.
“Count on it,” Potter replied.
They all sat in the pub, after, laughing.
“Unfair,” Draco said. “Professional Seekers against the amateurs.” He shook a reproachful finger at Ginny Weasley.
“Hey,” she said, “I beat the two of you from the ground. You didn’t sell the feint.”
Draco felt a hand on his shoulder and turned, smiling. Potter gave him a questioning look. “I’m going to get a drink; would you like another?”
Potter patted his shoulder before getting up and heading to the bar. Draco turned back to the others. Potter doesn’t touch me, he thought, irrelevantly.
Potter’s hand touched his shoulder again when he returned. Draco took the drink. “Thank you.”
Potter nodded, returning to his seat. Potter immediately picked up his conversation with Weasley-- something about blatching-- and Draco dismissed it with a mental shrug.
The next week brought him something he couldn’t dismiss. He’d joined Potter and Weasley for a few pints Friday evening after training. It was nearly eight when he rose to leave. He took a few steps from the table, then heard Potter’s call, “Aquila, wait,” behind him.
The pub was quiet enough that he could hear Weasley mutter, “It’s your funeral, mate.”
Potter caught at Draco’s arm, fingers warm through the sleeve. “Look, can we talk?”
“I thought we were. Had been.” He smiled when he heard himself. He wasn’t pissed; just drunk enough to make him stumble when he spoke.
Potter dropped his hand, and then raised it again to run through his hair. It was none too orderly when he started, and downright chaotic when he finished. Draco’s fingers twitched with the urge to reach out and straighten it. “I know; that’s not what I-- I mean, I like you. I really do. Would you consider having dinner with me? Not like we usually do. As a date.” Potter’s eyes were warm. “I’ve made a hash of this, I know I have.”
Draco’s lips were numb. “You haven’t.” Potter grinned, then, and Draco felt suddenly sick. He took a step backward, toward the pub door. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I don’t date. You know that. This won’t work.”
Potter’s eyes closed. He took a slow, visible breath before opening them again. The corner of his mouth twitched up, then down. “I know that. I hoped that… I think this could work. I wish you’d let me try.”
Draco winced, taking another step back. “No. Harry-- Potter-- I can’t.” He spun on his heel and walked swiftly to the door.
The shock had cleared his head. Stone cold sober, he Apparated home.
He closed the curtains. Damn. Fuck. Shite. He looked down at his sensible blouse, trousers, and flats, and then jerked out his wand, casting a spell to shred them. Nude, he ripped the glamour ring off his finger and threw it across the room.
Fucking ring. Fucking Robards. Fucking Aurors. Fucking Potter. In the end, the only person who was fucked was Draco. I should have listened to Granger. He’d enjoyed his fantasies: kissing Potter, touching Potter, taking Potter’s cock in his mouth. He’d thought they were safe. He hadn’t realised how desperately he’d wanted it to happen until tonight. For a moment, he’d considered accepting. Potter didn’t know he was male. Potter didn’t know he was Draco Malfoy. Potter wouldn’t need to know. The ring’s glamour required no power and no concentration; it would hold. He hated himself for wanting to give in.
He’d always intended to continue as he’d begun-- putting on the ring as part of his Auror work attire. He’d repeatedly told Granger he could do it. He’d believed it. Now, he knew he couldn’t. What a disaster he’d made of his life. He thought he’d learnt better. Apparently he’d learnt nothing at all. One way or another, he needed to be himself again.
He cancelled plans to meet Granger and Lovegood on Saturday. He didn’t leave his flat the rest of the weekend.
On Monday morning, Draco summoned the ring from where he thrown it. He glared at it before donning it once more. It had always been painless. Today, he felt himself itching beneath his false skin.
He was so close; so damned close. He was going to finish the programme and run like hell. He’d been a fool to start in the first place, but he’d come too far to give up now.
Draco encountered Weasley in the hallway outside the training room. Weasley gave him a twisted smile, and Draco worked hard to avoid seeing the sympathy in the other’s eyes. “I told him not to do it.”
“And he didn’t listen to you,” Draco snapped.
“Well, he wouldn’t, would he?” Weasley shook his head. “For what it’s worth, though, I hoped it would work out. I’m sorry it didn’t. Harry’s a good bloke.”
“Don’t do me any favours, Weasley.” He made to open the door.
Weasley touched his shoulder, arresting his attempt to escape. “Don’t be like that. It’s still ‘Ron.’”
Draco fought down the sneer. “Then don’t do me any favours, Ron.”
Weasley sighed. “You’re touchy. He asked, and there’s an end to it. He’ll leave you alone.”
“I know.” Potter, of all people, wouldn’t attempt to shove himself in where he was unwanted. It would be comforting, except-- He’s not unwanted.
A few more days of classes-- a few more days of testing-- and then they’d get their final assignments.
On Thursday, Robards came in during the last few minutes of their mock duelling session and clapped his hands above his head. Draco fell back, silent, seeing the others do the same. “Good afternoon, trainees. You will receive your final assignments tomorrow. As you may know, you will be partnered with an experienced Auror, and will face a test investigation whilst maintaining an assigned persona. You’ll receive a mission briefing with your other materials. Your assigned personas were chosen to pose the greatest challenge for you based on your trainers’ observations.” He paused, looking around the room, and smiled. “By and large, the locales we’ve chosen are pleasant. You still have work to do, but it’s also intended as a holiday. Enjoy it-- the Auror Corps will not be funding holidays in the future-- but don’t lose sight of what’s important. If you have any questions after receiving your materials tomorrow morning, you may direct them to me.”
Draco went out for a pint with Weasley that evening; it was the first time since the fiasco with Potter. By tacit consent, neither of them had mentioned Potter. All the same, Potter managed to lurk in all of the silences in their conversation. Draco couldn’t understand it; they’d spent years having casual conversation without bringing Potter into it; why did his presence loom so large now?
“Any idea what assignment you’ll get?” Weasley asked.
Draco shrugged. “Hadn’t thought about it. Hopefully a nice holiday.”
Weasley gave him a rueful smile. “S’not going to be a nice holiday without Hermione. Not for me.”
Draco laughed. “It’s the only way you’ll get a holiday. In all the time I’ve known you, I’ve yet to see her willingly take one.”
“She’s not that bad.” He paused a few seconds, and then groaned. “All right, yes, she is. I’d still rather she take the holiday with me.”
Draco took another drink. He leant back in his chair. “That may be your challenge,” he said slowly. “You practise and discuss a lot with her, I know.”
“I do. Do they know that?”
“You’ll find out, I’m sure.”
Weasley looked at him with narrowed eyes. “If working without Hermione’s my challenge, what d’you suppose yours is?”
Draco shrugged. “I’ve no idea. I hope it doesn’t involve Fry.” Fry hadn’t grown more likable over the course of the three years of training. He still radiated entitlement and bitterness that “Aquila Macmillan” hadn’t fallen upon his offered date with appropriate desperation. It was a long grudge to hold. He reminds me of me, Draco thought. He’d hated Potter for years for not choosing him first year as his best mate. It wasn’t a pleasant revelation. With that in mind, he asked the question. “Ron, how is Harry?”
Weasley’s eyes opened wide momentarily. He was silent for awhile before speaking with an air of studied casualness. “All right. He’s not really the type to pine.”
“I’m glad,” Draco said, thinking the opposite. He hated himself for it.
“I wish it could have worked out,” Weasley said, the words coming out in a rush. “I haven’t seen him this interested since Ginny.”
Draco held up a palm. “Please don’t.” There was no future with Potter; there was no future with any of this. He already felt guilty without Weasley adding to it.
Weasley sighed heavily. “Sorry. I know better, and Hermione told me not to push.” Of course she did. After a silence, Weasley produced a rueful grin. “Good thing my challenge isn’t likely to be keeping my mouth shut for a week, yeah? I’d be out on my arse before we started.”
“No comment,” Draco said. His heart wasn’t in this anymore. He hadn’t stopped thinking about Potter. He felt a burning desire to drown his thoughts in alcohol-- something he’d not done since he’d dragged himself out of the last pub in Leipzig. It was good that this fiasco was almost over. Like all of his other indulgences, it had well and truly lost its shine.
The next morning, he walked into the training room at half eight. Robards stood at the front of the room. A large cardboard box sat to his left side. When all of the seats had filled, he nodded. “Welcome to your last day of formal training. You’ll be out early,” he pursed his lips, and then growled. “Don’t think your holiday has started yet. Review your assignment. Come to me with any questions. Then begin researching what you’ll need to complete it. Your assignment will contain information on your assigned Auror partner. You may need to consult with him or her in building a believable persona, and in constructing a plan for your investigation. The Auror you’re working with is tasked with monitoring your disguise and investigative techniques-- but don’t think this precludes asking your partner’s opinion and advice.” Draco saw Fry giving Robards a contemptuous look at this, and found himself hoping that Fry would end up failing this portion of the course. It wasn’t kind-- but it was deserved. “Now, I’ll distribute your assignments.”
With a wave of his wand, the cardboard box opened, and large manila envelopes began to fly swiftly about the room. Each manila envelope stopped in front of a trainee, then dropped to the desk. Draco stared for a moment at his envelope. He took a deep breath, then flipped it and broke the seal. He slid out the contents and flipped through them quickly: a stack of papers; a small book which proved, on quick glance, to be a Muggle passport; and a large, glossy brochure. He set the passport and brochure aside, and then looked at the top of the paper stack.
Scenario: Illegal potions distribution
Potions are being produced and sold to Muggle buyers with the claim that they induce weight loss, stimulate hair growth, and increase sexual performance.
Well, there’s marketing potential.
The potions transform users temporarily into satyrs.
Draco snorted. Truth in advertising. But I reckon shrinking in height and developing furry legs were not the hoped-for effects.
Unfortunately, affected Muggles were able only to identify the person who sold the potion to them. Maintaining the Statute of Secrecy is currently requiring the full-time efforts of Ministry Obliviators. Based on the complexity of the potion, the Ministry has narrowed down the field to several suspects. The most likely suspect (see dossier, attached) is on holiday. He may attempt to sell the potion. Search for evidence of illegal brewing.
Maintain your cover identity. If you are detected, brewer may flee.
Draco gave them points for creativity. The idea of selling a satyr transformation potion to Muggles was simply beautiful: be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.
He flipped to the next page in the stack. His location:
Two-week cruise to Alaska.
Alaska? Is there anything in Alaska?
Only Muggle means of transport to be used (i.e., no Apparition). No overt acts of magic.
Draco nodded absently. Because I’m a pure-blood. This is part of what’s intended to be difficult for me. He nearly scoffed at the idea; checked himself. He’d spent a lot of time wandering around dressed as a Muggle, a lot of time in Muggle locations. He’d always been able to use his magic.
He skimmed through the rest of the restrictions on the page, and then moved to the next: his persona.
The name was his assumed one-- convenient. It was hard enough remembering to respond to his fake name without having to adopt another. He was-- recently married and on a honeymoon? He felt dread in the pit of his stomach. He flipped to the next page.
Potter. Of course it would be Potter.
Draco would be spending two weeks on a boat, trapped in a bloody cabin, pretending to be married to Potter. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. To think I thought not using magic was going to be my challenge. This is a bloody nightmare.
He stared blankly for several minutes. He restacked his materials and slid them into the envelope with shaking hands. He rose from his seat and walked up to Robards. The man gave him a small frown.
“A few questions, sir,” he said, proud of himself for keeping his voice steady.
He would have preferred to get through it immediately. He wasn’t certain how long he could keep up the pretence of normality. He nodded anyway, trailing after as Robards led him a few doors down the hallway.
They sat opposite each other at a small table.
Draco drew in a breath, let it out. “Sir, why this persona?”
