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The Walk of Shame

Chapter Text

So this is it. The Walk of Shame I’ve heard so much about.

Draco kept his expression blank and his eyes firmly trained on the nondescript phone booth, not ten feet away. It was snowing again and the brisk chill made him quicken his pace. He did his best not look too out of sorts— not that the Muggles milling about paid him any mind. They just went about their business, oblivious to him and the portal to the magical world located smack bang in their busy street.

He had to jiggle the door a bit, but it finally gave way. Draco stepped inside the booth with a sigh of relief, taking a much needed moment to sort himself out.

Why?

The question had been gnawing at him all morning, ever since he discovered that he’d woken up in a flat and— far more importantly— a bed, which was definitely not his own with a tanned arm slung carelessly around his middle.

When he realised just who he was sharing a bed with, Draco experienced a rush of mortification so disorienting, it was a wonder he’d managed to grab his clothes and flee the scene without rousing the man. The fleeting memories from last night— memories of lips and tongues and teasing fingers— certainly did not help. Draco blushed again and adjusted his scarf. He could still feel every bruise and bite and kiss from last night. It made him shiver with shame, and the slightest touch of want.

Just a one off, he reminded himself. The product of too much alcohol and a bout of loneliness. It will never happen again.

The thought firmed his resolve. Yes, surely this was for the best. All he had to do now was punch in the numbers, make the short and painful trek through the corridor and flee for the safety of the Ministry Archives, where he would spend the rest of this blighted season.

Never again, he told himself again. With a resolute nod, he schooled his expression into a blank mask and firmly punched in the code: 62422.

Nothing happened.

Draco frowned and punched in the code again, with more force than necessary. The blighted entrance refused to open.

He growled in frustration and tried, yet again.

6.
2.
4.
2.
2.

Nothing! Was he in the wrong booth? Maybe that was it. He hardly ever used the phone booth entrance to get to the Ministry. His fireplace had a direct connection with the Archives, and he had little reason to use the Ministry’s only Muggle access point.

In fact, the only reason he was here at all was because Potter’s place was in Muggle London and since that’s where he woke up today…

Salazar damn it all!

Draco slammed his fist against the wall in a bout of frustration.

Shockingly, it didn’t help.

He rubbed his temples and inhaled sharply. Okay. Right. No more acting like a crazy person. He needed to get a hold of himself. Potter was not going to get to him like this.

One more time.

6.
2.
4.
2…

“Actually,” a voice broke in.

Draco reared back in alarm as a warm hand slipped over his own. His back connected with a toned chest and he turned around at once.

Potter smirked at him, his green eyes bright with mirth and a grin pulling at his lips. Draco could only gape at him.

“It’s 62442,” Potter explained, with an easy almost-smile. “Here, let me…”

He moved Draco to one side with a gentle push, reaching his arm out to dial the number. Draco bit back on a hiss as Potter’s arm brushed his chest. For a moment, the only noise in the narrow booth was the beeping of the phone.

Then the booth shifted and the wall gave way, revealing a narrow staircase.

“After you,” Potter offered graciously, but there was no mistaking the way those green eyes tracked the length of Draco’s body with avid interest.

Draco ducked his head and made his way downstairs without another word. He was keenly aware of Potter following, not two steps from him.

Just a little more. Don’t look back. Don’t let him know, don’t let him see…

“Malfoy.”

Draco stopped in his tracks. He felt Potter’s breath against his nape and it made him shiver.

“Just so you know, I intend to have you back in my bed again very soon.”

Draco’s eyes widened. Potter chuckled against his neck.

“And next time, you will say goodbye before you take off.”

Potter brushed past him and headed towards the elevator, leaving Draco gaping after him in dumbstruck silence.

Chapter Text

“And next time, you will say goodbye before you take off.”

Next time?

Next time?!

It was Draco’s regard for the inviolable sanctity of his beloved Library and only that which kept him from cursing until he was blue in the face. He growled under his breath and focused on cataloguing, watching as scrolls and tomes flew to their shelves with every flick of his wand. The sight brought him a flicker of satisfaction.

Oh, how he loved this place.

He’d been working in the Ministry Archives for three years now and the Library had become his sanctuary, a shelter for the battered remains of his post War life. Father had balked at the thought of a Malfoy being relegated to the drudgery of a glorified clerk but Draco had welcomed the reprieve.

And clearly, he had been right to hide away.

Apparently horrible, unspeakable things happened to him when he ventured into the outside world.

Draco’s jaw clenched as his mind flew back to yesterday.


Yesterday:


Venturing out into Muggle London had been a stupid, ill informed, spur of the moment decision.

As Draco wandered about aimlessly, avoiding eye contact with the throng of Muggles practically suffocating him, he wondered why he insisted on punishing himself like this.

The answer was all too easy. He was lonely, bored and just a tiny bit sad.

It was the blighted season, he decided. He had never done well with winter. The cold made him long for odd and unseemly things: roaring fires, soft lights, the warmth and comfort of another person sharing a blanket with him as he watched the snow fall…

It was just horrible.

Loath as he was to admit it, he’d been struggling with his loneliness for some time now. Most of the time it was manageable enough— he had the Library and all the books he could ever want— but at this time of year, the slightest thing managed to push him over the edge.

He’d been walking past Diagon Alley on his way home. The fireplace would have seen him back in less than ten seconds, but he’d reasoned that a walk wouldn’t hurt. After all, it’s not like he was in any hurry to get back to his small flat. The only person— so to speak— waiting for him was Adelaide and he doubted his cat would care much if he was a tad late.

The Alley was alive with Christmas spirit and good cheer, even in the early days of December. Fairy lights adorned the windows and doorways, laughter and warmth flooded out from every shop and inn.

Draco swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat, suddenly wishing he’d just taken the Floo instead. He quickened his pace, almost running in his haste to get away from the cheer all around him, when he realised where he’d ended up.

He was in the rundown street behind the Leaky Cauldron. Draco blinked as he found himself looking at a shabby wall. He was standing right on the border of the magical world, one brick wall from Muggle London. In fact, if he listened hard enough, he could hear noises on the other side: footsteps as people hurried by, the faint buzz from those awful machines the Muggles rode about in, the tell-tale jingles and jangles of Christmas music…

Any other day, good sense would have won over his morbid sense of curiosity.

But today, Draco was lonely. And for once in his life, he didn’t really care enough to turn his nose up at the Muggles.

Perhaps, out there, he would find what he was looking for. Maybe, just maybe…

Hell, it could hardly hurt to try.

So, he didn’t allow himself to think too hard. He scanned the wall, located the brick and tapped it three times. The wall disappeared and Draco took a deep breath and headed out to London.



Now, as he walked past another row of stalls at the Christmas Market— Merlin, there were a lot of those— he wondered what he’d been thinking.

He didn’t have Muggle money and his hastily Transfigured robes did little for warmth. So, he just wandered about the Market, ducking his head, rubbing his chilled hands and murmuring refusals for mulled wine and chestnuts and whatever else the Muggle vendors saw fit to shove at him.

He had all but made up his mind to head back when he noticed the bookstore.

It was a shabby, rundown little place but the display window was bright and welcoming. Draco perked up at once. This city was strange and foreign to him, but books he knew. Books he liked. He padded over, peering through the pane glass window.

Yet again, he wished he’d had the foresight to exchange his Galleons for some Muggle money.

The books were plain and at first glance, rather dull. He was accustomed to moving pictures and ornate text. But holding court in the centre of the display, was one he recognised.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Draco gasped. Oh, he had heard about this one! Maurice Willard’s autobiography had frequently lapsed into praise of the ‘incomparable No-Maj playwright’ Charles Dickens. In fact, Draco could name at least three other great figures in Wizarding Literature who’d cited Dickens as an inspiration at some point or the other.

Draco leaned forward and pressed his hands to the glass. He could barely control his eagerness.

He needed that book. He had to have it. It was a literary treasure, and Muggle author or not, it belonged in his Library!

Perhaps he could go make a quick stop at Gringotts and swap his Galleons. Or come back tomorrow? But no, it might be gone by then! Maybe he could…

“Malfoy?”

Draco startled, breaking out of his reverie instantly. He whipped around and his breath caught in his throat.

Potter seemed just as shocked to see him.

“What on earth are you doing here?” Potter asked, sounding insultingly incredulous. “You know this is Muggle London, right?”

Draco bristled in irritation.

There. There it was.

This was his punishment for leaving the safety of the Archives. Why wouldn’t he bump into an Auror on his first time out in Salazar knew how long? And why wouldn’t that Auror be bloody Potter?

“Nothing,” he spat.

Potter raised an eyebrow, and Draco belatedly recalled that the man was actually authorised to arrest him now. Potter would only be too happy to take him in for ‘making a scene’ or ‘threatening the peace’ or something just as stupid.
It would be prudent not to agonise him.

“I was just leaving,” Draco explained reluctantly. His eyes darted back to the book and he bit back on a sigh. Another time, maybe. “Good day, Auror Potter.”

He turned his back and started to walk away.

“Hey, wait. Hang on a minute.”

Potter started jogging alongside him. Draco hunched his shoulders and quickened his pace.

“Hey, come on…just…Malfoy! Slow down a second, will you?”

Potter drew him to a stop with a hand on his shoulder. Draco turned around warily. Potter offered up a ghost of a smile and he blinked in surprise.

“Relax,” Potter said lightly. “I’m off duty.”

There was nothing Draco could say that would even remotely stave off the awkwardness of this situation. So, he didn’t say anything.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” Potter carried on. “The Archives are keeping you busy, yeah?”

Draco scoffed. He’d been in the Archives for three years. The fact that he and Potter worked in the same bloody building and this was their first meeting should say plenty about his social status.

“Something like that,” he offered stiffly.

Why wasn’t this conversation over yet? Why wasn’t Potter leaving?

“Well, it’s nice to see you,” Potter said. He shoved his hands in his pockets. There were snow flecks in his messy hair and his cheeks were flushed from the cold. He looked so…normal, Draco noted absently. Completely at ease in this strange Muggle city, confident and carefree in all the ways Draco had lost…

“You looked like you were having fun over there.” Potter gestured to the bookstore with a grin, and Draco flushed with embarrassment. How long had Potter been there, watching him ogle the books? Merlin, couldn’t he just catch a break?

“I have to go,” Draco replied, brushing past Potter with purpose this time. “Goodbye.”

Yet again, Potter grabbed his arm. Draco huffed. This was getting very old, very fast.

“Hey now, come on. I didn’t mean it like…” Potter trailed off and shook his head with a self-deprecating grin. “All these years and I’m still saying the wrong thing around you. Some things just don’t change, do they?”

Draco waited in wary silence. Potter eyed him, looking just as cautious. But when he spoke again, there was no hesitation.

“Let me buy you a drink.”

Draco blinked. “What?”

What on earth had given Potter the idea that this meeting should be prolonged in any way?

Potter shrugged. “I’m not going to force you, obviously. But…I’m here by myself and I’d like the company.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “My company,” he clarified, because honestly, Potter couldn’t be serious.

Potter just grinned. “How often does anyone run into Draco Malfoy on the streets of London?”

Draco rolled his eyes. But he stayed put. Potter was here by himself. Alone, and not unlike Draco. Why though? Surely Potter had better things to do with his time? People to see? Unhealthily co-dependent friendships to maintain? Why was he here?

Now that his curiosity was piqued, he was tempted to see it through.

And really, what was the harm in one little drink?

So, he offered a shrug and a nod. “Fine,” he offered, trying to sound reluctant and grudging. “But make it quick. I have plans. Important plans that I can’t delay.”

Potter’s grin widened. “I know a pub near the Bridge. You’re going to love the view.”

Draco frowned as Potter started to lead him through the crowd. “Okay, but I can’t stay long,” he pointed out. Oddly enough, he didn’t sound as firm as he’d intended to.

Potter just grinned and shrugged. “Just one drink,” he replied, with a cheeky wink.

Draco’s brow furrowed but he followed without protest.


Today:


What happened after that did not warrant mention.

Draco muttered darkly as he filed, wishing curses on Potter and all his kin. One drink had turned into two, then three, four had turned to touching and touching had turned to snogging and…

Merlin help him, why hadn’t he just gone home?

And Potter! The utter audacity of the bastard, crowding him in that phone booth and telling him they’d be doing it again!

Ha! As if.

Draco planned to live in the Library now, thank you very much. And he knew every aisle and bookshelf and hidden corner and dark alcove like the back of his hand. If Potter planned to pursue him, he would have to find him first.

Eventually, the git would get bored and find someone else to bother. Yes. Exactly. And Draco could go back to his peaceful life without…

The memo flew in and landed on his desk, nudging its way through A Compendium of Magical Statistics, Volumes One and Two and fluttering impatiently in front of him.

Draco raised an eyebrow and pried it open. He rarely got mail, and this looked official.


Addressed to: Draco A. Malfoy, Head Archivist, Ministry of Magic.
Dear Mr Malfoy,
Please report to DMLE Headquarters on Floor 3 at your earliest convenience. Your assistance is requested for research on a confidential enquiry.
Auror Potter is looking forward to working with you over the next two weeks.
Sincerely,
Kingsley Shacklebolt
Head Auror, Department of Magical Law Enforcement.


The memo fell from his limp fingers, fluttering as it landed on the floor.

Potter.

That sneaky, manipulative shite.

Draco’s fists clenched. A Compendium of Magical Statistics, Volume 3 ended up with a bent spine.

And this time, he didn’t reign in the cursing.

Chapter Text

In the end, there was nothing to do but go. For a moment, he’d considered a stab at rebellion but one simply didn’t snub Head Auror Shacklebolt. So, Draco sucked it up, headed to the third floor and sat through an uncomfortable briefing.

At least, the meeting was short and to the point. Shacklebolt wasn’t one to mince words. He made no bones about his distaste for involving ‘civilians’ in Auror business but evidently, his star Auror had been very insistent. Kingsley had explained that ‘Auror Potter’ was ‘concerned’ about a sudden rise in hallucinogenic draughts on the black market. Naturally, he needed to conduct extensive research on the subject…

Draco saw an opening and jumped right in.

“I’ll make a list,” he blurted out. “In fact, I’ll personally send over every copy of Magical Draughts and Potions in the library! Really, there’s no need for Auror Potter to bother…”

“Oh, it’s no bother at all.”

Draco stiffened as Potter slipped into the office like he belonged there. His combat robes were wrinkled and loose at the front, revealing a casual shirt and those strange Muggle denims Muggles favoured. His boots were scuffed and his hair was atrocious, even by Potter’s lax standards. He was obviously just coming in from a mission or something. Draco’s hands clenched and he viciously stamped down the flicker of interest that Potter’s ruffled appearance had elicited.

“Harry,” Kingsley greeted with a terse nod. “Everything went well, I presume?”

Potter straightened up and nodded at his boss, suddenly focused and intent. “It’s all under control, Head Auror,” he reported briefly. “We shouldn’t have any more…incidents in Devon.”

What had happened in Devon, Draco wondered. A rogue werewolf, perhaps? A stint of Potion racketeering? Had Potter engaged with a dangerous criminal or…oh, for Salazar’s sake, what did he care?! Potter was ruining his life and nothing he did— no matter how dangerous or intriguing or oddly titillating— made any difference whatsoever!

“Excellent,” Kingsley replied. “Now, to this research business. As Mr Malfoy was saying…”

“Oh, I heard,” Potter cut in smoothly. He cocked his head at Draco, a smile playing on his lips. Draco scowled and hunched his shoulder defensively.

“And I appreciate the consideration,” Potter went on, looking so sincere that even Draco almost believed him. “But I believe Malfoy’s expertise in Potions would be beneficial to my case. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of questions, and I would hate to take him away from his work. Unless of course,” Potter paused and turned to Draco, his eyes glinting with mischief, “you would rather relocate to my office temporarily?”

“No!” Draco snapped, shooting up in his seat. The idea of spending two entire weeks sharing a tiny office with Potter was unfathomably horrifying. Who would look after his books while he was gone? “I have things to do,” he bit out. “I simply can’t leave the Archives unattended.”

“Of course,” Kingsley put in dryly. “No doubt the magical world would fall into chaos without your exceptional cataloguing skills, Mr Malfoy.” Draco bristled and opened his mouth to respond to that, but Kingsley was already talking over him. “I suppose it’s settled then. Auror Potter will relocate to your turf for the next two weeks. I trust you’ll see to it that he has everything he needs?”

“Oh, Malfoy is very good at what he does,” Potter drawled. “I’m sure he’ll see to all my needs.”

Draco’s breath hitched. For a moment, all he could do was gape soundlessly as Potter smirked at him.

Kingsley eyed both of them, looking less than impressed. “I don’t know what’s going on here,” he declared finally, “but you better get some work done in that damn monastery. Harry, I’ll expect a full report when you return.”

“Understood,” Potter obliged easily.

“Fine,” Draco muttered. Honestly, what else could he say? Clearly, nobody cared about what he wanted so what was the point?

“Off you go then,” Kingsley said, waving them off. “Good day to you both.”

Draco stood up, making sure to shoot Potter a withering glare as he did.

“After you,” Potter offered courteously. His green eyes glinted and Draco just knew he was thinking about the last time he’d said those exact words— in that blighted phone booth, just this morning.

He set his jaw and brushed past Potter, just barely suppressing the urge to slam the door on his way out.

He didn’t look back when he heard Potter’s footsteps following right after him.



The walk back to the Archives was tense and silent— mostly because Draco refused to say two words to the manipulative, scheming Slytherin-in-Gryffindor’s clothing walking alongside him. Eventually, Potter took the hint and stopped trying to make small talk, instead choosing to whistle a tune as Draco led him to the lower levels.

They entered the library and Potter shivered. “Merlin! Is it always this drafty in here?”

Draco scoffed. Some Saviour, afraid of a little chill. He was about to tell Potter he was free to leave anytime he liked, when he realised the prat was palming his wand.

Draco froze in horror, then reacted on immediate instinct.

“No fires in the library!” he all but snarled, snatching Potter’s wand with a snake-like reflex.

Potter blinked at his wandless hand. “But…you have a fireplace,” he countered, pointing to said fireplace.

Draco glowered at him until he took a prudent step back. “It’s for Floo travel only,” he bit out. “There will be no open flames in my library, Potter! Do you hear me? Some of these books are centuries old! I won’t have them destroyed just because you’re feeling a little nippy.”

“Okay, okay,” Potter conceded, raising his hands in a placating gesture. “I’ll use a Warming Charm, alright?”

Draco huffed and tossed the wand back, feeling a little disgruntled when the prat caught it neatly. He turned to scan the shelves, looking for the books Potter needed. He hoped the prat enjoyed scoring through text after text without Granger to help him. At least this nightmare had one silver lining.

Draco smirked and carted an armload of the thickest, dullest and most convoluted Potions tomes he could find to the desk where Potter had plonked himself.

“Everything you need to ‘research’ should be in here,” he informed Potter with a smirk. “If you need to consult another book, ask me first. Don’t touch anything without my permission, understand?”

“Interesting,” Potter retorted, leaning back indolently in his chair. His eyes tracked a path down Draco’s body. “I was allowed to touch last night.”

Draco froze. His eyes widened and— not for the first time that day— he was rendered speechless. Potter’s audacity and those damned eyes practically undressing him sent him into a spiral of justified anger. He growled and slammed his fist on the table, preparing to tear Potter to literal shreds.

“Alright, you wanker! Listen up because I have just about had enough of your…”

“Malfoy, lower your voice,” Potter admonished solemnly. His lips twitched though, and it was obvious he was fighting to keep a straight face. “This is a library, you know.”

The smug bastard. Draco was seething now. He took a deep breath and fought to regain his composure.

“Listen carefully,” he hissed. “Last night was a mistake. Do you understand me? It was a momentary lapse of judgement which I have no intention of repeating whatsoever. I never want to speak of it again.”

“Which part?” Potter asked earnestly. “What we did, or how many times we did it?”

Draco was a hair’s breadth from pulling his own wand, rules be damned. “Just read your books,” he spat. “And don’t disturb me if you value your life.”

“What if I have questions?”

“Look it up!”

Potter ducked his head— presumably to hide his ever present grin— and started reading obediently. Draco glared at him for a few minutes, wondering just how long it would take Potter to break character. But Potter just went on reading. His brow knit as he scanned the text, he Summoned a Quill and started jotting down a few notes.

Well. Maybe Potter had finally tired of his little game.

Draco gave him one last glare and went back to his desk. His duties beckoned and he immersed himself in the familiar and comforting practice of returning books to their correct places. As he checked and rechecked the catalogue, Potter’s presence and the constant scratching of the quill faded into background noise. It was almost nice, in a way.

“Malfoy?” Potter’s voice broke into his reverie.

“Hm?” Draco murmured distractedly.

“Can Monkshood extract cause hallucinations?”

Draco mulled it over. “Only if it’s blended with lacewing,” he replied.

“Okay. Thanks.”

There was silence again. Draco’s brow furrowed. Okay, so…maybe Potter had given up after all. Without too much of a fight, apparently. Good. That was good. It seemed a bit out of character but then again, Draco had made his intentions perfectly clear. He could hardly blame Potter for backing off. It’s not like he was disappointed or anything. No, of course not. That was just…

“What about powdered Bicorn Horn?”

“Not really,” Draco mumbled distractedly.  He flicked his wand and a few more books flew back to the shelves. “You’d have to use three cauldrons’ worth and blaze it over a high flame.”

“Mm hm. Hey, Malfoy?”

“Yes?”

“Were you born this bendy or do I have Quidditch to thank for that?”

“What the…?” Draco sputtered and jerked back so violently, his wand nearly splintered in half. “Potter!”

Potter threw his head back and laughed. “I just wanted to see if you were still paying attention,” he said. He chuckled and shook his head. “You know, Malfoy, you’re making this a lot of fun.”

“Stop it,” Draco snapped. “I’ve already told you I’m not going to…to...”

“To wrap your legs around me and moan my name again?”

“Potter! You utter bastard! What will it take to…”

“Have dinner with me.”

Draco blinked. “What?” he managed.

Potter snapped the book shut and turned to him, looking rather serious all of a sudden. “All this reading is making me hungry.”

“You haven’t even been reading an hour!”

“Come to dinner with me,” Potter repeated. “Nothing fancy. We can just grab something at the Three Broomsticks or something.”

Draco pressed back against his chair. “No,” he declared stubbornly. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

Potter shrugged. “Fine then,” he said, rummaging in his pockets. “I guess I’ll just have to eat here then.”

Draco craned his neck to take a look. “What have you got…”

“A Chocolate Frog,” Potter answered casually. He started peeling the wrapping slowly. “A half melted, sticky and very messy Chocolate Frog which I’m going to eat right here, next to your precious book…”

“No food or drink near the books!”

Potter laughed as the Frog whizzed out of his hand. He turned back to Draco and grinned shamelessly. “Wouldn’t it be much easier to just go to the Three Broomsticks with me?” he asked. “Honestly Malfoy, it’s just one dinner.”

And last night was ‘just one drink’. Draco cemented his resolve and binned the Chocolate Frog resolutely. “No,” he intoned, and this time his voice held steel. “I don’t care for your childish games, Potter. I said I’m not going anywhere with you, and I mean it.”

“I think you might change your mind,” Potter challenged.

Draco managed a half hysterical laugh. “Why is that?” he demanded. “Why on earth would I do that to myself?”

Potter’s grin widened. His eyes sparked with challenge. Draco felt a sudden chill travel down his spine.

“Because,” Potter said quietly, “I have something you want.”

Chapter Text

Draco sneered.

“You have nothing I want,” he told Potter coldly. And he had never meant it more. He didn’t want Potter around him. He didn’t want him in this Library, flicking through his books and…and watching him with that intense, almost hungry expression. He didn’t even want to think about Potter or his stupid, soft lips or his strong arms or…

Salazar damn it, what was happening to him?!

“I want nothing from you, Potter,” Draco repeated, willing himself to believe it. “Please leave.”

“Nothing?” Potter echoed, with a challenging grin. “Not even this?”

Potter pulled something out of his pocket.

Draco’s eyes widened.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens,” Potter announced, turning the book over in his hands. His fingers ran the length of the spine, over the embossed, gold print. Draco bit the inside of his cheek.

It was the same one. The exact copy he’d been looking at in that shop last night, right before he’d run into Potter.

And now, Potter had it.

“I have to say, you’ve got great taste in books,” Potter continued, flicking through the pages. “This is a literary classic. One of my personal favourites, actually.”

Draco felt his fists clench. Oh, he couldn’t believe how severely he’d underestimated Potter all these years. The man was a monster.

“So,” Potter spoke up, his eyes flicking up to meet Draco's again, “I guess the question is, how bad do you want it?”

Draco sneered. “This is pathetic,” he hissed. “Really, Potter? This is your big plan? You just told me it’s a classic. What makes you think I can’t go to London myself and buy another copy?”

He didn’t like the way Potter’s smile widened one bit.

“Oh, you certainly can,” Potter agreed amiably. “But I assure you, this is the one you want.”

“Is that so?” Draco countered with a disbelieving scoff. Potter was just bluffing now. He had to be. What could make that particular book so special? Draco was hardly an expert on Muggles, but he knew what a printing press was. If there weren’t over a hundred thousand existing copies of that book alone, he would turn in his wand.

“You really do have a good eye, Malfoy,” Potter continued. He pried the book open, running one finger down a page. Draco was just about to bark at him to be careful, when Potter’s eyes flicked back to him. “You have no idea what this is, do you? Come here, take a look.”

Despite his consternation, Draco took a step forward. He was curious now, and oddly excited. What had he stumbled upon, exactly? He barely noticed when Potter wrapped an arm around his waist to herd him over, until they were peering at the book together.

“Look at the illustrations,” Potter instructed, turning a few pages.

Draco’s breath caught and his eyes widened. His fingers hovered over the beautiful drawings…oh, but these were breath-taking! It hardly mattered that they weren’t moving, they still seemed to jump out of the page at him.

“Arthur Rackham,” Potter said suddenly. “The illustrator,” he explained further went Draco just looked lost. “This is an original, signed edition dating back to 1915, extremely rare and highly coveted. There are only about five hundred original copies left. This, Malfoy, is a collector’s wet dream. Set me back a pretty penny too.”

Oh. Merlin.

Draco reached out for the precious treasure, but Potter— cruel, unfeeling, vicious Potter— took it back. Draco watched in dismay as the book vanished. His heart sank. Just like that, it was out of his reach forever.

Potter chuckled. “I bought it for you,” he assured Draco with a gentle smile. “You can have it in two weeks, I promise.”

Draco stiffened. “If I sleep with you again?” he demanded accusingly.

Potter’s smile faded and his eyes flashed. His jaw clenched tight, and suddenly, he looked rather angry. “Did I say that?” he asked sharply. His arm tightened around Draco’s waist, just enough to make its presence felt. Draco’s eyes widened as he suddenly realised that he was in Potter’s arms and how had this happened exactly? He pushed at Potter and scuttled back, cheeks flushed and eyes wide. Potter let him go, but his eyes followed Draco’s retreat.

“I didn’t say that,” he repeated, softer this time. He cocked his head and took a cautious step forward. “Draco, are you afraid of me?”

Draco huffed. “Of course not,” he muttered, looking away. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

He definitely wasn’t afraid of Potter. It was the other things— the confused tangle of feelings and emotions and reactions that Potter elicited in him— that bothered him. He wasn’t used to this, not to any of it.

“Good,” Potter said softly. “That’s good.”

Draco sighed, feeling very tired all of a sudden. “What do you want, Potter?”

“A fair shot?”

Draco glanced at him, wary and guarded, but Potter looked sincere.

“All I’m asking for is two weeks,” he said softly, “to take you out, spend time with you, get to know you. I think there’s something here, Draco, and I want to find out what it is.”

Draco mulled over that in silence. It seemed like…it sounded like Potter was interested in more than a one off. Was that…was that good or bad? Oh Merlin, he didn’t know! This whole thing was just a complicated mess. It would be so much easier not to have to deal with it.

Besides, he didn’t like Potter. He had never liked Potter. He knew that. His entire life— sad though it may be— had been guided by a few, very select principles. ‘I don’t like Harry Potter’ was an inalienable part of that philosophy.

“Draco,” Potter pressed, sounding gentle but no less firm. “Just answer one question for me, okay? Last night…was it as good for you as it was for me?”

Draco bit the inside of his cheek. He couldn’t answer, he just couldn’t. Potter couldn’t have that, he couldn’t know just how much…no. Just no.

“I’m not sleeping with you,” Draco announced firmly. Potter said nothing but he offered a nod. Draco sighed and shook his head. He was going to regret this, he just knew it. “But if this is so important to you, we can…spend time together. Ifyou promise to give my book back.”

Potter grinned. He looked like he’d just won the War all over again. Draco scowled, half wanting to tell the prat he hadn’t won anything— this was a compromise and nothing more— but it seemed petty. He could play Potter’s game for two weeks, if it would get him that book. And after that, Potter would leave and these wretched feelings would go with him.

Besides, it’s not like he had anything better to do this Christmas. At least, Potter was getting what he wanted.

Chalk it up to Draco’s Good Deed of the Year.

“I’ll take it,” Potter agreed. “Two weeks. And I promise, whatever happens, the book is yours.”

Damn right it was. “Fine,” Draco groused. His shoulders slumped. Might as well get this over with, then. “So, the Three Broomsticks?”

“As good a place as any for a first date,” Potter countered.

Draco glowered at him. “Spending time together,” he repeated firmly, jabbing a finger in Potter’s chest to make his point. “Not a date.”

Potter shrugged, apparently not caring much one way or another. “Would you care to Apparate, or can we use your Floo Travel only fireplace?”

Draco rolled his eyes and grabbed a small pouch of Floo Powder from the mantle. He cast a careful Incendio, threw a pinch of powder in the flames and watched them turn bright green.

He couldn’t quite resist a parting shot, though.

“Just so you know, I’m not drinking anything but Butterbeer tonight.”

He stepped into the flames and Potter’s bark of laughter echoed in his ears all the way to Hogsmeade.

Chapter Text

Hogsmeade Village was absolutely breath-taking this time of year.

Draco walked side by side with Potter, admiring the displays and the festive trees sprucing up the outside of every shop. Even the clock tower in the square was lit up, shining bright in the twinkling town. Fairy lights floated placidly above their heads, casting their soft glow over the street. The crowds milled about and carols and laughter filled the air.

Draco smiled. It had been years since his last visit to Hogsmeade.

He hadn’t even realised how much he’d missed it.

“It’s really something, isn’t it?” Potter murmured, watching the lights with a soft smile.

Draco turned to watch him. His cheeks were flushed from the cold and his eyes were bright. How did Potter do it, he wondered. How did he switch between ‘confident, authoritative Auror’ and ‘carefree boy’ so effortlessly? Then again, boyish charm had always come easily to Potter. It was the eyes, Draco decided. Just yesterday, those eyes had met his and even then, deep down, Draco had known he was in trouble.

Those eyes turned on him now, vivid and intense enough to snap him out of his reverie. Draco flushed as he realised he’d been wool-gathering.

“Really something,” he murmured in agreement, tearing his gaze away from Potter.

Potter smiled and took his hand. If he noticed Draco’s start of surprise, he didn’t mention it. “Shall we?” he offered instead, leading Draco to the Three Broomsticks.

Draco followed obligingly. He had agreed to this, after all. And if Potter was determined to hold his hand, there wasn’t much he could do about it anyway.



When they got to the pub, Potter went to fetch their order while Draco chose a table near the fireplace. He rolled his eyes when Potter returned triumphant, with two foaming tankards of Butterbeer.

“As promised,” he said, with a wink.

Draco smirked and took a healthy swig of his drink. The mild tang of butterscotch and the warmth that spread right to his toes was so pleasant and familiar. Merlin, how long had it been since his last Butterbeer? He couldn’t resist downing his glass in one go.

“Merlin, take it easy,” Potter laughed.

Draco pointedly ignored the remonstration. His tongue darted out to chase the last of the Butterbeer foam and he closed his eyes, enjoying the taste and lingering warmth.

When he opened them again, Potter was watching him. His eyes were a darker hue than before, glinting with an almost…predatory interest. Draco swallowed and averted his gaze, uncomfortably aware of the flush rising to his cheeks. How did he always manage to embarrass himself around Potter?

“Here,” Potter said, his voice low and gruff all of a sudden. He pushed his own mug over.

Draco’s eyes darted from him to the mug. But Potter didn’t withdraw the invitation, so he tentatively accepted the drink. “Don’t you want any?” he mumbled, taking it and making sure to sip slowly this time.

Potter shook his head. “I’d rather watch you drink it,” he said. He leaned forward, close enough for Draco to see the hint of the scar, half hidden behind his messy fringe. “Did you know,” Potter murmured, “that you’re an entirely different person when you’re enjoying yourself?”

“I…what?” Draco blurted.

“Mm hm,” Potter replied, sounding amused. “You get so caught up in whatever you’re doing. It’s adorable. Your eyes light up and your cheeks flush. You’re so focused in that moment. The world could fall to pieces around you and you wouldn’t notice.”

Draco could do nothing but stare at him. When had Potter become this observant? And how was Draco supposed to respond to that? Should he be alarmed or flattered?

Disgruntled. He would be disgruntled. At least that was familiar territory.

“Shut up,” he grumbled, kicking Potter under the table for good measure.

Potter smirked and dodged him neatly. “Just so you know, you have a few other tells.”

Draco frowned. “What?”

Potter leaned forward again. “When you’re enjoying yourself,” he elaborated slowly. There was a hint of something darker in that playful tone now. Something…else.

