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Draco Malfoy is late.

It’s not anything new, Harry supposes. In the ten days they’ve been together and the couple of months they’ve been colleagues, he’s come to realise that Draco’s time-keeping inside Chem Dep and his time-keeping in his personal life are two completely different things.

But even so. It’s almost eight o’clock in the evening, and Draco had said he’d be at Grimmauld Place by six thirty, right after the end of his shift; Harry hates to admit it but his mild irritation has shifted into anxiety.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” he mutters into the silence of his living room as he sticks his head into the fireplace and asks for Malfoy Manor.

He blinks the smoke from his eyes and finds himself almost nose to nose with a house-elf he’s never seen before. The elf steps back slightly, small feet pattering on the marble floor of the Floo reception room, and stares, awestruck, at Harry with huge eyes.

“Mr Harry Potter, Sir.”

“Yes. Is Draco at home, please?”

The house-elf nods enthusiastically. “Oh, yes, Mister Malfoy is in his angry room.”

Harry frowns. “His what?”

“His angry room, Harry Potter, Sir. I is taking you there, if you is wanting to come through.”

“Yes, I is... that, is, I am coming through,” says Harry, who has always struggled not to instinctively copy the house-elves’ characteristic mode of speech.

As he steps through into the small, dimly-lit room, the house-elf is already at the door, gesturing for him to follow. “If you is coming with Flimby now, Sir...”

Harry follows Flimby up a curving flight of stairs and along several portrait-lined corridors. He finds himself walking slowly, looking around with interest; he hasn’t been inside the Manor since... well, since the war, he realises, pushing that particular memory away forcefully and focusing instead on the ornate fixtures and rows of oil-rendered Malfoys-past.

The small amount of time that he and Draco have managed to spend together outside of the hospital has been at Grimmauld Place; Draco hasn’t registered a desire to come here, not since that first time, and Harry hasn’t been inclined to argue with him. The Manor is clearly beautiful and rich with history, but if Harry’s honest, it gives him the creeps.

A particularly severe-looking ice blonde woman in a gilt frame glares at him as he passes. Flimby is way out in front, back to Harry, and Harry pulls a face at her. Her resulting expression of disdain makes him feel better, and he picks up his speed, trailing Flimby along a thickly-carpeted hall that smells heavily of beeswax and silver polish.

“Master Draco is in here, Sir,” Flimby says, stopping in front of a carved mahogany door. “Is you needing anything else?”

Harry shakes his head and thanks the elf, waiting until he disappears with a sharp crack, before pushing open the door carefully. A loud crash makes him jump, and it’s with some trepidation that he steps into Draco’s ‘angry room.’

The space is large, high-ceilinged and completely devoid of furniture, which Harry realises is a very good thing, once his eyes fall upon the source of the crash. The floor is littered with shattered glass and shards of coloured ceramic.

Unnerved, Harry closes the door behind him and leans against it, watching Draco with a mixture of intrigue and anxiety.

He’s standing in the centre of the floor, calmly and systematically levitating vases from a pile at his side and flicking his wand to smash them against the far wall. What strikes Harry immediately is that he’s standing almost completely still, but for his wand arm, and were it not for the chaos around him, it would be impossible to discern that he was angry at all. That being said, Draco’s interpretation of some of the... messier emotions has always been somewhat subdued.

“Draco,” he says softly, not wanting to startle him and get a vase smashed over his head by mistake.

He whips around, and Harry catches his breath. Draco’s face is impassive but the storm raging in the grey eyes is all the anger he needs to see. Slightly out of breath, he looks at Harry for a moment and then turns away, levitating a new cut crystal vase from his depleted stack.

“Draco,” he tries again, taking a step closer. “What are you doing?”

The real question is why, he supposes, but one step at a time.

“Breaking things,” Draco says matter-of-factly. He flicks his wand, and there’s another crash.

“I can see that,” Harry murmurs, absently admiring the shimmer of light from the wall-torches across the scattered crystal fragments. “Want to tell me why?”

“No.” Swish. Flick. Crash.

Harry sighs, torn with the need to ease Draco’s obvious distress, but all too aware of how adept the man is at freeze-out when he wants to be.

“Did someone hurt you?”

Draco looses a twisted laugh. “No.” Crash.

“Your mother’s alright, isn’t she?” Harry stares anxiously at the back of the blond head. Draco sags slightly, causing a small shift in the tension of his shoulders.

“She’s fine.” A willow-pattern vase rises into the air.

“Is it because of Algernon?” Harry ventures tentatively. He knows Draco must have seen the article in the Prophet today, even though they haven’t discussed it yet.

Draco snorts and obliterates the vase with a particularly vicious wand-movement. “He got twelve months and lost his Healing licence. I couldn’t be happier.”

Somewhat relieved, Harry scratches at his hair. An alternative approach is clearly needed, and he’ll find a way in if it’s the last thing he does. He’s learned enough about Draco to know that if he wanted Harry to leave, he’d have said so in no uncertain terms by now.

“Can I have a go?” he says at last, stepping up beside Draco and gesturing toward the vases.

Draco pauses, still staring straight ahead. Something promising flickers in his face. “Be my guest.”

Harry allows himself a small smile of triumph. He has a feeling he should be opposed to the wanton destruction of property, but he figures it’s Draco’s property to destroy, and if he’s honest, smashing stuff is fun. Selecting a heavy smoked-glass monstrosity, Harry pulls out his wand, lifts it into the air and sends it flying against the wall, where it splinters into a thousand pieces.

A satisfying tingle runs down Harry’s wand arm, and he turns to regard Draco. The pale eyes are fixed upon him, and something warmer is edging out the pure fury of minutes ago. It’s not completely gone, but when Draco reaches for him, Harry doesn’t resist.

The kiss is slightly breathless and not at all gentle, Draco’s free hand twisting firmly into the hair at the back of his head, lips pressing close in an affirmation of mutual desire, comfort and the crackle of irritable energy that passes easily into Harry, making him kiss back harder, wrapping firm arms around Draco and urging his mouth open for more contact.

Confused but eager to go with it, Harry strokes the fine blond hair as Draco pulls away and rests his forehead on Harry’s shoulder. “You going to tell me what’s the matter now?” he half-whispers.

Draco exhales heavily and disentangles himself. He levitates another vase and swallows hard.

“They’re shutting down Chem Dep,” he says, flinging his arm out and smashing the vase forcefully.

“What?” Harry gapes, horrified.

Draco sighs and carelessly banishes the rest of the vases. “I got an owl from the chairman of the board just before the end of my shift. A fucking owl.” He shoves his wand into his waistband and rakes a hand through his hair. “They didn’t even bother to tell me in person. Bastards.”

Suddenly hot with displaced rage, Harry shifts on the spot, unable to stop shaking his head. He wants the vases back. “Shutting it down? You’ve got to be fucking joking, that’s ridiculous!”

Lifting a weary eyebrow, Draco sighs. “Not exactly something I’d joke about.”

“No, I know... sorry, it’s just...” Harry shrugs wordlessly. “I know you thought there’d be repercussions after the whole Chromia X thing, but... not so soon. Not so drastic. What are they thinking of?!”

“Money,” Draco says shortly, folding his arms across his chest.

Harry looks into eyes that gleam with anger, betrayal and pain, and winces. He has no idea what to say to help, and it’s a sobering feeling. His fix-it instinct kicks in hard and he goes with it, not having a better idea right now. “What can we do?”

Draco almost smiles. “Come on. Let’s go and find somewhere to sit.”

“Have you finished breaking things?” Harry asks, only half-joking.

“For now.” Draco wraps an arm around his waist, and the pull of Apparation prevents him from replying.

**~*~**

The small parlour that Harry finds himself in is surprisingly cosy, filled with overstuffed furniture and rugs that are probably worth more than Harry’s entire house. He examines his delicate, gold-rimmed teacup and allows Flimby to fill it, mildly surprised that Draco isn’t demanding something much stronger than tea.

Gazing at Draco through the fragrant steam, Harry wonders if he even drinks at all. It’s not as though he’s ever seen him do it.

“Remember we talked about a one-week programme?” Draco interrupts his thoughts. He nods slowly. “That’s what they’re doing. Turns out they can’t justify getting rid of Stage One, but everything else...” He trails off and bites his lip, eyes flinty.

Harry gets up out of his chair and moves over to sit beside Draco on a worn leather sofa. “They’re cutting Stage Two? All of it?”

“Yeah. All my stuff—” He waves a hand. “Gone. Bastards.”

