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Tried, Failed, Failed Better

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Capturing the attention of Harry Potter wasn’t always the simplest of tasks. Practically everything succeeding Potter’s experiences during his adolescence was bound to be insufficient. And if he’d been popular as a teenager labeled the Chosen One, it was nothing compared to how desired the man known to most as the Saviour was. If one wanted to appropriate the Boy Who Had Heard Them All, one would have to be more original. Draco was confident he could do it – after all, he had his Malfoy charm. What could be more cunningly original than that? When applied correctly it could devastate even the most strong-willed mind. Potter didn't stand a chance.

He also had the added benefit of working closely with Potter, being the top Potions Analyst that the DMLE had hired after he’d gone to France to acquire his N.E.W.T.s and his Potions Mastery and he’d frequently been paired to work on Potter’s cases. It gave him the perfect opportunity to take their working relationship and turn it on his head with his charming demeanor.

The week following his decision to pursue Potter, Draco found himself walking through the Ministry's Atrium, carrying a small collection of rolled-up parchments of analysis and reports for ongoing cases in the crook of his arm, when Potter – in all his Head Auror glory – swept through the long hall ahead of him, followed by three excited Junior Aurors hurrying to keep up with him. Potter seemed unaware of him and Draco didn't know if it was the distance or the maddening focus with which he was walking. Potter's strides were long and unapologetic and his face was vacant of the friendly, tolerant smile that he usually wore, especially around his department chums. He looked stern instead, holding himself up at full height with his shoulders pulled back and back straight as he walked. When he finally spotted Draco his frown increased and there was a minute little pout to his lips. Oh, but wasn't that interesting?

Draco stopped and watched the proceedings while drinking up every detail as they came closer. There was a trail of dirty footprints behind them, barely distinguishable against the dark hardwood floors, and one robe was torn near the hem. Potter's hair seemed flatter and... brighter than usual? Hm, apart from his fringe that was standing on end, pointing at the ceiling. Ah, it was grey with what was supposedly dust. Now that Draco could see them better it was clear that at least one of the recruits wore a cringing grin of shame rather than excitement.

Potter slowed his steps a fraction, letting the young men behind him catch up, and Draco's eyes fell on him again. The pout lessened as Potter clenched his jaw, but it was still there, Draco noticed, when he let his gaze flicker down to Potter's lips and back up again. One of the Aurors made a sound and Draco turned his eyes on him.

“Good day, Mr Malfoy,” the shortest of them said when they were almost side-by-side. The other two followed his lead and Draco greeted them collectively and inclined his head in return.

“Malfoy,” Potter said stiffly and nodded at him once.

“Potter,” Draco replied conversationally. “Busy day?”

The pout was replaced by a thin line as Potter pressed his lips together. He stopped next to Draco but didn't bother turning more than his head to face him. “You could say.”

Draco took in the messy state of his shoes and the muddied edge of his full-body robes that hung down to grace the dark floor, and made a note of the wrinkled section of fabric near his middle. There was a smudge of dirt on his cheekbone and his glasses – left glass, especially – was smeared with what was probably fingerprints. His scar stood out on his forehead with his fringe climbing towards the sky, as it currently was. He looked perfectly disheveled but whatever they’d been through hadn't been atrociously smelly, at the very least, because the only scent he was emitting was a deep rosy one. It was sweet and enveloping but had a sharpness to it that made him seem edible.

Potter's eyes narrowed and blinked, and his jaw muscles twitched. Draco licked his lips. He had been on the receiving end of this look before, but knowing that he hadn't caused it this time made his mouth draw up into a small smirk. He spared a glance at the fumbling idiots beside Potter as they shifted where they stood, before he looked back and reached out a finger to brush the pad over the filthy cheek. Potter twisted his head away but Draco had already pulled his hand back and was sceptically pressing his thumb to his finger and rubbing the pads together. It didn't feel like caked mud; more like soft ash. He looked from his fingers to Potter's face, transfixed by the dark line his touch had left down his cheek.

It was the perfect line to trace with one's tongue and Draco wondered what it would taste like, despite the unsanitary aspect of that action. He blamed the rich spice-flowery scent that was radiating off of Potter for overriding his common sense when it came to health and cleanliness.

Potter rubbed the side of his face and the dark line smudged further until his cheek and jaw line were tinted grey. Draco was sad to see the ashen line go because now Potter mostly looked ill. He looked up at the famous scar and tried not thinking about licking that lightning line instead. He could use the tip of his tongue to trace it. Would it be flat or was it a little jagged? It looked smooth but there might be a slight ridge to the skin that wasn't obvious to the naked eye. If not visually, then could you feel it with a finger? He leaned in closer. With one last glance at the grey cheek and jaw, and the lips – oh, where the pout was back – Draco twisted his own body towards him, eyes once more on the scar. Yes... it looked cleaner and more appealing than his cheek. Maybe it wouldn't taste of ash...? It was so – he was so – oh, if he didn't have such a...

“Nice face, Scarhead.”

“Sod off, Malfoy, would you?” Potter huffed angrily. Then he was walking away with his underlings yet again hurrying to catch up.

Draco blinked and turned to watch them disappear down the hall. He'd even used his best sultry smirk, what had gone wrong?

 

**

After recovering from Potter's ruination of his previous attempt, Draco was ready to try again.

The opportunity presented itself soon thereafter as he now, mere days later, stood and surreptitiously observed Potter swirling the liquid around in his wine glass. Having regular business with several different departments of the Ministry was a good thing in several ways, this time because his main contact – or acquaintance, Draco supposed, if not even friend, if one dared to be so presumptuous – had invited him and Potter both to his private wine tasting event. It looked as though they were the only two members of the DMLE in attendance.