Robards gave a sharp nod, drumming blunt fingers against the tabletop. “You’re one of our most promising trainees, Macmillan. Probably one of the most promising we’ve had in years. But pureblood, thus restricting you to a purely Muggle environment. Also,” here, he sighed, “you’re solitary. You’ve not joined any of the study groups.” He held up his right palm as if to stave off a protest. Draco couldn’t have managed one anyway. “No, joining one wasn’t required. But it was noticeable. Other than Weasley, you’ve made no friends amongst the other trainees. You’ve done well in group projects, but we want to see if you truly can work with a partner.”
Draco had been eager to get home and slip off his disguise; he hadn’t wanted to join the others for their study groups (largely useless in any case) or their social events. He had even been proud of himself for managing this on his own. He hadn’t realised it had carried such a price. “Why Potter?” Had they had any idea how difficult their choice of partner would be for him?
“He’s due a long holiday, frankly. He’s familiar with the Muggle world-- and the Americans, as well-- he can help cover for you if you make mistakes. In addition, you’re around the same age. It makes the honeymoon more believable.”
“Did he request this assignment?” Was it his idea? Had Potter thought two weeks together would overcome Draco’s resistance? Draco resented the idea.
But Robards was shaking his head. “No; he learnt about it this morning, the same as you did. We’re aware you’re acquainted, and thought it would make the cover easier for you to maintain.” He frowned. “Is there a specific problem with Potter?”
God, yes. “No.” Draco wanted to throw the assignment in Robards’ face. He wanted to run as far as his legs could carry him-- after three years of Auror training, that was quite far. Until this morning, he’d cherished the thought that he could get through his final assignment and disappear without ever seeing Potter again. They’d wanted to make it easier for him. Draco swallowed. “No, it’s not a problem. I can do this.”
Robards nodded. “Good. Now, go review the rest of your materials. You’ll probably want to spend some time today and this weekend researching and developing a plan. You’ve only five days before your flight. You’ll need to consult with Potter as well, of course, but you’ll see that when you finish reading your materials. He’ll be working up until you depart, but he’s been instructed to make himself available to you.”
Draco nodded stiffly. “Thank you, Sir.” He’d come too far to back out now. He’d got through nearly three years; he could manage a few more weeks.
But not yet. He took the rest of the materials home with him and started looking through them. It became immediately apparent why he would need to consult with Potter. The cruise information came with a large brochure for shore excursions. As a honeymooning couple-- and wasn’t that sickening-- he and Potter would be expected to select several of them. Bears, whales, glaciers, gold mining, float planes… he shuddered. They’d also need to consult on the details of their courtship and marriage. He felt a bitter taste in his mouth. And somehow, amongst all of this, he would have to find a way to demonstrate his competence with a mock investigation.
Draco had always been a “drink the Skele-Gro at once” type of wizard. He sent the owl to Potter by eleven, proposing a meeting at six.
He had to wait only a few moments for Potter’s return owl: an acceptance.
It was unspeakably awkward. Potter was making an effort to treat him exactly the same as he would have treated Weasley.
If Draco had been truly uninterested, he could have played along. It would have still been challenging, but it would have been feasible.
If Draco had been truly uninterested.
Draco gritted his teeth. He had survived the fucking Dark Lord living in his home; he had survived a hellish year of classes with his parents’ lives under constant threat. He could survive this. “Just how much is the Ministry willing to spend on this, anyway?”
Potter quirked up his brows. His shoulders were still stiff; his voice was relaxed. “Don’t get too greedy. I might think you’re spoilt.”
Draco narrowed his eyes. “Oh, really? They’ve told me that they’re generously making you take this as holiday time.”
Potter laughed. His eyes lit. “You noticed. Truth told: I’ll not miss it.”
Draco pursed his lips, shaking his head slowly. “Remarkably-- and unnecessarily-- self-sacrificing, don’t you think? No one likes a martyr. Someone needs to save you from yourself, and it might as well be me.” He winced almost immediately after realising what he’d said. No way out but forward. “We’re supposed to make this convincing. Travelling on a starvation budget is not convincing.”
“I see,” Potter said. “And in your expert opinion, what would be convincing?”
Draco drummed his fingers against the tabletop, then flipped open the brochure to a page he’d already marked. He pointed at the Unique! Once in a lifetime! Mendenhall Glacier helicopter tour. “There’s a start.”
Potter let out a shout of laughter, this time. “If it isn’t approved, you’ll end up covering the cost yourself.”
“I’m surprised that you’re eager to trust yourself to something like a helicopter.”
Draco smirked. “Scared?” He watched Potter’s eyes narrow. “Would you believe that the first time I got on a broom, I nearly hit one?”
Potter’s mouth quirked. “No.”
“Well, I did.” It had been terrifying, but it had always made a brilliant story.
“And so you are eager to conquer your near-death experience?”
“Something like that. Have no fear. I have many other suggestions for convincing activities.”
Potter just stared at him a few minutes, and then smiled. He waved his right hand. “By all means. In fact, I’ll leave it entirely to you.”
Draco grinned. For the first time that evening, he felt as if things had returned to normal. “Excellent.”
Potter’s expression turned sober. He sighed. “And our relationship? Have you planned that out, as well?”
Draco looked away. That didn’t last long. “I’m willing to go with whatever story you invent.”
Draco turned back at the sound of another heavy sigh. Potter’s eyes were unfocused, looking off into the distance. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
“I-- all right. If it’s easier, I can invent a story,” Draco found himself saying. It was there again, between them. He’d been so focussed on how much this assignment would hurt him, he’d completely lost sight of how much it must be hurting Potter.
Potter’s eyes snapped back into focus. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
Draco caught himself before he reached out to take Potter’s hand. The gesture wouldn’t help either of them. Instead, he babbled a scenario, inventing as he spoke. “You saved me from a burning building. I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should, but we got to know each other better eventually and much sappiness was involved.” He cringed inwardly. A little too close to home. “No-- let’s make it something quiet and simple. No disasters, no heroics. We met at a pub on a blind date. We found we had a lot in common.” Potter flinched. God, what’s wrong with me? “Would you prefer the fire? Only it’s more difficult to maintain.”
“No,” Potter said, after a long silence. “No, we’ll go with the simpler story.” His fingers laced together on the tabletop, and he stared down at them, lips twisted. “We’ll need rings. I’ll look in my vault; I may have something there we can use.”
It was not particularly long before Draco found himself meeting Potter at Heathrow for the long flight to Canada. He’d periodically wondered over the past few days how Muggles could possibly endure being trapped in a metal tube for hours on end. He told himself that if they could tolerate it, so could he.
As they waited in line to check in for their flight, he watched the Muggles avidly, trying to absorb their behaviours. He intended to blend in as much as possible.
It was therefore a considerable disappointment when Potter asked for and took his ticket and passport, and all inquiries were addressed to Potter.
When they had finally made it to the aeroplane, Draco folded himself into the seat. After a minute of shifting, he looked over at Potter. “You cannot seriously expect me to believe that anyone willingly travels this way,” he whispered.
Potter gave him a look of blended pity and amusement. “I hadn’t realised before the last few days just how spoilt you are. And, yes, they do.”
Draco barely kept himself from snapping that Potter’d had a lucky escape. He preferred not to analyse too closely why he was offended. “It’s voluntary practise for enduring torture, I’m sure.”
He forbore to ask about cushioning charms. For all he knew, their “suspect” could be in the same cabin. He wasn’t willing to sacrifice years of effort in the programme to destroy his chances for the sake of increased comfort. I’ll find a way to do it when we return.
His determination to find a way around the magic prohibition on the return grew stronger with every hour that passed. The food was not horrible. Better than Weasley’s taste, he thought with little fairness and much irritation. His neck and back ached. Despite multiple attempts to find a comfortable position, he was unable to sleep. He’d alternated conversing with Potter, watching some completely incomprehensible Muggle film and reading a bewildering novel about an incompetent wizard.
He didn’t get the humour.
On the ground finally, he attempted to straighten cramped legs.
Potter touched his shoulder. Draco turned his head to meet Potter’s eyes, wincing as the movement exacerbated the pain in his neck.
“I can rub your neck and shoulders for you later, if you’d like.”
Draco tensed. The sudden coldness in Potter’s eyes said he’d noticed. “I would appreciate that,” Draco said carefully. The chill lessened but did not entirely dissipate.
They made their way through customs and immigration-- with Potter again completing the forms and asked all of the questions. Draco was too tired to mind.
With luggage in tow, they hailed a taxi and went to the Ballantyne Pier. He’d assumed the pier would be near the centre of the city. While it wasn’t completely isolated, there was nothing useful nearby.
At first, he saw only the low grey building marked “Port Vancouver,” and he wondered where the ship was. Then he realised that the massive blue and white structure above them was the ship. The brochure had made it clear that the ship held 2000 passengers and half as many crew. It could not, therefore, be small. Yet, when he’d imagined a ship, he’d imagined something human-scaled. This dwarfed the Manor, the Ministry, and even Gringott’s. He’d seen large Muggle structures before-- there were several in London. He’d just never expected to see one floating in the water.
Having readjusted his perspective, he knew he was looking at the back: tall, boxy, one section composed entirely of glass windows. Above it, several levels of verandas.
He looked down. Porters checked that their luggage was tagged with their stateroom number, took it away, and directed them inside the port building. Immediately inside, they faced another queue.
“I can’t believe people willingly do this for holidays,” he muttered.
Potter reached up with his left hand, and Draco felt warmth at the nape of his neck. The fingers pressed into the tight knots and he hissed. Potter continued to rub at Draco’s neck and shoulders a few seconds before letting his hand drop. “We’re nearly through it,” Potter said, his voice soothing.
Draco glanced over to see Potter giving him a small smile. “Thanks,” he said.
It was a polite fiction, of course. Not only did they have to make it through the queue (more forms for Potter to sign, plus dire warnings about keeping their Seapass cards on hand at all times), but make it once again through customs and immigration. By the time they made it past the photographers (and why would they want a picture in front of someone dressed in an eagle costume?), through the ship security, and up to their stateroom (“Deck nine: Sky Deck”-- said the lift’s irritatingly chirpy female voice), Draco was nearly ready to kill someone. Odd that the Auror version of a holiday could drive me to a point that the Death Eaters couldn’t, he thought, with more than his usual self-pity.
Entering the stateroom, Draco gave a quick look around. The cupboard was immediately inside the door, along the right-hand wall. The door to the bath was on the left. The cupboard had three doors; two covered a long hanging bar, the other shelves and a small safe.
A short hallway between the cupboard and bath led to the main room. The brochure had trumpeted the ship’s sizable staterooms, but the smallest studio flats Draco had seen were twice the size. The sliding door leading out to the veranda and the mirrored wall granted the illusion of interior space. The walls were light-stained wood panelling, the fitted carpet, quilt, and curtains blue. A tiny sofa-- also blue-- was along one wall, opposite a small vanity. He had to share this space with Potter. For two weeks.
There was only one bed. He hadn’t the energy to worry about it.
Their luggage hadn’t yet arrived, and the telly was describing the procedures for the upcoming mandatory lifeboat drill. They would apparently chuck you off the ship if you didn’t bother with it; that would have been fine, as long as his removal came with no queue and a Portkey home.
He threw himself on the bed and listened through four complete cycles of explanation before Potter walked in front of him, stared down, and then shook his head, grabbed the remote, and turned it off. Draco expected exasperation, but Potter’s voice was sympathetic. “You have two hours. Get some rest. D’you want me to bring you anything?”
“Tea. Tea and chocolate.” He paused a moment. “Please.”
Draco closed his eyes, and heard Potter’s footfalls followed by the door opening and closing. He wasn’t allowed to rest long before a knock came at the door and he let the steward in with the luggage.