“Sometimes when you’re…having fun, your breathing quickens.” Potter’s voice was a soft growl now, a half smirk pulling at his lips. “You make these sweet, little gasping sounds and bite at your lip. You shiver and thrash and scrabble for something to hold on to. And then there’s that moment…that one moment when the light catches your eyes and they turn silver. You’re beautiful in that moment, Draco. Godric help me, I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

There was silence after Potter trailed off. Draco swallowed. His throat felt too dry and his pulse was racing. He suddenly felt too hot in his own skin and Potter’s knowing smile was just stoking the fire. He should say something. He should tell Potter off or sneer or snark at him or something.

“I…” He shook his head. He felt dazed. Confused and disoriented. For Salazar’s sake, he needed to speak now. Where were all the words when he needed them?

“Draco?”

Potter put a gentle hand on his arm.

Draco started at the sudden touch, mercifully finding his voice again. “How…how long have you been doing that?” he demanded.

Potter frowned. “Doing what?”

“Calling me Draco.”

Potter chuckled, but allowed Draco to change the subject without a fight. “For a while now,” he conceded. “I was wondering when you’d notice.”

Draco shot him a half glare, wondering if it was worth picking a fight over. He had a feeling Potter wasn’t going to stop either way.

“You know, you’re welcome to call me Harry,” Potter offered.

Draco scowled and leaned away, firmly dislodging Potter’s hand from his person. “No, thank you.”

Potter smirked. “Are you sure?” he asked, with that damned wry grin again. “It’s not like you haven’t said it before. Repeatedly, at that.”

Again with the innuendo? Was Potter trying to mortify him to death?

“Stop it,” Draco bit out.

“Stop what?” Potter asked innocently.

“You know exactly what,” Draco snapped. He was blushing again and it was making him furious.

Potter held his angry gaze for a few minutes. Draco refused to be the one to blink first. For once, it was Potter who gave way.

“Would you like another Butterbeer?”

Draco considered it. On one hand, Potter obviously thought he was a toddler who could be bribed with sweet drinks, and that was insulting. On the other hand, he did want another Butterbeer.

“Cold, this time,” he muttered, shoving the mug into Potter’s waiting hands.

He pointedly ignored Potter’s fond smile as the man left to fetch a refill.



A few hours later, he was walking home. All in all, Draco decided that the night hadn’t been completely awful. He was still warm and pleasantly humming from his seventh Butterbeer, and if he was being completely honest, it was nice going somewhere other than home or the Library.

Speaking of which…

“You didn’t have to Side Along with me, you know,” Draco informed his seemingly ever-present companion. “I’m perfectly capable of getting home by myself.”

“Maybe I like seeing my dates home,” Potter teased. “Not everything is about you.”

Dates, he said. Draco absently wondered how many ‘dates’ Potter had ‘seen home’. The thought was inexplicably annoying, and he brushed it away.

“This is not a date,” he argued belatedly.

“Mm hm,” was Potter’s nonchalant response.

Draco rolled his eyes and took the stairs two at a time, until he was standing outside his flat. “This is me,” he told Potter, rather unnecessarily.

Potter raised an eyebrow. “You know, I can’t really compliment you on your decorating until you open the door.”

Draco looked away and shuffled his feet. He could tell Potter to leave. It was only fair. He had agreed to Potter’s terms, played this little game all night. He could just say goodnight and shut the door in Potter’s face.

But tonight hadn’t been so bad. He’d actually had fun, despite all of Potter’s efforts to annoy him. Ending it on an unpleasant note seemed uncalled for. And he did have a whole day to spend with Potter tomorrow. And the day after. And so on and so forth…

Draco sighed. “How much am I going to regret inviting you in?”

Potter laughed at that. “Think about it this way,” he said. “I want to get to know you. I’ll be that much closer to it if I see where you live. And the sooner I get what I want, the sooner I’ll leave you alone. Right?”

Well, Potter’s logic was sound.

His execution left a lot to be desired, but that was a battle for another day.

Well then, if this was how it had to be…

“Come in,” Draco droned. “Make yourself at home.”

He tried not to feel too self-conscious when Potter entered his home of two years. He had never had anyone over before, save for Mother. Father had never so much as set foot in this flat— not that Draco had ever invited him— and any close friends who mights have visited, had drifted away after life got in the way.

“I like it,” Potter murmured thoughtfully. “It’s very you.”

Draco frowned and scanned the place, trying to view it with an objective eye. It was small, but neat. There was some kind of order in the matched furniture and green colour scheme. No dirty dishes in the sink, thank Merlin. In fact, the only mess he could spot was his bookshelf in the corner, crammed with scrolls and books and manuscripts that had made it into his personal collection.

Potter was looking at the bookshelf with a hint of a smile, and Draco suddenly felt rather self-conscious.

“Have a seat,” he mumbled, gesturing to the sofa. “I’ll just…”

“Hello,” Potter said suddenly, cutting him off. “And who’s this?”

Draco turned around to take a look, and immediately spotted a familiar, furry face and striking green eyes watching them from behind the safety of the curtain. The sight brought a smile to his lips.

“Here, Adelaide,” he murmured, approaching carefully and pulling the drapes back. Adelaide mewed piteously and wound herself around his leg. Clearly, she had missed him terribly and he was a horrible person for abandoning her. Draco smiled and scratched behind her ears, forgetting all about Potter as he tended to his sweet girl.

“There’s my kitten,” he cooed, giving her another stroke before letting her go.

Adelaide gave him one last affectionate bunt, before turning to regard Potter curiously. Potter, who was watching them both with a soft smile.

“Have you had her long?” he asked.

“A year and a half,” Draco replied, observing Potter in rather the same way that Adelaide was. Who knew Potter had a soft spot for animals? Odd, that. It seemed to fit, though…

Potter made a soft, clicking sound and waggled his fingers. Adelaide gave him a flat look. She yawned and stalked off with a flick of her tail. Draco’s lips twitched and he bit back on a laugh.

“Don’t bother,” he said. “She doesn’t like strangers.”

Potter quirked an eyebrow. “Meets a lot of them, does she?”

Draco shrugged, deigning not to answer. A small part of him thrilled at the idea of Potter being jealous over his non-existent love life. Not because it was Potter of course, he reminded himself hurriedly. It just felt nice to be…noticed? Seen? Yes. Of course. That’s all it was.

And then, all of a sudden, Potter was standing in front of him. Draco blinked in surprise. Potter smiled and drifted closer.

The flat suddenly seemed a lot smaller than before.

“I lost you for a minute there,” Potter husked. Warm fingers traced the length of Draco’s jawline, making him shiver. “What were you thinking, I wonder.”

“Potter …”

Draco swallowed audibly, instinctively retreating a step. He hit the back of the sofa and Potter crowded into his space, keeping him steady with a firm hand on his waist. He was so close now. Those green eyes were boring into him, silently assessing his every move.

Oh, this was not good. Not good at all.

He…couldn’t exactly remember why, but he knew this was a bad idea.

“So damn pretty,” Potter murmured, half to himself. “You have no idea, do you?”

“I…”

“Come here.”

Draco shivered. And obeyed.

He was in Potter’s arms again, warm hands trailing up his back and holding him in place. Potter was leaning in and Draco closed his eyes, powerless to stop him. It’s happening, a small, hysterical part of him whispered. It’s really…

“Mew?”

There was a soft thud. Potter jerked back. Draco’s eyes shot open, just in time to catch a white blur pounce and tackle Potter’s shoelace.

Potter blinked in surprise. Draco gaped. And Adelaide batted at Potter’s foot, tangling gleefully with the shoelace.

Potter broke the awkward silence with a laugh. He shook his head and bent down, scooping the small cat up easily. “Oh, so now you want to play,” he chided, cradling her gently and scratching behind her ear. Adelaide rewarded him with a purr and bunted against his hand, before leaping out of his grip and alighting on the sofa.

She watched them with keen eyes, lashing her tail now and then.

Draco looked away, not sure if he was annoyed, relieved or embarrassed beyond belief. Had he just…? If Adelaide hadn’t…would he have?

“I should go,” Potter said suddenly. His eyes flicked to the smug cat again and he smirked. “Something tells me you’re already claimed.”

The thought of Potter claiming him sent a frisson up his spine. Draco rallied all of his self-restraint and offered up a sardonic smile.

“Is that all it takes?” he taunted. “I should have introduced you to Adelaide ages ago.”

Potter leaned in, his lips almost brushing Draco’s ear. “This isn’t over, sweetheart,” he whispered. “Not by a long shot.”

He pulled away abruptly, and headed for the door. Draco watched as Potter paused for a second and turned to his cat.

“Get ready for a fight, little lady,” he said solemnly. “You may be fierce, but I’m a Gryffindor.”

And with that, he ducked out, shot Draco a parting wink and then, Potter was gone— leaving Draco with his confusion and his rapid heartbeat and his cat.

Adelaide rumbled approvingly at her victory on the home front. She took a flying leap and pounced into Draco’s waiting arms.

“Well, you silly thing,” Draco sighed, as he tickled her chin. “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into. You could have scratched his eyes out, but no.”

Adelaide batted at his chin and curled up, clearly done for the night.

Draco shook his head and settled on the sofa, with a book. As Adelaide snoozed in his lap, he wondered what mayhem Potter would bring with him tomorrow.

And the strangest thing was, he didn’t really know if he was apprehensive or eager to find out.

Chapter Text

Draco woke up the next morning, feeling strangely eager to start the day. Usually it took him an hour and a half to summon up the will to trudge his way to work. But today, he showered and dressed in half his usual time, grabbed an apple and checked to see if Adelaide’s bowl was full. One hasty goodbye later, he was out the door.

Stranger still, he didn’t take the Floo. Normally, it wasn’t even a decision. He would just go straight from his flat to the Library, avoiding the morning rush and spending the day in silence.

But today, was different. He wanted to be out today.

So, Draco walked. He headed through Diagon Alley, only stopping to pick up a scone from the bakery he liked. He took a deep breath, enjoying the bite of brisk wind and the weak sunlight. He even took a moment to browse through Flourish and Blotts. There was one awkward moment when Old Aurelius Flourish recognised him, but apparently, he’d recently commissioned the latest edition of Dragon Breeding for Pleasure and Profit and he was wondering if the Head Archivist would be interested in adding a few copies to the Ministry's Library. Draco declined as politely as he could.

He was already in negotiations for a book, and it was taking everything he had.

As per usual, Potter had made it into his thoughts. Draco mulled over their last meeting as he walked. His mind supplied the oddest selection of memories— green eyes bright with laughter, flecks of snow in messy dark hair, a smile caught between rakish and gentle, strong hands stroking Adelaide gently…

Draco took a deep breath. This would be so much easier if Potter wasn’t so damn attractive. Despite his best efforts, the man was working his way through Draco’s defences. It was getting harder to resist him, and that was a cause for concern.

Harder, Draco told himself, but not impossible.

He firmly reminded himself that Potter had asked for two weeks of his time and nothing else. And there were only a handful of reasons for someone like Potter— star Auror, Saviour of the Magical World and by all accounts, bloody fit bastard— to waste time with an aloof, snappish librarian who rarely had two pleasant words to say to anyone.

One, he was just bored. Two, he liked a challenge. Three, he wasn’t used to hearing the word ‘no’.

There. That was it. Simple as pie, once you actually made a list.

Eventually, Potter would tire of him and go back to saving the world or rescuing kittens from trees or whatever he did in his spare time. This ‘getting to know you’ business was just a phase, and Draco would be wise not to get caught up.

All he wanted from Potter was that book. And that was just as well, because apparently, it was all he was going to get.

The realisation dampened his good mood. Draco walked the rest of the way in a far more sober frame of mind.



Potter, curse him, was already there when Draco made it to the Library. He was flicking through a copy of the Daily Prophet and sucking on a Sugar Quill.

Draco’s eyes narrowed and he cast an immediate Evanesco, smirking as Potter blinked at his empty hand.

“No food or drinks near the books,” he said tersely. “How many time do I have to say it before it sticks, Potter?”

Potter didn’t seem fazed by his sour mood or the loss of his Sugar Quill. “Well, it looks like the Butterbeer finally wore off,” he teased lightly.

Draco scowled and stomped over to the Potions and Draughts Section, pulling books out with a lot more force than necessary. He was aware of Potter watching him having a strop, but it wasn’t enough to stop him. He just yanked another book off the shelf and headed towards the desk.

“Here,” he spat, tossing the books in front of Potter. They landed heavily on the desk, releasing a cloud of dust. “For your ‘research’ on hallucinogens. If you need me, I’ll be at my desk. Try not to need me.”

Potter didn’t respond. He just watched Draco, brow furrowed and expression speculative. Finally, he nodded and reached for one of the books. Draco watched in stony silence as Potter broke eye contact and started reading.

The lack of reaction made Draco’s gut churn. Potter’s tacit surrender almost made him feel…guilty. Maybe he shouldn’t have snapped like that? Had he just worked himself over a fit for nothing? What if he had, and now Potter was angry with him?

Perfect. Like his life wasn’t complicated enough, now he had this mess to deal with.

The tangle of emotions and feelings and suddenly stifling silence was starting to grate on him. His eyes flicked to Potter again, but the man just went on reading, apparently content to ignore him altogether.

Draco clenched his jaw and headed back to his desk. He had work to do anyway.

And if Potter didn’t want to speak to him anymore, that was just fine.



It was not fine. It was not fine at all. Draco was starting to lose his mind.

The altercation— one sided though it may have been— had thrown him off course. Potter’s quiet withdrawal had only stoked the flames. With no outlet to vent his frustration, Draco had taken to handling his complicated situation with grace and maturity.

To make a long story short, he threw a bitch fit.

It started with sneering and rolling his eyes when Potter took too long to turn a page. When that didn’t elicit a reaction, he graduated to scoffing. And when that didn’t work, he just threw decorum out the window and flat out started sniping at Potter.

“Are you still reading that?”

“Have you even turned a page yet?”

“Should I call Hogwarts and have a First Year come down here to explain brewing to you?”

“Good lord, Potter, are those your notes or did your Quill have a fit?”

And yes, he knew he was being insufferable, thank you. But Potter still wasn’t reacting and Draco was on the verge of throwing things around now.

It took another ten minutes of snide commentary before something changed.

Potter shut the book and stood up. Draco— who had been busy berating him on his posture— trailed off as the Auror approached him. Potter looked calm enough but there was a tic in his jaw, and the storm in his eyes was plain as day.

Draco swallowed. Suddenly, he regretted bringing up Potter’s posture. Apparently, it was a sore subject.

Potter approached his desk and Draco suppressed the urge to press back against his chair.

“What?” he muttered ungraciously.

Potter watched him for a few moments. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He exhaled, his shoulders relaxed and he turned back to Draco.

“Get your coat.”

Draco stared. “What?”

“Get your coat,” Potter repeated slowly, firmly and with a tone that brooked zero argument. “We’re going for a walk.”

Draco reared up defensively. “One, I’m not some pet you can drag around when the mood strikes you,” he snapped. “And two, I’m not going anywhere right now. I have work to do.”

Potter leaned forward, planting his hands on the desk. His face was inches from Draco’s now, his green eyes were blazing. “One,” he echoed, voice soft and just a touch menacing, “I implied no such thing. And two, if you hadn’t wasted all your time tearing into me, maybe you would have gotten some work done. You have no one but yourself to blame. Now. Get. Your. Coat. We’re going out.”

Potter held his gaze, calm and unruffled. Draco stared back, stubborn and mulish. His eyes started to water and Potter still refused to back down.

Draco sneered and broke eye contact.

“Fine,” he muttered, pushing past Potter roughly. He grabbed his coat from the rack. It surrendered easily enough but his scarf got good and tangled in the process. Draco struggled with it for a good three minutes, cursing under his breath all the while until a hand wrapped around his wrist.

Potter detangled the scarf without a word and draped it over Draco’s shoulders.

“Come on,” he coaxed, gentler this time as he led Draco to the fireplace.

Draco shook his arm off stubbornly, pointedly ignoring Potter’s tired sigh.



He didn’t say a word when they emerged in the fireplace of the Leaky Cauldron, and he remained mutinously silent when Potter led them around the back. He didn’t even say a word when Potter crossed the border wall and led them into Muggle London, that’s how mad he was.

Potter wasn’t in a chatty mood either. He was quiet and methodical as he guided them down the crowded streets. Draco hurried to follow his quickening footsteps. He didn’t know London that well at all, and if Potter decided to abandon him here and fuck off…well, let’s just say Draco had given him ample reason.

Potter stopped abruptly in front of a small bookshop. Draco almost ran into him as he skidded to a halt. He craned his neck to read the sign: The Notting Hill Bookshop.

“In,” Potter ordered gruffly.

Draco ducked his head and obeyed, feeling a bit out of sorts. He had expected to get dragged into a back alley where Potter could yell and curse at him before storming away.

Why a bookshop, he wondered. What was Potter up to?

“Go on.”

Draco started as Potter spoke up from right behind him. He looked tense and irritable as he gestured to the shelves.

“What?” Draco demanded warily.

Potter sighed and pressed two fingers to his forehead. “Go on and pick one,” he elaborated.

Wait. What?

“Pick one for what?” Draco asked.

Potter rolled his eyes. “To read, Draco. I believe you’re familiar with the concept.”

Draco resisted the childish impulse to stick his tongue out at Potter. He turned back to the shelves and scanned them. The section right in front of him was labelled ‘Crime Thrillers’. Oh, that sounded like fun. There were so many genres in Muggle Literature, he doubted he would ever be able to explore all of them. Right now, he was out of time. Potter was waiting on him, and Draco doubted it would be a pleasant conversation.

He picked up a book titled Gone Girl and handed it to Potter. Potter took it, grabbed another book without even glancing at the title and headed to the counter. It took him less than a minute to buy the books and bag them.

Draco watched in wary silence as Potter threw a look over his shoulder and gestured to him to follow.

There was silence again, as they made their way down the street. Potter led, and Draco followed.

“Where are we going?” he asked, almost timidly, when Potter showed no signs of stopping.

“To the park,” Potter answered shortly. “We’re going to enjoy some fresh air and read our books. Quietly. And maybe, once we’ve both calmed down, we can talk this out like civilised adults.”

Draco hunched his shoulders and walked in silence, trying not to feel like a scolded child.



The book certainly lived up to its genre. It was absolutely brilliant. Any another time, Draco would have devoured it with relish.

Right now however, he was painfully aware of Potter sitting right next to him, on the bench, idly leafing through his own book and clearly waiting for Draco to finish up.

Draco bit back on a sigh and put the book away. Might as well get this over with. He didn’t know why the prospect of fighting with Potter was so distasteful now. He’d been trying to do it all morning. Somehow, it didn’t feel right after they’d sitting and reading in peaceful silence. His mind was settled now and he didn’t want to invite the chaos back in.

“So,” Potter began. He turned his head and regarded Draco thoughtfully. “Care to tell me what’s on your mind?”

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

Potter rolled his eyes. “You’ve been short with me all morning. You’re snapping at everything and I even noticed you manhandling your precious books today. Don’t tell me you’re not upset.”

How did Potter notice everything? Draco dropped his gaze and fiddled with the ends of his scarf. What could he say? What did Potter expect him to say? Hell, he barely understood it himself.

“Draco.”

Gentle fingers tipped his chin up, holding him in place. Green eyes gazed at him, soft and concerned.

“Talk to me,” Potter coaxed. “Let me help.”

Draco pulled away. “How long are you going to play this game?” he snapped in frustration. “Aren’t you bored already?”

“Bored?” Potter echoed. He sounded honestly surprised and it just irked Draco more. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, stop it,” Draco muttered. “Just stop it, Potter.”

“Draco.” Potter shook his head helplessly. “I can’t fix this if you won’t tell me what’s wrong. Honestly, I thought we were finally getting somewhere.”

“Why are you even bothering with me at all?” Draco barked. The words were coming to him now, in angry, rapidsuccession. “You’re you! You can’t even walk down the street without people throwing themselves at you! Just snap your fingers and pick one out of the line-up! Why…why would you…we didn’t even kiss yesterday! And you can’t expect me to believe that you won’t…”

“What?” Potter cut in. “Get bored and leave?”

Draco snapped his mouth shut. It sounded even worse when he said it.

“Draco, is that it?” Potter pressed gently. “Is that what’s worrying you?”

“I don’t care if you leave,” Draco grumbled sulkily. “I want you to leave.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“You’re being too nice to me, you complete jackass!”

There was silence after his outburst. Potter just stared at him, speechless for once. And then he started laughing. Draco fumed in silence as the bastard practically had a fit, holding on to the bench for support as he guffawed.

“What’s so funny?” Draco demanded.

“You,” Potter managed through his chuckles. “You’re absolutely, completely mad.”

It took him a few minutes, but eventually he stopped. Draco scowled as Potter straightened himself enough to resume the conversation.

“I’m not going to pretend I understood any of that,” Potter told him frankly, “but— and this is just my opinion— you might be overthinking this.”

Draco considered that. Had he? He did have a tendency to draw conclusions and act impulsively.

“Draco, this is all up to you,” Potter said reassuringly. His hand carded through Draco’s hair carefully, brushing it back. “We’re just getting to know each other, remember? And we have all the time to work this out, as much as you want. If you want me to go, I’ll go. If you want me to stay…well, we’ll work on that when the time comes.”

“I don’t,” Draco mumbled. He knew he was being stubborn, but he didn’t care. Admitting to anything was out of the question. Even if he wasn’t so sure anymore. “Just want the book.”

“Well then, there you go,” Potter conceded. “If you’re so sure, nothing I can do could change your mind. These two weeks should make no difference.”

A lesser man would have given up by now. Draco sighed and shifted, leaning into Potter’s grip just a bit. The snow was starting to fall again, and it was getting cold. Potter took the hint and wrapped an arm around him.

“Feeling better?” he asked softly.

Draco nodded. He was still confused and out of sorts and in unfamiliar territory. But he did feel better. He didn't have to figure it out right this second, he decided. It could wait.

“You make a good point though,” Potter mused, breaking the sudden silence.

“Hm?” Draco murmured, raising his head to look at him.

Potter smiled down at him, and the glint in his eye was dark and warm and familiar. “We didn’t kiss yesterday,” he murmured. His grip tightened just a fraction and Draco’s breath caught. “And it was our first date too.”

“It was not a date,” Draco protested. He sounded a bit breathless, even to his own ears. “It was a hostage situation.”

Potter’s eyes gleamed with sudden, evil inspiration. “Is that so?” he purred. “In that case, I think I’m entitled to make demands.”

Oh.

Draco’s eyes widened as Potter loomed over him, suddenly so close that their lips would brush if he moved another inch.

“Kiss me,” he said, and it was clearly an order— both silk and steel.

Draco swallowed. “No,” he replied, although he wasn’t sure why. Something to do with principles, he imagined…

Potter smiled and leaned in a touch more. “Kiss me or I’ll put the book on eBay.”

Draco didn’t know what that was but it sounded ominous. Potter was making threats— dire threats with alarming consequences. He was obviously in no position to refuse.  There was no choice but to give in to Potter’s outrageous demands.

Resistance was futile.

“You monster,” he whispered, closing the distance between them.

Potter’s lips touched his, and Draco’s world exploded into stars.

Chapter Text

The weekend rolled around with an invitation.

“Do you want to go to the Yule Ball with me?”

Draco— who had been napping comfortably on his sofa up to this point— raised his head to glower at Potter for daring to disturb him. Potter smiled fondly and went back to frying sausages, while Adelaide paced the length of the kitchen with one covetous eye on the stove.

Oh yes, about that…

Potter was making him breakfast.

Draco would like it on record that he had most definitely not asked Potter to come over and cook for him. He had only sent an owl earlier that morning, reminding him to check out the latest issue of Brewers’ Weekly. They had just published an exclusive on hallucinogenic draughts, and it would make a world of difference to their research project. And if he happened to mention that he had nothing on his agenda today, then that was just making polite conversation.

As usual, Potter had been presumptuous and taken matters into his own hands.

Once he’d installed himself in the kitchen and the delicious scent of frying sausages filled the air, Draco had seen no reason to stop him.

“Oi, pay attention!”

Draco started as a small tomato bounced off his head. Adelaide skittered over and pounced on it, batting it between her paws.

“What?” he snapped at the insufferable tomato tosser who’d taken over his life. Not to mention, his kitchen.

“Do you want to go to the Yule Ball with me?” Potter repeated patiently. He plated up the sausages and started on the eggs.

Draco yawned and stretched languidly. “Are we still at Hogwarts?” he asked. “I could have sworn I graduated.”

Potter shook his head. “Sometimes, I swear you’re being obtuse on purpose. You know perfectly well that I’m talking about the Ministry’s Annual Yule Ball.”

Oh. That awful thing.

“Do I have to?” Draco whined, knowing perfectly well that he did. As, the only employee and sole representative from the Archives, his attendance was mandatory. Every year, he was forced to show up at that blighted affair, skulk awkwardly in the corner, and make agonising small talk with people he would likely only see next year at the same blighted affair before making his escape.

Potter, at least, looked sympathetic. He ruffled Draco’s hair and passed him a plate. “I have to go too,” he said. “We might as well go together.”

Draco mulled over that and took a bite of the scrambled eggs. Merlin, they were delicious. “I suppose,” he conceded finally. “But won’t people talk?”

“About?”

“About…you know.” Draco trailed off uncomfortably. Now that it had come up, he couldn’t ignore it. The Yule Ball was a huge event, everyone would be there. If he showed up with Potter, he would be seen. Noticed. Everyone would assume that they were dating.

That…surely, that wasn’t a good thing. Right?

“So, that’s a no?”

Draco jerked out of his mental spiral. Potter was still smiling at him, but there was a lingering disappointment in his expression.

Draco felt uncharacteristically guilty.

“It’s just…what will your friends say?” he asked hesitantly. He couldn’t imagine Granger taking this well. As for Weasley…hell, he didn’t even want to think about his reaction.

Potter seemed unconcerned. “I’m a big boy, Draco,” he said firmly. “My friends, my problem. The question is, do youwant to go to the Yule Ball with me?”

That was a good question. He didn’t…not want to go. Was that the same as wanting to? He had a feeling he wouldn’t know until he tried. And Draco hated not knowing things…

It was just one evening. And what did he care what a bunch of busy bodies at the Ministry thought? It’s not like he spoke to them anyway.

“I suppose so,” he offered finally, grudgingly. “We don’t have to stay long, do we?”

He chanced a look up at Potter. He was smiling now— a real smile, wide and bright. Draco looked away, ignoring the small seed of warmth unfurling inside him at the sight. Why did Potter have to smile so much anyway?

All of a sudden, he felt a need to change the subject.

“Seriously, what did you put in these eggs? Is this coconut milk?”

Potter just chuckled and piled more eggs in his plate. And Draco smiled back, absently wondering when he’d last had a morning this pleasant.


Later that evening:


“What is the point of hosting a ‘Yule Ball’ in the first bloody week of December?” Draco grumbled as he followed Potter to the ballroom in the Ministry’s West Wing. “They’re not fooling anyone. I know it’s not Christmas yet.”

“Please don’t ask me to explain how Human Resources works,” Potter replied, nudging him playfully. “We’ll be here all night.”

Draco laughed, despite himself. For the first time ever, he was actually looking forward to this wretched affair.

“I’ll bet you five galleons Weasley makes a scene and Granger has to drag him out by his ear,” he declared.

Potter’s bark of laughter echoed down the hall. “Hush,” he scolded lightly. “We’re here.”

Draco fell silent and entered the ballroom alongside Potter. As usual, the Ministry had gone overboard with the decorations. The effect was cheerful, if a little gaudy. Still, Draco could appreciate the bright lights and the festive tree holding court in the centre of the room. The guests milled about, dressed to the nines. There were more than a few well-tailored dress robes in the mix, and yet…Draco’s eyes kept straying back to Potter.

There was something about him. He stood out, even in a crowd of dozens. Even though he was dressed in elegant, formal robes, Potter looked like he could head out to battle any second. He looked dangerous, capable and handsome as hell. And clearly everyone knew it. Draco had spotted more than one head turning and a few eyes widening when they made their entrance. He smirked to himself.

Perhaps being seen with Potter had its perks.

“Oi, Harry!”

The cheerful bellow rang out from the other end of the ballroom.

Draco pursed his lips as Weasley strode over, closely followed by a smiling Granger. Guided by instinct, he took one step back, sliding closer to Potter.

“Merlin, you made it!” Weasley exclaimed. “We were just about to…wait, is that Malfoy?”

Damn it.

Draco shuffled awkwardly as Granger and Weasley gawked at him. Potter gave him an encouraging smile, but it didn’t do much to reassure him. Granger was just watching him with unabashed curiosity now, while Weasley looked like he’d swallowed a Flobberworm.

“Weasley, Granger,” he greeted in monotone.

“Hello, Malfoy,” Granger offered cautiously. Her eyes flicked back to Potter and her silent question was plain as day. Potter just smiled and wrapped an arm around Draco’s waist.

It was a heartening gesture and Draco was strangely grateful for the support.

Shockingly, Weasley didn’t share the sentiment.

“Harry, what the hell?” he barked. He was turning red before Draco’s eyes, glaring at them both now. Draco cringed as a few heads turned in their direction.

“Ron.” Potter’s voice was clipped. He looked annoyed, but he had yet to let go of Draco. “Not now,” he said firmly.

“But…”

“I said, not now,” Potter repeated, in that same no-nonsense voice. “We’ll talk later, okay?”

Granger mercifully, took the cue. “Ron, let’s get a drink,” she said, grabbing her boyfriend’s arm and starting to leading him away firmly. “I think they’re breaking out the good champagne.”

They left, Weasley still sputtering indignantly.

Draco heaved a sigh of relief. Merlin, that was awkward.

He started when Potter squeezed his shoulders gently. “Sorry about that,” he whispered. “Do you want to step outside for a minute?”

It was a good idea. A bit of fresh air could hardly hurt.

“Hang on,” Draco said suddenly. He snagged two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter and handed one to Potter. “One for good luck?”

Potter grinned and accepted the glass, before leading him out.



They ended up on the balcony overlooking the gardens. Draco let the silence wash over him, admiring the world below bathed in a dim glow of the moonlight. The trees were frosted over, gleaming bright against the darkness. Two ravens perched on a wrought iron gate, calling out to each other. The moon hung full and bright in the sky, framing a cold and beautiful world.

It was amazing.

“Top off?”

Potter grinned and offered his champagne to Draco.

“Trying to get me drunk?” Draco taunted, accepting the glass. There was no rancour in his teasing this time. Just a warm comfort and a sense of satisfaction brought about by the buzz of alcohol and…

…and Potter, standing here with him.

“Can’t say I’m not tempted,” Potter replied softly. “But that’s not how I want this to go. Not this time.”

Draco flushed. He turned his gaze back to the gardens and took a swig of champagne. When he felt Potter’s arms wrap around his waist, he bit back a smile.

“Stop,” he murmured, trying to nudge him away. “Haven’t we given those vultures in there enough reason to gossip already?”

“Not nearly enough,” Potter retorted, trailing warm lips down his nape. “Merlin, you’re beautiful. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out.”

Draco’s breath caught. Potter had a knack for saying things like that— things that left him floundering for words. Sometimes…sometimes it was enough to make him believe that Potter wanted him. Times like this made him wonder if this was more than attraction and lust, if this was something…else.

But no, that thought was foolish. That sort of thing just didn’t happen. Not to him.

School rivals turned lovers. Draco nearly laughed. Merlin, talk about a fairy tale…

No, he was better off living in the real world. A world where things were exactly what they seemed. Where green was green and red was red and the two just didn’t mix. Ever.

He nudged his way out of Potter’s grip. He felt tired, all of a sudden. And sad too, although that was something he wouldn’t admit.

“We should be leaving soon,” he said quietly.

If Potter noticed the shift in his mood, he didn’t mention it. He pressed a chaste kiss to Draco’s cheek and let him go.

“Just give me a minute to talk to Ron, yeah?”

A warm hand traced his jaw and just for a second, Draco indulged himself and leaned into the touch. Then Potter was gone, walking away from him with quick, purposeful strides and heading back inside.

Draco turned back to the gardens. The snow was falling again, bathing the world in white. He wondered why it wasn’t colder. In fact, it was rather pleasant out here.

Warm, almost.

Too warm, actually. It was probably the champagne. But Merlin, was he parched. Draco took another swig, if only to dampen his dry throat.

The buzzing in his head was growing louder. A dull, droning hum was drowning out his thoughts. A knot was forming at the base of his skull, pounding like a steady drum.

Draco swallowed.

His mouth was dry. So dry.

His heart was beating faster. He could feel his pulse against his collar.

What…what was happening?

He staggered as he let go of the railing. The world spun around him, tilting violently from side to side. The glass fell from his limp fingers, but the buzzing was so loud he didn’t even hear it break.

Something was wrong. The dazed thought settled in his head and a dull panic set in. Something was very, very wrong with him.

He needed to go back inside.

Find help.

Find…Harry.

His knees buckled before he could take two steps. He fell face first and just about managed to brace himself against the wall before he collapsed. His breath was coming and sharp, harsh pants now. He could barely breathe, it was so hot. It was like he was burning up from the inside, like he was on fire…

Fire.

Flames danced at the edge of his vision. Draco’s breath caught in his throat. The world was a vivid orange now, bright and blinding. He could feel the tongues of fire reaching for him, singeing his flesh. He was choking on the acrid smoke.

Somewhere, he heard Crabbe’s howls through the dull roar of the flames. Crabbe was dying. Right in front of him.

