Harry scowled at the clock again; only twelve minutes had passed since the last time he glanced at it, which felt impossible. Time seemed to be stalling, stretching out improbably like taffy being pulled on those machines they put in the storefronts of beach towns. And yet each hour that passed was another he was missing…
“Haven’t you ever heard that you should be careful pulling faces, Potter?”
Harry pressed his teeth together so hard he could hear his molars grinding together. He took a deep breath, then glanced over toward where the thorn in his side was sitting— lounging, actually, the bastard— and waited for the punchline.
“My mother always said a person’s face might freeze like that. You’re only one sly charm away from a perpetual grimace,” Malfoy said. He looked up from where he was picking at his fingernails. “Course, I don’t know that there’d be much difference, in your case.”
You’d think, after defeating Voldemort, that Harry’s luck would change. He’d certainly thought so himself— that it was all an upward trajectory from certain death. And yet, here he was, pulling the night shift on Christmas Eve with Draco fucking Malfoy, with his ridiculous hair slicked back away from his pointy ferret face and his stupidly expensive black boots propped up on his desk. Harry been stunned, when he heard that Malfoy had applied to the Auror training program a couple years after the war. And yet somehow Malfoy made it, and here he was, the newest Auror in the department.
“If I want the opinion of a stuck-up society Death Eater, I’ll be sure to ask your mum,” he said. It felt nastier than he’d intended, hanging in the air after it left his mouth.
Malfoy’s boots dropped down to the floor as he sat up straight, his back rigid and his face hard and cold, like glass. “You don’t know anything at all about my mother, Potter. I’d advise you not to open your stupid mouth and speak about her as if you do.”
He should be at the Weasleys’ right now, with everyone else. Not stuck here with Malfoy on the duty they’d pulled by lottery, because no others Aurors wanted it. Malfoy, who shouldn’t even be an Auror, not when—
Is Draco alive? He can still hear the tremor running through her voice, even five years later. He shouldn’t have said that. Not about Narcissa. But damn it, hadn’t he waited long enough? Hadn’t he spent enough lonely Christmases with people who didn’t want him? He just wanted to sit in the ragged, blue chintz chair in the Weasleys’ sitting room, with Ginny pressed up against his side, her red hair spilling down his arm while people came and went with a little too much rum punch and a few too many pastries.
“Let’s just get through the rest of this shift,” he got out, the words like gravel coating his tongue. “Neither of us wants to be here right now.” Not exactly an apology, but maybe the best he could do right now. God, Malfoy was still so irritating—
“Is this Potter pining for the ancestral den? Tell me, do you actually go underground when you visit the Weasels?”
No one trusted Malfoy here, and no one wanted to work with him, but he showed up every day, and Harry tried to be better than that. He believed in second chances. He believed— if not in clean slates, at least slates turned over to a fresh, blank side. But Malfoy needled and pushed and—
“I”d prefer a hole in the ground to that mausoleum you call Malfoy Manor, now you mention it,” he said. “But don’t worry— you’ll be able to slither on home to Mummy and Daddy and the warm company of your servants and galleons soon.”
Malfoy’s mouth went all tight, and he dropped his eyes to the desk in front of him. Harry waited, but the usual sharp comeback never came.
The clock ticked away, relentless and excruciating, and Malfoy stayed silent the rest of the night.
What a difference a year makes, Harry thought as he watched a few flakes of snow sputter and swirl down from the overcast sky outside the Ministry’s windows. He wondered if it would be a trend; Christmases stuck at his desk in this empty bullpen, everyone enjoying themselves but him.
He’d actually volunteered to take the Christmas day shift this year. Since he and Ginny had just broken up, there was no reason not to work the holiday. He couldn’t go to the Burrow, no matter what Mrs. Weasley said in her owls. Everyone was probably tucking in to one of her amazing Christmas breakfasts right now. He tore off a corner of the scone he’d taken from the party tray still in the break room, leftover from the department holiday party. It was dried out, and the currants inside reminded him distressingly of mouse droppings. He pushed it away with a sigh.