Potter wasn't the only other one there from the Ministry, of course, but he was the only one Draco was interested in. He watched him stick his nose into the glass and come up with a puzzled expression. Potter took a small sip and pursed his lips, drawing a small breath and looking thoughtful, and Draco let his eyes travel down to his throat to see if he could make out when Potter swallowed. When he did, his Adam's apple moving delicately and only barely visible, Draco promptly looked away and took a slightly larger gulp of his own wine than normal. Then he steeled himself and walked over.

Potter's nose was back in the glass, his head bowed, and he glanced up at Draco through his eyelashes with the same puzzled expression as before. He rose up to full height and Draco smiled lazily at him.

“Enjoying your wine?” he asked, forgoing boring introductions. Potter's eyebrows drew together at that.

“Are you?”

Draco took another sip. “Yes. It is one of my favourites.”

Potter watched him suspiciously for a moment as he swirled the liquid again. He really was doing that quite a lot, wasn't he? Draco once again watched him raise the glass and lower his head to meet it. His lips pressed lightly against the glass as he stuck the tip of his nose deep into it and inhaled the aroma. Draco inhaled too, finding the same hint of rose petal sweetness washing over him. Surely that wasn't the cologne Potter wore on a regular basis? Knowing Potter, it would be. Perhaps he wasn't so dense as to pick it out for himself – although nobody could say for sure, where Potter and taste was concerned – but rather having been given it by a loved one. He was a sentimental fool enough to keep wearing it to please them, for certain.

“It's... a little earthy and florally,” Potter pondered, mostly to himself.

Draco couldn't help but agree. Potter's scent was as infuriatingly conflicting as the rest of him with it's sweet, enticing innocence blending too perfectly with that sharp well-seasoned, spirited ferocity.

Potter was swirling his glass again and Draco sipped his own wine to stop himself from commenting. The quirk of Potter's lip and his narrowed eyes as he tried to figure it out had Draco's eyes glued to him. Potter hummed and took another taste. Draco watched him swallow again. Swallow the wine, from the glass. From the glass that he now had his nose in again, but this time he was standing up and Draco could watch his eyes close and his chest rise as he inhaled deeply. His features were smooth for another moment but then there was a small line between his brows and he tilted the glass to take yet another sip, and Draco watched the wine slip quietly between his lips and into that mouth.

Perhaps he'd been blunt before, and – although it was a more than acceptable face – maybe he should focus on something else? Or maybe addressing something more specific in the same area might be an option, he thought, while he watched Potter purse his lips and lick them before smacking them twice. Potter's eyes were open again and he raised the glass and examined it by holding it up in front of his face and twirling the stem slowly to rotate it. He looked to the side, providing Draco with a view of his profile. He held the wine up higher and watched the liquid glow in the light from some of the candles that floated in one of many clusters around the room.

A generic feature complimented would perfectly convey flattery without making it too crass. Potter dipped his nose over the brim of the glass once more and Draco smiled languidly before schooling his features into something smoother.

“Odd as it may be,” he drawled, watching his own wine as he spoke, “I must say – you've got quite the nose, don't you?” He looked up when he sensed movement and Potter was gaping at him. Yes, this was it. Draco felt his slow, knowing smile returning. He mustn't look smug, and he repressed it a moment longer.

“You never grow up do you?” Potter lowered his arm and turned back. “Is this ever going to stop?”

“I was merely observing that you ha–“

“Yes, ha-ha, I can't identify your poncey wine, I get it.”

“I may be a p–“

“I'm sorry.” Potter placed his glass on a nearby table. “I didn't mean to call you a ponce”

“But I a–“

“I meant to call you a prick.”

“Well, I certainly have one–“

“God,” Potter said, sounding terribly exasperated. “Will this ever end? You know what, Malfoy, never mind. Sod this, you absolute fucking arsehole. Is that immature enough for you?”

Potter practically stormed off and Draco looked at the deserted wine glass on the side-table and wondered where they had gone wrong yet again.

 

**

Draco had decided to try to write Potter a note. He used to do that, back when they were in school. Yes, a note would be the right way to get Potter’s attention. He’d been at it for an hour already trying to find the right words. His fingers were absolutely covered in ink, and there were half-crumpled up origami birds littering his desk. Some of the birds were listlessly flitting and floating about the room, dropping occasionally to swoop by his head to remind him that they existed with the wrong words on them. One of them had dipped into his coffee and had stains on its wing, while another had upended an inkwell and looked like an inkblot test.

Draco sighed resignedly. He wasn’t sure why he was even bothering to try at that point. For someone who was well-spoken and usually very good with words he was getting nowhere with a potentially flirty note to Potter. He tipped his head back against his chair back and stared at the ceiling, watching the origami birds fly around his head lazily. Their flight patterns very much matched his current mood. He stared back down at his latest attempt at a flirtatious note and shook his head at his mediocre words, half scribbled out like he was a child.

He scowled at the offending parchment and ran a hand absently through his hair. He picked up his quill again, determined to give it another go. He was trying to compare Potter to the Confusing and Befuddlement Draughts, which resembled Potter’s eyes perfectly when finished, despite smelling like rotten eggs and being obscure potions. It was handy to keep around, though, and very much like Potter’s cleverness. He’d been debating the merits between using scurvy-grass and armadillo bile to describe Potter’s eye color, unhappy with the result of it sounding like he was saying you are smelly and unconventional, when he heard the door open.

“Malfoy, have you finished with the latest report on that analysis, I need it for my briefing and – what the – “ Potter was already rambling as he strode into Draco’s office, but he quickly trailed off when he caught sight of the room. Draco’s head shot up and he had to hold himself very still to keep his eyes from darting around the room to look at the sheer number of the origami birds he’d amassed over the course of an hour. Potter looked around the room in stunned silence for a few moments, at a loss for words. His eyes fell to Draco’s hands, covering the note he’d been working on, and he saw Potter’s eyes widen a fraction. At first Draco thought that he might be trying to read what Draco had written through his splayed fingers, but when he reached a hand up to run it through his hair again he noticed that Potter’s eyes tracked the movement of his ink-stained fingers. Potter’s eyes snapped back into focus after another moment of staring and he took in the room again.