It was happening again.

And this time he was going to die too.

He didn’t realise he’d been screaming until his voice gave out and his knees buckled. As he fell into blessed unconsciousness, he thought he saw green eyes seeking him out in the flames and a familiar voice screaming his name.

Chapter Text

Draco woke up to darkness and hushed voices all around him. His mind reacted slowly, trying to make sense of the awareness returning to his aching body.

“…a stupid, ill thought out prank. Nothing more.”

Draco froze, recognising Shacklebolt’s voice. The Head Auror was here. But why?

“You can’t possibly believe that,” another voice replied, low, angry and instantly recognisable. If Draco could have managed it, he would have winced at the sheer fury in Harry’s hushed whisper.

Shacklebolt didn’t seem to think much of it either. “Auror Potter, get a hold of yourself,” he growled. “There is no evidence that this was anything but an attempt to make mischief at a Ministry event.”

It was then, and only then, that Draco realised he was lying down on someone. Half sprawled in someone’s lap, specifically. His head rested on strong thighs and a warm, large hand was rubbing circles in his back. It felt nice. He rather wanted to doze off again, but he forced himself to stay awake and listen.

“You’re not serious,” Harry scoffed. His hand drifted to Draco’s hair now, the motion gentle and soothing. “How much more evidence do you need? St Mungo’s just reported back. The potion composition is an exact match to the sample we retrieved from Devon! Which means…”

“Which means absolutely nothing,” Kingsley cut in firmly. “Potions tend to have similar compositions, Harry. It’s how we know they were brewed correctly. We just don’t have enough to justify an investigation at this point.”

Harry went stiff as a board. The sudden tension was unnerving, and Draco tried to remain as still as possible.

“Ten people,” Harry hissed dangerously, “succumbed to varying degrees of hysteria at a secured Ministry event and you don’t think we have anything to investigate? Kingsley, this wasn’t a prank! It was an attempt to induce mass hysteria, potentially start a riot. It was an act of terrorism and you know it!”

“Don’t throw words like that around!” Kingsley barked, sounding exasperated. “The last thing we need is for the Minister for Magic to catch wind of some conspiracy theory and start breathing down our necks! We’ll be looking for a needle in a haystack and when nothing turns up…you know, I’m finding it very hard to talk business with you while you’re petting the Head Archivist.”

Draco flushed as he finally put the embarrassing scene together in his head. Good grief, had he been glommed on to Potter all this time?

“I’m not leaving him,” Harry replied, softer this time. His fingers carded through Draco’s hair again. “Not right now.”

“Harry, we…”

Draco had had enough. He stirred a bit and groaned to announce his presence. Harry’s hands stilled in his hair.

“Draco?” he whispered, sounding hesitant and a bit scared.

Draco finally opened his eyes.

The first thing he saw was Harry— looking down at him with a soft smile and eyes just a tiny bit damp. “You’re awake,” he murmured softly. “Oh, thank Merlin. You’re awake.”

He sounded so relieved, so grateful. Warm hands carded through Draco’s hair gently, brushing it back and stroking his face.

It was enough to tip Draco over the edge. He hadn’t even realised how awful he was feeling— cold and small and scared. A soft whimper escaped him and his hands flew up to tangle in Harry’s shirt, desperate to keep him close.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Harry soothed him. “It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re okay now.”

He didn’t feel okay. He felt small and lost. His stomach was churning and he could still feel the phantom heat from the flames. Draco shivered and turned in Harry’s arms, wanting nothing more but to hide away from the world. He missed his Library desperately right now. He wished he was there instead.

“Okay,” Harry murmured. Careful hands crept up his back to hold him carefully. “Okay, Draco. Whatever you want, yeah?”

Kingsley cleared his throat, reminding them of his presence. Draco nudged further into Harry’s arms and Harry squeezed him gently.

“I think we’re done here tonight, Head Auror,” he told Kingsley, politely but firmly.

Kingsley harrumphed but didn’t protest. “I’ll see myself out. And Harry? Keep this thing under wraps. We don’t want the press making a mountain out of a molehill, understand?”

Harry was mutinously silent for a few seconds. Draco squeezed his arm discreetly, prompting him to respond.

“Yes,” he replied heavily. “I understand. Sir.”

Kingsley excused himself shortly afterwards, and left them to it.

It still took Draco a few minutes to release Harry. Harry helped him sit up, propping him up on the sofa, arms still loosely wrapped around his shoulders.

“How do you feel?” he asked, nuzzling at Draco’s hair. “Any nausea? Headaches? Hermione said there might be some side effects.”

Draco vaguely recalled that Granger was a Healer. She must have checked up on him then— probably heard him screaming and watched him claw at himself as he battled his worst nightmare…

The rush of humiliation hit hard. Draco looked away, and his eyes landed on the DMLE crest hanging proudly on the wall in front of him.

“Where am I?” he demanded.

“In my office,” Harry replied, rubbing his back soothingly. “We couldn’t move you to St Mungo’s. You were panicking too much.”

Draco swallowed. His throat still felt too dry. “What happened?” he asked. He needed to know. He needed to understand.

Harry tightened his grip a fraction. “Someone spiked the champagne,” he explained quietly. “You…you got dosed. By the time I got to you…it was bad, Draco. You were screaming. The things you were saying…”

The champagne.

Someone had drugged him.

Draco’s blood ran cold.

He closed his eyes. He tried to will his heartbeat back to normal. Most of the night was a blur, but he could still remember how he’d felt. The haunting, sickening heat of the Fiendfyre, the fear and panic and pain of the night he’d never let himself think about since the Battle…it had seemed so real in that moment. It had felt like he’d been dropped in the throes of his worst nightmare.

“Was…was anybody else…”

“Ten people.” Harry exhaled sharply and scrubbed at his eyes. “It hit you harder. You… had two glasses, remember?”

His memories flew back to the balcony, to Harry smiling in the moonlight and offering him his glass. It could have been him, Draco thought blankly. If Harry had taken it, he would be suffering right now.

Strangely enough, that thought was even worse.

“I’m sorry.” Harry’s voice shook and his hands gripped Draco desperately. “Oh Merlin, I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault.”

“No,” Draco protested at once. “No, it’s not. You didn’t know, Harry. How could you have known?”

“I should have known,” Harry growled. There was a quiet fury in his voice, his eyes were dark with anger. Draco shivered slightly. He had only seen this side of Harry a scant few times. And lately, he had become so used to his softer side— his playful presence, his kind smile and teasing comments. He had forgotten what was hidden beneath that cheerful veneer. Harry was powerful. Dangerous, when provoked.

He was dangerous right now.

Draco wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck, curling into him. He wasn’t sure what he was doing, and judging by Harry’s huff of surprise, he didn’t quite get it either. All Draco knew was that if he didn’t calm him down right now, Harry would do something. Something reckless and dangerous.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Harry crooned, pulling him closer and pressing a kiss to his temple. “I’m here, sweetheart. I won’t let anything happen to you, okay? I’ve got you, I promise.”

The tender endearments were soothing them both, Draco realised. It felt good, giving Harry something to hold on to.

A few minutes later, Harry pulled out his wand and muttered a Summoning Charm. Draco watched in perplexed silence as a box flew off the desk in the corner and floated towards them.

“You haven’t eaten since this morning,” Harry reminded him. He pried the box open and held it out. “Here.”

Draco peered inside, staring at the bright assortment of Christmas cookies. They looked delicious but he was too unsettled to eat. “I’m not hungry,” he mumbled, pushing the box away.

Harry clicked his tongue disapprovingly and picked up a biscuit anyway— one shaped like a snowflake. “Just a bite,” he coaxed gently, holding it out. “The sugar will help.”

Draco sighed and closed his eyes. He leaned forward and took a bite, only realising then that Harry was basically hand-feeding him. The cookies did help though. For a minute, he just sat there enjoying the sweet taste on his tongue and the warm brush of Harry’s fingers against his lips.

After a while though, he had to break the silence. There were things they needed to talk about.

“Harry?”

“Hm?”

“What happened in Devon?”

Harry fell silent. Draco tried not to squirm guiltily under his piercing gaze.

“How long were you listening in?” Harry asked quietly.

“What happened in Devon?” Draco repeated.

Harry sighed and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Nothing,” he said finally. “It was just…it was nothing, Draco.”

Anger simmered in his gut, tight and uncomfortable. “I have a right to know,” Draco said coldly. “I was drugged. Do you have any idea what it was like? What I went through? You…”

“I know,” Harry cut in. He reached out and cradled Draco’s face in gentle hands. “I know and I’m so sorry,” he repeated quietly. “I won’t let it happen again. I swear, Draco. It will never happen again. I’ll fix it, okay?”

“But…”

Draco trailed off helplessly. He felt sick again— sick and small and weak. Something was going on. Something bad. Harry was clearly reacting to it. There was a different energy about him now— something dark and fierce and protective. The playful, gentle side of him was gone, buried under this restless rage.

Draco didn’t like it. He wanted Harry back. The old one. The one he’d started thinking of as his…no matter how much he denied it.

“Take me home.”

He couldn’t be here anymore. He needed to leave, and he needed to get Harry away from here too. Back home. Back to the safety of his flat.

“I want to go home,” he repeated, fiercer than he’d intended.

Harry’s eyes softened. He gathered Draco up and pressed a kiss to his head. “Okay,” he murmured. “I can Side Along us. Do you feel well enough for that?”

“I’m fine,” Draco replied, even though his stomach flipped. But the thought of using the Floo— literally stepping into fire again— was unbearable.

Thankfully, Harry didn’t press him. He just helped Draco up, holding him close as he palmed his wand.

“Harry?” Draco swallowed around a sudden lump in his throat. “Will you stay over? Just…just for tonight?”

Harry swept him up in a fierce embrace. “Of course,” he whispered in Draco’s hair. “As long as you want. I won’t leave you, sweetheart. Never, okay?”

Draco wasn’t sure he could put his messed up feelings into words. Not now, maybe not ever. So he just nodded and hooked his hands in Harry’s shirt again. Harry pressed a warm kiss to his forehead and Draco curled into him. He felt safe and protected. This was good. For now.

But he was going to figure this out— whatever was going on and Harry wasn’t telling him.

The tug of Apparition distracted him from his dark thoughts, and he was whisked away to the safety of home, still secured in Harry’s arms.

Chapter Text

“I should go to work today.”

Draco threw the suggestion out idly, pretending that he wasn’t testing the waters. It had been two days since that awful night at the Yule Ball, and the incident— unnerving and frightening though it was— was slowly fading from memory.

Well, Draco’s memory at least.

Harry had yet to fully relax. He’d been by Draco’s side all weekend, easily taking charge of their strange new living situation. Without so much as a word, he’d taken over the cooking, the shopping, feeding Adelaide and making sure Draco took his Calming Potions.

Attempts to stop him had been less than useless. One time, Draco had attempted to reorganise his bookshelf, if only to stop himself from going stir-crazy. Harry had discovered him in two seconds flat and given him a look so stern, Draco hadn’t even tried to argue. He just slunk back to the bedroom in guilty defeat. When he emerged, two hours later, his books were rearranged— just the way he’d wanted them.

It was all very disorienting. Draco alternated between feeling helpless and strangely thankful. Meanwhile, Harry just kept on calmly taking care of him— like he’d been doing it all his life.

On one hand, his independent and reserved nature balked at this new dependency, this need to look to another person for help and guidance. On the other hand, he knew his limitations well enough. If it weren’t for Harry, he would still be huddled under his covers, doused to the gills with Dreamless Sleep Potions.

Yes, he had needed this. And he was grateful, he was.

But it had been two days now, and he was itching to do something. He missed the library and the comfort of his books. Work was such a big part of his life. He was used to being busy and productive, if not much else.

“Did you hear me?” Draco demanded, poking Harry as he tended to the stove. “I said I’m thinking of going back to work today.”

“Mm hm,” Harry replied noncommittally. “Good luck getting past me.”

Draco groaned and thunked his head against Harry’s shoulder. That was another thing he’d become used to in these past few days. The touching. It was pretty much inevitable, what with Harry’s constant hovering and sharing such a small living space. To be honest, it was all very innocent— they had yet to so much as kiss again. But there was no doubt that he was becoming more and more comfortable with Harry. It wasn’t his fault. The man just…radiated comfort and safety. Draco was only human, for Salazar’s sake.

Of course, it had its downsides too. Harry had an overbearing streak, even at the best of times. After the happenings at the Yule Ball, he was pretty much in Protective Overdrive. Sometimes, it was impossible to get him to see reason.

Which was why Draco had taken to whining until he got his way.

“Harry, please,” he mumbled, nudging and squirming until Harry pulled him over to rest against his chest. “I’m so bored,I can’t take it anymore. Please just let me go to work.”

He felt the rumble of laughter from Harry’s chest. It felt nice.

“I love it when you beg, sweetheart,” Harry teased, bussing a kiss to his head. “But the answer is still no.”

“But…”

“Here, taste this.”

Draco huffed but duly accepted a spoonful of whatever Harry was making.

The burst of flavour made him moan. The sauce was smooth, with a light flavouring of peanuts and honey, but he could taste accents of chilli, garlic and ginger too. It was sweet and spicy— his favourite combination— and he couldn’t help tonguing the spoon long after he was done.

When he looked up again, Harry was watching—a smile playing on his lips.

“Thai peanut sauce,” he elaborated. His thumb swiped at Draco’s lip, wiping away some of the sauce. “It goes great with noodles.”

Draco hummed and curled into him again. This felt nice. His restlessness still lingered, but it was becoming easier to ignore. Right now, standing here in his small kitchen with Harry bussing about and cooking delicious food and holding him and occasionally kissing his forehead just because he could…it felt good. Safe. If he let himself, he could probably stay like this forever.

Draco wondered if that was such an awful thing.

“Don’t think you can distract me with your cooking forever,” he grumbled out loud. Appearances had to be kept, after all.

Harry nuzzled at him. “Caught me, did you?”

“Mm hm. We need to go back to the real world some time, Harry. You know that, right?”

Harry was silent and for a moment, Draco almost felt bad about bringing it up. But they really did need to talk about it. As nice as these three days had been, they just couldn’t stay here forever.

“I know,” Harry answered after a moment of silence. “I get it, Draco. I do. But I just…”

His grip tightened, pulling Draco closer. Draco sighed and wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck in a loose embrace.

“It’s not your job to protect me,” he said quietly. “I know you’re…upset about what happened but I’m fine now. I really am.”

Harry sighed heavily. He turned the stove off. His hands slid over Draco’s shoulders, holding him gently but firmly.

“There’s just something about you,” he said softly. “I know I don’t have to protect you. But I want to. Is that such a bad thing?”

Draco mulled it over.

“A while ago,” he said finally, “you asked for two weeks. For us to get to know each other. To see if there was something here. Do you…still want that?”

Harry’s hands tightened on his shoulders. “Of course I do,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. “I know you’re not there yet. I know we have a long way to go. We have history, and not all of it is good. But Draco, don’t think for even a second that I don’t care. Because I do. I have for a long time.”

It was an honest admission, one that sent his heart flying. He moved further into the circle of Harry’s arms, drawing from his warmth and solid presence.

“Then you have to stop seeing me as someone you need to take care of all the time,” he said firmly. “Or we don’t have anywhere to go from here.”

“I don’t,” Harry protested.

Draco raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t…do it on purpose?” Harry amended, attempting a cheeky grin.

“Stop it,” Draco scolded, even as he fought off a smile. “And listen to me. Nobody can hide away from the big, bad world forever. Believe me, I tried and look what happened.”

Harry huffed out a laugh and bussed a kiss to his cheek. “It’s not that awful,” he teased.

“Maybe not anymore,” Draco conceded with a grin. “But the point still stands. We’re going back to work tomorrow. It’s time.”

Harry was silent for a while. But then he sighed and his shoulders slumped. “Fine,” he muttered. “But I’m keeping an eye on you and nobody tells me otherwise.”

As if Draco was ever going to win that battle. He rolled his eyes and let go. Harry still looked worried and put out, though. He was frowning as he stared off into the distance, mouth tight and brow furrowed.

It was sweet, in a way, and it sent a rush of fondness through him. He huffed in amusement and pressed a kiss to Harry’s cheek. It was a blatant attempt at appeasement, and he was not ashamed.

“It’s just the Library,” he coaxed.

“Hmph.”

“And you’ll be right there the whole time. I couldn’t be safer.”

“Mm hm.”

Draco trailed his lips down that strong jawline. He smiled as he felt Harry’s faint shiver.

“Let’s go out,” he murmured. Suddenly, he wanted that more than anything. To be out in the world. With Harry by his side. No more hiding. Not from anything.

“You never want to go out,” Harry chided, but he was smiling now and that was definitely a good sign.

“Maybe I’m changing,” Draco shot back. “Now get your coat. I’m in the mood for wine.”

“Well, look at you,” Harry purred, with that damned mischievous grin again. “Asking for a second date and trying to get me drunk.”

Cocky git. Draco shook his head and tossed him his coat.

Harry wrapped an arm around him as they headed to the door. “Just so you know,” he whispered in Draco’s ear, “I’m not drinking anything but Butterbeer tonight.”

Draco laughed and shoved him out the door, feeling better than he had in ages.

For once, the worst was finally behind him and good things were yet to come.

Chapter Text

They walked to the Ministry that day. It felt good to be out, in the brisk cold with weak sunshine warming their faces. The snow was falling in earnest now, coating the world in a blanket of white.

Draco couldn’t help but smile as they approached the phone booth, and he made sure to hold Harry’s gaze as he punched in the code— 62442— with extreme deliberation. Harry succumbed to a bout of laughter and Draco wasn’t far behind.

They were still laughing when they stumbled into the Library.

“Well, look at this,” Harry commented as he stepped in. “It looks like the season’s finally upon us!”

Draco walked in, and promptly groaned.

His sombre, inviolable sanctuary of learning looked like Christmas just threw up all over it! There was a tree in the corner, bright with shiny tinsel and ornaments. There was a wreath of holly resting proudly just above his fireplace. A faint scent of peppermint hung in the air. And there, on the ceiling, just above his head…was that mistletoe?!

“Those thrice damned elves!” he growled. “I knew I shouldn’t have missed work. They took advantage of my absence and…and redecorated!

Harry threw his head back and laughed. “Calm down, Ebenezer,” he said, giving Draco’s hair a playful ruffle.

“What?”

“You’ll get it when I give you the book,” Harry promised.

Draco huffed and set off to prowl the aisles. If the Ministry elves had so much as touched his books, they would all be getting scarves this Christmas.

Fortunately, everything seemed in order. Draco took a moment to relax and centre himself. He breathed in the familiar scent of parchment and ink. Even mildly tainted by peppermint, it brought him a sense of peace.

Yes, he was finally back.

Harry’s sharp whistle brought him back.

“Check it out,” he called, from the front. “We’ve got mail.”

Draco padded back out and made his way to the desk, where Harry was sorting out the mail. Not surprisingly, most of them were for him.

Harry shook his head and pried open a letter. Draco spotted the DMLE crest embossed on the envelope.

“I guess they’ve started forwarding my work files down here,” Harry said, frowning slightly. “Interesting.”

Draco nodded. He wasn’t sure what to make of it either. A subtle hint from Kingsley? Perhaps the Head Auror had finally tired of Harry’s continued absence from the office. Something in his chest twisted at the thought of Harry leaving, but he brushed it off. Back to the real world, he reminded himself firmly. Harry couldn’t stay here forever. Besides, Draco would see plenty of him at home. He hadn’t moved out yet, even though Draco was clearly better. The thought cheered him right up, and he went back to sorting the mail with a smile.

“That’s from Ron,” Harry commented suddenly. He was eyeing another envelope, right at the top of the pile. “Definitely his handwriting, at least.”

Draco eyed the envelope warily, half expecting it to explode or start screaming at him. Weasley had made no bones about his feelings at the Yule Ball. Whatever he had to say now, could hardly be pleasant.

He shrugged and tore his gaze away. “It’s your mail,” he told Harry. “Do what you want with it.”

Harry nodded tersely and tore it open. His eyes scanned the short note.

“He wants to talk,” he said finally.

Draco nodded thoughtfully. He wasn’t about to pry, but this did concern him. “What did he say exactly?”

Harry handed him the note.


Harry,

We need to talk.

Ron.


Well, that was helpful.

Draco rolled his eyes and handed it back.

He was just about to start on some actual work when a package caught his eye. “What’s that?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Harry said, reaching for it. “It’s a bit early for gifts…”

He trailed off and stared at the small tag on the parcel.

“It’s for you.”

Wait, what?

Draco frowned and took the parcel from him. Sure enough, his name was embossed on the small card in curly, sparkly pink letters.

Who on earth…?

“Do you want to open it?” Harry asked.

Draco hesitated. He shook the package gently. It didn’t rattle. Or implode. It was certainly heavy though. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “Nobody ever sends me anything. Especially not at work…”

Harry looked faintly concerned now. “Maybe I should open it,” he offered at once. He reached out to take the package, clearly eager to get it away from Draco now.

Draco huffed and pushed his hand away. He was a grown-up and he certainly didn’t need Harry to hold his hand while he opened a stupid package.

Still, he was extra careful as he tore off the wrapping paper.

A tin can fell out and rolled on the desk. Draco stared at it. So did Harry.

The can was round and bright purple, with big, bold letters proclaiming ‘Christmas Tinner!’ emblazoned over a festive roast.

“What the…”

Harry’s glare darkened and he snatched the tin, scowling like it had personally offended it.

“What in the world is that?” Draco asked.

Harry’s jaw tightened. “The Muggles call it hate mail,” he explained shortly. He didn’t seem to want to talk about it any further. “Give it to me,” he said firmly. “I’ll throw it out.”

None of this was making any sense, and Draco was starting to lose patience. He ignored Harry and Summoned a plate, setting it down smartly on his desk when it floated in. A few spells later, the tin was open and Draco turned it over on the plate, letting the contents settle with a soft plop.

They stared at the glop in silence.

“Okay, that’s disgusting,” Draco decided, frowning at the sludge. He poked carefully at one of the many layers with his wand. “Is that…supposed to be turkey and potatoes?”

Now that he was looking, he could identify what looked like…nine of ten different layers of what he assumed was food. That yellow paste on top was obviously supposed to resemble eggs. Then, some watery mince pie stuffing, the turkey and potatoes he’d successfully identified, what may or may not be a semi solid gravy, two sauces, two layers of vegetable mush and finally…

“Oh Merlin.” Draco shuddered and pressed his hand to his mouth. “Is that Christmas pudding?”

Harry’s mouth twisted and he Vanished the plate. Draco gaped at him in ill-concealed horror.

“Why would anyone do that?” he demanded. “What kind of person eats Christmas dinner out of a can?!”

Harry sighed and scrubbed his hair. “It’s a Muggle thing,” he explained slowly, unwillingly. “There’s this…idea that people who live alone eat canned food— because it comes in single servings.”

Draco raised an eyebrow.

“Go on,” he invited coolly.

Harry grimaced, but volunteered the rest of his explanation. “It’s sort of a…a mean joke. Like it’s funny because people who don’t go out much are sad and lonely.”

“I see,” Draco replied. A cold smirk was playing on his lips now. “So, someone thinks I’m lonely and pathetic,” he drawled. “Or should be. It seems our little entry at the Yule Ball didn’t go unnoticed.”

Harry looked reasonably upset now, and it just made him angrier.

“I’m sorry,” Harry murmured softly. “It’s my fault. If I hadn’t asked you to go with me…”

Draco waved him off. He wasn’t hurt. Oh, far from it. He was pissed. Somebody had taken offence to him being with Harry. Somebody thought he deserved to be alone.

Somebody was going to pay.

“Hand me the card. The one that came with my little…gift.”

Harry looked surprised but he didn’t argue. He fished the card out from under the paper scrappings and handed it over.

Sure enough, there was a note on the back. Draco smirked and commenced reading.


Dear Wallflower,

Here’s a little something to see you through the season!

Merry Christmas (for one).

Sincerely,
Your well-wisher

PS: Keep smelling salts handy for the next time you swoon. Harry Potter won’t stick around with the likes of you forever!
;)


Harry growled, low in his throat. “When I find out who sent you that…”

“That can be arranged,” Draco cut in smoothly. “You forget I’m an archivist.”

He was already plotting as he headed for the filing section. Obviously, whoever had sent this worked at the Ministry. They had been at the Yule Ball and besides, this gift had been sent straight to the Library instead of the Ministry’s Owlery. It was an internal transfer, ensuring that it couldn’t be traced back easily.

The sender had made one critical mistake, though. The note was hand-written.

Draco chuckled darkly, and reached into a small cabinet. He emerged with a book that spanned at least two lengths of his desk and sat half as wide.

“Whoa,” Harry blurted.

“Undetectable Extension Charm,” Draco explained offhandedly. His desk creaked under the weight of the book. “I have at least three more of these in that little cabinet.”

“Hermione had a purse like that,” Harry offered. He was approaching now, looking far more interested.

Of course she did. Draco pried the book open and waved away a cloud of dust. “Every single person in this building,” he started explaining, “has had to turn in an overdue book at some point of time. And each time they do, they have to fill in a little form and sign it.”

Harry nodded, comprehension dawning on his face. “I’ve filled a couple of those,” he exclaimed.

“More than a couple,” Draco drawled. “And you’re not the only one.”

And there were the Penalty Forms— Pages 44 to 2,799— all neatly cross referenced and secured with Sticking Charms. Draco turned page after page, his smile growing. Finally, his obsessive organisational skills had paid off.

“A simple Matching Spell should do the trick,” he said, carefully placing the note next to the book.

Harry watched in silence as Draco palmed his wand.

“Parem Exiges.”

The book shook. Pages fluttered. They started flipping rapidly, sending a small breeze through the Library. Draco watched dispassionately as the pages finally stilled at Page 2,384. The form on the page glowed a bright blue.

“Romilda Vane from Human Resources,” Draco declared. His eyes flicked to the note. It was an exact match.

Harry cursed under his breath. Draco raised an eyebrow.

“Ring a bell?”

“Something like that,” Harry offered with a weary sigh. “She was a few years behind us at Hogwarts. During Sixth Year, she developed something of a…crush on me. Ended up dousing Ron with Amortentia.”

Draco snickered at that little detail, but wisely refrained from commenting. “Well, it seems that little Miss Vane is still carrying a torch for you.”

Harry made a face. “Spiteful bint,” he muttered. “Don’t worry. I’ll have a talk with…”

“You’ll do no such thing.”

Harry gaped at him, but Draco held up a hand to silence him.

“What did we talk about yesterday? I can look after myself. I don’t need you fighting my battles for me.”

“But…”

Draco smiled and slipped his arms around Harry’s neck, pressing a soft kiss to his jaw. “Go talk to Weasley,” he ordered gently. “I have work to do.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to viciously humiliate this woman beyond all reason?”

“Possibly. Is that a problem?”

Harry’s grin would have made a Slytherin blush— and it did. “Let me know if you need help,” he offered. And then— with a fond kiss to Draco’s head— he left, making his way to see Weasley at the DMLE office.

Draco waited until the sound of Harry’s footsteps faded away.

And then he went out to prowl.


Vane’s office was laughably easy to break into.

It took him all of two minutes and one hastily cast Notice-Me-Not Charm to sneak past the bored looking receptionist and into Human Resources. Vane’s corner office was at the other end of the office. The door was slightly ajar, and one quick peak confirmed what he’d been hoping for.

She wasn’t in.

Draco smirked and stole in, shutting the door with a soft click.

Now, to business.

His mouth twisted as he took in the pink, frilly décor. Ugh. The sooner he got out of here, the better.

He made sure to keep from touching anything, instead choosing to use his wand to investigate. A few quick spells opened the drawers. Draco raised an eyebrow as he noticed a snipped article from Witch Weekly, safely stashed inside.

Harry James Potter: Boy Who Lived Twice, Star Auror and Our Pick for Sexiest Wizard Alive!


Draco had to purse his lips to keep from laughing. Harry glared at him from the picture, clearly annoyed with being photographed at all. He was wearing his official combat robes and holding his wand. They must have caught him on duty. Horrific excuse for journalism aside, it wasn’t a bad picture. Draco pocketed it without a second thought. He certainly wasn’t letting Vane keep it.

But he wasn’t done yet. He still needed a personal artefact for the spell to work.

Draco scanned the office, until his eyes landed on a coffee mug. It had clearly been used recently— there was a smudge of red lipstick at the rim.

Perfect.

He pocketed it and stole out, as silently as he had entered. Nobody batted an eyelid and Draco revelled in the subtle chaos of it all.

He felt…like himself again. Like the notorious, cunning, not-to-be-trifled-with Draco Malfoy he had once been, a long time ago at Hogwarts.

Oh, Romilda Vane was going to rue the day she ran afoul of the Slytherin Prince.



A few minutes later, he was making his way down the mistletoe infested Main Corridor, with a nervous International Relations employee by his side.

“Do you understand what you need to do?” Draco asked.

He cast a dispassionate eye on the young man shuffling alongside him. Sebastian Brook was an attractive fellow— if a little dim. Then again, Draco didn’t need him for his brains. The boy was lean and lanky, with curly blond hair, stark blue eyes and plush, pouty lips. It would be decidedly difficult for any woman to refuse him— no matter how obsessed she was with Harry.

“I understand,” Sebastian intoned morosely. “Romilda Vane, right?”

“That’s the one. Do me this small favour, and we can forget all about your…visits to the Erotic Arts section in the Library, hm?”

“How do you even know about that?” Sebastian whined. “I checked those books out under an assumed name!”

Draco smiled wickedly. “Nothing gets by me,” he replied cryptically. “Now run along. Unless you’d like your withdrawals to end up on the Notice Board in the Main Hall.”

Sebastian scuttled away, leaving Draco behind.

He had intended on going back to the Library, and he had taken two steps in that direction, when he faltered. Draco’s eyes drifted speculatively to the elevator.

Harry was in the DMLE offices right now. Talking to Weasley.

For a moment, he hesitated. It didn’t feel right, eavesdropping on a private conversation. But he knew that Weasley would most certainly be talking about him. Draco worried his lip. What would he say? Could he…could he possibly talk Harry out of…whatever they had? They were best friends, after all. If Weasley decided to bring up all the things Draco had done in the past…and why wouldn’t he? Would Harry listen?

No. No, he didn’t think so. Harry cared about him. Harry wanted him.

But still…

He hesitated another moment, before taking another step. And another.

He’d already done a good amount of sneaking around today anyway, he reasoned. And it was always wise to know where one stood.

Besides, he was a Slytherin. This was what he did. He wasn’t going to let Gryffindor principles weigh him down. Even if he did feel a touch guilty.

Making his decision, Draco quickened his footsteps and strode into the elevator.



The DMLE was far more secure than Human Resources. He knew he wouldn’t make it past the first level without being caught.

And he couldn’t get caught.

So, Draco improvised.

He headed down the corridor and to the Department of Magical Games and Sports. With Quidditch Season in full swing, this place was nearly empty. Almost everyone in this Department was out— either liasoning with the Prophet and other newspapers for maximum coverage or out in the field, organising matches and promoting the Ministry’s ‘continued interest in our proud sports heritage’.

All a lot of talk, but at least it left him with an empty office. And better still, the place was covered end-to-end in paintings— famous portraits of Quidditch stars, more specifically.

Perfect.

Draco stole in, barricaded himself in an office with a few Locking Charms and heaved a sigh of relief.

Fun fact about paintings in the magical world— they didn’t just hang around and make smartarse remarks. They also served as portals of communication. There was a reason that the characters inhabiting a certain painting could switch frames and visit other portraits. All the paintings were interconnected, existing in a realm of their own. He didn’t understand the exact science behind the magic— that was a question for the Department of Mysteries— but the point was, it could be done.

And with a little tweaking, Draco could theoretically look into Harry’s office at the DMLE from here— provided he had a painting in there.

He thought back to the last time he was in Harry’s office—to the crest hanging on the wall when he’d woken up. And there had been a painting right next to it, he was sure of it.

“Okay,” Draco murmured. “Okay, let’s do it.”

He took off the Notice-Me-Not Charm.

Immediately, someone protested— loudly and vociferously.

“Oi!”

Draco found himself face to frame with Gregory Cotton, famous Seeker for the Appleby Arrows.

“Go on now!” Cotton scolded, blustering in his frame. “Off with you, lad! Not s’posed to be here, are ya?”

Draco cringed, wishing he’d found a more amiable portrait to negotiate with. It was done now, though and he would have to work around it. The last thing he needed was for Cotton to create an uproar and send people barging in here.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he hastened to explain. “It’s just…I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr Cotton, but I’m just such a huge fan.”

Cotton halted his tirade for a second. “Are you?” he demanded, raising a bushy eyebrow.  

“Um, yes! I’ve been following your career for decades! Tell me, is it true you started out with the Ballycastle Bats?”

“Aye, that I did! Good times, good times. Had a good run with them Bats, I did. But the Arrows’ where I found my calling. Say, did you ever hear about my best match?”

Draco racked his brains, trying to remember any mention of Cotton from his several thousand readings of Quidditch Through the Ages.

“Pride of Portree, 1972?” he offered timidly, praying that was right.

“Aye, that’s the one!” Cotton boomed. “Finest match I ever played! There I was, Dougal McBride racing for the Snitch. I cut under him and boom! Snitch was mine. O’ course, Dougal turned me head into a cabbage afterwards, so the victory speech was cut short…”

Personally, Draco thought that could have only been an improvement. Nevertheless, he nodded along politely as Cotton rambled.

“So lad, what can I do fer ya?” Cotton finally, mercifully asked.