The steward left, and Draco stared at the luggage blocking the short hallway before lying back down on the bed. He hadn’t the energy to deal with it, and he wasn’t going to try.
He laid back down, throwing his arm over his eyes-- who decided it should be light now anyway?-- and fell asleep.
He awoke when the door clicked. A glance to his right showed Potter entering, another glance showed an hour had passed.
“I’ve got your tea and chocolate.” Potter wove his way through the luggage, sat down on the end of the bed.
Draco struggled up to a sitting position, accepted the steaming cup and small iced cake. “Thank you.”
“Ready to unpack?”
Draco nodded his assent. Potter dragged one case to the end of the bed, gave Draco a crooked grin, then pulled a wand from inside his coat and sent the contents flying. Most made their way into the wardrobe, with a few others taking up residence in the bath and around the room.
“Want me to do yours?” Potter asked, still grinning.
“Merlin, yes,” Draco said.
The other case was emptied in a matter of seconds, and Potter shoved both empty cases under the bed. “Want to see the ship?”
Draco glanced at the clock; forty-five minutes to the mandatory lifeboat drill. “All right.” As he rose, he attempted in vain to shake out the wrinkles he’d accumulated over the course of their travels. He grimaced, and then shrugged. “Let’s go.”
Potter’s wand was moving again, and Draco glanced down to see his trousers looked freshly pressed. He quirked a brow at Potter. “I thought we were supposed to be blending in,” Draco said mildly.
Potter shrugged. “No one’s going to know.” Rules had never applied to Potter; this was the first time it had worked to Draco’s benefit. “Now, c’mon.” He gestured at the door, and Draco preceded him into the corridor.
They walked to the forward stairs, then up a level to the spa and gymnasium. The gymnasium had a large array of empty treadmills facing a wall of windows along the front of the ship.
Up another deck, and they arrived at the Constellation lounge, filled with small tables and low benches. The central bar was completely unstaffed, the lounge empty. Walking back and out into the open air, they encountered another unstaffed bar, then a pale orange track on the deck. Posted signs declared three laps to a kilometre, five to a mile. A central open area looked down on a pool-- Vancouver in May felt much too cold. The pool was surrounded by deck chairs, a few tables and chairs scattered around the deck. They walked around the track to the rear of the ship, walked forward and up an additional set of stairs. Tall stacks of deck chairs were lashed in place; they walked past them to a Plexiglas wall. Through it, he could see the water in front of the ship, and a large green circle several decks down-- helicopter landing pad, he thought. They walked back past more deck chairs, and down the stairs again to deck ten. Moving to the back of the ship, they passed through a large cafeteria-- buffet style, very few areas open. After passing by the aft lifts and stairs, they reached another bar-- also unstaffed-- then moved back to the lifts.
Potter called the lift, then selected deck five-- “Entertainment deck,” but at least this lift didn’t talk. They passed by the closed doors of the main dining room, another lounge and unstaffed bar, and several closed shopfronts-- spirits, art, jewellery, clothing. When they reached the theatre at the front of the ship, they took the stairs down to the next level. They reached yet another unstaffed bar and lounge, with a large open area and heavy stone stairs leading down to the main office. Past that, they reached a casino (closed), an unstaffed photography counter, and another level of the main dining room. One more deck down, they reached a cinema, meeting rooms, and a restaurant (closed), then passed the main office (busy) and shore excursions office (also busy).
The main corridors were decorated with artwork-- bronzes, paintings, sculptures. Everything was gilded, covered in carving and elaborate stonework.
It was ostentatious-- vulgar, even. Draco sneered inwardly at all of it. “Where is everyone?” was all he asked.
Potter shot him a glance which suggested he’d detected the hidden sneer, if not the reason for it. “Nothing much opens until we leave port.”
“You’ve been on one of these before?” Draco had actually read the multiple parts of Rita Skeeter’s coverage of Potter’s life (and humility). He’d be shocked if Potter’s aunt and uncle had taken him anywhere on holiday, and, if it had happened since, Granger or Weasley would have mentioned it.
Potter shook his head with a smile. “No. Hermione’s parents went on a cruise for their twenty-fifth anniversary. They told me about it.”
“Ah. And what did they say?”
He grinned. “That I’ll enjoy being pampered.”
Pampered. Draco pursed his lips, considering. “So will I.”
The ship-wide announcement system warned that the mandatory lifeboat drill was ten minutes away, so they returned to their stateroom and pulled the life vests off the top shelf in the cupboard. They donned them per instructions, and then took the stairs back down to deck three, where they followed the gestures of the crew to reach their lifeboat. They milled together, waiting to be logged (then dismissed). Draco felt a hard bump on his left arm, and glanced over to see two men talking. One had greasy black hair (reminding him, sadly, of Snape); the other tightly curled brown hair and a goatee.
“I’ve got a room right off the kitchens for brewing, and I’ve Confunded the spa staff. I ought to make quite the profit on this trip,” greasy hair said. His voice was high and nasal. He shot a deliberate glance in Draco’s direction, as if to demand he pay attention.
“So, you’ll be brewing after the lifeboat drill?” the other said, clearly making no attempt to lower the boom of his voice.
“Oh, yes. Immediately after the lifeboat drill. In the room off the kitchens. On deck three. Entered through the main dining room. Brewing my special satyr potion. Ahahaha.” Draco bit his lip to keep from laughing.
The brown-haired man nodded. “And I shall help you. Immediately after the lifeboat drill. Perhaps I’ll follow you down, to make sure I don’t get lost.” Another deliberate glance in Draco’s direction.
“What a wonderful idea.” Yes, wonderful indeed. He’d wanted to get his mock investigation over quickly; he hadn’t expected it to be quite this quick.
He cast a mirth-filled glance in Potter’s direction, catching Potter in the midst of rolling his eyes. “Follow me,” Draco managed to mouth. He waited until roll was taken and the group dismissed, then ducked with Potter into an alcove, cast a Disillusionment charm, and followed the pair into the ship, up to deck four, then into the main dining room, and down to deck three. They immediately began brewing the highly illegal-- and highly fictitious-- satyr potion, talking loudly about their nefarious plans. When the potion was complete, Draco dispelled the charm, bound them with Incarcerous, and placed them under arrest. He gave them their rights, confiscated a vial of potion, and glanced at Potter for approval.
Potter was leant up against the door, arms crossed over his chest. “Well done.”
Potter raised his wand, dispelled the ropes, and Vanished the potion and potion-making apparatus. He nodded at the greasy-haired man and his compatriot. “Have a nice holiday, Smythe and Dern.”
They nodded at him. “Ta, and yourself.”
Potter moved to the side so they could exit, and Draco looked at him again. “Clearly, we have no budget to hire actors.”
Potter shrugged, colour rising in his cheeks. “They decided to give two of the filing clerks a holiday as well, though theirs is only a week. I’d guess they decided to make it as long as possible.”
Draco bit his lip, gave up. He laughed until tears came to his eyes. Between peals of laughter, he managed to gasp out “‘On deck three. Off the kitchens. Immediately after the lifeboat drill.’” He drew in a deep breath before losing control again. “Oh, God-- the ‘evil laugh.’”
Potter was grinning, colour still high in his cheeks. “All right, all right.” He sobered. “But you’d have done well even if they’d been better actors, you know.” His eyes locked on Draco’s, open and earnest.
“Thank you,” he managed.
Draco took several deep breaths, deliberately calming himself. “Do we need to remove any charms from the room? I assume it must have been concealed from the kitchen staff.”
Potter waved his wand. “The illusion on the door and repelling charm are gone; the room was already soundproofed.”
Soundproofing raised a question: “Are we allowed to Apparate back to the cabin, or are we better to walk out of here?”
“Apparition is probably safer. We’ve only to Obliviate the cabin steward if we encounter him. Even under Disillusionment, we run more risk of people noticing. I’ll Side-along you.”
Draco moved next to Potter, and Potter reached out an arm to loop around his waist. Draco glanced over to see that Potter was still flushed. “Sorry; it’s easier for me this way.”
Draco shrugged in response, but the warmth of Potter’s arm disturbed him. He remembered, abruptly, how much easier this would have been if he had been completely indifferent to Potter. He wanted to turn and press against Potter’s body, push until they reached the wall, and lower his lips the required inch to Potter’s. He was half a breath from doing it when the room faded out, and their cabin faded into view.
The dizziness of Apparition forced him back to sanity-- he was exhausted, and it had been too long. Making any sort of move on Potter was mad; Potter would only hate him for it in the end.
“What are you thinking?” Potter’s voice was soft.
“I’m glad this part’s over,” he said, pushing a little against Potter’s arm until it dropped, releasing him. I wish all of it was over.
He managed to keep himself upright through their dinner seating. They were assigned to a table for four; he’d been relieved-- other people to help distract him from Potter. Time passed without their tablemates arriving. “Perhaps they’re tired,” the waiter suggested, taking their order.
I’m tired. The least they could have done was turned up, Draco thought with resentment.
When they returned to their cabin, the quilt was turned back, gold-wrapped chocolates sitting on their pillows. A neatly printed schedule covering the next day’s events sat on the bed. Draco glanced at it, tossed it to Potter, and grabbed his pyjamas from the closet. Black silk, all-enveloping, he’d bought them especially for the cruise. Force of habit nearly had him removing the ring; he’d never had to wear it while asleep. He murmured a spell to keep it from sliding off.
He came back, slid into one side of the bed.
“Sleep well,” Potter whispered, patting Draco’s arm before going to the cupboard and grabbing his own pyjamas.
Draco was asleep before he returned.
Draco woke in the morning with Potter pressed tightly against his back and Potter’s arm wrapped around his waist. He felt the press of Potter’s cock against his buttocks. Fuck.
Draco was hard beneath the glamour. There was nothing he could do about it while he still wore the ring. He shifted, carefully extricating his body from Potter’s grasp.
His movement was not careful enough. Potter stirred, muttering, “What?”
Draco clenched his teeth. “I need a shower; go back to sleep.”
Potter rolled onto his back. “Wake me when you’re done.”
Draco pulled himself into a sitting position and then rose from the bed.
He removed the ring immediately after locking the door to the bath.
In the shower, he tried to ignore the water sliding down his chest and sliding down his cock, before giving it up as a lost cause. He curled the fingers of his right hand around it, shoving his left against the wall and leaning forward as he pulled at himself. He closed his eyes. He wouldn’t think of Potter. The fantasies had been fine, before. Now that Potter was only a few feet away… now that he knew Potter wanted him… it wouldn’t be right.
Someone faceless-- male, female, both-- it wouldn’t matter.
The first image his mind conjured had messy black hair-- so many people had it-- and the eyes swam into focus: green-- it doesn’t have to mean anything-- and then the spectacles and it was Potter, smiling at him. Then it was Potter, on his broom. Potter, and that fucking kindness in his eyes. Potter’s hands on his shoulders… then Potter, hands on his skin, sliding down to pull on his cock, Potter’s lips on his, pressed up against him. His teeth sank into his lower lip. Harry, he thought, and came.
His holiday might as well have been in hell.
Today, they’d be at sea. The timetable promised an art auction and lectures on Alaskan history. The cinema would be playing some Muggle film. He hardly cared which activity they chose, as long as it distracted him from his temporary partnership with Potter.
He drew in a deep breath and opened the door, stepping out into the narrow passageway between the cupboard and bath. Potter was sitting up in the bed, leant back against the pillows.
Draco forced a smile. “I reckon you’re awake.”
Potter nodded. “Give me a minute to shower and dress and we can get breakfast.”
“Of course.” Fool that he was, Draco had forgotten that the main part of his assignment wasn’t solving the ridiculous potions case, but spending time with Potter. He walked in front of the bed, moving over to the vanity and pulling out a hairbrush. He stood facing into the room rather than looking at the mirror. He wasn’t unused to seeing his glamoured body, but he didn’t enjoy it. He pulled the brush through his still-wet hair while Potter rose from the bed, collected his own clothing from the cupboard, and retreated into the bath.