“So, I take it you haven’t finished that analysis for me, then?” Potter asked tersely. When Draco shook his head silently, stuck in his own thoughts of admiring the set of Potter’s shoulders, Potter scowled. “What are you even doing, Malfoy?”

“I’m – I was, ahem,” Draco stammered, clearing his throat. He chanced a glance at the origami paper bird that had just glided to land gently on his shoulder. His mind worked quickly to come up with an excuse, “I was practicing a charm, I hadn’t done it in quite some time. I needed to brush up on it for another case I’m consulting on.”

Potter was glaring at him now, eyes flitting to watch the lazy swoops of the folded paper birds. A muscle twitched by his jaw. Draco knew that face. That was Potter’s angry face.

“Malfoy,” Potter grit out slowly. “The case you’re consulting on for me is a Level 2 Orange classification. You know full well what that means. Top priority. Now get the fuck back to work! I’d better see that analysis report on my desk by the end of the day, do you understand me?” Potter’s tirade had started off annoyed and ended in a sharp shout. Draco could only nod at him while he raged silently in his head over the un-fucking-fairness of it all. Merlin, he was only trying to write Potter a nice note, and all it did was get him shouted at. All he’d wanted to do was find the right words to make Potter understand that he liked him, why was it so fucking difficult? Why couldn’t Potter see the effort he was putting into wooing him?

“Good, and go clean off your fingers,” Potter added, exasperatedly gesturing to his hands with an odd look in his eyes before leaving Draco’s office in a swirl of Auror robes, leaving Draco puzzled and beyond frustrated.

Draco wrenched his wand from its holster and shot a spell at his door to slam it shut with a satisfying BANG, and flicked it again with a livid Incendio falling from his lips. The origami paper birds all burst into flames and shriveled into dust and ash. Draco tapped his wand to his desk to banish the ash from the analysis he was supposed to have been working on, the one Potter apparently needed by the end of the day.

When he stepped into the loo later, he paused at the mirror and noticed that his hair had traces of ink clumped on the strands and that there was a faint ink smudge on his cheek near his ear.

 

**

If Potter was going to be that dramatic a peace offering might be in order. Except, he had no idea what Potter might like, and he didn’t often have to buy his conquests a gift. He’d thought long and hard over what he knew about Potter, and after he came up with nothing he got frustrated and threw a handful of Floo powder in his fireplace to firecall Pansy. He tapped his foot against the marble parquet floor while he waited for her face to pop into the fireplace.

“Yes, darling?” she asked in a lazy drawl. “What do you need?”

“Finally!” he snapped and tugged his tufted firecall stool closer and kneeled on it. “I’m having a dilemma and I could use your assistance. I’ve been – courting someone and they aren’t responding well to my affections.”

“Is that so?” Pansy said with a knowing look in her sharp eyes. They flickered oddly in the firelight as she stared at him. “Finally trying to sort out all those years of sexual tension with him, darling?”

“What?” Draco asked and shook his head impatiently. “Never mind, listen – if I were to woo you, what would you want as a gift?”

“You’ve moved onto gifts already?” she asked and raised one perfectly manicured eyebrow. A smirk spread slowly across her red lips. “Flowers are always the standard, but then again there’s the precious gems that are my personal favourites.”

“No, I can’t get him flowers, or jewelry – he wouldn’t wear it, Pansy!” he said with an edge to his voice. If she didn’t have the right answer he’d be forced to contact one of Potter’s friends, the ones he sometimes exchanged strained semi-polite conversations with out of obligation to social etiquette when their social circles crossed at the bar from time to time. His safest bet would be Luna Lovegood, he supposed. She’d taken an odd liking to him, despite the nasty business his family had inflicted on her and her father during the war. Draco didn’t understand it, but for some reason or another she gravitated towards him at these social outings and always found something to natter on to him about.

“Oh, alright, alright,” Pansy interrupted his thoughts and brought him back to the present. She frowned in thought for a moment before continuing, “Chocolate. That’s a safe bet, right?”

Chocolate. Draco let the idea roll over in his mind for a few moments. Compared to other gifts that would likely be received as ridiculous, he supposed an edible gift would be a sure thing.

The next day after he was finished with his work at the Ministry Draco was browsing the candy displays in the sweet shop in Diagon Alley. He had an assortment of Cauldron Cakes in his hand when he’d come across another display – the Chocolate Frogs. They’d released special edition collector boxes filled with great wizards and witches throughout history and of the famed war heroes. He grudgingly settled on a limited edition box of gilded Chocolate Frogs that featured Potter’s cards. After he paid the shop girl at the till he shrank his package and felt its weight pressed against his thigh in his trouser pocket as he went on his way back up Diagon Alley. He smirked to himself. Surely Potter would love this gift.

He didn’t have to wait long to deliver his gift to Potter, either, because he was assigned another case to analyze for two days later. When he met Potter in his office for their initial briefing he had the box tucked under his arm and wrapped with a silvery fabric. He’d presented Potter with the gift and sat down in one of the chairs in front of Potter’s desk without being invited to, crossing his ankle delicately over his knee.

“What’s this for?” Potter asked, eyeing the box sceptically. Draco shrugged one shoulder elegantly and pulled the class orange case file across Potter’s desk towards him.

“Just a little gift, to apologise for what happened at that wine tasting event,” Draco said as he flipped open the case folder. He glanced up at Potter and watched as he slowly opened the package and let the silvery fabric fall away to the floor. Potter was silent for several long moments, first staring at the box in poorly concealed annoyance, and then staring at him exasperatedly.