“Oh, nothing much,” Draco replied carefully. “I just wanted to say hello. Although…now that you mention it, I was wondering if…could I use your painting for just a minute?”

“Oh.” Cotton scratched the back of his neck, looking uncomfortable. “That’s not really…that’s not allowed exactly.”

Damn it. Draco’s fists clenched.

“But for a fan, why not?” Cotton boomed. “Go on then. I have ta visit my other painting in the Quidditch League of Fame anyway. Good day to ya, boy.”

Draco heaved a sigh of relief as Cotton disappeared, vacating the frame.

Now, to work.

It took him a few tries, but he’d read enough books on the subject to know that it was possible. On the fourth spell, he saw results.

The painting shimmered and shifted, revealing an office. There, on the right, was Harry. And Weasley was with him.

Yes.

Draco cast a Silencio and a few other spells to keep hidden.

And then he settled down to listen.



“Kingsley’s pissed.”

Weasley paced the length of the office as he spoke, looking rather agitated himself. “He wants you back,” he went on, “working on real cases. He’s got a point, you know. We could use you back.”

Harry sat through it, only speaking up when Weasley had winded down. “Is that what he told you to tell me?” he asked.

Weasley exhaled sharply through his nose. “Are you investigating Devon?” he demanded.

In the frame, Draco’s fingers twitched.

Devon, again…

Harry’s face was blank, neutral. “No,” he replied offhandedly. “The case is closed.”

Weasley raised an eyebrow. “Do you really think I can’t tell when you’re lying?”

Harry shrugged. “Here’s a question, Auror to Auror. Do you think we shouldn’t look into Devon again? That there’s nothing to investigate?”

Weasley hesitated. “Kingsley said…”

“Ron.”

Weasley fell mutinously silent. But then he sighed and spoke again.

“Of course not. What happened there was…it was weird. Of course we should look into it again. I respect Kingsley and I know he doesn’t want to start a panic at the Minister’s Office, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reinvestigate.”

“Exactly,” Harry agreed softly. His eyes were dark again. He was glaring at the wall—thankfully the one opposite Draco's painting— and clearly lost in thought.

“But there’s a way to do it and this isn’t it.”

Harry turned back to Weasley, who huffed and planted his hands on the desk.

“Come back,” he said firmly. “We’ll launch a Request for Official and Accurate Reinvestigation. Not with Kingsley. We’ll go straight to the Minister. With your name on the ROAR, he’ll listen. Kingsley won’t be able to say no.”

Draco found himself nodding along. It was a sound idea. Practical. Reasonable. Who knew Weasley could be so pragmatic?

“Maybe I don’t want to tiptoe around this,” Harry replied. His voice was soft, but the touch of menace was obvious. “Maybe it shouldn’t be so difficult to do the right thing.”

Weasley slumped back in his chair. “So you are looking into it,” he said flatly.

“I didn’t say any such thing.”

Silence. Mutinous silence. Draco’s eyes darted from one Auror to the next, wondering which of them would cave first. He had a feeling it wouldn’t be Harry.

“Is this about Malfoy?”

And there went Weasley, putting his foot in it proper.

Harry sat up, stiff and suddenly alert. “What about him?” he asked, the challenge clear in his tone.

“How is he?” Weasley asked. “Things got nasty at the Ball. He doing any better?”

Harry’s expression softened, just a touch. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “He’s…he’s getting there.”

“That’s…good.” Weasley looked uncomfortable now. If it was anyone else, Draco would have felt sorry for them. He watched as Weasley struggled, trying to choose his words carefully.

“Is that what this whole Devon thing is about?” he burst out finally. “You think it’s the same group and you want to get back at whoever hurt Malfoy?”

“How would I know if it’s the same group?” Harry retorted. “I’m not investigating, remember?”

Weasley closed his eyes. Exhaled slowly. He pursed his lips and looked away. “You’re living with him now?” he asked quietly.

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Tell me, Ron” he hissed. “Tell me exactly what you would have done if it had been Hermione instead.”

Weasley stood up at that. “Don’t,” he spat. “Don’t you dare compare our relationship to your obsession with that…”

“That what?” Harry demanded, standing up as well. “Go on and say it, Ron. Let’s get it all out. Merlin knows we’ve been dancing around it for way too long.”

Draco stared in horror, half wondering if he should intervene before the wands came out.

Weasley worked his jaw for a moment, red-faced and furious. “I’m not…trying to bring up shite that doesn’t matter anymore. But I’m worried, Harry. I’m your best friend, I’ve always had your back. This thing with Malfoy…”

“…is not your concern,” Harry bit out. “I have never interfered with you and Mione, Ron. Do me the same courtesy.”

“Harry…”

“No. I love you like a brother, but this is where I draw the line. I’ve made my peace with the things Draco did when he was a kid with no other choice. And if you can’t do the same, we have nowhere to go from here.”

Draco’s heart was pounding. If he hadn’t heard it, he wouldn’t have believed it. But here it was. Harry had fought for him, defended him, gone against his best friend for him.

He cared. Draco had known for a long time but this…this proved it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

He watched, eyes just the slightest bit damp, as Harry turned his back on Weasley and stalked out of the room.

“We can do this the right way, Harry,” Weasley called out.

Harry stopped and turned back to face him.

“The investigation,” Weasley explained. “We can do it the right way, without anybody putting themselves in the line of fire. Call me when you’re ready to talk.”

Harry didn’t say anything. He shook his head and left the office.

Weasley followed him with his eyes for a moment, before scrubbing his face wearily and leaving as well.

Draco took a moment to compose himself. When he was ready, he cast a Finite Incantatem and stole out.


His mind was still working a mile a minute, going over every bit of Harry’s conversation. He thought long and hard about the pieces he could put together, given what he knew.

Devon. Something had happened. Something bad enough to prompt an investigation. Nothing had come of it. The case was closed. Then the attack at the Yule Ball. Harry’s conversation with Kingsley. Then with Weasley. He clearly suspected something but was adamant that he wasn’t investigating.

He wasn’t. Was he?

If he was lying to both Kingsley and Weasley— and Draco had been there both times— then he was a damned good liar. The thought seemed absurd. Harry was many things, but he wouldn’t deceive people like that. If he knew something, he would be forthright about it.

Wouldn’t he?

He wouldn’t think about it anymore, he decided. Harry had said he wasn’t looking into it, and Draco was going to believe him. He’d already listened in on Harry once today— heard things that weren’t meant for his ears. The thought made his insides twist with guilt.

No. He would believe Harry. Stand by him. It was the least he deserved.

He had taken a roundabout route— down the stairs, instead of the elevator— so by the time he made it to the corridor, he was flushed and a little dizzy. He wasn’t really watching where he was going so it was no surprise when he ran right into something solid.

“Merlin’s beard, Draco!” Harry exclaimed, grabbing hold of him before he could fall. “Are you alright?”

Draco blinked. “I…yeah. Yeah, I’m okay.”

Harry cocked his head. “What are you doing out here? I was just coming to the Library to look for you.”

Draco blinked as he realised they were in the corridor. Oh Salazar, how was he going to explain this?

Thankfully, the Fates were with him for once, because Harry inadvertently rescued him. “Wait, don’t tell me,” he said with a teasing grin. “You just put the finishing touches on your plan for Romilda, didn’t you?”

Oh, thank Salazar. He grinned and led Harry to a discreet corner. Rows and rows of mistletoe hung above them, spanning the ceiling. There were 556 of them in total. Draco would know— he had spelled each and every one, just for this moment.

“Actually, you’re just in time for the big finale,” he said. “Now watch carefully.”

Sebastian had shuffled into place, smack bang in the middle of the corridor. He was standing under one of the mistletoe sprigs, looking doleful and put upon. The corridor was gradually filling up as people passed by, preparing to go home. Wonderful. There would be an audience.

“How long do I have to wait?” Harry whispered.

“Just another minute,” Draco murmured distractedly. “She should be out any…”

And there she was. Romilda Vane sashayed out of the elevator, surrounded by a gaggle of giggling women. Draco smirked and leaned back against the wall, preparing to catch the show. The woman swept right past and her eyes landed on them for a moment. The bright smile she threw Harry faded almost immediately when she noticed Draco.

“Good evening, Auror Potter,” she purred. Her lips twisted as she gave Draco the once over. “Malfoy.”

“Good evening, Miss Vane,” Draco replied politely.

She smirked and turned her back on him. Clearly, she didn’t think him a threat whatsoever.

Foolish, naïve little girl.

“Romilda!” Sebastian called, right on cue.

Vane turned and her eyes widened as she spotted him. Sebastian played his part perfectly— gesturing to the mistletoe right above him and shooting her a flirtatious grin.

Vane smiled and tucked a curl behind her ear. Her colleagues giggled and whispered excitedly.

Draco held his breath.

If all went well…

Sure enough, the conceited bint took the bait. She tossed her hair over one shoulder and strutted over to Sebastian, hips swaying just a touch. He took her arm and guided her under the mistletoe. Vane smiled and tilted her head.

Draco grinned, sharp and eager.

Sebastian leaned in.

Vane puckered up.

And…

“Don’t do it, laddy!”

The horrified shriek rang out like a clarion call. Everyone stopped in their tracks. A few people jumped and dropped their folders.

Next to Draco, Harry stifled a gasp.

And Draco…oh, Draco had never been this happy.

“I said don’t do it!” the mistletoe wailed again. “She has fleas! Fleas, I tell ya!”

Vane went a vivid scarlet. Her jaw dropped and her eyes bulged. Sebastian yelped and took several steps back.

“And that’s not all!” the mistletoe went on. “You have no idea where those lips have been!”

Someone coughed to hide their snicker. Draco was quite sure it was one of Vane’s girlfriends.

“I saw her picking her nose yesterday!” another sprig of mistletoe barked.

“It’s true!” another chimed in. And then they were all screaming— 556 sprigs of mistletoe shrieking about the horrible, disgusting things Vane had allegedly done.

“She doesn’t wash her hands after the loo!”

“She left a comb in the bathroom yesterday and it crawled away!”

People were laughing now. A few were holding on to each other for support. Harry wasn’t even bothering to hide his chuckles.

Draco sighed happily, revelling in his symphony of destruction.

“She’s obsessed with Harry Potter!” an enterprising sprig started off again. “She keeps pictures of him in her desk drawer!”

Vane shrieked in outrage. “How do you know about that?” she demanded. Almost immediately, she realised what she’d just admitted, gasped in horror and clapped a hand to her mouth.

“Wait, it’s true?” one of Vane’s girlfriends gasped.

“I knew it!” another one shrieked.

“My word,” Harry drawled flatly. “How flattering. Unfortunately, I’m taken.”

Draco’s eyes widened in surprise as Harry wrapped an arm around him. The entire corridor burst into laughter. Vane gaped at them, and in that moment, she knew. Draco saw it in her horrified, flabbergasted expression. She knew what he had done.

And she knew there was nothing she could do to prove it.

Oh, victory was sweet. But he just couldn’t resist rubbing it in a touch more. Harry was his and this woman was going to get that simple fact through her thick head today.

“You promised to help me, remember?” he whispered discreetly to Harry.

Harry turned to him. “Anything,” he replied.

“Kiss me,” Draco ordered. “Kiss me now. Under the mistletoe.”

Harry grinned and leaned in. Just before his lips touched Draco’s, he murmured, “You monster.”

Draco smiled and closed the distance between them, revelling in the sounds of laughter, scattered applause and Vane’s blubbering wails as she fled for safety.


 

Chapter Text

The world outside grew colder and bleaker by the day. A sharp and biting wind blew, clearing the icy streets. The WWN reported a possible blizzard, warning all listeners to stay indoors.

But at Draco’s place, there was no lack of cheer and warmth.

Mornings like this one were commonplace now, waking up in a warm bed to gentle smiles and sleepy kisses. Warm lips trailing soft paths down his throat and strong hands holding him in place. Gentle whispers and lingering touches that left him feeling warm, comforted and cared for.

Somewhere along the line, the final barrier had finally given way. Maybe the magic of Christmas had finally come to pass. Maybe Harry had worn his defences down. Or maybe, just maybe, this was how things were meant to be and he had finally realised it.

Speaking of Christmas, preparations for the season were in full swing at Draco’s home. He’d woken up one morning with a sudden sense of longing and nostalgia. Considering how stoically he’d avoided holiday cheer these past few years, it was a wonder he even found the old box of Christmas decorations in the closet. When Harry had discovered him putting up holly wreaths, hanging mistletoe and draping tinsel on anything that stood still long enough, he just laughed and popped out for a few hours. When he came back, he had a tree with him. They spent all evening decorating the tree and the better part of the night snogging under it, half hidden by the branches.

But today, there was something new on the agenda. It was Baking Day.

Draco tried and failed to cut cookies into star shapes. The dough was too soft and a bit sticky, so he wasn’t having much luck. That being said, Harry certainly wasn’t helping either.

“Stop it,” Draco scolded, trying to shove off his clingy…boyfriend. Boyfriend. It still sounded new and strange, but it made him smile every time. He was still smiling when Harry backed him against the stove and swooped in to claim another kiss.

Draco hummed and closed his eyes, giving Harry free rein to do as he pleased. Harry smiled against his lips and nipped at his lip, before soothing the mild sting with his tongue.

“So beautiful,” he murmured. “And you’re all mine.”

There was a thud and an unhappy mew.

Draco snickered and Harry rolled his eyes.

“Well, almost all mine,” he amended grudgingly.

Still, he didn’t relinquish his grip as Adelaide paced the counter restlessly, lashing her tail and leaving paw prints all over the cookie dough. She warbled plaintively and batted at Harry’s elbow, watching them with anxious green eyes.

“Adelaide, no,” Draco scolded distractedly. He was already tipping his head back, baring his throat to Harry’s ministrations.

“Shoo, kitty,” Harry grumbled, giving her a gentle nudge. “Go on now. I’m not hurting him.”

Still, he was remarkably gentle as he lifted the worried little cat and set her on the floor. Adelaide gave them a reproachful look and bounded away. Draco smiled and pulled Harry over, tilting his head for more kisses.

“Hey, hang on a minute,” Harry murmured, between soft pecks and teasing nips. He gave Draco’s hips a gentle squeeze and started to pull away. “I have to step out for a bit, okay? I’ll be back soon.”

Draco huffed and pointedly ignored him. Harry had been mumbling about going out for over an hour now. He hadn’t left yet and Draco planned to keep it that way.

“Draco,” Harry chided, trying and failing to take a step back. “Come on…”

“No,” Draco mumbled. “Stay with me, please?”

“It’s just for a little while, sweetheart.”

“But it’s freezing,” Draco argued. “They said there’s going to be a blizzard.”

Harry smiled and bussed a kiss to his forehead. “I know, but this can’t wait. I’ve been putting it off long enough.”

He pulled away, firmer this time. Draco frowned and let him go.

“What…”

Suddenly, the fireplace flared up. A familiar voice rang out from the hearth, cutting him off.

“Darling, are you in? Oh, never mind. I’ll just come through, shall I?”

Draco’s eyes widened in horror.

“Mother!”

Oh no.

Harry cocked his head, looking rather interested in staying put now. Draco watched as the flames went bright green.

She would be here in the next five seconds. He rounded up on Harry, well on his way to panicking.

“Quick!” he barked, acting on pure instinct. “Hide!”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

That…was a good question. Draco paused and blinked. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t see why Harry shouldn’t meet his mother. They were dating, after all. It had to happen sometime.

“Okay,” he conceded hesitantly. “Then…stay?”

Harry smiled and wrapped a comforting arm around him, just in time for Narcissa Malfoy to step out of the fireplace.

As always, his mother was elegance personified, in her expensive silk robes and Dragonhide gloves. She had only visited a scant few times, and it always surprised Draco how out of place she looked in his tiny, cramped flat. No, Mother was made for silks and furs and expansive ballrooms. As much as he loved her, having her over was always…surreal.

Narcissa’s eyes landed on them at once. She stopped in her tracks. Draco swallowed and Harry’s grip on his waist tightened ever so slightly.

The silence grew around them, thicker and tenser by the minute.

And then, Narcissa smiled.

“Darling, there you are!”

Draco stared in stunned silence as Mother glided over and wrapped him up in a hug. A nudge from Harry brought him back and he returned the affectionate gesture at once.

“Mother,” he greeted carefully. “You look well.”

“As do you, my love,” Mother murmured, brushing his hair back. Her smile was soft and genuine. All of a sudden, he realised that he’d missed her a great deal.

“The Manor isn’t the same without you,” Mother went on. She was looking him over as she spoke, smoothing out a stray wrinkle in his shirt when it caught her eye. It was something she’d done for as long as he could remember, and it made him smile. “You really should visit more often.”

Logically, he knew he shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving her all by herself in that decrepit old mansion. The Manor was the last place he’d wanted to be after the War, and even before that, it hadn’t felt like home in a long time. He had offered— more than once— to move her into a townhouse or a place in the country. She had refused every time, with a proud tilt of her chin and a renewed determination to keep the ancestral home and restore the Malfoy name to its glory.

Still, the guilt lingered and he squeezed her slim hand gently.

“My apologies, Mother,” he offered. “I’ve been… busy.”

“So I see.” Mother drew back and eyed Potter. Her smile turned perfunctory, her eyes sharp and assessing. “Good day, Mr Potter.”

Harry returned the greeting with a stilted nod of his own. “Mrs Malfoy,” he greeted coolly. “It’s been too long.”

Oh, wonderful. They were sizing each other up. Draco’s eyes darted from his boyfriend to his mother, wondering just how he was supposed to work around this.

“I suppose you’re the reason my son hasn’t called or visited for the past week?” Mother prodded. She turned to Draco, who tried very hard not to duck his head and shrink away. “Darling, you should have said something. I would have announced myself before barging in here!”

Translation: Why is this man living in your house and why am I just finding out about it?

Draco cringed inwardly but Harry was already on damage control.

“We appreciate the consideration,” he offered politely, “but you’re always welcome here, Mrs Malfoy.”

Narcissa’s expression seemed to suggest that she was looking at Harry in a new light. Draco could only gape at him. In just a few words, Harry had not only reasserted his place in Draco’s life but also deferred to Mother’s right to visit when she pleased. It was both challenge and proposition.

No Slytherin could have done any better.

“Narcissa,” Mother declared finally. “Please.”

Harry dipped his head. “Narcissa, then.”

The awkward tension lifted somewhat. When they finally broke eye contact, they both looked more relaxed. Draco heaved a sigh of relief.

Until Mother spoke again.

“Well, I must say this changes things.”

Draco’s eyes narrowed. “How so?” he demanded warily.

Mother waved him off. “No need to fret, darling. I was merely referring to our dinner plans. I did so hope to see you this Saturday. You haven’t visited in quite a while and I miss you so…”

And there was the guilt, right on cue.

“Of course I’m coming,” Draco blurted. He wasn’t a huge fan of their weekly dinner dates— it was usually just the two of them making idle conversation at a table which could easily seat twenty—but it was important to Mother, and he was reluctant to cancel on her. “Tomorrow night, nine o’clock. I didn’t forget, Mother.”

Mother smiled beatifically. “That’s wonderful. I do so enjoy our little visits. Now, will I be setting a place for one or two?”

Draco stilled. Harry was watching Mother in silence, the slightest smile playing on his lips. Mother returned the silent scrutiny with a pleasant smile of her own. Draco had the strangest sense that they both knew something he didn’t.

“If it wouldn’t be an imposition,” Harry responded finally.

“Not at all, Mr Potter,” Narcissa returned. “I would very much like for us to get to know each other.”

Harry didn’t return the sentiment in kind, but he didn’t argue either. “Tomorrow then,” he confirmed. “And please, call me Harry.” He nodded and took a step back, signalling an end to this conversation. “I’ll let you and Draco get on with it then. I hate to run but I have a meeting I can’t get out of.” He gave Draco a gentle squeeze. “I’ll see you soon, yeah?”

“Are you still going out?” Draco blurted. He had forgotten all about that…

“I have to,” Harry said. “We discussed it, remember?”

Draco frowned. It was on the tip of his tongue to point out that two mentions and a four minute conversation was hardly a discussion, but Mother was still here. It would be awkward to bring it up with her hovering over them, and Harry certainly wouldn’t appreciate it. Besides, it wasn't that important anyway.

Probably just some work thing— Kingsley throwing another fit, most likely.

So he just shrugged, allowing Harry to kiss him goodbye and letting him go. Harry withdrew, and the door shut with a click.

Mother hummed thoughtfully in the silence. “He’s...different from what I remember,” she murmured.

Draco shot her a look. “Is that good or bad?” he asked, letting a warning edge creep into his tone.

“Mm,” she replied, her eyes glinting speculatively. “We’ll see.”



After a few pleasantries and the customary interrogation, Mother took her leave, but not before securing another promised visit from him. Draco was almost glad to see her go. He loved his mother dearly, but dear Merlin, the woman was exhausting.

He was just starting on dinner when he heard the door open.

Oh, good. Harry was home.

He turned around with a smile. Harry shuffled in, looking irritated and distracted. His jacket was undone, despite the freezing cold, and he was frowning at nothing in particular.

Draco’s smile faded.

“Harry?”

Harry jerked back and stared at him, as if just noticing him standing there. “Oh,” he murmured, approaching quickly and giving him a quick kiss in greeting. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Draco returned carefully. “How was your meeting?”

Harry’s expression went grim, just for a split second. But when he looked back at Draco, he was smiling.

“Funny thing,” he said lightly. “The bloke never showed up.”

Draco frowned as he processed that, but Harry seemed to have forgotten already. He gave Draco another kiss and nudged him with his hip, seamlessly taking over the cooking.

“So, about tomorrow,” he said. “What would your Mum like better? Flowers or wine?”

The conversation drifted from there, light and easy once again. Draco relaxed more and more as he threw out suggestions and ideas, filled Harry in on what Mother would expect. Slowly but surely, he fell back into the comfortable routine of cooking with Harry, exchanging occasional kisses as they talked.

And the moment from before— strange though it was— was soon forgotten.

Chapter Text

The night of the dinner dawned sooner than he’d have liked. Draco would admit— if only to himself— that he was nervous. He was half considering faking a headache or something. The only thing that stopped him was the certainty that Mother would see through his weak excuses.

“At least Father won’t be there. He’s still hiding out in France, thank Salazar,” he muttered— half to himself and half to Harry— as they readied themselves.

Harry was changing into his dress robes— the ones Draco had already rejected, then selected three times out of sheer nerves. Even the sight of his bare chest did not prove an adequate distraction.

“She’ll probably have some questions,” he went on, picking up the wine they’d selected. It was a good year, he thought. “What am I saying? She’ll most definitely have questions. Awkward, intrusive, embarrassing…”

“Draco, breathe.”

Harry sauntered over, finally dressed and as fit as ever. He smiled that charming half-smile of his and placed his hands on Draco’s slim shoulders, holding him still.

“It’s one dinner with your mum,” he said firmly. “We’ll survive.”

Draco wasn’t so convinced. “You don’t know her,” he muttered, trying and failing to shrug Harry off. Eventually, he gave up on that too and just allowed his boyfriend to herd him into his arms. “She can be…”

“Cold? Ruthless? Mercenary?” Harry suggested.

Draco rolled his eyes. “I was going to say ‘difficult’ but you’re not really far off.”

Harry pressed a kiss to his pouting lips. “Believe me, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Narcissa Malfoy. Not to mention, a healthy sense of self preservation. I plan to stay in her good graces.”

Draco frowned. “Why do I have this feeling that you know her better than I do?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Harry countered with a teasing grin. His hands slid to Draco’s waist, pulling him just a little closer.

Draco sighed and curled into his chest. “Please don’t let her run you off,” he mumbled. It was stupid to be insecure but honestly…he didn’t know what he would do without Harry. He really didn’t.

Harry wrapped him up in warm, strong arms. “You know,” he murmured softly, “with a family like that, it’s a wonder you turned out so sweet.”

That broke the spell. Draco sputtered in indignation and poked the cheeky prat in the ribs.

“Tosser,” he grumbled.

Harry laughed and ruffled his hair. “Come on,” he said, leading Draco to the Floo. “Let’s get this over with.”


 

The moment they stepped out of the Floo, Draco knew something was up.

“Darlings,” Mother greeted, all smiles and radiance as she glided over to them. Her emerald gown shimmered like liquid silk, and her tasteful jewellery twinkled in the brilliantly lit foyer. Draco stared at her, unsure what to make of her finery. Harry raised an eyebrow, looking intrigued but not exactly surprised.

“You’re just in time,” Mother gushed. “Oh, and you brought wine! Harry dear, you shouldn’t have.”

Harry ‘dear’? What the hell was going on?

“Lovely to see you again, Narcissa,” Harry greeted, looking rather amused now. “You look radiant.”

Mother’s smile turned sly and Draco was suddenly out of patience.

“Mother,” he hissed. “What did you do?”

She raised an elegant eyebrow. “I’m not sure what you mean, dearest. But we can talk later. Come along now, everyone’s been waiting on you.”

Wait.

Did she say ‘everyone’?

Draco groaned as he put the pieces together.

“Oh Salazar, no…”

There was nothing for it. He could only drag his feet as he followed her to the Manor’s expansive ballroom. But follow her he did.

Soon enough, his fears were confirmed.

“And here they are,” Mother sang gaily, flashing a brilliant smile to the assembled crowd as she all but swept them in. “Our guests of honour.”

Interested murmurs and hushed whispers swelled around them. Draco clenched his jaw as every head in the hall swivelled in their direction, sizing them up. He noted the sheer number of expensive robes and silk gowns in the throng and his irritation grew.

“I thought you said it would just be the three of us,” he side-whispered to Mother.

She didn’t even blink. “Oh, darling. I didn’t think you’d object to a small get-together, especially around the holidays!” Her silvery laugh tinkled off the glasses. “You know how I adore my parties.”

“A small get-together?” Draco echoed incredulously. “I just saw the Head of the International Magical Cooperation Department, the Undersecretary to the Minister and the Editor of the Daily Prophet! You invited nearly half of the Ministry Elite and the press!” His lip curled and he glared at her. “Just a coincidence, I’ll bet.”

Mother’s smile faded. She affected a bland expression. “Draco,” she said in a low voice. The edge of warning was clear in her tone. “Don’t make a scene.”

Draco was starting to see red. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” he sneered. “We’re leaving right…”

A calming hand wrapped around his shoulders. Draco trailed off and turned, looking right into soft, green eyes. Harry tilted his head and smiled— that soft, sweet smile that both centred and flustered him.

“Sweetheart,” Harry murmured, soft and low— just for his ears. “A word?”

Draco nodded jerkily, and allowed him to take the lead. Harry wrapped an arm around him and led him away, far from prying eyes. They headed into a small alcove in the Main Hall. Harry’s hands gripped him by the hips, gently guiding him into the shelter. Draco followed, ducking his head to hide his frustrated glare.

Suddenly, he was angry. With Mother and her constant scheming. With Father for forever ruining the Malfoy legacy. With himself for inadvertently being a part of both.

“I can hear you thinking,” Harry said, his calming tone pulling him back to the now. “What’s on your mind, sweetheart?”

Draco sighed heavily. “I’m sorry.”

“About what? Your mum’s little paparazzi parade?”

Draco ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “I should have seen it coming,” he muttered. “Of course she would pull something like this. Why wouldn’t she?”

Harry tilted his head and smiled. “So let her.”

“But you…”

“I knew what I was walking into. Honestly, if she hadn’t pulled a stunt like this, I would have been extremely surprised.”

“Doesn’t mean you should put up with it though,” Draco mumbled, worrying at his lip. “We can leave. Right now.”

“Draco, I’m used to it. People have been using me to further their agendas for as long as I can remember. It’s just…something that happens. At least Narcissa is offering something in return.”

“Like what?”

Harry grinned and brushed a kiss to his temple. “Permission.”

Draco wasn’t sure what to say. That Harry was willing to put up with this for Mother’s permission, for his sake…

“Is it worth it?” he asked softly.

Harry smiled fondly and answered with a kiss. “Always,” he promised. “Now come on, it’s show time.”


 

Harry played his part well. The guests swarmed him the moment they re-entered the ballroom, and after that, the whole evening was just a blur of idle small talk and the tinny, grating sound of fake laughter.

It was mind numbing and suddenly, Draco decided he couldn’t stand it anymore. So he left Harry to play the charming debonair and went and seated himself at the bar. Every now and then, he would catch his boyfriend’s eye and offer a smile of support. Harry winked at him before returning to his conversation with Duchess Something or the Other.

He was good at it too. As Draco watched him and idly twirled a wineglass in his fingers, he wondered when exactly Harry had become so…savvy. The boy he remembered from Hogwarts was awkward and coltish, resigned to his fame and wary of letting people any closer than he had to. But this Harry? He knew how to work a room, how to engage these people, give them just enough of what they wanted. He projected sincerity but carried himself with easy confidence.

No wonder they were all over him.

He was so caught up in his musings, he barely noticed Mother until she perched herself on the seat next to him.

“He certainly knows how to keep them coming back for more,” she commented lightly.

Draco scoffed and glared into his wine. He was so done with this. He wanted to go home— home to his flat and Adelaide, and to a Harry who was the sweet, honest person he had come to know and care about. Not this slick talker with the smooth smiles and careless charm.

Even if he was unspeakably attractive.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” Narcissa chided, taking the glass from him and setting it firmly to one side. “Really, Draco, what exactly is so awful that you have to sulk about it?”

Was she serious? Draco raised an eyebrow. “Maybe I take offence to you using my boyfriend’s reputation to restore your good name.”

Our good name,” she corrected coldly. “You’re still a Malfoy, as much as you try to deny it.”

Draco shrugged. He hadn’t felt like a ‘Malfoy’ in years. Being just Draco had its downsides, but he wouldn’t change it for anything. To be frank, he didn’t think he could.

He just…didn’t belong here anymore.

“As for this ‘using’ business,” she went on, “that’s just the way things are done. I’m certain I raised you to understand these things. After all, being seen with the Saviour of the Magical World has its benefits for you too. Why, with one word from him, you could get a suitable position at the Ministry and finally escape those wretched Archives.”

“I like the Archives just fine,” Draco bit out. “And I’m not going to use Harry like that.”

“It doesn’t hurt to have options, darling,” Mother replied. She shook her head, and her blonde curls bounced with the motion. “But I can see your mind is made up. Love, as they say, is blind.”

She smiled when Draco gave her a sharp look.

“You haven’t said it yet, have you?” she assessed calmly. “I understand. These things can be complicated even at the best of times. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“What do you mean?”

She smiled, and this time, it was soft and genuine. “That boy is madly in love with you, Draco. Surely you can see it.”

His heart clenched. Was it possible? Could it be true? Could he really be that lucky?

“Mm hm,” Narcissa hummed as his mind raced, working over the possibility. “There’s no question that he’s in love with you. Now, if he’s honest with you…that’s another story.”

Draco snapped back to reality.

“What is that supposed to mean?” he demanded. He couldn’t help the touch of defensiveness in his voice. Suddenly, his mother was giving voice to the nagging feeling that he hadn’t been able to dispel. The one that started every time the word ‘Devon’ came up…

“You tell me,” Narcissa challenged. “Where was he going yesterday when I stepped in?”

“He had a meeting.”

“With whom? And what about?”

Draco shrugged irritably. “How would I know, Mother? We don’t keep checks on each other.” He could feel his frustrations take hold, and he knew he was going to lash out. “He’s never checked up on me, never asked me to tell him where I’m going or what I’m doing…”

“But if he did, you would tell him,” Narcissa countered smoothly. “I’m not so sure he’d be so willing to reciprocate.”

“Mother. Stop.”

“Where is he now?” she demanded. “Do you know? Are you even aware that he snuck out of the room ten minutes ago?”

Draco froze. He turned and looked around, scanning the milling crowd.

Harry was gone. He wasn’t here.

But…

“Draco.”

He started when her hand wrapped around his wrist. Her grip tightened and her expression was one of sympathy and concern.

“I love you,” she said softly. “Believe what you will of me and my intentions, but that is the one thing I have never lied about. I have only ever had your best interests at heart. So take my advice, take it from someone who knows. Secrets have a way of eating away at relationships. Even the best ones.”

He didn’t want to hear more. He couldn’t.

Without another word, he shook her hand off and left to look for Harry.


 

One of the elves had seen him heading to the West Wing. Draco swallowed as he trailed the dark halls, and tried to keep his steps light. Absently, he wondered why he was bothering to keep quiet at all.

So, Harry had stepped out. It could have been anything. Maybe he was bored. Or tired. Maybe he just needed some fresh air.

But then, why did his mind keep circling back on ‘something is wrong’?

He decided that finding out would be for the best. At the very least, it would put his mind to rest and he could let go of this ridiculous paranoia.

So he rounded a corner, crept to the very end of the corridor and immediately stilled in his tracks.

There was a light on in the salon.

Draco held his breath as he caught the dim glow of the Lumos Spell. A shadow crept beyond the reach of the light, but in that split second, Draco noticed the glint of light as it bounced off a pair of glasses and dark, messy hair which could only belong to one person.

Harry.

He crept forward, still as quiet as he could be.

Harry had his back turned to the door, he hadn’t noticed Draco’s advance. Draco frowned as he noticed how preoccupied his boyfriend was. Harry looked agitated, his shoulders were tense and he was…whispering into his hand?

“…didn’t show up,” Harry was muttering. “You had one job.”

The meeting. The one he'd stepped out for yesterday. The one that didn't happen because 'the bloke never showed up'.