Setting the brush down, Draco pulled open the curtains to stare out. The veranda was mostly protected by the deck above, but the edge was wet. The rain fell in sheets, sky grey above the water.
He slid the door open, stepping out and drawing in the cool, humid air.
He was still there when he heard a footfall and felt a touch on his shoulder. He looked back to see Potter’s green eyes and his hopeful smile.
Draco found himself smiling back; he hadn’t the heart to wipe it from his face. Or perhaps he lacked the ability.
“Ready for breakfast?”
“Of course.” As much as I’m ready for anything.
After eating, they tried listening to the health lecture in the spa. The exercise equipment had been cleared out to make space for benches. Draco looked again-- or, rather, aerobic steps being used as benches. The presenter used a large pad of paper and a marker to declaim about weight loss. It was impossible, apparently, due to toxins. Exercise would be pointless. Diet would change nothing. However, soaking in a bath of red seaweed would stimulate immediate and massive weight loss. (Only limited treatments available; sign up now!)
He shot a glance at Potter to find Potter looking back with laughter in his eyes. The satyr potion was beginning to look decidedly tame by comparison.
The art auction had only paintings, photographs, and sports memorabilia. Draco had never developed much appreciation for Muggle artwork; its failure to move disturbed him deeply. He sat through it willingly enough by Potter’s side, much as he sat through the Muggle cinema-- at least it moves.
They took lunch late in the cafeteria, then tried listening to an informational lecture in the theatre. It was focused on Alaskan wildlife. The next day would be their visit to the glacier via helicopter.
He let Potter take his hand as they walked through the open shops, let Potter drag him to a rack of inexpensive shimmering black jewellery. “It’s like your ring,” Potter said. And it was; “hematite,” the labels said. “D’you want something?” he asked.
Draco shook his head. Potter had asked if Draco could remove his black ring before giving him the slim gold band he wore on his finger. Draco had refused, making up something on the spot about the stone ring being a family heirloom.
It was the cruise’s first formal night, and they eventually had to return to the stateroom to dress for it. Draco pulled the black silk shirt and trousers he’d brought from the cupboard and moved to the bath to don them, then slid his feet into simple black flats.
“No dress? No high heels?” Potter’s voice caused him to turn.
“No.” He didn’t say more, but he thought it. He’d long since reached the limits of how far he was willing to go with this pretence.
Potter was partially dressed, wearing trousers with a satin strip down the side seams and a white shirt with cuffs and buttons undone. Draco found his gaze falling to the other man’s chest, imagining himself twining his fingers in Potter’s chest hair, biting at the nipples with his teeth.
“This is yours?”
Potter nodded, working on his shirt. Potter glanced up, met Draco’s eyes. “From when I was working with the American Aurors. I’d guess half of my time was spent at cocktail parties.”
It wasn’t something that had come up in Potter’s previous tales of American oddities. If even remotely true, Potter would have been far out of his element. “Did you enjoy it?”
Potter shrugged, now tucking in his shirttails. “Not particularly; I was the ornamental Brit.” His mouth twisted. “Still, better that than the Prophet.”
“I like it that they don’t get to you,” Potter said.
Draco lifted one brow. What the hell was Potter talking about now?
Potter gave him a quizzical look. “D’you practise that?” At Draco’s frown, Potter gestured toward his face. “The eyebrow.” Draco’s lips parted, but Potter was continuing. “I mean you’ve never treated me like I’m some great wizard. You don’t follow me around, ask for autographs.” He flushed, colour rising up from his collar to his hairline. “You’ve not rushed off to tell Rita Skeeter all of my deepest, darkest secrets.”
Not recently. He was unlikely to ever do it again. “I don’t intend to,” Draco said.
“I know.” Potter smiled. “I wish--” He stopped abruptly, shook his head. He reached down to the bed, picked up the Seapass. “Ready?”
Draco nodded. Potter wanted “Aquila Macmillan” because she didn’t care. If Draco had known, perhaps he could have drummed up some facsimile of fascination.
They dodged the multiple photograph opportunities-- one near the central stairs, another with a sunset background, a third backed by a picture of the ship-- and made it to the main dining room. Once again, the two other seats at their table were empty.
Tonight, the assistant waiter held Draco’s chair for him, pushed it in as he sat. The waiter came to take their orders, followed by the sommelier. Tonight, Potter ordered champagne-- brought, opened, and poured by the sommelier, and set carefully in a bucket of ice next to the table.
They were unable to dodge the photographer taking candid shots, one of them close together, smiling, then one of each of them.
The evening show was planned to be the ship’s dancers. It wasn’t a bad show; neither was it particularly exciting. At best, it was an hour’s delay to sitting alone, again, with Potter. Draco took a chocolate off his pillow, sat on the sofa with his book. He tried to ignore Potter, a few feet away, sitting on the bed with a book of his own.
He had to get out, and there was nowhere to go.
The next morning, he again awoke to Potter’s body pressed up against his, and Potter’s arm wrapped around his waist. He drew in a deep breath, and worked at extricating himself. It was still early; a glance at the clock said five a.m. He took trainers, shorts, and a t-shirt out of the cupboard and moved into the bath to dress.
He came out to Potter mumbling a question. “I can’t sleep,” Draco said. “I’m going for a run.”
He hurried down the corridor and up two decks to the short running track.
It was black, but no rain fell. The ship was docked; it was steady beneath his feet. He couldn’t see the shore; Ketchikan today. He started running-- fifteen laps, five kilometres. The sky was barely starting to lighten by the time Draco finished. When he got back to the stateroom, Potter was awake and dressed.
“You’re back. Next time, I’ll go with you. I could use the exercise.”
Draco nodded. So much for getting away from him, he thought. “I’ll get dressed and join you for breakfast,” he said.
They’d tried breakfast in the main dining room the previous day, and been unimpressed. They tried the alternate dining today, to find freshly made pancakes, waffles, toast, a variety of fruit, meat, and bread selections
Even so early, it was crowded and loud.
After breakfast, they moved to the Constellation lounge. The fog was thick; Draco could see a scarce few metres through the windows. It was after seven before the ship-wide announcement that the ship had been cleared; passengers could leave through the gangway on deck four, forward.
They returned to their stateroom. The bed was already made, towels replaced, curtains open to let in the light. They got coats and hats, found the tickets for their shore excursion. It wouldn’t leave until nine, but they’d nothing to do on the ship, either.
Bears today-- one of the excursions Draco had deemed “convincing.” He’d have to be in a small aeroplane with Potter. They’d walk outside, look for black bears. But there would be a guide, other people-- anything to distract him from Potter would do.
They moved down to deck four, got in line with everyone else attempting to leave the ship. Crew members were handing out maps of town; Draco took one. A quick look showed it marked shops-- mostly jewellery shops. Finally to the front, Draco pushed his Seapass into the reader, heard it chime, and pulled it back. Potter was just behind him. They walked down the gangway.
They saw very little-- a few restaurants, several jewellery shops, and a single chemist. Nothing was open.
The fog wasn’t lifting; if anything, it had thickened.
When they returned to the dock at half eight, crew members clustered around the gangway announced that several shore excursions had been cancelled due to the fog-- with the inconvenience of fate, their bear-watching excursion was one of them. He looked at Potter with resignation.
There were few alternate shore excursions available; most options had involved flying. They scheduled a trip by coach to the totem park for later in the day.
They sat for awhile, looking out at the water. Potter was too close, Draco thought despairingly. He could feel the heat of Potter’s body along his right arm. He bore it as long as he could, then struggled to his feet. Potter followed. It was late enough, now, that the shops were open. He took broad strides. Potter reached out, caught his hand and laced their fingers together.
Crowds moved up and down the streets, flowing into and out of the open shop doors. Uniformed police stood outside of one of the jewellery shops, clustered around a man waving his hands in frenzied fashion.
It was none of Draco’s business, but it was a distraction from Potter’s constant presence at his side. He moved closer, shaking free of Potter’s hand.
The jeweller had lost watches, gold, and gemstones. No, he insisted, he’d been watching. They’d been scattered throughout multiple display cases; some had been concealed in the back. Yes, he was certain they’d been there that morning. List everyone who’d been through? Were they mad?
Draco frowned. He started to reach after his wand, stopped. It was tempting. Thieves were difficult to trace, even with magic. But he was thinking of Wizards. Muggle thieves would be easier.
He felt a hot grip circling his wrist: Potter. He looked over; Potter’s eyes were hard on his. “Not our jurisdiction,” Potter mouthed.
Draco rolled his eyes, turned his wrist and jerked hard.
Potter’s grip tightened.
“All right,” Draco said.
Potter tugged at his wrist, and Draco followed after him.
Potter finally released him when they’d moved several shops away. “I know it’s hard,” he said. “We can’t do everything.”
They were Muggles; a few years before, and Draco wouldn’t have cared. Now, apparently, he did. “I know that. But I wouldn’t have got caught.”
Potter’s lips pressed flat. “You can’t be certain of that.”
He sighed. “Right.” Potter’s eyes narrowed. “No, Harry. I understand. I’m just not used to this.”
Potter wrapped an arm around Draco’s shoulders. “Never gets easier, though.” He smiled. “Now, c’mon. Let’s get coffee.”
Potter kept the arm around Draco’s shoulders. It was supposed to be comforting. Potter wouldn’t push; he didn’t realise he had any leverage.
It had been hard, being near Potter. It was even harder to feel the heat of his body pressed close. Draco gritted his teeth; he wouldn’t shove Potter away. Potter was being friendly.
As they sat down to coffee-- even Ketchikan had a Starbucks-- Potter smiled at him. “Did I ever tell you about my final assignment?”
Potter leant forward, his voice low. “It was mad, really. They thought it would be challenging for me to work under a glamour for two weeks-- have no one recognise me.” He smirked. “It was wonderful. It’s why I thought to volunteer for the assignment in America.” He reached out and patted the back of Draco’s hand. “They can’t all be like that, I know. But this isn’t so bad, is it?”
“Oh no,” he lied, “it isn’t bad at all.”
But Potter kept smiling at him, walking with him, being-- being so fucking Harry Potter. They walked around town together, sat in a coach together, walked around the park together. Draco could feel him, always there. Potter was so damned friendly.
Out of things to see, they went back to the ship, and then sat in their stateroom, reading. Draco tried not to look; it never worked. Sometimes Potter would catch him looking, and smile. That only made things worse.
Resisting was hard. Giving in would be so easy. All he had to do was reach out and take. He’d never been good at self-denial.
Potter frowned at him when Draco ordered whisky with supper, more with the show, another shot from the lounge outside the theatre. It was when they returned to the stateroom that evening that Potter finally spoke.
“I didn’t think the robbery had upset you so much.”
“It didn’t.” He swept his eyes up and down the length of Potter’s body.
Potter froze. “I’m sorry. I know you didn’t want to be here with me.”
“There’s an understatement.”
“I thought we’d been doing well.” Potter reached out, grabbed his hand. His voice sounded helpless. “I’m trying not to make you uncomfortable. I won’t push myself where I’m not wanted.”
Draco laughed again. Potter’s hand gripped his, the fingers burning. “Oh, naturally not.” He was going to hate himself in the morning, he thought in a sudden moment of clarity. Then again, when hadn’t he hated himself in the morning on this trip?
“Have I done something? I’m sorry; I just--” Potter broke off.
Potter’s hand still burned where it touched, and Draco had reached his limit. He stepped forward, and pushing Potter back against the mirrored wall. “To hell with it,” he said, and caught Potter’s lips with his own. Potter’s mouth opened beneath his. He pushed his tongue past Potter’s lips, feeling Potter’s teeth. He twisted his tongue, tasted.