“All your... oh, god.” Harry closes his eyes briefly as the implications properly sink in, turning his blood cold. Not only does this mean the end of the department Draco has spent five years developing, but it means that Draco is out of a job. He’d been so distracted by the fury and the vase smashing that... oh, god.

Setting his cup down carefully, Harry rests a hand on Draco’s thigh and feels him lean slightly into the touch.

“They didn’t even give an explanation. Clearly I’m not worthy of one, I’ve only been running the fucking place for five years,” Draco fumes, gripping his fragile cup dangerously hard.

“Don’t say that.”

Draco shrugs. “It’s no secret that most of the board members don’t care for me. With Algernon gone...”

“Don’t tell me you’re giving up?” Harry shifts closer and tucks one leg underneath himself, turning to face Draco. Draco makes a non-committal sound and Harry leans forward and kisses him briefly, making him look up in surprise. “Don’t you dare. Surely that’s not the final decision?”

“There’s an appeals process. I may have looked into it a little bit... the owl they sent me was the official First Notice, and according to St Mungo’s policies and procedures, the Appeal Hearing will take place a week from today. Any employee can attend.”

Hope spikes sharply and Harry hangs onto it. “So we fight, like you said.”

Draco drops his eyes and fails to hide a small smile in his teacup as he lifts it to his lips. “I’m sure all of this is massively appealing to your saving-the-day complex,” he says at last, attempting derision.

“Shut up.” Harry strokes a careless thumb over Draco’s warm, trouser-clad thigh. “Let’s talk strategy.”

Draco lifts an eyebrow and opens his mouth to reply, but Harry never gets to hear exactly what kind of strategy he might have, because the door creaks open behind Harry. Stiffening at the surprise on Draco’s face, Harry pulls his hand away and surreptitiously shuffles back a decorous few inches.

“I didn’t know you were having company, Draco,” comes a slow, refined female voice.

It’s not a voice that Harry’s heard many times before, but he still recognises it instantly. Frozen, he doesn’t dare turn around to face the door; instead he gazes appealingly into Draco’s eyes, trying to seek out any hint of fear or shame. To his surprise, Draco is completely unruffled, but then again, he reasons, Narcissa probably doesn’t know it’s him yet.

“Yes, Mother. Is everything alright?”

Harry stares hard at his hands as he hears footsteps proceed further into the room. “Of course. Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

If he were challenged on it, he’d deny it, but Harry feels just a little bit sick. She doesn’t know about their relationship, he knows that, and he’s not going to push it; he hasn’t even told Molly yet and she’s the closest thing to a mother he’s ever known.

Draco coughs. “Of course,” he says, and Harry can’t help noticing that his accent sharpens to mirror his mother’s cut glass tones. “But you’ve already met Harry.”

Harry turns in his seat, and Narcissa’s delicate eyebrows shoot up. She looks older, a touch more brittle, but she hasn’t really changed much in the years since the war. Her long, ash-blonde hair cascades over one shoulder and she cuts an imposing figure, straight-backed, dressed in beautiful pale blue robes.

“Mr Potter,” she says coolly.

Remembering his manners, Harry stands and offers a hand. “Mrs Malfoy.”

She stares at him, unmoved, and makes no effort to return the gesture. After an awkward few seconds, Harry drops his hand. Exhales slowly. Now what?

The temperature in the room seems to drop several degrees and Harry resists the temptation to shiver. Fortunately, Draco steps in, rising from the sofa and standing just behind Harry. He’s a warm, comforting presence at Harry’s back, making him relax just a little.

“Harry and I work together at the hospital.”

Narcissa raises an eyebrow in a disturbingly familiar manner and rakes appraising pale blue eyes over Harry from head to toe. “I wouldn’t have thought you would need to work, Mr Potter,” she accuses.

Neither does your son, he replies silently. Not that it’s any of your business. He forces a smile. “I work because I find Healing fulfilling, not because of the money.”

He bristles slightly under Narcissa’s cold gaze, but Draco’s gentle touch, unseen, at his lower back is infinitely calming.

“I must say, I’m surprised to see you here,” she says.

Harry is saved from replying by a sudden soft metallic tinkle and clicking of claws on wood. He looks down and for the first time notices the small white dog at Narcissa’s feet. It turns in an enthusiastic circle and wags two tails in the air.

“I didn’t know you had a dog, Mrs Malfoy,” Harry says, relieved to have another focus.

She bristles. “Zeus is not a dog, Mr Potter. He is a pedigree Crup.”

At Harry’s back, Draco snorts softly, which is absolutely not helping.

“Sorry.” Zeus? Harry struggles to hide his amusement as he attempts to reconcile the Supreme God of the Olympians with the tiny, ebullient bundle of white fur currently attempting to bite one of its own tails.

“I shall leave you to your tea, Draco,” she sniffs. Turns to leave.

Unfortunately, Zeus has other ideas, and takes that as his cue to dash across the floor and prostrate himself at Harry’s feet, all four legs in the air. After taking a split-second to ponder on whether looks can indeed kill, Harry ignores Narcissa’s obvious displeasure and crouches to scratch the warm, snow white belly and ruffle Zeus’ ears.

He likes dogs. They don’t answer back.

Zeus grunts delightedly and Harry smiles. That’s two Malfoys down, he muses. One to go.

“Zeus, come!” Narcissa’s abrupt call cuts into his thoughts and he stands slowly, watching the elegant woman and her not-dog exit the room. To say that last one is looking like a bit of a challenge is possibly the understatement of the year.

Draco sighs, rubbing a hand over his face as Harry turns to face him. “She’s...” He doesn’t finish the sentence, seemingly thinking better of it. Dropping back down onto the sofa, he looks up at Harry. “At least the dog likes you.”

Harry slumps beside him, letting out a half-groan, half-laugh. “Zeus is not a dog, Draco,” he says gravely, wondering too late if mocking Draco’s mother possibly isn’t the best move.

To his relief, Draco just smirks and pours another cup of tea. “Strategy?”

There’s still a lick of pain in his eyes and a hum of fury surrounding him, but there’s something else now: pure determination. It looks fantastic on him, and Harry has to force himself to keep his hands off. For now.

Harry nods. “Strategy.”

**~*~**

Harry shuffles on the floor and rests his head in his hand, elbow propped up on the sofa cushions. He has no idea what time it is, and he doesn’t want to know—the important thing is that he’s all strategized out. And he can’t feel his arse any more.

He looks up at Draco, who’s leaning forward in his seat, scowling and crossing something out in a big black notebook. Heavy, scoring ink lines, tendons and sinews in his hands pulled tight.

“That won’t work,” he’s saying, shaking his head. “We can’t show them any weakness. You can’t appeal to the softer sides of people who don’t possess them.” He looks up, pinning Harry with fierce eyes. “Board members are a different species. They respond to numbers. Facts. We need to drown them in information.”

“And where are we going to get that information?” Harry asks, lifting his other hand from his knee to rub at his face. He’s flagging now, but he suspects that if he drinks any more tea, it’s going to start coming out of his fucking pores.

“I don’t know,” Draco snaps crossly. He throws down his quill and pushes his sleeves back up around his elbows, drags all his fingers through his hair and groans.

Harry stares at him, dry-mouthed. He feels completely weird about it, but there’s something about a serious, irritable, stressed-out Draco that makes his pulse race. He doesn’t know if it’s the hard mouth or the slightly manic gleam to his eyes or the forceful, dramatic hand gestures, but whatever it is, it’s painfully arousing.

“Draco, my brain is no longer functioning.” Harry manages a wry smile and continues before Draco gets a single word in: “And yes, indeed, when does it ever? Can we call it a night?”

For a moment, it looks as though he’s going to argue, but then he releases a ragged outward breath, nods and lets the notebook slide to the floor. Standing and stretching, he looks down at Harry with a strange, indecipherable expression on his face.

Harry scrambles to his knees, pausing to correct his balance. He chooses that moment to look up into the harassed grey eyes, which immediately flare with heat. The suggestiveness of their positions does not escape Harry and his cock twitches with interest as he reaches out and lightly runs his palms down the backs of Draco’s thighs, never letting go of the eye contact.

Flushing beautifully, Draco slides a gentle hand through Harry’s hair. Harry shivers.

“Want to come home with me?” he rasps, mouth arid.

He waits, thumbs stroking over the sensitive backs of Draco’s knees. He won’t move, not for anything, even if he is terrified that Narcissa Malfoy could open that door and find him on his knees in front of her son.