Draco held his breath, keeping right next to the door in case he had to make a break for it. But Harry was still caught up, glaring at the— oh, Draco could see it now— the small shard of glass in his palm. No, not glass. It was a…mirror.

Draco’s breath caught.

A two way mirror.

He had only read about those in snatches. They had been popular a few decades ago but with Floo Travel and Apparition catching on the way it did, they had fallen out of fashion. A fireplace was easier to use— considering almost everyone had one— and the mirrors tended to shatter under the pressure of the many spells that had to be cast to keep them functional. Why, the last he’d heard of someone using them was…

…in the Order. Back during the First War.

Why…why did Harry have a two way mirror?

And more importantly, who had the other one?

 “It’s too late to bother with it right now,” Harry as saying. His tone was clipped — business like and just hinting at the barest agitation. “No, just…don’t call me right now. I can’t do this here.”

The mirror shone, reflecting the dim light of the Lumos spell. Draco could swear the thing was…humming. He strained his ears to catch even a hint of conversation, but all he heard was a low buzz. The thing must be charmed against eavesdroppers. Damn his luck.

Harry seemed to have no trouble following the conversation though.

“Just stay put,” he ordered. “Wait for me to contact you. Do nothing. Oh, and don’t leave town, yeah? You know I’ll find you.”

Draco shivered.

Harry huffed and pocketed the mirror.

It was all the motivation he needed.

Draco turned and headed back to the ballroom as quick as he could, making sure to stay well out of sight along the way.


 

A few hours ago, he’d wanted nothing more than to come back home. Now, the flat felt too small, too cramped. He imagined his frazzled thoughts bouncing off the walls, ricocheting around the room.

It really was a wonder that Harry hadn’t picked up on it.

“Damn, that was painful,” he said, shucking his robes off and flopping down on the couch. Adelaide wandered over and warbled at him. Harry chuckled and scooped her up, sitting her down on his lap.

“Missed you too, love,” he murmured, gently scratching behind her ears.

Draco’s throat prickled.

This was the Harry he wanted. The one he’d needed all night. Gentle and sweet, thoughtful and attuned to everything he needed…

This was the man he’d fallen in love with.

And yes, he could admit it, if only to himself. He was madly in love with Harry and the thought of him involved in anything dangerous was terrifying.

What was he doing? What was he hiding? And what if it was nothing at all? What if this whole thing was just a product of Draco’s paranoia, of some deeply ingrained conviction that he didn’t deserve to be happy and that it was just a matter of time before it was taken from him…

“Hey.”

Harry’s voice jerked him back from his dark thoughts. Draco turned around to face him. Harry smiled at him as he petted Adelaide, looking tired but content and relaxed.

“What’s wrong?” he asked softly.

Draco swallowed. Should he confront Harry? Should he say something? And if so, what was he going to say?

I spied on you while you were talking to your hand, mind telling me what that was all about?

It sounded insane. Harry would be upset. There would be a fight. And all because he thought he knew something when the truth was he didn’t have a clue.

It could have been nothing, he told himself firmly. Willing himself to believe it.

“Draco.”

Harry sounded worried now, and it broke his heart.

Draco shook himself and approached him, lifting Adelaide off his lap and taking her place. She batted his foot in reproach, but he just didn’t care right now. He needed to be close to Harry. To hold him and kiss him and know that he was here.

“What’s going on?” Harry asked softly. His hands settled on Draco’s hips, settling him comfortably. “You’ve been off all night.”

“Nothing,” Draco mumbled. “It’s…it’s nothing, Harry. Really.”

He didn’t sound convincing, not even to his own ears. Harry wasn’t buying it either.

“You can tell me,” he coaxed. “Whatever it is, we can fix it.”

Draco battled with himself. He couldn’t bring himself to admit his suspicions, but he couldn’t let them go either. He just had to settle this once and for all.

“Can I ask you something?”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “Of course,” he replied unflinchingly.

Draco swallowed and wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck, curling up against him. He felt so warm, so strong and safe. Draco’s throat tightened again and he had to fight to get the words out.

“If…if something was going to…happen, would you tell me?”

“What?”

Harry pulled him up, staring right into his eyes. Draco had the strangest sense that Harry was seeing inside his head, cataloguing all his thoughts and fears and insecurities. It made him want to shrink away and hide.

“Draco, what…where is this coming from?” Harry asked, looking understandably confused. “What’s going to happen?”

Draco shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. I just…I just need to know that you won’t… get involved in anything dangerous. That you’re not going to…do anything.”

There was a flare of suspicion in those green eyes now. Harry frowned. “Like what?” he asked carefully.

“Are you still investigating that case?” Draco asked. “From before?”

Harry groaned and flopped back on the sofa. “You too?” he muttered. “How many times…no, I’m not. It’s over. Finished. If it makes you feel any better, the lead I had ran cold. There’s nothing to investigate anymore.”

Draco couldn’t admit to the sense of relief that information brought.

But it still wasn’t enough.

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” he whispered. “I don’t want you doing anything dangerous.”

Harry sighed heavily. “What can I do to convince you?” he asked. “The last thing I want is for you to worry, Draco.”

“Then promise me.”

The decision came to him in a flash, and just like that, he knew a promise would make everything better.

“Promise me,” Draco demanded fiercely, “that you’ll stop investigating that case.”

Harry’s jaw tightened. “I already told you I’m not…”

“Then a promise should be easy.”

For a moment, there was nothing but silence.

Then Harry spoke.

“I promise.”

Draco’s spirits lifted at once. “You mean it?”

Harry held his gaze, sincere and determined. “I promise I won’t investigate Devon or anything relating to it. I won’t, okay?”

Oh, thank Salazar.

This…this would make everything better. Harry had promised. And Draco knew he would keep it. Harry would never lie, not to him. Even if he was involved in...something, he would stop now.

Draco was sure of it.

“Thank you,” he murmured softly. His grip tightened and he let Harry gather him up. “It means a lot to me. I just…I want you safe. With me.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me,” Harry muttered. “Nothing ever does.” He was silent again. “I just…I can’t stand the thought of someone hurting the people I care about. I can’t just do nothing, Draco. You have to understand that.”

Draco thought back to Weasley’s proposal— the request for reinvestigation. He wondered if he should say something, and then decided against it. Harry had enough reason to be angry with him.

“There are other ways,” he said instead. “It doesn’t always have to be you charging headfirst into danger. There are other Aurors, Harry. Let them worry about it for a change.”

“Yeah,” Harry replied, sounding distracted. “Yeah, you’re right.”

He pulled Draco up again, smiling softly. “It’s going to be okay,” he promised. “I’m here, alright? I'll always be here.”

He was. He’d promised and he meant it. Everything was going to be okay now.

Draco allowed himself a smile and leaned in for a kiss, feeling lighter than he had in days.

Chapter Text

Things had finally settled.

Christmas was barely a week away now, and Draco found himself smiling and laughing more than he ever had. The season had brought a sense of anticipation into his life—joy and peace and the stirring of hope that everything would finally be alright. 

The feeling was contagious, intoxicating. He wondered if he could brew and bottle it up, like one of his Potions.

What would the ingredients for such a Potion be though? He could almost imagine them scrawled on Snape’s old blackboard.

1) 6 candy canes, finely powdered
2) 4 strings of holiday lights, set to sparkle
3) Diced mistletoe…

The absurd notion made him laugh out loud, prompting a squeeze from the arm wrapped around his middle. Draco turned, still smiling, to Harry who was watching him with bemusement.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” he commented, pressing a warm kiss to Draco’s nape. They were sprawled on the sofa, half under a blanket. Harry’s legs were tangled with his and Draco rested on his chest as he read.

“Just high on holiday cheer,” he replied, returning the sweet kiss.

 Harry smiled into the kiss. “It suits you,” he said. “I like seeing you so happy.”

He was happy. He was warm, comfortable, Harry was here with him…

The thought made his heart soar. There were still moments when his doubts resurfaced— times when he would go over the conversation they’d had that night— but as Christmas drew nearer and Harry showed no signs of doing anything other than stay here with him, he was beginning to put it all behind him.

The silence wrapped around them, warm and comfortable, until Harry chose to break it.

“Do you know what today is?”

“Hm?” Draco’s brow furrowed as he went over the odd question. “Seven days to Christmas?” he ventured finally.

Harry smiled against his neck. “No, think harder.”

What? Had he missed something?

“My two weeks are up,” Harry explained softly.

His two…oh.

Draco’s eyes widened. He turned his head to look at Harry.

“Oh.”

He had…to be perfectly honest, he had forgotten entirely. Had it really just been two weeks? Two weeks since…everything? His mind flew as he tried to catalogue just how much had happened in these fourteen days— that first drunken night, Harry’s offer, spending time together no matter how grudgingly, the Yule Ball and how Harry had held him together and looked after him, their first kiss, the…

His head swam. So much had happened. It was almost scary how…intense it had all been.

Did this happen? Was it like this for other people?

Somehow, he didn’t think so. What he had with Harry…it was special. The kind of thing that came around once in a lifetime.

“Draco.”

Harry tipped his chin up, smiling slightly as Draco’s wide eyes met his. “I think…I think you already know how I feel about you,” he said. There was a hint of nervousness in his tone, despite his confidence. “But when we started out, we agreed this would be your call. It’s…still up to you. Always has been.”

His heart clenched in his chest. Draco swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat. When they had just started out he had wanted nothing more than to get away from Harry. Now…now the idea of being away from him— even for a day— made his insides twist and his heart ache.

“Harry,” he whispered, leaning in and closing the distance between them.

The kiss was soft, chaste and sweet but the intensity made his nerves flare. He poured all of himself— all his unsaid feelings and admissions— into that kiss, trying to tell Harry all the things he hadn’t said out loud.

I love you.

I need you.

I can’t live without you.

One day, very soon, he promised himself he would say it. But for now, a kiss and a silent promise would just have to be enough.

When he broke away, Harry was smiling.

“Yeah?” he whispered, sounding incredulous and breathless. “You and me?”

Draco nodded and pulled him closer, wrapping his arms around the man he loved so much it hurt.

“You and me,” he whispered back. “You win this round, Potter.”

Harry’s rumbling laughter brought a surge of warmth to his heart.

“Looks like I owe you a book,” Harry teased.

Draco smiled and shrugged.

“Later,” he replied, closing his eyes and enjoying the bliss of the moment.


 

They decided to celebrate. And what better place than where they had first started out?

“Go on and finish that Christmas shopping you’ve been going on about,” Harry told him between kisses. “And I’ll see you at the Three Broomsticks, six sharp.”

Draco left the flat, feeling light-hearted and giddy with excitement. The festive cheer of Diagon Alley buoyed his spirits. It was all so bright and cheerful— the fairy lights, the carollers, the horse drawn carriages in the street. Just two weeks ago, he’d skulked down this own street, feeling like he was looking at all of it from the outside. Now, he felt like a part of it, like he belonged here.

And it was all thanks to Harry.

Harry had fixed it. Harry had fixed him.

He finished his shopping in record time— not that there was much to shop for. He picked up a cashmere shawl for Mother. They weren’t exactly on the best terms, but he did believe that she wanted what was best for him. He would make it up to her, a gift would be a nice gesture. A few bits and bobs for his favourite elves at the Manor, one or two presents for the cousins who hadn’t cut ties with him completely and finally, a new wand holster and a silver dragon lapel pin for Harry. He smiled at the tiny, beautifully wrought figure in his palm. The dragon’s eyes were a striking emerald— a shade that reminded him almost exactly of Harry’s eyes.

Yes, this would do just fine, he thought as he put it safely in his pocket.

When he checked the time, he realised he was actually running early. Harry wouldn’t be at Hogsmeade until an hour from now.

Draco mulled over his options. He could just stay here, maybe walk around for a bit? Or he could go back to the flat and wait there.

But why bother? He might as well get to Hogsmeade early and grab them a table.

It seemed like a sound idea.

Right. Decision made.

Draco hoisted his bag of gifts to one shoulder, palmed his wand and Apparated to Hogsmeade.


 

He strolled down the familiar streets of the tiny village, enjoying the brisk chill and bright lights. Draco smiled to himself. He still had some time to kill before Harry showed up, but there was always something to do in Hogsmeade.

He contemplated making a stop at Honeydukes. His sweet tooth acted up at the worst times— especially during the holidays— but he supposed he could indulge just this once. Besides, maybe Harry would like some Ice Mice or…

He had barely taken two steps in that direction, when he saw him.

Draco stopped in his tracks, staring at the far end of the street where Harry had just stepped out of a shop. Harry shifted on one foot, looking restless and edgy as he scanned the surroundings. His expression was grim. And, Draco noticed with a flash of realisation, he was wearing his combat robes.

Harry turned his head and Draco reacted entirely on instinct.

Without understanding why, he ducked into a narrow alley between two shops. Harry turned away— still looking for something— and Draco settled down to watch. He didn’t know what he was doing, or why he was doing it.

All he knew was that Harry shouldn’t see him. Not yet.

Draco swallowed. His throat was suddenly very dry. His heart was pounding and he struggled to understand what was happening.

Harry was here. In Hogsmeade. But he had said they were meeting at six, Draco was sure of it.

Had he just shown up early like Draco had?

Or…or was it something else?

Yet again, he cursed himself for being so paranoid. Honestly, he thought he was over this! Harry hadn’t even done anything remotely suspicious— unless you counted walking down a street. Draco huffed and pinched the bridge of his nose, honestly wondering what was wrong with him. He was acting like a crazy person, hiding from his own boyfriend in some filthy alley. He should go out there. He should walk up to Harry. He should put this damn paranoia behind him and go celebrate with his boyfriend like he was supposed to.

And yet, he stayed put.

Because— and this was a question he couldn’t answer— if Harry was here to see him, why was he wearing his combat robes?

Harry turned suddenly and started walking, his footsteps quick and urgent.

If he walked away, Draco would never find out what this was about.

You don’t need to find out, a voice inside his head whispered. He promised.

But his feet were moving anyway, and he was following Harry before he could think about it any further.


 

His heart was pounding in his ears. He could feel the tendrils of fear creeping up on him. The cold that had seemed so invigorating just a few minutes ago made him shiver now.

But he kept his eyes on Harry’s back, and followed him as quietly as he could— right to the very end of Hogsmeade village.

Please, he begged in his mind. Please Harry, just turn back.

But he didn’t. He just kept on walking, shoulders back and head held high. This wasn’t idle wandering. He knew where he was going.

It could be nothing, Draco thought desperately. Nothing nothing nothing.

But he knew he was fooling himself. This was happening. This wasn’t ‘just nothing’. He could feel it in his bones.

Harry stopped. His shoulders stiffened. He turned around abruptly.

Draco ducked behind a shop in the blink of an eye.

But Harry didn’t notice him. Whatever this was, it had him too preoccupied to worry about being followed. And why would he worry? As far as he knew, Draco was shopping in Diagon Alley.

I’ll see you at the Three Broomsticks, six sharp.

Draco’s fists clenched. His eyes burned. Had Harry chosen The Three Broomsticks because it was where they’d had their first date, because it meant something? Or had he picked it because it would have been convenient for his other meeting?

The one he planned on having before showing up on their date and lying to Draco’s face.

Again, the voice whispered. He lied before. He lied when he promised and you believed him.

Had he really been so gullible? But no, that…that was too much to process. It was one thing to lie. Draco got that. He was a Slytherin, a Malfoy. He’d been raised to believe it was…okay to let the truth slide here and there if it meant gaining the upper hand.

But Harry had looked into his eyes and sworn that he would stop investigating, he had promised Draco with all his Gryffindor sincerity and conviction that he would never do it again…

He wasn’t just a liar. He was an accomplished deceiver.

It hurt to think these things. Because he still didn’t know. And it made him furious that he didn’t know. Why had he allowed himself to be kept in the dark for so long? Why hadn’t he tried to find out more, figure things out when he still had the time? Why had he just believed that Harry would never deceive him?

And Draco came to the cold, awful realisation that he didn’t know Harry at all. He had assumed things that fit his mental image of Harry, the image he’d carried with him since Hogwarts— of a simple, honest, trustworthy Gryffindor who wore his heart on his sleeve and couldn’t lie to save his life.

But that image was crumbling before his eyes.

What else had Harry lied about? What else had he claimed because it was convenient? Was…was their whole relationship…?

He couldn’t think about that right now. He put the horrible thought away, to the back of his mind and fought to concentrate.

Harry was walking again, heading for a ramshackle inn at the end of the street.

The Hog’s Head.

Draco’s eyes narrowed. This time, he didn’t hesitate.

He cast a Notice Me Not Charm on himself and followed Harry inside.


 

The place was filthy. The stench of stale beer and vomit hung thick in the air. The windows were so dirty he could barely see through them. On every rickety table, sat a host of characters who wouldn’t look out of place on an Azkaban’s Most Wanted poster.

A few bleary eyes settled on Harry as he walked past, but he paid them no mind. He just made his way to the end of the bar and sat at a table.

Waiting for someone.

For the ‘someone’ who hadn’t showed up for that meeting he’d run to. For the ‘someone’ who had the other half of the two way mirror.

There could be no other reason, Draco realised with cold, clear conviction.

And if he didn’t find out what was going on today, he would lose his mind. So, he sat down at a table not too far from Harry and waited with him, praying that the Charm would still hold for a while.

He didn’t have to wait long.

The hunched, hooded figure shuffled in, almost brushing past Draco. The rank stench of tobacco and alcohol made his eyes water, but Draco forced himself not to turn away. The figure trudged on, finally stopping in front of Harry. Harry set his jaw and nodded.

The wizard removed his hood.

Draco didn’t recognise him. He looked worse for wear, on the wrong side of sixty and he had clearly seen better days. Draco took quick notice of his hunched posture, the straggly, ginger hair and grubby, unshaved face. His hands were filthy and his stubby fingers fidgeted, restless and anxious.

They exchanged words. Harry’s expression was grim and he kept his voice low. Draco strained to listen, but he was too far away. Any sudden movement would risk blowing his cover. So he just sat and waited and watched them in mounting frustration, trying and failing to understand what Harry could possibly want with this seedy character.

The man nodded and patted his pocket. He sat back and crossed his arms, clearly expectant.

Harry’s eyes narrowed. He tilted his head, sizing up his opponent.

Draco held his breath, wondering if it was going to come to hexes after all.

But after a brief spell, Harry pulled a small pouch out of his pocket and slid it over the table. The soft clink of Galleons was unmistakable.

He’s paying for information, Draco thought numbly. So it’s true.

The man swiped up the pouch with snake like reflexes. He smiled, displaying a full set of cracked brown teeth, and nodded again. Harry watched in silence as he rummaged in his pocket before pulling out a tattered piece of parchment.

Draco’s eyes widened. His hands clenched against the edge of the table.

It was a map.

The man was talking quickly now, spreading the map on the grimy table. His stubby finger jabbed again and again at a point on it. Harry leaned over to watch, nodding now and then as the wizard continued to talk. Once or twice, he interrupted with questions— too soft for Draco to hear. But other than that, his eyes were fixed on the map, on the spot below that stubby finger.

That map. It was the key.

Draco stood up quietly and crept closer.

Whatever Harry was looking for, it was there. He needed to see it. He needed to know where…

In his urgency, he neglected to watch where he was stepping. His knee hit a table. The damn thing shook and wobbled. A pitcher fell, hitting the floor with a loud crash.

Harry’s eyes widened. He turned around.

Draco stared in horror as the point of Harry’s wand landed right on him. For a moment, he was looking right at his boyfriend— staring into striking green eyes— as Harry prepared to fire. And even though he knew that the Charm was in place and Harry couldn’t see him, couldn’t possibly know he was here, the fear struck hard and fast.

He ducked the Stunning Spell by a hair’s breath. Someone snarled a curse behind him and threw a punch.

The inn exploded around itself. Curses and shouts flew, knuckles cracked and tables were flung. The entire place was devolving into a drunken, angry brawl.

Draco didn’t wait to see what would happen next.

He grabbed his wand from where it had fallen on the floor, turned tail and Disapparated to the safest place he could think of.


 

The Library. Of course it was the Library.

If he wasn’t so wrecked, he would have laughed at his own predictability.

He couldn’t think. He couldn’t sit still. He couldn’t even cry, he was so wound up. All he could do was try to draw some comfort from his books and hope that at some point, he would be able to just…understand how things had gone so wrong.

Everything he had hoped for had gone up in dust.

Harry was still involved in the investigation. Even worse, he was doing it on his own, maybe even illegally. Harry wasn’t who he thought he was. He had lied, looked Draco right in the eye and lied so easily, so effortlessly. Harry wasn’t going to stop this, not even when Draco had begged him to.

Maybe…maybe Harry didn’t even love him.

It was that thought that brought the tears. The pain was so intense, it cut right through his core. It was almost more than he could stand because the truth was…that he loved Harry so much it hurt. And even though Harry had lied to him and deceived him about everything, he still couldn’t stop.

It was too much and he didn’t know what to do to fix it. A part of him wanted to confront Harry, scream at him until he was blue in the face and the pain was dulled. But what would that accomplish? At best, Harry would apologise to him. At worst, he wouldn’t care because he didn’t care, had never cared about Draco at all.

And what if…what if Harry just lied to him again? Told him all the things he knew Draco wanted, needed to hear?

No, that was beyond the pale.

This had gone too far.

Draco stood on shaky legs and ran his hands through his hair. He needed help. He needed to know what was going on. He needed to figure this out and…and stop Harry any way he could. Because if something happened to him— even after all of this— it would kill Draco, he knew it would.

No, he just…he had to fix it. Somehow.

And right now, standing in the Library, he knew there was one person who could help him. Someone who knew Harry, knew him better than Draco did, someone who had been there with him from the beginning and knew how his mind worked.

Oh, he wasn’t going to like it one bit, but that wasn’t important right now.

The only thing that mattered was if he could help.

Draco made his decision and threw a pinch of powder in the flames. They flared, bright and green, and he stepped in.

Seconds later, he was tumbling out of a fireplace.

Ron Weasley peered over the edge of his desk. His mouth twisted when he noticed Draco getting up and brushing himself off.

“Oh, bloody brilliant,” he grumbled. “What do you want, Malfoy?”

“I need to talk to you,” Draco blurted, not even stopping to take a breath between words. “Please Weasley, it’s important.”

Weasley snorted. “I’ll bet. Look, I hate to go all bureaucratic on you but it’s after hours. If you need assistance there’s an Auror on call at…”

“I need to know what happened in Devon,” Draco cut in.

Weasley stopped short. His eyes narrowed. “Why,” he began and his voice was already rising, “the bloody hell would I tell you that? It’s confid…”

“It’s Harry.” His voice wavered and the stab of shame cut deep. Weasley stopped his tirade for a second and actually looked at Draco. Whatever he saw in his expression, made him shut up and listen.

Draco swallowed painfully. “I think…he’s in trouble. Please. I wouldn’t ask if…”

Weasley held a hand up to silence him. “Sit down,” he ordered, gesturing to a chair.

Draco obeyed, watching with wary eyes as Weasley Summoned a glass of water and handed it to him. He raised his wand. The door shut with a sound click and a low buzzing emanated from inside the office. Draco recognised it. It was the hum of Sound Proofing Spell.

Weasley sat across from him, looking serious and every bit the Auror he now was.

“Tell me everything,” he ordered, “and for Merlin’s sake, don’t leave anything out.”

Chapter Text

And so, Draco talked. Now that he had someone to listen, the words came easily. He told Weasley everything he could think of, from the night of the Yule Ball and Harry’s conversation with Kingsley to his meeting today. He did skim over the parts about eavesdropping on Harry and Weasley that one time though. Weasley was an Auror, and he had little reason to trust Draco at the best of times. And Draco really needed this man on his side. He couldn’t handle this alone anymore.

Weasley, for his part, was quiet. Every now and then, he asked a question but other than that he kept his silence and listened to Draco.

Finally, when Draco winded down, he spoke.

“So he’s been talking to an informant,” he muttered, half to himself. He looked up at Draco. “You said you were watching them under a Notice Me Not Charm. Did you hear anything?”

Draco’s heart sank and he shook his head. “No. I tried but I couldn’t get close enough.”

Weasley looked disappointed, but not exactly surprised. “Probably wouldn’t have made much difference even if you could,” he offered. “Harry would have used a Muffliato at the very least. He’s…” Weasley paused there for a moment. When he spoke up again, he sounded tired. “He’s bloody good at what he does. Maybe too good.”

Draco thought back—trying to separate the Harry he knew now and the forthright boy he’d known at Hogwarts so many years ago. It hurt that they felt like two different people in his head.

“What else?” Weasley pressed. “You said something about a map.”

 “He paid the…informant. I don’t know how much. But they talked for a while after. I think he had a specific location in mind. He kept pointing at a spot on the map and Harry kept nodding.”

“Did you get a look at it?”

Draco had never felt more useless. “No,” he admitted bitterly. “When I tried, I bumped a table. The whole thing went pear shaped after that. I barely got out without getting hexed.”

“Damn,” Weasley cursed. “I’m not going to lie, that would have been helpful.”

Draco chose silence as Weasley got up to pace.

“So here’s what we know,” he said. “Kingsley ordered the Devon case closed. That was about two weeks ago. Harry thought something was off. That’s when he started researching Hallucinogenic Potions with you, right?”

Draco nodded. He couldn’t talk around the lump in his throat. Had Harry only spent time with him because it would have made his research easier? Or was it the other way around? Did it even matter anymore when he had clearly lied about everything else?

“Then the scene at the Yule Ball,” Weasley went on. “He suspected that it was a follow up to the Devon incident.”

“He had a row about it with Kingsley,” Draco added.

St Mungo’s just reported back. The potion composition is an exact match to the sample we retrieved from Devon.

Harry had said that, he remembered.

“Right. So Kingsley wanted to brush it under the rug, but Harry thought differently. He decided to resume investigation…”

“Illegally?” Draco contributed dryly.

“Let’s call it ‘unofficially’, for now. We don’t know if he’s done anything illegal,” Weasley corrected, with a sharp look. Ever the loyal friend, Draco thought. It was an admirable trait, despite being a Weasley hallmark.

Say what you will about Harry, but his friends would move the world to help him. That kind of loyalty could only be inspired by something good, right? It helped a bit to think that. Even if Harry had done this all wrong, maybe his intentions had been good.

“Malfoy, come on,” Weasley chided. “Quit zoning out on me, will you? Help me through this. He started meeting informants. Well, one informant at the very least. We don’t know how many times they met exactly. You only noticed that one visit because Harry told you the bloke didn’t show up. That’s when you started getting suspicious, yeah?”

He thought back to eaves-dropping on Harry at the DMLE. He’d had his suspicions for longer, but that meeting was the first concrete evidence he could think of.

“Pretty much,” he told Weasley instead. There was no need to show all his cards. Not just yet.

“And then, the night after, you saw him using a two way mirror. Why did you think he was talking to the same person? He’s an Auror. He could have been investigating anything.”

“He said ‘you didn’t show up’,” Draco answered. “And he sounded…upset. I just made the connection and ran with it.”

“That’s fair,” Weasley conceded. “And then you saw him in Hogsmeade, followed him to the inn and saw him with this bloke.” Weasley went silent and mulled it all over in his head. His blue eyes were sharp and wary when he turned back to Draco. “Why go through all this trouble?” he asked. “Why follow him and spy on him? It has nothing to do with you. The attack at the Yule Ball wasn’t directed at you. Ten other guests succumbed to the same potion. Technically speaking, you’re in no more danger than anybody else. So, why bother?”

“Because I’m worried about him,” Draco snapped. Logically, he knew Weasley was just trying to get all the facts, but was it really so hard for him to believe that Draco might actually care about someone other than himself? “Do you think it’s easy for me—asking you for help? If I could fix this myself, I would. But I can’t! He’s not…he’s not letting me. He’s…he’s lying to me and he’s going to do Merlin-knows-what and I can’t…I have to stop him, damn it! I can’t just…”

“Malfoy.” Weasley’s voice was sharp, but he looked at least a little apologetic. “I wasn’t…I didn’t mean anything by it. I mean, it’s obvious that you…” He shook his head and trailed off. “Look, there are things you don’t know about Harry. And maybe you should.”

“Like what?” Draco demanded.

Weasley looked pained for a moment. “He’s…struggling. With the War.”

Draco blinked in surprise. Struggling? But the War had been over for years. And Harry always seemed so confident and sure of himself. Cocky, almost. All easy smiles and boyish charm. Was it all a façade? If he was struggling with the past, he was doing a damn good job of hiding it.

“He’s good at hiding pain,” Weasley continued, as if reading his mind. He sounded bitter now, and frustrated. “Had to be, I guess, with his childhood. He ever mention any of that?”

Draco shook his head numbly. His childhood?

“Well, I won’t go into it. It’s something he should bring up on his own,” Weasley said. “The point is, he learned how to act like everything was just fine at a very young age. It…I think it used to go away at Hogwarts, for a while. But then shite would happen and if it didn’t, he’d have to go home again. And then the War…and we…we lost so many. We tried, me and Hermione, to get him to talk to a Mind Healer but he wouldn’t have it.”

Draco grabbed the glass of water and drained it. He dearly wished he had something stronger. How could he not have known any of this? Why hadn’t he seen? Surely, there must have been a sign…

He’s good at hiding pain.

Yes, but that good? And now…now Harry was caught up in something dangerous…

“We have to stop him,” he whispered. “He can’t…he can’t be out there like this! He’s going to hurt himself, he’s going to get…”

“We’ll stop him,” Weasley cut into his panicked rant. “We will, Malfoy. But I need you to work with me.”

“What can I do?” Draco asked bitterly. “I told you, he’s not listening to me. He lied to me, Weasley, and he didn’t even think twice about it. You do it. Talk to him. Maybe if he heard it from someone he cares about…”

“You think I haven’t tried?” Weasley demanded. He stopped short all of a sudden, as if just catching up with the rest of Draco’s words. “And seriously? You really think, after all of this, that Harry doesn’t care about you?”

Draco looked away and Weasley let his head drop in his palms.

“Merlin, you’re thick,” he muttered. “The bloke’s fancied you since Sixth Year, you loon.”

Draco scoffed. From now on, he wasn’t going to believe anything until it point blank smacked him in the face. Especially where Harry was concerned…

“It doesn’t matter,” he replied firmly. “Right now, I just need a way to stop him. Before he does anything stupid.”

Weasley nodded sombrely. “Yeah, you’re right.” He stood up and waved his wand. Draco watched as a filing cabinet slid out from the wall, coming to rest behind Weasley’s desk.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Weasley started leafing through the files with a grim expression. “Retrieving everything we have on the Devon case. I should warn you though, this might take a while.” He grunted as he struggled with the stack of folders.

Draco rolled his eyes and headed over to the cabinet. “Step aside, Weasley, and let the Archivist through.”


 

They went over the folders for hours. Draco glanced at the clock. It was nearing ten. He wondered what Harry must be thinking and promptly pushed the thought away. This was more important. He was doing this for him.

“Devon was the biggest hit but it wasn’t the first,” Weasley explained, flipping open a file. “There were four other incidents before that, over seven or eight months. It was all pretty quick in retrospect.”

He jabbed his finger at a page and Draco leaned forward. He frowned as he scanned the photograph.

“Jesse Macdonald,” Weasley explained. “Used to work in International Relations. He was heading home one night when he just collapsed in the street. Started screaming about people attacking him and killing his family. Turns out Macdonald was taken by Snatchers during the War. When they got him to Saint Mungo’s, they found an almost lethal amount of hallucinogens in his bloodstream— crudely brewed, the report said, but effective enough. The Potion had jogged his worst memories.”

Draco stared at the bright young man in the photograph. His throat went dry as he remembered the Yule Ball, how his own nightmare had come alive. The same thing had happened to him.

“Then, Barbara Jones,” Weasley went on. “Same thing, different circumstances. Worked in Games and Sports. She was with her boyfriend when she suddenly attacked him. Apparently, she was convinced he was going to use the Cruciatus Curse on her. Jones was at Hogwarts when the Carrows took over. I don’t think I need to tell you what might have happened to her. The Healers found traces of the same Potion in her bloodstream.”

Draco closed his eyes. He felt a little sick.

Weasley shut the folder and tossed it away. “There were two others. Same profile. Ministry workers, prior bad experiences during the War. They were all slipped the same damned hallucinogenic draught. If it makes you feel any better, they all recovered well enough.”

It did not make him feel any better.

“Why didn’t you people do anything?” he demanded shakily.

Weasley gave him a sharp glare. “There wasn’t enough to go on,” he snapped. “We work inside the system, Malfoy. It’s not like the War when we could just…break into Gringott’s and fly out on a dragon. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that sort of thing is behind me now but believe me, it was a whole lot easier to get shite done back then.”

There was nothing in that story Draco even remotely understood and he didn’t want to.

“So, no arrests?” he asked instead.

Weasley shook his head. “No evidence, no suspects. All we had was the potion composition. It was the only thing connecting all the attacks. And what were we supposed to do with that?”

What Harry had been doing, Draco realised suddenly. Researching the composition, separating the ingredients and…possibly tracking suppliers. You couldn’t brew potions without ingredients. He was backtracking the attackers from where they’d got their supplies.

It was the only logical thing to do.

“Anyway,” Weasley went on, “after the fourth attack, the Minister’s Office got involved. The big-wigs panicked. They figured once the press got involved, the public would descend into hysteria. And, in the end, it came down to the Minister’s interests versus four relatively unimportant nondescript Ministry employees. Kingsley fought as long as he could, but in the end, they ordered the investigation closed. And then, Devon happened.”

Draco sat up, suddenly alert as Weasley retrieved another folder.