“Thank you, Malfoy, what a wonderful thank you gift,” Potter said acerbically. His eyebrows had come together in a heavy scowl that formed a line between them, and Draco’s fingers itched with the urge to reach up and smooth it out with his thumb, and then his lips. Without any warning Potter binned the box of Chocolate Frogs and shoved the file folder that was Draco’s copy into his chest roughly. Potter hauled him up with a tight grip on his upper arm – and for a brief moment in the confusion Draco was distracted by the thought that the strong grip would feel so nice on other parts of his body – and he was steered out of Potter’s office. The door was slammed behind him and Draco was fumbling to keep from dropping the folder and spilling the file contents everywhere.

He stared over his shoulder at the closed door. He felt a twinge of sadness and hurt swelling in him and he clamped down on it. He was getting frustrated now – his gift hadn’t worked, and his words hadn’t worked so how was he supposed to chat up Potter?

 

**

After Potter’s overblown hysterics at what Draco liked to refer to as the Wine Incident and the Chocolate Frog Incident he decided that he would need to regroup. Maybe Potter was different than other blokes who were happy enough to be wooed by his compliments or his gifts, and he needed to study Potter more to devise what his best course of action would be to successfully flirt with Potter.

He found his thoughts getting lost on Potter’s command from the previous day to wash up before he finished working on his report. Potter had seemed oddly interested and distracted by his ink-smudged fingers. It was very curious. He filed it away in his mind for later perusal and considered how to stalk Potter to understand him better without Potter catching on.

For the next couple of weeks anytime Potter was in the same room at him he would eye Draco warily and hand off case files and crime scene reports to Junior Aurors, or have them delivered to Draco by the memo system. Draco remained quiet and contemplative when he was in Potter’s presence, struggling for curt professionalism. His traitorous tongue wanted very much to wag in Potter’s presence, to surely spout something that would irritate Potter instead of endear Draco to him.

Draco’s study of Potter at work led to him learning that Potter liked to nip off to the inter-department break room of the DMLE twice, and sometimes three times, a day. He noticed that Potter tended to be the one to always finish off the box of chocolate biscuits that Draco coveted, and that he tended to take the same route to get there every time. Draco followed him at a distance to the break room twice, trying and failing to not get distracted by Potter’s arse because Potter refused to wear his Auror robes in the office, and instead preferred to strut about the place in only the Muggle suit he wore underneath. Draco often wondered what the suit would feel like when he ran his hands over it, how the material would feel against his skin. It was very rude of him, to tempt Draco that way.

Draco’s hyperawareness of all things Potter also led him to the discovery of Potter’s reaction when their hands would accidentally brush on occasion when they traded off case file folders and analysis reports. The first time it had happened Draco was fascinated to see Potter’s hand twitch and shoot back to his side before being buried into Potter’s unruly hair, which made Draco panic and bite out the first line he thought of. He vaguely remembered saying that Potter’s hair had looked less and less like a large bird had nested in it, and Potter had frowned at him.

Draco kept an eye out for them after that and deliberately and meticulously planned out the little hand-brushes at random intervals, cataloguing each and every one of Potter’s reactions. Potter had flushed and stared at him oddly, he’d stammered a polite excuse to leave, he’d glanced for the briefest of moments at Draco’s lips, and he’d even prolonged the brush of their hands into what was toeing the line of a caress on one occasion. Then Potter started changing his route to the break room and they would bump into each other awkwardly in the lift and in the hallway on their way about the MLE Department and everything shifted and realigned again. Potter’s stilted and awkward polite conversations made a resurgence whenever they ran into each other in the halls.

During one late night working together on a case in Potter’s office Potter’s strong jaw line was distracting Draco. He’d thrown out words before his brain could even filter them and as soon as they’d left his mouth he’d wanted to rip them back.

“Potter, you’ve really grown out of that scrawny and malnourished look. It’s nice,” his traitorous tongue had said like a shot into the dark. His shoulders stiffened and he waited for Potter’s reply that was sure to be as icy as all of his others had been in regards to Draco’s flirting technique.

“Er – thank you, I suppose. The Auror training certainly helped. And, y’know, not being chased down by a megalomaniac constantly,” Potter replied and Draco realized with a jolt that it was the first time Potter hadn’t responded with scorn. Draco felt a fluttering excitement in his stomach over his success. Yes! Some progress!

He sat back in his chair with a smug expression and toyed with his quill, tickling it back and forth over his lower lip. He was so busy being proud of getting it right for once that he completely missed out on the way Potter’s eyes tracked the path of the quill feather as he brushed it along his lip.

 

**

Draco didn’t get a chance to flirt with Potter anymore over the course of the next few days because a new case came across Potter’s desk that had the highest priority classification that the DMLE had. The Auror offices were in complete disarray, with the Junior and Senior Aurors running around like headless chickens and shouting at each other unintelligibly. Potter looked haggard every time Draco saw him in the halls, between his own bouts of being busily chained to his office and his lab to report on his findings for the case.

Draco had just found the active ingredient that made the potion react in the way that was the killer’s calling card, and he was too excited to send his report over to Auror Savage. He was hurrying down the hall, reading over his hastily written down findings and he wasn’t paying attention to where he was going. He collided painfully with a solid mass of a person and let out a breathless Oof!

“Sorry!” Potter said hurriedly. “Oh, bloody hell!”

Files went spilling from their case folders and were flying everywhere and Potter was scrambling about to pick them all up, like a sodding Muggle.

“Here, let me –,“ Draco said as he shook his head and took out his wand, murmuring a retrieval charm with a twist of his wand and the fluttering parchment paper was swirling up and seeking out the file folders they belonged to. Potter was still on his hands and knees on the floor, most unbecoming of the Head Auror, and reaching for papers when the swirl of the charmed parchment files that Draco had enchanted swirled around them like a great vortex and forced him to his knees in front of Potter.