Draco shakes his head slowly. Hurt and confused, Harry continues to stare up at him. This is new, all of it, but they’ve spent several nights together at Grimmauld Place and Draco has never said no before. Maybe he’s broken some sort of unwritten rule. Harry’s heart sinks. He drops his hands to his lap and sighs, trying hard not to betray his anxiety in his eyes.

“I do have a bedroom, you know,” Draco says. He skates his fingertips along Harry’s jaw line. “Want to see it?”

Awash with relief, heart hammering and a floodtide of renewed arousal, Harry scrambles to his feet and glares at Draco, indignant and embarrassed.

“You bastard. I thought you were telling me to bugger off and leave you alone. I thought...” He bites back the next words and claims Draco’s lips in a fierce kiss. I thought you didn’t want me.

“Idiot,” Draco mumbles against his lips. “Always with the drama—”

“—oh, that’s good coming from you, Mr Vase-Flinger—”

“—have you know that’s an effective method of anger management, and—”

“—Draco. Shut up.” Sliding their tongues together slowly, Harry sinks into the kiss and barely notices when Draco pulls them hip to hip and Apparates them into his bedroom.

It’s the smell of the room that gets his attention, and he breaks the kiss reluctantly. It’s a subtle but warm, delicious scent, made up of everything that reminds him of Draco: lemons, spice, leather... Harry breathes it in deeply, stepping out of the embrace to look around.

Draco’s bedroom is twice the size of his own, which he expected. Everything else about it, though, is a surprise. The bed is huge and comfortable-looking, but isn’t some elaborately-carved four-poster like he had imagined, instead, an attractive wrought iron frame covered in pure white sheets, throws and pillows that he immediately wants to touch. Harry turns, scanning the rest of the room: neutral, coffee-coloured walls, stripped blond wood and heavy, pale curtains.

It’s simple, elegant and luxurious, and Harry is completely thrown.

“Is there something wrong with my bedroom?” comes the voice from behind him.

“It doesn’t look like I imagined,” Harry admits, not turning around.

Draco steps closer, not touching, but close enough for Harry to feel his breath against his neck and to feel the heat pouring off him. He sounds amused. “And you imagined what, exactly? Mirrors on the ceiling? Manacles on the walls? Medieval torture devices?”

Harry reaches behind himself to take Draco’s hand. “No, it’s just, I thought there would be more...” He stops, suddenly horribly embarrassed by his own stereotyping.

Draco grins slowly against the skin of his neck. “You thought there would be more green, didn’t you? Green silk sheets, perhaps? With a nice snake motif? Harry, you’re fucking priceless.”

Knowing there’s no use arguing, not when Draco’s got him bang to rights, Harry turns slowly and looks right into the mocking eyes.

“It’s very nice. Bed?”

“It is a nice bed,” Draco agrees, flicking a cursory glance at the piece of furniture in question. “Let’s mess it up.” His fingers are already slipping under the hem of Harry’s t-shirt.

When he yanks it over his head, knocking Harry’s glasses askew and ruffling his hair beyond all help, he looks so pleased with himself that Harry quickly dispels any remaining thoughts of holding back from Draco because of the day he’s had. Draco’s a grown man, he reasons, quickly divesting him of his thin grey sweater, and sex is as good a distraction as any. The best, perhaps.

“God, you smell good,” Draco whispers, soft warm lips pressed into the crook of Harry’s neck and spreading heat out from under them that creeps across Harry’s bare skin like a patch of sunlight.

“Mm,” Harry manages, letting his head fall back, eyes closed. He slides damp palms down Draco’s bare back and blindly draws him close, tight, rubbing his growing erection against Draco’s through too many layers of fabric.

The hot mouth sucking on his neck makes him groan, and oh, god, he’s not going to be able to stay vertical for long. Staggering backwards toward the bed, he attempts to unbutton and pull at all four of their layers of clothing all at once, until his anguished “Fuck!” draws Draco’s attention and his hands. They step, push, stumble, attached at the lips, fingers scrabbling for purchase on stubborn material, desperation for skin-to-skin contact everywhereclosernow building with each second that passes.

“That’s it,” Draco mumbles, one hand splayed over Harry’s arse, the other reaching down to help with some complicated manoeuvre that sees him freed of clothing. Stepping back.

“Oh, and if I just... I see.” Harry draws him back into the kiss, realising he only needs to step on the edge of his jeans there, then out, and: “...oh, bugger.”

He’s not sure exactly which one of them stepped where or when they shouldn’t have, but it’s a good thing they’re next to the bed because the arm that Harry flings out instinctively for balance does absolutely nothing to help and his eyes fly open just in time to catch Draco’s horrified expression before they both crash onto the bed, hard.

Harry had been closest, and lands flat on his back on wonderfully cool, soft blankets. Draco lands on top of him forcefully, knocking Harry’s breath from him in a sudden whumph.

Heart pounding even more than before, Harry smoothes his hand over Draco’s back and opens his eyes slowly. The room is slightly blurry without his glasses, which seem to have been dislodged in the fall, but he can see well enough to register the utter exasperation in Draco’s eyes as he lifts his head from Harry’s shoulder.

And he can’t help it. At first it’s just a twitch of the mouth, but then his shoulders start to shake, and before long, soft snorts have turned into uncontrollable belly laughter, and Draco’s pained expression and carefully arched eyebrows are not helping one bit.

Having given up on trying to control it, Harry just holds tighter to a squirming, naked Draco and laughs right in his face. The irritable mask holds for an impressive amount of time, he thinks, but when the eyebrow starts to twitch, Harry knows he’s amused, whether he likes it or not. Grinning, Harry pokes him in the ribs with a forefinger. Draco wavers, eyes glittering, and then he’s gone, pressing his nose into Harry’s chest and laughing unreservedly.

It’s a fantastic sound, and hearing it whilst stretched out naked together wraps Harry in a cloak of absolute intimacy.

“What is it with... you and... falling over?”

“Actually, I think you fell on me,” Harry points out breathlessly. “And I don’t when I’m not with you. You have this strange effect on me.”

Draco looks up and snorts, grin still tugging at his lips. “If you make the joke I think you’re going to make now, I’ll make you walk out of here naked.”

Harry, who had thought it but knows better than to say it, just smiles. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

He lifts a hand to swipe his hair out of his eyes, and suddenly Draco’s eyes turn intense. Steadying himself, he reaches out and pulls Harry’s arm towards him. Confused, Harry holds his breath and watches as Draco runs his thumb gently under the soft, worn string looped around Harry’s wrist, the one he put there himself just over a week ago. Harry knows he’s a sap for not having taken it off, but Draco hasn’t commented on it or even seemed to notice it before now.

The thumb strokes over his pulse point, tugging lightly at the string, and when Draco meets his eyes again, Harry lets out his breath in a noisy rush, all of his amusement evaporating in an instant.

He knows. Those serious, intent eyes mean business in a way that Harry doesn’t yet have words for, and actually, he’s fairly sure that words would break the spell. And there’s just no way he’s doing that, not when they’re... here. Naked, tangled, needy—that’s no longer new, but something is, and it’s perhaps the silent surrender to what they both really want.

God, he hopes so. They’ve talked enough tonight. Talked and talked and talked, and now...

Draco slides indolently against him, eyes burning, and the sensation of the hot, hard, sticky flesh slipping against Harry’s own arousal is almost too much. He groans, pushing up into the languid movement, encouraging a rhythm that’s delicious and nowhere near enough. Fingers curling around Draco’s arm awkwardly, forcing him to release Harry’s wrist and slide their palms together.

Warm, so warm, Harry reaches for Draco’s mouth, hot with frustration. Either way, it doesn’t matter, he just needs more. He doesn’t care if he’s inside Draco or Draco’s inside him, he just wants it so much that it aches horribly and he has to have it.

Their tongues touch, hot, strong, wet. Tea, salt, Draco, please.

He’s aware of the thin whimper escaping from his mouth and into the kiss, but he’s still determinedly not saying anything, and he’s startled when Draco rolls onto his side and pulls gently at his arm until he’s sprawled half on top.

Harry stares down at him. His ragged breathing suddenly seems very loud in the silence. The grey irises smoulder and fine down to a sliver around huge, lust-blown pupils as Draco stares back, hair dishevelled, one hand wrapped around Harry’s and one twisted into the sheets, exposing marked skin where Draco props himself up on one elbow.

Never looking away, Draco slides one foot up the bed, bending his knee and exposing everything to Harry, who finally manages to tear his gaze away from darkened grey eyes. He takes in the sight in front of him with ravenous eyes, understanding without the need for words that Draco is offering himself boldly, plainly and completely. Harry can’t breathe.