Potter loosed his hand, reached his hands up against Draco’s shoulders. He pushed enough to break the kiss. “What are you--?”
“Don’t talk.” Draco leant forward, catching Potter’s mouth once more. He fumbled at the buttons of Potter’s shirt. He’d wanted to touch; now, he would. Potter’s arms wrapped loosely around him, no longer fighting, and Draco smiled. Draco pressed inside the open shirt, running his hands up and down Potter’s chest. It was as warm as he’d expected. He moved to his own shirt, ripping it open with both hands, and pressing chest against chest.
Potter whimpered, and Draco slid his hands down to undo the zip of Potter’s trousers. Still not breaking the kiss, he pushed at the open trousers, hearing the rustle as they slid down to pool around Potter’s ankles. He pushed at Potter’s pants, reaching inside to encircle Potter’s cock with his fingers.
Hard, and thick.
He pulled back, and Potter’s eyes opened, dazed and heavily dilated. “God,” he whispered.
Draco pressed lips and teeth against the join between Potter’s neck and shoulder, then slid his lips and tongue down Potter’s chest, locking on one nipple, moving to the other. Potter’s gasps accompanied him as he licked his way down. On his knees now, he pushed Potter’s pants down to his ankles, and gripped the base of Potter’s cock with his right hand.
He looked up. Potter was looking back with that lost stare. Draco opened his mouth, guided Potter’s cock into it.
Years of celibacy hadn’t made him forget, but they had affected his endurance. His jaw was unused to being open so long, his tongue and hand tired quickly. But none of it mattered; it took little time before Potter’s hips thrashed forward, and Draco used his left hand against Potter’s hip to pin him in place.
He toyed with the foreskin, tongued the slit, circled the head, and Potter threw his head back, screamed hoarsely and came. Draco swallowed. He stayed on his knees, looking up as Potter shuddered, his lips swollen and face high with hectic colour.
When Potter looked down, eyes opening, Draco fell back on his heels, rose, and moved to sit on the bed.
Potter tried to follow, stumbled. He bent down, pulled up pants and trousers, then turned and sat on the bed next to Draco. Potter’s hand rose, and settled against Draco’s shoulder. Draco felt it tremble. He turned his head to look. Potter’s hand moved from Draco’s shoulder to lace in his hair. His fingers warm against the back of Draco’s head, he pulled Draco forward into another kiss. They fell back onto the bed, still kissing.
Potter’s free hand moved beneath Draco’s shirt, pulling him closer, stroking up and down the line of his spine. Potter pressed his forehead against Draco’s, breathing warm air against his lips. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“Just rest,” Draco said.
Potter continued to hold him close, breathing slowing, until he fell into sleep. Draco lay there, listening to him breathe.
He awoke, sober now, to Potter’s hand playing with the rings on his fingers. He stiffened, pulling his hand away. “You’re awake,” Potter said, voice deep and warm.
“Thank you. I wish I knew why--”
Draco winced, pressing his eyes tightly closed. “This doesn’t change things.” He pulled himself roughly from Potter’s embrace, sitting huddled on the bed.
“It does for me.”
He opened his eyes, staring at Potter, who had moved to sit as well, watching him. “It doesn’t for me. This was a mistake. It never happened.”
The warmth drained from Potter’s face. His voice was cold. “Which is it: it’s a mistake, or it never happened?”
“It never happened.” Draco dragged himself out of bed, hurrying into the bath. He brushed his teeth, trying to remove the taste of Potter’s mouth-- of Harry’s cock. He started to remove his torn shirt, realised he’d failed to bring his pyjamas into the bath with him. He pulled the torn and open shirt closed across his chest, and clothed in it and the remains of his dignity, he went out to the cupboard and extracted his pyjamas.
He turned his back to Potter, dropping the torn shirt and sliding the pyjama top over his head. The effects of the alcohol had faded, leaving him feeling lost. All of my decisions are bad. He slid his trousers down his hips, replacing them with pyjama bottoms.
He turned around. Potter was still lying in bed, bare to the waist, covers pooled around his hips. His mouth was pressed flat. “I’m in love with you, if that means anything.”
Draco shook his head. “You aren’t. And it can’t.”
“I didn’t intend to take advantage of you.” Guilt was already worming its way into Potter’s voice.
Draco shook his head. “I took advantage of you.” He slid into the bed, pressing himself as close to the edge as he could manage without falling.
“I didn’t mind, Aquila.”
The false name was salt in the wound. “It won’t happen again.”
He heard a heavy sigh. The cabin darkened.
The next morning, he awoke to find Potter’s body entwined with his.
He jerked free, ignoring Potter’s murmured protest. He rushed to the cupboard, grabbed out shorts, shirt, and trainers for a run around the upper deck. Out. He had to get out.
Today’s shore excursion was at half nine. Half an hour of running didn’t get him appreciably closer. Whilst he ran, he wasn’t thinking of what a fool he’d been.
As he walked another lap around the deck to slow his heart, he started castigating himself again. All he’d had to do was make it two weeks with Potter, and he would be done. He’d spent nearly three full years in this disguise. Potter wouldn’t have pushed. Draco had got drunk and dragged Potter into bed. He’d also put paid to any hope of Potter forgiving him for any of this. He was going to have to run like hell and hope that Granger, Ginny Weasley, and Lovegood never let anything slip in Potter’s presence.
Hell, perhaps he should permanently exile himself to China.
When he returned to the stateroom for his shower, Potter was dressed and seated on the bed. Without a word, Draco selected his own clothing and went into the bath. He came out clothed, and stood in the short corridor. “Have you had breakfast?”
They went up to the upper deck buffet for breakfast again. The previous night hung between them.
They went up to the Constellation lounge and sat, again without speaking, waiting for the announcement that they could escape the ship. When at last the chime came followed by the announcement that the exit was on deck three aft, starboard side, Draco was desperate to escape Potter’s silence.
“Shall we look at the town?” It was the first thing he’d said to Potter since they’d left their stateroom.
“All right.” Potter’s voice was stiff; Draco didn’t care to examine why. He knew all too well.
At the bottom of the gangway, they found a collection of buses and people holding laminated signs-- “Whale watching”, “Helicopter tour”, “Taku lodge.” They walked past; they had too long to wait. A series of booths was set up nearby, offering “flightseeing”, whale watching, and glacier tours. They continued walking away from the dock, passing a massive tramway running up the mountainside.
Another Alaskan town-- the capital-- and another collection of jewellery stores. This one boasted at least two chemists, a bank, and a multilevel car park claiming to house the public library above it.
The helicopter tour, at least, was everything Draco had hoped for. He, Harry, and about twenty others were loaded into a coach and taken to helicopters. After a safety lecture (obey the guide! Glaciers are dangerous! You might die at any moment!), they were given special boots and put in groups for the helicopter flight. The flight was short-- bringing them high over the glacier, by ice formations thousands of feet high. He’d never expected the ice to be deep blue. The surface looked cracked, flying overhead. When the helicopters set down on the glacier, he could see the cracks were deep fissures. He heard the water rushing beneath the ice.
He smiled, looked over at Potter-- and looked away.
After, they went for lunch. They couldn’t escape each other’s presence, but they could at least keep away from the memories of their stateroom.
They went to a restaurant near the tramway.
It was hard to eat with someone, whilst neither speaking with them or looking at them. Draco forced his eyes away from Potter, looked over in the direction of the bar and froze.
White-blond hair, achingly familiar shape: he was looking at someone Polyjuiced into himself.
It took a moment for his mind to begin working again, during which he castigated himself for dismissing the Prophet’s consistent reports of him travelling through Europe, along with Luna Lovegood’s daft warning about a doppelganger. It hadn’t been a combination of mistaken identity and wishful thinking-- someone was impersonating him.
He almost rose from his seat to confront the person at the bar, and then forced himself to lean back in the chair and watch.
Potter, however, had clearly caught his odd body language. “What is it?” He twisted to follow Draco’s gaze.
“No, don’t look.” Draco kept his voice to a whisper.
He might as well have said nothing. Potter was now turning to shoot a careful look toward the bar. He stiffened before relaxing. “It’s Draco Malfoy,” he said quietly. “This is the last place I would have expected to find him.”
Fucking hell. “It’s not Draco Malfoy,” Draco snapped.
“Of course it is; I knew him in school.” Draco tried not to resent Potter’s condescending tone. It turned out to be something he wasn’t good at.
He forced the words through gritted teeth. “Damn it, Harry. It’s not bloody Draco Malfoy. He doesn’t even move right.”
Potter’s glance snapped back in his direction; locked on him. “I didn’t know you knew him,” Potter said slowly.
I don’t have time for this. “Obviously I do. And that is not him.”
“Did he tell you something about me? Is that why you’re not attracted to me?” Potter’s question came fast, laced with hurt.
“If I weren’t attracted to you, I wouldn’t have sucked your cock in the first place,” he snapped.
The corner of Potter’s mouth quirked up. “I thought we were pretending that hadn’t happened.”
Draco slapped his palm against the table and watched with some satisfaction as Potter jumped in his seat. “Harry, not now. I’m telling you: that’s not Draco Malfoy, and, whatever the hell he’s up to, we need to find out what it is.”
Potter’s mouth set; Potter was still staring at Draco, not at the impostor at the bar. If it hadn’t been the most disastrously idiotic thing he could imagine, Draco would have pulled off his ring to get Potter bloody focussed in the right direction. “I’ll go look at him,” Potter said.
“Don’t let him see you,” Draco insisted.
Potter gave him a sardonic look. “As it appears to have escaped your attention, I’m an Auror. I’m capable of being careful.” He slid out of the booth, then rose and walked toward the sign labelled “Restrooms.” Draco looked back and forth between the site of Potter’s disappearance and his alter-ego at the bar. A man with mouse-coloured hair walked out. He recognised the movement first: Potter. It was a good minute before he noticed that Potter’s clothing hadn’t changed, only his face. Potter moved to the bar and sat down next to pseudo-Malfoy.
Draco stifled a laugh; three of them, now, all hidden under false identities.
Glamour-Potter conversed with pseudo-Draco for a few minutes, then rose and headed to toward the loo again. Draco alternated glances between the bar and the site of Potter’s disappearance. Pseudo-Draco rose from the barstool, dropped a few bills next to his plate, and walked out of the restaurant.
Draco bit his lip, hard. He considered and discarded the idea of a tracking spell: too obvious. If it weren’t for Potter, he’d take his chances and follow. He could find a location deserted enough to take down the impostor and question him. He rocked slightly in his seat, considering, until Potter slid in across from him. “He’s gone,” Draco said, trying to keep the accusation out of his voice. He failed.
Potter turned fully toward the bar, and then turned back. “Right,” he said shortly.
At the bitten-off comment, Draco directed his full attention at Potter. Potter was white around his lips, eyes dilated. “What’s wrong?” Had the impostor hit Potter with something?
Potter’s eyes traced the outline of Draco’s face. “You’re right. It’s not Malfoy.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “I told you that.”
“You did,” Potter said, and Draco couldn’t read anything in the tone. Potter’s eyes didn’t leave his face.
“Any idea what he’s doing?”
Potter pressed his lips tight together. “No. He had one of the port maps from the ship, though. I’m certain we’ll find out.”
“We could have found out now if you’d been back faster,” Draco snapped.
“Yes. I-- I know.”
It was creepy, Potter’s eyes staying locked on him like that. Draco’s brows drew together. “What’s wrong, Harry?”
Potter closed his eyes. His lips twisted in an unreadable expression. His eyes opened again, caught Draco’s. The focus was distinctly uncomfortable. “If the situation were different, could you see this working out?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Last night. Us.” He drew in a visible breath, and repeated, “If the situation were different, could you see this working out?”