Their eyes met and they stared at each other while the files encased them in a swirl of fluttering, musty paperwork. Draco’s thoughts momentarily meandered off to pity the line of Potter’s suit that he wore under the Auror kit, and that it would be all ruined and rumpled from kneeling on the ground, and didn’t that make a nice mental image. Potter’s eyes were boring into his as the papers pressed closer in, shoving them towards each other until they were almost touching. Draco swore he saw Potter’s eyes drop to his lips before they flickered up to stare into Draco’s eyes again. His gaze was intense and heavy, and Draco could feel his heartbeat stuttering excitedly in his chest in anticipation as they leaned infinitesimally towards each other. Draco’s lips parted, and he licked at them, trying to find something – anything to say.

“Aren’t you a wizard, Potter?” he asked in a rush of panic. “Why did you drop to the floor like a philistine?”

Potter’s intense gaze hardened to something sharp and flinty that made Draco’s stomach drop. Fuck, he thought, that definitely wasn’t the right thing to say. The almost-moment between them was broken and he looked down at his scribbled report that he still had clutched in his hand and swore under his breath. He hopped up and rushed off down the hall.

“Sorry, Potter, chat later – I have the answer for Savage! It’s going to turn your whole investigation around!” he tossed over his shoulder as he hurried on his way.

 

**

Being surrounded by friends from both of their social circles was nicer than Draco cared to admit. It was interesting to see that after all of the years of house rivalry and prejudices that a group of former Slytherins, Gryffindors, and the occasional Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff could all get along like the mature adults they were. As long as there was alcohol involved, and copious amounts of it. When Potter drained the last of his pint Draco tilted his head towards the bar and raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Can I buy your next round?” he asked. Potter peered at him somewhat blearily through one eye, the other squinted in an attempt to correct his alcohol-induced equilibrium imbalance. Potter shrugged his shoulders and ambled over to the bar without waiting for Draco to follow. Draco trailed after him and signaled to the bartender for another round. While they waited for their drinks Draco tried to be subtle about admiring Potter without his suit jacket, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and his muscular forearms on display. He had to bite his lip to contain himself, Potter was wearing a fucking waistcoat today under his suit jacket and it was doing things to Draco’s composure and self-control. He wanted to press Potter against the bar and run his fingers over the small buttons.

“S’nice of you, buyin’ me a drink,” Potter said, cutting into his thoughts about the merits of ravishing Potter right there against the bar. His speech was slightly slurred and he was leaning heavily onto the bar. Draco secretly found him very amusing when he was well on his way to being sloshed like this. “Ron said I should watch it if you wanted to buy me drinks, says you’d poison me or somethin’,” Potter said absently with a lopsided smile that made Draco’s stomach clench.

“Does he now?” Draco snorted inelegantly and looked back towards the mixed group of their friends who had commandeered a table and a booth. “More likely that I’d dose it with a love potion to get you to bloody notice me,” Draco murmured quietly under his breath. When he looked back at Potter he saw the man was squinting at him in confusion and he bit his tongue. Oh, I hope you didn’t really hear that. Or that you forget it if you did, Potter, he thought. He signaled again to the bartender and pointed to the bottle of Ogdens Firewhisky on the top shelf. He figured he’d better help Potter along towards being full on pissed so he’d forget Draco’s admission.

They both downed a finger of Firewhisky each before they made their way back towards their boisterous friends who cheered at their return.

“Our heroes return!” Finnigan cried cheekily, his cheeks flushed pink and shiny. Draco rolled his eyes and plopped ungracefully down into a chair, the Firewhisky making him warm and loose.

“Never thought we’d say that in regards to Draco,” Blaise teased and Draco stuck his tongue out at him childishly before turning his back on the pair of them and striking up a conversation with Granger about the testing he’d performed in his lab to isolate the active ingredient in the potion that had saved the investigation. He listened with half an ear to Potter as he nattered on with Lovegood about her latest expedition plans to some remote part of the world to search for something ridiculous and obscure.

“ – don’t know why he’d joke about a love potion though,” Potter said after Draco had stopped keeping half an ear on their conversation and he perked up at that, his shoulders going stiff. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Potter drawing through the water rings on the scored wood of the table. Luna was sipping from a wine glass and smiled at Potter.

“It’s very amusing to watch Draco struggling with his feelings,” she said and Draco had a brief urge to Petrify her to keep her quiet. He chanced a glance at Potter and saw an earnest expression on his face, and then after a moment his eyes widened and he stared at Luna. Draco felt the need to end the night before Potter could corner him and hex him.

“Well, it’s been pleasant, all - yes, even you Finnigan you ridiculous lout – I’m off,” he said and gathered his cloak and whisked off to the Floo.

 

**

He needed a way to distract Potter from their exchange in the bar. That was why Draco visited the Auror Offices far more than needed the next week, trying to reflect upon what had gone wrong and what to do about it. Since his words had failed him, and his first gift hadn’t worked, perhaps an act of kindness would. A simple gift would be more ideal, surely?

Trying to catch anyone of use for a direct word turned out to be trickier than Draco thought it had any right to be. His furtive stalking in the prior weeks hadn’t been of use, either. He was reduced to lurking around the DMLE more often for the sake of finding a suitable gift that would appropriately show his affection and possibly also his atonement if Potter still had some ludicrous idea that Draco had something to apologise for. He couldn’t afford another repeat of the Chocolate Frogs Incident.