Draco pulls his hand away and then it’s back, pouring something slippery over Harry’s fingers that warms against his skin and is sure to ruin the sheets, but he doesn’t care, he’s not thinking any more. Just brushing his knuckles over Draco’s straining erection, down over soft, wrinkled skin and circling the puckered opening, Harry bites his lip hard and banishes his hesitation, pushing fingers inside the tight heat that grips him mercilessly.

Stroking, twisting, pulling a sharp gasp from Draco that makes Harry look up and meet his eyes, pushing harder and feeling Draco’s shudder like electricity deep in his bones. He pushes back, spreading his legs wantonly, and Harry has never seen anything so beautiful.

“Are you...?” he whispers, breaking the silence.

Yes. Now, Harry... I need you.” A final press of fingers, gripped hard. “Please.”

Oh. It’s the please that unravels Harry, and he’s there in an instant, insecurity irrelevant because this man wants him so much, so much. For a moment, he’s lost in shifting and slicking and pale thighs drawing up and watching his cock sliding inside that incredible heat that wraps around him, claiming him.

Locking eyes with Draco again, Harry pauses, oddly struck with the reality of the situation.

You’re actually doing this, whispers his subconscious. Draco flicks an eyebrow and drags him down into an awkward, messy, delicious kiss. Harry tells his subconscious to be quiet, deepens the kiss, draws his hips back and slides back inside slowly. Draco moans, and he does it again.

“Like that?”

“Mm. Hard and slow.”

Harry hastens to comply, settling into an agonising tempo for both of them, pulling back from the kiss to look into unfocused grey eyes, finding Draco’s hands and gripping hard; losing coherent thought altogether, held together only by sensation and whispered words and feeling utterly surrounded.

All he can hear are filthy slapping sounds and ragged breathing and the voice inside his head chanting yes, oh god, please please please, yes. His movements grow faster and more erratic until Draco hisses and arches, dragging both of their hands over his neglected cock, moving together.

Harry smiles breathlessly. “Yes... Draco,” he whispers, and he’s so dangerously close to the edge that the moment Draco throws his head back, tightens around him and shoots warm, sticky fluid over both their hands, he loses it completely, emptying himself inside Draco with a deep shudder that almost breaks him apart.

Payback, he thinks fuzzily as he collapses on top of Draco and rests his hot forehead on his chest. If he is crushing Draco, he apparently doesn’t mind, being that he’s not complaining but idly trailing fingers up and down Harry’s back and breathing deeply.

“I think I’m dead,” Harry mumbles after a few minutes, inhaling the scent of Draco’s skin.

“You’d better not be. How would I explain that to the Ministry? And, more to the point, to my mother?”

Horror-struck, as his faculties begin to return, Harry unpeels his face from its sticking place and looks up. Draco gazes back at him, looking wonderfully post-coital and unconcerned.

“Fucking hell, your mother!” Harry gasps.

Draco eyes him carefully. “Now, I know you’re new to all this, but yelling about fucking and my mother in the same sentence is really bad post-sex etiquette.”

Harry glares at him, unimpressed by the flippancy. “No... I mean... what if she heard? I completely forgot about her once you’d taken your clothes off.” Harry pauses, flushing. “That didn’t quite come out right.”

The hand on Harry’s back resumes its stroking as Draco snorts. Smirks. “Sex really does disable your brain, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, anyway,” he assures. “This whole room has a permanent Silencing Charm.”

Harry raises his eyebrows.

“I share a house with my mother, what would you have me do?”

Harry tweaks a nipple. Draco yelps. “This is not a house, Draco. It’s practically a castle.”

“Well, whatever. Anyway, she lives on the ground floor, you’re safe up here.”

Marginally reassured, Harry relaxes enough to cast Cleaning Spells and find a position in the bed that allows him to rest his head on the pillows but still throw a proprietary arm and leg over Draco as he stretches out on his back, wrapping strands of Harry’s hair around his fingers. The soft light in the room is soothing and definitely not enough to prevent him from falling asleep, not when he’s this relaxed.

He shifts closer and tries hard not to think sappy thoughts, but it’s pretty clear that he’s fighting a losing battle. Lost is a good word, in fact. He’s losing himself to this man, one piece at a time, and he doesn’t think there’s anything he can do to stop it. He can only hope that he’s not the only one. He can only hope that at some point he’ll be able to ask, or that he won’t need to.

Today’s shows of vulnerability can only be a good sign, he thinks, eyes heavy. He tells himself determinedly that he’s not going to ask if Draco wants him to stay, bugger it. He’s comfortable.

“I’m going to fall asleep,” Draco mumbles. Harry waits. “Can you do something about the lights? I can’t reach my wand.”

Harry smiles against the pillow. Summoning the last of his energy, he lifts his hand and whispers, “Nox.”

“Thank you.” Draco sighs softly in the darkness. “Closer.”

Harry obliges.

**~*~**

When Harry wakes, he stretches on the unfamiliar sheets and the warm weight at his side shifts and mumbles. Opening his eyes, he smiles lazily and tightens his arms around a ruffled, sleep-soft Draco, realising that this is actually the first time they’ve woken up together.

Though he’s spent several nights at Grimmauld Place, Draco always wakes long before him, and Harry invariably finds him sitting in the kitchen drinking his tea and arguing with his furniture.

This feels fantastic, and Harry really, really doesn’t want to go to work.

“What day is it?” Draco mumbles, burying his face in Harry’s neck.

“Thursday. I think.”

“Oh, bugger.”

“What’s the matter?” Harry tilts his head back to look at his grumpy bed partner.

One sleepy grey eye cracks open. “I don’t want to get up.”

Harry shuffles closer, relishing the feeling of warm bare skin and morning hardness sliding together. “Let’s not.”

“Oh, don’t tempt me,” Draco groans, and then: “Mm, well, just for a minute.” And then: “Bastarding board can kiss my unpunctual backside... yes, right there.

Harry arrives ten minutes late for the start of his shift, tousled, glowing and minus his work clothes. Cecile covers for him with Tremellen and Terry lends him a spare set of robes. Neither of them can stop smirking at him for the rest of the day, and his play for the (blueberry) flapjack is unanimously rejected before it even starts.

Bastards.

**~*~**

Friday finds the St Mungo’s general wards unusually quiet, and without the usual high-energy hustle and bustle to distract him, Harry’s thoughts very quickly turn to Draco, and ultimately to the impending hearing. Even with his famous optimism, he’s all too aware that only days remain for preparation, and that the odds are not stacked in their favour. Not that he’s ready to give in, not a chance. His personal brand of reactive stubbornness flares and shifts argument after argument over and over inside his head.

Deep in thought, he wanders from bed to bed and ward to ward, performing the familiar, well-worn checks and tests and notations on autopilot. He barely notices his colleagues as they drift about their own tasks, and even his usually troublesome patients are subdued and well-behaved.

For this reason, when Cecile steps out suddenly from behind the nurses’ station and bellows his name, Harry thinks it’s entirely reasonable that he jumps approximately three feet in the air with a sharp intake of breath and a muttered “Fuck!”

With both his peace and his train of thought utterly shattered, Harry scowls and folds his arms, waiting for Cecile to explain herself.

“Hello,” she says, smirking. “You are in there, then? I was beginning to wonder.”

Harry shifts impatiently, shoes squeaking on the shiny floor. “Cecile, just... what are you talking about?”

Murky green eyes narrow in appraisal and Harry tenses, ready to deflect any stealth hexes she might have up her sleeve. To his surprise, Cecile merely sighs. “Right, what’s up with you? Seriously. You’ve been distracted all day, and not in the good way.”

Harry shoots her a look and glances around the otherwise empty corridor. “I’m fine.”

“You know what I mean.” Cecile scrunches her nose up and lightly nudges the tip of Harry’s shoe with the toe of one canvas pump in her approximation of an affectionate gesture. “Come on, don’t make me say it... fine. I’m worried. Did Malfoy upset you?”

The little line between Cecile’s eyebrows melts some of Harry’s irritation away, and he sighs. Shakes his head and leans back on the nurses’ station.

“No, he didn’t do anything.” Harry rests his elbows on the smooth wood behind him and turns to Cecile. “The hospital wants to shut down Draco’s department. We found out a couple of days ago.”

Cecile’s eyes widen. “Fuck. What’s he going to do?”

We are going to appeal our arses off,” Harry says emphatically. “But we haven’t got long to get ready, and I’m not relishing the prospect of appearing in front of the full board completely unprepared.”