Harry was, admittedly, feeling rather sorry for himself, imagining what his friends and the people he’d assumed would one day be his official family were doing while he sat at the Ministry, alone. And then a fit of coughing broke into his thoughts.
Not quite alone. He’d almost forgotten his partner in depression. He wasn’t sure if Malfoy had drawn this duty because he was still the newest Auror on staff or because Robards didn’t like him. Just plain bad luck, maybe. When he finished coughing, Malfoy’s pale face was flushed a deep pink, and he grabbed his wand from the top of his desk, waving it at the water cooler on the other side of the room. A goblet filled itself and floated over to him. Harry watched him as he drank the entire thing, then wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. Malfoy had kept his head down the past year; not particularly friendly but not overtly hostile, either. Mostly, everyone had relaxed around him.
Harry wondered, suddenly, what it might be like for Malfoy. To come to work every day knowing everyone there sort of hated you, and worse: didn’t trust you. Not that Malfoy deserved anyone’s trust. Not yet. That was something he had to earn, but Harry did feel an unaccustomed stab of empathy for what must look like a long, steep climb. He wondered if Malfoy would stick it out. He wondered if Malfoy had really changed, deep down where it counted.
While he was wondering, Malfoy looked over at him. He raised his eyebrows and Harry flushed, caught. He cleared his throat and looked back down at the crumbled remains of his scone.
“There’s some Hack-It-Off in the department cabinet,” he said. His voice sounded gruffer than he meant it to. “And Pepper-Up.”
“Am I supposed to think you care, Potter?” Malfoy’s voice was kind of thin and wheezy, and now that Harry could see his eyes he noticed they were glassy and bright. Malfoy really was ill.
“Maybe I just don’t like how the sound of your lungs coming up through your throat is interrupting my leisurely contemplation of my sad, sad holiday.”
Malfoy snorted. “Big words, Potty. Did you pull out a dictionary and write that down beforehand?”
Before Harry could reply, Malfoy started up with the coughing again, finally getting up and going in the direction of the storeroom. Harry shook his head, leaned back, and tried to will himself to nap this awful day away.
This year, he’d come prepared. Roast turkey and potatoes, fat buttery carrots, Yorkshire puddings, and an enormous slice of Mrs. Weasley’s Spiced Rum cake. He pulled out a flask of butterbeer he’d brought to wash it down and looked at the new picture framed on his desk: Hermione, Ron, and an hours-old Rose. It was sort of funny, how much difference context could make. He’d been happy to take Christmas duty this year when Ron had pulled it, telling him to spend the day with his new daughter, and he was happy still.
He looked over where Malfoy was sitting once again. His reasons were more of a mystery; it definitely wasn’t his turn again, and no one had luck that bad. Harry had been paying closer attention to Malfoy over the past year. They almost never worked together out in the field, since younger Aurors tended to be paired up with more senior ones, but he watched how Malfoy interacted with other people, and how they treated him back. He’d been surprised by how… well, earnest that Malfoy could be, when he forgot that anyone was watching him. He seemed to actually like the older Aurors he was partnered with, in a quiet, reserved way. In fact, almost everything about Malfoy was reserved these days. Gone was the pointy, dramatic boy who basked and courted attention, replaced with a pointy, prickly man who seemed actively wary of it.
Sometimes Harry read through the file notes of cases Malfoy had worked on. He was curious about how Malfoy worked, how he fit into this new world: the Aurors, yes, but also just this world that was after everything. Post-war, post-Voldemort. Post-childhood. Harry recognized that the curiosity was different now than it had been. Before, it had been red and smoking and sure of finding the bad. Now it was a gentler feeling; an openness to finding things that had nothing to do with confirming or disproving any suspicions. Like the echoes of an old obsession, with all the animosity drained out.
The older Aurors had accepted Malfoy now. They respected his work. Some of them, Harry thought while reading the files and watching them around the office, even liked Malfoy.