Potter took notice of him a few times but fabricating believable lies as to why he was there and not working on an analysis report wasn't a hardship, while keeping their exchanges brief. After a particularly long-lasting glare across the room from Potter one time, Draco contemplated the rubbish bin in which Potter had angrily tossed a paper mug before he had turned on his heels and shut his office door with a bit more force than necessary. Draco had caught glimpses of Potter carrying around similar cups of varying sizes. He walked over and lifted the mug to have a look before the bin had time to vanish the contents. He made a mental note of the name printed under the logo and released the mug and watched it fall into oblivion as the bin emptied itself.

Once he got home, Draco asked the most capable house-elf to seek out the shop and badger whatever person of authority present into revealing what Potter bought so frequently. If he was a return customer, surely somebody must know.

The elf, however, returned distressed and instantly began banging its head into the wall next to the hearth Draco was sitting by while explaining it was a Muggle establishment and that Master Draco's command couldn't legally be obeyed. Draco stood up and sighed. He tugged the elf back by the oddly wrapped scrap fabric she wore tied as a tunic and told her to stop being so miserable.

The only thing left to do was to make sense of Muggle money and go there himself. How difficult could it be? After all, he'd studied the blasted subject at school.

At the coffee shop next morning he slapped down an assortment of coins on the counter near the till and flashed the girl standing there his best Malfoy smile.

“Excuse me, could you perchance tell me if you know of a dark-haired, bespectacled man who frequents this place? I am here to pick up his regular order, if you please.”

“Er- sir, that's all very well and all, and I do know who you're talking about, but he's asked us not to share that information with--”

“What is this, St Mungo's? Bloody hell, I only want to know what coffee he drinks.”

“Uh, I don't–“

Draco a made motion with his hand. “I apologise. That was rude of me.” He turned on the charm again and leaned his hip against the counter. “I'm sorry, I only wanted to do something nice for him, you see. We're old school friends that work together, and I wanted to surprise him. Listen, forgive me for possibly over sharing, but I'm confident I know the reason for his secrecy, and I take no part in that, you can rest assured. There was a man he had a rather vicious disagreement with, years ago, and although said man and his maniac chums aren't in the picture any longer, well... one does get shaken up after such events, you understand? Poor Harry, still being paranoid. You can see why showing him kindness is especially important, surely?”

“Oh, poor darling. I had an ex like that, too. Followed me around after I ended it and sent his ape-like friends to talk 'sense' into me. I had to report him. But how do I know you're really one of his old school mates and not posing as one?”

Draco smiled. “I'd tell you to ask him about me but that would ruin the surprise, wouldn't it? I suppose you'll have to trust me.” He leaned an elbow on the surface and tilted his head to the side. “Come on, do a bloke a favour? Please?”

“Oh, all right,” she conceded, after a pause. “I'm taking your word on this, mister, but you better not be messing with me. Or with Harry. Because if you're taking the mickey, you'll be sorry.”

“Oh, I intend to mess–“ Draco leered before he cut himself off.

She looked at him dubiously for a moment. “Maybe you'd better go...”

“Oh for the love of–“ Draco sighed. “I want to shag the living daylights out of him, all right? I've wanted to shag him senseless since we were teenagers but we were too busy having our ridiculous schoolboy feud and then there was the Dark Lord drama, to put it lightly. Fine. Give me something else you think he'd like, then, and I'll present him with that in another desperate attempt to have him notice my efforts of flirting.”

She stared at him while he reigned in his emotions and tried to control himself. Ridiculous. Perhaps he could Obliviate her and start over? He pinched his nose. Why did Potter have to make everything so complicated? He should have just used Legilimency.

“He likes peppermint tea.”

Draco lowered his hand and looked up. “What?”

“He... Well, his favourite is peppermint tea. It's our own blend. Would you like a medium cup to go, maybe?”

Draco grinned. Finally. “Yes, please, if you'd be so kind.”

 

**

He had never been to the DMLE this early before and was surprised to find it as quiet as it was. He strode through the corridors and turned into the main room and crossed it. Some looked up as he passed their desks but he made it to Potter's office door without incident.

Draco stepped inside and closed the door after him. All this trouble for some plain peppermint tea? He must've gone as mad as Potter to go to these lengths for him. Well, that, and the prospect of getting to take that bloody suit off of Potter. Merlin, it was so different from the denims and jumpers Potter used to wear when they were at Hogwarts under his robes.

Draco smirked at his thoughts and stepped forward to place the cup in the middle of the desk, brand carefully facing the door, and draped himself languidly over Potter's chair. He looked around for a bit, impressed by the interior of the office, and then slid sideways in the seat and placed his outstretched legs on the corner of the desk, one ankle over the other.

A while later the door opened, but Draco studied his nails instead of looking up, not wanting to seem too eager. Especially if it was that damned oaf of a Junior Auror that liked to lick at Potter’s bootstraps like a good little ladder-climbing office lackey.

“Mr Potter,” he heard vaguely from a distance, and it definitely sounded like the annoying Junior Auror.

“What the hell?” Potter exclaimed much closer. Draco glanced up to see him standing in the doorway, his Junior Auror shadow rushing up behind him. “Leave us, please,” Potter added. He walked into the room and closed the door without looking away.

Draco went back to surveying his nails with a bored expression. When Potter said nothing he picked up a quill from the desk and twirled it between his fingers. “I see the budget’s been increased, or is it just that someone who has taste has started doing the orders for the DMLE’s supplies?” The quill was of high standard with the exact tip Draco preferred as well. He wanted to run it over his lip, the way he liked to when he was lost in thought.

“Why are you here so early?” Potter moved forward and picked up the paper mug. “What is this?”

Draco let his legs slip off the desk and sat up straight, hands on the surface. “Tea.”

“Tea?” Potter looked baffled, similarly to how he'd looked when he tried to figure the wine out. His eyebrows drew together and he looked at the mug again. “Tea,” he repeated lowly. “You got me tea.”