Weasley took a deep breath and flipped a few pages. “Here we go. Three weeks ago, the Department of Magical Transportation held their annual conference to discuss the issue of new licenses for Floo and Portkey Travel. The conference was scheduled in the Wizard District of Dawlish village, in Devon. There were approximately twenty three attendees accounted for at the event.”

Draco nodded. He’d heard about that conference in passing. At the time, he’d paid no mind to it. Why would he? It was just something DMT did every year— an utterly dull and unremarkable waste of time.

“But something went wrong,” Weasley continued. “It was the same thing all over again. Only this time, the targets weren’t chosen individually. Thirteen guests succumbed to intense hallucinations and started a panic. Four sustained serious injuries, along with a couple of bystanders. The rest went hysterical. They were convinced they were going to die. A few managed to break into the Muggle district and…well, things got violent.”

Oh, Merlin.

“Were any Muggles…?”

“Killed? No, but that’s just luck. Some were hexed, others got hit with some pretty nasty curses. The Aurors made it in time to restore order and cover their tracks. Harry was the Auror in charge of that mission.”

It’s all under control, Head Auror. We shouldn’t have any more…incidents in Devon.

That’s what he was talking about, that day in Kingsley’s office. Draco wrapped his arms around himself, feeling lost and overwhelmed.

What had they stumbled into?

“It was a horror,” Weasley sighed. “Muggle Relations got involved. They smoothed things over, kept the press at bay. And of course…that’s when the Minister’s Cabinet showed up.”

Weasley paused and made a face.

Draco stared at him. “Are you serious?” He couldn’t help the disgust that laced his tone. “Even after all this, they wanted to keep it quiet?”

Weasley shrugged. “It’s what people do, isn’t it? I think they were hoping if they ignored it long enough, it would go away. The victims were taken to St Mungo’s, everyone involved had to sign a magically binding non-disclosure contract. The whole thing was glossed over. They made excuses— there was a glitch in the wards, someone had a bit too much Firewhisky…but our investigation showed something else.”

Draco kept silent. His fist clenched. He felt scared all of a sudden, and he didn’t know why.

“For one thing,” Weasley went on, “St Mungo’s reported that there were traces of an unidentified Potion residue in the drinking water. They matched samples from the previous attacks and sure enough, they were identical. Hallucinogens in the drinking water. Same strategy, same group.”

A group that had already attacked four people before. And then targeted an entire conference. A group that was getting bolder…

“What was the other thing?” Draco asked.

Weasley’s expression turned even grimmer. “This time, the attackers left something behind. A sign. They’ve become confident. They wanted to show us who they were.”

The office seemed colder all of a sudden. The buzz of the Sound Proofing Spell was pounding away in his head.

Weasley gave him a hard look. “What I’m about to show you is strictly confidential, Malfoy. Four people— including the Minister— know about it. I need hardly tell you that I could lose my job by showing you this.”

“Nobody’s going to hear about it from me,” Draco replied immediately. He was almost afraid of knowing, but he had to. “You have my word, Weasley.”

Weasley nodded uneasily, and flipped the dossier to the last page. “Take a good, long look,” he said, “and tell me if you recognise this.”

He knew. Even before he took the folder with trembling hands, deep down inside he knew what he was going to find.

And there it was.

The picture was grimy and blurred, clearly taken in a hurry. But Draco knew what he was looking at. In the picture, etched on the doors of the building— presumably the place where the attack had taken place— a familiar insignia had been burnt into the doors. The Dark Mark grinned at him from the photograph, a misshapen skull with a snake coiling out of its mouth.

No. Please, no. Not this…

Draco felt the bile rise to his throat. He was sure he could feel his arm burning, despite knowing the Mark had faded years ago. He tossed the folder as far away as he could, vaguely aware of Weasley watching him carefully.

“Death Eaters,” he rasped.

But how? They were all gone. He knew this. All those bastards were dead, in exile or safely locked up in Azkaban.

Neo Death Eaters,” Weasley corrected grimly. “It’s not the old outfit. They don’t have the resources to pull off something like this, not anymore. But a new group? One with no prior record to its name? It’s possible. Likely, in fact. We’re not looking at a resurgence here. We’re looking at a new strain.” His blue eyes glittered and he turned back to regard Draco. “I think you understand now.”

He did. He understood perfectly. 

“How do you know?” he asked in a hollow voice. “That it’s not the old group? What makes you think it’s a new band of lunatics?”

“Simple,” Weasley answered confidently. “The Mark. The original Death Eaters— the ones who actually branded themselves with the ghastly thing— knew how to Summon it magically. You remember the Quidditch World Cup, yes? The one right before Fourth Year.”

The memory made him sick with shame. He remembered watching as the Mark floated into the sky, grinning down at them all as the Death Eaters stormed the campsite and torturing Muggleborns. He had laughed then, like it was all a game.

How stupid he’d been, he thought bitterly. Stupid and selfish and cruel.

“Yes,” he replied, forcing himself to meet Weasley’s eyes. “I remember. They cast it magically. It was…floating. Not drawn or etched into anything.”

Weasley, to his credit, didn’t seem interested in bringing up his misspent youth. Unlike Draco, he was clearly over it.

“Right,” he said, brushing past the awkward moment efficiently. “Now, look at our little souvenir here. They clearly didn’t know the spell to cast the Mark. If they had, they would have used it— no question. The best they could do was carve out a cheap imitation on the front door. So, that’s my conclusion. A new group trying to revive the old ideology. Targeting the Ministry and trying to divide us from within. Pulling stunts to stoke old fears and disappearing without a trace. And there you have it—textbook terrorism.”

Draco nodded. It all made sense. Despite everything, he couldn’t help but be impressed by Weasley’s deductive reasoning. It must have shown in his expression, because Weasley offered up a half smile.

“Chess,” was his succinct answer to the unspoken question.

Despite the flash of levity, Draco felt his heart sink again. His mind went back to Harry and his eyes prickled.

“This is why,” he whispered. He understood now. What must this be like for Harry? People getting hurt. The Dark Mark. The Ministry being less than useless. Neo Death Eaters. The whole thrice damned thing happening all over again.

He must be going out of his mind.

Draco swallowed painfully. “He won’t stop,” he whispered. “He’s going to go after them.”

He could feel it in his bones. And…and how would that turn out? He imagined Harry, in his mind’s eye, going it alone with no back-up. Facing a horde of faceless lunatics who wanted him dead, for the sake of a madman who’d been dead and buried for years. He imagined Harry fighting, determined and stoic, until he was overrun…

“No.”

The word escaped him without his consent, an instinctive denial to the horrific prospect. This couldn’t happen. Harry couldn’t do this. Not alone, not again. It was too dangerous. There was too much at stake.

“You need to stop him.” He turned back to Weasley, desperation clear in his eyes. He wasn’t above begging, not if it meant keeping Harry safe. “Please. You’re an Auror, you could do something. Detain him. Arrest him if you have to!”

“On what grounds, Malfoy?” Weasley asked, his tone gentler than he’d probably intended. “We don’t have a thing to hold him, not a shred of evidence. And no offence, but your word is definitely not going to hold up in a formal hearing.”

“But…”

“Look, panicking isn’t going to help. We need to work with what we’ve got. We can’t stop Harry from going after them. But we can beat him to it.”

Draco stilled and frowned. “What…”

“I don’t just sit here on my arse all day, you know,” Weasley interrupted him. “I’ve been working on something, in case of a situation like this.” He was rummaging in his desk drawer as he spoke, sifting through papers and assorted rubbish. Finally, he seemed to find what he was looking for. He emerged with it, his eyes firmly on Draco again. “I know this is starting to feel like overkill, but I need you to understand that this is extremely confidential. I need your word that you won’t speak of it, not to anyone. And especially not Harry.”

Draco nodded impatiently, wishing Weasley would just get on with it. The man pulled out an ornate envelope from the desk drawer. Draco’s eyes widened as he spotted the Ministry’s crest emblazoned on the envelope.

And right below it, in sharp red letters the word ROAR was stamped.

“A Request for Official and Accurate Reinvestigation,” Weasley supplied. “Signed by the Minister himself. I’ve been petitioning for the past week, finally got the old git to see sense.” He held it out to Draco. “With this in the bag, we can relaunch the investigation through official channels. It might take longer, but at least everything will be in the clear. I’m assembling a team right now.”

Draco was only half listening, still staring at the envelope. “I thought you said the Minister wanted to brush the whole thing under the rug. How did you get him to agree to this?”

Weasley sighed, looking tired and worn out. “It wasn’t easy. Definitely would have helped to have Harry on our side. But in the end, I reminded him that the last time a Minister ignored the Dark Mark rising, he wound up resigning in disgrace. That got things moving pretty quickly. Long story short, he signed it, stamped my name on the letter and told me to ‘make it go away’.” He snorted and tossed the envelope away. “Some things never change.”

Draco’s mind was working a mile a minute, processing what he’d just been told.

“So, that’s it,” he offered finally. “You can tell Harry that you’re looking into it and it will be over. He’ll finally stop.”

The stirring of hope and relief quickly faded in the face of Weasley’s expression.

“Will he?” Weasley challenged. “Or will he try to beat us to the punch?”

“He…”

Draco trailed off, suddenly unsure. Would Harry step back? The Dark Mark floated through his head again, along with Harry’s words. The last time Weasley had made this offer…

Maybe it shouldn’t be so difficult to do the right thing.

Draco’s shoulders slumped.

“He doesn’t trust anyone right now,” Weasley said softly. “Not the Ministry. Not the Aurors. Not even me. Trust me, I know my best friend. He thinks this is his job, his responsibility.”

“But it’s not!” Draco burst out. “It’s not his job to keep putting himself in danger just because…”

“He won’t see it that way,” Weasley said firmly. “I guarantee you, the second he finds out that the DMLE is looking into this again, he’ll take off. Go after them. And right now, he has a head-start. He knows more than we do. He’ll get there before us, and…I don’t know what he’s up against but I know he shouldn’t be facing it alone.”

“So what do we do?” Draco asked in a small voice. Every turn seemed like a dead end. He’d never felt this helpless before, and he hated it.

“Proceed,” Weasley said firmly. “We’re looking into things. We just have to keep doing that. It might take time but our only option is to collect all the information we can. In the meantime, we need to make sure Harry stays put.”

He cast a meaningful glance at Draco, who sputtered incredulously.

“What? You want me to stall him? How am I supposed to do that?”

“You’re the only one who can,” Weasley replied, tapping his fingers against desk impatiently. “You’re the only one he listens to these days.”

“But I can’t…”

“Malfoy, do you want to help or not?”

Draco fell sullenly silent. Of course he wanted to help. He just didn’t think he could.

“Look,” Weasley went off again. “Here’s the situation. Harry’s got everything he needs for a stakeout. Specifically, a location and a time to strike. He knows where they’re holing up, and he knows when he’s going to take them out. We need both of those if we’re going to pull this off before him.”

“And how do you plan to get this information?” Draco demanded snidely. “Unless you’re suggesting Legilimency, he’s not going to give you a damn…”

“That won’t work,” Weasley replied, with all the confidence of someone who’d already considered rifling through his best friend’s head before deciding it won’t do any good. Draco stared at him, absently wondering if it had come to this because the situation was that dire, or if all the Gryffindors he knew were just cleverly disguised Slytherins after all.

It was all very disorienting.

But the thought— random as it was— sparked something in his mind.

“The informant,” he blurted out. His eyes widened. Weasley stared at him. Draco leaned forward as an idea sprung to his mind— one that just might work. “You don’t need to look into Harry’s head,” he explained, slowly, carefully, almost daring this plan to fall apart. “You can look in mine. I didn’t see the map, but I did see the informant.”

Weasley sat up, suddenly alert. “If we can identify him…”

They could find him and make him give up the location of the attackers. He might even be able to tell them when Harry planned to go after them.

Location. Time to strike.

Draco was already standing up, eager to get this moving. This could work, he thought with a dazed sort of conviction. This might actually work.

“No Legilimency,” he declared firmly. Even after all of this, there was no way he was letting Weasley root about in his head. Besides, Legilimency required a certain amount of skill. He doubted that Weasley— capable though he may be— could pull it off. However, there was another option. “But I’ll submit to using a Pensieve.”

Weasley nodded. Apparently, it was good enough for him. “Come on,” he said, joining Draco and leading him out, to a smaller room at the back. “The sooner we find this bloke, the better.”


 

He had only used a Pensieve once before. It was right after the War and right before his Trial. The Aurors had made him sit him down in a chair, just like this one, and ordered him to empty his memories into a marble basin. As if it was that easy. The process— invasive and uncomfortable though it was— had helped in the long run. His memories had helps clear him and Mother. Father— who was looking at a sentence in Azkaban at the very least— proved to be acting under duress. He was exiled instead.

It had been helpful, yes. But it was definitely not pleasant.

He tried not to think about it as he peered into the basin with Weasley. Draco’s lip curled as the unidentified wizard’s face floated and rippled in the basin— grubby, wrinkled and pockmarked.

“I don’t recognise him,” he said.

“I do,” Weasley replied grimly. “That’s Mundungus Fletcher.”

The name meant nothing to him.

“You wouldn’t know him,” Weasley explained. “He’s a shady character, spends most of his time in Knockturn Alley. Probably involved in all kinds of illegal shite, not that we’ve ever pinned anything long enough to stick.”

Draco nodded speculatively. A man who knew his way around Knockturn Alley…if anyone could trace back illegally purchased Potions ingredients, it would probably be this Mundungus character. “Why haven’t you arrested him before?” he asked curiously.

He raised an eyebrow when Weasley went slightly red.

“He was…loyal to Dumbledore,” Weasley admitted reluctantly. “The Order tolerated him, but only just. Still, he got the job done. My guess is that’s why Harry went to him. Probably knew Dung wouldn’t give him away.” He sighed and ran a frustrated hand over his face.

Draco could only share the sentiment.

“Do you know how to find him?” he asked. “And if you do, what then?”

Weasley shrugged. “I’ll figure something out. It shouldn’t be too hard to hold him for, at least for a while. He’s always involved in something or the other.”

Draco nodded. It was a sound plan. And to be frank, it was all they had. If Fletcher didn’t come through…

“In the meantime,” Weasley continued, “you’re going to have to stall Harry. Keep him here. The second Fletcher talks, we’ll move out. And that should be enough. Harry won’t like it, but it should be enough to get him to back off.”

And once that happened they would talk, Draco decided. About everything.

“I don’t want to lie to him,” he mumbled. It was stupid and childish, and he didn’t have another choice. This was how it had to be, he knew that. But he wanted someone to know anyway— even if it didn’t matter.

This…was not how he’d hoped for things to go.

“I know,” Weasley replied. To his credit, he sounded sympathetic. “I don’t either. But we have to, Malfoy. If we don’t, if he goes through with this…he could lose his job. Or worse, get hurt.”

There were worse things that could happen, Draco thought. He pushed the thought from his mind. He wasn’t going to let this go on. He would hold out, if it meant keeping Harry here. Where it was safe.

It’s just a little lie, he told himself firmly, desperately. It will be over soon.

Just as soon as they had Fletcher.

As if on cue, Weasley nodded and reached for his cloak. “I’m heading out now. You best get back. And remember, Malfoy, he can’t know. If he finds out…”

He trailed off.

Draco turned the ominous implications of the unspoken warning over in his head, until Weasley gave him one last parting nod and left the office.

Draco followed soon after, his heart growing heavier with every step.


 

It was midnight by the time he made it home. The light was on in the kitchen.

Draco swallowed and took a shaky step forward, wondering just how he was supposed to do this. He hadn’t thought this far. He hadn’t prepared for this.

Somehow, he just knew he wasn’t half the liar Harry was. He was going to give it away. He was going to fuck it up, and it would be all his fault…

“Draco.”

He started. His head jerked up, he took a step back in retreat.

Harry emerged from the kitchen, looking tired and worn out. Draco’s heart clenched at the sight.

“Hey,” he croaked. A part of him wanted to rush forward, wrap his arms around Harry and hold him close. He couldn’t make himself do it.

Harry’s brow furrowed. His eyes roved Draco’s body. Draco could imagine him cataloguing everything— his exhausted expression, his wrinkled clothing…

“Where were you?” Harry asked. “I waited all night.”

This was it. Lie, he ordered himself firmly. You can do it. He did it. You can too.

“I know,” Draco found himself saying. “I know, I’m sorry. There…was an emergency. At the Archives.”

It was weak. Too weak to hold. He could imagine Harry turning his story in his head, poking holes in it. Suddenly, he didn’t want to deal with it. He turned away abruptly, focusing on sorting his bookshelf.

“Oh,” was all Harry said. “Is that all?”

Draco nodded tersely, ignoring the prickle in his eyes and the tight set of his jaw. “Someone messed up my whole filing system. It took hours to put it all back together.”

“I see.”

What the hell was that supposed to mean? He turned back to Harry, only then noticing the stiff set of his shoulders.

“You couldn’t call?” Harry asked, deceptively casual. “To let me know you were busy?”

As if you tell me everything you do.

It was a spiteful thought, and it hurt. Draco exhaled sharply. “It slipped my mind.”

Harry nodded, tight and angry. “Fine,” he said coolly. He shifted on one foot, uncertain for a moment, but then he turned his back and started walking away. “Well, obviously you’re still preoccupied. I’ll just go to bed then. Goodnight.”

The door to the bedroom shut with a soft click. Harry was gone.

Draco swallowed painfully before making his way to the kitchen. He needed a drink, he decided.

And maybe, after he fell asleep next to Harry, he would wake up tomorrow and this whole thing would just turn out to be one big nightmare.

Chapter Text

The days that followed were disorienting. Draco went through his daily routine in a haze occasionally interspersed with moments of clarity. Given the way things were, he almost preferred being numb and distracted.

The days flew off the calendar, one by one. Draco was hovering in the kitchen, cradling a cup of coffee and warming his chilly hands, when he noticed it.

Four days to Christmas.

The thought made his heart twinge painfully. Of all the ways he’d pictured the coming of the season…he could never have imagined how things would actually turn out.

Harry was still distant with him. They weren’t fighting, not exactly. It was more of a stand-off. In some ways, it was worse. The weight of all the things that neither of them were saying was taking its toll on him. He could tell that Harry suspected something. He hadn’t bought the weak excuse Draco had come home with, and he knew something was up. But he wasn’t asking for explanations— not that Draco could have given him one if he did.

Meanwhile, the paranoia was becoming worse. With the rift between him and Harry growing deeper and wider everyday, his mind ran wild. The fear of Harry figuring everything out, the accusing silence stifling both of them, the nerve wracking anticipation of coming home one day and finding Harry gone…

He knew he was supposed to stall Harry. That was his part in this, the one thing he was supposed to do.

But how could he, when they weren’t even speaking to each other?

Perhaps he should be thankful for small mercies. At least, Harry wasn’t going anywhere. Draco had kept a subtle eye out for any sign of a getaway— a packed suitcase or something— but Harry remained stubbornly, silently here.

In the meantime, he had only heard from Weasley a scant few times. Draco absently fingered a piece of parchment— the last missive Weasley had sent him.

 

Still looking. Following up on lead.

Will write again.

-RW

PS: Destroy this.

 

Draco sighed and obediently cast an Incendio. The note withered away to ash. There was no point in taking chances— even with the special Charms Weasley used to conceal his messages. If Harry found out what they were doing…

Draco could only hope that Weasley had made some progress with Fletcher. The last he’d heard— during a hurried Floo Call— was that Fletcher had been spotted in a village west of Hogsmeade. Hopefully, the lead would pan out. If not, they were back at square one and Draco wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep this up.

“Mew?”

He started as Adelaide suddenly pounced on a table, watching him with curious, green eyes. Draco managed a watery smile and stroked her from head to tail. She purred under his ministrations and bunted into his fingers. He wondered if she had cottoned on to the growing tension in the house. Probably, he figured. It was almost a palpable presence now, hot and stifling.

“I know, darling,” Draco murmured softly. “I know.”

His eyes drifted back to the bedroom. From where he was standing, he could just make out Harry’s unruly mop poking out from under the covers. Despite everything, the sight brought a small smile to his lips.

He padded to the bedroom, his feet moving before he’d even decided on what he was going to do next. He crept in silently, approaching the bed. The only sound in the room was Harry’s peaceful, even breathing.

For a moment or so, Draco just watched him. Even in his sleep, Harry seemed on his guard. His brow was furrowed and he was clenching the covers tight in one fist. His body was angled towards the door— just chance or a deliberate instinct to be nearest to the closest exit, it was hard to tell. He looked younger like this, Draco thought. His feelings were bubbling up again and he had to bite his lip to keep from speaking. There were things he couldn’t say, not just yet. Not even to his sleeping boyfriend in the safety of their shared bedroom.

I’m sorry. I love you. I’m scared. I’m sorry.

He couldn’t say any of it, but he couldn’t live like this any longer either. He needed something— a soft touch, a small gesture of comfort…anything to keep him going.

So he ignored the tightness in his chest and leaned forward, brushing his lips against Harry’s forehead. Harry frowned and stirred slightly, muttering something about reconnaissance in his sleep. Draco’s hands crept up to cradle his face, and his lips trailed downwards to meet Harry’s.

Green eyes opened— wary and alert at first glance, then settling on him. Harry made a small, sleepy sound of surprise but his hands moved at once, settling in place on Draco’s hips. His lips parted to return the kiss at once. It made Draco smile.

“Good morning,” he whispered.

“Morning,” Harry gruffed. He stifled a yawn and scrubbed a hand through his hair, messing it up even more. It was endearing and sweet and it made Draco want to kiss him more.

“Mm,” Harry managed, wrapping an arm around him to pull him closer. “So you’re finally speaking to me again?”

“I’m not the one who’s been pouting,” Draco retorted.

“Wasn’t pouting,” Harry grumbled. “I was brooding. Totally different thing.”

Draco nipped at his bottom lip to shut him up. When he broke away, Harry was smiling. Not his playful, relaxed smile…but it was something.

Something would just have to do.

“I don’t want to fight,” Draco whispered. Honestly, it was the last thing he wanted. Especially now, when everything was so wrong…

“Me neither,” Harry replied softly. He traced a gentle hand down the side of Draco’s face, coming to rest at his jawline. Harry sat up and pressed a kiss to his temple. “Clean slate?” he asked hopefully.

Draco nodded and wrapped his arms around him again.

Just another little lie, he thought bitterly.

But at least this one made Harry smile.


Harry didn’t join him in the Archives. In fact, he had decided to skip work altogether.

“I’m not up to researching right now, and it’s almost Christmas. I’ll hang out here,” he said, as he ushered Draco to the Floo. “You go on ahead. I’ll see you after work.”

Draco wasn’t even sure he heard him over the alarm bells ringing in his head. His heartbeat escalated, and he had to fight to keep a neutral expression as he nodded.

Was this it? Was Harry going to move out? What should he do? How was he supposed to stop him if he wasn’t even going to be here?

“I’ll have dinner ready by the time you get back,” Harry told him, still smiling.

Draco searched his expression—for anything that might be a tell. But Harry looked sincere as ever, smiling at him as he waited for Draco to leave. Was he lying? It certainly didn’t seem like it but then, as he kept reminding himself these days, Harry was a good liar.

He learned how to act like everything was just fine at a very young age.

Draco swallowed. He had to go. There was nothing for it.

“Promise,” he said softly.

Harry cocked his head. “What?”

Draco raised his chin, looking him straight in the eye. “Promise,” he repeated quietly.

Harry’s expression flickered just for a second. But then he was smiling and pressing a kiss to Draco’s cheek again.

“I promise I’ll have dinner ready by the time you come home,” he teased. “Now go. You’re running late.”

Draco left him with a kiss and a goodbye. He told himself, yet again, that there was nothing to worry about.

Not just yet.

But that didn’t stop him from casting a discreet Alarm Spell on the flat as he left.

If Harry did leave— by Floo or Apparition— at least he would know.

And Merlin as his witness, he would return and drag Harry back from whatever madness he’d planned to throw himself into.

Or die trying.


 

The day drifted by, painfully slow. Draco let his mind wander, just barely paying attention to what he was cataloguing. His beloved Library— normally a source of comfort and safety— was starting to close in on him. He could almost hear the walls shifting.

Draco took a deep breath and tossed his Quill. He scrubbed his face and ran his fingers through his hair. Nothing was helping. He still felt like he was bouncing off the walls.

Finally, he decided to walk down the aisles and check the shelves. There was nothing to sort out there, but with his fingers tracing the spines of dusty, old books, he found himself breathing a little easy.

Yet again, he discreetly checked the wards on his flat. The alarm hadn’t tripped. By all accounts, Harry was still there, safe and sound.

But did that mean anything? If Harry discovered the Spell, it would take him five seconds to dismantle the wards and rig them again. And Draco would be none the wiser.

It was happening, he realised. He was starting to lose his mind.

Draco took a deep breath and headed for the stairs. He might as well go to the DMLE and confer with Weasley. Assuming that he was in his office at all…

He had just passed his desk when a memo swooped in. Draco stared at it, eyes wide and breath suddenly short. He reached out with shaking hands and pulled it out of the air.

We got him.

Come to Saint Mungo’s.

Now.

Draco didn’t waste a second.

He tossed the memo away and ran for the fireplace.

It fluttered to the floor as he hurtled away.


 

He made an executive decision and headed for Granger’s office. There was a good chance, he thought, that Weasley had confided in his wife— why else would they be meeting here? He thought of them, of the trust between them. He was almost certain that Weasley hadn’t even thought twice before bringing her into a secret that might cost him his job.

He wondered if he and Harry would ever have something like that, and then he irritably brushed the thought away.

It didn’t matter right now.

What did matter was that Mundungus Fletcher was here, in St Mungo’s and he had no way of telling if that was good or bad.

The questions played in a loop in his head, constant and unrelenting until he was standing outside an innocuous white door.

Hermione Granger Weasley, Spell Damage Specialist.

Draco rapped sharply, three times in quick succession.

The door opened a fraction and he caught a glance of Granger’s bushy brown hair. She heaved a sigh of relief and stepped aside.

“In,” she ordered shortly.

Draco slipped past her without a word.

Weasley was seated at the small desk in the corner. He was holding his head in his hands.

This did not look good.

“Is he dead?” Draco asked in the silence.

His mind was running through all the scenarios he could think of. Weasley never found Fletcher. He found Fletcher but the man was dead. He found him alive and injured, Fletcher had died in Saint Mungo’s…

“He’s fine,” Weasley muttered. He raised his head to look at Draco. His eyes were bloodshot, his robes wrinkled and dirty. He looked like he’d been on a mission for days.

“He’s in the Healing Chambers,” Granger explained. “We’re still running tests.”

Draco whipped around to stare at her. “For what?” he demanded. “You said he was fine.”

“He is,” Weasley repeated. “He’s also been Obliviated.”

For a few moments, there was silence again. Draco gaped at both of them. “Obliviated?” he whispered.

His heart sank. All this, and in the end, what good was it? Fletcher couldn’t tell them anything now. It was all for nothing.

“It’s a good, clean job too,” Weasley added bitterly. “No damage, whatsoever. But anything about Harry or what they’ve been talking about? Gone. All of it.”

“Not gone,” Granger corrected at once.

Draco glanced at her, not even daring to hope.

“The memories aren’t gone, just suppressed,” Granger explained. “We might still be able to salvage something. Of course, the spell is practically permanent but given a little time…”

Time. The one thing they didn’t have.

“You’re going to have to stall him a bit longer,” Weasley told him. “Just until we figure out the next step.”

Draco nodded. It’s not like he could do anything else. What other choice was there?

“Yeah,” he said finally. “Yeah, I’ll…figure something out.”

They sat in silence for a while. Nobody seemed willing to say the one thing that was on all their minds. In the end, it was Granger who took the leap.

“It’s possible he Obliviated himself,” she said softly. Her brown eyes darted to Weasley, hesitant and worried. “But given the…the precision, it’s not likely.”

Draco swallowed. “Harry?”

Memory Spells weren’t illegal, not exactly. But it was definitely a grey area.

Granger looked away. “It was probably voluntary,” she hedged. “Mundungus must have asked him to. It would be the easiest way to keep his hands clean.”

“And what if he didn’t?” Weasley asked tonelessly. “What if Harry just decided it was too dangerous to leave any loose ends and…”

“Don’t,” Granger cut in. Her hand squeezed around Weasley’s, her knuckles white. “We don’t know, Ron. We just don’t know yet, okay?”

Draco wasn’t sure he could take more of this.

“Harry,” he muttered, holding his head in his hands. “Oh Harry, what are you doing?”


 

In the end, there was little they could do. Their roles were well defined.

Weasley needed to start investigating from scratch. Granger was doing whatever she could to recover the lost memories. And Draco…well, Draco knew his part of it.

It was with heavy hearts and sombre goodbyes that the unlikely company parted ways.

Draco braced himself as he landed with both feet squarely planted in his living room. He shook the soot out of his clothes and hair and looked up.

His eyes widened and his breath caught in his throat.

The flat looked…

Merlin.

Draco’s eyes travelled from the strings of fairy lights to the wreaths of holly, strung up in every nook and corner. A soft golden glow lit up the room. Draco looked up, just noticing the scores of golden orbs bouncing across his ceiling. Even the tree was all done— his favourite Christmas baubles twinkling in the branches.

“Surprise.”

Draco started as a pair of strong arms wrapped around him. Harry pressed a kiss to his nape.

“Sorry dinner’s not done,” he murmured. “I got a little carried away.”

“You did this?” Draco whispered softly.

“Mm hm. I figured it was time we got serious about the holidays. Do you like it?”

Draco nodded. “It’s beautiful,” he managed, despite the little waver in his voice. His emotions were all over the place, what with…before. And now Harry had gone and done something sweet and thoughtful all over again, and he just didn’t know what to think.

And right now, he didn’t want to.

He was so…done with everything. And the guilt was killing him. While he’d been out spying on his boyfriend, Harry had been putting this together for him.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

He couldn’t say it out loud, but he could show Harry how he felt. He could…start putting all of this behind them.

He’s still here, he reminded himself. He isn’t gone yet. Everything will work out.

He turned in Harry’s arms and pressed their lips together. Harry hummed in approval and snaked an arm around him, holding him close.

“There we go,” he murmured. “I’ve missed you, Draco.”

“I’ve been right here.”

“No, you haven’t.” Harry pulled away, his smile soft and just a little sad. Draco’s heart clenched as Harry ran a gentle hand down his cheek. “I just…I might be wrong but I feel like you’ve been pulling away lately.”

Draco ducked his head, instinctively hiding his gaze from Harry. If he didn’t, if he kept looking into those searching green eyes, he would say something. He knew he would.

“I just want you to know,” Harry said, “that you have nothing to hide from me. I will never hurt you, Draco. No matter what.”

He knew that. There was…so much he wasn’t sure of, but that he knew.

“I know,” he murmured. “I’m sorry, Harry. I know.”

They kissed again, slow and soft, under the golden orbs.

“Let’s go out,” Harry suggested.

Draco was slow to return to reality. “Hm?” he asked, blinking dazedly and still half caught up in the kiss.

Harry smiled and bussed a kiss to his forehead. “Let me take you out,” he repeated. “Dinner, wine and a walk under the stars. It would be nice to get out of the flat for a while, yeah?”

Draco smiled back. It did sound nice. and he couldn’t deny Harry something so small. Not now. Not when things finally seemed…right after such a long time.

“Okay,” he conceded, pressing a kiss to Harry’s jaw. “Just give me a minute to change, yeah?”

He padded back to the bedroom with one last smile at Harry. And the sight of him smiling back made the whole, horrible day fade away to nothing.


 

What Draco didn’t see was how Harry’s smile faded as soon as the door shut.

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath, before digging around in his pocket. The parchment unfurled— crumpled and torn at the corner— but he could still read the short, terse script clear as day.

We got him.

Come to Saint Mungo’s.

Now.

Ron.

Harry crumpled the note and tossed it in the flames. Honestly, it was just good fortune that he’d decided to surprise Draco at the Library. If he hadn’t…well.

It was too late to do anything but proceed, he decided.

His eyes flicked to the calendar, and he made a decision.

Tomorrow. December 22nd.

He would make sure Draco was out of the house, out of harm’s way. No matter what happened he couldn’t let his boyfriend get tangled up in this. Draco was…fragile, but fierce where it mattered. He wouldn’t let Harry go, he would fight him, make him try to stay. And Harry couldn’t let him.

He didn’t blame Draco for going behind his back. Not really. Besides, he’d known from the beginning that Ron would try to stop him. He always tried.

No, this wasn’t Draco’s fault. He couldn’t understand.

Nobody could understand.

But that was okay. It was, because Harry knew what needed to be done.

He just needed to make sure that he kept playing along— just enough to keep Draco from getting suspicious, just enough to keep Ron off his trail.

It would be over soon, he told himself. He would root the bastards out once and for all.

And this time, maybe this time, it would finally be enough.

Chapter Text

December 22nd:

 

At some point, Draco had resigned himself to the inevitable reality of his situation. He was never going to get his Library back to himself. One way or another, there would be an Auror present at all times. Of course, he definitely preferred Harry to Weasley, but company was company— and even though he was loath to admit it, Draco was thankful for someone to talk to.

“So we’re just going to sit here and play chess all day?”

“You’ve got something better to do?”

“Actually, I do. It’s called work. You Aurors should try it some time.”

“You’re just mad because you’re losing.”

“I am not…”

“Check.”

Draco scowled as his bishop was bludgeoned and dragged off the board. “Chess is for heathens,” he declared as he turned to file away the most recent batch of late returns. “And that’s the only reason you’re so good at it.”