The younger Aurors weren’t there yet, perhaps because they’d all known Malfoy at school. Maybe there just hadn’t been enough time lapsed for perspective. Harry thought about perspective a lot these days. He thought about it when he held Rosie and when he watched Ron and Hermione growing suddenly into this new role of parents. And the truth was, from a certain perspective Malfoy's persistence in being here was its own hopeful bravery.
It surprised him, but he found himself hoping they would all get there. He found himself thinking of that as the true victory over Voldemort.
“Malfoy,” he said suddenly. The blonde head across the room turned. “You haven’t eaten yet, have you?”
Malfoy just raised his eyebrows.
Harry gestured at the huge basket he’d begun unpacking. “I’ve got a huge spread. All the good stuff. Pull up a chair.”
The look on Malfoy’s face— confused, cautious— amused him and broke his heart all at once. Maybe Harry needed to be the change, the perspective. “It’s Christmas, Malfoy,” he said, and nudged the chair in front of his desk out a little. “Come have some dinner.”
Malfoy was a little stiff when he sat down, but he nodded his thanks when Harry handed him a paper plate piled high with food. Harry dug into his own plate eagerly, pretending not to watch as Malfoy picked delicately with his fork.
After a few moments, Malfoy cleared his throat. “No peas?” he asked.
“Do you actually like peas?” he asked, wrinkling his nose a little.
“Yes, Potter. Let me guess-- you don’t like green foods.”
Harry pretended to think about it. “I like mint ice cream.”
Malfoy shook his head. “Cretin.”
And Harry smiled, like it was just a joke. Because it was.
After a few seconds, Malfoy smiled back.
“If you do not remove your muddy boots from the top of my desk I will hex you six ways into Sunday, Potter.”
Harry thought it was kind of cute how Malfoy was saying that while sporting an enormous streak of dirt across his left cheekbone. Then he wondered where the cute had come from. He let his feet fall down to the floor with a resounding thud, and Malfoy rolled his eyes.
“You have a bit of dirt, you know,” Harry said. “There—“ he waved his hand at Malfoy’s face.
“Will you just concentrate on finishing up that statement? I’d like to close this file and go take a long, incredibly hot shower and forget all about this day.” Malfoy rubbed his hand through the dirt, smearing it farther instead of getting rid of it, and Harry smirked.
“Forget about Christmas fighting crime with your partner? You wound me, Malfoy.”
He smiled at the scathing look that earned him and bent down to finish writing his portion of their statement. They’d only been partnered for a few months, but Harry thought it was going pretty well. Surprisingly well, actually. They’d just wrapped up a long investigation and busted up an illegal hippogriff fighting ring. It had been an ugly fight in freezing rain and muck, but they’d caught every suspect involved. Not exactly how Harry had envisioned spending a happy Christmas Day, but he found now that he didn’t mind at all.
He looked back up at Malfoy, who was picking bits of wet straw off his coat sleeves with a look of extreme distaste. “Are you missing plans right now, being here?”
Malfoy looked up briefly. “No,” he said, and went back to the futile effort of cleaning off his clothing.
“It’s just, I realized you’ve spent the holiday here the past four years running.”
“So have you, Potter,” Malfoy snapped. “What’s your point?”
A year ago— even a few months ago— Harry would have heeded the note of warning in Malfoy’s voice. He would have been more careful. But care, he thought now, twisted and flowed with the change in landscape; like magic, it fed on a continual change of form.
“I haven’t always been happy to be here on Christmas. Aren’t your parents expecting you?”
“No.” Harry waited, but that’s all Malfoy said. He wasn’t looking at Harry; he began to organize the file between them, clipping together photographs and notes. Harry let the silence stretch. He scrawled his signature across the bottom of the paper and let his eyes drift over the words he’d written.
“I haven’t been to the Manor since I signed up for the Auror program. I volunteered for the Christmas shift all these years because it was—“
Harry looked up, but stayed quiet.