What was up his arse this time? Draco softened his expression. “You're welcome, is the general response that is acceptable by most polite society.”

“Malfoy,” Potter said slowly, “What are you doing?”

“I'm offering you tea.” Potter kept looking at him with that scowl. “I hear it's your favourite.”

Potter put the mug down and pierced him with a glare. He folded his arms. “Are you stalking me now?” he demanded.

“No, I'm supplying you with your favourite beverage.”

“Which you found out about by following me, no doubt,” Potter argued. “Jesus, Malfoy, what's wrong with you?”

“What's wrong with me?” Draco wondered. “What's wrong with you? I'm doing something nice for you and you're yelling at me.”

“Because you're stalking me!”

Draco stood up and they glowered at one another across the desk. “Like you're one to talk. Need I remind you that there was a time when you stalked me?”

“Oh, Merlin.” Potter rolled his eyes and waved his arms out in a frustrated gesture before slapping them to his sides. “So what, this is you getting even?” Potter pointed at the mug with his whole hand. “Returning the favour in kind, literally?”

“I was trying,” Draco said through gritted teeth, “to be nice.”

Potter put his palms on the desk and leaned slightly over it. He hung his head and sighed. A tuft of hair at the back of his head stuck out in an odd angle and Draco clenched his hands into fists. Had it always been like that there? His hair looked shiny now in comparison to when it'd been dusty. When Potter looked up Draco stared at his fringe, thinking he could run his fingers through it. He could push it back and sift his fingers through the glossy strands to that section that was twice as unruly as the rest and hold it pressed against his skull while he tugged Potter's head closer to lick that damned scar and kiss his lip until that pout returned.

“Well, please don't,” Potter said. “I'm tired of you being 'nice' to me. Go bother somebody else and let me do my job in peace, would you? Don’t come back in here unless it’s for a case consult.”

Draco placed his hands on the desk and leaned closer, too. “Drink your tea.”

“No!” Potter looked disgusted at the very idea and one side of Draco's lip twitched into a sneer. “Get out of my office.”

“Not until you say thank you.”

“Thank you for what?” Potter raised his voice and leaned in. “For insulting me and disrespecting my privacy? Is that what I'm supposed to thank you for? Christ, is this because I binned the Chocolate Frogs?”

“I went through the trouble of getting you your stupid Muggle tea,” Draco snarled. “Special blend,” he imitated. “Can't see what's so special about it if you won't even drink it when it's offered to you for free.”

“Muggles aren't stupid! And don't make fun!”

“No, you're the one who's stupid,” Draco spat. He scraped his fingernails over the wood and leaned closer still, hands curling into fists again. “You're a blind, insufferable–“

“You're the insufferable git here, Malfoy, not me.” Potter's eyes blazed and his face was turning red. “Why can't you ever let something rest? Why can't you behave like a person?! You never change!”

“I GOT YOU TEA!” Draco bellowed. “How is that not nice!”

Potter’s mouth tightened; his lips drew together as if he was sucking on a lemon. He looked ready to punch him. Draco drew in a deep breath, readying himself. Potter moved closer, breathing shallowly, until all Draco could see were those angry, narrowed eyes behind his glasses. Potter's nose bumped into the tip of Draco's and Potter pulled back a little, seeming startled that he had moved that close. He stood up, arms by his side.

“Just go,” he said, calm and defeated, his face going slack.

“Fine,” Draco replied, disappointment fuelling his frustration. “Enjoy your tea.” He made to leave when Potter scoffed. He stopped.

“I don't want your tea.”

Draco reigned in the impulse to slam his hands down on the desk. He looked Potter in the eye and gave him a very stiff smile. “It is your tea. I may have paid for it with bizarre Muggle currency, but it is yours. It is not poisoned, if that's what you think.”

Potter cocked his head to the side, looking like he’d just remembered something important. “Oh, I'm sure. What about love potions, then?” He asked slowly and Draco’s eyes widened before he narrowed them dangerously.

“No,” he said tersely through gritted teeth.

“Well, I don’t want it, thanks,” Potter said with a sigh.

“I'll take it with me and, what, let the door hit me on the way out? Is that how you want it?”

Potter snorted. “Sounds good to me.”

“Fine.” Draco sneered at him again. “Fine,” he repeated, feeling his pulse thrumming and his blood simmering. His skin crawled. Potter raised a hand and ran it through his hair and Draco's eyes widened again. Before he could think better of it he'd smacked the tea mug right off the edge of the desk with a hard punch. The lid flew off at impact and spilled some of it on the desk while the rest shot out in a line from the desk all the way to the wall where it splashed and ran down it. The cardboard mug made a hollow, papery sound and it clattered to the floor. There were a few drops of hot tea on Draco's hand, too, but it was already cooling so the sting wasn't bad.

Potter was staring at him with wide eyes.

“Jesus...” Potter looked down at the mess and Draco followed his gaze, and he felt his anger disappearing as he looked at the scene of his pathetic outburst. Potter slid his wand from his sleeve and waved it to clear the tea on the desk. Draco reached out and straightened a small pile of flat parchments that threatened to slide off the desk. He placed the quill he'd toyed with earlier next to it.

Potter stepped away and cleaned the floor and lastly the wall. He was looking at the mug lying on its side at his feet. “What's wrong with us?” he asked seemingly no one in particular. Draco knew full well what his own problem was, but Potter remained a mystery.

“I suppose we're good at holding grudges,” Draco offered. Potter huffed out a breath, but this time it sounded different. Draco watched him shake his head.

“I suppose. I'm sorry for provoking you.” Potter looked up at him. “I don't understand why you're like this, though. It's not only the tea,” Potter said. “It's everything. Why do you keep insulting me like we're still in second year? For a while I thought – And then Luna said, but – ”

“Everything?” Draco cut him off and put his nose in the air. “I haven't done anything to you in years.”