Draco laughed; it was a bitter laugh. “It’s not different.”
Potter’s hand slapped against the tabletop. The empty plates and glasses rattled against it. “No, damn it. I need to know: do you want me?” His eyes glittered behind his spectacles; the force of the question made it impossible to sidestep.
“I can’t--” Draco closed his eyes before he drew in a deep breath, opened them, and continued. “Yes. I want you.” I don’t know how long I can keep this up. The thought was bleak.
Potter leant closer, eyes darting back and forth as they seemed to scan his face. He let out a sharp breath. “All right. When we get back to the ship, we’ll talk.”
It was another statement in a tone that Draco couldn’t read. He wasn’t certain he wanted to.
Potter looked at the bill, dropped some money on the table, and slid out of the booth, gesturing for Draco to follow. He rose and followed Potter out of the restaurant; he could feel his racing heart in his eardrums. Potter’s insistence that they talk had almost-- but not quite-- made him forget his impersonator.
They walked silently back to the dock and up the gangway. Draco pushed his Seapass into the reader, hearing the usual chime, then stripped his coat and hat and dropped them onto the conveyor belt before walking through the magnetometer. He’d found the procedure completely alien at first, but had accustomed himself to the routine quickly. Potter was waiting for him when he picked up his coat and hat, and they walked together to their stateroom.
Potter opened the lock, gestured Draco into the room, closed and bolted the door behind him. Draco started down the short corridor toward the bed, when he was pulled to a sudden stop by Potter’s hand closing around his left arm just above the elbow. He looked back over the shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Potter said. He sounded lost.
“Why are you sorry?”
Potter licked at his lips. “It’s just-- I’m sorry.” The corners of his mouth moved up in a parody of a smile. He drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry for this, too.” His gripping hand pushed, turning Draco to face him. Potter stepped forward, still holding Draco’s arm, and laced his free hand into Draco’s hair. Draco’s lips were parted in question, and that was enough to allow Potter’s tongue to slip between them when their lips touched. Potter’s grip was hard against the back of his skull, and Draco did not resist either the pull or the kiss itself. Potter’s tongue slid against his, and he let his tongue explore in turn.
Potter’s hand finally loosed his hair as he pulled back. “What--?” Draco asked, short of breath.
“Sit down,” Potter said, his hand dropping away from Draco’s arm.
Draco turned quickly and walked across the room, sitting on the small chair in front of the vanity. He needed distance. This was all going so horribly wrong. Potter had asked him if their relationship could work; he’d said they would talk. Potter had kissed him, and he’d made no attempt to fight it.
Potter tossed his coat and hat on the end of the bed. He sat down on the edge closest to the vanity. He lifted his right hand, rubbed it up his face and back through his hair. Some stuck in place; it might have been funny but for the tension. Potter closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them. Once again, Draco felt himself fixed by that penetrating gaze. “Is it permanent, or can you take it off?”
Potter couldn’t mean what Draco thought he meant. “I don’t under--”
“It’s not Polyjuice-- you don’t drink anything that regularly, and you still look like yourself. It’s not a standard glamour; it’s too consistent. Malfoy. Draco. Is it permanent, or can you take it off?” Potter’s voice was rough.
A denial sprang to Draco’s lips, and he forced it into abeyance. This was surreal. Potter knew. Draco wouldn’t attempt a lie. He slid off the ring Potter had given him, set it on the vanity. His mind fixated on the fact that Potter had just kissed him. “I can take it off,” he said. He kicked off his shoes, first. They never did well with the resizing charms. He took his wand, spelled his clothes to change. He gripped the glamour ring on his left middle index finger and slid it off. He dropped it on the vanity. He watched Potter.
Potter was very, very still. Draco could see nothing in his eyes, read nothing in the planes of his face.
Draco bit his lip. Unable to bear the silence, he asked, “How did you know it was me?”
“You told me that the man we saw wasn’t Draco Malfoy.” Potter gave a short laugh. “When I spoke to him, I knew it was true. But he bloody well looked just like you.” He waved a hand wildly in Draco’s direction; Draco heard sheer fury in the tone of Potter’s voice and quailed inwardly. “All of those things that made him ‘not Draco Malfoy’ were the things that meant you were. You even mentioned that fucking helicopter story; I remember that. For the love of God, why didn’t you tell me?” He ran his hand through his hair again, setting more of it into crazed spikes.
“It wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with you, Potter.” Draco forced the words through stiff lips. “None of this”-- his gesture took in Potter, the room, the whole bloody ship-- “was supposed to happen.”
Potter stood, moved to pace back and forth in the small area in front of the bed. “But it does have to do with me, and you know it.” His head whipped around, eyes hard on Draco’s face. “You don’t get to step back and call me ‘Potter,’ either. We got beyond any possibility of that last night.”
“What do you want, Harry? Do you want me to leave?”
“Fuck, no. I don’t want you to leave,” he snapped. He drew in a deep breath, let it out. He continued, his voice raw: “I told you I was in love with you.” He drew in another breath. “God-- if I’d known… I used to collect those fucking articles about you-- the ones in the Prophet. The ones about you and all of those men and women. I was in America before I wondered if it meant I-- and then I came back and there was you, and it didn’t matter what I fucking wanted with Draco Malfoy. Come here.”
Draco pushed back his chair, rising to his feet. He moved the two paces necessary to bring him to Potter. Potter had collected the articles. Potter wanted him.
Once more, Potter’s fingers laced in his hair. Potter’s eyes stared into his own. “Is this what has to be different?”
“Good.” With that, Potter closed the remaining distance between them, and pulled Draco’s head down the scant inch necessary for their lips to meet.
Draco opened his mouth with a whimper, sliding his arms up and around Potter’s back, trying to press them together until they merged. Potter’s tongue was sliding against his, and he felt Potter’s cock hard against his thigh. His own was hardening, and the friction, finally, was there. Without discussion, without seeming to intend the change, they fell together onto the surface of the bed, slithering up toward the pillows. There was a rustle and a crash Draco vaguely identified as Potter’s coat and hat hitting the floor.
As if the noise was a signal, their grips loosened enough to allow them to paw at the fastenings of each other’s clothing, to rip it open reaching for skin.
Potter didn’t laugh-- didn’t comment at all-- as he ripped away the useless brassiere under Draco’s shirt. Draco fumbled with Potter’s belt, and then opened Potter’s trousers, reaching inside his pants to curl around his hard cock. Potter’s legs moved, and Draco almost lost his grip. From the corner of his eye, he could see Potter toeing off his shoes, and hear the twin thumps as they fell to the floor.
Draco did the same. Potter’s hands had moved to rip open Draco’s trousers and drag them down past his hips. His pants followed, and he felt the relief as they freed his swollen cock. And then Potter’s hand was wrapped around him, hot and tight, and a little too rough. Draco tightened his grip on Potter’s cock, pulling, wanking roughly and quickly-- losing and regaining his rhythm as his own excitement built.
His mouth was hard against Potter’s, their lips sliding and grinding against each other, the slick sounds of their tongues slipping against each other, and the rough sound of their breathing combined with gasps and moans.
Potter jerked, his hand clamping tightly, and Draco felt the wetness spreading over his fingers. He kept up the rhythm as Potter shuddered. Potter fell back, gasping on top of the coverlet. He lost his grip on Draco’s cock. Draco let go, sliding his hand free.
He listened as Potter drew in breath after breath, trying to ignore the ache of his hard cock, then gasped as Potter rolled back to face him. His hair was even wilder, spectacles askew. His pupils were blown. His hand reached out again to curl around Draco’s cock, and it began again.
It was too hard, it was too soft-- it fucking didn’t matter what it was. Potter was here, and Potter was touching him. He felt his balls clench up. He gritted his teeth, arching up into Potter’s hand. His eyes snapped closed and clenched. He was rigid, whimpering as his orgasm rushed through him.
He laid there, sticky, clothes torn open. He felt sated, for the first time in years. His heart was still hammering against his eardrums. As it slowed, he became more aware of the wetness against his stomach, his messy fingers.
He rolled away from Potter long enough to take his wand from the night table and spell everything clean.
He rolled back. Potter took the wand from his hand, tossed it away and onto the floor. “We’ll talk later.”
His arms wrapped around Draco.
Draco reached up both hands, pulled off Potter’s glasses. He folded them gently, set them aside. Draco rested his forehead on Potter’s shoulder, closing his eyes. There were things to think about, and, apparently, plenty of time to consider them.
Draco awoke to the feel of a body against his. He stayed still, feeling the even press of the other’s breathing against his chest. His heart sped. And then he remembered, where he was, what had happened. Potter knew, and had wanted him in spite of it all.
He opened his eyes slowly; to his surprise, he saw Potter’s eyes opened and fixed on him.
The intensity of Potter’s gazes was becoming increasingly familiar. “Good evening,” Draco said, his voice still raspy from sleep.
Draco became suddenly aware of his state of partial undress, shirt gone, but trousers and pants binding him mid-thigh. He felt hot blood rising in his chest and across his face, knowing he must be blushing in bright red splotches of colour. Potter moved, and Draco felt Potter’s lower body press close against him.
Potter was hard; so was he. His clothing no longer seemed important, beyond the fact that he shouldn’t be wearing any at all. He almost reached for his wand, before remembering that Potter had tossed it away onto the floor earlier.
Potter’s hand stroked against his hip, and Draco wished that it would drop a little lower. “Tell me what you want, Draco.”
“What do you mean?” Wasn’t it obvious?
“It-- look. I’m not--” he closed his eyes, clenched his jaw. “You’re a hell of a lot more experienced than I am. You need to tell me what you want.”
The articles in the Prophet. Draco blinked slowly. “I just want you.”
“You can have that.”
When he awoke again, Draco’s first thought was that they had missed their dinner seating. His second thought was that he didn’t care.
Potter’s right arm was draped over him, holding Draco tightly against Potter’s chest.
He stayed very still, trying not to awaken the other man. But there came the statement: “You’re awake.”
“We still need to talk, you know.”
Draco didn’t reply. When the silence held, he finally said, “I know.” Life was never full of tacit understandings, particularly not with Potter.
He pulled away and sat up, finally forcing his tangled trousers and pants down and throwing them beside the bed. Naked save for socks, he brought his knees up to his chest and looked over at Potter.
Potter was still laying on his left side, propping up his head. His eyes were open very wide, blinking slowly. Draco wondered how much Potter could see without his glasses, didn’t ask.
“What were you thinking?” Potter asked, his tone mild and voice even.
Save us from open-ended questions. “I wanted into the Aurors, and they wouldn’t let me in,” Draco offered.
Potter’s lips twisted. “Not that. What were you thinking you’d do at the end of training?”
Ah, that question. Granger had become increasingly insistent on that question recently. Draco, in turn, had become skilled at redirecting the conversation. There was no redirecting this one. “I never planned this.”
Potter’s jaw dropped, and he made a noise which might kindly have been called dubious, and accurately been called scornful.
“No,” Draco hurried to say, “I don’t mean I hadn’t planned to join the Auror programme in disguise. I had. I thought for a long time that I could do it: be an Auror, keep wearing the ring.”
Draco sunk his teeth into his lower lip. “Recently, I--” he shook his head, then forced himself to continue. “Recently, I decided it would be better if I finished the programme and disappeared.”
“I see. Waste of everyone’s time, including yours, isn’t it?”
Draco shrugged. “No way out of it now.”
“You’re good at this. If you could stay, as yourself, would you?”
He clasped his arms tighter around his legs, felt his lips twist up into a sneer. “I can’t. They wouldn’t even give me a shot at the programme as myself. However well I performed in it, there’s no way they’ll let me stay after this. Leave off with the hypothetical.”