“Easier,” Malfoy finished. He took the paper out of Harry’s hands and placed it in the file, then closed the whole thing.
“It was hard,” Harry began, and let that feeling inside him lead, “when I no longer felt like I could call The Burrow mine. I guess holidays make you think about that more than usual.”
“Think about what?”
“Home,” Harry said, and Malfoy’s face did a strange thing; it went kind of soft, around his eyes and along the line of his jaw. It was just for a moment, and then Malfoy pulled together the glossy shell that defined him to the rest of world since the War.
“Anyway,” Harry continued, “since you don’t have plans, you can come to the Leaky and get a drink with me when this shift is over.”
“Why would I want to spend even more time with you, Potter? Most of my life requires me to be in your company these days.”
Harry stood up. “Because insulting me is the most fun you get up to anymore. Kind of like the old days.”
And for once, mention of that time before didn't rankle. Didn't make things tense or strange.
“Sometimes, Potter,” Malfoy said with a little twist of his lips, “you manage to almost convince me you’re rather perceptive.”
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” Harry said. “You’re buying the first round.”
“And then George said, ‘What do you mean the Elephant Trunk Charm hasn’t worn off? I can see your nose right now and it looks like the same nose you’ve always had, Macmillan. Blame your mum and dad for that.’ And then Ernie’s face turned so red I was worried he was having some sort of fit, and all of a sudden he just dropped his trousers. Right in the middle of the store! And bugger me if his knob wasn’t—“
“Ron!” shrieked Hermione, reaching down to wrap her hands around the sides of little Rose’s head, covering her ears. Harry was laughing so hard his eyes had started to water. He looked over at Malfoy, who’d been sitting a little to the side of everyone else. There and not there. Safely, cautiously on the perimeter. He had his hand pressed over his mouth, and his shoulders were shaking, his neck and cheeks starting to flush. Laughter looked good on him.
“Aw, Hermione,” said Ron. “She’s too young to understand, anyway.”
Hermione frowned and looked disapproving, but removed her hands from her daughter's ears. Rosie tottered off, reaching up carefully on her tiptoes to pull at a piece of silver wrapping paper on top of Harry’s desk. He nudged it toward her until she wrapped her small, dimpled fist around it. She started off again, and Ron continued, “Anyway, let’s just say Ernie thought his girlfriend might like something trunk-sized on a part of his body that wasn’t his stupid face. And since it wasn’t meant for… that, something had gone a bit wrong and it had been stuck that way the whole weekend.”
Hermione looked torn, her eyebrows wrinkling together. “That must have been very uncomfortable,” she began, and then had to stop when the laughter swelled again. “And you’re all grown men now. Ministry officials!”
“Macmillan always was a twat,” Finnegan said. “Come on, Hermione, picture his face when he got his kit off in Weasey’s Wizarding Wheezes.”
She rolled her eyes, but her lips twitched as she dropped down to kneel on the floor near Rose. “Well I’d rather Rosie not start running around talking about—“ She dropped her voice. “—knobs. I’m going to leave the explanations for all the naughty words she uses to you, Ron Weasley.”
“You should be alright for awhile, Hermione,” said Neville. “I don’t think she’s paying any attention to what we’re saying.”
Harry watched as Rose finally got her legs up under her on the chair she’d been trying to climb. It was directly in front of Malfoy’s desk, and she leaned over until her top half was lying across its surface. She stretched an arm out toward him, and he carefully put out his own, palm up. Rose dropped the piece of shiny paper into his hand.
Malfoy nodded at her, a small, real kind of smile on his face. It was a smile that wasn’t for show, wasn’t calculated, and it made something flip over in Harry’s chest. He would need to be very careful, he realized. Very careful with this, with himself and whatever that little flutter was. With Draco.
“I wouldn’t place any bets on that,” Malfoy said, and it took Harry a second to realize he was talking to Neville, because his eyes were still on Rose. He picked up a little folded-paper dragon from near his inkwell. It had been sitting there for ages; Harry had pulled it out of the Christmas cracker he’d picked this time last year, at the Leaky after their shift had ended. He’d solemnly, and a little drunkenly, given it to Malfoy, saying it was clearly meant for him.