The sharp gaze is calculating. “You’re really invested in this one, aren’t you?”

Harry looks away quickly, feeling exposed. He knows he’s gone red and he hates it. “Draco or Chem Dep?” he asks pointlessly.

“Potato, potahto,” Cecile assesses, shrugging. “He is fit, I’ll give him that.”

Harry groans and stares at the floor, hair falling into his eyes. “Yes, you may have mentioned that before.” He pauses and swallows hard. “And yes, I am. Invested.”

He hears Cecile’s satisfied sigh but feels her shark-like grin without lifting his eyes from the floor.

“Can I ask you a question?” she says carefully after a moment, and if Harry had a sixth sense, it would be tingling.

Looking up, he narrows his eyes. “I suppose so... wait—does it have anything to do with sex? Because if it does, then no.”

Cecile laughs. “No, but there’s a thought...”

“Stop it. Right now.”

“Keep your hair on,” Cecile advises. “I just wondered when you first, erm... you know.”

“You know?” Harry mocks, covering his embarrassment with faux-disdain. “You’re a Healer. Surely you can be more specific than that.”

“... first, er, committed an act of indiscretion?”

Harry snorts. “You sound like a Witch Weekly journalist. And I said no questions about sex.”

“Not sex,” Cecile rebukes loudly, bristling from the slur. “Just anything. When did it first happen?”

“Keep your voice down,” Harry hisses, even though there’s no one in the corridor. Cecile, Terry and Eloise are in on the secret, of course, but he hardly thinks it’s necessary for half of the hospital to find out right now. “And if you must know, it was in the last week of our rotations.”

“Bugger.” Cecile folds her arms crossly and then eyes Harry very carefully, as though searching his face for signs of mendacity. Apparently, she finds none. “Well. Bugger.”

“Do I want to know?”

“Just a small wager.” Cecile casually brushes an invisible speck of dust from the arm of her robe. “Only between the three of us, of course. Maximum discretion,” she assures.

Harry brings both hands up to press against his face, and then drops both to his sides, turning to his friend resignedly. “Who won, then?”

Cecile pouts. “Eloise.”

Harry laughs. “Good.”

When he looks back at her, Cecile shakes off her pout and curves her thin lips into a rueful smile. He nudges her with his elbow and she rolls her eyes good-naturedly. He really has been in his own world for the last few days, he realises, and it’s good to be shaken out of his daze, regardless of the method employed.

“Is it because of the drug scandal?” Cecile says suddenly, turning serious eyes up to Harry’s. “Or is that just a good excuse?”

“What makes you say that?”

She shrugs, unsheathing her wand and examining it idly. “Just because, if I really wanted to get rid of a department, right after the head Healer had been prosecuted for drug dealing would be a really excellent time to do it, even if that wasn’t the real reason.”

Impressed, Harry nods. She’s good. “I think there’s an element of that. Mostly it’s about money, though.”

“God, what isn’t? I bet it’s Tremellen, eh? Slimy bastard.” Cecile brandishes her wand, stepping away from the nurses’ station and into a classic duelling stance. “Want me to... incapacitate him?”

Harry lifts an eyebrow, amused despite the gravity of the situation. “Tempting, Cecile, but I don’t think sabotage is our best bet at this point.”

Cecile lowers her wand and regards Harry, head tilted on one side. “That’s where you’re wrong. It’s always a good time for sabotage.”

“I worry about you sometimes,” Harry says drily.

“Really, there’s no need.” She slashes her wand through the air again, creating a trail of silver sparks that graze Harry’s nose and smell faintly of peppermint. “I could hex his mouth shut. I’ve always wanted to do that,” she muses. “I think there’s a spell that would make him literally talk out of his arse...”

As she speaks, Terry Apparates in directly behind her and stands perfectly still, listening as she continues to suggest more and more creative ways of punishing their much-maligned mentor.

“Cecile,” Harry puts in eventually. “There’s someone behind you.”

Terry’s dark eyes flare with amusement as Cecile’s face drains of all colour and she falls silent. Harry keeps his face expressionless. She turns around very, very slowly.

She groans loudly as soon as her eyes settle on Terry, shoulders sagging with relief. Grinning, Terry joins Harry at his leaning post and they both easily dodge Cecile’s hex, letting it collide harmlessly with the varnished wood.

“You’re both bastards,” she opines, putting her wand away.

“Slow day.” Terry shrugs.

“Dangerous combination,” Harry agrees, pulling a face at Cecile. In truth, he appreciates the distraction, but it wouldn’t do to tell her that. Oh no.

**~*~**

It’s after six by the time Harry gets off shift and trails up to Chem Dep. He stretches languorously in the corridor outside the lab, shaking off both his robes and his torpor with some effort. The door opens easily at his touch and he’s amused to see Draco almost buried in paperwork, perched on one of the tall stools at the worktable, frowning, quill in hand and nose smudged with green ink.

For the first time that Harry can remember, the cauldrons are empty and the heavy odour of Anti-Chromia Potion that he’s become accustomed to is conspicuous by its absence. Draco seems to have elected to turn his lab into a temporary ‘Save Chem Dep’ command post. He has an office, of course, but the lab is larger and further away from the patients, should any ranting occur.

Like now, for instance.

“Do you know who I saw in the canteen this morning?” Draco says, looking up from the mountains of parchment. Harry shakes his head mutely, assuming the question is rhetorical. “Augustus fucking Tremellen. And he smirked at me. No word of a lie—the greasy bugger looked me right in the eyes and smirked. It’s like he’s proud of himself.”

Harry sighs and takes up the other stool, trying to make room for his elbows amongst all of Draco’s stuff. It’s not as though he disagrees, but every now and then, he’s the one that has to be the voice of reason.

“I don’t doubt that for a moment, I’m sure he thinks he’s got one over on you something proper. But, don’t forget, he’s just one board member. There are how many of them?”

“Fourteen.” Draco scratches his nose with his quill, smudging the ink stain even more. “We need three to reverse the decision.”

“Well, then. Forget Tremellen, he’s beyond hope.” Harry leans closer across the table and rests his feet on the rungs of Draco’s stool, brushing warm calf against warm calf and relishing the simple, easy contact.

Draco meets his eyes and treats him to a split-second glimpse of that brilliantly unguarded smile before he looks down at the parchment again, leaving Harry to gaze sappily at the top of his head.

“You’re staring,” Draco complains, mouth twitching at the corners.

“Can’t help it.”

Harry also can’t help but be impressed by a snort that’s simultaneously pleased and derisive.

“Granger sent me some interesting Ministry stats.” Draco starts scribbling again and with his free hand holds out a letter clipped to a thick sheaf of parchments covered in figures.

Harry accepts the stack and starts flipping through it. After a minute or two, the graphs and columns of numbers start to hurt his eyes, and he can only concede that both Hermione and Draco have longer attention spans than he has. “This stuff makes sense to you, I take it?”

“Of course. Have you read the letter?”

“Oh. No.” Harry smoothes the topmost parchment back down and reads.

Draco –

You might find these useful. I shouldn’t really, but I can’t stand by and let them do what they’re doing.

If asked, though, YOU DID NOT GET THIS INFORMATION FROM ME.

Good luck.

Hermione Granger.


Harry smiles. It’s very Hermione: short, to the point, polite to a fault, and typically apologetic about breaking the rules. She’d been horrified when Harry had filled her in on the board’s decision the night before. So aghast, in fact, that she’d used the f-word. More than once.

Her indignation had been clear to Harry even through the Floo, and the fire-call had ended shortly afterwards. His suspicion that she had gone straight into research mode seems to have been correct.

“When in doubt, study,” Harry mumbles to himself, experimentally picking up the heavy stack and dropping it onto the work surface. It makes quite a satisfying thomp sound and displaces several lighter leaves of loose parchment, sending them floating serenely to the floor.

Draco looks up, irritated, but the scowl combined with the hair falling into his eyes and the green ink daubed across the bridge of his nose makes him look inconveniently, turn-Harry’s-insides-to-mush, adorable.

“I hope you’re going to pick those up.”

“Of course.” Harry grins at the thought of what Draco might do to him if he said the word ‘adorable’ out loud, and scrambles to retrieve the scattered parchments.

“I don’t know why she’s helping me,” Draco muses as Harry struggles to lift the papers from the shiny floor with his non-existent fingernails. “We haven’t even had a consultation in person yet... granted, we’ve sent a lot of owls back and forth but we’re not exactly friends. I don’t understand her.”