“No?”

“No. Besides, shouldn't an Auror like yourself be better at ignoring petty taunts?”

“That's not the point! That's no reason to torment someone, and you know it! And you have no right to talk about losing your temp–“ Potter closed his eyes and drew a deep breath through his nose. He collected himself and bent down to pick up the mug before he spoke again. “You kept your distance, even after the DMLE hired you on as an Analyst, and now you're back at the same old game. It's tiring.”

Draco took the long way around the desk, circling the side of the room where he wouldn't have to get near Potter, and drew closer to the door. He stopped in front of it, back to Potter. “You've made your point perfectly clear.” He put his hand on the handle.

“I don't understand why you're reverting back to mocking me – going on about my face, staring at my scar, giving me those fucking Chocolate Frogs, behaving like a child at the wine tasting, and sneaking about this place and watching me whenever you can and whatever other nonsense you've been...”

Draco listened for more but when Potter didn't continue he shrugged it off and opened the door. He considered turning around but sighed instead and let go of the handle, leaving the door wide open, and walked out.

“Malfoy.”

He stopped but didn't turn, not until Potter added, “Wait.”

He looked back over his shoulder at a perplexed Potter standing there facing him with the mug held upside-down in his hand.

“Have you been flirting with me?”

“What?” Draco hissed. He walked in and nudged the door shut on his way.

“You have, haven't you? In your own demented way. Merlin, Luna was right.”

“What's it to you, if I have?” Draco said in a rush. Potter looked confused but started smiling in a lopsided way.

“Well, er, it kind of concerns me, doesn't it?” He laughed then. “God, you wanker. Who does that?” He lobbed the mug in the air and it moved in a strange arch towards Draco's chest where he caught it. “Have a look.”

Draco turned the mug over and stared at the logotype with the brand name printed underneath. He twisted it in his grip but saw nothing around it. He flipped it over and... there was very small scrawled text written on the white cardboard bottom.

Sorry for breaking the rule. FYI, he's flirting. He's supposedly fancied you for ages. Seemed genuine but also barmy in the shop. (Nice bum though.) Go get him!

Draco gaped at the text for a long time.

“Josie writes affirmations or proverbs for me when she has the time,” Potter said eventually. “It's silly, but it's become something of a tradition for us. Lucky you didn't notice, or you'd have spelled it away.”

Draco stared at him. It was true, he would have.

“You're worthless at flirting.”

“I complimented your face, your nose, and bought you a gift and brought you your favourite tea. You're the one who can't take a hint,” Draco said, defensively.

Potter considered this for a moment and then snorted amusedly. “Well, when you put it that way.” He gave Draco a searching look. “Well.” He licked his lips. “Have you been holding a torch for me for all these years, then?”

Draco’s eyes opened wide in panic and he felt like he was being laid bare across Potter’s desk, and the room suddenly felt too hot and suffocating – he had to get out of there. He spun on his heel and fled from the room, knocking the annoying Junior Auror out of his way. He could hear Potter’s footsteps following him.

“Malfoy, wait – where are you going?” Potter tracked him easily and followed every sharp turn he made until he wasn’t even sure which part of the DMLE he was in, it looked like a dark and unused hallway with a dead end and Potter was standing at the only escape route, hands on his hips. “What is the matter with you?”

Draco looked everywhere but at Potter, looking for any other way he could escape Potter’s searching gaze. Potter stepped closer slowly, his hands out placating like he was a wild animal that would bolt at the wrong move. He glared at Potter indignantly.

“There’s nothing wrong with me, Potter, only with you!” he said as Potter crowded him back against the wall, those muscled forearms caging him in on either side of him. Their chests were just barely brushing together. Potter was smirking at him as he pressed closer.

“Does this mean I owe you a gift in return? Would you like a drink or chocolates, too?” he asked. Draco shook his head, his eyes dropping to Potter’s lips. “I'll buy you a bottle of wine, then.”

Draco pulled a face. “Oh, heavens forbid. D'you even know – never mind, I dare not ask.”

“All right.” Potter sighed. “I guess you'll have to buy the wine.” His lips curled into a grin. “Maybe you can teach me to identify the good ones?”

“I will not,” Draco sniffed. “You'd be a hopeless cause. All you do is slosh it around like some toddler with a toy.” But the idea of watching Potter gulping down more fine wine stirred something within him.

Potter placed a finger on his lips. “Malfoy. Shut up.”

“Whatever for?” His lips brushed against Potter's finger when he spoke and his heart sped up. He was finally getting somewhere.

“Because clearly speaking is not the way for either of us to flirt.” Potter trailed his finger down and it caught in Draco's lower lip. He brushed it sideways instead, tracing the outline.

“I tried an act of kindness,” Draco reminded him. “As you noticed, it did not work. But perhaps this will.”

He shifted and knocked Potter's arm away with his own as he tangled his fingers into Potter's hair. He moved closer and used his hands at the back of Potter's head to pull him even nearer until Potter's wide, green eyes were the only things in focus. Their noses bumped again and Draco leaned his head to the side, watching Potter slowly do the same.

“You know,” Potter said quietly. “We can't kiss any time we have a disagreement.”

“Hmm,” Draco hummed. “I can make you change your mind about that. Pretty soon you'll be wanting to argue with me all the time.”

“That's all we do, anyway.” Potter's eyes slid down to watch Draco's lips, and then met his eyes again. He inched closer, their breaths mingling.

“We've been civil as of late. We work well together,” Draco said with difficulty upon discovering that their lips brushed when he spoke. He let his nails scrape softly against Potter's scalp and watched in fascination as Potter's eyelids fluttered in response. “Excluding the flirting mishaps.”

“You’re lucky I like you, you barmy git,” Potter breathed, and kissed him soundly.