Now, Rose looked down at it sitting in her chubby palm and then smiled up at Malfoy.
“I’d wager this one doesn’t miss much at all,” Malfoy continued. Rose clambered down, and Malfoy leaned back in his chair, looking up at them finally. “Don’t forget who her mother is.”
Harry watched as Rose sat herself down into her mother’s lap, still studying the paper dragon. Hermione looked surprised, but pleased.
Later, when everyone else was leaving, she turned to Harry as she was pulling on her gloves. “He’s nice now, really. Malfoy.” It was just the two of them all the way back in the corner of the cloakroom; they could hear the voices of the others coming from just out in the hall. Seamus was ribbing Neville about how often he could be found sitting at the bar of The Leaky when Hannah was working, nursing the same small firewhiskey all night. Rose was shouting a mangled version of Jingle Bells with Ron’s encouragement.
Hermione was watching his face, and she knew him so well, sometimes it was damned annoying.
“Yeah,” he said simply. “He is.”
She smiled, turning her hat around and around in her hands. She’d knit one in the same deep red for him last year. She didn’t need to say a word to Harry; her hand squeezing his forearm told him she understood him perfectly. Maybe better than he did himself, presently. She was the only other person who knew how the flapping of canvas sounded in a forest, when the wind was whipping around on the darkest, coldest Christmas either of them could ever remember.
“It’s a new tradition, now. How you spend your Christmases.”
Harry blinked. “I suppose it is.”
Hermione put on her hat and then took his arm again. They walked toward the door, where their friends were. “Merry Christmas, Harry,” she said before they crossed the threshold. “I hope it’s a happy one.”
“It is,” he said, and pulled her into a quick hug. And it really was, he realized. The happiest he could remember.
The damned sling the Mediwizards had ordered him to wear was rubbing a patch of skin on the side of his neck raw. He eased the fingertips of his free hand underneath the fabric, rubbing the chafed patch gently. He winced, and looked over Draco, who was watching him. The blonde glared at him, and he pulled his hand away.
It was shaping up to be a weirdly tense Christmas. Malfoy was all sharp corners; brittle and snappish and angry, and Harry wasn’t sure why.
He wasn’t sure how to ask.
They’d been partners for more than two years now, and Harry had thought he knew how to deal with Malfoy’s moods. Underneath his adult shell, he could still be as mercurial as the boy from Hogwarts, but all his tells were so subtle now that no one noticed.
Harry noticed. He had learned them, like a map unscrolling under his skin. Learned the angle Draco’s jaw made when he was holding himself tightly reined in; knew from the clipping of his consonants when he was truly angry or just annoyed; could read by the speed of his movements when he was uncomfortable or in pain. All this knowledge hoarded and unspooling within him— Draco had slipped under his skin. Had been there for awhile now.
Harry stopped himself. There was no use going down that train of thought. Safer to forget it, tuck it away except for certain rare, bleary-eyed nights alone in his bedroom.
Harry knew Draco so well by now, and yet somehow today was different. Today Malfoy seemed very far away.
“Dawlish is coming by around five to collect that basket so he can get all the donated toys to the Childrens’ House,” he said.
“I’m aware of that.” Malfoy was writing something now, the tip of his quill scratching furiously across some parchment. He didn’t even look up.
Harry sighed. “I’m going to go get it out of the break room.” He started to push himself up from his chair with his good arm, but Malfoy stood up first.
“Just sit down, Potter,” he snapped, throwing his quill down on the desk. “Merlin, you—“ He shook his head, then turned on his heel and stalked out to the hallway.
Right, thought Harry. That’s enough.
“You what?” he asked, walking in to the break room behind Malfoy.
Malfoy tensed but didn’t turn around. He started opening cupboards, and slamming them shut again when he didn’t find the donation basket. “You idiot,” he bit out. “Where the fuck is that damn thing?” He left the break room and started down the hall, Harry trailing behind as he went into the cloakroom.