Harry slides back onto his stool and meets his suspicious frown with an exasperated sigh. Draco understands a lot of things most people wouldn’t, but he can’t seem to get his head around why someone might do something for him without demanding something in return.

“Well, I do,” he asserts. “For one thing, she’s furious about what they’re doing—you must know by now that she’s got a bee of epic proportions in her bonnet about limited wizard-specific rehab. Hermione loves a cause.” He shrugs. “Chem Dep, and by extension, you, are a cause.”

Draco curls his lip in distaste. “Merlin give me strength.”

“Look, I know you don’t like it, but we need all the help we can get. And anyway, you should see it as a sort of... olive branch.”

“Excuse me?”

Harry rests his chin in his hands to stop himself from slamming it down on the worktop. “You’re not so pure-blooded that you haven’t read the Bible, surely?”

Draco blinks. Mumbles incomprehensibly.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. A peace offering, I mean. When Hermione reaches out, she does it with a hand full of information. That’s just the way she is. When I was at school, she used to make me revision timetables... it’s a similar sort of thing.”

“That is very, very strange. And why would she care about me?”

Harry reaches over and flicks Draco on the wrist. “You’re impossible, do you know that?”

“Yes.” Draco examines his wrist carefully, looking for signs of damage. “You tell me frequently.”

“Well. She’s trying to care about you, because I care about you,” Harry admits, feeling curiously vulnerable at the admission.

“She’s trying?” Draco repeats, completely missing the point.

You’re trying,” Harry mutters, but smiles at the fingers that lace through his on the tabletop for no apparent reason. Though Draco actually seems to like being touched, it’s rare for him to initiate contact outside of the bedroom.

“I’m trying—” Draco smirks and then looks down at his parchment, “—to summarise all of that information into an argument that your average cash-register-for-a-brain, cold-hearted bastard board member will understand,” he says, vitriolic words tripping off his tongue with scarily casual ease.

“Want to practise on me?” Harry offers. “I’ve got some time before I have to meet Ron and Hermione to talk about you.”

The hand under his tenses and Draco wrinkles his nose. “I’m not biting.”

“Pity.”

Draco’s astonished glance is immensely rewarding. Harry smiles to himself and directs him back to his task.

“Right. Well, you’re much smarter than a board member—yes, I know it’s shocking—but alright.”

Harry props his chin up in his free hand and chews on his nails as he listens to Draco telling him about funding streams and the comparable costs of rehab versus the cost to the hospital of treating users and victims of users.

About Ministry studies demonstrating the ineffectiveness of pure detox programmes, relapse rates, and the financial implications of repeated detoxes compared with the relatively inexpensive Chem Dep programme.

It makes perfect sense, and as Harry listens, he allows himself to feel just a little bit hopeful. Whatever happens, they won’t be giving in easily, and Hermione, ever resourceful, has given them a fighting chance.

“What do you think?” Draco says eventually, pulling his hand away from Harry’s to shuffle the papers in front of him.

“That it’s not over yet.”

Draco smiles, long fingers spread out across lines of writing. “Anything else?”

“Yeah.” Harry leans over and swipes his thumb down the side of Draco’s nose, then holds his hand up to show him the smudge of green. “You’re covered in ink.”

Draco kicks him under the table.

**~*~**

Harry swipes curly brown hair out of his eyes and refocuses on the glossy, leather-bound menu in front of him, trying to decide on one of a bewildering selection of steaks.

“This is a proper restaurant,” Ron had said happily, as the three of them had been shown to a corner booth with low lighting, dark wood and suede banquettes. Hermione had rolled huge blue eyes and muttered under her breath about typically macho dining experiences.

Harry can’t say he cares; he’s ravenous and the warm, savoury aroma in the air is making his mouth water.

“Surely no one can eat a seventy-two ounce steak.” Harry frowns, looking up at Ron, who is the accepted authority on the subject.

“That’s the whole point.” Ron grins, exposing crooked teeth. “If you can eat the whole thing, you get it for free.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Hermione sniffs. “I’m getting something that wasn’t once half a cow.”

Harry grins, both at her tone and at Ron’s expression of exasperation.

“You’ll never understand steakhouses, ’Mione.” He shakes his head sadly.

“I can deal with that,” she assures him, filling all three wine glasses. “How’s the campaign going? Did Draco find a use for the information I sent him?” She looks at Harry expectantly.

He opens his mouth to respond, but is cut off by Ron’s lightly incredulous, “I still can’t believe you’re seeing Malfoy.”

Harry simply smiles at his friend and raises his glass to his lips. He’s not worried; Ron’s quiet disbelief over the whole situation has prompted him to utter that exact sentence every time Draco’s name is mentioned in Harry’s company. It’s been two weeks now, and his tone has softened considerably. Harry reckons it’s only a matter of time before he stops saying it completely.

“Denial won’t help, Ron,” says Hermione, briskly tucking dirty-blonde hair behind her ears.

“It’s not denial. I know it’s happening. It’s just weird.”

Knowing it could have been a lot worse makes it somehow easier for Harry to just be amused by the whole thing. He folds his arms across his menu and shrugs.

“Says the man who was ready to sacrifice me to Rodriguez and his raging... well, actually... I can’t imagine anything of his being raging,” Harry muses.

Hermione screws up her face in disgust.

“Yeah, well...” Ron blusters, flushing slightly. “Anyway!” He looks up, brightening. “Rodriguez is straight, after all that.”

Harry raises an eyebrow. “How do you know for sure?”

“I asked him,” Ron says proudly.

Hermione snorts into her glass. Shakes her head slowly.

“You asked him.” Harry studies his friend’s earnest face carefully, highly entertained. That, he would have liked to have seen.

“Yep. He stared at me for about five minutes, and then told me... well, let’s just say I believe him.”

Attention caught by the sudden twist of Ron’s mouth, Harry looks at Hermione, but she shrugs. “What did he say?”

“Seriously, Harry.” Ron shudders, face suddenly grim. “If you can just believe me without needing to hear what I had to hear, it would be a lot better for you.”

Harry’s mind is abruptly assaulted by an influx of images starring Ron’s stuffy partner in an increasingly disturbing series of scenarios, each more depraved and kinky than the last. His eyes widen in horror and catch Ron’s haunted gaze. Ron nods slowly, as if to say ‘Seriously, you don’t want to know,’ and Harry drains the contents of his glass in one go.

The images his brain helpfully supplies to displace a PVC-clad Rodriguez fill him with warmth, and he’s quite happily reliving a vivid sense-memory of Draco’s heated goodbye kiss of not two hours ago, until Hermione coughs sharply. When he startles and looks at her, her knowing grin makes his face flame.

“Speaking of me and Rodriguez,” Ron continues, having completely missed Harry and Hermione’s silent exchange. They both turn to him. He sits up a fraction straighter and lifts his chin. “We have a new brief.”

Hermione smiles proudly, strange blue eyes glowing.

“Go on,” Harry urges.

“Well, it turns out that after the Redrow case, the Ministry’s keen to get behind this ‘Clean up the Streets’ campaign that the Prophet’s running,” he explains, fiddling with a heavy silver fork. “Apparently it’s all about improving the public image of the Auror office, but whatever. Rodriguez and I are going to be heading up the new Substance Control Division.”

Grinning, Harry reflects Ron’s thoroughly chuffed expression back to him. “That’s fantastic, mate.”

Ron lifts his glass briefly, mirroring Harry and Hermione’s gesture. “Thanks. I know it’s more about their public profile than it is about us, but I’m not complaining. A step up is a step up,” he assesses, shrugging philosophically.

“Absolutely,” Harry agrees, relieved that he’s under no illusions about his employers’ machinations, but delighted all the same. “And you know, it’s got to be more interesting than running around after small-time Muggle-baiters all the time.”

“And chasing after supposed Death Eater sightings,” puts in Hermione, stressing the word ‘supposed’ and flashing a wry smile. She squeezes Ron’s hand and he releases the fork.

“That as well.” Harry sniffs the air hopefully, stomach growling, and is rewarded when the waiter appears with their food.

“I think it’ll be exciting. The Muggles have a name for it, you know,” Ron says, inhaling deeply over his plate and brandishing his steak knife. “Er... oh, yeah. Vice!” He grips the knife in both hands and holds it at arms’ length, miming aiming a gun, eyes darting around the room.

Harry laughs and sits back in his chair to avoid being stabbed in the eye. “What have you been watching?”

“All sorts.” Ron grins and lowers the steak knife. “It’s all that stuff, you know... sex and drugs and...”