“Sore loser,” Weasley countered. Another one of Draco’s pieces bit the dust. Weasley grinned and Draco gave him a flat look before promptly Vanishing the chess set. He had only just resumed his filing again when he heard the familiar crinkle of a candy wrapper.

Oh for Merlin’s…

Weasley yelped as Draco Summoned his Chocolate Frog and binned it.

“No food or drink near the books,” he snapped. “Honestly, did the DMLE train you people in a barn or something?”

“I see Harry’s been giving us a bad name,” Weasley groused.

Draco stiffened. It was just a joke, of course it was. He knew that but it still made him purse his lips and turn away again.

“He’s a good man,” he said quietly. “I know what he’s doing isn’t…right but he’s still a good man.”

“One of the best,” Weasley replied without hesitation. “That’s why we can’t let him do this.”

As always, the conversation had circled back to the person who’d brought them all together on this unlikely mission. Draco’s shoulders slumped as he thought about how little progress they’d made since the dead end with Fletcher. Granger was still pursuing the memory retrieval doggedly. The sluggish rate and minimal progress had yet to discourage her. Other than that, things had come to a virtual standstill. The plan was starting to fizzle, and it was worrying.

“Any luck with your leads yet?” Draco asked suddenly.

“No,” Weasley sighed. “I’m getting closer but these things…”

“…take time, I know,” Draco finished. If he had a Galleon for every time he heard that…he shook his head and went back to work. “Hand me that catalogue over there.”

Weasley tossed it over. He crossed his arms on the desk and watched Draco as he worked. “How do things look on your end?”

Draco shrugged. He supposed things were normal— for a given definition of ‘normal’ of course. Harry had been calm and relaxed. After the awkward tensions of the past week, he seemed more than willing to turn things around for them.

Draco blushed as he recalled his send-off this morning. Harry always lavished him with affection, but there was something about the kisses and touches they’d shared this morning— a fierce urgency, desperation almost. Harry had held him close and murmured sweet endearments in his ear, things that made his heart sing and his pulse thrum.

Of course, there was no way he was sharing any of that with Weasley.

“I think we’re safe,” he said finally. “At least for another week or so.”

Weasley nodded thoughtfully. “Well, that’s good news. I think a few leads might pan out by next week, so if we have time we might as well use it.”

Draco nodded as Weasley got up and palmed his wand.

“I’ll head back up and keep working,” Weasley told him. “And hey, don’t worry, yeah? We’ll figure it out.”

They said their goodbyes and Draco resumed filing. If he finished up early, he may as well go home. No matter how settled things seemed, he still felt better when he was around Harry and knew where he was. Just a few more hours, he decided, and then he would pack up…

The envelope swooped in and landed on his desk. Draco jumped, coming back to himself at once. The seal of Saint Mungo’s glazed across the envelope was instantly recognisable, as was the sharp, pointed script.

Granger. Maybe she’d finally found something…

Draco tore it open at once.

Malfoy,

Something’s gone wrong. I need you here now.

If you have any books on brain damage caused by invasive spell-work, bring them.

There’s no time to explain, please hurry.

–HGW

 

Draco stared at the note in horror.

Salazar, what the hell had happened?! Had Fletcher sustained brain damage? Had Granger’s spells gone wrong? Was he dead? Damn her for leaving him hanging like this!

Draco cursed and headed for the Medical Section. The Library’s collection of medical texts was certainly smaller than St Mungo’s but if Granger had turned to him for help, then things must be pretty bad.

It took him longer than he’d wished, but he finally selected a few books he thought might help. If Granger had only been more specific…but there was no time to think of that now. A man’s life was hanging in the balance, and he had to move. Draco gathered up the tomes, cast a Lightening Charm and palmed his wand. There was no way he could Floo without damaging or losing the books.

Apparition it is then, he decided as he cast the Spell and hurtled away.


 

Granger shrieked as he appeared in her office. Draco braced himself against a shelf, before heading to her desk and tossing his stack of books on it.

“Here. I got everything I could think of, it should be enough.”

Granger just stared at him with wide, bewildered eyes.

“Where is he? How bad is it?”

“Malfoy, why are you…”

“Look, you said we have to hurry. If we split the books, maybe we can…”

“Wait, wait a minute.” Granger stood up. “What’s this all about?”

Draco stared at her, incredulous and at a loss for words. Granger just stared back, waiting for him to explain.

“Are you serious?” Draco finally snapped. “Your note nearly gave me a heart attack and now you don’t even know what…”

“What note?”

Draco fell silent. An ominous feeling crept upon him, a sudden sensation that something was very, very wrong.

“Granger.” All of a sudden, his voice sounded hoarse. He felt like his throat was closing up. “Where’s Fletcher?”

Granger sighed. “We had to release him. We can’t exactly hold him against his will. There’s not much he can tell us anyway, but if the spell I’m working on can tune the memories we salvaged…”

“Granger.” Draco’s heart lurched in his chest. “Did you write to me? Today? Did you send me this?”

He thrust the parchment into her hands. Granger’s expression flickered as she read it. When she looked up at him, her face was pale. “It’s an exact match for my handwriting,” she whispered, “but I didn’t send you this, Malfoy. I swear it.”

No.

Harry. It had to be Harry. But that meant…

The buzzing started, loud and jarring in the silence. The low hum thrummed against his thigh, and echoed in the silence of the small office. Draco swallowed. He knew exactly what it was.

“What is that?” Granger asked, looking around for the source of the humming.

Draco retrieved his wand with shaky hands. It thrummed in his fist, the tip flashing red and green, red and green…

The Alarm Spell. It was happening.

“Harry.”

Granger stared at him, her brown eyes saucer-wide. She was frozen. So was he. The small part of him still functioning wanted to scream in frustration. All this planning, all this talk and now it was time to move and they didn’t know which way was up.

With great effort, he shook off the hysteria and turned to her.

“Call Weasley,” he ordered, his voice wavering a little. “Tell him we’re out of time. I have to go stop Harry.”

“What? But…”

“Granger, now!” he all but yelled, backing away quickly now. His wand felt thin and brittle in his fingers, he wasn’t even sure he could cast with it still buzzing. “We have to move! Head to my place with Weasley as soon as you can! I have to go. I have to go!”

“Malfoy, wait! We don’t know where you…”

Her shout faded away as he felt the familiar tug in his navel. Draco closed his eyes, said a silent prayer and Disapparated.


 

The flat was in a state of chaos. Draco Apparated in the midst of blinding lights and shrill screeches ringing in his ears. He waved his wand haphazardly and cancelled the spell. The sudden silence was almost as jarring as the noise. Was he too late? Had Harry already left? Draco cursed and ran a hand through his hair, struggling to regain his bearings. There was no time to fall apart. He had to move. He needed to…

“A secret alarm system,” a quiet voice spoke from behind him. “Clever.”

Draco whirled around again.

Harry strolled out of the kitchen, calm and unruffled. Like this was an everyday occurrence. He gave Draco another one of those damned, gentle smiles as he leaned against the mantle. To his right, the fire blazed a soft green— ready and primed for Floo Travel. Draco’s eyes darted from Harry to the hearth and his throat clenched.

“Don’t,” he whispered. “Please don’t.”

Harry sighed and shook his head. “You were never supposed to know,” he murmured, half to himself. “This is why I didn’t want you to know.”

“Step away from the fireplace.” His heart was racing, his eyes were burning. After all of this, he still couldn’t believe that this was really happening. “Please, Harry,” he tried again. He wasn’t above begging, not if it would stop Harry from doing this. “It doesn’t have to be you.”

Harry’s answering laugh cut right through him. “Of course it does, sweetheart,” he said. “Who else could it possibly be?”

His tone was gentle, but it held an iron clad conviction that made Draco want to cry. There would be no talking him out of this, he realised. All he could do was stall, and pray that Weasley and Granger made it here in time.

“You tricked me,” Draco accused shakily. “You tricked all of us. You wrote that note.”

“I did.” He didn’t sound the least bit sorry about it. “Your fireplace has a direct connection to the Ministry. You would have known in seconds if I used it. So I had to get you away from it, away from Ron and the DMLE. I…didn’t expect the Alarm Spell, though.” He huffed a laugh and shook his head. “You would have made a damn fine Auror, sweetheart.”

Draco swallowed convulsively. A part of him wanted to just give up, to break down here and now. But he couldn’t. Not like this. Not in front of this Harry— a Harry who was so different from everything he thought he’d known. This side of him— this cunning, mercenary vision— would not heed his pleas or tears.

He might have to fight this Harry. The realisation made him numb inside. Good. It would be easier to do this if he didn’t feel…

Harry was watching him intently— aware of his every move. Draco’s hands shook and his wand tightened in his fist. Green eyes flicked to the weapon in his hand. A flash of pain flitted across Harry’s expression.

“I told you I would never hurt you,” Harry whispered.

The tears finally came. They stung his eyes, blurred his vision. “You already have,” Draco whispered.

Harry’s eyes flashed with sudden anger. “You should have left it alone,” he hissed. “All you had to do was leave it alone.”

“And let you get yourself killed?” Draco snarled. “That’s the choice you’re giving me?”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me, Draco!” Harry replied, his voice rising. “Nothing ever does.”

He had said it before, Draco realised. He cursed himself. If he had only paid attention back then, maybe he would have seen this, seen what was happening to Harry.

“You’re not invincible,” he said softly.

“Neither are they.”

Despair welled up inside Draco. Why couldn’t he understand? Why was he doing this?

“Please,” he begged, his voice wavering now. “Please, Harry. For me. If…if you can’t stop this for you, then do it for me.”

Harry’s eyes softened. “I’m doing this for you, Draco,” he said gently. He took a step forward. Draco stared in helpless silence as Harry approached him. Green eyes filled with warmth and affection, soft hands wrapping around him… a hitched sob escaped Draco as he curled into Harry’s warmth, holding on to him desperately.

“I’m doing it for you,” Harry whispered in his hair. “They hurt you. They could have killed you if that dose had been just a little stronger.”

He couldn’t move. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t even breathe, he was so overwhelmed. All he could do was sob in Harry’s arms like a frightened child, and beg him not to go.

“Don’t,” he stuttered. “Don’t do this. Please, no. I love you, Harry. I can’t…please…”

Harry shushed him gently, tightening his hold and pressing soothing kisses to his temple. “I love you too,” he whispered fiercely. “I love you so much, Draco. That’s why I have to do this. Please sweetheart, please try to understand. I have to make sure they never hurt you again.”

“But I don’t want this!” Draco sobbed. “I want you here. With me.” His fists clenched into Harry’s shirt, holding him close, breathing him in. He had never felt so helpless, so scared— in the arms of the man he loved. There was nothing he could do, nothing he could offer Harry, but he couldn’t stop himself from trying.

“Weasley’s looking into it, he got the Ministry to cooperate. Tell him what you know. Please, Harry. Don’t do it alone. Please just let him help. Let the Aurors help…”

“Hush,” Harry chided, soft but stern. “Hush now and listen to me. I can’t involve the Ministry. They’ll find a way to fuck this up. They will, Draco. I can’t let them in on this. It’s easier this way, don’t you see? It will be over soon. It will be over for good. I’ll fix it, Draco, I promise…”

It was too much. The shock of anger went right through him and Draco wrenched his way out of Harry’s arms. “Don’t!” he snarled, backing away. He was shaking, the flat felt like it was closing in around him. “Don’t you dare promise me anything!” he all but screamed. “You lied. You lied about everything! I don’t believe you. And if you do this—if you leave now, I will never believe you.”

He wasn’t sure if he imagined the flicker of pain in Harry’s eyes or not. But the next second, it was gone. Harry’s expression hardened. His shoulders went back. He looked tense now— alert and combative.

“Then that’s your decision,” he said quietly.

He palmed his wand. Draco’s breath hitched. He was moving before he knew it, running straight for the fireplace and bodily barricading it.

“You’re not going,” he declared. “Do you hear me? You’re not going. You’re not leaving me!”

“I’ll be back soon,” Harry replied, sounding so infuriatingly reasonable that Draco almost hexed him on the spot. “I’ll be back by Christmas, sweetheart. And this will all be behind us. But you have to let me go now.”

“No!” He was screaming again, and he didn’t care anymore. Harry was going to hear him, one way or another. “You’re not leaving,” he hissed. “I won’t let you.”

Harry’s jaw clenched. “Draco, enough,” he growled. “You’re upsetting yourself over nothing.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“It’s nothing I haven’t done before.”

“It’s not your job!” Draco snarled at him. “It doesn’t always have to be you, you stubborn, unreasonable bastard!”

“Stop it,” Harry ordered, “and step aside.”

“No.” Draco lifted his chin. “I’ll fight you if I have to. I will.”

Harry was starting to fray, he could see it. He growled low in his throat and paced the small corridor restlessly. Draco stayed stock still until his boyfriend turned to face him again.

“You’re not going to stop me,” Harry said calmly. “I don’t need the damn Floo for this. I could easily Disapparate.”

“If you could, you would have done it already,” Draco belted back. “But Apparition trails can be traced, can’t they? You need a fire.”

Harry’s silence was answer enough. Draco felt the smallest tingle of relief travel up his spine. For a moment, he could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And then Harry raised his wand.

Draco’s heart lurched. But he took a deep breath and raised his own wand.

“So this was how it was going to be…

“I won’t hurt you,” Harry whispered. He sounded pained. “I promised you I wouldn’t.”

Draco sneered and wiped his eyes. “Your promises mean shit,” he replied coldly. He didn’t allow himself a second to think as he fired off a Disarming Spell.

The element of surprise was the only advantage he could have had— especially in a duel with a skilled fighter. Sadly, it wasn’t good enough. Harry saw the spell coming a mile away. One quick flick of his wrist and the spell was blocked.

“You’re not going to win this,” Harry told him. “You won’t, Draco. Just step aside.”

Draco answered with a flurry of hexes. Body Bind, Stunner, Confundus…they came to him easily and in quick succession.

Harry blocked them all in one go.

“Stop,” he snapped. “Draco, stop it. Don’t make me fire back.”

Too easy, Draco realised. These were elementary level hexes. But what else could he possibly do? His goal was to stop Harry, not hurt him. Benign spells were his only recourse but if he didn’t think fast, he was going to lose this one. He had to think. There had to be a spell that could…

It was one moment of hesitation and it cost him dearly.

“Stupefy.”

The spell hit him immense force. Draco gasped as the breath was knocked right out of him. His head swam and his vision blurred. He couldn’t move his legs anymore— they collapsed under him and he didn’t even have the presence of mind to brace himself as he pitched forward…

Strong arms grabbed hold of him before he hit the ground.

“Shh,” Harry murmured in his ear, holding him up. “It’s alright, love. You’re alright. It will pass, I promise.”

Draco could only manage a strangled whimper as he grappled for Harry, latching on to him at once. Even in this confounded state, he found it in himself to hold on, to stop Harry from leaving.

“I’ve got you,” Harry murmured. He hoisted Draco up easily, carrying him and placing him gently on the couch.

Green eyes swam before Draco’s failing vision. He was going to pass out. He was going to let go and Harry would leave…

“No,” he mumbled.

“Shh.” Harry smiled down at him, carded gentle fingers in his hair. “Go to sleep now. Just sleep, sweetheart.”

“No, don’t…”

“I’ll come back soon. On Christmas and not a day later. I will, Draco. I love you so much…”

It was the last thing he heard before the world faded away. Draco managed a small sob as the gentle hands withdrew, leaving him alone and bereft. A soft blanket slipped over him and warm lips pressed one last kiss to his forehead. After that, there was nothing but the sound of fading footsteps and the telling whoosh of the Floo.

The fire blazed a bright green, and Draco slipped into unconsciousness.


 

The world swam back into focus. Slowly, painfully, Draco came back to reality. Someone was speaking to him, saying something…but his ears felt like they were full of cotton. He shook himself, trying to dispel the lingering feeling of nausea…

“Enervate.”

His vision cleared. His ears stopped ringing. Draco bolted up with a gasp, as it all came back. He would have toppled right off the narrow sofa if a firm hand hadn’t grabbed hold of his wrist.

“Malfoy.”

Draco turned, staring straight into calm, brown eyes. Granger watched him, cataloguing his every motion. She pocketed her wand and turned back to him, efficient and assessing.

“Malfoy, talk to me,” she ordered. “Does anything hurt? Are you dizzy or nauseous? Who is the Minister for Magic?”

“Harry.”

Draco’s breath stuttered. Even before he looked, he knew the fire would be out. The sight of the cold, blackened hearth made him want to curl up and scream.

“I know,” Granger murmured, squeezing his hand. “I’m so sorry.”

She looked genuinely sympathetic, and it was more than he could stand.

“Where were you?” Draco demanded. “I told you to get Weasley. I told you to…”

“I tried,” she cut in apologetically. “I tried to tell you before…I didn’t know your address, we never discussed where you live. You took off, and then it took me ages to find it in your medical records…”

Draco sighed in defeat and slumped back on the sofa. Of all the stupid, idiotic things that could have messed this up…

“And then your wards started acting up,” she went on. “I’m guessing Harry tuned them? I don’t know but I had to dismantle them, and by the time I got here you…were unconscious.”

He had failed. Harry was gone.

He might not come back.

He might never come back.

“My fault,” he whispered. He felt dead inside— numb and cold and lifeless. “It’s all my fault.”

“No, it’s not,” Granger said firmly. “You were unconscious.” There was a beat of silence before she turned to him again. “Did Harry hex you?”

Draco shook her hand off and got to his feet. He ignored all her protests as he grabbed a pinch of Floo Powder. He was nearly out, he realised. Harry must have used most of it. There was no time to think about this right now. He needed to act. The damage was done, but if there was even a chance it could be fixed…

“Come on,” he told her. “We have to go.”

“Malfoy…”

He gave her a sharp look and she wisely trailed off. With a sigh, Granger came to stand next to him as he got the fire going again. Draco averted his gaze, choosing to look right into the flames instead of her pitying eyes. He set his jaw and threw the last of the powder in.

And then, they were hurtling away to the DMLE offices in complete silence.


 

He didn’t wait for clearance when they tumbled into the office. He didn’t even wait to see if Granger was keeping up with him. Draco elbowed and pushed through a sea of blurred faces as he headed down the corridor. The hysteria was building up inside him again, and he thought his head might just explode from the force of his migraine.

Weasley had obviously heard the commotion, because he came out of his office. For a moment, their eyes locked and they just stood there— Draco flushed and well on the way to a panic attack, Weasley with an expression of dawning comprehension.

“Gone,” Draco croaked.

Weasley swallowed and nodded once. He scrubbed his eyes and that seemed to centre him. With a deep breath, he approached and gripped Draco by the arm.

“Come on,” he said in a low voice. “You can’t do this here, Malfoy. You hear me? Don’t lose it out here. It won’t do Harry any favours.”

From the corner of his eye, Draco spotted the curious crowd starting to mill around him. He took a breath to compose himself and nodded, allowing Weasley to lead him into the office.

Granger slipped in right behind them, and soundly shut the door.

The silence built up, until it was punctured by Weasley’s well-deserved bout of cursing.

“Fuck,” he muttered. His fingers tapped agitatedly at the desk. Draco watched blankly, both unable and unwilling to begin this conversation. After a beat of silence, Weasley turned to his wife. “What happened?”

Granger gave him a rundown of what she knew. When she got to the part where she’d found Draco unconscious, Weasley balked and rounded up on him.

“He attacked you?”

Draco flinched and shook his head. “I fired first,” he replied flatly. “To stop him. He was just…he didn’t…”

“He attacked you, Malfoy,” Weasley countered bitterly. “That’s what happened.” He sighed and held his head in his hands. “What the bloody hell’s wrong with him?”

Draco didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure he could. It was Granger who broke the tense silence.

“What now?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” Weasley replied quietly. “We’re…honestly, we’re out of options.”

No more moves. Check and mate.

“He took the Floo,” Granger pursued doggedly. “Maybe he’s using one of the DMLE safe-houses for scouting?”

Weasley considered that. “We can run a search, see if any of them were used recently. It might help to narrow down his location. Then again, he’ll probably be on the move by the time we figure it out…”

They talked softly for a while, mercifully refraining from involving Draco in the conversation. It was easier to tune them out and drift. He imagined Harry holed up in some safe-house, biding his time. He imagined him locating his targets and spying on them. It was the questions that wouldn’t leave him be. How many were there? How many Dark Spells and Curses did they know? What if someone got Harry with an Unforgivable? If something did happen, would they even know? If Harry didn’t make it back, would Draco find out or would it take days and weeks and months of waiting and wondering and never knowing…

His breath left in a gasping shudder. Both Weasley and Granger stopped talking and turned to him. Draco swallowed convulsively and stood up, pacing from one length of the room to another. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t. Harry hadn’t even been gone a day yet and he felt like he was being buried alive. He was suffocating under the weight of all the uncertainty, the panic was enveloping him and he was choking on it. He couldn’t do this, he couldn’t, he couldn’t…

“…calm down. Malfoy, stop it.”

A large hand landed on his shoulder, pulling him to a stop. Draco stared straight ahead, at the DMLE crest on the wall, ignoring Weasley’s concerned glance and trying to steady his erratic breathing. No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t seem to inhale properly…

“You’ll go into shock like this,” Weasley warned. “Malfoy, are you listening to me? You…”

“He’s gone.”

Weasley fell silent. His fingers gripped Draco’s shoulder, a silent gesture of support. “I know,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s my fault.”

“Now we both know that’s not true,” Weasley replied, leading him firmly to a chair. “The only one at fault here is Harry.”

“Don’t, Ron,” Granger sighed. “This is not easy. What he’s going through…”

“Well, maybe I’m tired of it,” Weasley spat. “I’ve tried, Mione. I have, okay? And you have too. How many times did you beg him to speak to Healer Bones? How many times did I have to trick him into taking a day off, just to get his head on straight? Merlin helps us, we’ve been doing this for five years. And he’s not even trying. I mean, look at this! Look at…”

He gestured at Draco before trailing off.

Draco ducked his head. Granger looked away.

“It’s gone too far,” Weasley said quietly. “Okay? It has. This…this lone ranger shite he’s been pulling, all the lies, hexing his boyfriend, for Godric’s sake! He wasn’t like this and he’s not trying to come back anymore. Admit it.”

“He needs help,” Granger admitted in a small voice. “I know he does but…”

“Well, then that’s it,” Weasley declared. He sounded exhausted and angry and tired— and Draco knew exactly how he felt. “When he comes back, he’s got a decision to make. Either he gets help or I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. None of us can.”

If he comes back, Draco thought dully.

Was this because he hadn’t tried hard enough? Should he have asked Harry to get help? To see a Healer? To talk to him or Weasley or anyone before things spun so badly out of control? Maybe it was. Maybe he should have…

“And you stop blaming yourself,” Weasley added, rounding up on him again. “I’m sick of everyone taking the flak for Harry’s shite, except Harry.”

Silence descended after that. There was nothing more to do. Nothing more to say.

“What’s going to happen,” Draco asked suddenly, “when he comes back?”

If, the traitorous voice echoed in his head and he resolutely ignored it.

Weasley sighed and settled behind his desk again. “Well, like I said…if we can figure out which safe-house he was at, we’ll get an idea of his location. And we could, in theory, send a team after him. But honestly? At this point, I don’t know what good that would do. As for when he comes back…I really can’t say. Professionally speaking, carrying out a private investigation and withholding evidence from the DMLE is a serious infraction. I don’t even want to bring up shite like meeting informants in secret or hexing a civilian. It all adds up, makes a pretty strong case for…”

“Suspension.”

A new voice broke into their hushes conversation, startling all of them. Granger jumped and Weasley turned towards the door. Draco turned too, and immediately paled.

Head Auror Shacklebolt was standing at the door of Weasley’s office, the very picture of controlled rage. His dark eyes roved the small company before landing on Draco.

“When your boyfriend returns from his field mission,” he intoned in a low, deep growl of a voice, “you may tell him he’s fired.”

And that was it. That, right there, was what broke Draco.

He stood up so abruptly that his chair went crashing to the ground. He was vaguely aware of Weasley telling him to sit back down and Granger tugging his sleeve, but he didn’t care. All the helpless rage he’d kept bottled in crashed down on him, and just like that, he had no control anymore.

“This is your fault!” he shouted at Kingsley Shacklebolt. “This is all your fault, damn you!”

A few of the Aurors were starting to gather around, trying to get a glimpse of the show. Draco didn’t care. He knew he was going to bitterly regret this show of weakness in his calmer moments, but right here, right now, his only recourse was to scream until it didn’t hurt anymore.

“If you had just done your damn job in the first place, this would never have happened! You caved! You gave in to the Minister’s demands when you should have carried on investigating! You’re the reason he’s gone rogue! This is all your fucking fault! He might die out there because of you!”

Shacklebolt remained quiet through his tirade, seemingly shocked into silence. Draco subsided, head pounding and throat raw. He was breathing heavily. His head was spinning. He was only vaguely aware of Weasley’s tight grip on his arm, calmly telling him to shut up and sit down. He didn’t care enough to listen.

What did it matter anyway? What did anything matter now?

“Auror Weasley.” Shacklebolt turned to Weasley, still calm and composed. “See to it that Mr Malfoy is escorted home safely. We don’t want any more incidents tonight.”

“Yes, sir,” Weasley replied gruffly.

“And after that, see what you can do about retrieving ex-Auror Potter from the field. There is nothing more to discuss. Good day to you all.”

Shacklebolt left. The door shut behind him with a sound click. Draco shook off Weasley’s hand. He was so tired. So exhausted and broken up inside…

He didn’t even notice when he slid to the floor and curled in a heap, resting his head on his knees and ignoring Granger’s entreaties to rest or at least drink some water.

He couldn’t rest. He couldn’t do anything.

Except wait.

There was nothing to do but wait now.

Chapter Text

Christmas:

He was drifting again. The ceiling blurred in and out of focus. Draco blinked and absently wondered if he’d been staring at it for just hours or days. At this point, time was an abstract concept to him— something irrelevant and obtuse that only applied to other people.

The bed dipped and he felt something soft brush against his arm. Draco turned his head, blinking at the thin strip of daylight bleeding in from the drawn curtains. His mind was sluggish and he was slow to return to reality, but the sight of bright, green eyes sent an unexpected lance of pain through his heart.

Adelaide watched him keenly, ears twitching and tail lashing in apparent agitation. She warbled unhappily and pawed at his face. Draco absently wondered if he’d forgotten to feed her. He had trouble keeping a schedule these days. Still, she seemed content enough and evidently, concerned for him.

“Mew,” Adelaide protested, pawing at him again. She rumbled and pounced on his chest, dipping her head to nuzzle at him.

Despite his sorry state, Draco managed a faint smile and scratched behind her ears.

“I’m okay, silly girl,” he murmured. “Just tired, that’s all.”

Adelaide leapt off his chest and meandered to the empty space beside him. She rubbed her face against Harry’s pillow and mewed softly. Draco’s throat tightened and suddenly, it was more than he could bear. He turned his back on Adelaide and the rest of the world, curled up in a tight ball and braced himself for the rush of sudden pain.

You will not cry. He coached himself fiercely through deep breaths and clenched fists. You will not cry.

No more. Never again. Not. For. Him.

He didn’t think he could anyway. He was too tired, too worn out to cry anymore.

It was day three. Apparently, a small, still functioning part of him had been keeping track of time. Three days. Three days since Harry walked away from him. Three days since he’d stepped outside. Three days since the world fell away and this small, dark bedroom became the site of his useless vigil.

It was almost funny, in a tragic sort of way. He couldn’t keep track of what he’d been doing five minutes ago, but every single second of that day was seared into his brain.

In the end, they did find the safe-house. A harried, sleep deprived Junior Auror had reported to Weasley in the wee hours of the morning. The DMLE safe-house in Dorset showed traces of Auror Potter’s magical signature. The strength of the Trace suggested that he’d departed several hours ago. The small stab of hope had made it worse, in a way. Weasley had agonized over organising a team and giving chase for a good hour and a half, but in the end, it made no sense. Harry was too far ahead. At best, they would miss him altogether. At worst, they would be sighted, compromise the whole mission and seriously endanger Harry in the process. Weasley was quiet and sombre when he pointed out that Harry was probably ‘in the field’ as they spoke, and interfering now would do more harm than good.

And that was it. The final nail in the coffin.

There was officially nothing more to be done.

Everything after that point was a blur. Someone (Weasley, most likely) must have seen him home at some point, but for the life of him, Draco couldn’t remember it. The days after Harry’s departure stretched long and thin in his hazy memories, lingering but undefined.

Nevertheless, a few snatches of reality bled through the ennui.

He remembered crying. He remembered staring into the blazing fireplace, mentally willing the flames to turn green. He remembered begging and pleading and crying some more, making useless bargains with someone who had promised to always be there but had left him alone, his body finally giving into the exhaustion and falling asleep in front of the dying fire.

It all seemed so long ago.

Maybe it was, he reasoned dully. Maybe it wasn’t three days, but three years that had gone by. And he was still here, waiting for a promise that would never be kept and searching a dying fire for a trace of warm, green eyes.

Maybe Harry wasn’t coming back. Ever.

He was honestly surprised when the tears fell. He’d been so sure he’d finally run out.


 

Two hours later, he woke to firm hands on his shoulders, shaking him until his teeth rattled.

“Come on, get up. Get up, Malfoy.”

Draco gasped and broke free of the jarring hold, scuttling back until he hit the bed frame. His chest was heaving and his eyes were blurry when they finally fixed on Weasley.

Weasley.

“Weasley?” Draco croaked, not entirely sure if he was hallucinating or not. The voice in his head cackled hysterically at the ludicrous thought. No, that was definitely a stretch. If he was succumbing to delusions, then there was only one former Gryffindor his addled mind would conjure up and it definitely wasn’t Ronald Weasley.

Which…didn’t really help him much, now that he thought about it.

Because that meant that Weasley was in fact, standing here in his bedroom and glaring disapprovingly at him. Draco scowled defensively and hunched his shoulders, aiming to sidle under his blankets while he still could.

“Don’t even think about it,” Weasley warned, holding a forbidding finger up. “I’ll Vanish the bed if I have to.”

He probably would, the ruddy bastard.

“What are you doing here?” Draco asked despondently.

“Checking up on you,” Weasley replied with a nonchalant shrug. As if this was normal, something they did all the time. His eyes skimmed Draco thoughtfully, cataloguing everything from his bloodshot eyes to his hunched shoulders. Draco ducked his head, suddenly very aware of his wrinkled clothes and greasy hair.

“As you can see, I’m getting along swimmingly,” he replied with a waspish edge in his voice. “Good day, Weasley.”

He hid under the covers again, bunching them in his fists so that Weasley couldn’t yank them off.

“Bloody hell,” Weasley muttered, sounding thoroughly exasperated. “If it’s not one, it’s the other…”

Draco huffed and scrunched his eyes shut. Perhaps if he behaved badly enough, Weasley would leave him to wallow in his misery.

No such luck.

Draco hissed in pain as insistent fingers jabbed him in the ribs. Good Godric, but the man was persistent.

“I’m not kidding, you plonker,” Weasley scolded, wrestling the covers off. He looked thoroughly unimpressed by Draco’s miserable, protesting whine. “You can’t wallow in this bed all day, alright? Have you even moved since I brought you here?”

“Leave me alone,” Draco mumbled. His voiced was wavering again, and he hated it. He hated himself. He hated Weasley for not leaving him be. And as much as he wanted to hate Harry, he still couldn’t and he hated that too. It was all too much and he couldn’t stop himself from curling up in a pitiful ball, just about managing a hitched breath every now and then to keep himself going.

“Godric,” Weasley muttered.

Draco flinched as an awkward hand made contact with his shoulder. He attempted a weak shrug but Weasley held on until his fit had passed.

“Look,” he said, and his voice was softer now, “I know this is shite. I do. But believe it or not, he always comes back.”

He’s not coming back. He’s not coming back. He’s not…

“And he’s going to have a fit when he sees you in this state. Is that what you want? No? Then you’re going to have to work with me. For Merlin’s sake, Malfoy, it’s Christmas.”

Christmas?

Draco’s eyes flew open and he bolted up. He stumbled out of bed and shoved past Weasley, heading straight for the kitchen. He stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted the date on the calendar.

December 25th.

I’ll be back by Christmas. Not a day later.

Draco’s breath hitched in his throat.

Could it be? Was today really the day? Or had Harry just lied again?

His emotions swirled, surging inside him and hitting hard. He exhaled shakily and ducked his head. He didn’t realise he was trembling until he felt a firm hand on his shoulder.

“Easy,” Weasley coaxed. “Take it easy. Just breathe…”

But he couldn’t. It was too much and he just couldn’t. Eventually, Weasley had to lead him out. He was unnervingly gentle as he deposited Draco on the sofa and threw a blanket over his shoulders. It was a surreal experience, but Draco was too overwrought to do more than huff in discontent.

“What?” Weasley grumbled defensively. “You look bloody pitiful, alright? I’m not heartless.”

Draco couldn’t bring himself to disagree. If he looked half as bad as he felt, Weasley was right to worry. Not that Draco understood why he would, given their history. But nonetheless, he was grateful.

“You don’t have to do this,” he said quietly. “There’s no reason for you to bother with me. I’m…I’m okay, really.”

“Malfoy?”

“What?”

Weasley gave him a flat look and thrust a steaming mug in his hands. “Shut up and drink your tea.”