“Idiot,” Harry repeated. “Why am I an idiot? What is your problem today, Malfoy? I have no idea—“
Malfoy whirled around suddenly. “Don’t you? You’re an idiot for taking imbecilic risks, Potter. I am tired of watching you almost die on—“
“What on earth are you on about?” Harry interrupted, amazed.
Malfoy seemed to only grow angrier, if it were possible. He’d completely abandoned looking through the cubbies. “What do you think I mean?” He stabbed a hand toward Harry’s left arm, folded at a ninety degree angle across his body and held there by the sling. “You should never have dropped your shield while that wizard was still holding a wand. Of all the—“
“I was covering you,” said Harry. “It was perfectly correct.”
“Correct?” Malfoy’s voice was high and loud, his face growing red. “It was foolish and—“
Harry dropped the reins of his temper. “This is a ridiculous argument! I have no idea what your problem is.”
“My problem! My problem is that you didn’t even think, you didn’t even a spare a thought—“
“For what?” shouted Harry. “Your life?”
“For my life without you around!” Malfoy roared back. “Is it so hard for you to fucking be careful?”
Harry could hear his own blood rushing through his eardrums, but it wasn’t anger fueling the dizzy rush anymore. It was something else. Maybe— maybe—
With his good arm, he reached across the space dividing them and put his hand against Draco’s chest; palm flat, fingers spread like a starfish. Draco stopped everything. Shouting, moving. Breathing.
Care is a magic shaped by relation; it alters and winds its way through all spaces. It is always on the move, always changing its shape, and sometimes— it turned into love. Harry felt, finally, like all his various perspectives on Draco Malfoy over the years had clicked into place, simultaneous and one. He felt certain he could love this man through every view, from any side of before or after.
He was born to do it.
Draco opened his mouth. “I—“
Harry leaned in and cut off whatever words Draco had been about to say. It was so quiet suddenly, with his mouth pressed to Draco’s suddenly still lips, and after a moment, Draco let out the breath he'd been holding, a hot rush of their breaths mingling together. Draco tasted like spearmint and spice, and his lips were softer than they looked when they were underneath Harry’s.
He went to lean further into Draco, but the shift and the lack of a usable arm put him a little off balance. He pulled away just a little to straighten himself, and Draco followed, leaning into him instead, his hands coming up to rest on either side of Harry’s face. He could feel Draco’s fingers curling into the hair behind his ears. He could feel Draco’s chest pushing into his own in time with the gulps of air he took between long, lingering passes of mouth and tongue.
“Draco,” he whispered. He wrapped a forearm around Draco’s lower back, his hand settling into the dip just above the waistband of his trousers. He pulled him closer; he pulled him as far into his own body as he could go with all their clothing still on.
Draco clenched his fingers, pulling lightly at the stands of Harry’s hair between them, and the kisses grew sloppier, more frantic. Harry could feel the hard press of Draco’s cock so close to his own, right on top of the heavy burning in his body that wanted Draco, only Draco. Just when he knew he couldn’t stand to wait for the feel of Draco’s bare skin all up and down him, they heard the telltale click of the magical lock on the far end of the hallway to the Auror office.
Dawlish was coming up for the donated toys.
The kissing stopped, but Draco was still holding onto him, his lips resting just to the side of Harry's right ear. He closed his eyes and savored the feel of Draco’s breath rasping warm against the side of his face.
“It’ll only take a moment,” he finally murmured. “He’ll grab the basket and go.”
Draco’s heavy breaths were starting to slow. “It only took us six Christmases,” he said, and his voice was all rough and dark and unpracticed, and Harry closed his eyes on the unexpected jolt of love and want and hunger that surged through his body. He turned his head just a little until he could press his mouth against Malfoy’s cheek.
“We’ve got all night,” he told him. “It’s a long shift, and Christmas isn’t over.”
And it wasn’t over. It really, really wasn’t.