“Rock and roll?” Hermione suggests innocently, sliding chicken pieces from their skewers onto her plate.

Ron’s brow furrows as he glances at her. “No, I don’t think so.”

Harry hides his smile and starts into his steak. It’s cooked to perfection and he sighs contentedly, cutting slice after slice of tender, smoky meat and buttery new potatoes, washing them down with heavy red wine as he half-listens to Ron and Hermione’s comfortably familiar bickering.

“Look at that blood oozing out everywhere,” she says disdainfully.

Look at that blood oozing out everywhere,” Ron mimics, mouth full of half-masticated cow. “Mm, delicious.”

Harry snags Ron’s sauce boat while he’s not looking and pours it over his steak. He can’t help but feel a little pang of longing as he listens to them, and is all-at-once very conscious of the empty seat beside him. It isn’t as though his friends make him feel like a third wheel these days, but now that he has someone who could conceivably occupy that seat, he wonders if he ever will.

Weird as it would be for them, Ron especially, Harry feels confident that his friends would make an effort if Harry wanted to invite Draco on one of their nights out. Draco, though... Harry sighs and sets his knife and fork down, scraping metal against metal as he pushes the too-long hair from his face again.

Harry hasn’t asked him, and he won’t ask him. He doesn’t want to see the look of disdain or horror or incredulity on Draco’s face. But he’s not going to ask, so it doesn’t matter. With some effort, Harry shakes himself and sheds the wretched thought like a shroud.

“...didn’t ask them about funding, ’Mione, but I would think so, yeah,” Ron is saying as he tunes back in.

Hermione shakes her head and stabs viciously at a chunk of mushroom. “You know what’s insane? That they recognise the need for a Substance Control Division within the Ministry, but they won’t look at funding treatment centres, and they’re still happier sending addicts to Azkaban than making any effort to rehabilitate them.”

“That’s the Ministry for you.” Harry licks his fork. “I don’t think logic is their strong point.”

“Well, no. But I’m hoping they do have the capacity to listen to logic, because this paper we’re going to put together has the opportunity to get the laws changed.” Hermione’s eyes sparkle. “Isn’t that exciting?”

“Very,” Ron says indulgently. “’We’ as in...?”

Hermione bites her lip. “We as in Draco and I, actually. But...” She glances at Harry, concern evident on her face. “But he’s got bigger fish to fry right now, I suppose.”

Her interest is genuine and Harry is touched. “That was a nice thing you did, sending that stuff. He can’t get his head around why anyone would give a crap, but he thinks it’s really going to help.”

Hermione twirls her glass stem between slender fingers. “Why wouldn’t I? Give... er, a crap, that is?”

“I don’t think it’s a reflection on you,” Harry assures. “I don’t think he’s really had the sort of friendships we’ve had.”

Suddenly thoughtful, Hermione picks at her plate delicately and nods. “Hmm,” is all she says, but the meaning is not lost on Ron.

He looks between them, eyes wide. Carefully, he mops up the last of his steak juices with a bit of bread roll, eats it and folds his arms on the table, pushing his plate away. Exhaling heavily, his expression shifts to one of resignation.

“We’re reaching out, aren’t we?” he addresses Hermione. She just smiles and strokes a strand of hair out of his face.

Amused, Harry sips his wine and watches in silence their tacit communication.

“Oh, buggering hell... do I have to stop calling him Malfoy?” Ron asks forlornly, turning to him.

Hermione laughs. Harry thinks that somewhere, Draco’s ears are burning.

He shakes his head. “Another glass of wine, Ron?”

**~*~**

The weekend passes quickly. Draco doesn’t ask what they might or might not have said about him on Friday night, and Harry doesn’t tell him. In any case, he barely has time to think about it.

The day of the appeal meeting is approaching fast and tensions are running high—and they are, regardless of the strong, imperturbable front that Draco is attempting to put across. Harry watches him, and sees the crackle of strain underneath the fury and determination, the flashes of fear that colour the typically-Draco outbursts of biting humour.

For a man on the edge of losing everything he’s worked for, he’s oddly single-minded about never saying so in as many words.

“No, Harry,” he’s saying, eyes glinting in the semi-darkness of Harry’s living room. “I’m going to be professional, prepared and uncompromising... and you are going to be Harry Potter: Order of Merlin, First Class and all-round big deal.” Harry snorts, and Draco continues: “As opposed to Harry Potter, newly-qualified Healer and stater of the bloody obvious.”

Harry would be offended by that, but Draco’s got a point, and he’s under a lot of pressure. He just smirks and pulls his feet up onto the cushions, mirroring Draco’s cross-legged, straight-backed posture at the opposite end of the sofa. The flurry of parchment leaves is less noticeable here than in Draco’s sterile lab or immaculate parlour. Harry tends to leave things where they fall when he’s in a rush, which is often.

“Come on then, let’s run through these one more time,” Harry suggests, touching the notepad on his knee.

He no longer needs to look at the list of names, and instead looks at Draco, whose skin seems to glow in the firelight. He sighs inwardly; it’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation, but it’s almost impossible to strategise when sitting three feet away from someone he wants so fucking much.

“Hit me.”

Harry nods. “Stopforde?”

Draco folds his arms across his chest. “Tight as anything. Cold hard cash. Show him the graphs.”

“Bowfleet?”

“Semi-sympathetic. Play to the angle of relapse rates.”

“Aquiline?”

“Conservative—remind her of how well the current system works.”

“Tremellen?” Harry grimaces.

“Lost cause. Hex on sight.”

Draco,” Harry admonishes, but can’t resist a smile.

Draco rolls his eyes. “Don’t let him wind me up. The same goes for you, you know.”

“I know. Gretagne?” Harry shuffles closer and throws a leg over Draco’s lap, abandoning his list and resting his head on Draco’s warm shoulder.

“Big nose.”

Harry pauses in his absent-minded stroking. “What?”

“Healer Gretagne has a really big nose,” Draco elaborates. “It’s true.”

“Yes, but...”

“If you want me to make sense,” Draco points out, rough-toned, “I suggest you remove your hand from my... oh.”

Harry smiles slowly at the easy surrender, and presses his palm more firmly against Draco’s denim-covered crotch. A strong hand slides over his thigh and he inhales deeply against the soft skin of Draco’s neck.

“Want to take a break?”

“Just a quick one,” Draco whispers.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” Harry kicks the rest of the notes to the messy floor and climbs into Draco’s lap, pinning his shoulders against the sofa back and kissing him without hesitation.

All things in balance.

**~*~**

At ten minutes to nine on Wednesday morning, Harry heads for the fifth floor. He’s managed to swing an eleven-eight shift, so that not even Tremellen can complain that he’s shirking his patient responsibilities to attend the appeal meeting. His robes are freshly pressed, his hair is beyond help, and he’s feeling confident.

“Harry!”

Halfway up the spiral staircase, he stops. Peers down to the three upturned faces regarding him from the ground floor. Harry smiles.

“What?”

“We just came to say good luck,” Terry calls, hands plunged deep into the pockets of his green robes.

“Don’t take no for an answer,” Eloise advises, smiling prettily.

“Take the bastards down, Harry!” Cecile yells, small fist raised forcefully. Harry laughs, fingers wrapped around the balustrade as he leans down to them. A passing nurse shoots Cecile a dark look but she doesn’t bat an eyelid.

Fortified by his co-workers’ unquestioning solidarity, Harry grins. “Thanks, guys. See you in a couple of hours.”

Conscious of the time, he turns away from them and continues up the staircase. He finds Draco already standing outside the main double doors of Chem Dep, arms wrapped around a collection of files and looking, to the uninitiated observer, hard, cold and composed.

He’s dressed in his usual ‘uniform’ of dark trousers and expensive, light-coloured sweater, and Harry’s relieved to see that he’s making no concessions for the occasion. Draco’s sleeves are rolled to the elbow as always, allowing Harry to see the tension he’s carrying in his forearms and hands.

Grey eyes warm slightly as they rest upon Harry, and he only just resists the urge to offer a reassuring touch.

“Ready to go?”

Draco arches an eyebrow. “As I’ll ever be.”

Harry rests a hand on the nearest door, pensive. “Have you told them?”

“The patients? No.”

“Why not?”

Draco almost smiles, but doesn’t quite manage it. “Because, half of them would be genuinely scandalised and completely distracted from their recovery. The other half would pretend to be scandalised in order to completely distract from their recovery.”

Harry can’t really argue with that. “Well, when you put it like that... ready to go?”

Draco sighs. Looks down at the files in his arms. Looks back at the department, just once. Nods. “Yes.”