Draco closed his eyes and leant his head back against the wall. He sighed heavily. “Harry,” he said quietly, “please leave it.”
Potter’s answering sigh sounded of defeat. “For now.”
Potter, Draco realised, had an obsession with saving people. He supposed he should be happy to have made the exclusive list of people for whom Potter would fight. In some sense, he was. In another, it was exhausting. He had no doubt that Potter could find a way to influence Shacklebolt to keep him in the Aurors, and he also knew, without a doubt, what the outcome of that would be. Robards would hate Draco more than he already did, and he would feel his position had been weakened in having been overruled at the request of a very junior Auror. It spelled misery, and it wasn’t something Draco intended to involve himself in. Disappearing after training was smarter. If Robards ever realised that Draco had made a fool of him, he’d be furious, but it would be in his best interest to conceal that any such thing had ever happened.
Potter seemed interested in carrying whatever this was forward, and Draco would try.
Draco woke before Potter, as usual. The sky was nearly black, only the smallest amount of light visible. Draco wormed his way out from under Potter’s body and visited the loo before pulling shorts, socks, and a t-shirt from the cupboard. He walked to the vanity, reaching for his glamour ring. He stopped, fingers hovering above it. No.
He’d worn it the previous evening when, at length, they’d finally made it out of bed and off to supper. He had told himself that they might encounter the cabin steward, a waiter, and he’d not wanted to risk the explanation. Potter had just looked at him.
The morning was safe. He would run around the track on the upper deck. He’d be the only one there. He used his wand to transfigure the clothing and donned it before sliding the wand into a sheath and strapping it against his thigh under his shorts. He walked across the room, slid the chain silently out of its channel, and turned the bolt as quietly as he could manage. He failed, as usual. The usual unintelligible mumble came from the direction of the bed. It rose slightly at the end, which Draco interpreted as a question. “I’m running; I’ll be back,” Draco said lightly.
Another mumble, and Draco let the door fall to behind him. He hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the stateroom door, before moving down the corridor to the forward stairs, climbing up. He climbed up another set of stairs by the pool.
Today, they would sail through Glacier Bay. It was still dark enough that he couldn’t see far off the ship, but he could tell they were closer to the vast walls of ice: the chill air bit at his legs. Ketchikan and Juneau had been cool and misty. This was starting to feel like he’d imagined Alaska.
As he ran, he noticed the effects of the cold less. The sky slowly lit, and he could see the channel close around the ship, the rocks. Fifteen laps later, warm, he welcomed the cool air as he made his way down to deck nine. He opened the stateroom door with his Seapass, entered. Potter should have been dressed and waiting to go to breakfast.
The stateroom was empty.
He looked around automatically, as if there were anywhere Potter could be hiding. He checked the bath: no wet towels. Potter hadn’t showered.
On a sudden thought, he walked to the door. The sign still dangled from the lever.
Frowning, he sat on the edge of the bed. It wasn’t as if he and Potter had ever discussed their mornings, he thought. Perhaps Potter had decided to throw on yesterday’s clothes and get breakfast. Perhaps he’d decided to exercise in the gym. Perhaps something had come up with their Ministry colleagues. There was absolutely no reason to be concerned, he told himself.
Potter would come back.
After his shower, he checked the clock: twenty minutes. Where the hell was he?
He opened the cupboard, looked at his clothing-- made an irritated noise. He started toward the vanity, then-- fuck it. He grabbed some of Potter’s clothing. If they ate in the dining room, he’d wear the fucking ring, until then, it could wait. Still-- he opened the safe in the cupboard, summoned the ring, and locked it in. Thinking of the jeweller, he layered charms atop it for added security.
He started for the door, then turned and went to the vanity. He grabbed up a pen and some of the ship stationery: “Went to look for you. Wait for me. –D.” He dropped it on the unmade bed. Why hadn’t Potter done the same? “Partnership goes two ways, Harry,” he muttered.
He took the stairs, tried the gym. There were only half a dozen people there; Potter would have been easy to see. He moved back to the buffet. Crowded, again. He moved along one side, scanning the lines, the tables, then up the other. Nothing. Where else would Potter go?
He went down to the main dining room; it was open. He walked in. He shook his head at the waiters: “I’m looking for someone.” Nothing on the lower level; he tried the stairs-- nothing on the upper level. He hurried through the shops on deck five, the casino on deck four. He tried the main desk on deck three. Nothing.
He hadn’t seen Potter in-- he checked his watch-- about two hours. Fuck.
He’d got so caught up in the fact that Potter still wanted him that he’d overlooked the impostor. Anyone who knew Draco would know Potter. They could have been seen at any time-- hell, he thought, the photographs. Even if they hadn’t been noticed at the restaurant, there were always the photographs. Every picture taken was out on display. All someone would have to do was see it.
His heart was racing. They were at sea; barring Portkeys and Apparition, Potter had to be on the ship. If Potter had been taken-- don’t borrow trouble-- they couldn’t have dropped him over the side. The ship had been very clear that there was extensive monitoring for things falling overboard. Presuming it was true, this left-- what?
He shouldn’t be imagining disaster scenarios. He should be going back to their stateroom and checking whether Potter had returned while he was searching. Disturbed now, he took the lifts back to deck nine. The sign still hung from the lever. He opened the door.
Potter sat on the bed, looking down at his note.
“It’s about bloody time,” Draco snapped. “Where were you?”
Potter’s head lifted. His lips parted, started to shape into words. Then-- “Draco?” Potter’s voice was wondering.
“Petrificus Totalus.” It wasn’t until the rigid body crashed off the bed and onto the floor that Draco was able to analyse his reaction. It wasn’t Potter: the shock at seeing Draco, the way he’d said Draco’s name. He moved wrong. His clothing didn’t fit.
He’d opened the stateroom door. Whoever it was had recognised Draco. He saw a Seapass card clutched in the frozen hand, swore under his breath.
“Mobilicorpus.” He moved the body to the bed, shut and locked the door. He stared down at the impostor. “I’m certain you won’t mind if I do a little searching.”
He patted down the impostor’s trousers. Front right pocket: another Seapass. He waved it in front of the darting green eyes with a sneer. Wand and sheath, front left forearm. With another sneer, he tossed them to the floor. He sat down next to the impostor, leaning over him in a parody of sensuality.
“Incarcerous.” He narrowed his eyes. “Now,” he said, “we’re going to have a nice little chat about what you’ve done with Harry.” He made a complicated gesture with his wand, freeing the impostor’s mouth.
The impostor’s lips clamped shut.
He swore. “Don’t push me.”
“It really is you.” The voice was Potter’s, but the intonation was wrong. Something teased at his memory. He couldn’t place it.
“Given that you know me, you know that you will regret this for the rest of your short life,” he said.
A pink tongue darted out, licking at the lips. The ropes, the tongue-- it would have been erotic if it had truly been Potter. But it wasn’t, and all he felt was rage. “Draco, you wouldn’t kill me. You don’t kill people,” the impostor said, words tripping over themselves, “I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to-- and why are you here with Potter anyway?-- but, look, we’re friends, aren’t we? I can make sure he’s fine,” the voice babbled, “and we’ll just go. No problem, right?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Who the hell are you?”
The lips pressed together into a white line.
“If you help me, I’ll see what I can do. If you keep lying there without speaking, I can guarantee that you will suffer. What have you done with him? Who are you?”
The question of identity was answered almost as soon as he asked the question. The impostor’s features were beginning to shift. As he watched, green eyes changed to brown. Hair straightened and lengthened, spreading out and down. The nose pulled up into the face, turning up sharply. All at once the frightened face looking up at him was not Potter’s, but--
“Pansy,” he spat. Pansy meant Blaise, which answered any and all questions about accomplices. What they were doing, he didn’t know. Under other circumstances, he wouldn’t have cared. While Polyjuice wasn’t illegal, kidnapping an Auror certainly was. And Pansy had come to the stateroom-- looking, he thought, for Harry’s partner. If they’d been willing to risk kidnapping Harry Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World, whatever they were into was highly illegal. “I’m asking you one more time: Where. Is. Harry.”
She blinked quickly, and he realised she was still wearing Potter’s glasses. He pulled them off her face with a snarl. Her brown eyes focused on his face. “Blaise has him,” she whispered. “He isn’t hurt. We wouldn’t do that, Draco. We’re not stupid.”
Perhaps they weren’t. Draco had been. He stared at Pansy. He remembered, suddenly, waking up in Amsterdam with his chest half-shaved. He realised he’d been swearing steadily under his breath, cut it off to speak in an acid voice. “You’re not stupid? You and Blaise are fucking morons, Pansy. What the hell have you done?”
Pansy finally seemed to realise the extent of his fury, because she was twisting against her bonds. “Look, Draco,” she whinged, “it’s just Muggles. It’s not like it’s important.”
“Like I’m not important, Pansy? You’ve been going around Polyjuiced as me-- either you or Blaise, maybe both. I saw you yesterday. You’re doing something illegal, and you’re implicating me. I don’t give a fuck about your ‘it’s just Muggles’”-- he adopted a high, mocking voice as he quoted her words back at her-- “it’s not. It’s Potter; it’s me. And you haven’t the right!” Her eyes widened further as she flinched away from him. He drew in several deep breaths. “Now,” he said, “you are going to tell me precisely where to find Potter, and you are going to do it now. You are also going to tell me precisely what defences Blaise has set up, because I don’t relish the idea of walking in there blind. And then you are going to pray that I find Potter alive and unharmed. I don’t kill people, but I spent a year as the Dark Lord’s torturer. I am very good at the Cruciatus Curse. Right now, I don’t have any problems using it.”
“You’re not an Auror,” she said, voice breaking on the words. “Why do you care?”
He leant down, bringing his face right up next to hers. “I may not be an Auror,” he said softly, menacingly, “but it’s not for lack of trying. Now, odds are good that whatever you’re doing is more a job for Hit Wizards, but you took Harry, and that makes it my business. Stop whinging and start talking, Pansy. I’m not in the mood for this.”
And that, finally, seemed to convince her. She started talking-- babbling, really-- telling him about Blaise, their stateroom, the alarm spells on the main door. They’d taken jewellery, gold, currency. “And why shouldn’t we? God, Draco, they’re only Muggles.” He glared at her again; she bit her lip. Blaise had several potions brewing, he was expecting her to return with a prisoner. Potter had been bound on the bed when she’d left.
When he felt he’d got everything useful out of her, he went to the cupboard, grabbed one of Potter’s neckties. He came back to the bed and gagged her with it. He could have silenced her with a spell. She was fortunate he didn’t strangle her instead.
He grabbed both Seapasses-- his and hers-- and tucked Harry’s glasses into his breast pocket. Out in the corridor, he hesitated. He didn’t want anyone discovering Pansy. The sign might not keep the cabin steward out. He spelled the door behind him to repulse intruders, and then hurried to the central stairwell.
They’d studied this-- how to deal with your partner being held hostage. First step was to summon backup. He cursed again. This was a training mission-- a holiday. Potter must have a way to summon Aurors. Draco didn’t even know how to contact the two men who had pretended to be criminal masterminds. He was on his own. He had to make this work.
Pansy’s stateroom was on deck six, one of the Royal suites. Using Pansy’s card to access the room would prevent Blaise’s alarm spells from triggering. He would have a few seconds’ grace. He had to use it to his advantage.
Draco checked the corridor for observers before drawing his wand. He cast a disillusionment charm. He slid Pansy’s Seapass into the slot, and then pushed on the lever when the lights turned green. The door opened onto a dining area. It opened into the sitting area, and he could see through to the veranda.
No Blaise. He stepped inside, closing the door quietly. There was an opening forward and to his left. It would lead to the bedroom.