Apparently, selective listening was a common trait among Gryffindors. That, and the bossiness. Draco absently wondered when those qualities had gone from annoying to endearing. He thought of green eyes and soft kisses in the dark and his throat started to close up again. He distracted himself with a sip of tea.

Nobody said anything for a while. The tea was warm and soothing, the silence companionable. Draco could feel the tenseness receding, his mind calming just a little. And Weasley’s presence, while not the one he desperately wanted, was solid and comforting.

At least he wasn’t alone. It was nice not being alone.

“Thanks,” he murmured softly.

Weasley nodded sombrely. “Harry would want me to,” he replied, just as quietly.

Draco’s vision went blurry again. “He promised to come back. On Christmas.”

Weasley nodded and hummed thoughtfully. “I’m sure he intends to,” he offered, and it was obvious he was choosing his words carefully. “But there’s no accounting for time when you’re in the field. He could be coming back right this minute…”

“Or?” Draco prompted, when he trailed off.

“Or it might be tomorrow or the day after or maybe even next week,” Weasley finished. No hint of never in his voice. “The point is, it’s useless to sit around waiting for him.”

Draco scoffed. He couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, he couldn’t bring himself to do anything else either.

“How about this?” Weasley offered, after a spell of silence. “Come over to ours, just for a bit.”

Draco sighed and closed his eyes. “Weasley, I…”

“I think we can all agree that you shouldn’t be alone right now. And Hermione and I…well, we’re not exactly celebrating either. If we’re all going to sit around and wait, we might as well wait together.”

It was a kind offer and Draco would be lying if he said he wasn’t tempted. But his eyes drifted to the calendar again. If Harry did come back tonight…

“I can’t,” he mumbled. “I…I have to be here, Weasley. If…”

“No, you don’t,” Weasley cut in firmly. “There’s absolutely no reason for you to spend Christmas here, alone, just because Harry might be coming back tonight. He knows where we live, leave a note.”

“But…”

“Malfoy, I am not afraid to bring in the back-up. Do you want Mione here?”

He had seen Granger’s powers of persuasion. The thought was terrifying.

“I thought so,” Weasley announced, with a satisfied nod. “Go take a shower. We leave in ten.”

Draco glared and stayed stubbornly put, but Weasley just stared him down. Damn Gryffindor stubbornness. It reminded him of Harry, in some strange way, and it was enough to make him capitulate. Draco huffed and broke eye contact as he gingerly hefted himself up.

“You know, I remember a time when I could get through five minutes without a Gryffindor bossing me around,” he muttered, training a meaningful eye on Weasley. “I miss it.”

“Sure you do,” Weasley drawled, rolling his eyes. “Shower. Now. Or I’ll just use an Aguamenti.”

Draco grumbled under his breath but went to fetch a towel.


 

Weasley’s place turned out to be a small bright flat in the Wizard District just bordering Muggle London. It surprised Draco, who had half expected to find himself in the Burrow— the Ancestral Weasley home. Belatedly, he realised that his presumption was a little silly. It was highly unlikely that all the Weasleys and their offspring lived in a giant ginger pile, in that rickety old house— but it was a notion that had always stayed with him and he had never bothered to revise it.

Apparently, there were quite a lot of things he’d taken at face value.

His thoughts were veering dangerously close to Harry again, and he was thankful that Granger approached them with a wan smile and a greeting. When her slim arms wrapped around him in a hug, he started in surprise.

“Get used to it, you snob,” Granger huffed, and he could almost sense her exasperated eye-roll.

Draco responded with a gentle squeeze, prompting a surprised squeak from her this time. “Already have,” he replied sincerely.

It would never fail to surprise him how easily these people had put the past to rest. But there it was. Somewhere along the way, the barriers had fallen and they were standing together. For better or worse, he had been accepted into the Gryffindor fold and evidently, there was no escaping it.

Oddly enough, the thought made him smile.

Granger squeezed his arm, and Weasley clapped his back.

“Come on,” he said, taking Granger’s arm and leading them back inside. “You’re just in time for dinner.”


 

For once, they didn’t talk about Harry. Both Granger and Weasley— through a shared exchange of meaningful glances that Draco was certain he was not supposed to notice— had deftly avoided bringing him up. Draco, for his part, saw no reason to change that. What would they say that hadn’t already been said? Despite everything, tonight was supposed to be about joy and peace.

Instead, they spoke about other things: vacations, work, Quidditch and plans for the future. Granger took great delight in grilling him on the newest additions to his Library, and Draco found himself promising to loan her some scrolls from his personal collection. Weasley watched both of them go back on forth on it with an air of amused consternation. But he put up with Draco’s jibes and Granger’s teasing sportingly.

All in all, it was a nice, pleasant evening and as it winded down, Draco had to admit he’d desperately needed it.

“Thank you,” he offered, once the plates were cleared and sent back to the kitchen. “To both of you. You didn’t have to do any of this, especially for me. But…it’s nice not being alone tonight. So, thank you.”

Granger smiled and squeezed his hand. “It’s nothing,” she said softly. “We’re glad you’re here.” 

His eyes darted to Weasley, expecting some sign of disapproval— or at least discomfort with the suggestion. But the man just offered a stoic nod.

“Yeah, apparently you’re one of us now.”

Draco smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Too late to back out now, yeah?”

“Should’ve thought of that before taking up with Harry,” Weasley countered with a grin.

There were a lot of things he should have thought of before taking up with Harry. But right now, here in the company of…friends, the pain and longing had receded to a dull ache and he felt like he could breathe again. Draco closed his eyes and let his head roll back against the sofa, feeling content, calm and at peace after a long time.

The knock at the door made for a jarring awakening.


 

The knock sounded again, louder this time.

Draco’s eyes flew open and he sat up. Both Granger and Weasley were stock still, eyes wide and staring down the hall. Their identical expressions would have been comical in other circumstances, but right now Draco could hardly focus on anything except the sudden ringing in his ears and the quickening beat of his heart.

No.

No, he couldn’t be…

A soft click. The door was opened. Draco stood slowly, eyes never leaving the small hallway. From the corner of his eye, he noticed Granger and Weasley following suit.

Footsteps, quick and purposeful.

Draco’s breath hitched, and his fists clenched.

And just like that, Harry walked in, looking for all the world like he’d just gone around the corner for a magazine.

Draco swallowed. His legs felt shaky. Relief warred with anger inside him as green eyes settled on them.

He was here. He was back.

On Christmas and not a day later.

“Harry,” Granger gasped.

Draco’s eyes burned.

Harry stood there, watching them. His eyes darted from Granger’s earnestly relieved expression to Weasley’s stony one to Draco’s…well, Draco couldn’t say exactly what Harry saw in his face, except that it made him freeze in his tracks.

“Draco.”

Draco’s vision blurred. No. No, he couldn’t. He was out of tears, he knew he was…

“Draco…”

Harry was moving now, coming closer. There were flecks of snow in his hair. His combat robes were muddy and torn. There was a cut in his lip and faint marks around his throat.

But he was here. He was alive. He was the same.

“I found your note,” Harry said softly. “I came as soon as I …”

He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move or think. All he could do was stand there…and feel.

Relief. Anger. Love. Respite. Fury. Hurt.

It was a torrent of emotion, and he hadn’t even realised how much he’d kept inside him until this moment. And here Harry was, standing right here in front of him, like he’d never left at all…

“I’m here,” Harry whispered, reaching out for him. His fingers brushed Draco’s arm. “Sweetheart, I’m…”

He acted without thinking. There was no capacity to think anymore, not now…not anymore when pent up grief and loss and fury had taken up every functioning fibre of his being. Draco did the only thing he could have done.

He drew his fist back and slammed it in Harry’s jaw with all the force he could muster.

Granger screamed. Weasley’s hand twitched— as if he wanted to go for his wand— but he drew back and crossed his arms. Harry staggered back from the force of the blow, one hand flying up to cradle his jaw. His eyes locked on Draco, hurt and bewildered, but he made no move to retaliate or defend himself.

Draco took a step back.

“That was for hexing me,” he said, his voice shaking with suppressed rage.

“Draco…”

He couldn’t look at Harry anymore. Two minutes ago, he would have turned on the world to have him back but now…

Draco turned away and headed for the Floo.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed Granger hurrying over, assessing Harry for damage.

“Oh for Merlin’s…Ron, get my Healer Kit!”

“No,” Weasley replied firmly. His eyes locked with Draco for a moment, and then he turned away with a huff.

Draco heard the door slam as Weasley took his leave. It was as good a time as any. He grabbed a pinch of powder from the mantle and stepped into the fireplace. The last thing he saw as the flames enveloped him was Harry’s face, screwed up in a rictus of pain and loss.


 

There was a deadly calmness to this rage.

He didn’t fly into a murderous rage as soon as he reappeared in his flat. He didn’t scream or shout or throw things about. He didn’t cry or grieve either. He just walked into the kitchen, made a cup of tea and sat down to wait.

It was an hour before the fire blazed green again.

Harry stepped out, eyes locked on him and steps guarded. Draco watched him with an almost…detached fascination.

Here was the man who had hurt him. Here was the man who claimed to love him. Here was the man he claimed to love, and yet he wanted to hurt him as badly as he’d been hurt.

Surely, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Love was not supposed to be like this.

“You’re back,” he said quietly.

Harry sighed and brushed past him. Draco didn’t turn around, even when the clattering of pots and pans grew louder. He waited in stony silence until Harry emerged with his own cup of tea.

“I told you I would be,” he said, in reply to the statement Draco had made ten minutes ago.

Draco’s smile was thin. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t take the things you say at face value,” he answered, with the edge of a hiss in his voice. The numbness was fading and he could feel the anger bubbling and frothing under a wafer thin surface.

Harry flashed him a bitter smile.

They lapsed into silence, awkward and heavy with things left unsaid. Draco took the opportunity to really look at Harry.

He looked…tired. Gone was the boyish candour, the capable Auror, the teasing boyfriend. It was like a mask had been pulled off. And then another. And then another…until all that was left was a man, tired and haunted.

So this is what he looks like, Draco thought with a numb sort of realisation. When he’s not pretending.

“Was your mission a success?” he found himself asking. He didn’t know why he wanted to know. Morbid curiosity, most likely…

“Yes,” Harry muttered. “It was.” His eyes flicked back to Draco’s, suddenly unnervingly intense. “They’re gone.”

Draco wasn’t sure he wanted to know what that meant. No doubt Harry’s…targets had deserved what was coming to them, but the implications were still frightening.

“Was it worth it?” he asked quietly.

Harry’s mouth pressed into a thin line. He put the cup down with a sharp clatter and took a deep breath. “I don’t want to fight,” he bit out.

Draco’s eyes flashed and he set his own cup down. “Too late,” he replied.

Harry’s eyes flashed with challenge. Draco stared back. He wasn’t backing down. Not this time. This…this wasn’t something they could just brush under the rug.

“We’re doing this,” he said in the sudden silence. His voice was shaky but the anger was like adrenaline. He felt like he was flying. It was better than drifting, but only just.

“Draco, please…”

“You left me.”

Harry trailed off as Draco leaned forward in his chair. His fingers dug into the arms, leaving deep gouges in the fabric.

“You promised you would stay,” he hissed, “and then you left. So no, Harry. You don’t get to decide if and when we talk about this. The very least you owe me after this, after what you put me through, is a reason. So talk. Explain it to me. Tell me why.”

Harry’s expression shifted. His lips pulled in a faint smile— and it was enough to send another spike of rage through Draco.

“You really want to know?”

There was an edge to that question, a hint of mocking, a subtle challenge that suggested Draco either wouldn’t or couldn’t understand the answer.

Draco offered a stilted nod and Harry’s eyes shuttered.

“Alright then. Let’s talk.”

Chapter Text

Over the next four hours, Draco came to realise that books couldn’t prepare you for everything.

Take fights, for example. All the good books had fight scenes. A story without conflict is a dull endeavour, after all. But those fights were resolved deftly— usually as a lead up to something bigger. Sure, there would be the obligatory cursing and screaming but in the end, it all blew over. Something momentous would happen and the protagonists would put aside their differences, forgive each other in the face of the looming threat. In the end, the whole thing would tie up in a neat, precise conclusion. Books tended to view arguments through the lens of a larger plot— something resolved easily in the course of an hour, maybe two and then never mentioned again.

Real life was different.

There was no real beginning to a fight, as far as Draco could tell, and no defining end either. It was just an endless back and forth with highs and lows— calm discussion that quickly devolved into emotional venting and frustrated yelling before dipping back into exhausted reiteration of the point that the other person just wasn’t getting.

And then it would start all over again, with no end in sight. Books didn’t, couldn’t prepare you for how draining it all was.

As Draco stood there, throat raw and eyes burning from a fresh round of tears, he couldn’t help but wonder how people did this.

“You stood there and looked me in the eye and you swore! You promised, Harry!” He wasn’t sure how many times he’d said it already. All he knew was that it still hurt and the only thing that helped was to fling the words in Harry’s face so that he hurt too. “Does it even bother you? Do you even care that you lied to me, to your best friends, just so that you could…”

Harry had been standing at the window, glaring resolutely at nothing in particular. So far, he’d been determined not to rise to the bait. But now, he whirled around, facing Draco head on.

“No,” he offered calmly.

Draco fell silent, waiting for an explanation.

“No, it doesn’t bother me. Not really,” Harry went on. On the surface, he looked bored and nonchalant. But Draco didn’t miss the sharp lines around his eyes, the way he held himself, stiff with tension. “It was a small price to pay. People were getting hurt. You got hurt. I could do something about it. So I did. And if a couple of white lies is what it takes, then so be it.”

“Don’t,” Draco hissed. “Don’t make this about me. You didn’t do it for me, and you know it. There were a thousand ways you could have gone about this. Weasley made you an offer months ago. You could have spoken to the Minister with him, they would have listened to you! But you didn’t. Because you just had to do it alone. You just had to be the lone hero saving the world again!”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “And how do you know about that?” he questioned. “About Ron and his offer? The one he made in my private office that I never told you about?”

Damn it. He’d slipped up. Draco raised his chin defiantly. “He told me about it.”

Harry’s lips quirked. “No, he didn’t. Do you think I can’t tell when you’re lying, my love? You were there. You were watching us. I thought I felt something at the time. I just figured the Security Wards were acting up.” He laughed and shook his head, his expression caught somewhere between amusement and bitterness. When he looked at Draco again, his eyes were hard. “You’re a fine one to go on and on about lying, sweetheart. You’ve been spying on me since the beginning.”

He was losing ground. Harry was turning this around on him. And worst of all, he had a point. Draco had kept his own secrets, told his own lies. Maybe if he hadn’t, this conversation would be different.

“It’s different,” he whispered.

Harry smirked. “Ah yes, the Slytherin approach. It’s okay for you but not for me? Why, Draco? Why is that fair?”

“It’s not the same thing,” Draco shouted, angry and beyond frustrated. He could feel himself slipping, losing ground with every word. “You know it’s not!”

“No, it’s not,” Harry agreed, relentless and unyielding. “I lied to protect you, to go after the people who hurt you and to stop them from hurting anyone else. You lied to me because you couldn’t stand being kept in the dark. You had to know all my secrets because how else would you have the upper hand in this fight? Or any other argument we have in the future? How else would you find something, literally anything, to push me away? This entire relationship has been about me reaching out and you backing away. Tell me I’m wrong, Draco. Tell me this fit you’re pitching isn’t just another excuse to run away from us.”

Draco stared at him, shocked into silence. He felt like he was being riddled with hexes. Who knew words could hurt so much? Despite everything, he was oddly impressed. Harry had taken the worst of his insecurities and fears, and thrown them back at him with point blank precision. He turned the sharp accusations over in his head hesitantly, half afraid of what he would find. Maybe part of it was true. He was, by nature, a suspicious and paranoid person. It’s what life had made of him. Despite his best efforts, he still didn’t believe he deserved happiness. And he’d lived with that hidden truth ever since the War.

Was it true, then? Had he been subconsciously looking for reasons to sabotage himself? To sabotage his relationship with Harry? Was that was this was all about?

“No,” he found himself saying.

Harry kept his expression blank but his brow twitched, revealing his surprise.

“No, that…that’s not even remotely true,” Draco said slowly. He was thinking as he spoke, trying to put the pieces together. It was jarring and scary— putting words to the thoughts— but as he went on, it became easier. “I admit that I’m afraid of what we have, sometimes. I’ve been…scared of being happy for a long time. And being with you makes me happier than I’ve ever been, and that scares me because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m not brave like you, Harry. I’ve never been. You’re right about that, and we both know it.” He took a deep breath and met Harry’s eyes again. It was time to come clean. Perhaps then Harry would listen to him. Maybe honesty would do what subterfuge couldn’t. “But you’re wrong about everything else. I didn’t do it to push you away. It killed me to lie to you, to keep secrets from you. But I made myself do it because…because if there was even a chance that I could help you—that I could stop you from risking your life again— then it was worth it. I thought…I thought my asking would be enough. That was arrogant and foolish. I assumed that you would put my happiness above your convictions because…because that’s what you’ve been doing all this time. But I know now that you can’t. You’re struggling Harry, and I should have seen it. Before it was too late. Before the lies became necessary. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I didn’t see.”

His voice wavered towards the end, and he managed to swallow down a hitched sob. Harry’s expression flickered. He was still trying to look unperturbed but the cracks were showing. A flash of raw hurt flickered over his face for a moment or so. Draco swallowed around the lump in his throat and reached out, wrapping hesitant arms around his boyfriend.

“Please,” he whispered, hiding his face in Harry’s shoulder. “Please let me in. I can’t lose you, please…”

Harry wrapped him up in a fierce embrace. “You won’t,” he whispered. “You won’t, Draco. This…you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. When I’m with you, it all goes away. I feel like I can breathe again.” Warm lips pressed against his temples, and Draco squeezed his eyes shut. Harry tipped his chin up gently and soft green eyes bore into him, bright with tears.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” Harry told him. His voice shook slightly, and his grip on Draco tightened. “Sometimes, I can feel it. I can see myself tipping over the edge. It keeps me up at night. I can hear…they won’t let me sleep.”

Draco shivered and hid his face in Harry’s chest. His shaking hands crept up to hold him close. “You hear voices?” he whispered, trying to keep the hysteria at bay. He couldn’t panic right now. Not when Harry was breaking apart in front of him…

Harry huffed out a bitter laugh. “Not anymore,” he amended. “Not like…before.” He pressed a reassuring kiss to Draco’s forehead. “I can sleep now. It’s enough.”

There was silence for a while. Draco’s mind ran wild with a thousand questions but he couldn’t find his voice. He was so lost, so out of his depth. What could he do? How could he help? What would it take to make this go away?

“Then you came along.”

Draco started as Harry broke the silence. He eased out of his grip and raised his head. Harry smiled softly and carded gentle fingers in his hair.

“When I saw you that night looking into that bookshop, like all the wonders of the world were in there…” His smile turned fond and affectionate, and for a moment he looked almost like his old self again. “You were so…different from what I remembered. There you were—in Muggle London of all places— ignoring everything around you except that tacky bookshop. And the more I watched you, the more I felt like…you were there for me. That you were what I was looking for.” His hands cradled Draco’s face carefully, looking deep in his eyes. “I didn’t know what I was looking for that night. And I don’t have a name for it now. All I know is, my life’s been different ever since you came into it. And I’m not letting you go. Not now. Not when you’re the only thing I have worth waking up for.”

The room was spinning around him. He felt overwhelmed, confused and disoriented. This had taken everything out of him. The fact that Harry had returned his honesty with his own admission…it was more than he’d dared hope for. Maybe they could fix this after all. Maybe there was a chance for them. Harry leaned in and when their lips brushed together in a hesitant kiss, Draco dared to let himself hope. Harry was hurt and the extent of the damage scared him senseless, but if he would just try, just take the first step, Draco would stand by him every step of the way. He knew it, he believed it with every fibre of his being. Draco deepened the kiss and tightened his grasp on Harry, trying to say everything he didn’t have words for yet.

Which was why Harry’s next words stopped him cold.

“I love you so much, Draco. I know we can make this work. Please, sweetheart. I just…I need you to understand. This is just…it’s something I have to do. I know how hard it is for you, I do. But I promise it won’t change anything, not if you learn to look the other way…”

Draco’s eyes flew open and he wrenched his way out of Harry’s arms. He couldn’t believe it. All this talk, all this back and forth and back again and they were still stuck in the same damn place!

“What’s the matter with you?!” he all but screamed at a bewildered Harry. “Why aren’t you fucking listening?!”

Through the blood roaring in his ears, he heard a loud crash. The bookcase had fallen over, one shelf splintered to pieces by the force of the fall. Draco blinked and fought to calm himself. He had never lost control of his magic like that…not once.

“Draco,” Harry murmured. He sounded calm but he looked utterly bewildered. “What’s wrong? What did I say?”

Draco stared at him, numb with shock, his insides still thrumming with fury. “You’re not going to stop,” he hissed. “Are you? You’re still going to go out there and risk your life for nothing, you’re still going to run off and get yourself killed and you’re not going to get help. You’re going to do whatever you want, and you want me to close my eyes and pretend it isn’t happening! Isn’t that what you just said? Tell me!”

Harry’s expression morphed, the disbelief giving way to anger. “And there’s the ultimatum,” he spat back with a sneer. “So that’s it? I need to ‘get help’ or you and I are through?” He ran his hands through his hair and started to pace. When he rounded back on Draco, his jaw was tight and his fists were clenched. “Who put you up to this? Hermione? Ron?”

“They care about you!” Draco shouted. “They want to help! I want to help! For Salazar’s sake, we’re not your enemies!”

“I don’t need your help!”

How had they come back to screaming at each other again? Hadn’t they just been kissing and apologising to each other? Draco bit back on a frustrated sob and swiped his hand over his face. He didn’t know how much longer he could do this, he really didn’t. How could he fix this, how could he even begin to fix this when Harry refused to acknowledge that he had a problem?

“You got fired,” he said finally. Maybe throwing an actual consequence in Harry’s face would garner a reaction. “Still think you don’t need help?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Fired,” he echoed, as if the concept was strange to him. Maybe it was. Who knew what sort of tenuous grasp on reality Harry had these days?

“Kingsley said…”

“Of course he did.” Harry shook his head and huffed out a soft laugh. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Draco was stunned into silence. He didn’t know what he’d expected but this nonchalant acceptance was just unnerving. “You don’t care,” he clarified flatly, “that you’ve been fired. From the job that you’ve dedicated yourself to for years. From being an Auror.”

Harry shrugged. He shouldered past Draco and started to pick up some of the scrolls. “It will never stick,” he explained. Draco’s lost look seemed to amuse him. “Think about it. I took down an entire terrorist operation by myself. Once the Prophet gets hold of that, do you think Kingsley’s word will mean anything? Can you imagine the public fallout if they fired the Auror, the hero who singlehandedly dismantled a hive of Death Eaters? The Minister will fold, his Cabinet will follow right after. They’ll be begging me to come back by the end of the week. So no, Draco. I’m not worried. Nobody can touch me. I made sure of it.” He stuffed a scroll back on the shelf. His eyes glittered in the dim light. The eyes of a hunter. “The Ministry and all those gutless bastards in it…” He sneered in disgust, and grabbed another scroll, the movement rough and angry. “Do you have any idea what their incompetence cost me?”

Sirius Black. 

Draco closed his eyes. He wondered if Black was one of the voices that haunted Harry now. He decided he didn’t want to know.

Harry was still glaring, lost in the helpless fury of a past he could no longer put behind him. “Cowards,” he spat. “All of them. They’re never going to stand in my way again. I made sure of it. They won’t stop me ever again.”

“And what about you?” Draco asked quietly. “Can you stop you? Do you think you could if you wanted to?”

“Don’t spin this around on me,” Harry bit out sharply. “I’m not the one who’s lost control here. Everything I did was planned down to the last detail. What you don’t get— what you and Ron and Hermione— refuse to get, is that I know what the hell I’m doing.”

“What about attacking me? Did you plan that too?”

Harry drew back like he’d been slapped. Draco ignored the pang of regret he felt, at saying something so harsh. No, this was important. He needed to get through to Harry, one way or another.

“I didn’t attack you,” Harry whispered. His eyes were brighter than before, and the pain in them was clear as day. “I didn’t. You fired at me first. I was trying to stop you.”

“No, I was trying to stop you,” Draco countered. “That’s why I fired. You fired because I was in your way.”

“That’s not true!” Harry hissed. There was a defensive edge to his argument now, the air of a cornered animal, angry and threatened. “What was I supposed to do? You would have followed me. Hurt yourself or worse! What else could I have done?”

“You could have stopped!” Draco shouted. “You could have put your wand away and come back to me! You could have reported to the DMLE, asked Weasley for help, sent out one of the hundreds of other Aurors instead! But no. You couldn’t do that. Because it had to be you. Because even after all these years, you still think this is your job!”

 “It is my job!” Harry shouted. “It’s been my job since I was eleven!”

The resounding silence was like that of a crypt. Draco stared with wide eyes, hardly daring to breathe, as Harry faced him like a cornered animal. He was still as a statue— eyes blazing, shoulders back, fists clenched. He could have bared his teeth, and Draco wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

“We were learning Levitation Spells,” Harry said, his voice low and dangerous, “when he came back for the first time. Who spoke then? Who said anything when I nearly died fighting him the year after? Or the year after that? Who said that maybe, just maybe, a child shouldn’t be out there fighting the Dark Lord? Nobody. Not the Ministry, not the Aurors, not Dumbledore. Even he didn’t…and he couldn’t. I understand that. I get that. Nobody else could have done it. It was my job. It’s what I was born to do.”

“Harry.” Draco’s vision was blurring. He thought his heart might break. He had expected as much, but to hear it, to see the struggle Harry faced every day of his life…

“It’s not like that,” he said softly. “That’s not why you’re here.”

Harry laughed bitterly. “Of course it is,” he whispered. “It’s just…what it is.” He shook his head and straightened up. A soldier until the end. “And now,” he went on, the anger picking up again, “suddenly, now it’s a problem. Now everyone wants to speak up. The lot of you went behind my back. All of you decided that I wasn’t well enough to do what I’ve always done, what I’m supposed to do.” He turned to Draco. “What gives you that right? What makes you think that you, that any of you, can decide this for me when you don’t know what it’s like?”

This was unbearable. Draco wasn’t even sure he could listen to it anymore and he cursed his own weakness. Harry lived like this. If Draco couldn’t even stand to hear it said out loud, what must it be like for him?

“Listen to yourself,” he pleaded. “Look at what you’re doing to yourself, Harry. It’s over. You saved us. You saved all of us. The war is over.”

“Maybe for you,” Harry countered quietly.

He was calming down again. His shoulders slumped, and he looked defeated all of a sudden. Draco watched warily as he flopped down on the sofa, tipping his head back. His eyes glazed over. “You know,” he said, and his voice sounded far away, removed from reality. “Sometimes, it’s like I never left the Battle.”

A shiver went down Draco’s spine. He approached Harry on shaky legs and sat beside him, not daring to interrupt.

“I saw Dumbledore that night. He gave me a choice,” Harry went on, in that same hollow voice. “He said I could go on or…or go back. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice. Maybe it would have been better…for everyone if…”

“Don’t say that.” Draco’s voice sounded weak and pleading to his own ears. He didn’t know what he believed right now. Harry was already hearing voices. Would a near death vision be a stretch? Or…or had Dumbledore really…? He didn’t know. And to be honest, he didn’t care. It was the idea that Harry could have even considered…not coming back that chilled him to his very bones.

“How can you say that?” he whispered. Harry didn’t respond. Draco watched helplessly as his words fell on deaf ears. Harry just stared into the distance, lost and drifting in the past. A past that had left its mark all over him. Draco’s eyes prickled and he was nearly overwhelmed by the physical urge to grab Harry back, pull him away from his private hauntings. He couldn’t though, so he settled for cradling his boyfriend’s face in his hands, forcing him to look at him, at the present that was in front of him right now. He could only hope that Harry would see. “How can you even think that? All the people who love you and care for you…what about us? What about me? Do you honestly believe I’d want to live in a world without you in it?”

He wasn’t listening. He still had that distant look in his eye. Draco bit his lip to keep the tears at bay, and rallied on as best as he could.

“I don’t…I don’t know if you ever had a choice. But if you did, then I’m thankful everyday that you made this one. Because I need you, Harry. Not the hero or the saviour you think you were born to be. I need you.”

Harry shrugged. “There’s no point going back and forth on it,” he sighed. “Either way, it’s done. I’m…still here.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Everyone’s gone and I’m still here.”

“Not everyone,” Draco replied softly. He pressed closer, trying to offer the only comfort he could. “You saved so many, Harry. You gave us all another chance. You gave me another chance.” Tears welled up in his eyes and his fingers shook as they traced Harry’s jawline. “Why can’t you do the same for you?”

Harry’s lips quirked in a humourless grin. “Constant vigilance. Mad Eye used to say that. He’s dead too.”

 

Draco bowed his head, overwhelmed by despair. He was so out of his depth. The realisation that there was nothing he could say to soothe Harry’s pain was gut wrenching. But there were no other options left. Harry…Harry couldn’t go on like this. He didn’t deserve this and if he couldn’t see that, Draco would just have to show him.

“What happened to you was wrong,” he whispered. Harry frowned, clearly gearing up to argue and Draco hastened to cut him off. “I know it was necessary, I know there was no other choice. But that doesn’t make it right. I’m so sorry you had to...be that. For us. It shouldn’t have been on you. It shouldn’t have been like that.”

“It’s…”

“No, it’s not. Not if…not if this is what it’s done to you.”

Harry frowned and sat up. “I’m fine,” he muttered, scrubbing his eyes. “Just tired, that’s all. I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not,” Draco replied. “You’re not fine, Harry. You’re hurting yourself. You’re killing yourself over the past. And you’re letting the present get away from you. This isn’t living, Harry, and you know it.”

Harry sighed. Shook his head. “It was supposed to be over,” he muttered. “That was the deal. It should have ended when he did. It was supposed to be over.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Draco argued gently. “It’s…it’s never going to be over, Harry. Evil doesn’t die, not the way you’re thinking. There will always be someone out there who wants to hurt someone else. It’s the way things are.”

“Then I can’t stop,” Harry said in a hollow voice. “I can’t stop. What was the point of it, of any of it, if it’s never going to end? I have to keep going on or…or their deaths mean nothing.”

“No,” Draco murmured, wrapping his arms around Harry’s trembling shoulders. Holding him steady. “No, that’s not it either. Evil doesn’t die. But the good live on too. You don’t have to stop fighting, Harry. You’ve always been good. Brave. Kind and sacrificing. That’s who you are. But it doesn’t have to be just you. We’re…we’re here. All of us. Ron and Hermione. Me. Everyone who cares about you. Let people in, Harry. Trust them. Believe in them again. Nobody can do it alone.”

“I did.” Harry broke out of his grasp. The calm reverie shattered. Harry sat there, restless and agitated as he fidgeted with his hands. “I was alone. The prophecy…you didn’t know about that, did you? I was ‘the one to defeat the Dark Lord’. The one. Alone. It had to be me. Anyone else who tried would have died. Don’t you understand that? Can’t you see how it’s meant to be? How it’s always going to be?”

How did this keep happening? Every time they made some head way, Harry would go right back to the start.

“The war is over,” Draco pressed, despair threatening to submerge him again. “It’s over, Harry. Please listen to me. Let me help. We can talk to a Mind Healer, anyone you want…”

It was the wrong thing to say. It was the wrong time to say it.

“Don’t.”

Somehow, Harry’s calm, level voice was harsher than all the shouting they’d engaged in. He watched Draco, his expression a blend of disappointment and betrayal.

“I thought you might understand,” Harry said quietly. “I thought…I thought if I explained it, you would see. I was wrong. You can’t see. Nobody can.”

“Harry, please…”

“Don’t.”

The silence grew again, growing with the weight of defeat and unresolved questions. Draco started when gentle hands gripped his shoulders, pulling him up. For once, Harry’s expression didn’t reflect confidence and surety. He looked uncertain and tired, haunted and scared.

“Just tell me now,” he said, “before we kill ourselves going over this for the rest of our lives. Is this something you can live with, Draco? I love you, and what we have means the world to me, but if you can’t…do this, if you can’t deal with this part of me, I need to know now. So, tell me. Can you let me do what I have to and give us a chance? Or no?”

He wanted to look away. He wanted to run and hide and never have to make this decision. But Harry was still holding him, watching the tears fall from his swollen eyes and seeing the last sliver of hope slip away.

“No,” Draco whispered. The word felt heavy in his mouth. “No, I can’t.”

Harry released him. “I see,” he said. His voice was cold. Flat and devoid of any emotion.

“You can’t ask that of me,” Draco managed through choked sobs. “You can’t, Harry. I can’t…I can’t go through the rest of my life…waiting for the day you won’t c-come back. If you really loved me, you wouldn’t ask it of me. You wouldn’t and you know it, Harry.”

“I thought you’d understand,” Harry whispered. “I really thought…”

Draco shook his head vehemently. He didn’t understand this. He couldn’t. And watching Harry self-destruct was more than he could stand.

“I can’t,” he sobbed, giving in to the pain. “I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“I’m sorry too,” Harry said softly. His breath came out in a shudder and he swiped at his eyes, rough and angry. “I love you, you know. I really do.”

It didn’t matter. It wasn’t enough. The price was too high and try though he might, Draco couldn’t pay it.

“Just go,” he rasped. “Leave. Please.”

He only dared to look up when the footsteps faded. The last thing he saw before tears blurred his vision was the door shutting with a quiet click.

Harry had left him.

Again.

And this time, he wasn’t coming back.