**~*~**

The boardroom is surprisingly small but extravagantly furnished, especially for a hospital that’s supposedly so concerned about money, Harry notes with some irritation.

He takes his seat next to Draco and surveys the collection of faces around the polished oak table; each is a department head and an influential witch or wizard in their own right, resplendent in green white-flashed robes. Draco, in fact, is the one person in the room not dressed in lime-green, and Harry has a momentary flash of sympathy for him and his sensitive eyes.

The table is oval-shaped, Harry and Draco occupying one curved end, opposite the Chairman, one Healer Hastings, a shrivelled, grey-haired man with a soft voice and a commanding presence. Harry prides himself on not being intimidated by authority or fancy job titles. He’s faced down scarier people than Chairman Hastings in the past, and it’s with some satisfaction that he meets the old man’s gaze with one that is equally steady.

The room is oppressively silent, and he can hear Draco breathing slowly and shuffling papers at his side, his right shoe a steady pressure against Harry’s left under the table.

A shaft of morning sunlight pierces the gloom and glances off the shiny wood. The air smells like warm dust and the lingering lavender of the occupants’ robes. Draco wrinkles his nose, just once.

Once the formalities are out of the way, Chairman Hastings turns to Draco and inclines his head.

“You may speak, Mr Malfoy.”

And he does. Draco thanks the man courteously, laces his fingers together on top of the notes he doesn’t really need and launches into the speech they have been preparing all week.

Harry folds his hands in his lap and says nothing. He knows that his power and influence as a trainee Healer is next to non-existent, and he also knows that he’ll never be a world-class orator. Not like Draco. For want of anything better to do until he is required, Harry watches, listens and admires.

For all of his—admittedly, well-concealed—nervousness, Draco is calm, authoritative and strong. The persuasive words slip off his tongue with a fluidity that makes Harry light-headed, and he doesn’t look away from his audience for a moment. When he lifts his left hand to brush the hair from his eyes, the Healer to Harry’s other side inhales sharply, but Draco does not even break his stride.

“As you can see,” he’s saying, “the figures speak for themselves.” Draco flicks his wand to magically enlarge one of Hermione’s graphs, which he has carefully duplicated and altered to remove any incriminating Ministry insignias. “The costs of cutting the existing Stage Two programme are far-reaching, from both a financial and a patient care perspective.”

As Draco explains the breakdown of the statistics, Harry takes his cue to issue the information to the board members on individual sheets of parchment. He uses a wandless Distribution Charm, because if ever there was a good time to show off, it’s now. He notes two or three raised eyebrows with a small smile and looks down at his own sheet.

When Draco finishes speaking, Harry glances at him, takes in his composed expression and slightly quickened breathing with a surge of raw pride. Draco hates most of these people and everything they stand for, but he’s done it.

“Healer Potter,” says the Chairman. “Have you something to add?”

His voice is cool but not unpleasant, and Harry straightens in his seat. Under normal circumstances, he is absolutely loath to do so, but he knows that here in this room, he has to use his influence as the-man-who-ended-the-war to Draco’s advantage.

Not in so many words, of course. ‘Subtlety will not kill you,’ Draco had said. He’s probably right.

“Yes, Chairman Hastings.” Harry looks around the table and the look he receives from Tremellen chills him. Glancing away hastily, he continues, anchoring himself to the press of Draco’s expensive shoe leather against his. “With respect, the decision to close down this hospital’s dependency programme would be a disastrous one. There exists no other facility specifically for wizards within a hundred-mile radius. Chem Dep is the only option available to these people, and with it gone, the repercussions would be huge. Not just for St Mungo’s but for Wizarding society.”

Harry pauses and, with some effort, screws up his principles. “As I’m sure you know, I have contacts in several important departments within the Ministry.” Several sets of eyes around the table sharpen. “They recognise the scale of the problem and are throwing themselves behind the Prophet’s ‘Clean up the Streets’ campaign. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”

There are some low murmurs of agreement, and Harry opens his mouth to continue when he’s interrupted by Tremellen. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised.

“Your presence here baffles me, Healer Potter. You are not a board member, nor do you work in the Department of Chemical Dependency. Or is it just that yourself and Malfoy here are unable to do anything separately these days?”

Every eye in the room fixes on them at this insinuation, and Harry fights down a blush, angry and humiliated. He ignores the remark, even though he feels Draco stiffen beside him.

The unprofessional, obstructive bastard, he seethes silently. It takes real effort to keep his tone civil, but he manages it.

“I appreciate that I’m not a board member, Healer Tremellen. I happen to care a great deal for Chem Dep and as far as I was informed, the appeals process does not bar any interested party from attending the hearing.”

“That’s correct, Healer Potter,” says a severe-looking dark haired witch that Harry recognises as the head of Dark Arts Reversals, Healer Aquiline. “Won’t you let him talk, Augustus?”

Tremellen says nothing, but Chairman Hastings rumbles, “Proceed.”

Harry shoots Healer Aquiline a small, grateful smile and continues. “As I was saying, public awareness of the drug problem is at an all-time high, and withdrawing from the fight in this way can only be damaging for St Mungo’s public profile, at a time when we should be moving in the opposite direction.”

“What are you saying, Healer Potter?” demands big-nosed Gretagne.

“I’m saying that with a combination of reversing this decision, and... er, well-placed influence,” he stumbles slightly, unable to spit out the words ‘my influence’, “we could raise the profile of this hospital with the Ministry, and in turn, potentially secure extra funding across departments,” he finishes in a rush, looking around at the board.

Nothing is said for what feels like a long time and Harry looks down at his hands, feeling dirty. He daren’t even look at Draco, but he can feel the heat of irritation pouring off him and knows he’s losing patience rapidly.

“As you say, Healer Potter, the issue has come to light, not least because of events that transpired within the department in question itself,” says Bowfleet, looking regretful. Something in his expression snags at Harry and he suddenly has the most unpleasant tipping sensation: the recognition that this might not be going their way.

“Chem Dep is an invaluable department,” Draco insists, speaking for the first time in several minutes. “Don’t make this decision just because of what Algernon Redrow did. We need this department.”

“With respect, Mr Malfoy,” says Chairman Hastings, cutting across the murmurs of dissent with no effort whatsoever. “Healer Redrow’s actions merely delayed the inevitable. I’m afraid that personnel and resources are too scarce to be able to support any non-essential department.”

“Non-essential?” Draco demands, letting emotion tinge his voice at last.

Harry’s stomach roils horribly at the sound, and at the implication. Suddenly, he can’t wait to be out of this stuffy, hostile room. He looks helplessly at Draco whilst keeping his expression neutral, wanting to offer a calming hand but knowing it won’t help. Tremellen’s remark still rankles, and though Harry’s certain he doesn’t know how close the truth he is, it doesn’t stop him from wanting to accept Cecile’s offer to hex his mouth shut.

“These decisions are not made lightly, Mr Malfoy,” someone is saying, but Harry’s not listening. He’s drinking deeply from his goblet of water and waiting for the whole thing to be over. Draco’s going to want to dissect every exchange, and the thought is already hurting his head.

“If there’s nothing else...?” The Chairman looks around the room. “This hearing is concluded. Mr Malfoy, Healer Potter, you are dismissed. The board will reconvene after lunch to discuss the outcome of this meeting.” He stands, and everyone else stands immediately in deference. Harry bangs his shin on the leg of his chair and tries not to swear under his breath.

As they file out of the room, Harry goes to follow Draco back to Chem Dep, but someone catches his arm, and not gently either.

“Your patients are this way, Healer Potter.”

“Er, my shift doesn’t start until eleven, Healer Tremellen,” Harry points out. His eyes flick to Draco, who has stopped in the middle of the corridor, arms full of files once again.

“It’s ten forty-five.” Tremellen lets go of Harry’s sleeve but does not step away. “You’ll be early for once, I’m sure your patients will appreciate it.”

Harry sighs softly and looks the older man in the eye, nodding reluctantly. He turns to follow Tremellen to the stairs, looking back at Draco apologetically. Draco shrugs carelessly with one shoulder but his eyes give him away, as they always do.

“Mr Malfoy will survive,” Tremellen opines, and Harry tears his eyes away from Draco. He looks not at his mentor, but at the floor, not wanting to see the contempt for Draco that burns clear on his face. Harry thinks he’s probably burnt his own bridges with the man after their almost-confrontation over Redrow’s arrest. Not that he cares.

“He always does,” Harry says, and in spite of the last two hours, he smiles.