“It’s about bloody time, Pans.” Blaise’s voice came from behind the wall. “You’re lucky the Polyjuice didn’t wear off before you got the partner.”
Draco judged Blaise’s position from the sound. Draco rushed through the opening, two paces, turned right into the bedroom, and hit Blaise with Petrificus Totalus before Blaise could even finish turning to look at him. As he had with Pansy, he followed it up with Incarcerous. He watched with satisfaction as ropes encircled Blaise’s body. “Not so fortunate as you might think,” he drawled.
He stepped over Blaise’s bound body. As Pansy had promised, Potter lay on the bed, eyes closed, subject to a binding spell himself. Potter looked unharmed, save for the missing glasses. His hair had been roughly shorn-- for the Polyjuice, no doubt.
“Harry,” Draco said. When Potter didn’t respond, he repeated it. “Harry!”
Potter’s eyes opened slowly, and Draco moved forward. Potter seemed to have trouble focusing. Draco leant over and slid the glasses onto Potter’s face. Potter’s eyes still didn’t focus-- Drugged, Draco thought. He cast Finite Incantatem, and the bonds disappeared. “Draco?” Potter said, finally, his tongue stumbling on the name.
“Parkinson and Zabini--”
“I know,” he said. Potter wasn’t going to be a lot of use without an antidote. Apparently he needed more information from Blaise; he might as well get it. “You’ll be fine here,” he said. “I need to find out what they gave you.”
Potter reached out one hand, and Draco reached out his own to take it. “Glad you came.”
Draco squeezed. “Of course.”
Blaise was eager to point Draco at the antidote; he seemed intent on doing anything to get Draco to leave the room faster. Draco didn’t enlighten him that he wouldn’t be leaving.
The antidotes formed part of a potions case hidden in the back of the walk-in cupboard; it was shrunken and sat beneath one of Pansy’s many pairs of shoes. When Draco opened the catch, it expanded to full size. He grabbed a small green vial of potion. After examining the colour carefully, he sniffed it and tested a drop against his tongue. Satisfied, he took it into the bedroom and offered it to Potter.
After a few false starts, Potter dragged himself to a sitting position and accepted the vial. His hands weren’t steady; Draco had to help him support it as he brought it to his lips and drank.
Draco watched awareness fill Potter’s eyes. “How are you?” Draco asked warily.
“More myself,” Potter said, wincing. He dropped the empty vial, reached up and touched his shorn hair. “I take it I was to be the next alternate identity.”
“I didn’t give them my hair deliberately,” Draco said, suddenly realising that Potter might think he had.
“I didn’t think you had.” Potter sighed. ”I remember the articles about you, Parkinson, and Zabini.” Of course he did. “I assume they got the hair then.”
Draco looked away. “Funny that the rest of the world is so aware of that night and I can’t remember it at all,” he said, irritated. “And, yes, they did.” He pushed the topic away. “Look; I need to know how to summon the Aurors. That robbery we saw? It’s almost certainly them. In fact,” he said slowly, “those robberies you mentioned awhile back-- galleries, museums-- also probably them. Now they’ve kidnapped an Auror--”
“They’re your friends, I know,” Potter’s voice was sad and determined.
Draco shook his head sharply. “Just-- summon the Aurors, and let’s get this dealt with.”
It turned out to be the work of moments to summon the Aurors. Potter had a button back in their stateroom that was spelled with the Protean charm. Potter Apparated to their stateroom, collected the button and Pansy, and then brought both of them to Pansy and Blaise’s suite. A touch of the button and a few words-- a few hours later, a team of Aurors arrived, looking as if they’d just been dragged out of bed. They almost certainly had.
Robards was among them, so was Shacklebolt. Apparently attempts to kidnap the Saviour of the Wizarding World merited the involvement of both the Head Auror and Minister of Magic. Robards’ eyes immediately locked on Draco, narrowed. “Whatever mark we gave you in Concealment, it wasn’t high enough.”
Draco flinched, remembering that he wasn’t wearing his glamour ring. He hadn’t even thought of it before they’d summoned the Aurors. Now, he wished he had. “Auror Robards,” he said. He looked toward Shacklebolt. “Minister.”
Shacklebolt’s face was still; Draco could read nothing in it. It didn’t matter; Robards was projecting sufficient hostility for an entire crowd.
He let Potter explain the situation with Blaise and Pansy. As he did, the Aurors searched the stateroom; the walk-in cupboard was filled with jewellery, coins, Muggle paintings. Some of the pieces were valuable, others-- petty theft. The suite they’d taken had probably cost them more than all of it put together, presuming they hadn’t just Confunded their way into it.
He thought, with disgust, of Blaise’s certainty that he was entitled to anything he was clever enough to grab. Anything goes, as long as you don’t get caught. It was a very short step from there to wondering how he was any different. He couldn’t meet Robards’ eyes.
Potter’s hand was on his shoulder. “Hey,” he said quietly, “what’s wrong?”
Draco gave him an incredulous glare. “What do you think?” he said under his breath. He tilted his head toward Robards, still not looking at the man.
Potter’s hand squeezed. What did it look like to the others in the room? Draco had a fear that it looked like precisely what it was. “You’ve done them a favour,” Potter said. “They’ll know that.”
Draco laughed mirthlessly. They would, would they? He doubted it would make any difference in the long run. He moved a half-step closer to Potter. Everything had gone perfectly according to his original imaginings-- he’d made it through the programme with flying colours-- hell, he’d even caught two desperate criminals while on holiday. It didn’t fill him with the satisfaction he’d hoped.
“How do we know Malfoy wasn’t involved?” The angry question cut into his self-pity. It was Robards, of course. Draco finally looked up at him. His face was patched in red and white, eyes distended. His iron-grey hair stuck up around him; he must have run his hands through it.
Draco opened his mouth to defend himself, but Potter’s response stilled his tongue. “He’s not. He wouldn’t do that.” It was said with the same sort of bullheaded stubbornness that Draco remembered from school.
“Don’t be naive, Potter.” Robards shook his head. “You are telling me that Malfoy-- a Death Eater-- would willingly commit fraud and God knows what else in order to gain admission into the Auror programme, but balk at involvement in petty theft?”
Draco couldn’t deny the fraud. If they searched, they’d uncover his bribes. The glamour, at least, wasn’t illegal, but that, he thought, was because the Ministry hadn’t realised it was possible. He gritted his teeth, forced himself to speak calmly. “I’ll take Veritaserum.”
Potter’s head whipped to face him. “You shouldn’t have to!”
Draco looked at Potter, sighed. “Of course I should, Harry. He’s not wrong.”
“You shouldn’t have been rejected from the programme in the first place. We all know it.”
Careful, Harry; you don’t need to make an enemy of Robards over this. “And what did you tell me? That I should have protested publicly?”
Draco looked back at Robards. “I’ll take Veritaserum.”
“Yes. You will.”
He was surprised when a deep voice broke in: Shacklebolt. “Given the circumstances, I’ll agree that Veritaserum is necessary. However: why was Mr Malfoy’s application rejected, Gawain?” Draco had forgotten Shacklebolt’s presence; he’d forgotten the other Aurors as well. Several had moved to Pansy and Blaise’s stateroom, but a few were standing by, obviously fascinated. Draco flushed.
Robards turned to face Shacklebolt. “Death Eaters don’t belong in the Aurors.”
“He was pardoned, Gawain.”
Robards laughed, cut it off sharply. “He’s a dark wizard, Kingsley.”
Shacklebolt’s lips pursed. “As I recall, he’s also the candidate you’ve been telling me about: someone I should consider for my staff.”
“Obviously I was wrong about that.” Robards shot a quick glare in Draco’s direction.
“Were you? How many other qualified candidates have you rejected from the Aurors?”
Robards shifted on his feet. “Just him.”
Shacklebolt nodded slowly. “And how many others don’t bother to apply because they don’t think they’ll be treated fairly?” He sighed. “I meant everything I said about ‘unity’ and ‘forgiveness,’ Gawain.”
“I don’t have to have him.”
“No. You don’t. But if he passes your inquisition regarding the thefts-- and I think he will-- you should consider it. Fair warning: if you won’t have him, I will. From what you’ve told me, I can’t afford not to.”
“He should be charged for fraud,” Robards said, his voice flat.
“If we charge him, it will go in the Prophet. I’ve been making speeches about unifying the Wizarding World since I became Minister for Magic. The Prophet prints them verbatim, but I’ve read everything else they print, as well. I want things to change. If they don’t, we’ll be facing another dark lord in ten years, and he’ll have no end of followers. We need to show the purebloods we will treat them fairly. Right now, we both know what is selling, and it certainly isn’t unity and forgiveness. This is a political windfall.” Shacklebolt sounded tired.
Shacklebolt overrode him. “We have two criminals-- who, yes, are purebloods-- who were captured by another pureblood-- a famous supporter of Voldemort during the war. He’s training to be an Auror. He rescued Harry Potter-- his old school rival no less-- from people well known to be his friends. We can achieve more with this than anything I’ve said or done. If we instead remove him from the Aurors and charge him with fraud, what will that win me but more of the same-- and worse? We lost too much in the war to risk another revolt.”
Robards’ frown had edged to considering.
“I can’t force you to accept him as an Auror, Gawain. And if he fails the questioning under Veritaserum, I wouldn’t want you to. If that happens, we’ll do the best we can to move forward. But I don’t think he’ll fail, and I think-- and so did you, last week-- that he’d be an exemplary Auror.”
Robards threw his hands up in the air. “Fine, Kingsley. We’ll try it.” He looked in Draco’s direction again. “And you, come with me.”
They Apparated back to the stateroom he and Harry shared. Draco sat down at the vanity, while Robards appropriated the sofa. He added three drops to a glass of water. Draco downed it.
An unpleasant hour later, Draco had finished admitting to constructing a fraudulent identity and bribing people to back it. He’d also given several demonstrations of the ring, much to Robards’ amusement. He felt exhausted, drained. He was missing all of it. When he was done, he chanced a look at Robards; for once, he didn’t think he saw naked dislike.
When they returned to Blaise and Pansy’s suite, Harry leapt up from the sofa. Shacklebolt stood nearby; they’d clearly been talking. Pansy and Blaise were gone. Draco was glad to have missed it.
Shacklebolt lifted his brows. “He passed?”
“Yours or mine?”
Draco looked at Robards. Robards was giving him a long look in return. “Mine.”
They’d had to bring in a team of Obliviators to handle the cabin steward and the rest of the staff.
One by one, the Aurors left, taking Robards with them. Finally, only Shacklebolt remained with an Auror Draco recognised as Musculus Benedict by his side. “Consider coming back to St Mungo’s, Harry,” Shacklebolt said. “There might be lingering effects of the potions you were given.”
Potter smiled briefly, but shook his head. “I’m on holiday.” He reached out, laced his fingers with Draco’s. “I’d like to enjoy the rest of it.”
Shacklebolt’s eyes dropped to their joined hands, but when he spoke, it was to Draco alone. “I’d appreciate it if you’d avoid getting into situations requiring pardons, Mr Malfoy. I don’t intend to keep intervening on your behalf.”
“I know,” Draco said. He still couldn’t accept the reality of the past few hours.
With a nod and a crack, Shacklebolt and Benedict Apparated away.
Draco licked at dry lips, spreading his fingers until Potter’s hand dropped away. “What was that?” he said, turning to meet Potter’s eyes.
Potter’s smile flashed across his face, faded. “You getting your wish, I think.”
Draco shook his head. “No, the--” he waved his fingers in illustration.
“Me getting mine.”
It wouldn’t be so simple; he still had his family to deal with, and Potter’s friends. But with a step, Potter was within inches of him, his fingers laced against Draco’s skull. He pulled Draco’s mouth down onto his.
Disasters could always be worried about tomorrow.